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|1st Special Service Brigade|
1st Commando Brigade
|Role||Special Service Raiding|
|Engagements|| Operation Ambassador |
| Brigadier The Lord Lovat|
Brigadier Derek Mills-Roberts
|Combined Operations Shoulder Patch|
The 1st Special Service Brigade was a commando brigade of the British Army. Formed during the Second World War, it consisted of elements of the British Army (including British Commandos) and the Royal Marines. The brigade's component units saw action individually in Norway and the Dieppe Raid (in France), before being combined under one commander for service in Normandy during Operation Overlord. On 6 December 1944, the Brigade was redesignated 1st Commando Brigade, removing the hated title Special Service and its association with the German SS.
A commando is a soldier or operative of an elite light infantry or special operations force often specializing in amphibious landings, parachuting or abseiling.
A brigade is a major tactical military formation that is typically composed of three to six battalions plus supporting elements. It is roughly equivalent to an enlarged or reinforced regiment. Two or more brigades may constitute a division.
The British Army is the principal land warfare force of the United Kingdom, a part of British Armed Forces. As of 2018, the British Army comprises just over 81,500 trained regular (full-time) personnel and just over 27,000 trained reserve (part-time) personnel.
Recruiting for the Commandos began in 1940 when a call was made for volunteers from certain formations that were still in Britain at the time. It was also decided that the Divisional Independent Companies that had been originally raised from Territorial Army Divisions would be disbanded and used to raise the new Commando units along with other men who had seen service in Norway and elsewhere. Subsequent recruiting for the Commandos was also conducted in the various theatres of war and among foreign nationals joining the Allies.
The Army Reserve is the active-duty volunteer reserve force and integrated element of the British Army. It should not be confused with the Regular Reserve whose members have formerly served full-time. The Army Reserve was previously known as the Territorial Force from 1908 to 1921, the Territorial Army (TA) from 1921 to 1967, the Territorial and Army Volunteer Reserve (TAVR) from 1967 to 1979, and again the Territorial Army (TA) from 1979 to 2014.
The Allies of World War II, called the United Nations from the 1 January 1942 declaration, were the countries that together opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War (1939–1945). The Allies promoted the alliance as a means to control German, Japanese and Italian aggression.
Initially, each 'Commando' was to consist of a headquarters plus ten troops of 50 men each, including three officers; this changed in 1941 to six troops of 65 men per Commando, including a Heavy Weapons Troop. Each Commando unit was initially responsible for the selection and training of its own officers and men. Commando soldiers received extra pay from which they had to find their own accommodation whenever they were in Britain. They trained in physical fitness, survival, orienteering, close-quarter combat, silent killing, signalling, amphibious and cliff assault, motor vehicle operation, weapons (including the use of captured enemy small-arms) and demolition. Many officers, NCOs and trainee instructors initially attended various courses at the all forces Special Training Centre at Lochailort in Scotland. Also in the Scottish Highlands, Combined Operations established a substantial all forces amphibious training centre at Inveraray, and in 1942 a specific Commando Training Centre at Achnacarry near Spean Bridge. All field training was conducted with live ammunition.
A non-commissioned officer (NCO) is a military officer who has not earned a commission. Non-commissioned officers usually obtain their position of authority by promotion through the enlisted ranks. In contrast, commissioned officers hold higher ranks than NCOs, have more legal responsibilities, are paid more, and often have more non-military training such as a university diploma. Commissioned officers usually earn their commissions without having risen through the enlisted ranks.
Lochailort is a hamlet in Scotland that lies at the head of Loch Ailort, a sea loch, on the junction of the Road to the Isles (A830) between Fort William and Mallaig with the A861 towards Salen and Strontian. It is served by Lochailort railway station on the West Highland Line.
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Sharing a border with England to the southeast, Scotland is otherwise surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, by the North Sea to the northeast and by the Irish Sea to the south. In addition to the mainland, situated on the northern third of the island of Great Britain, Scotland has over 790 islands, including the Northern Isles and the Hebrides.
