British Commandos - Training


When the Commando units were originally formed in 1940, training was the responsibility of the unit commanding officers. Training was hampered by the general shortage of equipment throughout the British Army at this time, as most arms and equipment had been left behind at Dunkirk. In December 1940 a Middle East Commando depot was formed with the responsibility of training and supplying reinforcements for the Commando units in that theatre. In February 1942 the Commando training depot at Achnacarry in the Scottish Highlands was established by Brigadier Charles Haydon. Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Charles Vaughan, the Commando depot was responsible for training complete units and individual replacements. The training regime was for the time innovative and physically demanding, and far in advance of normal British Army training. The depot staff were all hand picked, with the ability to outperform any of the volunteers. Training and assessment started immediately on arrival, with the volunteers having to complete an 8-mile (13 km) march with all their equipment from the Spean Bridge railway station to the commando depot. When they arrived they were met by Vaughan, who stressed the physical demands of the course and that any man who failed to live up to the requirements would be 'returned to unit' (RTU).

Exercises were conducted using live ammunition and explosives to make training as realistic as possible. Physical fitness was a prerequisite, with cross country runs and boxing matches to improve fitness. Speed and endurance marches were conducted up and down the nearby mountain ranges and over assault courses that included a Zip-line over Loch Arkaig, all while carrying arms and full equipment. Training continued by day and night with river crossings, mountain climbing, weapons training, unarmed combat, map reading, and small boat operations on the syllabus. Living conditions were primitive in the camp, with trainees housed either under canvas in tents or in Nissen huts and they were responsible for cooking their own meals. Correct military protocols were enforced: Officers were saluted and uniforms had to be clean, with brasses and boots shining on parade. At the end of each course the final exercise was a simulated night beach landing using live ammunition.

Another smaller Commando depot, known as the Commando Mountain and Snow Warfare training camp, was established at Braemar. This camp was run by two famous mountaineers: the depot commander Squadron Leader Frank Smythe and chief instructor Major John Hunt. The depot provided training for operations in Arctic conditions, with instruction in climbing snow covered mountains, cliff climbing, and small boat and canoe handling. Training was conducted in how to live, fight, and move on foot or on skis in snowy conditions.

A major change in the training programme occurred in 1943. From that point on training concentrated more on the assault infantry role and less on raiding operations. Training now included how to call for fire support from artillery and naval gunfire, and how to obtain tactical air support from the Allied air forces. More emphasis was put on joint training, with two or more Commando units working together in brigades. By the end of the war 25,000 men had passed through the Commando course at Achnacarry. This total includes not only the British volunteers, but volunteers from Belgium, France, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and the United States Army Rangers, which were modelled on the Commandos.

Read more about this topic:  British Commandos

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