The story of a young Dane who fought in Africa, the English Channel, Italy and the Aegean during World War II
Anders Lassen (left) and Lieut. Kenneth Lamonby. Lamonby was killed in action during Operation Albumen.
By Tassos Telloglou, Kathimerini, 29 June 2021
Denmark is a small country, one that Hitler’s war machine occupied almost without firing a shot. To many Danes, this was distasteful. Twenty-year-old Andy Lassen was one of them. Lassen was part of the crew on a Danish tanker when the Germans invaded his homeland. After disembarking in Britain, he headed for the Scottish Highlands to train with the British Special Forces.
Lassen’s first operation was against Axis commercial vessels off the coast of West Africa. He subsequently saw action with 62 Commando/Small Scale Raiding Force on the Channel Islands and the north coast of France. He and his fellow raiders would go ashore, attack German garrisons, place explosive devices and withdraw – not always without casualties.
When 62 Commando/SSRF was disbanded, Lassen joined the Special Boat Service (SBS) in the Mediterranean. His biographer, Thomas Harder, tells Kathimerini that he wants ‘to present the man behind the myth’. He describes Lassen, who died aged 24 towards the end of the war during an operation in Comacchio, Northern Italy, as a key figure in the birth of the Special Forces. ‘His war was a small one , compared to Stalingrad and Normandy, involving maybe fewer than two hundred combatants,’ says Harder.
So why were these two hundred men so important? ‘Because what they did was deception,’ says Harder. ‘They misled the enemy about British intentions and priorities.’ One of the high points of the book is an SBS operation in Crete code-named ‘Albumen’ (22 June–12 July 1943). The British drew up a complicated plan that included letting a dead body with a briefcase full of forged documents fall into German hands. The idea was to create the impression that the landing in the southern Mediterranean would take place on Crete or Sardinia, rather than Sicily. Accordingly, the SBS carried out operations on the two islands a few days before the Sicily landing (10 July 1943) in order to convince the Germans that operations here were the Allies’ top priority.
The objective of Operation Albumen was to sabotage three German military airfields (Tympaki, Kastelli Pediadas and Herakleion). Lassen, along with 13 comrades, landed at Trypiti on the south shore of the island. The men split into three groups to attack the airfields, but only at one of them, Kastelli Pediadas, were any aircraft to be found (as was often the case, for example on Paros in May 1944, the British intelligence was not accurate). After ten days of marching across Crete, spending the night in caves and eating what the locals brought them, Lassen’s unit mounted an assault on Kastelli airfield. Four men placed explosives on eight aircraft (of which only one was destroyed) and exchanged fire with German and Italian guards, killing one or two of them before escaping through the mountains. In his report, Lassen multiplied by five the damage inflicted. He had no way of knowing that the Germans had managed to remove most of the bombs from the aircraft and detonate them at a safe distance.