In our first installment of the Unknown History series on D-Day, we learn about Operation Tarbrush X and the agents that risked their lives for the Allied forces.
Lane was knocked sideways. Rommel, the Desert Fox, was one of the big names of the Third Reich—the man who Hitler had entrusted with defending Normandy.
"I’m delighted," he said, "because in the British army we have great admiration for him." This was true enough: his conduct during the North Africa campaign had earned him a reputation for fair play and chivalry.
Lane was now led towards the galleried library, where his gaze was immediately drawn to the figure seated behind a writing desk. It was Field Marshal Rommel, with his glacial eyes and sharply cleft chin.
"He got up, walked towards me and said, 'Setzen Sie sich'—'sit yourself down.'" Lane, who spoke perfect German, pretended not to understand: it would give him more time to prepare his answers.
"So you are one of these gangster commandos, are you?" said Rommel.
Lane waited for this to be translated into English before answering. "Please tell His Excellency that I do not understand what he means by gangster commandos. Gangsters are gangsters, but the commandos are the best soldiers in the world."
Rommel seemed to appreciate the answer for a brief smile swept his face.
'Perhaps you are not a gangster," Rommel said, "but we’ve had some very bad experiences concerning commandos.'
This much was true. Over the previous months, Lane’s fellow commandos in X-Troop had staged a series of hit-and-run raids on the coastline of France.
"Do you realize," said Rommel, "that you have been taken prisoner under very strange circumstances?"
"I hardly think they were strange," said Lane. "More unfortunate and unhappy."
"You are in a very serious situation." This bald statement of fact was followed by a piercing stare: Rommel accused him of being a saboteur. Lane considered this for a moment before answering. "If the Field Marshal took me for a saboteur," he said, "he would not have invited me here."
Even Rommel was taken aback by the boldness of Lane’s response. "So you think this was an invitation?"
"Naturally, yes, and I take it as a great honour. I’m delighted to be here."
Lane knew he was halfway to winning the game when Rommel’s face broke into a broad smile. The conversation now developed into something more akin to banter than interrogation.
"How’s my friend Montgomery?"
"Unfortunately I don’t know him," said Lane, "but he’s preparing the invasion so you’ll see him fairly soon." He added that he knew little more about Montgomery than what appeared in The Times. As an afterthought, he told Rommel that it was an excellent newspaper. "I think you ought to read it."
"I do," said Rommel. "I get it from Lisbon."
"Well then, you’ll see that he’s preparing the invasion and they’ll be here shortly, fighting you."