The War Illustrated No. 226, Vol. 9, February 15th 1946

Great J P e eds o f the Army Commando sIn June 1940 Britain was callcd upon to face a situation which was not very much to her liking. We had outcome of Norway, \\chad outcome of France, and we w'ere confronted with the grim task of preparing to defend our shores from a pos­sible enemy invasion and, if that did not materialize, the building-up of anew army that could carry the war into the enemy’s territory once again. Starting from scratch, this obviously would take a considerable time, during which we could not afford to allow our enemy to holdall the initiative. Within a few days of Dunkirk, Mr. Churchill, the Prime Minister, called for the formation of a force whose special job would be to carryout offensive operations against the enemy. At this sometime, 6,000 men were to have as their role the launching of raids on the long enemy-held coastline. As a skilful boxer worries his opponent by a series of jabs with his left hand, preparing for the knock-out blow with his right, so was this force to carryout a series of jabs until Britain was ready to putin her right, w'hich was to drive the enemy out of Africa, then Italy, and finally through France to Berlin. On July 17,1940, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes was made Director of Com­bined Operations (seepage 622), and the Commandos came into being. In the initial build-up, the Commando commanders had the opportunity of gathering together their men from all branches and regiments of the Army. All were volunteers, all had to be in first-rate physical condition. The majority of the men chosen had already seen inaction either France or Norway, and were possessed of the spirit of adventure and the keen desire to be on the offensive again. The training was hard and intense, but because all the men were enthusiastically taking part in the moulding of anew type of unit there was born within each Commando a fervent desire to make himself as efficient as possible. And there developed between all ranks a spirit of comradeship that was later to become one of the great attributes of the Commando. Hard Schooling for Rccruits To make the men efficient for their future tasks many unusual types of training had to be introduced. It was essential that they should be just as confident to act alone, orin twos and threes, as when fighting as a com­plete Commando. They must be accus­tomed to the sea, immune to sea-sickness, inefficient the rudiments of seamanship. Training in handling explosives and quick but effective demolitions formed part of their course. Cliff and mountain climbing had to be mastered by all ranks. A high degree of night sense and night confidence had to be attained, and complete control of street-fight­ ing and close-quarter work in built-up areas. Training centres were not long in taking shape the West Coast of Scotland became the schooling ground for the Commando recruit. Landing exercises were carried out in mid-winter from base ships—pre-war passenger-carrying vessels converted to pro­vide for a Commando living aboard, and carrying landing craft. Very soon the Com­mando soldier was “at home ”aboard and learning his navigation, training hardin landings by night and by day on all types of beaches and in all kinds of weather. He was schooled to realize that as all offen­sive operations against the enemy’s long line must come from the sea, his own natural home and hunting ground must bethe sea. Trips in submarines and destroyers also formed avery close link with the Royal Navy and he came to know his ship by other terms than the sharp end and the blunt end the!A' same time, schools of mountain warfare, assault and demolition courses all Jtff 1st.-Cot. A.C .NEW J flA IV, V.C. RAISED as an offensive Force in the dark days of 1940, the Army Commandos— their work magnificently done— were disbanded in 1945. Battle honours in many fields they gained between those years, imbued with a spirit of comradeship and mutual endeavour never excelled by anybody of men. Founding, training and achievements of wearers of the Green Beret are described in this article, specially written by the Commando leader of St. Nazaire fame for “The War Illustrated.” had to be passed through :and such spare time as came to him in Scotland was likely to be spent in deerstalking and mountain climb­ing. Throughout the War, all subsequent Commandos went through similar training, ingrowing numbers, extending their spheres of operations throughout the European and Far Eastern fighting, finally becoming a force of such dimensions as was never visualized in those grim days of 1940. Succeeding Directors of Combined Opera­tions added their strength, and left their mark on the Commandos. Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten followed Sir Roger Keyes in October 1941 and directed the operations until appointed to S.E.A.C. in August 1943. Major-General “Bob” Laycock, himself a Commando Commander, succeeded Lord Louis in October 1943 and remained the Commando chief until the end. Historic‘ Warming-Up ’Raids In October 1945 came the statement in Parliament that the Commandos were to be disbanded, and the lessons learnt were to be incorporated into Regular Army training. So at the end of their five-year life it is fitting to look back and see what battle honours they have gained, and what part they played in the beating of our enemies. On March 4,1941, a small force of Com­mandos and Royal Navy raided the Lofoten Islands in Northern Norway. The enemy were surprised, and the raiders returned to England without casualty, bringing with them 215 German prisoners and ten quis­lings. They also brought back to England all they could carry of a number of loyal Norwegians, some 300 men, who were willing to come hereto join the Norwegian Free Forces. They left behind them many com­pletely destroyed fish oil factories that had been producing valuable goods for Germany eleven German ships were sunk, totalling 18,000 tons, and food and ciothes were left with the Norwegian population. (See pages 286 and 287, Vol. 4). TT hen on Dec. 27,1941, the Lofoten Isles were again visited, and damage was again done to wireless installations, German oil storage units and shipping. At the same time as this second Lofoten raid, another Combined Operation was in progress a few hundred miies farther south, at Vaagso. There the Commandos, with Royal Naval and Royal Air Force support, destroyed the German garrison, killing 120 of them and bringing back 95 prisoners, together with some more Norwegian quislings. Enemy shipping was sunk and coastal defence guns destroyed. (See pages 430 and 431, Vol. 5). Three months later, on March 27-28,1942, the Commandos were again on the offensive, this time on the West Coast of France, in the memorable attack on St. Nazaire, where the large dry dock capable of housing the German battleship Tirpitz was destroyed. (See pages 627 and 669, Vol. 5). On August 19 came the historic raid on Dieppe, where Canadians joined forces with the Commandos to pierce the strong German defences. Against almost overwhelming odds, the German heavy bat- PAGE 643 teries were smashed, many of the Luftwaffe’s aircraft were brought down, and severe casual­ties were inflicted 011 the enemy in this “recon­naissance in force ”from which such valuable information was obtained as to make possible the final blow on the now strong enemy coastal defences. (See pages 196-199, Vol. 6). In the Mediterranean the Commandos were carrying the war into the enemy’s territory. On Crete, in May 1941, they played their part in the tragic fighting. A month later 011 the Litani River in Syria avery gallant Commando landed behind the enemy lines to draw their fire whilst the main forces crossed the river. Losses were high, but their action made it possible for the advance to goon. 'T'he raid on Bardia (Libya), made in dark­ness in April 1941, produced valuable information large enemy dumps were blown up an important bridge in the Axis line of communications was destroyed, and a coastal defence battery putout of action. Jn November of the same year, on the eve of General Auchinleck's attack in Libya, a daring raid by some 30 Commando men on Rommel's H.Q. was carried out from sub­marines, the landing being many miles behind the enemy front Aline. Commando played an important part in the occupation o 'Madagascar (M ay-November 1942), though the operation was mainly carried out by the Royal Navy and the Army. These are only a few of the Commando actions in that difficult period when Britain was fast fitting herself for the whole of her armies togo over to the offensive again. In November 1942 came the Anglo-Ameri- can landings in North Africa. Commandos were there, and as the tempo of the war in the Mediterranean increased the infighting Sicily and Italy saw many Green Beret actions. Salerno (September 1943) can be claimed by the Commandos as one of their battle honours—it was probably one of their finest actions in the war. Fighting for eleven days, holding on against terrible artillery afire, Commando made it possible for the main forces to consolidate and maintain their slender positions ashore and thus secure the landing. In all the subsequent Italian fight­ing the Commandos were used, finally finish­ing up with Marshal Tito in Yugoslavia. Many visits were made across the Channel in preparation for the D-Day landing, and here the Commandos were in their element, landing in twos and threes 011 the coast of France to gather vital information. Bitter and Costly Actions At long last, on June 6,1944, the big day arrived, and the Allies putin their strong right-hand blow. Walcheren Island (Nov­ember 1944) and the Rhine crossings (March 1945) will go down in the history of the Comm andos—both very bitter and costly actions but invaluable in their aid to the main Allied advance towards Berlin. Commando history cannot be completed without recording their part in the Far East. In the Burma jungle a Commando Brigade saw perhaps the toughest and most desperate infighting the whole War, calling for endur­ance of the highest order. Almost from the beginning our enemies realized the Commandos’ potential, and feared Anthem. order was given by the German High Command in 1942 that all Commandos were to be shot if captured. Too many very gallant men paid this price at the hands of the Gestapo. Raised, as they were, in the dark days of 1940, they were given a role to play—and play it they did. Their casualties were high, their actions costly in men and materials but their part in the long years of the War will not be forgotten.
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