3 – Operation Gaff: July 1944
On 25 July 1944, 6 SAS commandos were parachuted into France with one mission: To capture or kill Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. It was decided that killing the Desert Fox would likely be an easier task as kidnapping would involve tricky two-way W/T communication and a larger group to successfully complete the mission.
As the leader of the Afrika Corps, Rommel had seemingly been the mastermind for a sequence of victories enjoyed by the Nazis in North Africa in 1941 and 1942. By March 1943, the Allies considered Rommel to be a huge threat to their plans and began to research the whereabouts and movements of the German Field Marshal. Despite the success of the 6 June 1944 D-Day landings at Normandy, the Allies continued to sustain heavy losses; not least due to the leadership of Rommel who was one of the men in charge of the German resistance in France.
Once the SAS learned of Rommel’s HQ (in the French village of La Roche-Guyon), six assassins, led by Jack William Raymond Lee, were selected to find and kidnap, or preferably kill, Rommel. Unbeknownst to the SAS men, Rommel had been seriously injured in a car crash on 17 July and was out of reach at a hospital. Rather than simply go home, the men decided to ambush trains and attack German troops on their way to meeting US Army soldiers. The men ultimately reached safety on 12 August.
Ironically, it is strongly believed that Rommel was either involved or at least approved of the 20 July plot against Hitler. One of the conspirators said Rommel was complicit in the plot and the military commander was arrested. Rather than face the People’s Court which was a death sentence in any case, he took up the ‘offer’ of committing suicide which he did by swallowing a cyanide pill on 14 October 1944.