Article in local newspaper about the proposed invasion of Gibraltar by German troops during WWII.
OPERATION FELIX: WHAT THE GERMANS WERE REALLY UP TO
Historian Tito Vallejo tells Kristina Vogt the background to the operation
A week after the documentary on Operation Felix was filmed in Gibraltar, local historian Tito Vallejo who was involved in the project talked about historical facts regarding the German plans to invade Gibraltar and about the production of the documentary.
“Originally the operation was called ‘Isabella Felix’,” said Mr Vallejo, but after the meeting between Francisco Franco and Adolph Hitler in November 1940 – where the conditions of the operation were discussed – the name of the Spanish Queen was removed. When Franco and Hitler had the meeting, both the British and Franco had already been informed by Admiral Wilhelm Canaris – the ambiguous head of the German Secret Service – that according to his estimation the Germans had won the battle but were going to lose the war.
So, despite Franco’s previous preparations, such as positioning weapons so that they were directed at Gibraltar – it was at this meeting that Franco made it impossible for Hitler to agree with him. Mr Vallejo explained that Franco asked for huge amounts of goods: food supply such as wheat, fuel, ammunition and weapons for his people and country who still suffered from the effects of the recent Spanish Civil War. He wanted France’s territories in North Africa.
Franco’s argument was that, in the case of an invasion, Spain would be blockaded via land and sea so that Spain would continuously depend on German supplies. Franco also insisted that the troops invading Gibraltar would have to wear Spanish uniforms. Apparently Hitler agreed to that so long as the soldiers wearing these uniforms were German.
By the time of the meeting Franco already knew that, if the British lost Gibraltar, the UK would try to capture the Canary Islands. The British already had a task force ready to invade the islands, as they needed a control base of the U-boat in order to keep the shipping lanes from America and Britain to the Mediterranean and South Africa open. Shortly after the Franco - Hitler meeting the turning point came when the operation was called off by the Germans, said Mr Vallejo, adding that Hitler apparently commented ‘I would rather have a tooth pulled out than meet this man (Franco) again’. Mr Vallejo also emphasised the difference between non-belligerent and neutral, saying that Franco did not mind the German troops marching through as Hitler, Franco and Benito Mussolini had similar fascist ideology. Back then the Campo was full of German soldiers, he continued, “in San Roque they were teaching Spanish soldiers in the barracks.”
Asked how long Gibraltar could have withstood the planned invasion, Mr Vallejo quoted the then Governor Mason MacFarlane, who fortified the Rock with the tunnels. The Governor’s estimate was that the Rock - with some 16,000 men to defend it - would have withstood one day before he was in charge as Governor and four days with him in charge “and it would have been very bloody too.” When the Second World War started, Gibraltar, was very badly protected in terms of weaponry. Gibraltar at that time had only three anti-aircraft guns on wheels which were moved by the intelligence every day. In a German map of Gibraltar those guns appear multiplied all over the place. As there were local civilians working in the dockyards, there was also the submarine depot ship HMS Maidstone on standby next to the docks to evacuate the workers in case of attack.
As far as the operation and its reflection in todays media are concerned, he emphasised that he does not agree with the term ‘Nazi’ being used indistinctively for all German soldiers; the ones planning to invade were the GroŖdeutschland, he said. Like the British, the Germans had many elite troops and there was much rivalry between those troops, says Mr Vallejo who explains that most of the commanders were at odds with Party Nazis and with the Waffen-SS. “The majority of the German soldiers were normal people who were brought into the army to fight for their country and they were doing their duty,” he explains.