Brigadier (Brig) is a senior rank in the British Army and the Royal Marines. Brigadier is the superior rank to colonel, but subordinate to major-general. It corresponds to the Rank of brigadier general in many other nations.
Brigadier Simon Christopher Joseph Fraser, 15th Lord Lovat and 4th Baron Lovat, was the 25th Chief of the Clan Fraser of Lovat and a prominent British Commando during the Second World War. His friends called him Shimi Lovat, an anglicised version of his name in the Scottish Gaelic language. His clan referred to him as MacShimidh, his Gaelic patronym, meaning Son of Simon. Simon is the favoured family name for the Chiefs of Clan Fraser. While the 15th Lord de jure, he was the 17th Lord Lovat de facto, but for the attainder of his Jacobite ancestor who was executed in 1747. He was also 4th Baron Lovat in the Peerage of the United Kingdom.
Brigadier Derek Mills-Roberts, CBE, DSO and bar, MC was a British commando who fought with the 1st Special Service Brigade during World War II. In a quirk of military history, he became the only Allied soldier to strike an enemy flag officer with the latter's own staff-of-office – when Mills-Roberts beat Erhard Milch over the head with the just-surrendered marshal's baton.
No. 3 Commando was a battalion-sized Commando unit raised by the British Army during the Second World War. Formed in July 1940 from volunteers for special service, it was the first such unit to carry the title of "Commando". Shortly afterwards the unit was involved in a largely unsuccessful raid upon the German-occupied Channel Island of Guernsey.
No. 4 Commando was a battalion-sized British Army commando unit, formed in 1940 early in the Second World War. Although it was raised to conduct small-scale raids and harass garrisons along the coast of German occupied France, it was mainly employed as a highly trained infantry assault unit.
No. 6 Commando was a battalion-sized British Army commando unit of the Second World War. Although it was raised to conduct small-scale raids and harass garrisons along the coast of German-occupied France, it was mainly employed as a highly trained infantry assault unit.
Before the formation of the brigade, each Commando fought independently in various actions, being employed as directed by Combined Operations Headquarters.
Guernsey is an island in the English Channel off the coast of Normandy. It lies roughly north of Saint-Malo and to the west of Jersey and the Cotentin Peninsula. With several smaller nearby islands, it forms a jurisdiction within the Bailiwick of Guernsey, a British Crown dependency. The jurisdiction is made up of ten parishes on the island of Guernsey, three other inhabited islands, and many small islets and rocks.
Operation Ambassador was an operation carried out by British Commandos on 14–15 July 1940 within the context of the Second World War. It was the second raid by the newly formed British Commandos and was focused upon the German-occupied Channel island of Guernsey.
Norway, officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic country in Northwestern Europe whose territory comprises the western and northernmost portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula; the remote island of Jan Mayen and the archipelago of Svalbard are also part of the Kingdom of Norway. The Antarctic Peter I Island and the sub-Antarctic Bouvet Island are dependent territories and thus not considered part of the kingdom. Norway also lays claim to a section of Antarctica known as Queen Maud Land.
Operation Claymore was a raid on the Lofoten Islands, on the 4 March 1941, by Nos 3 and 4 Commando, 52 Norwegians of Norwegian Independent Company 1 and demolition teams from 55 Field Squadron, Royal Engineers. The force made an unopposed landing and generally continued to meet no opposition. They achieved their objective of destroying fish-oil factories and some 3,600 tonnes (800,000 gallons) of oil and glycerin (some of the oil being destined for use in munitions). Through naval gunfire and demolition parties, 18,000 tons of shipping was sunk. Perhaps the most significant outcome of the raid, however, was the capture of a set of rotor wheels for an Enigma cypher machine and its code books from Nazi Germany's armed trawler Krebs. This enabled German naval codes to be read at Bletchley Park, providing the intelligence needed to allow allied convoys to avoid U-boat concentrations. The British experienced only one accidental injury and returned with some 228 German prisoners, 314 loyal Norwegian volunteers and a number of Quisling collaborators.
