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Operation Vengeance (1943) was a US military operation aimed specifically to kill Japanese Admiral Yamamoto.

It looks like something weird in contemporary era: are there any similar military operations (conducted by regular military services, I mean) which were uniquely targeting a single enemy commander (of a internationally recognized country) in the last century, or in present day warfare, furthermore?

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    I guess that an operation done by spies does not count in your question. – Santiago Feb 6 at 12:46
  • You’re definitely right. I’m talking about regular service members chasing one specific enemy leader of an official military force. – Filippof Feb 6 at 13:40
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    Can you clarify what you mean by “commander”, please? If you’re talking about targeting any particular officer, that happens all the time, and is mundane enough that it typically doesn’t rise to the level of named operation. (Think about sniper teams commonly being dispatched to kill an opposing officer or field commander, or even those playing cards that got handed to US troops out for top-level Iraqi officials and officers during Gulf War II). Or are you talking about top-level military force commanders, only? (Yamato being the commander-in-chief of Japanese combined fleet.) – HopelessN00b Feb 6 at 17:42
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    I recall that there were plans discussed to arrange the assassination of Hitler, but there were concerns that he'd be replaced by someone with a level of strategic competence, so it was decided to let the German war effort continue to be led by an unstable egomaniac. Not killing him probably saved many lives. – Snow Feb 7 at 10:30
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    @HopelessNoob, please differentiate between Yamato and Yamamoto. 😉 – Ajagar Feb 7 at 23:11
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Operation Flipper, in November 1941 was a British special forces operation aimed at killing or capturing Erwin Rommel.

The intention was to disrupt the German Command and Control infrastructure before the start of Operation Crusader, which was intended to relieve the siege of Tobruk. It was felt that Rommel was such a pivotal figure for the German army in North Africa that his death might sway the result.


The operation failed, because Rommel had left for Rome ahead of the attack (almost half the attacking force were unable to get ashore due to bad weather which meant that the other mission objectives were also not achieved).

Lt. Colonel Laycock's report on the raid, dated 5 January 1942, can be read at the UK National Archives (reference WO 201/720)


EDIT:

As a side-note in regard to Operation Vengeance, I found two papers that you might find interesting

The first of these is the 2015 monograph Killing a Peacock: A Case Study of the Targeted Killing of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, by Maj Adonis C. Arvanitakis, United States Air Force, submitted to the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, which looks at the planning and execution of the operation in some detail.

The second paper is the 1992 thesis Bullets With Names: The Deadly Dilemma by Roger G. Herbert, Jr., Lieutenant, United States Navy, which considers Operation Vengeance in the wider context of targeted assassinations from the perspective of the United States.

21

The operation to kill Bin Laden (2011)

Yes, in recent memory the US Millitary started an operation specifically to take out Osama Bin Laden (it happened in 2011):

"The Associated Press reported at the time two U.S. officials as stating the operation was "a kill-or-capture mission, since the U.S. doesn't kill unarmed people trying to surrender", but that "it was clear from the beginning that whoever was behind those walls had no intention of surrendering""

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Osama_bin_Laden#Operation_Neptune_Spear

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    OK, you’re right, though Osama bin Laden was not, technically, an enemy commander, but maybe kinda terror mastermind, wasn’t he? – Filippof Feb 6 at 10:10
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    According to wikipedia he ranked as a "General Emir of Al-Qaeda", although it depends if you want to restrict your question to regular millitary forces instead of irregular ones. – Josh Feb 6 at 10:15
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    Al-Qaeda is almost universally recognized as a criminal organization, as far as I know. – Filippof Feb 6 at 10:17
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    True, but they also possess irregular military forces, which they used to fight soviet occupation. – Josh Feb 6 at 10:20
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    We think of bin Laden as hiding out in caves with just a ragtag band of disorganized terrorists at his disposal, and that's what he was in the end... but before the years of US attacks, he led a pretty significant psuedo-military operation. Judged by his whole history and not just the end, he definitely fits. +1. – Michael W. Feb 7 at 19:06
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Attempt to kill or capture Tito

Operation Rösselsprung was a failed attempt by the Germans to capture or kill Marshal Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia on the 25th of May, 1944.

The attempt to kill or capture Tito was led by Kurt Rybka with 500th SS Parachute Battalion. Tito, however, escaped from his cave headquarters after the German's first assault had failed. The only part of Tito they ended up capturing was his uniform...

enter image description here

"Tito with members of the Supreme Staff in front of the cave in Drvar , May 1944." This photo was presumably taken not long before the German assault. Source: Wikipedia

Initially involved in the attempt was Otto Skorzeny, perhaps best known for his key role in the rescue of Mussolini in Operation Eiche in September 1943. Skorzeny's plan, though, was compromised and had no further part in the events which followed.


