The BRITISH COMMANDOS were formed during the Second World War in June
1940, following a request from the Prime Minister of the United
Winston Churchill , for a force that could carry out raids
German-occupied Europe . Initially drawn from within the
British Army from soldiers who volunteered for the
Brigade , the Commandos' ranks would eventually be filled by members
of all branches of the
British Armed Forces
British Armed Forces and a number of foreign
volunteers from German-occupied countries.
Reaching a wartime strength of over 30 units and four assault
brigades , the Commandos served in all theatres of war from the Arctic
Circle to Europe and from the Mediterranean and
Middle East to
South-East Asia . Their operations ranged from small groups of men
landing from the sea or by parachute, to a brigade of assault troops
spearheading the Allied invasions of Europe and Asia.
After the war most
Commando units were disbanded, leaving only the
3 Commando Brigade
3 Commando Brigade . The modern Royal Marine Commandos ,
Parachute Regiment ,
Special Air Service
Special Air Service and
Special Boat Service
trace their origins to the Commandos. The Second World War Commando
legacy also extends to mainland Europe and the
United States , the
French Naval commandos , Dutch
Korps Commandotroepen , Belgian
Brigade and the
United States Army Rangers were
influenced by the wartime Commandos.
* 1 Formation
* 2 Organisation
* 2.2 1943 reorganization
* 3 Training
* 3.1 Weapons and equipment
* 4 Operations
* 4.3 Mediterranean
* 4.6 Germany
* 4.7 Burma
* 5 Legacy
* 7 Footnotes
* 8 References
* 9 Bibliography
* 10 External links
British Commandos were a formation of the British Armed Forces
organized for special service in June 1940. After the events leading
to the British Expeditionary Force 's (BEF) evacuation from
after the disastrous
Battle of France
Battle of France ,
Winston Churchill , the
British Prime Minister , called for a force to be assembled and
equipped to inflict casualties on the
Germans and bolster British
morale. Churchill told the joint chiefs of staff to propose measures
for an offensive against
German-occupied Europe , and stated: "they
must be prepared with specially trained troops of the hunter class who
can develop a reign of terror down the enemy coast." One staff
officer , Lieutenant Colonel
Dudley Clarke , had already submitted
such a proposal to
John Dill , the Chief of the Imperial
General Staff . Dill, aware of Churchill's intentions, approved
Clarke's proposal and on 23 June 1940, the first
Commando raid took
Robert Laycock , inspecting Royal
Marines Commandos shortly before the
Normandy landings .
The request for volunteers for special service was initially
restricted to serving Army soldiers within certain formations still in
Britain, and from men of the disbanding divisional Independent
Companies originally raised from Territorial Army divisions who had
served in the
Norwegian Campaign .
By the autumn of 1940 more than 2,000 men had volunteered and in
November 1940 these new units were organised into a
Brigade consisting of four battalions under the command of Brigadier
J. C. Haydon. The
Special Service Brigade was quickly expanded to 12
units which became known as Commandos. Each
Commando had a lieutenant
colonel as the commanding officer and numbered around 450 men (divided
into 75 man troops that were further divided into 15 man sections ).
Technically these men were only on secondment to the Commandos; they
retained their own regimental cap badges and remained on the
regimental roll for pay. The
Commando force came under the
operational control of the
Combined Operations Headquarters . The man
initially selected as the commander of Combined Operations was Admiral
Roger Keyes , a veteran of the
Gallipoli Campaign and the Zeebrugge
Raid in the First World War . Keyes resigned in October 1941 and was
replaced by Vice
Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten . Major-General
Robert Laycock was the last Commander of Combined Operations; he took
over from Mountbatten in October 1943.
Commandos simulate an amphibious landing by disembarking from a
dummy landing craft into a shallow pit filled with water.
Commando units formed in the
United Kingdom were: No. 1 , No. 2 ,
No. 3 , No. 4 , No. 5 , No. 6 , No. 7 , No. 8 (Guards) , No. 9 , No.
10 (Inter-Allied) , No. 11 (Scottish) , No. 12 , No. 14 (Arctic) , No.
30 , and No. 62
Commando . At the same time there were four Commando
units formed in the
Middle East : No. 50 , No. 51 , No, 52 , and the
Commando . The No. 10 (Inter-Allied)
Commando was formed
from volunteers from the occupied territories and enemy aliens . It
was the largest
Commando unit formed, and contained troops from France
Norway , the
Netherlands , and No. 3 (X) Troop.
The No. 3 (X)
Troop consisted of enemy aliens; it was also known as
Jewish , or British troop and was officially renamed the
Troop in 1944. Most of the troop had German , Austrian ,
or Eastern European backgrounds, while others were political or
religious refugees from
Nazi Germany .
