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Joe Louis
Joe Louis

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Submitted to the Graduate Faculty
of Texas Tech University in
Partial Fulfillment of
the Requirements for
the Degree of
August 1974
/f74f\)ø, /35"
In searching for a thesis topic on twentieth century Britain,
I concluded that the central event in the twentieth century for
Britain, as well as the rest of the world, was World War II. The war
was not only Britain's "Finest Hour," as Churchill put it, but also
marked her eclipse as a world power.
Britain's war effort is person-
ified in Churchill, and ChurchilTs approach to leadership is found in
the theme of his The Second World War:
In Victory:
"In War:
In Peace:
Good Will."
The second phrase struck me as particularly Churchillian, and characteristic of the British people as well.
The desire of Churchill and
the British nation to defy Hitler's Germany was probably best
expressed in the formation of commando units and their deployment in
raids against the coast of occupied Europe.
In the course of my research on the commandos, I found ways
to venerate Churchill, one of my favorite historical figures, but the
topic was interesting and important for other reasons.
The commandos
pave the way for the irregular troops of World War II, and they remain
a significant British contribution to not only the war effort but to
the concept of modern warfare.
If one looks at history as a sequence
of causes and effects, the commandos were the cause of many effects.
They were an important part of the history of the British war effort
and of the war in general.
They were one of many important British
• ••
contributions to the Allied victory, contributions often overlooked by
popular opinion.
Many Americans consider the British as so much dead
wood in the history of the war, when, in fact, the Allied effort was
that of a coalition, with the British composing a \/ery important part.
This is not to belittle the Americans, whose role in the v/ar is practically legendary.
An examination of one aspect of the British contribu-
tion to the war will not detract from the American role but, in fact,
enhance its stature. The two countries worked wery well together, and
each made its own contribution to the defeat of the Axis. The commandos,
as part of Combined Operations Headquarters, contributed an important
part of the British contribution in both tactics and strategy.
I faced a problem with research material.
I was not able to
obtain many documents and letters that might have been available to
the well-financed professional historian, but I found that the amount
of published material is incredibly voluminous. Most of the important
people who were involved in the conflict left their memoirs. Of
course, there are two notable exceptions, Roosevelt and Stalin. On
the other hand, an incredible number of people did leave their
memoirs: Churchill, Eisenhower, Patton, Montgomery, Goebbels, Rommel,
Bradley, Doenitz, Zhukor, Chuikov, Galland, Guderian, Clark, Truscott,
and Speer. Hitler's wartime conversations ("table talk") have also
been published.
A number of less famous, but important, people have
left memoirs, such as Peter Young and John Durnford-Slater.
war correspondents have contributed material, among them Ernie Pyle,
William Shirer, Gordon Holman, Quentin Reynolds, and A. B. Austin.
The war has been a favorite topic with military and non-military
historians, adding more available sources.
Both the British and
American governments have published official histories.
With the
boom in paperback books and a receptive public, the amount of published
material on the Second World War will undoubtedly increase.
The objects of this thesis are to gain some new insights into
the commandos and provide a synthesis of published works on this
aspect of the war.
There is a growing need for this approach to the
study of World War II.
Kent Roberts Greenfield's book on American
strategy is a move in this direction.
The Ballantine History of the
Violent Century is another more popular effort making use of both
published material and the rich photographic record available.
this reason, the footnotes for the thesis are extensive.
Many of the
sources used are in paperback, indicative of the popular appeal of
this area of history.
in the bibliography.
The corresponding hardcover editions are listed
I hope that this work will serve not only to
show how much has been published, but also that it will give some new
perspectives of the history of World War II.
Finally, I would like to express my appreciation to the members
of my committee, Brian L. Blakeley and Otto M. Nelson, for their
guidance and criticism.
Alec Williams
Lubbock, Texas
August 1974
The inter-war years in Britain were a period of complacency
and false security.
After 1933 Winston Churchill and other alarmists
or "jitterbugs" opposed, to little avail, the complacency of Britain
and the policy of appeasement.
They would later be hailed as prophets.
Men such as Churchill could not for foresee the future, but they did
realize that Germany had been humiliated at Versailles, and that she
would want to reassert herself as a great European nation.
If she
chose to dominate the continent and indulge in acts of aggression,
Britain would have to meet her with force, or back down and lose her
place as the main European power.
The figure of the German chancellor,
Adolf Hitler, was hardly a reassuring one.
Unfortunately, the British
government was controlled by well-meaning men such as Neville
Chamberlain who did not agree with the jitterbugs.
These honest,
patriotic, and otherwise capable men built their own dream castles,
and then proceeded to live in them.
Their policy of appeasement was
served even at the expense of ramming a disastrous political settlement down the throats of the Czechs at Munich.
Both Munich and the
Nazi-Soviet Pact showed Britain's tragic inability to deal with the
concept of political warfare.^
This dream world extended to the British military as well.
Again, well intentioned, honest, patriotic men failed to see what was
going on in the world around them.
stopped at 1918 or before.
It was as though the clock had
Military planners who should have been
thinking in terms of mechanization thought only of horse flesh.
ideas of B. H. Liddell Hart and J. F. C. Fuller were not within their
Liddell Hart and Fuller told strange tales of the importance
of mechanization and mobile tactics.
While the British Army laughed,
Heinz Guderian was putting these ideas to good use, eagerly absorbing
every bit.
When his tanks broke the French lines in 1940, the idea of
tank warfare was vindicated.
Yet, while this process was in motion in
Germany, wery little was happening in Britain.
debated the future of the cavalry in 1935.
The House of Commons
In 1937 Duff Cooper told
that assembly that Britain's worsening military position showed little
hope of improving.
What should have been going on for fifteen years
A. J. P. Taylor, The Oriqins of the Second World War, 2d ed.
(Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett, 1961), pp. 38, 101-239; A. L. Rowse,
Appeasement: A Study in Political Decline, 1933-1939 (New York:
Norton, 1963), pp. 381-41, 44-47, 78-84, 111-19; Winston S. Churchill,
The History of the Second World War, 6 vols. (New York: Bantam, 1961),
vol. 1: The Gathering Storm, pp. 60-358; William L. Shirer, The Rise
and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany (Greenwich,
Conn.: Fawcett, 1960), pp. 485-577, 721-818; Duff Cooper, The Second
World War: First Phase (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1939),
pp. 80-89, 152-53, 260, 280-81, 294.
could not be done in an instant.
Even in 1939, the full impact of
Britain's military situation was not perceived by many.
It became apparent to all in 1940.
Britain sent a hastily
improvised and muddled expedition to Norway, proving conclusively
that an army could not operate effectively if it was poorly equipped
and lacked air cover.
The Germans drove the point further home in
the Ardennes Offensive in France, before the campaign in Norway was
Guderian's tanks broke through the French defenses with the
fall of Sedan, while the Allies were occupied with holding up the
German advance through Belgium, which was only a decoying movement.
The French Army buckled and broke.
were evacuated at Dunkirk.
The bulk of the British forces
The details of the Allied fiasco are a matter of record.
important question is why one major European power was defeated, and
Heinz Guderian, Panzer Leader. with a Foreword by B. H.
Liddell Hart, abridged ed., trans. Constantine Fitzgibbon (New York:
Ballantine, 1957), pp. 1, 10; Robin Higham, The Military Intellectuals
in Britain, 1918-1939 (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1966),
pp. 25-50; Jay Luuvass, The Education of an Armv: British Military
Thouqht. 1815-1940 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964),
pp. 356-403; B. H. Liddell Hart, "The Inter-War Years, 1919-1939,"
The Historv of the British Armv, ed. Peter Young and J. P. Lawford
(New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1970), pp. 249-53; Churchill, Ihe.
Gatherinq Storm, pp. 64-70, 99-116, 132-47, 301-03; B. H. Liddell
Hart, The Liddell Hart Memoirs, 5 vols. (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons,
1966), vol. 2: The Later Years, pp. 2-220; Great Britain, Parliament,
Parliamentary Debates (CommoniT, 5th series, 299 (llth March-25th
March 1937): 1889.
\inston S. Churchill, The History of the Second World War
(New York: Bantam, 1962), vol. 2: Their Finest Hour, pp. 24-102;
Churchill, The Gathering Storm, pp. 530-87; Christopher Buckley,
Norway, the Commandos, Dieppe (London: Her Majesty's Stationery
Office, 1951), pp. 10-155; Guderian, Panzer Leader, pp. 75-98; Shirer,
Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, pp. 889-902, 924-38, 953-71.
another driven off the European continent.
nations were beaten decisively and quickly.
or "twilight war" was no such thing.
The armies of these two
The so-called "phoney war"
When the Germans attacked Poland
in September 1939, they counted on Britain and France taking a defensive stance and doing nothing.
The French were obligated to stage an
offensive against Germany in the event of an offensive against Poland,
but they did not.
The Poles found out what the Czechs could have told
them and what the British later discovered--the French være not reliable allies.
The hesitant French saw self-preservation as their prime
objective and stayed behind their Maginot Line.
As a result, the
Allies were held back by a much smaller German force that was never
in any danger of attack.
prepared and decisive.
When the German thrust came, it was well
The Germans were prepared to take the initi-
ative, to take great risks in the process.
The Allies were unprepared to take risks.
Expeditionary Force was too small to turn the tide.
equipped and trained.
the struggle.
The British
It was poorly
As for the French, their hearts were never in
Despite the fact that the Allies, collectively, had
more and better tanks than the Germans, it did them no good.
were amateurs at mechanized warfare.
The Germans, on the other hand,
were fascinated with the concept, particularly the British concept
Eric William Sheppard, A Short History of the British Army,
4th ed. (London: Constable, 1950), pp. 376-78; J. F. C. Fuller,
The Second World War, 1939-1945: A Strateaical and Tactical History
(New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, 1949), pp. 73-74; Shirer, R ie
and Fall of the Third Reich, pp. 838-42; Churchill, The Gathering
Storm, pp. 417-30.
as expressed by Liddell Hart and Fuller.
warfare with fire-power.
Their concept was mobile
Basically, this was Napoleon's concept, via
Carl von Clausewitz, adopted to meet the new conditions of the
twentieth century.
The Germans took advantage of Allied hesitancy,
and they struck to destroy their enemy quickly--or almost.
Army had escaped.
The British
Perhaps it was not in the best condition as a result
of the Dunkirk evacuation, but British seapower and the RAF had managed
to save most of the men.
As a result, the issue in the West was not
In 1940, the question for Britain was of what to do until she
could build up her strength for a return to the European continent.
It was a question that was on many minds.
Lieutenant-Colonel Dudley
Clarke, Military Assistant to Sir John Dill (Chief of the Imperial
General Staff), was one of those who pondered the problem.
armies usually resorted to guerrilla warfare, as had been the case
with the Spanish during the Peninsular War.
There were other examples,
but since Clarke had been born in the Transvaal, he remembered the
Boer commandos of 1899-1902. What Britain needed were guerrilla
fighters, who could put Britain's seapower to good use for mobility
and who could strike against the Germans.
A raiding program could be
Churchill, Their Finest Hour, pp. 24-102; Carl von Clausewitz,
On War, ed. Anatol Rapoport (Baltimore: Penguin, 1968), pp. 17-31,
46-47, 61-62, 101-22; Guderian, Panzer Leader, pp. 93-97; Shirer, Rise
and Fall of the Third Reich, pp. 352-56, 944-48, 952-60, 962-71;
Gordon Wright, The Ordeal of Total War, 1939-1945 (New York: Harper
and Row, 1968), pp. 23-28; Sheppard, A Short History of the British
Army, pp. 381-83.
started which would accomplish this.
Clarke presented his proposals
to Dill, and found himself in charge of the project at Section M09 at
the War Office three days later.
Clarke's proposal won quick acceptance because of ChurchilTs
enthusiastic support.
A more perfect patron could not have been found.
ChurchiU assumed power after Chamberlain's government had fallen over
the defeat in Norway.
Ironically, it was on Churchill that part of the
blame should have fallen.
It did not, however, and Churchill was in
a position of leadership, the high point of his life.
For him it was
a chance to lead his country to victory, as his ancestor Marlborough
had done.
The reins of power were gladly taken and puUed tight.
veterán of the Asquith and Lloyd George governments of the First World
War, where organization was chaotic and where the military was a
privileged caste, Churchill would rule with a firm hand.
only prime minister, but also minister of defense.
He was not
He gathered and
held more power than any prime minister before or since.
If there
were to be any more Gallipolis, the man v/ho was to take the blame
would know exactly what was going on.
With ChurchilTs iron hand
came a vigorous approach to leadership, a strong sense of history and
destiny, and a desire to take the initiative at all costs.
his earlier shortcomings, he had amassed a great deal of technical
knowledge on war.
He had been involved in the Boer War as a corres-
pondent, and had been captured by Boer Commandos.
Dudley Clarke, Seven Assignments (London:
1948), pp. 205-6; Peter Young, Command"ô~rNew York:
p. 8.
After his escape.
Jonathan Cape,
Ballantine, 1969),
he had loudly advocated the formation of irregular British cavalry
units to counter the Commandos.
When this was done, he joined one of
them and participated in the relief of Ladysmith.
He was especially
fond of the raiding concept, having been responsible for a successful
raid on the German fleet, successful air raids on the German zeppelin
bases, and a landing of Royal Marines on the Belgian coast to fool
the Germans into thinking that a major landing was in effect.
All of
this had occurred during World War I, but the years had not dimmed
ChurchilTs enthusiasm.
Clarke's suggestion was exactly what this
dynamic and controversial statesman was looking for.
ChurchilTs memo of June 6, 1940, to General Lord Ismay, Head
of the Military Wing of the War Cabinet, showed ChurchilTs appreciation of the possibilities of raiding, the technological problems of
amphibious warfare, and the importance of taking some action against
the Germans:
We have
tory. .
got to get out of our minds the idea that the
ports and all the country between are enemy terri. . Enterprises must be prepared with specially
troops of the hunter class, who can develop a
Max Aitken [Lord Beaverbrook], "Lloyd George and Churchill,"
History Today 23 (August 1973): 546-53; Robert Lewis Taylor, Winston
Churchill: The Bioqraphy of a Great Man (New York: Pocket Books,
1954), pp. 331-32; Brian Gardner, Churc"h"ill in Power: As Seen By
His Contemporaries (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970), pp. 42, 51,
75-78; Virginia Cowles, Winston Churchill: The Era and the Man
(New York: Harper and Bros., 1953), pp. 4, 7, 174-75, 186, 316-21;
B. H. Liddell Hart, "The Military Strategist"; A. J. P. Taylor et al.,
Churchill Revised: A Critical Assessment (New York: Dial Press,
1969), pp. 178-85, 219-23; Hastings Lionel Ismay, The Memoirs of
General Lord Ismay (New York: Viking Press, 1960), pp. 159-63; Winston
S. Churchill, My Earlyy Life:
A Roving Commission (New York: Charles
Scribner's Sons, 1958),
i ) , pp.
pp. 252-53, 301-54.
reign of terror down these coasts, first of all on the
"butcher and bolt" policy; but later . . . we could surprise
Calais or Boulogne, kill and capture the Hun garrison and
hold the place until all the preparations to reduce it by
seige or storm have been made, and then away. The passive
resistance to war, in which we have acquitted ourselves so
well, must come to an end . . . Tanks and A. F. V.'s
(Armored Fighting Vehicles) must be made in flat bottomed
boats out of which they can steal ashore, do a deep raid
inland . . . and then back. leaving a trail of German
corpses behind them. . . .^
Churchill had found the perfect application for his belief in
initiative in war and his love of technology and gadgets.
By July 17,
1940, Churchill had created Combined Operations to handle the new
commando troops and to set up some sort of raiding program.
Combined Operations was headed by Lieutenant-General Alan Bourne as
Commander of Raiding Operations.
Bourne received his appointment from
the Chiefs of Staff on June 14, 1940.
Churchill disagreed.
that a man with more seniority was needed for the job.
He felt
Making it quite
clear that he had nothing against Bourne, personally or as a soldier,
he replaced Bourne with Admiral Sir Roger Keyes.
Director of Combined Operations on July 17, 1940.
Keyes took over as
Keyes had more
seniority, experience, and authority to deal with the problems to be
Keyes was a veteran of both the Gallipoli campaign and the
Zeebrugge raid of the First World War.
Despite these impressive
credentials, Keyes later proved to have severe limitations.
rate, the venture was off to a promising start.
At any
^Churchill, Their Finest Hour, pp. 143, 211; Ismay, Memoirs,
pp. 160-62.
Bernard Fergusson, The Watery Maze: The Story of Combined
Operations (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1961), pp. 47-52;
Arthur Marder, "Winston is Back: Churchill at the Admiralty," English
Historical Review, Supplement 5, pp. 8, 20-23.
The commandos occupy a niche in British history that is both
traditional and modern.
As Combined Operations, they were trained to
participate in operations that combined the three services into one
A landing on a hostile coast required that land, air, and sea
services act together as parts of a single effort.
depend on this.
Success would
If one of the three failed in its part, it could well
mean the failure of the entire operation.
The original commandos were different, however.
first used by the Boer guerrillas in South Africa.
The term was
The Boer commando
units consisted of field cornetcies (150 to 200 men), v/hich were subdivided into corporalships of about 25 men.
loosely organized and disciplined.
The Boer units were
They were irregular guerrillas in
the traditional sense of the term, depending on nationalism and the
ineptitude of the British for success.
abundant supply.
Both were available in
Their World War II counterparts were just the
The men of Combined Operations were professional soldiers,
picked from the Independent Companies that had been raised for the
Norwegian expedition and from volunteers.
They were subject to
military discipline and training, which, if unorthodox, was still of
[Hillary A. St. George Saunders], Combined Operations: The
Official Story of the Commandos (New York: "Macmillan, 1943), p. v.
Mountbatten later replaced Keyes as head of Combined Operations.
St. George Saunders was the official historian of the organization,
but he remained anonymous at the time of the book's publication. The
reference cited is from Mountbatten's foreword for the book.
Deneys Reitz, Commando: A Boer Journal of the Boer War, 2d
ed. (London: Faber and Faber, 1931), p. 21; Correlli Barnett,
Britain and Her Army, 1509-1970: A Military, Political, and Social
Survey (New York: William Morrow, 1970), pp. 340, 343, 348.
a professional military caliber. 'They qualified as guerrillas only in
the sense of professionals fighting la petite guerre or kleinkreig
("little war"), a conflict or strategy waged within the scope of a
larger conflict or strategy.
The commandos of World War II were a
product of both traditional skirmishing tactics and modern technology.
The hybrid was created for the purpose of striking back at the Germans.
Raiding was one meâns of doing this. An army does not have to do things
in a big way to hurt the enemy; anything that drains the enemy's
resources is justifiable military action.
Temporary occupation of
enemy territory, such as Churchill envisioned, is one way.
Even less
ambitious raid can cause the enemy more loss than he inflicts, hurting
him both materially and psychologically.
This application of "little
war" can also drain and overextend his resources.
In 1940 raiding
was one of the few options open to Britain for bringing military force
to bear against the enemy.
This was to be done initially by ten
commando units (35 officers and 500 men each), ten troops of 50 men to
a commandoJ3
The British commandos had yet another aspect that differentiated them from the Boers.
They were amphibious.
The sea provided the
Alfred Vagts, Landing Operations: Strateqy, Tactics, Politics, From Antiquity to 1945 (Harrisburg, Pa.: Military Service
Publishing Co., 1946), p. 619; B. H. Liddell Hart, The Future of
Infantry (London: Faber and Faber, 1933), pp. 62-63; Clausewitz, 0]i
War, pp. 127-29; Buckley, Norway, the Commandos, Dieppe, pp. 160-61.
J. R. M. Butler, Grand StrTtegy, 6 vols. (London: Her Majesty's
Stationery Office, 1964), vol. 3, pt. 2: June 1941-Auqust 1942,
pp. 513-14.
^"^John Durnford-Slater, Commando (London: William Kimber,
1953), pp. 12-15.
mobility necessary for their style of warfare.
This in itself gave
them an advantage over the Germans who thought in terms of land warfare,
being relative amateurs at amphibious and naval warfare.
Raiding had
always figured in British military history, acted out by and upon the
Britain's traditional strategy often minimized the importance
of sending large armies to Europe.
Equally traditional was Britain's
policy of sending small forces overseas when she was in difficulty.
Britain had her navy and, thereby, a means of getting her army to
widely separated and far off places.
Sometimes the attacking force
had been considerably weakened by the wretched conditions on the troop
transports, but Britain usually made a showing.
Whenever Britain needed to enter a conflict away from the homeland, she used her navy.
This entailed combined or conjunct operations,
combining her army and navy and later her air force to bring her
military potential to bear on the enemy.
