Independent Company

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Independent Companies
Allegiance Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom
Branch Territorial Army
TypeLight Infantry
RoleCoastal raiding
Engagements Norwegian Campaign
Colin Gubbins

An Independent Company was originally a unit raised by the English Army, subsequently the British Army, during the 17th and 18th Centuries for garrison duties in Britain and the overseas colonies. [1] [2] [3] [4] These units were not part of larger battalions or regiments (although they may have originally been detached from them), and would remain permanently assigned to the garrison. In the Twentieth Century the designation was used for a temporary expeditionary formation of the British Army during the Second World War. Initially there were ten Independent Companies, who were raised from volunteers from Territorial Army divisions in April 1940. They were intended for guerrilla-style operations in the Allied campaign in Norway. The companies were disbanded after returning to Britain at the end of the campaign but another company, No. 11 Company, was formed from volunteers from the first ten Independent Companies on 14 June 1940, and took part in the first British commando raid, Operation Collar. [5]

British Army during the Second World War

The British Army was, in 1939, a volunteer army, that introduced limited conscription in early 1939, and full conscription shortly after the declaration of war with Germany. During the early years of the Second World War, the British Army suffered defeat in almost every theatre of war in which it was deployed. With mass conscription, the expansion of the British Army was reflected in the formation of larger armies and army groups. From 1943, the larger and better-equipped British Army never suffered a strategic defeat.

Operation Collar (commando raid)

Operation Collar was the codeword for the first commando raid, conducted by the British forces, during the Second World War. The location selected for the raid was the Pas-de-Calais department on the French coast. The British Commandos had not long been formed and were not yet trained, so the operation was given to No. 11 Independent Company under the command of Major Ronnie Tod.



Early in 1940, the British Army had been making plans for a campaign in Norway, ostensibly to support Finland in the Winter War against Russia, who then had a pact of alliance with Germany. When the Finns capitulated on 12 March 1940, the troops assigned to the operation were instead sent to France. [6] Nevertheless, contingency planning continued. As part of this, MI(R), a department of the War Office responsible for irregular operations, was asked to plan for raids on the Norwegian coast. The department's head, Colonel J.C.F Holland, summoned Lieutenant Colonel Colin Gubbins, leading MI(R)'s mission in Paris, to prepare and train the troops. [6]

Finland Republic in Northern Europe

Finland, officially the Republic of Finland is a country in Northern Europe bordering the Baltic Sea, Gulf of Bothnia, and Gulf of Finland, between Norway to the north, Sweden to the northwest, and Russia to the east. Finland is a Nordic country and is situated in the geographical region of Fennoscandia. The capital and largest city is Helsinki. Other major cities are Espoo, Vantaa, Tampere, Oulu and Turku.

Winter War 1939–1940 war between the Soviet Union and Finland

The Winter War was a military conflict between the Soviet Union (USSR) and Finland. It began with a Soviet invasion of Finland on 30 November 1939, three months after the outbreak of World War II, and ended three and a half months later with the Moscow Peace Treaty on 13 March 1940. The League of Nations deemed the attack illegal and expelled the Soviet Union from the organisation.

Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact peace treaty

The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, officially known as the Treaty of Non-aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was a neutrality pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed in Moscow on 23 August 1939 by foreign ministers Joachim von Ribbentrop and Vyacheslav Molotov, respectively.

On 9 April, the Germans launched Operation Weserübung, occupying Oslo and Narvik and several other ports in Norway, taking the allies by surprise. On 13 April, Holland submitted MI(R)'s first proposals to the War Office. He intended to break up the Lovat Scouts to form the raiding parties. However, the Scouts' commanding officer (Lieutenant Colonel Leslie Melville) objected, and instead Holland proposed to form the Independent Companies. [6]

Operation Weserübung code name for Germanys assault on Denmark and Norway during the Second World War

Operation Weserübung was the code name for Germany's assault on Denmark and Norway during the Second World War and the opening operation of the Norwegian Campaign. The name comes from the German for "Operation Weser-Exercise", the Weser being a German river.

Oslo Place in Østlandet, Norway

Oslo is the capital and most populous city of Norway. It constitutes both a county and a municipality. Founded in the year 1040 as Ánslo, and established as a kaupstad or trading place in 1048 by Harald Hardrada, the city was elevated to a bishopric in 1070 and a capital under Haakon V of Norway around 1300. Personal unions with Denmark from 1397 to 1523 and again from 1536 to 1814 reduced its influence, and with Sweden from 1814 to 1905 it functioned as a co-official capital. After being destroyed by a fire in 1624, during the reign of King Christian IV, a new city was built closer to Akershus Fortress and named Christiania in the king's honour. It was established as a municipality (formannskapsdistrikt) on 1 January 1838. The city's name was spelled Kristiania between 1877 and 1897 by state and municipal authorities. In 1925 the city was renamed Oslo.