Some Commandos were designated for different tasks from the start.
Commando was always intended to be a parachute unit. In June
1940 they began parachute training and were re-designated the 11th
Special Air Service
Special Air Service (SAS) Battalion, which eventually became the 1st
Parachute Battalion . After their re-designation a new No. 2 Commando
was formed. Other Commandos were grouped together in a larger
formation known as
Layforce and sent to the Middle East. The Special
Air Service and the
Special Boat Squadron were formed from the
survivors of Layforce. The men of No. 14 (Arctic)
specially trained for operations in the
Arctic Circle and specialised
in using small boats and canoes to attack shipping. The joint service
unit No. 30
Commando was formed for intelligence gathering. Its
members were trained in the recognition of enemy documents, search
techniques, safe cracking, prisoner handling, photography, and escape
techniques. No. 62
Commando or the Small Scale Raiding Force was a
small 55–man unit under the operational control of the Special
Operations Executive (SOE). They carried out raids planned by SOE such
Operation Postmaster on the Spanish island of Fernando Po off the
West Africa .
In February 1941 the Commandos were reorganized in accordance with a
new war establishment. Each
Commando unit now consisted of a
Headquarters and six troops (instead of the previous 10). Each troop
would comprise three officers and 62 other ranks ; this number was set
so each troop would fit into two
Assault Landing Craft . The new
formation also meant that two complete
Commando units could be carried
in the \'Glen\' type landing ship and one unit in the \'Dutch\' type
landing ship . The motor transport issued to each commando consisted
of one car for the commanding officer, 12 motorcycles (six with
sidecars ), two 15 hundredweight (cwt) trucks, and one 3-ton truck.
These vehicles were only provided for administration and training and
were not intended to accompany the men on operations. Commandos
demonstrate a technique for crossing barbed wire during training in
Scotland, 28 February 1942.
In February 1942 the
Royal Marines were tasked to organise Commando
units of their own. In total nine
Commando units were formed by the
Royal Marines: No. 40 , No. 41 , No. 42 , No. 43 , No. 44 , No. 45 ,
No. 46 , No. 47 and the last, No. 48 , which was only formed in 1944.
In 1943 two other
Commando units were formed. The first was the Royal
Naval Commandos , who were established to carry out tasks associated
with establishing, maintaining, and controlling beachheads during
amphibious operations. The other was the
Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force Commandos ,
who would accompany an invasion force either to make enemy airfields
serviceable, or to make new airstrips operational and contribute to
Two Vickers machine guns of a heavy weapons troop in the
Wesel , 1945
In 1943, the formation of the
Commando unit was changed. Each
Commando now consisted of a small headquarters group, five fighting
troops, a heavy weapons troop, and a signals platoon. The fighting
troops consisted of 65 men of all ranks divided into two 30–man
sections which were subdivided into three 10–man subsections. The
heavy weapons troop was made up of 3-inch mortar and Vickers machine
gun teams. The Commandos were provided with the motor transport
needed to accompany them on operations. Their transport now consisted
of the commanding officer's car, 15 motorcycles (six with side cars),
ten 15 cwt trucks, and three 3-ton trucks. The heavy weapons troop had
seven Jeeps and trailers and one Jeep for each of the fighting troops
and the headquarters. This gave them enough vehicles of their own to
accommodate two fighting troops, the heavy weapons troop, and the
By now the Commandos started to move away from smaller raiding
operations. They were formed into four brigades to spearhead future
Allied landing operations. The previous
Special Service Brigade
Headquarters was replaced by Headquarters
Special Services Group under
Robert Sturges . Of the remaining 20
Commando units, 17 were used in the formation of the four Special
Service brigades. The three remaining Commandos (Nos. 12, 14, and 62)
were left out of the brigade structure to concentrate on smaller scale
raids. The increased tempo of operations, together with a shortage of
volunteers and the need to provide replacements for casualties, forced
their disbandment by the end of 1943. The small scale raiding role
was then given to the two French troops of No. 10 (Inter-Allied)
From 1944 the Operational Holding
Commando Headquarters was formed.
