This British Commando escaped certain death in World War II

A British Commando escaped certain death by pretending to be related to a famous general

Michael Alexander was a 20-year-old light infantry officer when he decided to join the British Commando and Special Boat Service during World War II. In 1942, he was sent to join his commando brethren in Alexandria, Egypt, where the British forces were facing a combined German-Italian Axis Force in North Africa

Harold Alexander was a famous British General who had distinguished himself on World War I’s Western Front, earning the British Military Cross, Distinguished Service Order, and the French Legion d’Honneur, among other awards. He was wounded at the Third Battle of Ypres, and was beloved by his men for always being able to make the best of the worst situations. After the war, he further distinguished his career by fighting Bolsheviks, becoming an aide to King George VI, and became the youngest general in the British Army

During World War II, Gen. Alexander led the army’s withdrawal to Dunkirk and oversaw its evacuation to England. He was much respected by everyone in the army, and outside of it, including his Nazi enemies, which would become important for Michael Alexander. The only thing commando Michael and the Gen. Harold Alexander had in common was their last name. 

The job of the Special Boat Service commandos like Michael Alexander in North Africa included reconnaissance, sabotage, and generally creating havoc behind enemy lines, something the British got increasingly adept at as the war drove on. They got so good at disrupting Axis plans in North Africa that Hitler himself issued a decree instructing all German officers to immediately shoot anyone caught performing an act of sabotage. 

That might have been the fate of Michael Alexander had some quick-thinking fellow commando not come up with an idea to save his skin. Alexander and his Special Boat Service crew of around 20 men were inserted behind enemy lines by way of a torpedo boat in the summer of 1942. Their mission was to infiltrate the Axis Afrika Korps positions and destroy a munitions dump.

british commando escape with Michael Alexander
Members of the Prominente, under a U.S. guard, outside the Hungerberg Hotel on May 5, 1945, shortly after their release. L to R: John Elphinstone, Max de Hamel, Michael Alexander, unknown, George Lascelles, and John Winant Jr.

Leading the team as captain, Alexander took his men on the 50 minute boat trips and, under the cover of darkness, landed near the enemy positions via rubber boat landing craft. When they landed, the enemy’s position suddenly lit up. They had no idea the landing area was also the headquarters of the German 90th Light Infantry Division. 

They hadn’t been caught, but their sabotage mission now seemed more like a suicide mission and most of the men returned to the landing boats to set off for home. Alexander and a fellow commando, Cpl. Peter Gurney decided to carry on the mission. They didn’t get the ammo dump, but they did manage to destroy a tank transporter. 

Unfortunately for the two commandos, neither had brought food or water for what was supposed to be a quick mission. After blowing up the tank transporter, the two entered a six-person German tent, tied up the soldiers and ate their breakfast. After they left, one of the soldiers escaped and sounded the alarm. They were captured shortly after. When brought to the commanding officer, he informed them they would be held for murder, as two soldiers were inside the tank they destroyed and that they would be executed. 

Cpl. Gurney implied that Michael Alexander was related to Gen. Alexander who was now in command of the British forces in North Africa. Alexander went along with the ploy. The Germans decided not to execute the men, instead sending them to a POW camp in Berlin to be used as hostages. The two spent the rest of the war held prisoner, rather than face execution.

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