Everyone learns about the
capture of Quebec (1759) as the key operation to the capture of French
Few realize that it was a combined operation, one using the
navy to bring the army into contact with the enemy to accomplish an
The difference between a raid and the beginning of a major
campaign is purely a matter of the objective sought.
combined operation.
Both require a
The Gallipoli and Normandy operations sought
Richard A. Preston and Sydney F. Wise, Men in Arms: A
History of Warfare and Its Interrelationships with Western Society,
2d ed. (New York: Praeger, 1970), pp. 309-10; Barnett, Britain and
Her Army, pp. 144-45, 246-47; Sheppard, A Short History of the British
Army, pp. 2, 168; Fergusson, The Watery Maze, pp. 15-18; Fuller, The^
Second World War, p. 31; Vagts, Landing Operations, pp. 169-81, 241-43.
extended goals of occupation and conquest.
Raiding seeks more limited
objectives, such as the destruction of vital resources and material and
the temporary engagement of enemy forces.
The British attacks on
Cadiz (1596) and on St. Malo (1758) were in the latter category.
William Pitt and Elder staged a series of raids against the French
coast during the Seven Years War which were quite similar to the raids
that Churchill had in mind in 1940.
In fact, one of the raids that
Pitt staged was led by one of ChurchilTs ancestors.
Pitt's raids were not wery successful.
the tactical concept.
Nonetheless, they helped further
Amphibious warfare, successful or not, has always
been a part of the British scheme.
The commandos were a logical out-
come of this tradition, but with the application of modern technology
as a counterstroke to the German Blitzkreig.
Admittedly, Britain's tradition of amphibious warfare suffered
some neglect in the twentieth century.
The predominance of the
Western Front during World War I limited combined operations.
should not have been the case.
One of the few attempts to use Britain's
amphibious potential on the Western Front was ChurchilTs attempt to
relieve Antwerp, although he had more success with his scheme for landing troops on the Belgian coast during the early stages of the conflict,
an operation which convinced the Germans that a major landing was in
Roger Keyes, Amphibious Warfare and Combined Operations (New
York: Macmillan, 1943), pp. 7-17. This book is compiled from a series
of lectures that Keyes gave after he was replaced by Mountbatten as
head of Combined Operations; Fergusson, The Watery Maze, pp. 18-23;
Barnett, Britain and Her Army, pp. 204-08; Sheppard, A Short History of
the British Army, pp. 51-55; Vagts, Landinq Operations, pp. 243-57,
267-73, 281-302, 331-37, 381-87, 619.
The major amphibious stroke of the war was, however, the
disastrous Gallipoli offensive against Turkey.
Again, it was a
brilliant attempt to use Britain's seapower to the best advantage, but
the concept was scuttled in the application.
Another attempt to use
amphibious warfare in Africa suffered the same fate.
These attempts did little to promote the concept of combined
The major exception, however, was Sir Roger Keyes's
brilliant raid on Zeebrugge in German-occupied Belgium.
Keyes's force
of Royal Marines managed to block the Bruges shipping canal with a
A similar venture to block the other canal at Ostend failed,
and the Germans managed to dredge a channel around the blockships at
The use of the main canal was still limited, however.
large German destroyers and large submarines were trapped at Bruges.
If the raid's tactical success was limited, the raid was a technological triumph.
Its use of modern technology distinguished it from
earlier British raids and foreshadowed the commando raids of World
War II. A submarine loaded with explosives was used to destroy an
aqueduct to keep German reinforcements from reaching a critical point,
a tactic similar to the bomb-ship used at St. Nazaire in 1942.
innovations included a smoke screen, flame throwers, parachute flares
dropped from planes and rocket flares from the ships, and light buoys
to mark the attack route for the force.
After the raid, Keyes initiated
Barnett, Britain and Her Army, pp. 383-85; Fergusson, The^
Watery Maze, pp. 24-34; Liddell Hart, "The Military Strategist,"
pp. 185-87, 190; Cowles, Winston Churchill, pp. 178-82; Winston S.
Churchill, The World Crisis, 5 vols., 2nd ed. (London: Thornton
Butterworth, 1923), vol. 2: 1915, pp. 31-33, 101-11, 166-68, 243, 276.
several attempts at bombing the locks of the canal but, unfortunately,
the attempt was a failure.
Still, Keyes had demonstrated that a
well-planned raid by an adequately trained force with technological
innovations was a feasible venture.
Unfortunately for amphibious warfare, Gallipoli, rather than
Zeebrugge, was remembered.
in the interwar years.
Amphibious warfare suffered accordingly
Some work was done under L. E. H. Maund at the
Inter-Services Training and Development Center established in 1938.
Maund, who went on the Norwegian expedition, later came to realize
how much work still needed to be done in the area of amphibious assault.
The mistakes made during the Norwegian campaign were incredible.
one had realized exactly how important amphibious technique was.
Training in amphibious warfare was obviously going to be needed before
any more expeditions were launched.
In 1940 the commandos were faced with the problem of just how
to develop this technique and how to make it work.
tions had been badly neglected.
Britain's tradi-
Experience was the only real teacher,
especially as it applied to the new conditions of World War II. The
need for training became painfully evident in the first commando raids.
Keyes, Amphibious Warfare, pp. 54-73; James W. Stock,
Zeebruqqe and Ostend (New YorÍT: Blllantine, 1974), pp. 28, 64-155;
Hillary A. St. George Saunders, Per Ardua: The Rise of British Air
Power, 1911-1939 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1945), pp. 254-55;
Fergusson, The Watery Maze, p. 35; Vagts, Landing Operations, pp.
566-77; Winston S. Churchill, The Wor d Crisis (London: Thô'rnton
Butterworth, 1927), vol. 4: 1961-1918, Part II, p. 371.
E. H. Maund, Assault From the Sea (London:
pp. 1-60; Fergusson, The Watery Maze, pp. 39-45.
Methuen, 1949),
The first was carried out on June 23-24, 1940, on the French coast
between Boulogne and Le Touquet by Major Ronnie Tod and No. 11 Independent Company.
Little was accomplished.
Two Germans were killed by
one party, while another party failed to find any Germans at all. The
second raid was on the island of Guernsey on July 14-15.
It was a
comedy of errors, and Churchill was not pleased with the meager results.
After two more equally unsuccessful raids in September, Keyes called a
halt to raiding.
There would be no more futile efforts. The commandos
would first be trained and prepared.
After Boulogne each side issued communiques.
The British
response was, of course, favorable, while the Germans played down the
The latter was probably more accurate in the tactical sense.
The public response to the raids was quite another matter.
The London
Times was happy and encouraging in a cautious sort of way.
The American
press was enthusiastic, giving the two raids much more attention than
they deserved.
In response to Boulogne, Harold Denny of the New York
Times reported that American military experts were elated.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch mentioned "heavily armed shock troops" who had
"stormed German positions."
This was the beginning of the public's and
the nev/spapers' fascination with the commandos, which would continue
throughout the war.
Young, Commando, pp. 13-15; Durnford-Slater, Commando, p. 34;
Clarke, Seven Assignments, pp. 227-48; Buckley, Norway, the Commandos,
Dieppe, pp. 167-71; Churchill, Their Finest Hour, p. 553.
Times (London), June 27, 1940, pp. 6-7; Harold Denny,
"British Troops Raid Enemy Lines on Channel," New York Times, June 26,
1940, p. 1; St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 26, 1940, p. 1.
The press insisted on playing up the sensational aspects of
the troops and the raids.
This made the infatuation grow increasingly
one-sided as time passed.
However overblown the accounts of these two
raids and the others that followed may seem today, they were important
in their own way.
In modern war, the morale of both one's own popula-
tion, that of one's Allies, and that of one's adversaries is an
integral part of the conflict, the psychological sphere.
the advantages of the commandos as good publicity.
Churchill saw
As with all the
major powers involved in the conflict, morale on the home front in
Britain was important.
Likewise, the morale of the occupied countries
and that of Germany herself was important in the opposite sense.
first required boosting, the second required weakening.
By using the
spectre of invasion, amphibious warfare is a particularly effective
means of affecting the morale of another country.
Lastly, anything
British that got good press in the United States was hardly to be
The catch was that amphibious warfare was good publicity if
successful, but bad if it failed.
There was something more important than publicity gained from
these two raids, but it was not immediately realized by either side.
The raids failed in their tactical objectives; none of the targets
ear-marked for destruction was destroyed.
Strategically, the raids
Little was learned about German defenses or the defenders.
Hillary A. St. George Saunders, The Green Beret: The Story
of the Commandos, 1940-1945 (London: Michael Joseph, 1949), pp. 39-41;
Clausewitz, On War, pp. 251-52; Wright, The Ordeal of Total War,
pp. 73-76; Vagts, Landing Operations, pp. 63-70; A. J. P. Taylor,
"The Statesman," Churchill Revised, p. 41.
but the British did learn that the coastline of occupied Europe was
The Germans could not fortify and defend every inch of an
empire that stretched from Norway to the Franco-Spanish border.
ing was feasible; and, more important, so was an invasion of the
The Germans assumed that it was, and they followed the
Fortress Europe concept of static defense.
Every raid on this coast
would only reinforce their belief in the fortress concept which would
be their undoing in 1944.
Everyone learns by doing.
A comedy of errors is not really
such a bad thing if something is learned from the mistakes, and the
corímandos had a great deal to learn from.
ing and improved planning.
The commandos needed train-
Both were necessary if amphibious warfare
were to be developed into a science.
Technical concepts needed work;
RAF rescue craft were not suitable substitutes for specialized landing
craft, and navigational methods needed improving.
the place of proper planning.
Nothing could take
This learning process would go on until
1945; what was learned was applied to all the amphibious operations of
World War II. This was a great contribution since the great campaigns
of the war entailed some sort of amphibious operations.
Chester Wilmot, The Struggle for Europe (New York: Harper
and Bros., 1952), p. 97; B. H. Liddell Hart, History of the Second
World War (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1971), p. 543.
T. Dodson Stamps and Vincent J. Esposito, eds., A Military
History of World War Two, 2 vols. (West Point: United States Military
Academy, 1956), vol. 1: Operations in the European Theater, pp. 310,
324-25; Wilmot, Strugqle for Europe, p. 109; Fergusson, The Watery
Maze, p. 49; Clarke, Seven Assignments, pp. 242-4^; Durnford-Slater,
Commando, p. 22; Preston and Wise, Men in Arms, pp. 321-22.
In 1940 the great raids—Vaagso, St. Nazaire, Dieppe--and the
great campaigns—North Africa, Sicily, Italy, Normandy, the conquest of
Europe--were still in the future. The commandos were faced with long
months of training.
The basis for Britain's role and strategy in
Viorld War II had been laid down, however.
Also, and of imrnediate
importance, she now had a means to take the initiative and the
offensive in strategy, something that had so disastrously eluded her
the previous year.
As correspondent Gordon Holman noted, Britain had
established quite a reputation for being able to "take it." Now she
could give some thought to "the pleasures of giving."
pleasure and a necessity. It would come with time.
It was both a
Gordon Holman, Commando Attack (New York: G. P. Putnam's
Sons, 1942), p. 13.
Britain's military position from the fall of France in June
1940 until America'.s entrance into the war in December 1941 was
Her conduct of the war alone is the theme of ChurchilTs
second volume of his history of the war. The nation that had spent
twenty years combating Revolutionary and Napoleonic France was unready
to admit defeat.
The principles of military tactics are strength,
position, and mobility.
Britain's strength and position lay in the
fact that the British Isles were an unconquered position on the edge
of the German continental empire.
Britain's mobility was her navy.
The Royal Navy meant that Britain would have the means to implement her
strength and position.
In the case in point, she could send her forces
to any place she wished and do damage to the enemy on her own terms.
Raids were the logical means to do this.
Initially, Britain could not
do significant harm to the Germans, but she had reached the point where
anything was something.
Any damage done to the enemy in warfare is a
step in the right direction, even if it seems small at the time.
hurts one's enemy, it has helped one's cause.
decisive action against one's enemy.
If it
In war, one must take
Failure to do so often means
In war, one must take the initiative or suffer destruction.
^Clausewitz, On War, pp. 127-38, 244-46, 247-48, 258-62,
267-69, 292-94, 316-18, 343, 368, 397-99; Churchill, Their Finest
Hour, pp. 220-21.
Before Britain could utilize her commando troops, however, she
had to train them.
Keyes, as well as his subordinates, realized
that if the concept was ever to prove a success the men would have to
be trained in amphibious warfare, gaining knowledge and developing an
approach and a technique.
The first two raids failed because no one
had any concrete idea of what he was doing.
efforts conducted by amateurs.
The raids were amateurish
Keyes meant for his organization to be a major success and a
major factor in the conflict.
He went further.
Training was one means of making this
He moved Combined Operations out of the
Admiralty and into its own headquarters at Richmond Terrace.
reorganized his personnel into two Assistant Directorates, Combined
Operations Division and Combined Operations Material.
He wanted a
stable organization that was able to stand on its own two feet.
thing less might fall victim to his hated enemy, the military bureaucracy.
The paper pushers could destroy everything.
A strong, inde-
pendent organization could overcome this; it would also be in a better
position to coordinate the three services.
Inter-service strife could
destroy an operation, too.
Churchill was no stranger to that problem,
and he was no doubt thinking along the same lines.
Keyes was fully in sympathy with ChurchilTs desire for an
He was a veteran of both the Gallipoli campaign and the
Durnford-Slater, Commando, pp. 22-32.
^Fergusson, The Watery Maze, pp. 54-55; Arthur Swinson,
Mountbatten (New York: Ballantine, 1971), p. 38.
Zeebrugge raid of the First World War.
who would hesitate.
He had no sympathy with those
Wars were not won by hesitation, and they could be
lost by those who were afraid to take the initiative.
This had been
his outlook since his service in the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1900.
He was sixty-eight years old when he assumed leadership of Combined
Operations, but age had not duUed his spirit or modified his one
overriding idea of military tactics:
take the initiative and take
it well.^
There were two major obstacles that were to get in his way,
First, England was desperate for materiel, particularly
landing craft.
Also, Keyes had to fight the establishment of the
services, particularly the Admiralty.
Combined Operations was a bad
joke to many--Winston ChurchilTs private army.
The organization was
a bastard child of dubious origin, and there were many who wanted
nothing to do with it.
These men probably saw nothing wrong with this
They v/ere loyal, hard working men who made their own con-
tributions to the war effort.
They could not understand the need for
such an organization, though, and they frustrated the old admiral on
a number of occasions.
The commandos, as well as their parent organi-
zation, are still viewed as overrated and unnecessary by some historians.
These obstacles were to prove too much for Keyes.
Keyes, Amphibious Warfare, pp. 18-81; Fergusson, The Watery
Maze, pp. 31-34, 51-53.
^Swinson, Mountbatten, p. 38; Fergusson, The Watery Maze,
pp. 58-59.
Training continued until it reached the point where it became
detrimental to morale.
Under Keyes's vigorous leadership, the organi-
zation began to take shape.
A program was set up for the training of
paratroopers, but this was later taken over by the Air Ministry.
development and construction of landing craft was a problem with
Britain's limited resources, but it was absolutely necessary to obtain
landing craft if amphibious operations were to be staged.
ships and five Dutch packets were procured.
Three Glen
The Inter-Services Train-
ing and Development Center converted these to Infantry Landing Ships.
Some Eureka craft were ordered from a firm in New Orleans.
craft were built for use in the Louisiana swamps.
In addition to
these, 120 Assault Landing Craft, 30 Mechanized Landing Craft, and
8 Landing Support Craft were on order by August 1940.
Combined Operations on a firm footing.
to use RAF crash boats again.
training, and equipment.
Keyes was placing
The commandos would not have
Combined Operations had organization,
Using the commandos became a problem, how-
Keyes was not interested in small raids but in large-scale,
properly assembled operations.
Here he had problems.
Keyes had a number of schemes in mind.
The possibilities were
considerable, but the operations v/ere cancelled, and the men grew
weary of waiting for something to happen.
Keyes planned an operation
to capture the Azores, but it was cancelled after much training.
same thing happened to his plan for the capture of the Isle of Aran.
^Keyes, Amphibious Warfare, pp. 82-83; Clarke, Seven Assiqnments, pp. 242-44, 247-48; Fergusson, The Watery Maze, pp. 38, 55-56;
Young, Commando, pp. 15, 37.
This disappointment was offset somewhat by the successful raid against
the Lofoten Islands in Norway in March 1941.
The first airborne opera-
tion in British history was carried out in February 1941, but it was
only partially successful.
The target was an aqueduct in Italy which
was damaged, but not seriously; the raid was valuable only for its
psychological effect on the Italians.
these raids, though.
Keyes was not satisfied with
His big project was the capture of the island of
Pantelleria in the Mediterranean.
This was not a small enterprise,
but a project that Keyes saw as wery important to the v/ar effort.
too, was cancelled.
Air cover could not be provided, and without air
cover the operation would be just another Norwegian campaign.
v/as the turning poinc for Keyes, who was bitterly disappointed at
having the Pantelleria project cancelled.
By the autumn of 1941 Keyes was at the end of his patience.
He saw conspiracies of paper pushers and craven cowards blocking his
He was not given to diplomacy; he tended to distrust those who
committed the heresy of caution.
mindedness and venom.
He also had a great deal of narrow-
He could not see that his was not the only
part of the war effort or that all of his strategical and material
demands could not be met.
Another man might have taken consolation in
the fact that he had the Lofoten and Italian raids to his credit, as
well as the achievements of the Middle East commandos, who had seen
considerable duty.
Keyes did not.
His disappointments only rubbed
Buckley, Morway, the Commandos, Dieppe, pp. 172-75; Young,
Commandos, p. 16; Winston S. Churchill, The History of the Second
World War (New York: Bantam, 1962), vol. 3: The Grand Alliance,
pp. 49-50.
salt on various wounds, the quarrels with the War Office and the
Chiefs of Staff.
He lashed out at his supposed tormentors until they
were so numerous that he was no longer an effective leader.
He refused
to accept a reduction of his status to advisor, and Churchill dismissed
By this time, he had evidently called the Chiefs of Staff the
biggest bunch of cowards he had ever seen; it was small wonder that his
tenure lasted as long as it did.^
He told the Commons that he had been
"frustrated in ewery worthwhile action" that he had tried to initiate.^^
His old enemy the bureaucracy was in control.
He left Combined Opera-
tions in October 1941 a bitter, frustrated old man.
Five weeks later,
his son was killed in a commando raid in the Middle East.
This must
have added immeasurably to his burden.
Keyes did take some consolation in ChurchilTs choice for his
successor, Lord Louis Mountbatten.
Mountbatten was forty years old,
a grandson of Oueen Victoria, and the son of Prince Louis of Battenberg, who had been dismissed from his post as First Sea Lord during
World War I because of his German name and background.
His son
certainly owed part of his initiative to this fact, wishing to vindicate his father's name.
As Churchill yvell knew, there were other
Swinson, Mountbatten, pp. 38-39; Fergusson, The Watery Maze,
pp. 75-84; Churchill, The Grand Alliance, p. 456; Keyes, Amphibious
Warfare, pp. 83-86.
John Terraine, The Life and Times of Lord Mountbatten (London:
Hutchinson, 1968), p. 84; Fergusson, The Watery Maze, pp. 84-85.
Great Britain, Parliament, Parliamentary Debates (Commons),
5th series, 376 (12th November-19th December 1941): 661-65.
"Keyes's Son is Slain in Bold Lybia Raid," New York Times,
December 31, 1941, pp. 1, 8.
qualities in Mountbatten's character which suited him for the job.
Mountbatten had shown great courage and daring while commanding the
destroyer Kelly, which was sunk in the evacuation of Crete.
this courage were initiative and intelligence.
the importance of science and technology in war.
combined to make a unique war-leader.
tion from Keyes and put it to good use.
Added to
Mountbatten understood
These qualities
He inherited a sound organizaHe began a series of successful
raids to improve morale and to gain experience, remembering ChurchilTs
instructions that his organization was to be directed toward the goal
of a continental invasion.
He brought in scientists to form a brain
trust, so that technology could keep pace with operations.
His tact
and diplomacy kept him from creating enemies as Keyes had done.
trait was to be of great importance, because the opposition to
Combined Operations at this point was considerable.
In retrospect, it
is hard to see how Churchill could have made a better choice.
Mountbatten's contribution to Combined Operations, and to the war as
a whole, was considerable.
Mountbatten now commanded both Combined Operations and the
The latter was an elite raiding force, specially trained
for tasks beyond the capabilities of the regular armed forces.
German concept of an elite consisted of the S. S. and the Waffen or
^^Swinson, Mountbatten, pp. 9-42; E. H. Cookridge, From
Battenberg to Mountbatten (New' York: John Day, 1968), pp. 171-82;
Churchill, The Grand Alliance, p. 456; Fergusson, The Watery Maze,
pp. 86-90; William Bayles, "Mountbatten and His Commandos," American
Mercury 56 (February 1943): 182-89; "Lord Louis Mountbatten," Life
13 (August 17, 1942): 63-66.