Operation Archery was a raid in December 1941 by Nos 2, 3, 4 and 6 Commando with a small party of Norwegians. Its aim was to destroy the German installations at Vågsøy, supported by the RAF who provided air cover and attacked the airfield at Herdla near Bergen. The naval part of the force consisted of one cruiser, four destroyers and two landing ships; the warships began the operation with a shore bombardment of Måløy island.
The commandos were split into five groups, one landed to the west of South Vågsøy to secure the area and then moved up to the town. The second group landed to the north of the town to prevent German reinforcements getting in. The third group landed on Måløy to deal with the guns and garrison there, but the Navy had done their job well, the guns were silent. The fourth group landed in the town itself, which proved to be the main centre of resistance, the last group was kept onboard ship to act as a floating reserve.
The German garrison in the town was larger than expected and reinforcements had to be requested from the group to the west, from the floating reserve and from elements of the group on Måløy. House-to-house fighting ensued, but by 1345 hours it was over and the force re-embarked soon afterwards; 15,000 tons of shipping and all German installations were destroyed, as well as warehouses, dockyards and fish-oil processing plants. 98 Germans were taken prisoner along with 4 'Quislings', 77 Norwegians also decided to come with them back to Britain. The German garrison had around 150 killed, the British lost 19 men and 57 wounded and the Norwegian force lost 1 man and 2 wounded.
The after-effects of the raid had far reaching consequences, as the Germans took reprisals against the Norwegian population which prompted protests from the Norwegian King Haakon VII and the government-in-exile. The Germans also reinforced and strengthened their defences which tied down troops that could have been used elsewhere.
The Dieppe Raid on 19 August 1942, involved over 6,000 Canadian soldiers supported by large British naval and Allied air force contingents. The objective was to seize the port, gather intelligence and assess the German response. The raid was also intended to use air power to draw the Luftwaffe into a large, planned encounter.
Lieutenant Colonel John Durnford-Slater's mission, with No. 3 Commando, was to neutralize a German coastal battery (code named GOEBBELS), near Berneval on the extreme left flank. This battery could engage the landing at Dieppe, some six kilometres to the west. The three 170 mm and four 105 mm guns of 2/770 Batterie had to be put out of action by the time the main force approached the beach. The craft carrying No 5 group of No 3 Commando, approaching the coast to the east, were not warned of the presence of a German coastal convoy that had been located by British "Chain Home" radar stations at 2130 hours. S-boats escorting a German tanker torpedoed some of the landing craft and disabled the escorting Steam Gun Boat 5. Subsequently Motor Launch 346 and Landing Craft Flak 1 combined to drive off the German boats, but the Group was dispersed, with some losses. The enemy's coastal defences were also alerted. Only a handful of commandos under the Second in Command, Major Peter Young, landed and scaled the barbed wire-laced cliffs. 18 Commandos reached the perimeter of the GOEBBELS Battery via Bernevall and engaged their target with small-arms fire. Unable to destroy the guns, their sniping of the crews prevented the guns from firing effectively on the main assault. Thus, a handful of determined British soldiers neutralised the most dangerous German coastal battery in the area of the raid for the most critical period of the operation.
No. 4 Commando was tasked with landing on the extreme right flank; they landed in force and destroyed their targets, providing the only major success of the operation. Most of No 4 returned safely to England. This portion of the raid was considered a model for future commando operations. Lord Lovat became famous as an officer on Orange Beach (and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his part).Captain Patrick Porteous, attached to No. 4 Commando, was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery.
The brigade was assembled under one commander in 1943 and trained to operate as a formation in preparation for Operation Overlord and the Normandy landings.
