The Commonwealth War Graves Commission will be remembering the 75th anniversary of the death of a Fife Lieutenant who was killed in action.
Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Charles Tasker Keyes, VC MC, was killed while commanding a detachment of the commando force in a series of raids (operation Flipper) across North Africa in 1941.
Major (temporary Lieutenant Colonel) Keyes’ played an integral role in the undertaking of the most dangerous task of assaulting German Field Marshall, Erwin Rommel’s, presumed H.Q.
Sadly, in the fighting that ensued during the raid, Geoffrey Keyes was shot and killed, but his daring and bravery, as well as that of his seven fellow officers and the 53 other ranks who participated in Operation Flipper, continues to be remembered and has inspired several books, films and television documentaries.
Despite Lieutenant Colonel Keyes attempt to kill Rommel, the Field Marshall gave orders that Keyes be buried with the four German officers who were killed in the raid, and receive full military honours. Keyes is buried at the Commonwealth War Grave Commission’ Benghazi War Memorial.
Lieutenant Colonel Keyes was born on May 18, 1917 in Aberdour, Fife, Scotland. He was the oldest son of the Admiral of the Fleet, Roger John Brownlow Keyes, 1st Baron Keyes, himself a distinguished naval commander of the First World War and the first Director of Combined Operations during the Second World War.
Geoffrey Keyes was commissioned into the Royal Scots Greys (2nd Dragoons) in 1937 (now Royal Scots Dragoon Guards), and saw action at Narvik, Norway, in 1940.
He was one of the first volunteers for the Commandos and joined No. 11 (Scottish) Commando in the summer of 1940. Keyes’ unit, “C” Battalion, was part of “Layforce”, an ad hoc formation of commando units serving in the Middle East theatre of operations. During this time, Keyes fought against troops of the French Vichy Regime in Syria and Lebanon, earning the Military Cross for his actions at the Litani River. He later assumed command of his unit after their commanding officer was killed.
Whilst Operation Flipper had failed to put Field Marshal Rommel out of action, it did cause some temporary disorganisation for the Germans stationed at Beda Littoria and the British would make a second albeit failed attempt on Rommel’s life during Operation Gaff in 1944.
Lieutenant-Colonel Geoffrey Keyes was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions during Operation Flipper.
The VC won by Keyes is now displayed at the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum in London.