Field S. S.
As a military entity, the S. S. combined rigorous train-
ing with a racial and political concept.
It was part of the all-
encompassing totalitarian state, and the all-encompassing politicalmilitary nature of such a state.
The commandos were an elite simply
because of the specialized training given the individual soldier as
an intelligent man v/ho had proven his self-reliance and skill through
training and accomplishment.
were the main requirements.
Ability, intelligence, and self-discipline
The German and British concepts of a
military elite were as opposed to each other as totalitarianism and
Training was what made the commando soldier.
became almost legendary as the war progressed.
Commando training
When the first American
Rangers volunteered for the program, they were warned that the training
was worse than the real combat they would face in the field.
Its pur-
pose was not to create destruction machines but to produce a soldier
who v/as competent and reliable in extreme conditions of combat.
would produce a soldier who was efficient in killing and destruction,
but also one who utilized these abilities to fulfill tasks of war.
type of soldier that the commando leaders looked for was the typical,
quiet sort of Englishman, who was intelligent, tenacious, and reliable.
They were not looking for psychopaths who enjoyed killing.
Tough guys.
Roger Manvell, S. S. and Gestapo: Rule by Terror (New York:
Ballantine, 1959), pp. 10-11, 38-63; Gerald Reitlinger, The S. S.:
The Alibi of a Nation, 1922-1945, 2d ed. (London: Heinemann, 1957),
pp. 76-84; St. George Saunders, The Green Beret, p. 36; George H.
Stein, The Waffen S. S.: Hitler's Elite Guard at War, 1939-1945
(Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1966), pp. 10-17, 123-30,
gangsters, bullies, and criminals would not do. These men were considered unreliable, cowardly, and detrimental to the concept.
man who could start a fight in a bar or hold up a bank would probably
crumble under combat conditions.
A well-trained school teacher, or
bank teller could be depended on to use both courage and intelligence
to accomplish his task.
In actual reality, a number of heros of
commando raids were teachers and bank tellers in civilian life.
The combination soldier-sailor concept of the Royal Marines was
absolutely necessary for amphibious warfare.
The Royal Marines were
not available until 1942, but men could be trained in the use of boats
and landing craft whether they were marines or not.
Land training was
equally important since the sea was only a means to reach the land.
Physical fitness was required both for admission and as a continuing
standard to be maintained.
this end.
Marches and exercises were directed toward
A few calisthenics before breakfast was not what commando
instructors considered to be physical training.
If a man were
physically fit by the standards set, marching seven miles in one hour
was no more difficult than an uphill march in two hours and fifteen
Physical fitness trained the men for the long marches they
would have to make in the field.
Even more important was the realiza-
tion that a man who was alert enough to master a number of physical
tasks was more alert mentally as well.
Therefore, physical training
not just marches, but obstacle courses, such as cliff climbing
St. George Saunders, The Green Beret, pp. 37-39; DurnfordSlater, Commando, p. 16; James Alteri, The Spearheaders (Indianapolis:
Bobbs-Merrill, 1960), pp. 16, 236.
(with and without ropes), and also swimming.
Practice landings and
assaults were executed with live ammunition so that the men v/ould be
able to function under fire.
Forty of the 25,000 men who trained at
the Achnacarry center were killed in training.
Mock graves were set
up at the entrance to impress this fact on newcomers.
The men were
also taught night fighting, hand-to-hand combat, and woods craft to
enable them to live off the land, concepts established by Keyes.
The first training center was at Lochailort Castle in Scotland.
Operations started there in 1940. The instructors included men who
would later make their own mark in the history of the war:
Stirling who started the SAS, Lord Shimy Lovat who commanded No. 4
Commando at Dieppe, and Michael "Mad Mike" Calvert who commanded a
Chindit batallion in Burma.
Another center was established at
Achnacarry, Scotland, in 1941.
Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Vaughn took
over there in 1942 and pushed commando training to a new level of
Amphibious exercises were carried out at Inveraray,
Scotland, at the head of Loch Fyne.
Training was always logical and practical.
Nothing was ever
initiated in training that did not have a purpose or objective.
rested on the desire of the individual to excel. Therefore, the only
Keyes, Amphibious Warfare, p. 83; St. George Saunders, Th£
Green Beret, pp. 37-39, 41-44; Durnford-Slater, Commando, pp. 35-37.
^^David Niven, The Moon's A Balloon (New York: G. P. Putnam's
Sons, 1972), pp. 261-62. Niven was an early commando. He later acted
as liaison officer between the War Office and the commandos; Fergusson,
The Watery Maze, pp. 57-58; Young, Commando, pp. 115-22; DurnfordSlater, Commando, pp. 56-60.
disciplinary measure was R. T. U., meaning "Returned to Unit."
was used by commanders and instructors to weed out the physically and
psychologically unfit, and it could be instituted without explanation.
This left the initiative and discipline entirely up to the individual.
The men were often left to find their own transportation to and from
places, and they were given an allov/ance and left to find their own
quarters in private homes.
There was no sergeant to police the
All of this was aimed at developing the individual initiative
of the soldier.
If a man could not discipline himself and stay out of
trouble, he could stay in the regular army.
If he could not use his
head to look out for himself, he was of no use to the commandos.
man for the organization was the man who could use his brain and not
have to sit around, mindlessly waiting for an order.
were above all else an elite of individuals.
The commandos
They received the most
varied training in modern warfare, but it was a means to an end, not an
end unto itself.
Norway was the first proving ground for these new troops.
Germany had occupied it in 1940 to protect her shipments of iron ore
from Sweden.
Norway, although a neutral nation, had been caught between
two great powers and had become a battle ground.
protecting her lines of supply.
Germany won, thereby
Although iron ore shipments never
reached their pre-war level, due in part to the damage that Germany
herself had inflicted on the port of Narvik, Norway was important for
Durnford-Slater, Commando, pp. 15-16, 65-67; St. George
Saunders, The Green Beret, pp. 36-45; Stephen Watts, "All Fighting
Men Together," New Yorker 18 (April 25, 1942): 34-42.
other reasons. Germany could threaten, after 1941, Allied convoys to
Russia from Norwegian naval bases. Norway's fishing industry supplied
her with fish, glycerin for explosives, and vitamins A and B which
could be given to her U-boat crews. Like all the western-occupied
countries, Norway was forced into a deficit of trade which worked in
Germany's favor. Germany fleeced her western empire to the sum of
^125,000,000 in occupation costs. Norway's annual burden was 1,200
million crowns, or eí 68 million. Broken down, this amounted to,^25 per
capita per year, the heaviest burden of any of the occupied countries.^°
Three raids were staged against this part of Germany's new
empire. The Lofoten Islands were raided in March 1941 and again in
December of that year in conjunction with a third ^aid against Vaagso.
These raids were for economic reasons. The main targets were the fishoil factories and shipping.
In a small, but effective, way these raids
hurt the Germans. Britain was trying to blockade occupied Europe, but
the attempt was largely ineffective. The raids helped supplement this
attempt at economic warfare.
In 1941 the Axis approached its highest
point of power. Britain's position was such that she had to make some
sort of move against Germany, whether large or small, for both the
sake of strategy and morale.
The Lofoten Islands raid took place on March 4, 1941. The
British naval force was able to reach the islands without detection.
Buckley, Norway, the Commandos, Dieppe, pp. 3-155, 181-82;
Great Britain, Parliament, Parliamentary Debates (Commons), 5th series,
370 (18th March-lOth April 1941): 138-39.
^%utler, Grand Strategy, 3:510-13; Buckley, Norway, the
Commandos, Dieppe, pp. 181-82.
A British submarine acted as beacon to guide the force to its target.
The German garrison was taken completely by surprise and captured without firing a shot.
Two hundred twenty-five prisoners were taken in
Ten of these were Quislings, supporters of the German puppet
Three hundred Norwegians left with the British as volunteers
for the Allied forces.
Gifts of food and tobacco were distributed to
the inhabitants who stayed behind.
It was hoped that this would make
their plight a little easier and also counter German propaganda that
Britain was starving.
Eleven fish-oil factories were destroyed along
with their storage tanks.
About 18,000 tons of shipping was sunk.
The inability of the Luftwaffe to enter the conflict was the crowning
touch to a completely successful raid.
the German air field useless.
Weather conditions rendered
It was an extra triumph for the British,
who had been brutally pounded by the German air force in the Norwegian
The raid was good for the esprit de corps of the commandos.
There was no combat, but then it was planned that they should avoid
combat at that early stage.
The concept had been proven sound.
the potential of the commandos and the power of the British Navy were
The success of the raid was good for public morale at a
time when the British war effort was not going well.
It was a victory
that the British could relish, even if it was a small one.
Young, Commando, pp. 17-24, and Storm From the Sea (London:
William Kimber, 1958), pp. 26-30. Young was one of the early commandos,
participating in the Lofoten, Vaagso, and Dieppe raids. He is now head
of the Department of Military History at the Royal Military Academy,
Sandhurst; J. E. Dunning, "Lofoten Islands Raid," The Army Quarterly
Journal 88 (April 1964): 40-42; Buckley, Norway, the Commandos, Dieppe,
pp. 181-85; Holman, Commando Attack, pp. 25-30; Evan John [Evan John
Simpson], Lofoten Letter (London: William Heinemann, 1941), pp. 20,
There was not much commando activity in the European theater
between the two raids. A raid was staged on the island of Spitzbergen
by a Canadian force trained at Inveraray, along with a Norwegian
detachment, a few British soldiers, and Royal Engineers.
island was rich in coal.
The Norwegian
Britain feared that Germany would seize the
island and use its coal for both a fuel and for distilling synthetic
The force was dispatched to the island to destroy the mines
and evacuate the Norwegian and Russian miners there.
fully accomplished on August 25, 1941.
were destroyed.
This was success-
The mines and stocks of coal
Two thousand Russians were taken to Archangel, where
186 escaped French prisoners of war were picked up and taken back to
About 800 Norwegians were evacuated from the island and taken
to Britain as well.
There was no interference from the Germans.
island's radio station was used to send the Germans false v/eather
reports, which kept them in complete ignorance of the operation.
the raiding concept and the Royal Navy were victorious.
The Middle East was the main theater of commando operations
during most of 1941.
In February 1941 three commando units were sent
22-23, 30-31, 36, 45, 5-53; Robert P. Post, "Raiders in Norway Sank
Eleven Ships," New York Times, March 7, 1941, pp. 1, 6; "Hitler's Back
Doorstep," The Times (LondonT, March 7, 1941, p. 4.
C. P. Stacey, The Official History of the Canadian Army in
the Second World War, 2 vols. (Ottawa: Edmund Cloutier, Queen's
Printer and Controller of Stationery, 1955), vol. 1: Six Years of War:
The Army in Canada, Britain, and the Pacific, pp. 301-07; Buckley,
Norway, the Commandos, Dieppe, pp. 185-87; "An Allied Raid in the
Arctic," The Times (London), September 9, 1941, p. 4; Craig Thompson,
"Spitzebergen Raid Left Huge Fires," New York Times, September 10, 1941,
pp. 1, 3.
to the Middle East.
These were Commandos 7, 8, and 11, under the
command of Lieutenant-Colonel Robert E. Laycock.
known as Layforce after its commander.
The force became
Its career was glorious, but
It participated in a successful diversionary raid against
Bardia (April 19-20, 1941), a brilliant rear guard action during the
evacuation of Crete (May 26-31, 1941), a flanking operation during the
invasion of Syria (June 7-8, 1941), and a successful raid against the
Italian lines around Tobruk (July 18-19, 1941).
Layforce was sadly depleted of manpower.
losses and was forced to disband.
After these actions,
It could not make good its
Laycock was left with only a small
This he used for a raid on Rommel's headquarters, or what was
thought to be Rommel's headquarters.
18, 1941.
The raid took place on November 17-
It failed due to faulty intelligence.
Rommel was actually
nowhere near, and what could have been a great triumph was a practically useless sacrifice.
Only Laycock and one other man returned.
Leiutenant-Colonel Geoffry Keyes, Roger Keyes's son, was killed on
the raid.
This was the end of Layforce.
Laycock returned to London,
and he later became head of Combined Operations.
His group had done
well during its short existence, the men performing practically every
type of commando task with skill and bravery.
The Rommel raid had
failed because of misinformation, not because the men lacked determination and expertise.
The need for specialized troops in North Africa was
filled by Major David Stirling (a veteran of Layforce) who formed and
successfully led the Special Air Service (SAS).^^
Mountbatten's leadership of Combined Operations marked the
maturity of that organization.
His first raid, the Vaagso raid of
December 1941, marked the maturity of the commandos as specialized
shock troops.
Mountbatten was working for a coordination of the three
services in a series of raids against the Germans.
raid on the Lofotens, the strategy was economic.
Here, as with the
In fact, another
raid on that target was carried out simultaneously with the Vaagso raid.
Again, the main targets were the fish-oil factories.
Prisoners, docu-
ments, Norwegian volunteers, and shipping were the other objectives.
Since Russia's entry into the war, the shipping v/as more important than
ever since these German vessels were being used to supply the Eastern
It was also realized that raiding could force the Germans to
spread their forces along the occupied coastline, stretching their men
and material farther than would be otherwise necessary.
would aid the economic effort against Germany.
This in itself
There was one major
difference between this raid and the Lofotens operation.
In March, the
commando troops had been ordered to avoid combat if possible.
For the
Young, Commando, pp. 38-55; St. George Saunders, The Green
Beret, pp. 64-79; Evelyn Waugh, "Commando Raid on Bardia," Life 11
(November 17, 1941), pp. 64-74. Waugh, as well as being a commando,
was the noted author of The Loved One and Vile Bodies.
Vaagso operation, they were ordered to fight and to kill or capture as
many of the enemy as possible.
The Vaagso raid was planned as a real combined operation; each
of the three services would have an important role to play.
commandos would destroy the garrison and the fish-oil factories.
RAF would lay down a smoke screen for the landing, bomb targets at
Vaagso, and bomb the air field at Herdla to stop any interference from
the Luftwaffe.
Air cover would be provided throughout the operation.
The Navy would supply transportation and fire-support.
The cruiser
Kenya and a group of other ships would open fire on the Maaloy battery
which guarded the port.
shipping in the harbor.
The naval force would also take care of any
The assault force was made up of Commando No. 3, half of
Commando No. 2, members of the Royal Norv/egian Army, Royal Engineers
from No. 6 Commando, and medical personnel of the Royal Medical Corps
from No. 4 Commando.
A press unit was also included to cover the raid.
The landing force was under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel John
Durnford-Slater, the commander of No. 3.
Two of these were reserves.
The force was split into five
Major J. M. T. F. ("Mad Jack")
Churchill was in charge of the group charged with the capture of Maaloy
Island, while Durnford-Slater took the largest group for the capture of
Young, Commando, p. 56; Joseph H. Devins, Jr., The Vaagso
Raid: The Commando Attack That Changed the Course of World War II
(Philadelphia: Chilton. 1967), pp. 38-39, 61; Buckley, Norv/ay, the
Commandos, Dieppe, pp. 187-88; "Brilliant Combined Raid on Norwegian
Coast," The Times (London), December 30, 1941, p. 5.
Buckley, Norway, the Commandos, Dieppe, 188-90; Young,
Commando, pp. 56-58; Devins, The Vaagso Raid, pp. 61-71.
the town of Vaagso.
The last group v/as charged with blocking a possible
route for German reinforcements.
Durnford-Slater's No. 3 Commando had
participated in the earlier Lofotens raid and could claim experience
as v/ell as skill.
The force for the second Lofotens raid v/as No. 12
(Irish and Welsh) Commando under Lieutenant-Colonel S. S. Harrison.
The raid began early on the morning of December 27. The force
was mistaken for a German convoy, and it managed to slip into the harbor.
Due to the incompetence of one of the German signal men, the force was
given time to get into position.
to stop it.
Then it was too late for the Germans
The British air and sea arms worked in magnificent coordi-
Maaloy Island was captured without a shot fired, but the town
of Vaagso was a different proposition.
to-house defense.
The commandos were forced to call for reinforcements
from Maaloy Island and the reserves.
ing off the raid.
The Germanr, initiated a house-
It v/as not only a matter of pull-
The question was whether or not the commandos could
match the Germans in combat.
It took most of the day and some heavy
losses, but No. 3 proved that the commandos could match and beat the
Germans in combat.
The commandos beat the Germans back to the very
edge of town, allowing the demolition of the factories and redeeming
the image of the British soldier in modern warfare.
Buckley, Norway, the Commandos, Dieppe, p. 188, 193-94; Young,
Commando, p. 58; Devins, The Vaagso Raid, pp. 47-60. The organization
of the commando unit was originally ten troops of fifty men. In early
1941 this was changed to six^troops of sixty-five men. One troop
could then be put into two Eureka landing craft.
^Sounq, Commando, pp. 62-86, and Storm From the Sea, pp.
32-56; Devins,""The Vaagso Raid, 98-177; Durnford-Slater, Commando,
pp. 69-89; St. George Saunders, The Green Beret, p. 63, and Combined
Operations, pp. 49-62.
The results of the raid were impressive.
shipping were sunk.
About 15,630 tons of
In the process, a German code book giving the call
signs, challenges, countersigns, and emergency signals of all the
German vessels in Norway and France was captured.
This information was
put to good use for the St. Nazaire raid in 1942. The fish-oil
factories were destroyed, as were other facilities of use to the
One hundred fifty of the enemy were killed and 98 were capTwenty-seven commandos were killed and 57 wounded.
Norwegian volunteers, along with members of their families, were taken
back to Britain.
The most impressive result of the raid was the suc27
cessful cooperation of the three services.
The second attack on the Lofotens was also successful, if
What construction that had been done on the new fish-oil
factories was destroyed.
an armed trawler v/as sunk.
Twenty-nine Germans were taken prisoner, and
A few more Quislings v/ere captured, and
266 Norv/egians returned to Britain with the force.
The British thought
about establishing a base there, but the Luftwaffe would have only done
to it what it did to the Rritish force in the Norwegian campaign.
inhabitants would have been pleased if the force had stayed, because
another raid only meant more reprisals from the Germans.
This was not
a pleasant thought, as the inhabitants of Vaagso soon found out.
Reprisals against the civilian populations were alv/ays a serious
^^Young, Commando, pp. 86-87, and Storm From the Sea, pp. 32-56;
Devins, The Vaagso Raid, pp. 152-61, 172; "British Commandos Raid
Hitler's Europe," Life 12 (January 26, 1942), p. 21; Ralph Walling,
"Norse Base Razed in Commando Raid," New York Times, December 30, 1941,
pp. 1, 8; "Success of Raid on Norway,"^he Times (London), December 30,
1941, p. 2.
problem, never satisfactorily resolved, in raidinq operations.
the Lofoten and Vaagso raids, no more harassment raids were staged
against the Norwegian coast for fear of the German reprisals.
The full extent of the German military reaction was not
immediately apparent.
It turned out to be beyond the most optimistic
hopes of the planners.
Hitler became convinced that the Allies v/ere
planning an invasion of Norway.
Reinforcements were sent to Norway;
and on June 6, 1944, there were 372,000 German troops defending the
country against an invasion that was not coming.
By March 1942 a large
part of the German surface fleet was also guarding Norway against the
Hitler's logic is not clear, if indeed any was involved.
His decisions sometimes came out of a little dream world where logic
did not enter.
Hitler had already begun to worry about Norway when the
Vaagso raid took place.
He had turned his back on Britain in 1940,
thinking that she could no longer threaten him.
Now he was faced with
the threat of raiders and what he thought to be the threat of an
He did not understand sea warfare, and he did not realize
that he was sending his surface fleet to the one place in the world
where it would do the least good.
Even though the German ships could
threaten the Arctic convoys and keep the British Navy occupied from
Norwegian waters, they were not effectively deployed in the long run.
More important in examining the impact of the commando raids is the
fact that Hitler was mentally ill.
He was a neurotic psychopath
Buckley, Norway, the Commandos, Dieppe, p. 194; St. George
Saunders, Combined Operations, pp. 63-64; Devins, The Vaagso Raid,
pp. 190-98.
bordering on schizophrenia.
His whole career was an attempt to prove
himself a superman and messiah at all cost.
As the war turned against
him, he became increasingly neurotic in order to maintain his image.
Any successful move against the Reich was a move against Hitler's
judgment and stability, whether it was a major campaign or a small29
scale commando raid.
The year 1941 marked the growth to maturity of the commando
force as a weapon against the Germans.
The raiding concept was sound.
Raids could be used to damage the enemy while gaining experience in
amphibious v/arfare, experience which would prove its v/orth as the war
The principles of amphibious warfare and combined opera-
tions needed to be worked out scientifically and systematically.
the same time, the raids could be used to spread the Germans thinly
along the occupied coastline.
ing it.