It was responsible for two sub–units: the Army and Royal Marines
Commando Wings. Both units had an establishment of five troops
and a heavy weapons troop of fully trained commandos. The men in these
troops were to provide individual or complete troop replacements for
Commando units in the field. In December 1944, the four Special
Service brigades were re-designated as
Negotiating an assault course obstacle
Commando units were originally formed in 1940, training was
the responsibility of the unit commanding officers. Training was
hampered by the general shortage of equipment throughout the British
Army at this time, as most arms and equipment had been left behind at
Dunkirk . In December 1940 a
Commando depot was formed
with the responsibility of training and supplying reinforcements for
Commando units in that theatre. In February 1942 the Commando
training depot at
Achnacarry in the
Scottish Highlands was established
by Brigadier Charles Haydon . Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel
Charles Vaughan, the
Commando depot was responsible for training
complete units and individual replacements. The training regime was
for the time innovative and physically demanding, and far in advance
British Army training. The depot staff were all hand
picked, with the ability to outperform any of the volunteers. Training
and assessment started immediately on arrival, with the volunteers
having to complete an 8-mile (13 km) march with all their equipment
Spean Bridge railway station to the commando depot. When they
arrived they were met by Vaughan, who stressed the physical demands of
the course and that any man who failed to live up to the requirements
would be 'returned to unit' (RTU).
Exercises were conducted using live ammunition and explosives to make
training as realistic as possible. Physical fitness was a
prerequisite, with cross country runs and boxing matches to improve
fitness. Speed and endurance marches were conducted up and down the
nearby mountain ranges and over assault courses that included a
Loch Arkaig , all while carrying arms and full
equipment. Training continued by day and night with river crossings,
mountain climbing, weapons training, unarmed combat , map reading, and
small boat operations on the syllabus. Living conditions were
primitive in the camp, with trainees housed either under canvas in
tents or in Nissen huts and they were responsible for cooking their
own meals. Correct military protocols were enforced: Officers were
saluted and uniforms had to be clean, with brasses and boots shining
on parade. At the end of each course the final exercise was a
simulated night beach landing using live ammunition. Crossing a
river on a toggle rope bridge under simulated artillery fire
Commando depot, known as the
Commando Mountain and
Snow Warfare training camp, was established at
Braemar . This camp was
run by two famous mountaineers : the depot commander Squadron Leader
Frank Smythe and chief instructor
Major John Hunt . The depot provided
training for operations in Arctic conditions, with instruction in
climbing snow-covered mountains, cliff climbing, and small boat and
canoe handling. Training was conducted in how to live, fight, and move
on foot or on skis in snowy conditions.
A major change in the training programme occurred in 1943. From that
point on training concentrated more on the assault infantry role and
less on raiding operations. Training now included how to call for fire
support from artillery and naval gunfire , and how to obtain tactical
air support from the Allied air forces. More emphasis was put on joint
training, with two or more
Commando units working together in
brigades. By the end of the war 25,000 men had passed through the
Commando course at Achnacarry. This total includes not only the
British volunteers, but volunteers from Belgium, France, Netherlands,
Norway, Poland, and the
United States Army Rangers , which were
modelled on the Commandos.
WEAPONS AND EQUIPMENT
Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife
As a raiding force, the Commandos were not issued the heavy weapons
of a normal infantry battalion. The weapons used were the standard
British Army small arms of the time; most riflemen carried the
Lee–Enfield rifle and section fire support was provided by the Bren
light machine gun . The Thompson was the submachine gun of choice, but
later in the war the Commandos also used the cheaper and lighter Sten
Commando sections were equipped with a higher number of Bren and
Thompson guns than a normal British infantry section. The Webley
Revolver was initially used as the standard sidearm, but it was
eventually replaced by the Colt 45 pistol , which used the same
ammunition as the Thompson submachine gun. One weapon specifically
designed for the Commandos was the
De Lisle carbine . Modelled on the
Lee–Enfield rifle and fitted with a silencer , it used the same .45
cartridge as the Thompson and was designed to eliminate sentries
Commando raids. Some were used and proved successful on
operations, but the nature of the
Commando role had changed before
they were put into full production and the order for their purchase
was cancelled. The
Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife was designed
especially for Commandos' use in hand-to-hand combat, replacing the
BC-41 knuckleduster/dagger, although a whole range of clubs and knives
were used in the field. Some of the heavier and crew–served weapons
used included the
Boys anti-tank rifle and the
2-inch mortar for
indirect fire support. After 1943, the Projector, Infantry, Anti Tank
, known as the PIAT, replaced the now obsolete Boys anti-tank rifle.
