Documents related to the May 1942 Almásy Sortie from Jalo to Assiut
NOTE: Saul Kelly's book "The Hunt for Zerzura" has clarified a number of the points raised below, most importantly the truth behind the intercepted messages and the pursuit, all backed by recently released PRO documents.
In early 1942 Almásy, as a Royal Hungarian Air Force reserve officer, was attached to Rommel's staff at German request. Among his numerous tasks during this time, in May 1942 he delivered two German spies, John Eppler and Hans Stansteade to Egypt after a daring crossing of the Libyan Desert, known as Operation "Salam".
While it's significance is debatable, certainly this remains one of Almásy's most reknown exploits. At the time the Libyan Desert was for all practical purposes the LRDG's back yard, and it was rather embarrassing for the Brits that Almásy could slip through and return unnoticed.
After the war, a number of biographers and historians, depending on their affiliation, interpreted the events as either Almásy's superior abilities and experience in dodging pursuing enemy patrols and minefields (apparently there were none), or alternately that the Brits were very much aware of his actions, just "higher interests" prevented his interception, and he was allowed to return unharmed.
It is clear, that Almásy's radio messages were intercepted and decoded at the time of the abortive attempt to cross the Great Sand Sea. According to Jane Howard, who worked as an intellicence analyst at the code breaking section of the British Intelligence at Bletchey Park: "I read an Enigma decode which said something about a man called Almasy and a Condor Commando. It appeared to be moving into the desert behind our lines, which I thought very undesirable, since a friend of mine had just been sent out to the desert to set up an ersatz army. This man Almasy might find it. I was longstopping German High Command decodes, and this one had slipped through the watch. I asked permission to search for more among the Abwehr decodes, and was told that if I wanted to give up my lunch hour or work overtime I could please myself.... Between Abwehr ciphers and Enigma I mapped Almasy's movements from Tripoli to Gialo, South of Gilf Kebir and moving towards Kharga, and sent out signals to Cairo, hoping that the LRDG would do something about them." (letter to R.A. Bagnold, 31st March 1978)
Whatever the message was from Bletchey Park, based on the Kufra Garrison and LRDG War Diaries, it seems not to have reached the combat units. (It has been suggested, that the interest of protecting the Brit's capability of breaking the Enigma code was higher than capturing Almásy) Shaw's references in his book, and the LRDG War Diary match in suggesting, that action was only taken after an alert was received from the Kharga checkpoints, by which time Almásy was comfortably back in Jalo.
The loss of the three SAAF Blenheims, and the subsequent comotion raises another, highly probable theory - Almásy was simply lucky to have unknowingly made his venture at the right time. Based on his diary (in which the observations on convoy movements match the Kufra Garrison War Diary, proving it's authenticity) Operation Salaam started out from Jalo just as the search for the missing aircraft was winding down. The search involved all mobilisable units in the Kufra region, so there were no patrols out except the regular Wadi Halfa convoys (which were manned by Sudanese drivers of the SDF, and were not combat patrols in any sense). The reasons for the loss of the aircraft and the deaths of the crew were probably occupying the minds in the subsequent weeks, with the Court of Inquiry convening in Kufra at the end of May. In the mean time, on the 27th May Rommel attacked the main allied defence line, which overshadowed any other news.
Almásy used this time to make his sortie, coming and returning unnoticed. By the time Lazarus, a senior officer of the LRDG stationed in Kufra in charge of surveying duties returned to Siwa (LRDG headquarters at the time) for a briefing, where he was probably alerted to an enemy patrol in the desert inferred from his hasty departure on a patrol a day later, Almásy was safely back. The LDRG I.2. patrol was given orders to capture any enemy traffic going north from Jalo, focusing on europeans, but it was too late.
|Almasy Diary||SDF Kufra Garrison War Diary||LRDG War Diary||W.B.K. Shaw (Long Range Desert Group)|
|May 4.||3. Blenheims lost after practice sortie (SAAF 15. Det.)|
|May 5.||ground search|
|May 6.||bad visibility|
|May 7.||ground search|
|May 8.||air search|
|May 9.||air search one a/c located, crew dead|
|May 10.||air search|
|May 11.||air search, two a/c located, one survivor|
|May 12.||2. search a/c returned to W.H.|
|May 13.||3. Search a/c returned Cairo|
|May 14.||cv 63 & 65 left|
|May 15.||Campo 4 Airport (Palificata 276 km)||cv 66 arrived|
|May 16.||Camp depot 1. (Via Trucci)|
|May 17.||Camp 2. Depot - see 8 trucks moving by Gilf towards S.|
|May 18.||Camp by W.S. (leave car, drain fuel from unguarded convoy - Kendall's dump ?)||cv 66 left, cv 67 arrived|
|May 19.||Camp by "three castles", miss Aqaba entrance||cv 68 arrived|
|May 20.||Up Aqaba||cv 67 left, 1 wellington left to W.H.|
|May 21.||Camp E.Gilf|
|May 22.||Camp 8.||cv 68 left|
|May 23.||Kharga-Assiut-Kharga||"One morning in June the arab watchmen on the landing ground at Kharga…"|
|May 24.||Kharga-Barchan camp||cv 69 arrived||"next morning .. the same car passed … returning from Assiut"|
|May 25.||Camp bef.Aqaba|
|May 26.||Aqaba - WS Camp (see convoys moving N, pass convoy)||cv 69 left||"a SDF officer passed 3 cars near WS - they vaved - he mentioned the meeting in Kufra"|
|May 27.||Camp 13. (see convoy moving S)||cv 70 arrived||Rommel attacks Gazala - Bir Hakiem line|
|May 28.||Camp on via Trucchi (see enemy patrol, 3 cars near Bir Abu Zereigh)|
|May 29.||Campo 4 Airport (Palificata 276 km)|
|May 31.||C.of E. into loss of SAAF det 15.|
|June 2.||Lazarus (LRDG) flies to Siwa|
|June 3.||C.of E. into loss of SAAF det 15. Ends|
|June 4.||Lazarus returns|
|June 5.||Tarbet & Lazarus leave to Gilf, Guard at Kendall's dump|
|June 7.||Patrols recced GILF area for signs of suspected enemy patrol.||"we sent out a patrol from Kufra to mine the passage … but it was too late"|
|June 10.||Indian 2. Patrol receives orders to attack enemy transport on Jalo-Agedabiya road, & obtain preferably european prisoners to gain info on activities of Almasy|
|June 11.||Patrol returned from GILF area with nil report.|
|June 12.||Patrol leaves to Uweinat, false alarm of attack|
|Back to Foreign Office documents related to Almásy's activities in the late mid-thirties.|