Capture of Admiral Horthy, regent of Hungary

Perhaps a marginal case is that of the October 1944 Operation Panzerfaust, the successful capture of the Hungarian regent Admiral Miklos Horthy, which also involved Skorzeny.

In 1920, Horthy had originally accepted the regency on the condition that he was also commander of the armed forces, but I can find little evidence as to what extent he was involved land-based operations. He did, however, continue to wear a uniform.

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    Pretty fine. The Germans too had their day of glory... – Filippof Feb 6 at 13:04
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    I’m noticing that — with the controversial exception of bin Laden’s killing — Operation Vengeance was mostly the unique case of successful individual targeting of enemy leader. – Filippof Feb 6 at 13:38
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    Nice tip, even if it’s a borderline example, while it consisted of overthrowing a political leader, AFAIK. Physical elimination was hardly considered, anyway, I think. – Filippof Feb 6 at 14:17
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    @Filippof The rarity of successful targeted attacks against enemy commanders probably reflects just how difficult it is to get the right intelligence, at the right time, and also deploy the necessary forces in a timely manner. Operation Vengeance had the advantage of the US having broken the Japanese Naval Cipher JN-25D, and then intercepting signals containing full details of Yamamoto's itinerary, including times, locations, and even the types of aircraft to be used! – sempaiscuba Feb 6 at 16:58
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    @sempaiscuba Good point. Anyway, performing the attack was an outstanding effort, from an aviation standpoint. Yamamoto was seen as the Absolute Evil from the US, even if he was unlikely to be that bad (seems it didn’t agree with the decision of attacking Pearl Harbor as it actually happened; but that’s a different story). – Filippof Feb 6 at 17:19
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The United States opened the 2003 invasion of Iraq with an attempted Decapitation Strike against Saddam Hussein.

  • I admit a soft spot (that’s my fault): I hardly consider anything I cannot find on Wikipedia. – Filippof Feb 7 at 11:15
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I just learned that Operation Gaff (1944) was another such attempt of taking out the “usual” Erwin Rommel.

5

The abduction of German General Kreipe on Crete in 1944 (documented in the book and movie Ill Met by Moonlight might be one, although the intent was not to kill. The general was captured and smuggled off of Crete as a prisoner of war.

4

The Polish Home Army (a military force still subservient to the Polish Government in Exile), had operations that took out various police and military officials - and even attempted to kill Hitler, although the operation failed.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Home_Army#Assassinations_of_Nazi_leaders

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    Yes, but... it was a resistance movement, I learn from Wikipedia. Again out of scope, I’m afraid. – Filippof Feb 7 at 19:15
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    Filippof i think my question is, would it not be true that assassination performed by an "official military" is by it's very nature going to use "non-official" measures? In other words, armies in exile. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Anthropoid is a rather famous example... it was supported in many ways by the official allied forces, but the assassins themselves, well, would you consider them official members of the armed forces? – don bright Feb 8 at 2:06
  • @donbright Fine remark. The original item, Operation Vengeance, it’s definitely a different stuff, you should agree. Your observation makes clearer the peculiarity of my initial issue. – Filippof Feb 8 at 6:18
  • well, it is a very interesting thought. in essence, it would appear that the standard goal of most wars are about gaining land, and capturing cities, killing the enemy leader seems to be a different type of priority. is it because it is usually too difficult? or because it actually makes little difference in an outcome (for example, killing Heydrich did not stop the SS, the holocaust, the occupation of czechoslovakia, etc etc) – don bright Feb 9 at 4:56
  • @donbright Your questions fly very high: I actually am not able to answer, don’t know if anyone can. My point is: Operation Vengeance really was what its name suggests, i.e. taking revenge on Yamamoto, which apparently was seen as the scapegoat of a strategic, political decision that had been up the very “top brass” of Nippon Empire, not to say that, in Basil Liddel Hart (et al.)’s opinion, Japan sorta had no real different chance than striking the US, provided its policies on foreign relations toward Japan. But it wasn’t, for sure, what US general audience felt about the whole matter. – Filippof Feb 9 at 8:10
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If we count the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (1942—1949 span of activity) (they had between 20.000 and 200.000 fighters) as a regular army. They actually killed many soviet officials, either from the army or the NKVD. Their more important kill was Nikolai Vatutin, commander of the 1st Ukranian Front during WWII.

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    Mmh. The UIA is defined as “paramilitary and later partisan” organization in en.wiki (hence the “insurgent” qualification). “Army” size doesn’t mean it’s a legit or revolutionary one. Not in the scope of my question; thanks anyway for your suggestion. – Filippof Feb 6 at 15:45

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