“Even before France had fallen, Hitler’s generals lobbied the German leader for permission to roll on into Spain and wrest control of Gibraltar from the British.”
SHORTLY AFTER THE defeat of France in 1940, Adolf Hitler directed his generals to begin preparations for Nazi Germany’s next bold plan — the seizure of Gibraltar.
Few in Berlin doubted the ultimate success of the operation, codenamed Felix. After nearly a year of uninterrupted military triumphs, it seemed a safe bet that the swastika would soon be flying over Britain’s enclave in southern Spain. Of course, events unfolded very differently.
Located on the north shore of the eight-mile strait that separates Europe from Africa, the 2.6-square mile Gibraltar peninsula is dominated by a 1,300-foot tall mountain known simply as “the Rock.” Britain has controlled the vital outpost that commands the narrow waterway linking the Atlantic to the Mediterranean since the 1701 to 1714 War of Spanish Succession.
Home to a Royal Navy fleet as well a sizeable RAF presence, the Gibraltar station represented a key link in a chain of bases that connected the United Kingdom to its vast Empire in the east. When war broke out in 1939, the tiny territory became a strongpoint from which the Allies could challenge any Nazi moves into the Western Med and even the South Atlantic.
Even before France’s capitulation, Hitler’s generals lobbied the German leader for permission to roll on into Spain and wrest control of Gibraltar from the British. In fact, the Third Reich’s most senior military commander, Reichsmarshal Hermann Goering, had been pressing the Fuhrer all summer to shelve plans to invade the U.K., known asOperation Sea Lion, and grab Gibraltar as a prelude to a thrust into North Africa. With the crucial straits closed to Allied shipping, the Luftwaffe chief argued, access to the Suez, the Middle East, and even India would be effectively cut off, driving yet another nail into Britain’s coffin. By summer’s end, the Fuhrer was convinced. And while plans would proceed against the British Isles, Operation Felix would go ahead as well.