The 13th September 2017 marked the 75th anniversary of one of the most daring and audacious raids ever undertaken by British special forces in World War Two. The little-known raid on Rommel’s desert fortress at Tobruk was launched on 13 September 1942, along with a raft of simultaneous deep desert attacks, each as extraordinary as each the other. All were true ‘Mission Impossibles’.
The Tobruk raid was designed to strike a knock-out blow against the German General’s main supply depot and port, the key to victory in the north African desert. What made is so extraordinary were the sheer distances and savagery of the terrain involved, not to mention the breath-taking ruse that lay at the heart of the mission. In order to hit Tobruk, a combined for of the SAS, Commandos and the Long Range Desert Group had to traverse some 2000 miles of the Sahara desert: a harsh, waterless, uncharted, sun-blasted wasteland. They had to do so in order to hit the enemy by complete surprise – from out of desert wastes that the Germans believed was largely impenetrable.
This incredible true story came to my notice as if by accident. Researching WWII files at the National Archives, in Kew, I was seeking material on one of the decoy raids executed that night, codenamed Operation Caravan. In Caravan, a force of several dozen special forces had driven thousands of miles across the Great Sand Sea, an area of treacherous and shifting Saharan dunes the size of Ireland believed impassable to all.
It was in researching the raid that I came across the first mentions of the SIG – Britain’s greatest ever deception force. The entire extraordinary tale – one peopled by a brilliant cast of quintessential British eccentrics, adventurers, mavericks and heroes – is told in my forthcoming book, SAS Ghost Patrol.
The enemy had already coined that name for the desert raiders – the ‘ghost patrols.’ No other story better defines the way in which they operated than those raids of the night of 13 September 1942, 75 years ago.
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