Captain Douglas (Michael Caine) is a British Petroleum executive assigned to work with the British Army in North Africa during World War II, handling port duties for incoming fuel. With the assignment comes the official rank of Captain in the British Army.
Meanwhile, Colonel Masters (Nigel Green) has been sending forays out into the African desert to locate Rommel’s fuel dump for his Afrika Korps and has found it – 400 miles behind German lines.
Douglas is assigned to lead a group of commandos to destroy the facility (due to his knowledge of fuel) but tries to argue his way out, insisting that his contract states he is to only work port duties. The argument is lost on the Brigade Commander (Harry Andrews), who points out that Douglas is wearing a British uniform.
The assigned group comprises military convicts and ne’er-do-wells (shades of The Dirty Dozen), including murderers, thieves, rapists and a homosexual Arabian couple.
Their self-styled leader, Capt. Cyril Leech (Nigel Davenport) – a desert veteran and ruthless scoundrel who has been released from prison to take part in the raid – doesn’t want Douglas on the mission but is promised £2,000 if he brings him back alive.
Disguised as Italians, the motley group set out on a (very slow and lengthy) trek across the Sahara, encountering sandstorms and enemies galore. Communications become impossible when their radio is damaged, but they continue to complete the mission, unaware that circumstances have changed and the higher-ups now want the fuel dump left intact.
The brutal ending, although arguably predictable, is no less shocking.
“Two men are going to stop Rommel. One of them is Adolf Hitler who cannot give him enough fuel, and the other is me, who’s going to blow up the little he has.”
Capt. Cyril Leech
Maj. Alan Watkins
Aly Ben Ayed
Mohsen Ben Abdallah
Andre De Toth