To attack it was much easier than defend-
The initiative lay with the attackers who could pick the time
and place of the conflict.
The raids were good for the morale of the
British people and the people of the occupied countries as well. A
successful raid was likewise very bad for the morale of the German
Young, Commando, pp. 88-91; Devins, The Vaaqso Raid, pp. 199205; Adolf Hitler, Hitler's Secret Conversations, 1941-1944, trans.
R. H. Stevens and Norman Cameron (New York: Signet, 1961), pp. 414-15;
Walter C. Langer, The Mind of Adolf Hitler: The Secret Wartime Report
(New York: Signet, 1973), pp. 26, 37-38, 41-47, 62-63, 131-39, 166,
203-04, 216-17, 221-41. This is the official 0. S. S. report compiled
in 1943; Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, rev. ed. (New
York: Harper and Bros, 1962), pp. 375, 383-85, 582-97, 651, 705;
Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich, trans. Richard and Clara Winston
(New York: Macmillan, 1970), pp. 165, 180, 243-44, 292, 304-06,
357-58; Butler, Grand Strategy, 3:500-01.
troops faced with defending the new German empire.
The leadership of
Mountbatten was the key factor in the success of the commandos.
Mountbatten had a strong organization at his disposal.
For the
commandos and Combined Operations, the first stage v/as successfully
Opportunities stretched as far as the occupied coastline.
The next move was up to the British.
Butler, Grand Strategy, 3:513-16; Bullock, Hitler, pp. 621-26;
Buckley, Norway, the Commandos, Dieppe, pp. 165-67; Swinson, Mountbatten, p. 49; Devins, The Vaaqso Raid, pp. 36, 206-10; "The Perfect
Raid," The Times (London), December 30, 1941, p. 5.
The year 1942 was a landmark year in the history of World War
The Allies began to gather strength, while the Axis began its
saga of increasing decline, exhaustion, and collapse.
For Combined
Operations and the commandos, 1942 was the year of the Bruneval,
St. Nazaire, and Dieppe raids.
These actions were a part of the larger
story of success, but they were an important part.
the course of the war was set.
By the end of 1942,
The outcome of the game, if not a sure
thing, was a pretty good bet.
For two yery long years, Britain and Germany had watched each
other across the English Channel.
With the German involvement in
Russia, however, an invasion of England became less practical and less
At some point in the war, Britain would have to invade the
continent to strike the decisive blow against Germany.
invasion attempt was a long time away.
In 1942, any
The raids showed Britain's
ability to use the sea to take the initiative, and eventually to invade
the continent.
The first stroke of 1942 was delivered at Bruneval, the
site of an important radar installation on the coast of France, on
Henry H. Adams, 1942: The Year That Doomed the Axis (New York
Paperback Library, 1 9 6 9 ^ pp. 472-77; Winston S. Churchill, The History
of the Second World War (New York: Bantam, 1962), vol. 4: The Hinge
ofFate, pp. 524, 722.
February 27-28, 1942.
To destroy the installation would be a signifi-
cant achievement, to gain data on it would be even more important.
Britain needed to maintain her lead in the field of radar.
A raid was
the answer, but a seaborne landing was impossible because of the strong
German defenses, well situated in the high cliffs along the French
A paratroop landing was the only alternative.
Paratroops would
land behind the defenses, destroy the installation, deal with any
opposition, and make their way to the coast, where they would be picked
up by the Navy.
All three services would be involved.
would be just as crucial here as it had been at Vaagso.
The operation was successfully executed with paratroops from
the Ist Airborne Division under Major J. D. Frost.
The force landed
and kept the Germans occupied while the necessary parts of the radar
equipment v/ere removed and the remainder destroyed.
made its way to the coast.
The force then
The opposition was overcome after some of
the scattered parts of the force rejoined the main group.
was then carried out.
All that the Germans found was evidence of the
destruction of their radar apparatus.
of it had left with the raiding force.
They did not realize that part
Also, the RAF was able to take
advantage of the gap in the German radar defenses with a successful
Buckley, Norway, the Commandos, Dieppe, pp. 195-98; "Commando
Raid: English Tourist Pictures of the French Coast Help Commandos
Execute a Daring Rade on Enemy Positions," Life 13 (October 5, 1942),
p. 82.
From ewery
vantage, the Bruneval raid was a successful combined operation.
raid on the Renault factory near Paris four nights later.
The Bruneval raid was well received by the public and press,
although the fact that part of the apparatus was taken was kept secret.
The public was just recovering from the loss of Singapore, and the
future, at that time, did not look bright.
El Alamein was still some
months away, and everyone was more than ready for whatever the military
could offer as a victory.
The House of Commons debated at considerable
length the subject of cooperation between the services, as well as the
effectiveness of the RAF as a service. The military establishment
therefore needed a successful combined operation to maintain its own
prestige and show that the services could work together.
Bruneval was
good publicity for Combined Operations and its defenders.
Mountbatten was rightly pleased with the raid.
It perhaps made
up for some of the difficulties he faced in running Combined Operations,
especially the opposition of those who did not understand its importance. The combination of Mountbatten's tact and ChurchilTs support
helped the organization to survive, but survival was not easy. The
opposition to Combined Operations was both strong and unscrupulous.
Buckley, Norway, the Commandos, Dieppe, pp. 198-201; St. George
Saunders, Combined Qperations, pp. 58-70; Joseph Goebbels, The Goebbels
Diaries, ed. and trans. Louis P. Lochner (New York: Award Books, 1971),
pp. 124-25.
"Parachutists in Action," Times (London), March 2, 1942, p. 4;
Robert P. Post, "British Paratroopers Raid French Coast," New York
Times, March 1, 1942, p. 1; Great Britain, Parliament, Parliamentary
Debates (Commons), 5th series, 372 (lOth June-3rd July 1941): 42-52,
282-84, 288-89, 317-439, 669-74, 701-22, 743-46, 1139-40.
Mountbatten's status was raised on March 18, 1942. Churchill promoted
him from Advisor on Combined Operations to Chief of Combined Operations.
It was more than just a change of titles. With the promotion came the
acting rank of Vice-Admiral and the honorary ranks of LieutenantGeneral and Air Marshall. Mountbatten held rank in all three services,
and he had a place on the Chiefs of Staff. Churchill, who was always
interested in the organization and its future, gave the young
Mountbatten a much stronger position from which to conduct his affairs.
Mountbatten remained committed to a vigorous raiding schedule.
Among the targets considered was the port of St. Nazaire on the coast
of France. What made it worth considering was the Forme Ecluse, or
Normandie dry dock.
It was the largest facility of its kind in Europe,
with a length of 1,148 feet and a width of 164 feet.
Its gates were
54 feet high and 35 feet thick. These were actually caissons which
moved laterally on rollers.
Its construction allowed it to act as
both a docking facility and a lock between the Penhouet Basin and the
Loire River, which connects St. Nazaire with the Atlantic Ocean. With
its winding house for moving the caissons and its pumping house for
emptying the dock, the Forme Ecluse constituted one of the most
magnificent facilities of its type in the world. What made the dock
so important, however, was the German battleship Tirpitz. The
Admiralty, which requested the raid, was worried that the Tirpitz
Fergusson, The Watery Maze, pp. 109-23; St. George Saunders,
The Green Beret, pp. 54-55; Great Britain, Parliament, Parliamentary
Debates (Commôrrs), 5th series, 379 (13th April-14th May 1942): 44.
might be used to attack the Atlantic convoys, much as her sistership
the Bismarck had done.
For such an operation, she would need the
Normandie dock as a repair base and refuge.
The dock could accommodate
a ship of 85,000 tons, twice as large as the Tirpitz.
The Tirpitz
would need the dock, for it was the only facility on the Atlantic
coast that could handle her.
The Bismarck had made for the same place
when she was crippled by a British torpedo.
If the Bismarck had made
it, she could have been repaired in the dock and have set out again.
She did not make it, but the dock was still there, and the Tirpitz
was still afloat off the coast of Norway.
If the dock was destroyed,
presumably she would be forced to stay where she was. The added
targets of U-boat pens and fuel shortage tanks made St. Nazaire an
even more important target.
St. Nazaire had previously been dismissed as a target as being
too difficult to attack.
The idea of a raid on St. Nazaire had first
been raised in August 1941 by the Admiralty, which asked Admiral Sir
Charles Forbes, Commander-in-Chief Plymouth, to work out a plan for
Combined Operations.
Keyes was in charge of Combined Operations, and
no satisfactory scheme could be worked out.
until Mountbatten assumed command.
ing the needed catalyst.
The plan remained dormant
He became interested in it, provid-
The difficulties to be overcome were
Savid Mason, Raid on St. Nazaire (New York: Ballantine, 1970),
pp. 10-19; R. E. D. Ryder, The Attack on St. Nazaire, March 28, 1942
(London: John Murray, 1947), pp. 1-3, 8; Cajus Bekker [Hans Deiter
Berenbrok], The Luftwaffe War Diaries, ed. and trans. Frank Ziegler
(New York: Ballantine, 1969), pp. 380-82; C. E. Lucas-Phillips, Th£
Greatest Raid of All (New York: Popular Library, 1961), pp. 18-19/
St. Nazaire was one of the most heavily defended ports
in Europe, an indication of how much value the Germans placed on it.
The mouth of the Loire was flanked with five coastal batteries.
port and surrounding area were defended by 29 gun positions of 20-,
37-, and 40-millimeter calibers.
There were a number of other 20-
millimeter batteries mounted with four guns to a battery.
Along with
these, there were approximately fifteen searchlight positions.
All of
these guns, except for the coastal batteries, could be used interchangeably as anti-aircraft or shore defense weapons.
A defensive
force of 6,000 men could be deployed against any attack.
geography played its part.
The mouth of the Loire River, with the
exception of the Charpentiers Channel, was a mass of mud flats and
Any attacking force would have to travel to the Bay of Biscay
and the mouth of the Loire unobserved.
It would then face the diffi-
cult task of reaching the port and destroying a dock installation of
massive proportions.
The U-boat pens were an even more difficult
The only way to destroy the Normandie dock was to use a ship
packed with explosives.
Keyes had used a similar tactic in the
Zebrugge raid with submarines.
Since a submarine could not cross the
shoals, however, a destroyer was the only answer.
It was the very
smallest ship that could successfully ram one of the dock's caissons.
"^Lucas-Phillips, The Greatest Raid of All, pp. 15-17, 69-73;
Mason, Raid on St. Nazaire, pp. 10, 29-31, 54-61, Ryder, Attack on
St. Nazaire, pp. 13-15; Young, Commando, p. 92, and Storm From the
Sea, pp. 58-59. Young was on the planning staff for the St. Nazaire
The Admiralty was not pleased with the idea, but a destroyer had to be
sacrificed if the raid was to take place at all, and the H. M. S.
Campbeltown was finally chosen.
She was one of fifty destroyers that
Churchill had obtained through the destroyers for bases deal with
Franklin Roosevelt.
She was old and hard to manage, but with a little
remodeling she could be made to pass for a German destroyer.
She would
be packed with 4 1/4 tons of explosives and rammed into the caisson
facing the Loire.
She would then be scuttled.
Securely in place with
the explosives in her bow, the ship would act as a huge bomb as soon as
the time fuses set off the charge.
By this time, if all went well, the
commandos who went in with her would have accomplished their own
demolitions and be gone.
Originally, the planners at Combined Operations had hoped for
two destroyers, since more men and fire-power were needed.
Admiralty would not go this far, however, and additional ships came
from the Light Coastal Forces. The elements of this force were made
up of Farmile class motor launches (MLs).
There were two types—motor
gun boats (MGBs) and motor torpedo boats (MTBs).
These "Little Ships"
were made of thin wood which could be easily pierced; one bullet
through their gasoline tanks would turn them into infernos.
this, they had been fighting the war in the English Channel, and with
the MTBs acting as bombers and the MGBs acting as fighters, they were
slowly turning their own tide in the Channel.
Twelve of the MLs would
\ucas-Phillips, The Greatest Raid of All, pp. 20-24, 58-62,
67; Mason, Raid on St. Nazaire, pp. 27-28, 36-37, 47; Keyes,
Amphibious Warfare, 54-73.
act as troop transports, while four would be armed with torpedos for
An MGB would act as headquarters ship for the operation.
MTB 74 was the last of the group.
She was equipped with special delayed
action torpedos, designed to destroy the lock gates if anything happened
to the Campbeltown.
Whatever their vulnerability, the MLs had the
advantage of a shallow draft.
Along with the specially lightened
Campbeltown, they could make it over the shoals at the mouth of the
Loire, avoiding the Charpentiers Channel and, hopefully, detection by
the defenders of St. Nazaire.
The manpower for the raid was of the very best quality.
Leiutenant-Colonel A. C. Newman's No. 2 Commando was assigned the combined task of demolicion and fighting.
Certain men would carry out
demolitions on such target areas as the pumping house, winding house,
and the other caisson, while others formed squads to guard them from
the Germans.
Newman was an able leader, and his men were well trained
in night fighting, street fighting, and demolitions.
The George V
dock at Southampton was a precise duplicate of the Normandie dock, and
it made the perfect training area for the raid.
The men involved in
demolitions had an exact idea of their tasks.
They could, as a matter
of training, do their exact tasks blindfolded.
Newman's men v/ere the
Mason, Raid on St. Nazaire, pp. 33-41; Buckley, Norway, the
Commandos, Dieppe, pp. 206-07; Gordon Holman, The Little Ships (London:
Hodder and Stoughton, 1943), p. 21; Peter Scott, The Battle of the
Narrow Seas: A History of the Light Coastal Forces in the Channel and
the North Sea, 1939-1945 (London: Country Life, 1945), pp. 4, 48;
Lucas-Phillips, The Greatest Raid of All, pp. 23, 43-46.
perfect commando type; they were quiet, soft-spoken men who had
achieved their status through training and ability.^^
R. E. D. Ryder was the naval commander of the force.
He was
an able seaman and explorer with an even temper and judgment.
Lieutenant Nigel Tibbits and Captain l/. H. Pritchard were in charge
of explosives and demolitions.
Pritchard was an expert in dock
demolitions; Tibbits devised the explosives for the Campbeltown.
Captain R. E. Montgomery, a friend of Pritchard's, helped work out
the demolition plans.
Leading Signalman F. C. Pike would supply the
Pike could signal in German.
With the help of code books cap-
tured in the Vaagso raid, Pike would try to convince the Germans that
a German convoy was entering the harbor.
Lieutenant-Commander Samuel
H. Beattie commanded the Campbeltown, with Lieutenant A. R. Green, a
navigator whose job v/as to get the ship over the mud flats.
Lieutenant R. C. M. V. ("Mickie") Wynn commanded the MTB 74.
and the other participants in the raid made up a highly skilled and
exceptionally competent force.
As a result, the plans were well laid,
and the men were well trained.
The force that raided St. Nazaire was
as well suited for its task as any that could have been assembled
under any conditions.
^^Lucas-Phillips, The Greatest Raid of All, pp. 28-30, 36-43;
Mason, Raid on St. Nazaire, pp. 20-22, 42-43.
^\ucas-Phillips, The Greatest Raid of All, pp. 26-28, 37-43,
47-51; Mason, Raid on St. Nazaire, pp. 23-25, 38-42; Ryder, Attack
on St. Nazaire, pp. 60-63, 72; Devins, The Vaaqso Raid, pp. 191-92.
The main object of the raid was the Normandie dock:
plish its destruction was to achieve success.
to accom-
The planners also
desired to destroy the U-boat pens in the harbor, but this was practically impossible.
If the RAF had bombed the U-boat pens while they
were under construction, the problem would have been solved.
It had
not, however, and the German U-boats rested in comfortable bomb-proof
The best that could now be done was to destroy the lock
gates that controlled the water level of the facility.
The principal
target remained the destruction of the dock and its related facilities.
The planners knew, however, that, even if this were done, the attacking
force would probably not be able to withdraw.
The commandos were
accordingly told, and any man was given the chance to back out.
The sacrifice of a force this size was a great loss; but if the
Tirpitz raided the Atlantic sea lanes, this much and more would be
lost anyway.
The attacking force had the advantage in that a raid on
St. Nazaire seemed impossible, and surprise might be achieved.
an air raid was scheduled to give the force some hope of getting in.
The most vulnerable spot in the port's defenses was the water itself.
There were no boom defenses, only a torpedo net in front of the dock.
The real problem lay in the port's land defense and the searchlights
that went with them.
There was no way to overcome the blinding light
that the searchlights put out.
Mason, Raid on St. Nazaire, pp. 43-53; Lucas-Phillips, Th£
Greatest Raid of All, pp. 19-25; Ryder, Attack on St. Nazaire,
pp. 8-10, 15-17, 88, 92; St. George Saunders, Combined Operations,
pp. 72-73; Karl Doenitz, Memoirs: Ten Years and Twenty Days, trans.
R. H. Stevens and David Woodward (Cleveland: World, 1959), pp. 409-10.
The force, properly briefed and equipped, sailed on March 26,
With the Campbeltown and the MLs were two Hunt class destroyers
acting as escorts, two more being sent later.
The force travelled the
250 miles to its target masquerading as a submarine patrol.
was spotted and attacked.
The submarine escaped, however, presenting
everyone with a new problem:
could it report?
A U-boat
how much had the craft seen, and how much
Ryder decided that the force must go on; and, as it
turned out, the submarine did indeed report the presence of the force,
but it described the attack force as a British submarine patrol.
Germans reacted by sending out their own force to intercept it.
German destroyers left St. Nazaire and went to look in the wrong place,
eliminating one threat to the expedition's success.
encountered two French vessels which had to be sunk.
The British also
The French crews
did not seem too upset, and the secrecy of the venture was maintained.
The raiders reached the mouth of the Loire on the evening of
March 27. The cloudy and misty weather was perfect for the ground
force, but not for the RAF.
The RAF's diversionary raid had little
Not only was visibility poor, but Churchill had forbidden the
RAF to bomb French civilians.
In addition, the RAF crews did not know
the exact purpose of the bombing raid.
As the amazed Germans watched
from the ground, the British bombers made their passes one at a time.
Mason, Raid on St. Nazaire, pp. 53, 65-72; Lucas-Phillips,
The Greatest Raid of Al1, pp. 73-84; St. George Saunders, Combined
Operations, pp. 74-75; Buckley, Norway, the Commandos, Dieppe, p. 210.
dropping only one bomb per pass.
The RAF finally gave up on what was
obviously a hopeless venture.^^
The RAF bombing alerted the Germans to the fact that something
was going on.
By the time the clouds cleared away exposing a full
moon, Ryder's group had crossed the mud shoals, having executed a fine
feat of navigation and seamanship.
The Germans spotted what looked
yery much like a German destroyer and motor launch escort, but they
suspected that something was wrong.
Signalman Pike went to work, and
the game of bluff went on for four minutes.
The Germans fired several
intermittent bursts and finally realized that they had been duped.
The game was over, and all the shore defenses opened fire.
British returned a wery heavy fire.
Counting small arms fire, about
eight hundred guns were firing on the harbor, making an incredible
fireworks display.
The Campbeltown was by this time, however, beyond the point at
which she could have been stopped.
As the shore defenses poured
rounds into her, the Campbeltown picked up speed and headed for the
Normandie dock.
She used her own guns to return fire and mauled a
German flak ship that tired to stop her.
She snapped through the
torpedo net and crashed into the outer south gate of the Normandie dock.
The scuttling charges were then fired, her stern sinking and lodging
her in place.
The fuses on the explosives had already been set to go
^\ucas-Phillips, The Greatest Raid of All, pp. 63-66, 85-86;
Mason, Raid on St. Nazaire, p. 76.
^^Lucas-Phillips, The Greatest Raid of All, pp. 5-6, 88-94;
Mason, The Raid on St. Nazaire, pp. 76-80; Holman, Commando Attack,
p. 189; Fergusson, The Watery Maze, p. 135.
off after daylight when the force had left.
The commando force aboard
the Campbeltown suffered heavy casualties during the run for the dock,
but those who could headed for their targets.
They managed to destroy
the winding house and pumping house for the dock, ensuring that the
dock would be out of service for at least a year.
to damage the other caisson.
One group managed
Several gun positions were destroyed,
and two tug boats were sunk with explosives.
Despite these successes,
the casualties for this group were high.^^
The MLs had no success.
They entered the cross-fire in two
columns, the port column trying to land its troops at the Old Mole.
This point was heavily defended, and only one party made it ashore.
The boats of the starboard column tried to land troops at the 01 d
Two of the boats landed troops, but the landings were turned
One party was landed south of the Old Entrance.
quarters ship landed Newman and a small party.
Ryder's head-
The rest of the troop-
carriers failed to land their troops. Wynn's MTB 74 fired its delayed
action torpedos at the lock gates to the 01d Entrance.