The plan was for 1st Special Service Brigade comprising Nos 3, 4, 6 and 45 (RM) Commandos to land at Ouistreham in Queen Red sector (the most easterly). No 4 Commando were augmented by 1 and 8 Troops (both French) of No 10 (Inter Allied) Commando. No 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando was formed in January 1942 and included Nos 1 and 7 Troops (French), 4 Troop (Belgian), Dutch Troop, Norwegian Troop, Polish Troop, X Troop (German and Austrian, Hungarians and Greeks), Yugoslav Troop, which often served detached in other theatres. In August 1942 they were involved in the Dieppe raid. They also took part in the Normandy Landings and fought across North Western Europe.
The assault on Sword began at about 03:00 with an aerial bombardment of the German coastal defences and artillery sites. The naval bombardment began a few hours later. At 07:30, the first units reached the beach. These were the amphibious DD tanks of the 13th/18th Hussars; they were followed closely by the infantry of the 8th Infantry Brigade, part of the British 3rd Division.
The 1st Special Service Brigade, under the command of Brigadier Lord Lovat, were piped ashore in the second wave led by No 4 Commando with the two French Troops first, as agreed amongst themselves. The British and French personnel of No.4 Commando had separate targets in Ouistreham—the French a blockhouse and the Casino, the British two batteries which overlooked the beach. The blockhouse proved too strong for the Commandos' PIAT Projector Infantry Anti Tank) weapons, but the Casino was taken with the aid of a Centaur tank. The British Commandos achieved both battery objectives only to find that the guns had been removed. Leaving the mopping-up to the infantry, the Commandos withdrew from Ouistreham to join other units in their brigade, moving inland to join-up with the 6th Airborne Division.
Lord Lovat reputedly waded ashore wearing a white pullover under his battledress, with "Lovat" inscribed on the collar, while armed with an old Winchester rifle. He instructed his personal piper, Bill Millin, to play the commandos ashore, in defiance of specific orders not to allow such an action in battle.
Lovat's forces pressed on, Lovat himself advancing with parts of his brigade from Sword to Pegasus Bridge, which had been obstinately defended by men of the British 6th Airborne Division who had landed in the early hours. The commandos arrived almost exactly on time, (late by about two minutes), for which Lord Lovat apologised to Lieutenant Colonel Richard Geoffrey Pine-Coffin, of 7th Parachute Battalion. The commandos ran across Pegasus Bridge, to the sound of Bill Millin's bagpipes. Despite rushing across in small groups, twelve men were killed by sniper fire, mostly shot in the head; the men crossing the bridge wore helmets rather than berets from then on. They went on to establish defensive positions around Ranville, east of the River Orne. The bridges were relieved later in the day by elements of the British 3rd Infantry Division.
During an attack on the village of Bréville on 12 June, Lord Lovat was seriously wounded while observing an artillery bombardment by the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division. A stray shell fell short of its target and landed amongst the officers, killing Lieutenant-Colonel A. P. Johnston, commanding officer of the 12th Parachute Battalion, and seriously wounding Brigadier Hugh Kindersley of the 6th Airlanding Brigade.
On 1 August, the Brigade was ordered to seize and hold a section of high ground by dawn the following day. This was in support of a further advance to Dozule, by 6th Airborne Division. No.4 Commando led with Nos.3, 45 and 6 following. The Brigade infiltrated the enemy line and reached their objective before the Germans realized it. There were four counter-attacks throughout the day but the brigade held firm.
1st Special Service Brigade returned to England on 8–9 September 1944, landing at Southampton and Gosport. During this period new volunteers were recruited and trained. No.4 Commando was later sent back to the continent to take over from the shattered 46 (RM) Commando, which was down to a strength of 200 men.
In December 1944 all Special Service Brigades were renamed Commando Brigades, but with the same Brigade number, so 1st Special Service Brigade was now 1st Commando Brigade.
