Operation Agreement

This was a British special forces amphibious raid, often but wrongly known as ‘Daffodil’, against positions in Axis-held Tobruk on the North African coast as Lieutenant General B. L. Montgomery was preparing his 8th Army for the decisive 2nd Battle of El Alamein (13/14 September 1942).

‘Agreement’ was the main element of the 'Rosemary' four-part undertaking designed to keep the Axis forces off balance at this critical time: the other three elements were ‘Bigamy’ (i) (‘Snowdrop’) against Benghazi, ‘Nicety’ (‘Tulip’) against the Jalo oasis, and ‘Caravan’ (‘Hyacinth’) against Barce.

On 21 June 1942 the British and commonwealth forces besieged in the Libyan port of Tobruk under the command of Major General H. B. Klopper, commanding the South African 2nd Division, surrendered to the besieging Axis forces of Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel’s Deutsch-Italienische Panzerarmee, and Rommel swept forward past Mersa Matruh toward El Alamein in the north-western part of Egypt. Plans to disrupt if not sever the Axis forces’ vital but vulnerable lines of communication by means of an attack on the shipping, harbour and fuel facilities at Tobruk and Benghazi, the latter farther to the west round the Djebel Akhdar bulge of the Cyrenaican coast, had been considered since the earlier withdrawal of the British-led forces from Cyrenaica. The tactical planning of a series of raids was therefore developed by the staffs of the three British commanders-in-chief, of whom Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder disapproved of the operation as it would be impossible for his units to provide fighter cover, but nonetheless felt that he should support what the two other commanders clearly wanted.

As finalised, the concept was bold and depended heavily on surprise and the belief, mistaken in the case of Tobruk, that the garrisons comprised only indifferent Italian troops. The plans adopted called for a party of Special Service troops, guided by the Long Range Desert Group by way of Kufra oasis deep in the Sahara Desert to a point within striking distance of the target, to make its way through the Axis perimeter defences round Tobruk at dusk and seize the Mersa Sciausc inlet just outside the defensive boom east of Tobruk harbour. Here Force B (led by Lieutenant Colonel J. E. Haselden and comprising D Squadron of the 1st Special Air Service as well as specialist detachments provided by the Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers and Royal Signals Corps) would be reinforced by 150 men carried from Alexandria in motor torpedo boats (Commander J. F. Blackburn’s Force C with 18 motor torpedo boats and three motor launches carrying Captain A. N. Macfie’s party of D Company of the 1st Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, a detachment of the 1st Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, as well as artillery, engineer, signals and medical parties). The combined forces would then work their way west, capturing coast defence and Flak batteries as they advanced.

At 03.40 Lieutenant Colonel E. H. M. Unwin’s detachment comprising the 11/Royal Marines, as well as artillery, engineer, signals and medical parties, would land from the destroyers Sikh and Zulu (Captain St J. A. Micklethwait’s 350-man Force A) on the coast to the north of Tobruk town, cross the intervening tongue of land, capture the guns on the northern side of the harbour and enter the town. To occupy the Axis forces’ attention, heavy bombing attacks would be made on Tobruk during the night. As soon as the bombing ceased the motor torpedo boats were to attack shipping at the eastern end of the harbour.

After the guns protecting the harbour had been captured or silenced, Sikh and Zulu would enter and land demolition parties. In the afternoon some of the forces ashore were to be re-embarked for return passage to Alexandria, while the remainder would use captured transport to move to the west in search of other targets for demolition.

The British strength for ‘Agreement’, which was the only element involving an amphibious landing, was about 400 Royal Marines, 180 men of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders and engineers landed from the sea, and about 150 Special Air Service troopers arriving overland across the desert.

The destroyers Sikh and Zulu, carrying about 350 marines, left Alexandria on 13 September and later joined the anti-aircraft cruiser Coventry and escort destroyers Belvoir, Dulverton, Hursley and Croome of the 5th Destroyer Flotilla. The combined force then linked with 18 motor torpedo boats and three motor launches carrying 150 more men for the planned amphibious assault.

On the night of 14 September RAF bombers made a heavy attack on Tobruk in an effort to disrupt the defences in advance of the landing. In the event this landing managed to get only a few men ashore. As she approached the coast Sikh was engaged and damaged by the 88-mm (3.465-in) dual-role guns of the 1/43rd Flakabteilung, and then sank while in tow by Zulu. Most of the ship’s crew and the troops still in board were rescued and taken prisoner. Junker Ju 87 dive-bombers of the 8.Staffel of Major Walter Enneccerus’s III/Stukageschwader 3 and Junkers Ju 88 bombers of Major Joachim Helbig’s I/Lehrgeschwader 1 inflicted severe damage on Coventry, which was then sunk by Zulu. Macchi MC.200 fighter-bombers attacked and sank MTB-308, ML-352 and ML-353, while a force of 19 Ju 87 dive-bombers of the III/StG 3 sank MTB-310 and damaged Zulu, the latter sinking later while under tow by Hursley. Some 20 Ju 88 bombers of Major Gerhard Kollewe’s II/LG 1 from Crete sank MTB-312. The craft of Kapitänleutnant Peter Reischauer’s 6th Räumboots-Flottille met and captured MTB-314.

The British losses were about 300 men of the Royal Marines, 166 of the army and 280 of the Royal Navy, this total including 576 men taken prisoner, as well as the cruiser Coventry, destroyers Sikh and Zulu, four motor torpedo boats and two motor launches sunk. The German losses were 62 men killed and 119 wounded.

A sub-element of this ambitious undertaking, designed as a diversion, was the nocturnal gunfire bombardment of the El Daba area by the light anti-aircraft cruiser Dido.

Beside the sinking of the warships, eight British and US aircraft were lost, and the operation’s result was therefore very disappointing and, in combination with the other three sub-operations, its primary result was a general overhaul of the defensive arrangements on the Axis forces’ lines of communication and the decision to reinforce Siwa, Jarabub, and Jalo oases. Three German second-line battalions were posted at Sollum, and for a short time Generale di Divisione Nazzareno Scattaglia’s 17a Divisione ‘Pavia’ was kept at Mersa Matruh instead of being moved forward.