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Anders Lassen – From Drunken Brawler to War Hero

Anders Lassen was born in Høvdingsgård, Denmark on 22 September 1920. Although born into a wealthy and privileged family, Andres struggled with authority throughout his short life and was well known for his insubordinate behaviour and even participating in drunken brawls. However, his ability to lead men and display selfless courage in some of the most daring raids of WWII can never be doubted, as evidenced by his three Military Crosses and a posthumous Victoria Cross.

Anders left school in 1938 with the lowest examination rates of his entire year. Not quite a perfect fit for the rigors of regular military service, he opted for the Danish Merchant Navy. In 1940, Germany conquered Denmark and Anders made his way to Britain, where he had a fortuitous meeting with an agent from the British Special Operations Executive, a clandestine unit organised to conduct sabotage and espionage missions throughout occupied lands. 

Anders joined No.62 Commando, also known as the Small Scale Raiding Force (SSRF), as a private but was soon commissioned in the field and awarded a Military Cross for his part in Operation Postmaster, involving the capture of three Italian and German ships from the neutral Spanish colonial island of Fernando Po, now known as Bioko, in the Gulf of Guinea.

Anders found a home wreaking havoc on the enemy through unconventional means. After the SSRF was disbanded in early 1943, he joined the Special Boat Service (SBS), then attached to the Special Air Service and went to the Middle East. By October 1944, Anders had risen to the rank of Major. 

During his service he fought in North-West Europe, North Africa, Crete, the Aegean islands, mainland GreeceYugoslavia and Italy. He was awarded two further bars to his Military Cross on 27 September 1943 and 15 February 1944, by which time he had gained a reputation for fierce fighting.

As the war moved towards its end, Anders was in Italy supporting the Allies as they pushed north. He was sent on a mission along the shores of Lake Comacchio. His instructions were to take a patrol of 18 men and to cause as many casualties and as much confusion as possible, to give the impression of a major landing, and to capture prisoners. Anders was perfectly suited for such a mission. 

Unfortunately, the ruse to make the German sentries believe they were approaching fishermen failed and the Germans attacked with a withering array of fire. Anders responded with a charge against the enemy in the face of overwhelming numbers, single-handedly taking out the Germans with a flurry of grenades. Capturing two machine gun positions, it seemed Anders’ bravery and military prowess would yet again win the day.

However, German soldiers at a third post feigned surrender, waiting for Anders to approach before firing upon him. Their fire hit him in the stomach, but Anders threw one last grenade as he fell, wounding its occupants and enabling his patrol to capture this final position. Mortally wounded, Anders knew he would not survive. Refusing to slow down the team which would endanger further lives and against the objections of the men he led, he insisted they leave him behind. With their ammunition almost exhausted, his men withdrew and there, on the shores of Lake Comacchio, the man who seemed born to win every battle would perish just a few months before the end of the war.

As word of his actions at Operation Roast spread, Anders received the admiration of the Allies and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award of the British honours system. As such, Anders became the only non-Commonwealth recipient of the Victoria Cross, thereby cementing his unique place in military history.

The TIDLÖS team salutes the forgotten hero, Anders Lassen, who died on April 8, 1945 at the age of 24, whose reputation for unruliness and insubordination was vanquished only by his magnificent leadership and selfless courage in battle.