Independent Company

Last updated
Independent Companies
Active1940
Allegiance Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom
Branch Territorial Army
TypeLight Infantry
RoleCoastal raiding
Engagements Norwegian Campaign
Commanders
Notable
commanders
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.

Contents

Origins

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.

Companies

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]

Aftermath

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

Related Research Articles

Commandos (United Kingdom) British commando formation

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 Claymore

Operation Claymore was the code name for a British commando raid on the Lofoten Islands in Norway during the Second World War. The Lofoten Islands were an important centre for the production of fish oil and glycerine, used in the German war economy. The landings were carried out on 4 March 1941, by the men of No. 3 Commando, No. 4 Commando, a Royal Engineers Section and 52 men from the Norwegian Independent Company 1. Supported by the 6th Destroyer Flotilla and two troop transports of the Royal Navy, the force made an unopposed landing and generally continued to meet no opposition. The original plan was to avoid contact with German forces and inflict the maximum of damage to German-controlled industry. They achieved their objective of destroying fish oil factories and some 3,600 t of oil and glycerine. The British experienced only one accident; an officer injuring himself with his own revolver and returned with some 228 German prisoners, 314 loyal Norwegian volunteers and a number of Quisling regime collaborators.

Colin Gubbins British Army general

Major-General Sir Colin McVean Gubbins was the prime mover of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in the Second World War.

Liverpool Scottish

The Liverpool Scottish, known diminutively as "the Scottish", is a unit of the British Army, part of the Army Reserve, raised in 1900 as an infantry battalion of the King's. The Liverpool Scottish became affiliated to the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders in the 1920s and formally transferred to the regiment in 1937 with its identity preserved. Reflecting the Territorial Army's decline in size since the late 1940s, the battalion was reduced to a company in 1967, then to a platoon of "A" (King's) Company, King's and Cheshire Regiment in 1999. In 2006, the company was incorporated into the 4th Battalion, Duke of Lancaster's Regiment.

1st Special Service Brigade brigade of the British Army

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 and the Royal Marines. The brigade's component units saw action individually in Norway and the Dieppe Raid, 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.

No. 12 Commando

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

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

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.

The No. 1 Commando was a unit of the British Commandos and part of the British Army during the Second World War. It was raised in 1940 from the ranks of the existing independent companies. Operationally they carried out a series of small scale cross channel raids and spearheaded the Operation Torch landings in North Africa. They were then sent to the India as part of the 3rd Commando Brigade and took part in operations in the Burma Campaign. During the Second World War only eight commandos were recipients of the Victoria Cross, two of the eight were from No. 1 Commando. After the war they were sent to reoccupy Hong Kong before being amalgamated with No. 5 Commando to form No. 1/5 Commando. The amalgamated No. 1/5 Commando was disbanded in 1947.

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.

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. 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 Special Service Brigade was a formation of the British Army during the Second World War. It was formed in 1940, after the call for volunteers for Special Service who eventually became the British Commandos.

British Commando operations during the Second World War

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.

Actions in Nordland

The Actions in Nordland were part of the Norwegian Campaign of World War II. They were a subsidiary part of the Allied attempt to recapture Narvik.

References

  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. [https://muse.jhu.edu/chapter/1473277/pdf “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. http://www.commandoveterans.org (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

Sources