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.
Rommel scoffed. "Well that’ll be the first time that the English do any fighting."
"I beg your pardon!" Lane spluttered offence. "What happened at El Alamein?"
"That was not the English," said Rommel. "The English always get other people to do their fighting for them. The Canadians, the Australians, the New Zealanders, the South Africans." Lane—a Hungarian Jew fighting for the British—found it hard to keep a straight face.
Rommel soon returned to the subject of the Allied landings, asking Lane where he thought the soldiers would land. Lane retorted that he was only a junior officer: he was not privy to the invasion plans. "If it was up to me," he said, "I would probably go for the shortest crossing."
There was a lengthy pause and Lane surmised that the interrogation was coming to an end. "I was enjoying myself tremendously," he later said, "so I asked the interpreter if, as the Field Marshal had asked me so many questions, I would be permitted to ask a few of my own."
Rommel scoffed at his impertinence but nodded nonetheless.
"What I’d like to know is this," said Lane. "France is being occupied by you. How do the French people react to being occupied?" His question led to Rommel telling him how the French "had never been so happy and so well organised."
"My goodness!" said Lane. "I’d love to see that!" "You can see it for yourself," said Rommel, "as you travel through France." Lane laughed in scorn. "Every time I travel with your boys, they blindfold me and tie my hands behind my back." At this, Rommel turned to his aide-de-camp and asked if this was strictly necessary.
"Oh yes," he said. "These are very dangerous people."
These ominous words signalled the end of the interview. The meeting was over. Lane was courteous to the end, thanking the Field <arshal for his time. He was hoping for a stay of execution, but as soon as he was outside he was blindfolded once again. He and Wooldridge were then driven off at high speed to Gestapo headquarters in Paris, arriving early that evening. "It frightened the life out of me when I realized where I was," admitted Lane, who was even more terrified when he heard the screams of prisoners being tortured.
He was hoping for a stay of execution, but as soon as he was outside he was blindfolded once again.
Yet his own Gestapo interrogation was conducted in such dilatory fashion that he couldn’t help wondering if Rommel had "interceded on our behalf and prevented both Roy and I from being executed." This was indeed the case. Neither man was shot, nor were they tortured. Instead, they were sent to Oflag 9/AH, a prisoner-of-war camp in central Germany.
Lane would later escape, by which time the Allied armies had made their successful landings in Normandy and were busily pushing inland. It was the end to a remarkable story.
I hope you enjoyed this episode of Unknown History. In the next episode, we’ll be meeting Howard Vander Beek, the young man entrusted with leading one of the mighty fleets across the English Channel towards the beaches of D-Day.