Operation Agreement - Jewish Commandos and the Raid on Tobruk, John Sadler

Operation Agreement - Jewish Commandos and the Raid on Tobruk, John Sadler

Operation Agreement was one of the more disastrous British raids of the Second World War. An original plan for a small scale overland raid on Tobruk developed rather chaotically to include a series of dangerously inter-related land and sea elements, each of which had to go perfectly if the attack had any chance of success. Inevitably that didn’t happen, and the raid quickly fell apart. In addition the entire plan had been based on a massive under-estimation of the garrison of Tobruk, so even if everything had gone to plan the attack would probably have been repulsed. As it was almost all of the troops who actually reached Tobruk were killed or captured, and the Navy lost two destroyers that took part in the raid and one cruiser that was supporting it.

The one bright point in the disaster was the performance of the Special Interrogation Group, made up of German Jews determined to take the fight to the Nazis. They took part in the overland part of the operation, acting as fake German guards for a force of commandos. The idea was that they would bluff there way into Tobruk, disrupt the defence and open the way for the main attack, which was to come from the sea. Their part of the mission was a comparative success. They were able to get past a series of checkpoints and into Tobruk undetected. When it was clear that the raid had failed, the commandos and SiG attempted to escape overland, and many of them eventually managed to reach Allied lines.

The subtitle is a bit misleading. There are good sections on the Special Interrogation Group, including on their formation and early raids, and there is plenty of material on their role in Operation Agreement, but their story by no means dominates. This is actually a good general history of the entire raid, supported by material that places it in context within the Desert War, along with a brief overview of the other raids carried out as part of the overall plan. The members of the SiG were taking more risks than just about anyone in the raid – if they had been captured while in their German uniforms they would have been shot (just as the Allies to German troops in US uniform did during the Ardennes offensive). If they were captured and their real identity had been discovered they would have quickly disappeared.

This is a fascinating account of a disastrous raid, and serves as a good case study of how not to carry out Special Forces operations. There was little accurate intelligence about the garrison of Tobruk, the plan involved too many different forces arriving at different places in different ways, and was generally over-complicated. Sadler goes a good job of tracing how things got out of hand during the planning stage, then went terribly wrong during the raid itself, despite the best efforts of the people on the ground.

1 - Lions of Judah
2 - War without Hate
3 - Swings of the Pendulum
4 - Fit only for War
5 - Operation Topsy
6 - Across the Sea and Sands
7 - The 'Desperate Gamble'
8 - Defeat
9 - Retribution
10 - 'A Most Inglorious Episode'
Appendix: Order of Battles

Author: John Sadler
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 340
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2016

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