British Commandos - Operations


The very first Commando raid – Operation Collar on 23 June 1940 – was not actually carried out by a Commando unit, but by one of their predecessors: No.11 Independent Company. The mission, led by Major Ronnie Tod, was an offensive reconnaissance carried out on the French coast south of Boulogne-sur-Mer and Le Touquet. The operation was a limited success; at least two German soldiers were killed whilst the only British injury was a flesh wound suffered by Lieutenant Colonel Dudley Clarke, who had accompanied the raiders as an observer. A second and similarly inconsequential raid, Operation Ambassador, was made on the German occupied island of Guernsey on the night of 14 July 1940 by men from H Troop of No. 3 Commando and No. 11 Independent Company. One unit landed on the wrong island and another group disembarked from its launch into water so deep that it came over their heads. Intelligence had indicated that there was a large German barracks on the island but the Commandos found only empty buildings. When they returned to the beach heavy seas had forced their launch offshore, and they were forced to swim out to sea to be picked up.

The size of the raiding force depended on the objective. The smallest raid was conducted by two men from No. 6 Commando in Operation J V. The largest was the 10,500 man Operation Jubilee. Most of the raids were scheduled to only last overnight although some, like Operation Gauntlet, were conducted over a number of days. In north west Europe there were 57 raids made between 1940 and 1944. Of these 36 were against targets in France. There were 12 raids against Norway, seven raids in the Channel Islands, and single raids were made in Belgium and the Netherlands. The success of the raids varied; Operation Chariot, the raid against dock installations at St Nazaire, has been hailed as the greatest raid of all time, but others, like Operation Aquatint and Operation Musketoon, resulted in the capture or death of all involved. The smaller raids ended in mid 1944 on the orders of Major General Robert Laycock, who suggested that they were no longer as effective and only resulted in the Germans strengthening their beach defences, something that could be extremely detrimental to Allied plans.

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