Operation Felix (i)

This was a German unrealised plan to take Gibraltar and close the Strait of Gibraltar to British shipping (14 August 1940/9 May 1941).

Working to a proposed launch date of 10 January 1941 and including provision for the occupation of Spanish possessions in North and West Africa (Spanish Morocco, Río de Oro and the Canary islands group, whose ports could then be used as bases for U-boats), the plan presupposed the support of Spain and was designed as a combined operation under the overall leadership of Generalfeldmarschall Walther von Reichenau, commanding the 6th Army in occupied France. The plan was posited on the thinking that the loss of Gibraltar would deny the British navy access to the western basin of the Mediterranean, thereby making British retention of Malta all but impossible and facilitating the victory of the Axis forces in the Western Desert, and that this would result in Spain and Portugal being drawn fully into the Axis sphere of influence.

With the support of the General Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen’s VIII Fliegerkorps (eight dive-bomber Gruppen, two fighter Gruppen and five reconnaissance Staffeln), the German force of two Panzer divisions, three motorised infantry divisions and Generalmajor Hubert Lanz’s 1st Gebirgsdivision of General Ludwig Kübler’s XLIX Gebirgskorps would advance along from Irun to Seville via Burgos and attack the British fortress from the landward side with the aid of super-heavy tracked artillery before the mountain corps put in the final attack. Other German formations, grouped as General Rudolf Schmidt’s XXXIX Corps (mot.), would provide flank protection.

German intelligence assessed British artillery on ‘The Rock’ as 154 pieces including 56 anti-aircraft guns, so the assault force had its normal artillery complement boosted by 50 heavy batteries with 8,500 tons of ammunition, and also the Mörser Karl tracked equipment with a 60-cm (23.62-in) mortar. The German plan called for a crushing artillery bombardment followed by an assault in which the Regiment (mot.) ‘Grossdeutschland’ on the right would take the port area and the 98th Gebirgsjägerregiment on the left would storm ‘The Rock’.

‘Felix’ would be completed by the establishment of batteries of 24- and 15-cm (9.45- and 5.91-in) artillery on the southern shore of Strait of Gibraltar at Ceuta and Tarifa, and by the despatch of two divisions (one Panzer and one motorised infantry) into Spanish Morocco.

The German plan supposed that Portugal would remain neutral, but made provision for a diversion at Caceras for an advance down the left bank of the Tagus river should Portugal appeal to the UK.

This plan was discussed at a meeting held, late in October 1940, between the Spanish and German dictators, General Francisco Franco y Bahamonde and Adolf Hitler, in Hitler’s railway carriage at Hendaye on the border of German-occupied France with Spain. Franco’s material demands for joining the Axis powers included some 400,000 to 700,000 tons of grain, all the fuel and equipment required for the Spanish army, artillery, aircraft and special troops for the conquest of Gibraltar. In addition, Franco wanted Germany to hand over the territories of Morocco and Oran, and to ‘help [Spain] get a border revision in the west of Río de Oro’.

Hitler later said he would rather have teeth extracted than meet Franco again. It is a moot point whether Franco overplayed his hand by demanding too much of Germany in return for a Spanish entry into the war on the side of the Axis, or if he deliberately stymied the German dictator by setting the price unrealistically high. Franco’s qualified approval of the scheme reflected the fact that the fall of the UK seemed imminent, but continued Spanish vacillation led to further postponements and eventually to cancellation.