About the same time there were plans to send 1 Commando Brigade to the Far East, but due to the German counter-offensive in the Ardennes over the New Year and in January, they returned to mainland Europe.
During the Ardennes Offensive, the Brigade was given the task of holding a stretch of the river Maas; it was during this period of operations that Lance Corporal H. Harden, a medical orderly of the RAMC attached to 45 RM Commando, won the Victoria Cross.
The Brigade's next large-scale operation was the crossing of the river Rhine at Wesel. Intensive training and detailed planning were the keys to the remarkable success of Operation Plunder on 23 March, which incurred less than 100 casualties.
Operation Plunder started at 1800 hours on 23 March with a barrage of 5,500 guns along the 35 km front and a bomber raid on the city of Wesel. The 51st (Highland) Infantry Division led the river crossing at 2300 hours with the Canadians crossing later 6.5 km south of Rees, then the 1st Commando Brigade, 1.5 km north of Wesel. The assault craft—Buffalo amphibious vehicles, assault boats and DUKWs carried the infantry; LCMs carried the armour, including Sherman DD tanks—were guided across the river by CDL searchlights and tracer fire from machine guns. General Patton had earlier put the US 5th Infantry Division across the Ludendorff railway bridge at Remagen—a day earlier than planned—thus drawing off German reinforcements and reducing the opposition to the main landings.
The next obstacle to be tackled was the river Weser, where the brigade was to reinforce and exploit the bridgehead that had already been established. This operation was followed by the crossing of the river Aller, which resulted in some heavy fighting in the woods beyond. A serious situation was averted by a spirited counter-attack by No.6 Commando. When "...the hunting horns sounded and led by Lieut. Colonel A. C. Lewis, the Commando charged forward through the trees at a fast double and with bayonets fixed".
By 19 April, the 1st Commando Brigade had reached Lunenburg and prepared for its final operation, the crossing of the river Elbe and the advance beyond to Neustadt. Reaching there on 3 May, No.6 Commando was the first to arrive and began sorting out the dead and the survivors of the prison ship Cap Arcona that had been attacked by the RAF by mistake whilst moored in the Bay of Lübeck. The following day, 4 May 1945, Brigadier Mills-Roberts took the surrender of Generalfeldmarschall Erhard Milch and all of the German troops under his command.
The final chapter concerning the Commandos, during the war, was written on 25 October 1945 with the announcement by Major General Robert Laycock (who had been one of the original volunteers for the Commandos in 1940 and had been promoted to succeed Lord Louis Mountbatten as Chief of Combined Operations) that the Commandos were to be disbanded.
Army Commandos were disbanded in 1946 and the Commando role was taken over by The Royal Marines.
The following Battle honours were awarded to the British Commandos during the Second World War.
The Commandos also known as British Commandos were formed during the Second World War in June 1940, following a request from the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Winston Churchill, for a force that could carry out raids against German-occupied Europe. Initially drawn from within the British Army from soldiers who volunteered for the Special Service Brigade, the Commandos' ranks would eventually be filled by members of all branches of the British Armed Forces and a number of foreign volunteers from German-occupied countries. 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 Greece, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and the United States Army Rangers, which were modelled on the Commandos.
Operation Infatuate was the code name given to an Anglo-Canadian operation during the Second World War to open the port of Antwerp to shipping and relieve logistical constraints. The operation was part of the wider Battle of the Scheldt and involved two assault landings from the sea by the 4th Special Service Brigade and the 52nd (Lowland) Division. At the same time the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division would force a crossing of the Walcheren causeway.
The 4th Special Service Brigade was a brigade-sized formation of the British Commandos formed during the Second World War in March 1944 from battalion-sized units of the Royal Marines. Due to the success of the British Army Commandos’ operations in Norway, the Channel Islands, St. Nazaire, and the Middle East, the Admiralty dissolved the Royal Marines Division in late 1942 and reorganized its amphibious assault infantry into eight additional Commando units.
