Operation Mandibles (i)

This was a British unrealised plan to seize a number of the islands, including Rhodes or Léros, of the Italian-held Dodecanese islands group after the expected success of ‘Compass’ (i) in North Africa (1940/41).

The plan originated with Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes’s Combined Operations Headquarters in the UK, which saw the Dodecanese islands group as offering ideal targets for special forces operations, and in its initial form the plan also embraced the notion of taking Pantelleria island in the Sicilian Narrows between Sicily and Tunisia. Greater political significance was attached to the scheme when it was appreciated that British control of the Dodecanese islands group might be a useful inducement for Turkey to throw in its lot with the UK, and also after Axis air power based in the islands began to exact a heavy toll of British shipping (naval and mercantile) in the eastern Mediterranean.

The whole scheme foundered on the objections of Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, who appreciated that to secure relatively small strategic advantages his Mediterranean Fleet would have to provide naval cover under very disadvantageous conditions of Axis air superiority.

Although the planning for ‘Mandibles’ (i), which included among its elements 'Armature' and 'Cordite', never proceeded far past the initial planning stages, one unfortunate consequence was the fact that General Sir Archibald Wavell, the commander-in-chief, Middle East, had to keep Major General John D. Laverack’s Australian 7th Division off active service and available in the Nile river delta to provide the main assault force for Rhodes or Léros should the plan be implemented. By this time it had been appreciated by all concerned that comparatively small and lightly armed special forces could not hope to tackle the substantial German and Italian garrisons of the islands.