British Commandos - Formation

Formation

The British Commandos were a formation of the British Armed Forces organized for special service in June 1940. After the events leading to the Dunkirk evacuation, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Winston Churchill, called for a force to be assembled and equipped to inflict casualties on the Germans and bolster British morale. Churchill told the joint Chiefs of Staff to propose measures for an offensive against German-occupied Europe, and stated: "they must be prepared with specially trained troops of the hunter class who can develop a reign of terror down the enemy coast." One staff officer, Lieutenant Colonel Dudley Clarke, had already submitted such a proposal to General Sir John Dill, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff. Dill, aware of Churchill's intentions, approved Clarke's proposal and on 23 June 1940, the first Commando raid took place.

The request for volunteers for special service was initially restricted to serving Army soldiers within certain formations still in Britain, and from men of the disbanding divisional Independent Companies originally raised from Territorial Army divisions who had served in Norway.

By the autumn of 1940 more than 2,000 men had volunteered and in November 1940 these new units were organised into a Special Service Brigade consisting of four battalions under the command of Brigadier J. C. Haydon. The Special Service Brigade was quickly expanded to 12 units which became known as Commandos. Each Commando had a lieutenant colonel as the commanding officer and numbered around 450 men (divided into 75 man troops that were further divided into 15 man sections). Technically these men were only on secondment to the Commandos; they retained their own regimental cap badges and remained on the regimental roll for pay. The Commando force came under the operational control of the Combined Operations Headquarters. The man initially selected as the commander of Combined Operations was Admiral Sir Roger Keyes, a veteran of the Gallipoli Campaign and the Zeebrugge Raid in the First World War. Keyes resigned in October 1941 and was replaced by Vice Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten. Major General Robert Laycock was the last Commander of Combined Operations; he took over from Mountbatten in October 1943.

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