The 2nd Special Service Brigade was formed in late 1943 in the Middle East and saw service in Italy, the Adriatic, the landings at Anzio and took part in operations in Yugoslavia. On December 6, 1944, the Brigade was renamed 2nd Commando Brigade, removing the hated title Special Service and its association with the Schutzstaffel.
No. 8 (Guards) Commando was a unit of the British Commandos and part of the British Army during the Second World War. The Commando was formed in June 1940 primarily from members of the Brigade of Guards. It was one of the units selected to be sent to the Middle East as part of Layforce. On arrival they became known as 'B' Battalion in an attempt at deception, not wanting the Axis forces to know there was a commando formation in the theatre of war. The commando participated in the Battle of Crete and around Tobruk before being disbanded in late 1941. After this, many of its personnel went on to serve in other commando units formed in the area, including the Special Air Service.
No. 7 Commando was a unit of the British Commandos and part of the British Army during the Second World War. The commando was formed in August 1940 in the United Kingdom. No. 7 Commando was transferred to the Middle East as part of Layforce. Committed to the Battle of Crete, it suffered heavy casualties, after which it was disbanded.
No. 11 (Scottish) Commando was a battalion-sized commando unit of the British Army during the Second World War. Formed in Scotland, members of No. 11 (Scottish) Commando adopted the Tam o'shanter as their official headdress.
No. 12 Commando was a battalion-sized commando unit of the British Army during the Second World War. Formed in 1940 in Northern Ireland, they carried out a number of small-scale raids in Norway and France between 1941 and 1943 before being disbanded and its personnel dispersed to other commando units.
No. 5 Commando was a battalion-sized commando unit of the British Army during the Second World War.
No. 9 Commando was a battalion-sized British Commando unit raised by the British Army during the Second World War. It took part in raids across the English Channel and in the Mediterranean, ending the war in Italy as part of the 2nd Special Service Brigade. Like all Army commando units it was disbanded in 1946.
No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando was a commando unit of the British Army during the Second World War, recruited largely from non-British personnel from German-occupied Europe. This unit was used to help co-oridinate attacks with other allied forces.
No. 44 Commando was a battalion size formation in the British Commandos, formed during the Second World War. The Commando was assigned to the 3rd Special Service Brigade and served in the Burma Campaign.
No. 51 Commando was a battalion-sized British Commando unit of the British Army during the Second World War. The commando was formed in 1940, from Jewish and Arab volunteers from Palestine. The Commando fought against the Italians in Abyssinia and Eritrea before it was absorbed into the Middle East Commando.
No. 48 Commando was a battalion-sized formation of the British Commandos, formed in 1944 during the Second World War. No. 48 Commando was assigned to the 4th Special Service Brigade and served in North West Europe, taking part in the Normandy landings and operations around Ostend and Antwerp before being disbanded after the war in January 1946.
No. 47 Commando was a battalion size formation in the British Commandos, formed in August 1943 during the Second World War. The Commando was assigned to the 4th Special Service Brigade and served North West Europe and took part in the Normandy Landings, operations around Ostend, Antwerp and the Netherlands before being disbanded in January 1946.
The Commandos formed during the Second World War, following an order from the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in June 1940 for a force that could carry out raids against German occupied Europe. Churchill stated in a minute to General Ismay on 6 June 1940: "Enterprises must be prepared, with specially-trained troops of the hunter class, who can develop a reign of terror down these coasts, first of all on the "butcher and bolt" policy..." Commandos were all volunteers for special service and originally came from the British Army but volunteers would eventually come from all branches of the United Kingdom's armed forces and foreign volunteers from countries occupied by the Germans. These volunteers formed over 30 individual units and four assault brigades.
No. 14 (Arctic) Commando sometimes also called the Special Commando Boating Group, was a 60-man British Commando unit of the British Army during the Second World War. The commando was formed in 1942 for service in the Arctic and was disbanded in 1943.