They settled
to the bottom of the harbor with their fuses activated.
The craft
would have escaped, but she stopped to pick up survivors of one of the
MLs and was sunk herself.
Only six of the MLs made it out of the
harbor, and one of these was disabled by a German destroyer before she
could reach England.
The rest suffered the same fate as Wynn's boat.
Lucas-Phillips, The Greatest Raid of All, pp. 95-120; Mason,
Raid on St. Nazaire, pp. 80-93; Desmond Flower and James Reeves, eds.,
The Taste of Courage: The War, 1939-1945, 5 vols., vol. 3: The Tide
Turns (New York: Berkeley, 1971), pp. 41-42; Young, Commando,
pp. 98-100.
The MLs were simply not made for the type of action; shells ripped
through their hulls, hitting the hydraulic steering system and the
gasoline tanks.
The large pools of burning gasoline from the v/recks
then engulfed many survivors.
Blinded by the lights and riddled with
fire from the land, the crews of the MLs were helpless in the battle
which lasted about an hour.
Not only were many parties kept from
landing, but those ashore had to be left behind.
Ryder's boat v/as the
last to withdraw, nine being lost to the murderous German fire.
made the rendezvous with the destroyers, and the crews were picked up;
the remaining three returned to England under their own power.
Newman and his force were left to their own devices.
position was hopeless.
None of the commandos had been able to cut the
points through which the Germans brought their reinforcements.
even if the MLs had not been destroyed, the evacuation point known as
the 01 d Mole remained in enemy hands.
should try to fight its way out.
Newman decided that the force
The members of Commando No. 2 were
some of the finest troops in the world, but they could not hope to
hold out against vastly superior numbers and fire-power.
The attempt
to break out began at 3:00 A.M., but most of the commandos were found
hiding the next day.
Five eventually managed to escape to Vichy
France, and Spain, but the rest were captured.
St. George Saunders, Combined Operations, pp. 87-90; Mason,
Raid on St. Nazaire, pp. 95-111, 125-131; Lucas-Phillips, The Greatest
Raid of All, pp. 120-44, 160, 169-86; Scott, The Battle of the Narrow
Seas, pp. 43-52.
^\ucas-Phillips, The Greatest Raid of All, pp. 147-169; Mason,
Raid on St. Nazaire, pp. 114-23; Young, Commando, pp. 100-101;
St. George Saunders, Combined Operations~pp. 91-97.
The Germans did not realize the exact purpose that the
Campbeltown served in the British scheme.
for explosives, they did not find any.
If they searched the ship
They were confused; the ship
was no real problem to remove, and the ramming had not damaged the
As time passed, the commandos began to worry.
The explosives
were calculated to go off between seven and nine that morning.
Germans, hearing that cigarettes and chocolate were to be found on
board, swarmed all over the ship.
At ten-thirty the explosive charge
went off with a deafening boom, scattering debris over a wide area.
The caisson was blown completely out.
The dock was flooded, the force
of the water pushing both the Campbeltov/n and the caisson into the dry
Two ships inside the dry dock were damaged when the inrushing
water knocked them into the side of the dock.
About 380 Germans, who
were on board the ship or standing near, were killed along with their
girl friends.
The rumor spread at the time that a British officer had
lured the Germans on board and had reactivated the explosive mechanism.
The charge was an hour and a half late, but most likely the makeshift
nature of the fuse was responsible for the delay.
Whether any of the
commandos returned to the Campbeltown remains heresay.
At any rate,
the Forme Ecluse was damaged beyond use and the facility would remain
so for the next ten years.
Mason, Raid on St. Nazaire, pp. 134-37; Lucas-Phillips, The
Greatest Raid of All, pp. 186-90; Robert P. Post, "St. Nazaire Basin
May Be Long Out," New York Times, March 31, 1942, p. 6; "Commandos
Held Base for Two Days," New York Times, May 5, 1942, p. 8.
The Germans were nervous following the raid, and the explosion
of the Campbeltown did little to set their minds at ease.
Two days
later, one of the delayed action torpedos fired by the MTB 74 went off.
Houses were searched and identity cards chec^ed.
ordered closed by 9:00 P.M.
The Germans' nerves snapped.
The second tor^^áo
They shot a g-
The cafes were
exploded an hour later.
:' of frightened dock
workers, who had r n at the sound of the sec':,nd explosion.
The Germans
continued to fire at anything that moved, causing causalties among the
French civilian population and themselves as well.
The German troops
in World War II were usually well disciplined, but the troops at
St. Nazaire were almost pathetic in their panic, shooting at imagined
enemies everywhere.
There are a number of possible explanations for
About sixty German officers were killed in the explosion of the
Campbeltown, depriving the troops of leadership.
The French Maquis
or Resistance had also been active from the start of the raid, continuing their efforts afterwards, thinking that an invasion had occurred.
Certainly, the Germans felt that they were surrounded by enemies.
explosions, so strange and unexplainable from their point of view,
added to their sense of helplessness.
Very important to the commando
concept is the effect of a successful amphibious assault on the
A successful commando operation damaged German morale, one
of the basic concepts of the British raiding program, and the St.
Nazaire raid showed how well it could work.
Flower and Reeves, The Tide Turns, p. 44; Mason, Raid on St.
Nazaire, pp. 137-38; Lucas-Phillips, The Greatest Raid of All, pp. 19092; Vagts, Landing Operations, pp. 63-67; Scott, The Battle of the
Narrow Seas, p. 61.
Although the Germans minimized the importance of the raid,
portraying it as a v/asteful and futile effort, the raid v/as well
received by the Allied public.
The Allies v/ere impatient for some
form of offensive action against the Axis, and St. Nazaire supplied
The raid was also indicative of the growing Allied war potential.
There were no comparable German efforts, the Germans slowly, but
surely, losing the initiative in the west.
St. Nazaire showed the
ability of the Allies to make war on their own terms, particularly
Britain's ability to use her sea power and limited resources to the
best advantage.
In 1942 this ability was expressed in small raids,
but the raids pointed to the eventual invasion of the continent that
everyone knew would nave to come.
Combined Operations had some difficulty in proving the success
of the raid because of the heavy losses suffered.
the losses were particularly high.
For the commandos,
Fifty-nine men were killed and
153 taken prisoner out of a total of 277 men committed to the operation.
Eighty-five naval personnel were killed and 106 captured.
British losses, killed and captured, were 403 out of 630 men.
French had their own losses to count,.totalling about 400 poorly armed
but valiant members of the French Resistance who had thought that the
day of liberation had come.
The British had taken liaison officers
along to try to prevent French participation, but they had been unable
lÍIOii (London), March 30, 1942, p. 4; Craig Thompson,
"British Raid St. Nazaire U-Boat Base," New York Times, March 29, 1942,
pp. 1, 3; Kirke L. Simpson, "As an Expert Sees It," Lubbock AvalancheJournal, March 31, 1942, p. 14; "Biggest Raid," Time 39 (April 6, 1942):
23; "Night Raiders," Newsweek 19 (April 6, 1942): 23-24; Goebbels,
The Goebbels Diaries, pp. 180, 187.
to do anything in the chaos.
Excluding the losses from the Campbeltown,
German losses numbered around forty-two.
Although estimates vary as
to how many were killed by the explosion, the generally accepted
figure is 380, putting the total losses around 422."^^
The high British losses resulted primarily from the use of the
MLs for the raid.
Without a second destroyer, these little craft were
a logical choice, especially considering the shallow draft needed for
crossing the mud shoals.
operation, however.
one square mile.
They were structurally unfit for the type of
The town and dock area of St. Nazaire was about
This area and the area around the port was covered
by strong defenses.
Vulnerable and operating in a small area, the
position of the MLs was practically hopeless. Their destruction meant
both the loss of the crews and the commandos on the boats and the
marooning of the commandos on the shore.
The failure of the air raid helped seal the fate of the commandos.
The planning was sound, but the execution was a disaster.
Weather conditions doomed the whole air operation.
The peculiar manner
in which the pilots tried to carry out their restrictive orders alerted
the Germans.
Even so, if the RAF crews had persisted a little longer,
the Germans would have been distracted because of the very peculiarity
of the raid.
The air raid served only to alert the defenders.
Buckley, Norway, the Commandos, Dieppe, p. 223; Mason, Raid
on St. Nazaire, pp. 137, 141; Lucas-Phillips, The Greatest Raid of All,
pp. 58, 193, 196.
Herbert Molly Mason, The Commandos (New York: Duell, Sloan,
and Pierce, 1966), p. 14; Mason, Raid on St. Nazaire, p. 149; Buckley,
Norway, the Commandos, Dieppe, p. 225.
should have been carried out longer or not at all. The whole business
discredited bombing as a prelude for amphibious landings, but this was
a grievous misunderstanding of the factors involved.^^
Even considering the cost, the raid was worth it. The main
objective of the raid was accomplished; the Normandie dock was never
repaired during the war, although the Germans diverted manpower and
material to that end.
Although the party assigned to attack the U-boat
base failed, this was a secondary object. The success or failure of
the operation depended entirely on the destruction of the Forme Ecluse.
By the time the fighting had stopped, the commandos had set off enough
demolitions to keep the dock out for at least a year. The Campbeltown's
explosion finished the job.
It is now known that Germany did not
intend to send the Tirpitz into the Atlantic, and it is therefore easy
to say that the raid was useless. The Tirpitz remained in Norway until
1944, when she was sunk by the RAF. The Germans intended to use her
against the suspected Allied invasion, for harassing the Arctic convoys, and as a decoy to keep the British Navy occupied. The fact
remains, however, that the Germans could neither use the dock, nor
could they send the Tirpitz into the Atlantic after 1942. The dock
was useless for the repair of any German vessels. The objective of the
raid was accomplished, even if the losses were heavy.
Everyone had
known that it was going to be a costly venture from the start but,
hopefully, one which would be worth the cost.
The dock was destroyed.
Lucas-Phillips, The Greatest Raid of All, pp. 5-6, 21-22,
62-66, 84, 89-90, 195; Mason, Raid on St. Nazaire, pp. 144, 149;
Ryder, Attack on St. Nazaire, pp. 79-80; Buckley, Norway, the Commandos
Dieppe, pp. 224-25.
and the use of the St. Nazaire Basin was limited by the damage to the
01 d Entrance from the torpedos from the MTB 74. The Penhouet Basin
was not made tidal, since the other caisson was only partially damaged,
but this failure was connected with the secondary object, the U-boat
The raid was a great success considering the amazingly small
force responsible for it.
It was a raid par excellence:
economy and
The commandos acquitted themselves extremely well in the raid,
their training and discipline paying off handsomely.
A lesser trained
group of men would not have been equal to the task.
If the St. Nazaire
raid seemed an accomplishment of the impossible, it was largely due
to the skill and courage of the commandos.
The Vichy French were not pleased with the news of the
St. Nazaire raid because they feared both a German occupation of Vichy
France and a French civil war which a landing might initiate.
the heavy German reprisals against the population of St. Nazaire and
the French lives lost in the fighting, the people of occupied France
were elated by the news of the raid.
They felt that their cause was
not lost and that the Allies would gain strength and defeat the Axis.
Two of the commandos who escaped found that the best way to make
friends with the French was to say the magic words "evades de St.
^^Lucas-Phillips, The Greatest Raid of All, pp. 117-18, 184-85;
Ryder, Attack on St. Nazaire, with Introduction by Admiral Sir Charles
Forbes, pp. viii-ix, 88-90; Young, Commando, pp. 92, 111; Butler,
Grand Strategy, 3:500-01; Churchill, The Hinge of Fate, p. 105.
Ryder, Attack on St. Nazaire, pp. 60-62, 72.
The mayor of St. Nazaire put it eloquently:
"You were the
first to give us hope."^^
The Germans also were impressed.
their harbor defense and reconnaissance.
They took pains to improve
These precautions were really
more of a detriment to the German cause than to the British.
Germans correctly assumed that there would be more landings, but the
large program of harbor defense drained their resources and manpower.
The yery possibility of more landings meant that fixed defenses would
not help.
The Germans v/ere on the way to the Fortress Europe concept
that would eventually contribute to their downfall.
It v/as a part of
their growing defensive stance as the initiative began to pass to the
The year 1942 was still not over.
St. Nazaire raid to its credit.
Combined Operations had the
There was, however, much more coast-
line providing targets for raids of varying sizes.
These targets
would be as tempting for the British to attack as they would be difficult for the Germans to defend.
St. Nazaire showed how fruitful in
results a raid could be.
Initiative often goes to those who can take
it, and the British were both able and willing.
Mason, Raid on St. Nazaire, p. 157; Lucas-Phillips, The
Greatest Raid of All, pp. 193, 201; Robert 0. Paxton, Vichy France:
Old Guard and New Order, 1940-1944 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1972),
pp. 288-89, 301-02; Robert 0. Paxton, Parades and Politics at Vichy:
ps ur
The French Officer Corps
Under Pe'tain (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton
University Press, 1966),
p. 321.
), p.
S. W. Roskill, The War at Sea, 3 vols. (London: Her Majesty's
Stationery Office, 1956), vol. 2: The Period of Balance, p. 173. LucasPhillips, The Greatest Raid of All, pp. 193-95; Buckley, Norway, the
Commandos, Dieppe, pp. 165, 225.
Butler, Grand Strategy, 3:638.
The commando concept was proven valid by the St. Nazaire raid.
Combined Operations could well be proud of Bruneval and St. Nazaire,
and it could look for new targets with a sense of self-confidence.
There were many targets suitable for raids, and the idea of a crossChannel invasion of the continent became increasingly present in everyone's minds during 1942.
The entry of Japan into the war began a series of reverses for
Britain in the Far Eastern Theater.
Far East, as it was elsewhere.
The year 1942 was critical in the
As worries about India grew, so too
did the strategical importance of the French possession, Madagascar.
The huge island on the east coast of Africa stood astride British
supply lines to India.
It was in the hands of Vichy troops, and if
the Japanese attempted to occupy Madagascar, no one doubted that the
Vichy garrison would surrender without fighting, much as similar troops
had done in Southeast Asia. Therefore, it was without any great hesitation that the British decided to take the island.
Troops, tanks,
and other vehicles landed on the island on May 5, 1942, in a successful combined operation.
By May 7 the key points of Diego Suarez Bay
and the city of Antsirane were captured, although the campaign dragged
on elsewhere until autumn.
Commando No. 5 was used in association
with troops from the 17th and 29th Brigades to ensure the success of
the landing.
The commando unit captured an important battery on the
coast to assure the safety of the landing operation.
This use of the
commandos as spearhead troops to capture key positions remained a
factor in large-scale operations for the rest of the war.
The year 1942 was a year of great hopes, and with the hopes
came agitation for a Second Front.
The natural desire to bring the war
to a quick conclusion and considerable sympathy for the Russians combined to produce a great deal of popular agitation among people who
did not understand the problems involved.
The American and British
governments were interested, but they had to face the reality of the
"Sledgehammer" became the tentative name for an Allied land-
ing on the Cherbourg Peninsula.
Its merits and chances of success
were debatable at best, however, and the British quickly cooled to
the idea.
Britain was not interested in gambles; British manpower and
resources could not support hit-or-miss invasions of the continent.
was all or nothing for the British.
Knowing that they would not have
a second chance, the British were simply not ready in 1942 to back the
American scheme.
Britain was thinking in terms of her traditional
peripheral strategy.
direct blow.
She wanted to drain Germany before striking a
The Americans were thinking more along the lines of a
direct blow to Germany.
The British won the controversy in the end,
but in 1942 the differences of strategies posed the prospect of a
Christopher Buckley, Five Ventures: Iraq—Syria—Persia—
Madaqascar—Dodecanese (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1954),
pp. 165-208; Churchill, The Hinge of Fate, pp. 193-207; Fergusson,
The Watery Maze, pp. 157-68; Roskill, The War at Sea, 2:185-92.
potential split in the Anglo-American alliance.
The split v/as healed
by a compromise, the invasion of North Africa ("Torch").
Thus, Allied
forces were committed to the Mediterranean, and there was no chance of
a European invasion until 1943 at the earliest.
The only way to
initiate action in the European Theater was what it had been before—
namely, raiding which was part of Britain's peripheral strategy.
Churchill was also faced with the problem that none of his
military advisors would guarantee the success of a continental
invasion until some type of reconnaissance raid was carried out on
the French coast.
Such an operation could be evaluated, and costly
mistakes could later be avoided.
Because Allied strategy called for
the capture of a port during the early stages of an invasion, a reconnaissance raid v/ould have to be staged to that end.
A port would be
captured and held for a short period of time, the resulting combat
being a test for Allied strategical ideas.
The idea was quite similar
to ChurchilTs original idea for the commandos.
While the ground
troops were engaging German forces, the RAF would have the opportunity
to force the Luftwaffe into combat and hopefully reduce its numbers.
Kent Roberts Greenfield, American Strategy in World War II:
A Reconsideration (Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 1963), pp. 13-15,
24-30, 43-45; Richard M. Leighton, "Overlord Revisited: An Interpretation of American Strategy in the European War, 1942-1944," The
American Historical Review 68 (July 1963): 919-37; Vagts, Landing
Operations, p. 700; Roskill, The War at Sea, 2:239-40; Jean-Baptiste
Douroselle, "Le Conflict Strategique Anglo-Americain De Juin 1940 A
Juin 1944," Reyue d' Historie Moderne et Contemporaine 10 (JulySeptember 1963): 165-70, 177-84; Trumball Higgins, WTnston Churchill
and the Second Front, 1940-1943 (New York: Oxford University Press,
1957), pp. 62-63.
Churchill, The Hinge of Fate, p. 443; Fergusson, The Watery
Maze, pp. 168-69; Swinson, Mountbatten, pp. 52-54.
The most suitable target for a reconnaissance raid was Dieppe.
The port was not a target for the projected invasion.
An attack here
would have little effect on Allied strategy, and it would tell the
Germans nothing.
to be strong.
able one.
It was defended, but the defenses were not thought
They would present a challenge, but not an insurmount-
The overall effect would be that of a continental invasion
in miniature with the three services working in a combined operation.
The most important factor in the test was the chance to try out tank
landing craft and a battalion of Churchill tanks.
A plan was devised by a COHQ planning staff under Captain
It was this plan that was endorsed and backed by
This plan called for flank attacks on the port, with a
landing at Quiberville, six miles from the town.
Home Forces opposed
the plan, arguing that the Germans could easily destroy the two bridges
between Quiberville and Dieppe.
on the port.
The alternative was a frontal attack
Home Forces held out for this plan, and eventually got
it, despite the opposition of Mountbatten and Combined Operations.
It should have been obvious at this point that considerable fire
support was necessary.
was eight destroyers.
The only sea support allotted for the assault
The Navy did not want to commit any larger ships,
feeling that it was unnecessary.
was called for.
Originally, heavy bombing support
However, Air Vice-Marshall Leigh-Mallory opposed this
on the grounds that it would alert the German defense.
It was correctly
Gordon A. Harrison, The United States Army in World War II,
The European Theater of Operations, 12 vols. (Washington: Department
of the Army, 1947-), vol. 3, pt. 2 (1951): Cross-Channel Attack,
p. 54.
assumed that this had been the case at St. Nazaire, but no one
realized that the air support had failed through application, not by
The air bombardment was reduced accordingly.
no bombing, only strafing by fighter planes.
appeared obscure to everyone.
There would be
Evidently, the obvious
Without adequate air and sea fire
support, the raid depended entirely on surprise.
Its success became
a matter of fate.
With this weakening, the loss of surprise would
mean the failure of the raid.
The 2nd Division of the Canadian Army was picked for the main
frontal assault on Dieppe.
The division was under the command of
Major-General J. H. Roberts who would act as force commander.
Included were the Royal Regiment of Canada, the South Saskatchewan
Regiment, the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders, the Essex Scottish
Regiment, the Fusiliers Mont-Royal, the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry,
and the 14th Canadian Army Tank Regiment.
places and objectives.
All had specific landing
The Canadians accounted for 4,963 men out of
a total of 6,100.^
The commandos picked for the raid were No. 3 under LieutenantColonel John Durnford-Slater and No. 4 under Lord Shimy Lovat.
units were given shore batteries to destroy.
were to be given to paratroop units.
Originally, these tasks
It was feared that bad weather
conditions would spoil any manoeuvres of this type, so the paratroops
Swinson, Mountbatten, pp. 52-54; Fergusson, The Watery Maze,
pp. 169-71; Roskill, The War at Sea, 2:241; St. George Saunders,
Combined Operations, p. 115.
Buckley, Norway, the Commandos, Dieppe, p. 230.
were replaced with commandos.
The commandos entered the picture
relatively late in the planning, only after the operation had been
cancelled and then revived, but their deployment in the Dieppe raid
proved to be a wise choice.
No. 3 would land in two groups at Petit
Berneval and Belleville and proceed to the battery east of Dieppe.
No. 4 had an identical mission with the battery on the west; the unit
would land at Varengeville and at the mouth of the Saane River and
move inland to its target.
These two units formed the flanks of the
assault, with the Canadian landing taking place between them.
Although Dieppe was planned as a raid, it was a different sort
of operation than the earlier raids. At Dieppe, the commandos formed
a specialized spearhead group.
As such, they had objectives suited to
their talents which would make the going easier for the main body of
regular troops.
It was critically important that they accomplish their
tasks at Dieppe, since either of the batteries could fire on the shipping in front of the town.
They were acting in the same capacity as
No. 5 at Madagascar and, indeed, a function similar to those carried
out later in the war.
Other commando groups included Royal Marine
Commando A, members of the Inter-Allied Commando, and a few American
The raid was scheduled for July 4, 1942, but was postponed
until July 8 because of unfavorable weather.
The Germans bombed some
Churchill, The Hinge of Fate, p. 444; Buckley, Norway, the
Commandos, Dieppe, p. 235; Durnford-Slater, Commando, p. 91; Young,
Commando, pp. 128-32, and Storm From the Sea, p. 60.
Buckley, Norway, the Commandos, Dieppe, p. 234.
of the shipping for the raid, and this raised the question of whether
they knew about it.
They did not, but they did know that Britain
would surely try something of the sort on the French coast, and they
were surely on the lookout for concentrations of shipping for various
The planners could not know this, and they were worried.
The bad weather continued, and the raid was cancelled.
When faced
with the question of what else might be done, everyone soon realized
that it was the Dieppe plan or nothing.
itself for experience alone.
The raid v/as necessary in
Furthermore, Churchill had promised the
Russians something in the way of a series of raids.
He had been on
the receiving end of many Russian complaints about opening the second
When the Arctic convoys were cancelled, Churchill had tried
to make up for it with the promise of raids. The primary purpose of
Dieppe was experience and remained so, but something had to be done
for the Russians as well.
worries regarding security.
The raid was rescheduled.
This induced new
Lieutenant-General B. L. Montgomery, who,
as Commander-in-Chief of the Southeastern Command, had been involved
in the planning, opposed the revival of the raid on the grounds that
the security question now made it impossible.
He was overruled; it
was felt that knowledge of a cancelled operation could not help the
Germans. The raid would take place on August 19, 1942.
Bernard Law Montgomery, The Memoirs of Field Marshall the
Viscount Montqomery of Alamein (Cleveland: World, 1958), pp. 69-70;
Fergusson, The Watery Maze, pp. 173-74; Churchill, The Hinge of Fate,
pp. 443-44; Swinson, Mountbatten, p. 54; Stacey, The History of the
Canadian Army, 1:341; Robert Lacour-Gayet, Histoire du Canada
(Paris: Fayard, 1966), pp. 523-24.
The force left England on the night of the eighteenth, proceeding across the Channel to the target.
Off the coast of France,
the eastern edge of the convoy ran into a German convoy with its
The unfortunate group consisted of Durnford-Slater's No. 3
Commando on its way to the landing positions in Eureka landing craft
and a gunboat.
The force was badly mauled and scattered.
One of the
British support craft came to help and sank one of the German ships,
but the damage was done.
The force was dispersed, and most of the
group, including Durnford-Slater, were forced to turn back.
groups from the unit did, however, manage to make it ashore.
The first
was made up of most of 6 Troop and about forty American Rangers.
men came under heavy fire from the shore as they landed, found themselves trapped, and were forced to surrender.
one craft made it ashore at another point.
Another small group in
Under the leadership of
Lieutenant Peter Young, the men made their way to the battery.
only small arms with them, however, they could only snipe at the
battery to harass the crew.
nition ran low.
They kept up their fire until their ammu-
Then with the possibility of a German counter attack
becoming more real every moment that they stayed, the force withdrew,
boarded their landing craft, and returned to England.
was an excellent example of ingenuity and bravery.
Their effort
They had accom-
plished their task with a minimum of men and material; the combination
of the commando harassment tactics and the smoke screen laid by the
ships of the main force kept the battery from doing any damage.
Young's manoeuvre was the commando concept at its very best.
Young and the commander of the craft were awarded the DSO.
No. 4 Commando had better luck.
Both parties landed as planned.
The first, under Major Derek Mills-Roberts, attacked the battery.
second, under Lovat, was making for the place and stumbled into a
German counter attack group preparing to relieve the battery.
group caught them by surprise and wiped them out.
Lovat and his men
then proceeded to the battery to reinforce the first group.
By this
time the battery's ammunition dump had been mortared, and the operation
was going well.
One of the German soldiers in the battle had been
shot while mistreating a wounded commando.
The word went around the
unit, and orders were given that no more prisoners were to be taken.
The battery was taken with bayonettes fixed.
Then the demolition
crews destroyed the guns. The force withdrew to its craft and returned
Lovat's leadership and utter ruthlessness with regard to the
enemy paid off; the operation was skillfully executed and entirely
Dieppe was not a success for the Canadians.
No. 3 Commando's
collision with the convoy raised the alarm in part of the target area,
but the Germans v/ere well prepared everywhere, whether alerted or taken
Young, Storm From the Sea, pp. 60-68; Durnford-Slater,
Commando, pp. 103-07; St. George Saunders, Combined Operations, pp.
117-20; Stacey, The History of the Canadian Army, 1:360-61.
^^Derek Mills-Roberts, Clash By Niqht: A Commando Chronicle
(London: William Kimber, 1956), pp. 18-19; Young, Commando,
pp. 128-45; Stacey, The History of the Canadian Army, 1:363; A. B.
Austin, We Landed at Dawn: The Story of the Dieppe Raid (New York:
Harcourt, Brace, 1943), pp. 139-54.
by surprise.
Many of the German guns had not been picked up in the
RAF reconnaissance photos.
All the defenders, although they v/ere not
top quality troops, had been warned of the possibility of landings.
They were prepared, and they had the geography of the French coastline
on their side.
The Canadians walked into a firing squad.
Regiment of Canada was practically destroyed on the beach.
Scottish also suffered heavy losses.
The Royal
The Essex
The Saskatchewan and Highlander
Regiments did well, but they were the exception.
Generally, the story
of the Canadian assault was one of poorly timed landings coming in
under heavy fire with heavy casualties resulting almost immediately.
Canadian losses were approximately 3,648.
Nearly 2,000 of these were
captured, although a sizable number were wounded as well.
about half of the total of 6,100.
This was
Roberts, acting on what seemed to
be reliable information, used his reserves to try and save the situation.
This consisted of two groups.
heavy losses and accomplished nothing.
forced to turn back.
The Fusilier Mont-Royal suffered
The Royal Marine commandos were
Some did make it ashore, but to no practical pur-
The frontal assault was a disaster.
The heavy German fire
not only broke the assault, but it also made evacuation impossible in
some areas.
Many of the captured were those who had to be left behind.
The Churchill tanks were successfully landed, about their only
The sappers could not remove the anti-tank obstacles because
of the heavy fire.
Although this kept the Germans from using their own
Stacey, The History of the Canadian Army, 1:359-86; St. George
Saunders, Combined Operations, pp. 135-40; Buckley, Norway, the
Commandos, Dieppe, pp. 246-64.
anti-tank guns, it also meant that the tanks were virtually trapped.
They were either damaged by German fire or damaged themselves on the
shingle of the beach.
tanks as pill boxes.
The crews stayed at their posts, operating their
All the tank personnel were captured.^^
The RAF provided excellent air cover for the operation.
Luftwaffe did not even appear until the operation had been going on
for some time; and even then, the German air force failed to make any
significant contribution to the defense.
air attack.
One destroyer was sunk from
A Stuka, running from two Spitfires, jetisoned its bombs
right over the Berkeley.
It was purely a matter of chance, and it was
about all that the Luftwaffe could claim.
In the air battle itself,
the RAF was not as successful as had been hoped.
106 planes.
The British lost
At the time, it was boasted that 92 German planes were
definitely shot down, and 170 more probable kills were claimed.
grand total of a possible 262 planes proved over-optimistic.
In fact,
only 48 German planes were destroyed and 24 were damaged, a much less
impressive total.
In judging the success of the RAF's role, it must
be remembered that the RAF provided a wery fine air defense for the
operation and this was far more valuable than the tally of German
In considering the tally itself, it is easy to say that the
Germans won.
War, however, is not just the ability to fight, but the
ability to produce and supply as well.
The Anglo-American Alliance
could replace its losses in men and material since both Britain and
America had organized their economies on a total war footing.
Stacey, The History of the Canadian Army, 1:381-83; Buckley,
Norway, the Commandos, Dieppe, pp. 257-58, 262-63.
had not yet done this.
Her economy was only beginning to be organized
in a manner that would fulfill her needs.
Her aircraft production was
no exception; and by the time anything was done to increase production,
it was too late.
Russian Front.
Disaster was soon to overtake the Luftwaffe on the
Germany could not replace her losses as could her
Her losses at Dieppe, while not decisive, were more
... T 14
The initial Allied reaction to Dieppe v/as favorable.
was a sign that the Allies would be able to invade the continent.
the United States, the coverage was particularly sensational, and the
press caused considerable friction between the British and Americans.
Despite the fact that there were only about fifty American Rangers on
the raid, several American papers came up with headlines such as
"Americans Land in France."
It was an insult to the Canadians and the
British who had formed the bulk of the force.
Mountbatten and General
Robert McClure of Eisenhower's staff held a conference with the
correspondents who had been on the raid, asking them to help clarify
the situation.
This was done, and the correction was made, but it
remained a rather unpleasant incident.
appreciated in Canada.
were released.
The publicity was certainly not
The Canadians were stunned when the figures
The Canadian public was shocked and upset over the
Buckley, Norway, the Commandos, Dieppe, pp. 262, 266; St.
George Saunders, Combined Operations, p. 143; Stacey, The History of
the Canadian Army, 1:388; Wright, The Ordeal of Total War, pp. 44-47.
high losses and, like Prime Minister Mackenzie King, they wondered
how such losses could be justified.^^
Tactically, the raid v/as a disaster.
The two commando units
were the only parts of the force that could claim real success.
As at
Madagascar, they proved that they could work well in conjunction with
larger forces.
Their success with the two batteries proved not only
that it could be done, but that it should be done.
Even in the case
of Peter Young's group, the commandos had overcome almost hopeless
odds and had accomplished their mission.
Their training and initiative
made them a vital part of any large force.
The real tragedy was the frontal attack.
lessons were learned at a high cost.
It was here that
Surprise was achieved in the
The area around No. 3's objective was no doubt alerted by the
fight with the convoy, but for the most part the landings came as a
surprise to the defenders.
There was no security leak as has been
The truth of the matter was that a frontal attack on a
heavily defended port was impractical without adequate air and sea
support, and then the support fire would damage the port beyond use.
A frontal attack was newer again used to capture a port. The commandos
Quentin Reynolds, Dress Rehearsal: The Story of Dieppe (New
York: Random House, 1943), pp. 251-54; Raymond Daniel, "U. S. Allied
Troops, Tanks, Raid Dieppe," New York Times, August 20, 1942, p. 1;
"Dieppe Race Course Air Field for Allies," New York Times, August 21,
1942, p. 1; C. Cecil Lingard and Reginald G. Trotter, Canada in World
Affairs, September 1941 to May 1944 (Toronto: Oxford University
Press, 1950), pp. 114-17; J. W. Pickersgill, The Mackenzie Kinq Record,
2 vols. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960), vol. 1:
1939-1944, p. 417.
St. George Saunders, The Green Beret, p. 114.
participated in the capture of a number of ports later in the war,
but always with a flanking attack that took the port from the rear.
If COHQ's original plan, calling for a flanking capture, had been used,
Dieppe might have been a tactical success.
raid changed the invasion plans.
As it was, though, the
The idea of capturing harbors was
dropped, and man-made harbors ("Mulberries") were substituted.
in itself helped assure the success of the Normandy invasion of 1944.^^
Dieppe has been called the "Sledgehammer" that might have
It was clear that the invasion of the continent would have to
be a large-scale operation.
Dieppe drove home the realization that
such an operation would have to wait.
When Normandy was invaded in
1944, the landings had adequate sea and air support.
Amphibious tanks
and tanks with flails to clear mines were but two of the innovations
that came from Dieppe.
The properly supported landings were part of
a flexible battle plan with enough manpower so that the landings
could be exploited.
Although the British seemed to have learned more
from the mistakes made at Dieppe than did the Americans, Dieppe contributed greatly to the success of the Normandy landings. The raid
has been the subject of a great deal of controversy and criticism.
It was much more costly than had been envisioned, but Dieppe was both
necessary and fruitful.
Its tactical disaster was its strategic
Lingard and Trotter, Canada in World Affairs, p. 116; Stacey,
The History of the Canadian Army, 1:399-403; Fergusson, The Watery
Maze, p. 182; Lacour-Gayet, Histoire du Canada, p. 524; J. W.
Pickersgill and D. F. Forster, The Mackenzie King Record, (Toronto:
University of Toronto Press, 1968), vol. 2: 1944-1945, p. 72. After
the Normandy invasion, Mackenzie King talked with Churchill about the
Dieppe raid and came to realize the importance of the experience
gained at Dieppe.
Its justification was the realization of the Normandy
The only success at Dieppe bore fruit for Normandy--the
commandos formed the spearhead of the landing troops.^^
At first, it appeared that the inhabitants of Dieppe would have
their own losses to count.
of-war camp.
The Germans sent 750 of them to a prisoner-
These people were later released, however, since no one
in town had taken part in the raid.
The British had taken care to see
that the French were kept out of the fighting in hope of avoiding
• H 19
The Germans were pleased with the Dieppe raid.
a false sense of security.
It gave them
Some were even convinced that a major
invasion effort had been defeated.
Under Hitler's orders, work on the
West Wall was pushed to the limit^ and German strategy in France staked
everything on defeating any landing attempts on the beach, as had been
done at Dieppe.
Since the Allies had tried to capture Dieppe, the
Germans assumed that they would attempt to capture a port or ports when
they invaded the continent.
Dieppe seemed so important that the Germans
Butler, Grand Strategy, 3:638; L. K. Truscott, Jr., Command
Missions: A Personal Story (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1954), p. 72;
Stacey, The History of the Canadian Army, p. 397; Wilmot, The Struggle
for Europe, p. 109; Higgins, Churchill and the Second Front, pp. 16667; Buckley, Norway, the Commandos, Dieppe, pp. 266-69; "Lessons of
Dieppe Now Prove Useful," New York Times, June 6, 1944, p. 5; Scott,
Battle of the Narrow Seas, p. 92. Scott was a member of Captain P. V.
McLaughton's Staff. McLaughton was Commander of the Light Coastal
Forces on the Channel, a member of the Staff of the Commander-inChief, Plymouth, and responsible for the planning and execution of
Light Coastal Forces' manoeuvres for the Normandy invasion.
^^Paxton, Vichy France, p. 305; Mills-Roberts, Clash By Night,
p. 14; "French Kept Calm by British Radio," New York Times, August 20,
1942, p. 6.
took care to see that it was well fortified and defended.
awaited an Allied tactic that would not again be used.
faith in a peripheral strategy was bearing fruit.
The German's spent
a great deal of time and effort on ineffective defenses.
attempt to fortify the coastline brought some relief on the Russian
front by sapping German resources.
Thus, the secondary object of the
raid was also accomplished to some extent.
For the Allies, a tactical
blunder v/as a strategic success.
Likewise, for the Germans, a tactical
success v/as a strategic blunder.
Dieppe v/as as important for its
effect on German strategy as it was for its effect on Allied planning.
Dieppe in its own way helped turn the odds in favor of the
The commandos reached their final stage of development at
They proved themselves to be not only raiders but superb
spearhead troops.
They would retain this function for the rest of the
war, improving the fortunes of several large conventional armies.
the commandos and Combined Operations still had before them their
greatest contribution to the Allied cause.
Churchill, The Hinqe of Fate, p. 445; Higgins, Churchill and
the Second Front, pp. 62-63, 166-67; Lingard and Trotter, Canada in
World Affairs, p. 116; Lacour-Gayet, Histoire du Canada, pp. 523-24;
Germany, Oberkommando, Hitler Directs His War, ed. Felix Gilbert
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1950), pp. 80-81; Hitler, Secret
Conversations, pp. 161-17.
Dieppe was the last of the great raids.
World War II moved
beyond the raiding phase in 1942, the initiative passing to the
Allies and staying with them until the end of the v/ar.
still valuable, however, as a reconnaissance tactic.
Raiding was
Some pinprick
raids were staged in 1942, but the results were not great.
A series
of raids against the coastline of France helped gain valuable information on the German defenses in preparation for the Normandy invasion,
but their value was strategical rather than tactical.
A commando
base was set up in the Dalmatian Islands off Yugoslavia in 1944 to
help the Partisans.
This operation bore both strategical and tactical
The Germans in the Balkans were kept busy from the raids, which
convinced them of the possibility of an Allied invasion.
worked as well in Yugoslavia as it had in Norway.
The ruse
Generally, after
1942, the role of the commandos became that of the spearhead trooper.
The spearhead tactic and raiding had much in common, including the
same men, since they are really two different applications of the same
Raiding was an end to itself, but spearhead troops worked in
conjunction with larger, regular forces.
Both were indicative of the
need for specialization.^
The landings in North Africa in November 1942 surprised both
the Germans and the Vichy French.
The Germans may v/ell have thought
that the next Allied attack would be another Dieppe raid since they
still had it fresh in their minds.
Most of the credit for the sur-
prise was due to Allied security, which masked the whole operation.
Surprise worked well for the Allies.
The French defenders v/ere taken
completely off guard; they might otherwise have turned back the
clumsy, amateurish landings staged by the Allies.
It is probable that
the Allies would not have had such an easy time if "Sledgehammer" had
been carried out, instead, in 1942.
Commandos Nos. 1 and 6 were used
in the North African operation, known as "Torch."
Commando No. 1
landed without much trouble and captured Fort Sidi Ferruch without
firing a shot.
They were also able to keep the French from using the
airfield at Blida.
Their third objective, Fort D'Estree, proved more
The garrison refused to surrender, and the ground forces
had to utilize air support and the threat of naval bombardment to force
its capitulation.
No. 6 was organized as an Anglo-American unit of
British commandos and American Rangers.
The British members were
dressed in American uniforms in the hope that the French would not
fire on them.
After a difficult landing, No. 6 surrounded its objective,
Fort Duperre.
As in the case of Fort D'Estree, the garrison refused to
Young, Commando, pp. 123-27; St. George Saunders, The Green
Beret, pp. 115-24, 205-22, 238-63.
surrender and was brought to reason by similar methods.
tactics were adopted by one of the American groups.
General L. K.
Truscott, a COHQ veteran, used men from the 60th Infantry specially
trained in commando and Ranger tactics to stage the capture of the
Lyautey airfield.
In all instances, specialized tactics of this sort
were applied to the problems of a major campaign with excellent results,
The division of tasks v/as not only helpful, but vital.
The need for
specialization became more and more apparent as the war continued.^
The Rangers and the commandos made a good showing in the operation, but the Tunisian campaign was somewhat of a disappointment for
the latter.
The Rangers were well employed on attacks on the enemy
lines, which aided the Allied drive and saved livos.
Their usefulness
as shock troops was due to the leadership of Colonel William 0. Darby,
who trained his men along commando lines with a few ideas of his own
as well.
The Rangers gained the respect and praise of the superiors,
notably General George S. Patton, Jr.
The commandos, on the other
hand, found themselves performing the duties of the average field
This was roughly analogous to using a Rolls Royce to carry
cattle feed.
Fortunately, there were exceptions.
staged a landing behind the German lines at Taraka.
Commando No. 1
The presence of
Churchill, The Hinge of Fate, p. 472; St. George Saunders,
The Green Bere^, pp. 131-33; Robert D. Murphy, Diplomat Among Warriors
(Garden City: Doubleday, 1964), p. ^32; George F. Howe, The U. S.
Army in World War II, Mediterranean Theater of Operations, vol. 2
(1957): Northwest Africa: Seizinq the Initiative in the West
(Washington: Department of the Army, 1947-), pp. 236-48; Fergusson,
The Watery Maze, pp. 214-15; Truscott, Command Missions, pp. 79-98;
Vincent Jones, Operation Torch (New York: Ballantine, 1972), pp.
113-15; Stacey, History of the Canadian Army, pp. 406-08.
such a force endangered the German lines of communication and route of
The Germans immediately realized this threat to their
position and staged heavy attacks on the unit.
Losses were heavy, but
the unit held out for seventy-two hours, a thorn in the side of the
Germans which weakened their position considerably.
The Germans
depended on the Mediterranean to guard their right flank, which was
logical for a land-oriented army.
The British were largely sea-
oriented, however, and it was just as logical for them to use the
Mediterranean to turn the enemy's flank.
One man's means of defense
may be another's means of attack, especially if his country has strong
ties with the sea.
No. 6 executed a similar flanking operation in
conjunction with a reconnaissance regiment.
They took a point within
the German lines that had been a target before.
to establish a strong defense.
This time they managed
Although they were too few for the
area they held, the commandos managed to hold on, despite heavy losses,
until the Royal Sussex and Coldstream Guards regiments attacked and
forced the Germans back.
In both cases, the commandos filled the role
of specialized shock troops admirably.
By the time that the invasion.of Sicily took place in 1943,
Comnandos Nos. 2 and 3, and Royal Marine Commandos Nos. 40 RM and 41 RM
were grouped into a brigade.
The latter two participated in the initial
landings, taking batteries on the coast to help the Ist Canadian
Both No. 3 and Darby's Rangers served in a similar capacity,
the latter capturing the town of Gela.
Montgomery realized the value
^St. George Saunders, The Green Beret, pp. 139-45; Alteri, The_
Spearheaders, pp. 194-266. Alteri commanded Fox Company, 4th US Rangers
of the commandos as shock troops, and he used Durnford-Slater's No. 3
Commando for his advance to Catina.
The unit executed a landing
behind the enemy lines, overcame the opposition on the beach, and
moved to its objective, a bridge over the Leonardo River ten miles
behind the lines.
The bridge was taken despite stubborn resistance.
Once this was done, Commando No. 3 was established in a position that
blocked the link between the German and Italian armies.
attack was inevitable.
A counter
The commandos expected reinforcements from
the 50th Division of Montgomery's 8th Army, but the main body was held
up in its advance.
Lacking the necessary support, Durnford-Slater's
group was forced to relinquish the bridge and to retreat as best they
The tactic v/as described by the commander as "the Bonnie
Prince Charlie stuff."
The commando was faced with tough German troops,
a far different proposition from the Italians they had faced in the
initial invasion.
The unit's losses were heavy, 153 casualties in
all, killed, wounded, or missing.
No. 3 Commando's fine discipline
and training kept the casualties from being any higher, and the group
managed to maintain itself long enough to escape destruction.
the retreat, German strength and resources were weakened, facilitating
the 50th Division's advance.
An army in the field cannot afford to
have its lines of communication cut in such a fashion, and it was only
logical that the Germans would stage a heavy counter attack.
more, the Germans could not destroy the bridge, which they would have
done otherwise.
The operation was definitely a success, despite the
heavy losses suffered.
Montgomery was elated with the results, calling
the action "a classic operation."^
The invasion of the Italian mainland was the next step.
number of reconnaissance patrols were landed on the Italian mainland,
but they did not accomplish much.
The landings staged in the Gulf of
Salerno with the main invasion were more fruitful.
The invasion
force^was Anglo-American, with the American 6th Corps landing on the
right and the British lOth Corps on the left.
rapid advance on Naples.
Commando No. 2 captured the La Molina Pass,
one of the routes to Naples.
for the Americans.
The strategy involved a
The Rangers accomplished a similar task
The commandos had to overcome stubborn German
resistance and then hold off repeated attacks on the vital position.
Things improved when No. 41 RM captured the town of Pigoletti,
strengthening their hold on the pass. As could be expected, losses
wére high, but the objective was achieved.
A series of landings helped to speed the Allied advance up
the boot of Italy.
Special Raiding Squadron, which was now part of a
brigade commanded by Durnford-Slater, landed at Bagnara on September 5
to aid the advance of the 8th Army.
Vibo Valenti with the 231st Brigade.
The commando brigade landed at
The port was thirty miles north
of Bagnara, further extending the Allied gains. The most successful
St. George Saunders, The Green Beret, pp. 150-69; DurnfordSlater, Commando, pp. 132-50; Young, Storm From the Sea, pp. 76-109;
Martin Blumenson, Sicily: Whose Victory? (New York: Ballantine, 1969),
p. 85; Hugh Pound,~$Tc ly (Londonl William Kimber, 1962), pp. 78-79,
125-28; Alteri, The Spearheaders, pp. 262-72.
^St. George Saunders, The Green Beret, pp. 180-93.
operation of this type was staged against the port of Termoli on
October 1, 1943.
Commandos Nos. 3 and 40 RM, Special Raiding Squadron,
and the 13th Corps of the 8th Army participated.
The objective was
to hold the port until the 8th Army could reach them.
This would
involve holding a port twenty miles behind the lines, a fact which
made the whole operation a considerable gamble.
The port was captured
and a perimeter established to meet what was becoming the classic
German counter attack.
The British force managed to hold the place
against a full Panzer division and support troops that outnumbered
them three to two.
The German thrust failed.
British tanks reached
the port and Allied air cover was established, making the capture
The Termoli operation was a tactical and strategic coup.
The resulting advance of the 8th Army ruined German plans for a stand
at the Biferno River.
Again, the British used the sea to turn their
enemy's flank.
The Normandy campaign remains the supreme effort of the Second
World War.
The full effort of the Allied potential came to bear in this
campaign, which delivered the coup de grace to Germany in the west.
The Normandy invasion was a technological triumph as well as a military
A great deal of "Overlord's "success stemmed from British
contributions in technology which came from COHQ.
Under Mountbatten's
vigorous leadership, Combined Operations used the commando raids to
Durnford-Slater, Commando, pp. 154-69; Young, Storm From the
Sea, pp. 110-36. Young was in command of No. 3 Commando at this time;
W7~G. F. Jackson, The Battle for Italy (New York: Harper and Row,
1967), pp. 127-28; St. George Saunders, The Green Beret, pp. 170-200.
develop amphibious warfare as an exact science.
The commandos were
willing guinea pigs in the World War II test tube.
The educational
process began in 1940, with the first commando raid, and continued
through the invasions of North Africa, Sicily, and Italy.
commandos' contribution to the strategy of the conflict.
other contributions materially.
It v/as the
COHQ made
Dieppe proved the difficulty, if not
the impossibility, of trying to capture a port for the invading army,
and at Normandy the Allies brought their own ports in the form of the
"Mulberry" harbors.
These artificial harbors had fascinated Churchill
since the First World War, and Mountbatten and his staff developed
them despite considerable skepticism from other quarters.
The Combined
Operations Experimental Center contributed the first method of making
tanks amphibious, while the parent organization made contributions in
support craft.
Another of Mountbatten's ideas was also implemented at
This was "PLUTO," or Pipe Line Under the Ocean, which
supplied some of the fuel requirements for the invasion force.
to this arsenal were such other British contributions as the flail
tanks which cleared wide paths through the minefields on the beaches.
There were other special tanks to deal with obstacles.
These innova-
tions arose from the Dieppe raid, which proved that engineers could not
function effectively under fire. Thus, the British and Canadians
avoided the carnage of Dieppe, as well as the carnage of Omaha.
wery landing and support craft used in the Normandy invasion were
largely British in design with American improvements.
The contribu-
tions made by the British in general, and COHQ in particular, has not
been fully appreciated by historians, despite the fact that these
contributions were so vital.^
The motion picture industry has done much to portray the
Third Reich as the technological wizard of World War II, but it is
hard to imagine the Germans planning and executing anything approaching
the Normandy invasion.
With the exception of the Me 262 jet fighter,
the Germans were sorely lacking in applied technology, that is,
technology applied to long-range strategy.
They produced some interest-
ing and terrifying weaponry, but their effort was not in tune with
long-range strategy.
The Allies created an applied technology that
was strategically oriented and directed toward victory.
is a case in point.
"Mulberry" harbors were not impressive in appear-
ance, but they worked technically and strategically.
It is ironic that Mountbatten was not on the beach to see the
Allied effort.
In 1943 he was appointed Supreme Corrmander of the
South East Asia Theater.
whole new set of concerns.
By 1944 he was far from Normandy, with a
He did, however, receive a telegram
personally congratulating both him and his associates for their part
in the success of "Overlord."
It was signed by Marshall, King, Brooke,
Dwight D. Eisenhov/er, Crusade in Europe (Garden City: Doubleday, 1948), p. 235; Wilmot, The Struggle for Europe, p. 97; Stamps and
Esposito, A Military History of World War Two, 1:310, 324-25; L. F.
Ellis et al., Victory in the West, 2 vols. (London: Her Majesty's
Stationery Office, 1962), vol. 1: The Battle of Normandy, pp. 11-12;
Fergusson, The Watery Maze, pp. 296-306; Barnett, Britain and Her
Army, p. 455; Albert Norman, Operation Overlord, Design and ReãTTty:
The Allied nvasion of Western Europe (Harrisburg, Pa.: Military
Service Publishing Co., 1952), pp. 46-52. Norman was a member of
General Omar Bradley's staff as historian of 12th Army Group Headquarters; Swinson, Mountbatten, pp. 55-57.
Smuts, and Churchill.
It was a further irony that Eisenhower had
suggested Mountbatten for the projected invasion in 1942.^
The commandos had a tactical contribution to make in addition
to the strategic contribution that they had been making for four
Their great moment as spearhead troops came at Normandy,
where they formed the left flank of the British army.
Now organized
into Special Service Brigades (later Commando Brigades), they formed
a vital part of the British strategy.
No. 1 Brigade (Commandos Nos.
3, 4, 6, and 45 RM, plus two French troops from No. 10 Inter-Allied)
under Lord Lovat was assigned the task of landing at Lion-sur-Mer,
capturing Ouistreham, and then moving inland to link up with the 6th
Airborne at the bridges 'over the Orne River and the Caen Canal.
No. 4
Brigade (Commandos Nos. 41, 46, 47, and 48 RM) under Brigadier Dudley
Lister were assigned the capture of several strong points along the
After the St. Nazaire and Dieppe raids in 1942, the Germans
had embarked on an energetic program of coastal defense.
convinced of the virtue of the fortress concept.
Hitler was
Just before the
Vaagso raid in 1941, he had ordered an increase in the Norwegian
On March 24, 1942, he ordered that future Allied landings
Swinson, Mountbatten, p. 57; Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe,
pp. 66-67; Robert Musel, "The Unsinkable Mountbatten," Saturday
Eveninq Post 216 (April 1, 1944): 20; "Lord Louis to Bat," Time
42 (September 6, 1943): 38; "Role of Soviet Still Cryptic After the
Quebec Conference," Newsweek 22 (September 6, 1943): 21.
St. George Saunders, The Green Beret, p. 266; Harrison,
Cross-Channel Attack, pp. 288-89.
must be defeated in the waters offshore or on the beach itself.
the war progressed, his worries over the west increased.
The result
was the West Wall, a futile attempt to fortify the entire Western
European coastline.
The result was another Maginot Line with its
inflexibility and lack of depth.
The two men in charge of western
defenses, General Gerd von Rundstedt and Field Marshall Erwin Rommel,
had differing ideas on the subject.
Rundstedt remembered the Maginot
Line and preferred a more flexible defense with armored reserves.
Rommel remembered his experiences in the African desert, when his
opponent had air superiority.
without air cover.
Armored reserves would be destroyed
The Allied invasion had to be destroyed on the
beach before it could establish itself.
As it turned out, both were
The Fuhrer's orders were followed, and the Germans paid tribute
to ChurchilTs peripheral strategy with their West Wall, especially
in the Pas de Calais area where they thought the invasion v/ould come.
Especially after the Dieppe raid, they were convinced that the fortress
concept would be their salvation.
Hitler came to believe his own
propaganda that Dieppe was an attempted invasion.
Rundstedt knew
He knew that the Allies would learn from their mistakes.
Fred Majdalany, The Fall of Fortress Europe (Garden City:
Doubleday, 1968), pp. 6, 30, 75, 298, 303, 312; Irving M. Gibson,
"The Maginot Line," Journal of Modern History 17 (June 1945): 139;
Liddell Hart, History of the Second World War, p. 543; "Facing the
Channel," Time 40 (August 31, 1942): 29-30; Cornelius Ryan, The Lonqest
Day (Greenwich, Conn.: Crest, 1960), pp. 24-30; Hans Speidel, Invasion
1944: Rommel and the Normandy Campaign (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1950),
pp. 43-50; Eversley Belfield and H. Essame, The Battle for Normandy
(Philadelphia: Dufour Editions, 1965), pp. 26-36.
The commandos realized the weakness of fixed defenses as readily as Rundstedt did, and they were ready to exploit this weakness.
The defender in a fortification has a false sense of security.
feels safe where he is, having no call to expose himself since he is
in a fixed position.
This puts the advantage in the hands of the
The idea was therefore not to attack, but to penetrate.
Direct contact with the enemy was to be avoided.
through the advance inland.
The idea was to get
It wâs just the thing for specialized
The concept worked.
On D-Day, June 6, 1944, the first Allied troops to advance
inland were the American Rangers at Pointe du Hoc. When the commandos
from No. 1 Brigade landed, they found the 8th Infantry Brigade pinned
down on the beach.
They moved in, wiped out the pill box, and pro-
ceeded inland to their targets.
No. 6 took the lead while No. 4
took care of a battery at Ouistreham.
Nos. 3 and 45 RM landed after-
wards as follow-up troops. The advance through the countryside had
to be made as quickly as possible.
The 6th Airborne was one of many
Allied paratroop units that had been dropped behind the West Wall the
night before, and they had been causing incredible confusion among the
The 6th Airborne was in position; but, as the day progressed,
their need for reinforcements became critical.
Lovat's men were aware
George S. Patton, Jr., War As I Knew It, ed. Beatrice Ayer
Patton and Paul D. Harkins (New York: Pyramid, 1966), pp. 299-306.
Patton, a great believer in mobility in warfare, had little use for
fixed defenses. He advocated heavy support fire not only to damage
defenses, but to make the enemy go into his pill box where he would
present less of a threat. Norman, Operation Overlord, pp. 155-56;
Mills-Roberts, Clash by Night, pp. 91, 96-97.
of this, and they avoided all unnecessary contact with the enemy that
might delay them.
The force reached the bridges in 3 1/2 hours,
having covered a distance of 6 1/2 miles from the beach.
As far as
the paratroopers were concerned, they did not arrive too soon.
No. 4 Brigade landed to the right of No. 1 Brigade.
support had not been as effective here as had been hoped, and the unit
suffered heavy casualties getting ashore.
The German resistance was
stiff, and several objectives proved difficult to capture.
No. 41 RM
captured all of its objectives except Lion-sur-Mer which held out for
eleven days.
No. 46 had an easier time with the support of Sherman
No. 47 captured Port-en-Bessin on June 8 after a rough fight.
This gave the Allies a fine port and completed the link between the
American and British sectors of the beachhead.
The British commandos did excellent service on D-Day, as did
the American Rangers.
In comparing the British and American efforts
on the whole, however, the British did much better.
The superior
organization and technology of the British forces paid off.
Americans came in second in these fields of military endeavor, and
they paid for their mistakes, particularly in the landings at Omaha,
which bore a remarkable resemblance to the Dieppe raid.
The British
made better use of their paratroops, fire-support, and weaponry.
As a
^ Mills-Roberts, Clash By Niqht, pp. 84-98; Young, Storm From
the Sea, pp. 143-49; Durnford-Slater, Commando, pp. 176-79, 186-90;
St. George Saunders, The Green Beret, pp. 266-67; Ryan, The Longest
Day, pp. 93-151.
"•^Ellis, Victory in the West, 1:175, 183, 186, 202, 208, 213;
St. George Saunders, The Green Beret, pp. 270-75.
result, they advanced farther than the Americans and took some of the
pressure off the Omaha beachhead.
American effort, which was heroic.
This is not to belittle the
It is to give credit to the
British where it is due, but has not always been given.^^
After the beachhead was established, the Ist Brigade defended
the left flank of the British position.
The heavy German counter-
attacks were successfully resisted, and the front became static in
a fashion similar to the Western Front of the First World War.
commando troops took ewery opportunity to keep the initiative with
sniping and raids on the enemy lines.
The hedgerow country of Normandy
was the type of country that taxed the individual soldier and forced
him to improvise and depend on his own intelligence.
were in their element.
The commandos
Withthe Caen breakout, the Germans had little hope of defending France.
The Allied advance was swift and determined; but as the
armies neared Germany, the problem of supply grew greater.
The port
of Antwerp was captured in the hope that it would ease the problem, but
it was an empty victory as long as the Germans held Walcheren at the
mouth of the Scheldt River.
This large, saucer-like island blocked
any Allied attempt to use Antwerp.
Unless the island was captured.
^ Harrison, Cross-Channel Attack, pp. 308-332; Barnett,
Britain and Her Army, pp. 456-57; Fergusson, The Watery Maze, 336-38;
R. W. Thompson, Spearhead of Invasion: D-Day (New York": BiTllantine,
1968), p. 41.
^^Durnford-Slater, Commando, pp. 190-99; Young, Storm From the
Sea, pp. 150-78; Harrison, Cross-Channel Attack, pp. 284, 297;
Murdoch C. McDougall, Swiftly They Struck: The Story of No. 4
Commando (London: Odams Press, 1954), pp. 159-62.
Allied land forces would continue to depend for their supplies on
LSTs (Landing Ship Tank), which is not adequate for the purpose.
Antwerp would have to be secured as a usable port, as well as an
objective, or the Allied armies could not maintain themselves in the
invasion of Germany.
Capturing Walcheren involved an amphibious operation.
commandos had been aiding the AUied advance across France, and as
amphibious troops they were the logical answer.
The RAF bombed the
dykes on the island, and its low center was thereby flooded, greatly
facilitating any attempt to capture it.
The commandos landed on
November 1, 1944. The operation was a costly affair.
Casualties were
particularly high among the crews of the special support craft, which
contributed so much to the success of the operation.
totaled 7,700.
The casualties
No. 4 sailed through a hole in the Westkapelle dyke
and captured Flushing, the main city on the island, from the rear.
No. 41 RM landed at Westkappell, while no. 48 RM landed south of the
No. 47 RM landed and linked up with No. 4. Also participating
were two troops from No. 10 Inter-Allied, tanks from the Lothian Tank
Regiment, an assault regiment, Royal Engineers, and a medical team.
By November 8 the island was in Allied hands. Gaining full use of
Antwerp helped make up for the heavy Tosses. The commandos performed
their task well, using special knowledge and modern equipment in a
^ S . W. Roskill, The War at Sea (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1961), vol. 3, pt. 2: The Offensive, Ist June-14th August
1945, p. 145; George Saunders, The Green Beret, pp. 294-95; H. Essame,
The Battle for Germany (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969),
pp. 30-31, 47-48.
combined operation to defeat a formidable opponent.
major stroke for the Allied strategy.
The result was a
As Churchill stated:
Commando idea was once again triumphant."
All that was left in the European Theater was the final move
into Germany.
Commando Brigades Nos. 1 and 4 played an important role
in this final stage of the conflict.
commando tactic.
Raiding was still wery much a
From December 1944 to April 1945, 4th Commando
Brigade executed twenty fighting patrols, fourteen short reconnaissance
patrols, and six patrols lasting from two to three days. By this time,
the commandos had become the finest fighting troops in the world.
Ambushes and surprise night attacks against enemy positions were the
favored methods.
Being highly mobile infantry troops, the commandos
also worked well with armored units.
value as spearhead troops.
This versatility added to their
Although the commandos were participating in a land campaign,
their training and background as amphibious troops paid unexpected
The Germans used rivers as a natural defense rather than
wasting precious manpower on rear-guard actions. The commandos were
'^Roskill, The War at Sea, 3:147-52; Durnford-Slater,
Commando, pp. 208-11; Winston S. Churchill, The History of the Second
World War (New York: Bantam, 1962), vol. 6: Triumph and Tragedy,
pp. 175-76; "Dieppe Losses Topped on Dutch Island," New York Times
November 6, 1944, pp. 1, 4; "The Importance of Antwerp," Times
(London), November 1, 1944, p. 3; "Little Ships at Westkapelle,"
Times (London), November 7, 1944, p. 3; St. George Saunders, The Green
Bêret, pp. 294-308; McDougall, Swiftly They Struck, pp. 188-204;
Essame, The Battle for Germany, pp. 33, 35-36, 42-44.
^^St. George Saunders, The Green Beret, pp. 319-21; MillsRoberts, Clash By Night, pp. 151-52.
a logical counter move to this strategy.
case in point.
The capture of Wesel was a
Wesel was an important German communications center
on the east bank of the Rhine.
The Ist Commando Brigade, under the
command of Derek Mills-Roberts, was assigned to capture it.
Brigade crossed the Rhine on the night of March 23, 1945, in amphibious tracked vehicles called "Buffalos."
The craft came under fire
about half way across, but the force made it to the other side at a
point to the left of the town.
The landing area had been hit with
artillery fire to help the commandos in landing.
Once there, they
waited while the RAF pulverized the town, and then they took it from
the rear.
It was one of three assaults which established a bridge-
head on the Rhine.
By the next day, the town was ready for occupation
by the 18th U. S. Airborne.^^
Again, the German method of defense had proved to be the
British means of reaching an objective.
The capture of Wesel was one
of a number of inland amphibious operations staged by the commandos in
the European Theater.
The capture of Wesel was of great importance
since the Rhine was the most formidable barrier of its type in Europe.
Similar tactics were used against German defenses on the Maas in
January 1945 and against the town of Lesse on the Weser River in
Mills-Roberts, Clash By Night, pp. 156-68; James W. Stock,
Rhine Crossing (New York: Ballantine, 1973), pp. 116-26; Stamps and
Esposito, A Military History of World War Two, 1:578-91; Churchill,
Triumph and Tragedy, pp. 353-59; L F. Ellis and A. E. Warhurst, Victory
in the West (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1968), vol. 2:
The Defeat of Germany, p. 289; "Commandos in Wesel," and "30-Mile
Bridgehead," Tjmes (London), March 26, 1945, p. 4; St. George Saunders,
The Green Berêt, pp. 326-32.
Germany in April 1945.
The method also worked against German defenses
on a strip of land between Lake Comachio and the sea in Italy in
April 1945.^°
The end of the war in Europe was not the end of the war for
the commandos, however.
for the British Army.
The Burma campaign remains a forgotten epic
The British forces in this theater distinguished
themselves against a determined enemy.
used as spearhead troops.
There, too, commandos were
Commando Brigade No. 3 (Commandos 1, 5,
42 RM and 44 RM ) under the command of Brigadier C. R. Hardy saw
service there.
Peter Young, who had been with the organization from
its earliest days through the Vaagso and Dieppe raids and the campaigns
in Sicily, Italy, and France, was Hardy's second-in-command.
Brigade staged a landing at Agnu to force a Japanese evacuation from
Kantha, an area that was important for the maintenance of their forces.
In January 1945 the force landed at a point near Kangaw to cut the
Japanese retreat to the An Pass.
It was impossible to cut the
Japanese retreat, but the force constituted a considerable threat to
the Japanese.
The British force stood off some vicious counter attacks
which were staged with more determination and ferocity than skill and
^^Mills-Roberts, Clash By Night, pp. 153-54, 176; St. George
Saunders, The Green Beret, pp. 310-18.
Young, Storm From the Sea, pp. 210-19; St. George Saunders,
The Green Beret, pp. 337-49; Barnett, Britain and Her Army, p. 467;
Fergusson, The Watery Maze, pp. 373-76.
The Far East was a paradise for British amphibious warfare.
The possibilities remained largely unexplored, however. The use of
the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the Second World War in
August 1945, closing a complex chapter in the history of modern
Fergusson, The Watery Maze, pp. 370, 380-81.
The effectiveness of the British commando units can be assessed
by examining their effect on both the German and Allied armies.
Germans first discouraged and then imitated the commando concept.
Allies were also skeptical at first, but eventually commandos were
used by the Allies in several theaters.
Both sides recognized the
need for specialist shock troops to achieve certain military objectives.
The implementation of the concept began with Dudley Clarke in
In October 1942 Hitler issued his famous "Commando Order,"
which called for the execution of all Allied commandos and paratroopers captured by the German Army.
punishable by court-martial.
Failure to obey this order was
No specific penalty was specified, but
disobeying the order amounted to disobeying a direct order from the
It was obeyed in all theaters except North Africa,
where Rommel was the commander.
The members of these special forces
were entitled to full rights as prisoners of war by the Prisoner of
War Convention of 1929, and a number of Germans who obeyed the order
faced war crimes charges at the end of the war.
Hitler's order
amounted to an official German recognition of the commandos and
their potential to damage the German cause.
The commandos were quick
to realize this.^
Hitler soon, however, saw the advantages of a German special
force, and he ordered the creation of German commandos in 1943.
German High Command was ruffled at this departure from traditional
military organization, but was forced to go along with the idea.
suitably obscure man was picked to implement what was considered to be
a foolish concept.
He was Otto Skorzeny, a huge scar-faced Austrian,
who had been invalided home from the Russian front.
Skorzeny proved
to be a capable and imaginative leader, despite opposition from the
German military establishment.
As a special force, Skorzeny's group
was given tasks of both a political and military iiature.
It was
Skorzeny who freed Mussolini after his fall from power and subsequent
Although he was assigned other tasks—the kidnapping of
the son of the Hungarian regent, an attempted assassination of Tito,
a projected kidnapping of ^^1:^^^--^^^ most famous exploit was the
infiltration of the Allied lines during the Battle of the Bulge in
Although Skorzeny did not participate in the operation, his men
caused considerable panic behind the Allied lines.
Together with his
British counterparts, Skorzeny tried to develop the individual initiative of his men.
He also suffered from sensational press coverage,
being billed as "the most dangerous man in Europe," and having a
Lord Russell of Liverpool [Edward Frederick Langly Russell],
The Scourqe of the Swastika: A Short History of the Nazi War Crimes
(New York: Ballantine, 1956), pp. 16, 27-37; St. George Saunders,
The Green Beret, pp. 123-24.
whole series of mythical exploits added to his list of actual
Following the success of the commandos, the British established special forces in other theaters, specifically the SAS and the
The SAS specialized in desert warfare in North Africa.
Originally intended as a decoy regiment, the Special Air Service was
the idea of Dudley Clarke, the man who had put forward the original
commando idea.
David Stirling, a veteran of No. 8 Commando of
Layforce, took the decoy unit and made it a reality.
Despite the
skepticism of the military establishment, Stirling created a force
which infiltrated the German lines.
Using ground transport rather
than planes, the men of the SAS went behind the German lines, planting explosives on German planes, aircraft hangars, trucks, and railway
The force suffered few casualties and was inexpensive to equip,
yet it achieved impressive results.
The SAS accounted for 250 German
planes in the North African Theater, as well as other supplies important to the Germans.
Perfecting his own tactics, organization, and
strategy, Stirling made the SAS into a disciplined and effective threat
Charles Foley, Commando Extraordinary (New York: G. P.
Putnam's Sons, 1955), pp. 20, 27-41, 63-67, 90-100, 166-82; Flower and
Reeves, The Taste of Couraqe, 3:58-65; Charles Whiting, Skorzeny
(New York: Ballantine, 1972), pp. 13-21, 49-111; "'Rescued' Mussolini
Reappears as Nazi's Newest Puppet Ruler," Newsweek 22 (September 27,
1943): 28-34.
to the Axis in North Africa.
The SAS allowed the British to take the
initiative at a time when it was important for them to do just that.^
The concept of special forces was also applied in the jungle
terrain of Burma.
The use of long-range penetration forces was proven
feasible by the 77th Brigade, and a force known as Chindits was raised
from that unit and placed under the command of Brigadier Orde Wingate.
The Chindits penetrated the Japanese lines and set up fire bases
which could be supplied from the air.
From these bases, the Chindits
threatened the Japanese communication and supply lines.
Because the
Japanese forces in Burma were threatening the British lines of communication and supply between China and India, eyery Chindit success
improved the British position.
The Chindits were quite successful,
and the Japanese suffered heavy losses in attempting to counter the
Their American counterpart, MerrilTs Marauders, performed
similar tasks for Stillwell.
The Chindits were not wisely used after
Wingate's death, but they continued to be of help to the British effort
in Burma.
Their worst enemies, disease and the jungle, finally
decimated them, and Mountbatten was forced to order their disbandment.
The Chindits had allowed Britain to take the offensive against her
adversary, however, and the force developed the concept of jungle
Arthur Swinson, The Raiders: Desert Strike Force (New York:
Ballantine, 1968), pp. 42-159; Virninia Cowles, The Phantom Ma.ior:
The Story of Dayid Stirlinq and His Desert Command (New York: Harper
and Bros., 1958), pp. 11-23, 65-124, 166-69, 196-216, 295; Foley,
Commando Extraordinary, pp. 237-38; Gordon GaskiU, "Toughest Job in
the War," American Maqazine 134 (July 1942): 11, 101-02; Frederick
Snodern, Jr., "Confusion is Their Business," Reader's Diqest 46
(January 1945): 23-26.
warfare which was passed on to the regular forces, an achievement similar to that of the commandos in amphibious warfare.
Another variant of the special forces came from the rich
imagination of novelist lan Fleming.
An assistant to Admiral John H.
Godfrey of British Naval Intelligence, Fleming noticed that the Germans
had used intelligence units to capture enemy headquarters and, with
it, important documents and material.
Intelligence should do the same thing.
Fleming believed that Naval
With the help of two veterans
of the St. Nazaire raid, R. E. D. Ryder and Dunstan Curtis, Fleming
organized Assault Unit No. 30.
Fleming's "Red Indians" were a group
of Royal Marines who captured enemy material from lists prepared by
The unit distinguished itself in North Africa and Europe by
capturing a variety of important documents and weapons, which were
invaluable for British Naval Intelligence.
The Americans produced tv/o special forces variants of their
own, both organized under the tutelage of Combined Operations.
first was the American Rangers, a special force organized and trained
as an American version of the British commandos.
Being American, the
group needed a name connected with Ainerican history.
General L. K. Truscott, Jr. suggested the name "rangers," a name
^Michael Calvert, Chindits: Long Ranqe Penetration (New York:
Ballantine, 1973), pp. 9-83, 95-97, 149-59. Calvert was one of the
Chindit leaders, and he appears frequently in his own narrative in the
third person.
John Pearson, The Life of lan Fleming (New York: Bantam,
1965), pp. 79-126; Henry A. Zeigler, lan Fleming: The Spy Who
Came in With the Gold (New York: Popular Library, 1965), pp. 59-72.
associated with Roger's Rangers and the Texas Rangers.
The group was
trained by the British and, starting in 1942, the Rangers were subjected to the kill-or-cure training methods of the commandos.
result was an excellent body of spearhead troops.
The British at
first had doubts as to whether the Rangers would meet the high
standards of the commandos, but as Colonel Charles Vaughn of Achnacarry Depot put it:
"A cracking good bunch, you Rangers."^
An equally impressive American group was the Ist Special
Service Brigade, the basis of the much-publicized Green Berets.
idea originated with Geoffry Pyke, an eccentric and obnoxious member
of Mountbatten's brain-pool at COHQ.
Pyke envisioned a unit of Arctic
troops which would operate behind the German lines in Norway.
Canadian-American force, made up in part of rejects from the stockade,
was raised and put under the command of General Robert T. Frederick.
After a great deal of Arctic training, the force was sent to Italy
instead of Norway, where it nevertheless earned an incredible combat
The gangster image, which haunted the British commandos,
served the Ist Special Service Brigade very well.
Under Frederick's
superb leadership, it became one of the most feared and respected units
of shock troops in the war.
Alteri, The Spearheaders, pp. 32-61; Truscott, Command
Missions, pp. 38-40; Meyer Burger, "U. S. Rangers in Commando Raid
Were Pupils of Commandos," New York Times, August 20, 1942, pp. 1, 6;
Rice Yahner, "Taught by Commandos," New York Times, August 20, 1942,
p. 6. The raid mentioned in the headline is the Dieppe raid. It was
at this time that news of an American commando-type force was made
Robert A. Adleman and George Walton, The Devil's Briqade
(New York: Bantam, 1967), pp. 1-69, 103-34; 153-85, 226-31.
World War II was the war of the irregular trooper, being far
too diversified in its scope to be fought without the irregular,
specialist soldiers. The range of the conflict demanded specialists
to meet the needs of combat, whether that combat was carried out on
the coast of Europe, in the deserts of North Africa, or in the jungles
of Burma. Whether the other special forces cited here were direct or
indirect variants of the original commando idea, the concept of the
specialist soldier v/as first established by the commandos, and its
further application was an acknowledgment of the validity of that
The commando concept itself was never static; it developed
with the war. The commandos began in 1940 as enthjsiastic amateurs,
but by 1945 they were among the most sophisticated shock troops in the
In 1942 the Royal Marines entered the commando organization to
form the RM commandos.
The Marines were actually closer to the soldier-
sailor concept of the commandos; but they had been held back for home
defense in 1940, and the task had gone to the Army commandos.
some initial rivalry, the two groups worked well together in brigade
formations. By the end of the war, they were both part of a homog
geneous fighting unit that was well equipped and properly deployed.
The commandos' tactical and strategical contributions have
already been covered in some detail. Aside from the purely tactical
Whiting, Skorzeny, pp. 150-52; Mason, The Commandos, pp. 37-39,
St. George Saunders, The Green Beret, with a Foreword by
Mountbatten, pp. 7, 149-50.
success achieved by the raids, the raiding program allowed Britain
to resume the initiative that she needed to wage war.
The raids
also helped to develop the technique of amphibious v/arfare.
Allied strategy was largely amphibious, this was a considerable
The commandos also developed many new ideas in the area
of field tactics and fighting, which were passed on to the regular
Aside from all this, the commandos made an enormous contribution to the concept of the soldier in modern warfare.
They stressed
the development of the intelligent, independent, motivated soldier,
not the mass production of mindless killing machines.
What the
commandos tried to cultivate was the intelligent, self-reliant individual.
COHQ did not want a group of half-wits who had to wait for an
order before they could act.
The responsibility given to the commandos
was gladly received by the young men of the British Army, who were
tired of inertia, incompetence, and a defensive attitude.
Young, who has served this work so well as soldier and historian, sums
up the commando idea in this way:
Intelligent men knew the object of the operation; if things
went wrong, if leaders fell, they could use their training,
and their native wit, to improvise and carry on. Battle tactics are no longer the "Load! Present! Fire!" business of
Wellington's day. Happy the commander v/ho has keen, literate
men to carry out his plans! And that is exactly what we had
in the commandos long ago.ll
Great Britain, Parliament, Parliamentary Debates (Commons),
5th series, 378 (24th February-26th March 1942): 915, 1143-44;
Durnford-Slater, Commando, p. 91.
Young, Commando, pp. 158-59.
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Commando No. 6, 79-81, 89
Commando No. 10 (Inter-Allied),
67, 92
Commando No. 12, 36
Commando A, RM, 67
Commando No. 40 RM, 81, 84
Commando No. 41 RM, 81, 83,
87, 90, 92
Commando No. 42 RM, 95
Commando No. 44 RM, 95
Commando No. 45 RM, 87, 89
Commando No. 46 RM, 87, 90
Commando No. 47 RM, 87, 90, 92
Commando No. 48 RM, 87, 92
Commando Brigade No. 1, 87,
89-91, 94
Commando Brigade No. 3, 95
Commando Brigade No. 4, 87,
90, 92
No. 11 Independent Company, 15
Special Raiding Squadron, 83-84
Commons, House of, 2, 43
Cooper, Duff, 2
C. 0. X. E. (Combined Operations
Experiment Center),85
Crete, 33
Dalmation Islands, 78
Darby, William 0., 80
Diego Suarez Bay, 62
Dieppe, 41, 65-77, 85, 87-88, 90
Dill, John, 5
Dunkirk, 3
Durnford-Slater, John, 35-36, 66,
69, 82-83
Eisenhower, Dwight D., 87
Fleming, lan, 101
Flushing, 92
Forbes, Charles, 45, 60 n. 25
France, occupied, 60
France, Vichy, 60
Frederick, Robert T., 102
Frost, J. D., 42
Fuller, J. F. C , 2, 5
Gallipoli, 6, 8, 11, 13, 20
Green, A. R., 49
Green Berets, 102
Guderian, Heinz, 2-3
Guernsey, 15
Hardy, C. R., 95
Harrison, S. S., 36
H i t l e r , Adolf, 1 , 38-39, 76,
87-88, 97-98
Holman, Gordon, 18
Hughes-Hallet, J., 65
Inveraray, 28, 32
I. S. T. D. C. (Inter-Services
Training and Development
Center), 14
Ismay, Hastings Lionel, 7
Italian Campaign, 83-84
Italy, 23
Keyes, Geoffry, 33
Keyes, Roger, 8, 13-15, 20,
22-24, 45-46
kleinkreiq, 10
King, W. L. Mackenzie, 74,
75 n. 17
La Molina Pass, 83
landing craft, 8, 21-22, 85, 94
Laycock, Robert E., 33
Layforce, 33-34
Leigh-Mallory, Trafford, 65
Leonardo River, 82
Lesse 94
Liddeil Hart, B. H., 2, 5
Light Coastal Forces, 47
Lion-sur-Mer, 87, 90
Lister, Dudley, 87
Lloyd George, David, 6
Lochailort Castle, 28
Lofoten Islands, 23, 30-31, 36-37
Loire River, 44, 46, 48, 51
Lovat, Shimy, 28, 66, 70, 87
Luftwaffe, 30, 35, 37, 64, 71-72
Mass River, 94
Madagascar, 62-63, 74
Maginot Line, 4, 88
Maquis, 56-58
Marlborough, Ist Duke of (John
Churchill), 6
Marines, Royal, 27
Maund, L. E. H., 14
mechanization, 2
MGBs (motor gun boats), 47-48
MerrilTs Marauders, 100
Mills-Roberts, Derek, 70, 94
MLs (motor launches), 47-48,
53-54, 58
Montgomery, B. L., 68, 81-82
Mountbatten, Louis, 9 n. 10,
24-25, 34, 40, 43, 43-45, 65,
73, 84-86, 100
fTTBs (motor torpedo boats),
47-49, 53-54, 60
"Mulberries," 75, 85-86
Munich, 1
Navy, B r i t i s h , 5; traditional
use of, 11; 19, 31-32, 38, 59,
Navy, German, 38
Nazi-Soviet Pact, 2
New York Times, 15
Newman, A. C , 48, 54
Niven, David, 28 n. 16
Normandie dry dock, 44, 46, 50,
52; damage to, 55, 59-60
Normandy Campaign, 11-12, 75-76,
North African Campaign, 79-81
Norway, 3, 14, 29
Old Mole, 52-53
Omaha, 85, 90
Ostend, 13
Ouistreham, 87, 89
Overlord, 84-87, 89-91
Pantelleria, 23
Pas de Calais, 88
paratroopers, 22-23, 42, 66-67,
87, 88-90
Patton, George S., Jr., 80, 89
n. 11
Petit Bruneval, 67
petite querre, la., 10
Pike, F. C , 49, 52
"PLUTO" (Pipe Line Under the
Ocean), 85
Port-en-Bessin, 90
Prisoner of War Convention of
1929, 97
Pritchard, W. H., 49
publicity, 15-16, 57, 73, 98-99
Pyke, Geoffry, 102 ^
Quebec, 11
Quislings, 31, 37
radar, 42
raiding, 5-10, 18, 39-41, 56-57,
60-61, 64, 78-79, 91-93, 104
Rangers, American, 67, 69, 80-83,
89, 101-02
reprisals, 37-38, 56-58, 60, 76
Rhine River, 94
Roberts, J. H., 66, 71
Rommel, Erwin, 33, 88, 97
Roosevelt, Franklin, 47
R. T. U. ("Returned to Unit"), 29
Rundstedt, Gerd von, 88
Ryder, R. E. D., 49, 51, 54, 101
S. S. Waffen, 25-26
Salerno, Gulf of, 83
S. A. S. (Special Air Service),
34, 99-100
Scheldt River, 91
Scott, Peter, 76 n. 18
Second Front, 63
Section M09, 6
Sicily Campaign, 81-83
Skorzeny, Otto, 98-99
"Sledgehammer," 63, 75, 79
Spitzbergen, 32
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 15
St. Malo, 12
St. Nazaire, 13, 37, 41, 44-62,
66, 87
Stirling, David, 28, 34, 99
strategy, American, 63
strategy, British, 19, 30, 34,
39-41, 57, 61-64, 74-75, 77
strategy, German, 17, 38, 41,
57, 59, 61, 76-77, 87-88
support, air, 59, 65-66
support, sea, 65, 90
Syria, 33
tank warfare, 2, 4-5, 71-72, 85
Taraka, 80-81
technology, 25, 75, 84-86, 90-91
Termoli, 84
Tibbits, Nigel, 49
Times, The (London), 15
Tirpitz, 44-45, 50, 59
Tobruk, 33
Tod, Ronnie, 15
"Torch," 64
training, 20, 22, 26-29, 48, 60
Truscott, L. K., 80, 101
U.S.S.R. (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics), 68
Vaagso, 34-37, 49, 87
Varengeville, 67
Vaughn, Charles, 28, 102
Walcheren, 91-93
war crimes, 97
Waugh, Evelyn, 34 n. 22
Wesel, 94
Weser River, 94
Westkapelle, 92
West Wall, 76, 88-89
Wingate, Orde, 100
Wynn, R. C M. V., 49, 53
Young, Peter, 31 n. 20, 46 n. 7,
69-70, 74 n. 6, 95, 104
Yugoslavia, 78
Zeebrugge, 8, 13, 21, 46

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