Narvik Municipality in Nordland, Norway

Narvik  (Norwegian) or Áhkanjárga (Northern Sami) is the third-largest municipality in Nordland county, Norway by population. The administrative centre of the municipality is the town of Narvik. Some of the notable villages in the municipality include Ankenesstranda, Beisfjord, Bjerkvik, Bjørnfjell, Elvegård, Skjomen, Håkvik, Hergot, Straumsnes, and Vidrek. The Elvegårdsmoen army camp is located near Bjerkvik.


Ten companies were formed from volunteers from Territorial Army divisions still stationed in Great Britain: [7]

Army Reserve (United Kingdom) element of the British Army

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.

52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division

The 52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division was an infantry division of the British Army that was originally formed as the Lowland Division, in 1908 as part of the Territorial Force. It later became the 52nd (Lowland) Division in 1915. The 52nd (Lowland) Division fought in the First World War before being disbanded, with the rest of the Territorial Force, in 1920. The Territorial Force was later reformed as the Territorial Army and the division was again raised, during the inter-war years, as the 52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division - a 1st Line Territorial Army Infantry Division - and went on to serve during the Second World War. After the war, the division was merged with the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division in 1948. The history of the division was carried on by the 52nd Lowland Brigade, and later the 52nd Lowland Regiment.

53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division

The 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division was an infantry division of the British Army that fought in both World War I and World War II. Originally raised in 1908 as the Welsh Division, part of the Territorial Force (TF), the division saw service in World War I, being designated 53rd (Welsh) Division in mid-1915, and fought in the Gallipoli Campaign and in the Middle East. Remaining active in the Territorial Army (TA) during the interwar period as a peacetime formation, the division again saw action in World War II, fighting in North-western Europe from June 1944 until May 1945.

54th (East Anglian) Infantry Division

The 54th Infantry Division was an infantry division of the British Army. During the First World War the division fought at Gallipoli and in the Middle East. The division was disbanded after the war but reformed in the Territorial Army in 1920. During the Second World War it was a home service division and did not see any combat service abroad and was disbanded in late 1943 but many of its component units went to see service in the Normandy Campaign and North-western Europe from June 1944 to May 1945.

The establishment of each company was 21 officers and 268 other ranks, [5] organised as three platoons, each of three sections. Some personnel from the Royal Engineers and Royal Signals were attached to each company headquarters. As the companies were intended to be mobile in rough terrain and to operate independently for several days, they were lightly equipped. Each company's only heavy weapons were Bren light machine guns, a single Boys anti-tank rifle and some 2-inch mortars in a Support section. The companies therefore were unsuitable for holding fixed defences or mounting rearguard actions. [8]

Royal Engineers corps of the British Army

The Corps of Royal Engineers, usually just called the Royal Engineers (RE), and commonly known as the Sappers, is one of the corps of the British Army.

Royal Corps of Signals one of the combat support arms of the British Army

The Royal Corps of Signals is one of the combat support arms of the British Army. Signals units are among the first into action, providing the battlefield communications and information systems essential to all operations. Royal Signals units provide the full telecommunications infrastructure for the Army wherever they operate in the world. The Corps has its own engineers, logistics experts and systems operators to run radio and area networks in the field. It is responsible for installing, maintaining and operating all types of telecommunications equipment and information systems, providing command support to commanders and their headquarters, and conducting electronic warfare against enemy communications.

Bren light machine gun light machine gun

The Bren gun, usually called simply the Bren, are a series of light machine guns (LMG) made by Britain in the 1930s and used in various roles until 1992. While best known for its role as the British and Commonwealth forces' primary infantry LMG in World War II, it was also used in the Korean War and saw service throughout the latter half of the 20th century, including the 1982 Falklands War. Although fitted with a bipod, it could also be mounted on a tripod or vehicle-mounted.

