Rommel plot revealed: Plan to assassinate the Desert Fox – and why MI6 abandoned it

MI6 officers also suggested the leader of the Vichy government, Pierre Laval, as a target

Britain flirted with the idea of launching a wave of assassinations of senior Nazis, from Field Marshal Rommel to railway chiefs, to coincide with the  D-Day landings, according to newly released documents.

MI6 was asked to assess the plausibility of executing enemy figures crucial to the German response to an invasion of France, as well as to draw up a potential target list for British and French agents to “bump off”.

The highly sensitive plans were recorded by the Permanent Under-Secretary’s Department, the body responsible for liaising between the Foreign Office and MI6, whose files have been released by the National Archives.

The proposal to selectively eliminate key “personalities” in Nazi-controlled France originated from the Allied headquarters for D-Day in April 1944 in a memo entitled “Assassination Priorities for Overlord [the codename for the landings]”.

The document suggested that German generals, including Rommel, could be targeted and asked “C”, the head of MI6, Sir Stewart Menzies, whose identity was a closely guarded secret, to advise on the best way of carrying out any plan. Written by Charles Peake, the political officer at the headquarters, the memo added: “Unfortunately, compiling a list is one thing, and getting results quite another, but I suppose we must do our best.”

The scheme was initially given a cautious welcome by MI6 officers who also suggested a number of collaborators from the French Vichy government, including its leader, Pierre Laval, as targets, as long as any killings were carried out by Frenchmen.

But as the proposal reached the higher echelons of the espionage agency and the Government, the wisdom and practicality of organising a programme of high-profile killings less than two months before the invasion began came under severe scrutiny.

In a reply to planners on 11 May 1944, “C” said his service had drawn up a target list before adding: “We do not believe, however, that their removal will have  much, or indeed any effect on the efficient functioning of so widespread and highly organised [a] machine as that in which they are prominent officials.”

D-Day organisers modified their scheme to target lower but vital functionaries such as the heads of the German intelligence service, the Abwehr, and “important political figures, transport chiefs, heads of supply and other economic organisations”. But the project was eventually quietly abandoned.

However, documents show Britain was not above all assassination attempts. After “quite fantastic” – and wrong – intelligence was received in June 1944 that Hitler was living in disguise in a house in Perpignan, a scheme was approved to bomb the target.

A memo to Winston Churchill from his senior military adviser, General Hastings Ismay, said: “The Chiefs of Staff were unanimous that, from the strictly military point of view, it was almost an advantage that Hitler should remain in control of German strategy, having regard to the blunders that he has made, but that on the wider point of view, the sooner he was got out of the way the better.” Whether the mission went ahead was not recorded.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Digital Campaign Manager

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role incorporates a mix of ...

SThree: Recruitment Consultant

competitive + incentives + uncapped comms: SThree: Did you know? 98% of our di...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

competitive: SThree: Did you know? 98% of our directors started with SThree as...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Are you passionate about sa...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen