‘We need specially trained troops of the hunter class, who can develop a reign of terror down these coasts of occupied Europe, first of all on the butcher and bolt policy… leaving a trail of German corpses behind them.’
Prime Minister Winston Churchill 1940
After the fall of France in June 1940, the British established a small, but well-trained and highly mobile, raiding and reconnaissance force known as the Commandos. The first recruits were volunteers selected from existing regiments in Britain. In 1942, the Royal Navy’s Royal Marine battalions were also reorganised as Commandos.
The first call for volunteers for ‘Service of a hazardous nature’ was in the early months of 1940 and for the new Independent Companies. Many of these men went onto action in Norway almost immediately with little training. On their return Winston Churchill wanted his own Corps of ‘shock troops’ to start afresh. Lt Col Dudley Clarke, who was then Military Assistant to the Chiefs of the Imperial General Staff, is generally credited with the initial outline plan of their formation. His plan was approved and the name agreed on. Thus the ‘Commandos’ were formed
Commando recruits were trained at special centres in Scotland. They learnt physical fitness, survival, orienteering, close-quarter combat, silent killing, signalling, amphibious and cliff assault, vehicle operation, the handling of different weapons and demolition skills. Any man who failed to live up to the toughest requirements would be ‘returned to unit’.
The first commando operations were small raids. But later they grew both in complexity and size. As the Second World War continued, commandos fought in large formations as assault troops in many of the conflict’s key battles. But the need for smaller operations remained.
Commando recruits were trained at special centres in Scotland. They learnt physical fitness, survival, orienteering, close-quarter combat, silent killing, signalling, amphibious and cliff assault, vehicle operation, the handling of different weapons and demolition skills. Any man who failed to live up to the toughest requirements would be ‘returned to unit’ (RTU)
These early commando raids often instilled fear in the enemy. They so enraged Hitler that he issued his infamous ‘Commando Order’ in 1942, which allowed the summary execution of any captured commando.
This war crime was extended to all British special forces personnel caught in Nazi-controlled territory, although its implementation depended on local circumstances.
In addition to their operational effectiveness, commando raids also played an important propaganda role. Churchill realised that in the early years of the war, when Britain stood alone, they were one of the few ways of striking back at the enemy.
They also provided a morale boost to the occupied peoples of Europe, reminding them they were not alone.
“Special Service of a hazardous nature”
No. 3 Commando was a battalion-sized commando unit raised by the British Army during WW2.
Formed in Plymouth in late June 1940 from volunteers for special service, following the Dunkirk evacuation, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel John Durnford-Slater,
No. 3 Commando was the first British unit to use the title of “Commando”
No.3 Commando D Troop is recruiting
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Following Churchill’s election defeat in July, 1945 the Commandos lost their main supporter.
The War Office completed a study that concluded large commando forces were not required in the post-war world and the Army Commandos were abolished in 1946.
But the Royal Marine Commandos and the Parachute Regiment were retained and continue to this day.