With the formation of the heavy weapons troops, Commandos were issued
the 3-inch mortar and the
Vickers machine gun
Vickers machine gun . The issue of the
Vickers machine gun
Vickers machine gun to
Commando units set them apart from
British Army infantry divisions, who tended to only employ the
weapon in specialist machine gun battalions. Commandos wearing
the green beret and carrying the Bergen rucksack during the Normandy
Initially the Commandos were indistinguishable from the rest of the
British Army and volunteers retained their own regimental head-dress
and insignia. No. 2
Commando adopted Scottish head-dress for all ranks
and No. 11 (Scottish)
Commando wore the Tam O\'Shanter with a black
hackle . The official head-dress of the
Middle East Commandos was a
bush hat with their own knuckleduster cap badge. This badge was
modelled on their issue fighting knife (the
Mark I trench knife
Mark I trench knife )
which had a knuckleduster for a handle. In 1942 the green Commando
beret and the Combined Operations tactical recognition flash were
As the men were equipped for raiding operations and only lightly
armed, they did not carry anti-gas protective equipment or large
packs, and the standard British steel helmet was replaced by a woollen
cap comforter. Instead of heavy ammunition boots they wore lightweight
rubber soled gym shoes that allowed them to move silently. All ranks
carried a toggle rope , several of which could be linked together to
form longer ropes for scaling cliffs or other obstacles. During boat
operations an inflatable lifebelt was worn for safety. The Commandos
were the first unit to adopt the Bergen rucksack to carry heavy loads
of ammunition, explosives, and other demolition equipment. A battle
jerkin was produced to wear over battledress and the airborne forces'
Denison smock became standard issue for
later in the war.
Main articles: British
Commando operations during the Second World
War and List of
Commando raids on the Atlantic wall
The very first
Commando raid – Operation Collar on 23 June 1940 –
was not actually carried out by a
Commando unit, but by one of their
predecessors: No.11 Independent Company. The mission, led by Major
Ronnie Tod , was an offensive reconnaissance carried out on the French
coast south of
Le Touquet . The operation was a
limited success; at least two German soldiers were killed whilst the
only British injury was a flesh wound suffered by Lieutenant Colonel
Dudley Clarke, who had accompanied the raiders as an observer. A
second and similarly inconsequential raid,
Operation Ambassador , was
made on the German occupied island of
Guernsey on the night of 14 July
1940 by men from H
Troop of No. 3
Commando and No. 11 Independent
Company. One unit landed on the wrong island and another group
disembarked from its launch into water so deep that it came over their
heads. Intelligence had indicated that there was a large German
barracks on the island but the Commandos found only empty buildings.
When they returned to the beach heavy seas had forced their launch
offshore, and they were forced to swim out to sea to be picked up.
The size of the raiding force depended on the objective. The smallest
raid was conducted by two men from No. 6
Operation J V .
The largest was the 10,500 man
Operation Jubilee . Most of the raids
were scheduled to only last overnight although some, like Operation
Gauntlet , were conducted over a number of days. In north west Europe
there were 57 raids made between 1940 and 1944. Of these 36 were
against targets in France. There were 12 raids against Norway, seven
raids in the
Channel Islands , and single raids were made in Belgium
Netherlands . The success of the raids varied; Operation
Chariot , the raid against dock installations at
St Nazaire , has been
hailed as the greatest raid of all time, but others, like Operation
Operation Musketoon , resulted in the capture or death of
all involved. The smaller raids ended in mid-1944 on the orders of
General Robert Laycock, who suggested that they were no longer
as effective and only resulted in the
Germans strengthening their
beach defences, something that could be extremely detrimental to
Operation Archery – the man on the left is
armed with the
Thompson submachine gun
Commando raid in Norway,
Operation Claymore , was conducted
in March 1941 by men of No.s 3 and 4 Commandos. This was the first
large scale raid from the
United Kingdom during the war. Their
objective was the undefended Norwegian
Lofoten Islands . They
successfully destroyed the fish-oil factories, petrol dumps, and 11
ships, while capturing 216 Germans, encryption equipment, and
In December 1941 there were two raids. The first was Operation Anklet
, a raid on the
Lofoten Islands by No. 12
Commando on 26 December. The
German garrison was in the midst of their Christmas celebrations and
was easily overcome; the Commandos re-embarked after two days.
Operation Archery was a larger raid at
Vågsøy Island. This raid
involved men from Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 6 Commandos, a
Royal Navy flotilla,
and limited air support. The raid caused significant damage to
factories, warehouses, and the German garrison, and sank eight ships.
After this the
Germans increased the garrison in
Norway by an extra
30,000 troops, upgraded coastal and inland defences, and sent a number
of capital ships to the area. During
Operation Archery a wounded
Commando is being helped towards a
Landing Craft Assault (LCA)
In September 1942 men from No. 2
Commando took part in Operation
Musketoon , a raid against the Glomfjord hydroelectric power plant .
The Commandos were landed by submarine and succeeded in blowing up
some pipelines, turbines, and tunnels. This effectively destroyed the
generating station and the aluminium plant was shut down permanently.
Commando was killed in the raid and another seven were captured
while trying to escape. They spent a short time at Colditz Castle
before being transferred to Sachsenhausen concentration camp . Shortly
after their arrival at Sachsenhausen they were executed. They were the
first victims of the secret
Commando Order , which mandated the
execution of all captured Commandos. The three remaining Commandos
managed to reach Sweden and were eventually returned to No. 2
In 1943, the Norwegian
Troop of No. 10 (Inter-Allied), No. 12, and
No. 14 (Arctic) Commandos assisted the
Royal Navy in carrying out
anti–shipping raids in Norwegian coastal waters. The Commandos
provided extra firepower for the navy Motor Torpedo Boats when they
were at sea and acted as a guard force when they were at anchor in the
Norwegian fjords. In April 1943, seven men of No. 14 (Arctic)
Commando took part in a raid on German shipping near
named Operation Checkmate . They managed to sink several ships using
limpet mines, but were captured and eventually taken to Sachsenhausen
and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps, where they were executed.
Germans responded to the numerous raids directed at
increasing the number of troops stationed there. By 1944 the garrison
had risen to 370,000 men. In comparison, a British infantry division
in 1944 had an establishment of 18,347 men.
Commandos marching past a collapsed
Goatley boat , which was
used in smaller raids to transfer from motor boats to the shore
There were seven
Commando missions carried out on the Channel Islands
Operation Ambassador was the first and largest of these, employing
140 men from No. 3
Commando and No. 11 Independent Company in a night
raid on 14 July 1940. Later raids were much smaller; only 12 men of
Commando took part in
Operation Dryad in September 1942, when
they captured seven prisoners and located several German codebooks.
Operation Branford , a reconnaissance mission that aimed to identify a
suitable gun position to support future raids on
Alderney , followed
only days later. In October of that year 12 men from No.s 12 and 62
Commandos took part in
Operation Basalt , a raid on
Sark that saw four
Germans killed and one taken prisoner.
All the other
Channel Islands raids were less successful. In January
Operation Huckabuck , a raid on
Herm , was a failure. After
three attempts to scale the islands cliffs the Commandos finally
reached the top, but there were no signs of any German occupation
troops or of the island's population. The next raids were Operations
Hardtack 28 and Hardtack 7 in December 1943. The Hardtack 28 raid on
Jersey ended in failure when two men were killed and one wounded after
they walked into a minefield. The exploding mines alerted the German
garrison and the Commandos had to abandon the operation. In Hardtack
7 the Commandos had returned to Sark, but had to abandon the operation
and return to England when they were unable to scale the island's
Men from No. 51
Commando wearing bush hats with the Middle East
Commando cap badge, modelled on the Mark I trench
knife on the sergeant's belt
During 1941, the
Middle East Commandos and
Layforce were tasked to
carry out a campaign of harassment and dislocation against enemy
forces in the Mediterranean. At the time that
Layforce was raised,
the British had the ascendency in the theatre, as they had largely
defeated the Italians. It was felt that the Commandos could be
employed in the capture of the island of
Rhodes . However, the
arrival of the
Afrika Korps in
Cyrenaica and the invasion of
Yugoslavia and Greece greatly changed the strategic outlook. By the
Layforce arrived in Egypt in March the situation had become dire.
The deployment of forces to Greece meant that the Commandos became
the only troops in general reserve. As the strategic situation
worsened, it became increasingly difficult to employ them in the
manner intended, as they were called upon as reinforcements to the
rest of the army.
In May 1941 the majority of
Layforce were sent as reinforcements to
Battle of Crete
Battle of Crete . Almost as soon as they landed it was decided
that they could not be employed in an offensive role and would instead
be used to cover the withdrawal route towards the south. They were
ill-equipped for this type of operation, as they were lacking in
indirect fire support weapons such as mortars or artillery; they were
armed mainly with rifles and a few Bren light machine guns. By 31 May
the evacuation was drawing to a close and the commandos, running low
on ammunition, rations, and water, fell back towards Sphakia. In the
end, the vast majority of the commandos were left behind on the
island, becoming prisoners of war . About 600 of the 800 commandos
that had been sent to Crete were listed as killed, missing, or
wounded; only 179 commandos managed to get off the island. In April
1941 men from No. 7
Commando took part in the
Bardia raid , but by
late July 1941
Layforce had been severely reduced in strength.
Reinforcements were unlikely given the circumstances. The operational
difficulties that had been exposed during the Bardia raid, combined
with the inability of the high command to fully embrace the Commando
concept, had largely served to make the force ineffective. The
decision was made to disband Layforce. Men from No. 9 Commando
the morning after
Operation Partridge near the
Garigliano river, 30
In November 1942, No. 1 and No. 6 Commandos formed part of the
spearhead for Allied landings in
Algeria as part of
Operation Torch .
Tensions were high between the British and the Vichy French at this
time because of a number of clashes like the Attack on Mers-el-Kébir
. As a result, the decision was made for the Commandos to be equipped
with American weapons and uniforms in an effort to placate the
Tunisia Campaign followed the Torch landings. No. 1
and No. 6 Commandos were involved in the first battle of Sedjenane
between February and March 1943. Both
Commando units remained in
theatre until April, when the decision was made to withdraw them from
the fighting in North Africa. Lacking the administrative support and
reinforcements of regular infantry units, the strength of the two
units had fallen and they were no longer considered effective.
In May 1943 a
Special Service Brigade comprising No. 2, No. 3, No. 40
(RM), and No. 41 (RM) Commandos was sent to the Mediterranean to take
part in the
Allied invasion of Sicily . The two Royal Marines
Commandos were the first into action, landing ahead of the main force.
Special Service Brigade serving in the Italian campaign was
joined in November 1943 by the Belgian and Polish Troops of No. 10
(Inter-Allied) Commando. The Polish troop captured a German occupied
village on its own when the 2/6th Battalion Queen\'s Regiment failed
to reach a rendezvous on time. On 2 April 1945 the whole of the now
Brigade were engaged in
Operation Roast at
Comacchio lagoon in north east
Italy . This was the first major
action of the big spring offensive to push the
Germans back across the
River Po and out of Italy. After a fierce three-day battle the
Commandos succeeded in clearing the spit separating the lagoon from
the Adriatic and secured the flank of the 8th Army . This fostered the
idea that the main offensive would be along the coast and not though
the Argenta Gap .
Anders Lassen (
Special Air Service
Special Air Service ) and
Thomas Peck Hunter No. 43 (Royal Marine)
Commando were each
awarded a posthumous
Victoria Cross for their actions during Operation
Lord Lovat and men from No. 4
Commando after the
There were 36
Commando raids targeted against
1940–1944, mostly small affairs involving between 10 and 25 men.
Some of the larger raids involved one or more commando units. In
March 1942, No. 2
Commando plus demolition experts from seven other
Commando units took part in
Operation Chariot , also known as the St.
Nazaire Raid. The destroyer HMS Campbeltown , accompanied by 18
smaller ships, sailed into St. Nazaire where Campbeltown was rammed
directly into the
Normandie dock gates. The Commandos engaged the
German forces and destroyed the dock facilities. Eight hours later,
delayed-action fuses set off the explosives in the Campbeltown, which
wrecked the dock gates and killed some 360
Germans and French. A total
of 611 soldiers and sailors took part in Chariot; 169 were killed and
200 (most wounded) taken prisoner. Only 242 men returned. Of the 241
Commandos who took part 64 were killed or missing and 109 captured.
Augustus Charles Newman and
Sergeant Thomas Durrant
of the Commandos, plus three members of the Royal Navy, were awarded
the Victoria Cross. Eighty others received decorations for gallantry.
On 19 August 1942 a major landing took place at the French coastal
town of Dieppe . The main force was provided by the 2nd Canadian
Infantry Division , supported by No. 3 and No. 4 Commandos. The
mission of No. 3
Commando was to neutralize a German coastal battery
Berneval-le-Grand that was in a position to fire upon the landing
at Dieppe. The landing craft carrying No. 3
Commando ran into a German
coastal convoy . Only a handful of commandos, under the second in
Major Peter Young , landed and scaled the barbed wire laced
cliffs. Eventually 18 Commandos reached the perimeter of the battery
via Berneval and engaged the target with small arms fire. Although
unable to destroy the guns, they prevented the
Germans from firing
effectively on the main assault by harassing their gun crews with
sniper fire. In a subsidiary operation No. 4
Commando landed in force
along with the French
Troop No. 10 (Inter-Allied)
Commando and 50
United States Army Rangers and destroyed the artillery battery at
Varengeville . Most of No. 4
Commando safely returned to England.
Patrick Porteous of No. 4
Commando was awarded the Victoria
Cross for his actions during the raid.
Royal Marines Commandos
on their way to relieve the
6th Airborne Division at
Pegasus Bridge ,
6 June 1944
Normandy landings of 6 June 1944 two
Brigades were deployed. The 1st
Special Service Brigade landed behind
British 3rd Infantry Division on
Sword Beach . Their main
objective was to fight through to the
6th Airborne Division that had
landed overnight and was holding the northern flank and the bridges
Orne River . The Commandos cleared the town of
headed for the bridges, about 10 miles (16 km) away. Arriving at the
Pegasus Bridge , the Commandos fought on the left flank of the Orne
bridgehead until they were ordered to withdraw. The brigade remained
in Normandy for ten weeks, sustaining 1,000 casualties, including the
brigade commander, Brigadier Lord Lovat . The all
Royal Marines 4th
Special Service Brigade was also involved in the Normandy landings.
Commando landed on the left flank of
Juno Beach and No. 41
Commando landed on the right flank of
Sword Beach and then assaulted
Lion-sur-Mer . No. 48
Commando landed in front of the St.
Aubin-sur-Mer strong point and lost forty percent of its men. The
Brigade unit ashore was No. 47 Commando, which landed on Gold
Beach near the town of Asnells . Five of the Landing Craft Assault
carrying them ashore were sunk by mines and beach obstacles, which
resulted in the loss of 76 of their 420 men. These losses delayed
their advance to their primary objective, the port of
which they captured the following day.
No. 41 (Royal Marine)
Commando advance through Westkapelle
towards the lighthouse
Battle of the Scheldt started 1 November 1944, with 4th Special
Brigade assigned to carry out a seaborne assault on the island
Walcheren . The plan was for the island to be attacked from two
directions, with the Commandos coming by sea and the Canadian 2nd
Division and the
52nd (Lowland) Division attacking across the
causeway. No. 4
Commando landed at Flushing and No. 41 and 48 at
Westkapelle . No. 47
Commando was held in reserve and landed after
No.s 41 and 48. They were to advance past No. 48
Commando and attempt
to link up with No. 4
Commando in the south. On the first day No. 41
captured an artillery observation tower at Westkapelle and cleared the
rest of the town. They then moved along the coast and dealt with the
coastal defence installations.
Commando quickly captured a radar station and then advanced on
a gun battery south of Westkapelle, which was captured before
nightfall. On 2 November No. 47
Commando advanced through No. 48
Commando to attack a gun battery at
Zouteland . The attack failed,
with the unit suffering heavy casualties, including all the rifle
troop commanders. The next day No. 47, supported by No. 48 Commando,
again attacked the
Zouteland gun battery. This time they managed to
continue the advance and link up with No. 4 Commando. The capture of
these batteries allowed the navy to start sweeping the channel into
Antwerp for mines. On 5 November, No. 41
Commando captured the gun
battery north east of
Domburg ; this left only one battery still under
German control. The brigade regrouped and concentrated its assault on
the last position. Just before the attack began on 9 November, the
4,000 men in the battery surrendered. This was quickly followed by the
surrender of the rest of the island's garrison.
Men of the 1st
Osnabrück , 4 April 1945
In January 1945 the 1st
Brigade were involved in Operation
Blackcock , where Lance
Henry Harden of the Royal Army
Medical Corps , attached to No. 45 (Royal Marine)
Commando was awarded
the Victoria Cross.
Brigade next took part in
Operation Plunder , the
crossing of the
Rhine River in March 1945. After a heavy artillery
bombardment on the evening of 23 March 1945, the brigade carried out
the initial assault under cover of darkness with the 15th (Scottish)
Division and the
51st (Highland) Division . The
Germans had moved most
of their reserve troops to the
Ludendorff Bridge at
Remagen , which
had just been captured by the U.S. 9th Armored Division . The
Commandos crossed the Rhine at a point 2-mile (3.2 km) west of
Their crossing was unopposed and the brigade headed to the outskirts
of Wesel. Here they waited until a raid of 200 bombers of the Royal
Air Force finished their attack, during which over 1,000 tons of bombs
were dropped. Moving into the city just after midnight, the Commandos
met resistance from defenders organised around an anti-aircraft
division. It was not until 25 March that all resistance ended and the
brigade declared the city taken.
Brigade coming ashore from landing craft during the
Burma Campaign in 1944–1945, the 3rd
participated in several coastal landings of the Southern Front
offensive. These landings culminated in the battle of Hill 170 at
Kangaw. Here Lieutenant George Knowland of No. 1
Commando was awarded
a posthumous Victoria Cross. The Commandos' victory in the 36-hour
battle for Hill 170 cut off the escape of the 54th Japanese Division.
Further amphibious landings by the
25th Indian Infantry Division and
the overland advance of the
82nd (West Africa) Division made the
Japanese position in the Arakan untenable. A general withdrawal was
ordered to avoid the complete destruction of the Twenty-Eighth
Japanese Army . The
Commando brigade was then withdrawn to India in
Operation Zipper , the planned invasion of Malaya. The
Zipper landings were not needed due to the Japanese surrender so the
brigade was sent to Hong Kong for policing duties instead.
At the end of the Second World War all the British Army, Royal Navy,
Royal Air Force, and some
Royal Marines Commandos were disbanded,
leaving only three
Royal Marines Commandos and one brigade (with
supporting Army elements). As of 2010 the British
Commando force is 3
Brigade , which consists of both
Royal Marines and British
Army components, as well as commando-trained personnel from the Royal
Navy and Royal Air Force. Other units of the British armed forces that
can trace their origins to the
British Commandos of the Second World
War are the
Parachute Regiment , the
Special Air Service
Special Air Service , and the
Special Boat Service .
Of the Western nations represented in No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando
Norway did not develop a
Commando force. The French troops were
the predecessors of the Naval commandos . The Dutch Troops were the
predecessors of the
Korps Commandotroepen and the Belgian Troops
were the predecessors of the Paracommando
Brigade . The 1st Battalion
United States Army Rangers were also influenced by the British
Commandos. Their first volunteers were from troops stationed in
Northern Ireland , who were sent to train at the
Commando depot at
Achnacarry. However, subsequent Ranger battalions were formed and
trained independent of British influence.
The men serving with the Commandos were awarded 479 decorations
during the war. This includes eight Victoria Crosses awarded to all
ranks. Officers were awarded 37 Distinguished Service Orders with nine
bars for a second award and 162 Military Crosses with 13 bars. Other
ranks were awarded 32 Distinguished Conduct Medals and 218 Military
Medals . In 1952 the
Commando Memorial was unveiled by the Queen
Mother . It is now a
Category A listed monument in
dedicated to the men of the original British
Commando Forces raised
during Second World War. Situated around a mile from Spean Bridge
village, it overlooks the training areas of the
Depot established in 1942 at
Achnacarry Castle .
British Army battle honours are awarded to regiments that have
seen active service in a significant engagement or campaign ,
generally (although not always) one with a victorious outcome. The
following battle honours were awarded to the
British Commandos during
the Second World War.
* Argenta Gap
* Burma 1943–1945
* Dives Crossing
* Djebel Choucha
* Greece 1944–1945
* Landing at Porto San Venere
* Landing in Sicily
Middle East 1941, 1942, 1944
* Monte Ornito
* North Africa 1941–1943
* North-West Europe 1942, 1944, 1945
* Pursuit to Messina
* St. Nazaire
* Sedjenane 1
* Sicily 1943
* Steamroller Farm
* Syria 1941
* Valli di
* ^ The 10 independent companies were raised from volunteers in 2nd
Line Territorial Army divisions in April 1940. They were intended for
guerrilla style operations in
Operation Weserübung ,
the German invasion of Denmark and Norway. Each of the 10 companies
initially consisted of 21 officers and 268 soldiers.
* ^ A B C Haskew, p.47.
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* ^ A B Moreman, p.13.
* ^ Joslen, p.454.
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* ^ Moreman, p.12.
* ^ Chappell, p.6.
* ^ Chappell, p.30.
* ^ A B C Chappell, pp.45–48.
* ^ van der Bijl, p.6.
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* ^ Shott & McBride, p.4.
* ^ A B Moreman, p.91.
* ^ A B Chappell, p.15.
* ^ A B C Saunders, p.52.
* ^ Shortt & McBride, pp.6–9.
* ^ Morgan, p.15.
* ^ Macksey and Woodhouse, p.308.
* ^ "No 30AU
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* ^ Chappell, p.28.
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* ^ Moreman, p.41.
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* ^ Forty, p.96.
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* ^ Messenger (1985), p.251.
* ^ Moreman, p.54.
* ^ A B C Messenger (1991), p.165.
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* ^ van der Bijl, p.13.
* ^ "Operation Checkmate — Haugesund, Norway".
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* ^ Brayley & Chappell, p.17.
* ^ Binney, p.152.
* ^ Macksey, p.138.
* ^ Saunders, p.XXV.
* ^ Macksey, p.170.
* ^ Moreman, p.20.
* ^ A B Saunders, p.55.
* ^ Saunders, p.57.
* ^ Chappell, p.16.
* ^ Chappel, p.15.
* ^ A B Saunders, p.61.
* ^ Chappell, p.17.
* ^ A B Chappell, p.29.
* ^ Chappell, p. 59.
* ^ "No 1 Army Commando".
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* ^ van der Bijl, p.14.
* ^ Zuehlke, pp.117–119.
* ^ van der Bijl, p.19.
* ^ van der Bijl, p.17.
* ^ Bijl & Hanon, pp.29–30.
* ^ "No. 37254".
The London Gazette
The London Gazette (Supplement). 4 September 1945.
* ^ "No. 37127".
The London Gazette
The London Gazette (Supplement). 8 June 1945. p.
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The London Gazette
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* ^ "Remembering
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* ^ Dunning, pp.65–87.
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* ^ Tillman, p.51.
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* ^ "Operation Neptune - 6 June 1944". 47
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