Gubbins realised that the soldiers and junior officers of the newly raised companies were untrained in mountain and irregular warfare. He therefore requested that twenty picked officers of the Indian Army, with experience of the North-West Frontier, be attached to the Independent Companies. The selected officers flew from Karachi to Britain aboard the Imperial Airways flying boat Cathay. [9]

Norwegian Campaign

Formal approval for the establishment of the Independent Companies was given only on 20 April. No. 1 Independent Company nevertheless first embarked for Norway on 27 April. [6]

On 2 May, Gubbins was given command of "Scissorsforce", consisting of Nos. 1, 3, 4, and 5 Independent Companies, and ordered to prevent the Germans occupying Bodø, Mo and Mosjøen. Part of the force (Nos. 4 and 5 Independent Companies) arrived at Mosjøen on 8 May. Early on 10 May, they successfully ambushed the leading Germans advancing on Mosjøen from the south, but were harassed by Luftwaffe aircraft during the long daylight hours and were outmatched by the main body of German Gebirgsjäger (mountain troops). Exhausted, they were withdrawn by a Norwegian coaster to Bodø on 11 May. [10]

On 10 May also, 300 Gebirgsjäger with two mountain guns disembarked from the commandeered coaster Nordnorge at Hemnesberget, roughly midway between Mosjøen and Mo. A platoon of No. 1 Independent Company and some Norwegian reservists defending the town were outnumbered and forced to escape by boat after a stiff resistance. No. 1 Independent Company and some Norwegian troops attacked the next day but failed to dislodge the Germans, who had been reinforced and resupplied by seaplanes. [11]

Gubbins's force was then placed under the command of 24th (Guards) Brigade at Bodø. The destroyer carrying the brigade's commander (Brigadier William Fraser) was put out of action by the Luftwaffe, and Gubbins assumed command of the brigade. [12] Nos. 1 and 3 Independent Companies of the former "Scissorsforce", reinforced by No. 2 Independent Company which had recently landed at Bodø, [13] thereafter generally fought in rearguard actions while attached to the brigade's infantry units in several actions in Nordland, until all British troops were withdrawn from Bodø in the early hours of 1 June. [14]


The ten Independent Companies were disbanded after the Norwegian campaign. While most of their men were returned to their parent units and formations, calls were being made throughout the Army for men to join the new Commando units. Those men from the Independent Companies who volunteered were formed on 14 June into No. 11 Independent Company, with an establishment of 25 officers and 350 other ranks. The Company took part in Operation Collar, a raid on the Pas de Calais on 24 June. [5]

Gubbins returned to MI(R) and eventually became the director of the Special Operations Executive. Lieutenant Colonel Hugh Stockwell, who had commanded No. 2 Independent Company in Norway, set up the Commando training centre at Lochailort, before enjoying a distinguished record as a brigade and division commander.

See also

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No. 2 Commando was a battalion-sized British Commando unit of the British Army during the Second World War. The first No.2 Commando was formed on the 22nd June 1940 for a parachuting role at Cambrai Barracks, Perham Down, near Tidworth, Hants. The Unit at the time consisted of four troops - 'A', 'B', 'C' and 'D'. Eventually 11 troops were raised. On 21 November, it was re-designated as the 11th Special Air Service (SAS) Battalion and eventually re-designated 1st Parachute Battalion. After their re-designation as the 11th SAS Battalion, a second No. 2 Commando was formed. This No. 2 Commando was the leading commando unit in the St Nazaire Raid and suffered heavy casualties. Those who made it back from St Nazaire rejoined the few who had not gone on the raid, and the commando was reinforced by the first intake of volunteers from the new Commando Basic Training Centre at Achnacarry. No. 2 Commando then went on to serve in the Mediterranean, Sicily, Yugoslavia, and Albania, before being disbanded in 1946.

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. 50 Commando was a battalion-sized British Commando unit of the British Army during the Second World War. The commando was formed in 1940, from volunteers in Egypt and Palestine. Shortly after formation it was amalgamated with No. 52 Commando and became 'D' Battalion, Layforce.

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  1. A Brief History of the Independent Companies of South Carolina: Based on The American Independent Companies of the British Army 1664-1764.
  2. The British Military Presence in America, 1660-1720. History Reconsiderered, LLC. 2010.
  3. Lt. John Foote of Burmuda, Of the Independant Company of Foote, And His Decendants ( Lt. John Foote was an officer of the Independent Company of Foot of Bermuda ). Foote Family Association of America.
  4. [ “The American Army” Robert J. Andrews. Michigan State University Press. ISBN 9781609174255]
  5. 1 2 3 Moreman, p.13
  6. 1 2 3 4 Wilkinson and Astley (2010), p.50
  7. (Retrieved 8 Mar 2012)
  8. Wilkinson and Astley (2010), p.51
  9. Milton, Giles (2016). The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare. London: John Murray. p. 53. ISBN   978-1-444-79895-1.
  10. Wilkinson and Astley, pp.52-53
  11. Adams (1989), pp.73-74
  12. Wilkinson and Astley (2010), p.54
  13. Wilkinson and Astley (2010), p.62
  14. Wilkinson and Astley (2010), p.66