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Beachhead Assault the story of the Royal Naval Commandos in World War II

David Lee
I always knew the Royal Navy was involved with beach assaults and landings and that there were always Beachmasters around, but did not really know much about them. I always regarded them as some sort of guide and certainly was not aware that they were all trained Royal Naval commandos. However, this book has provided me with a large amount of information I was not aware of.

David Lee has put this book together in order to ensure the efforts of the Royal Navy Commandos is never forgotten, by writing a “potted” history with numerous accounts by those who were there, in every operation where a landing was necessary. With a Foreword by Tony Parsons, whose father was a Royal Naval Commando, a Preface by Ken Oakley of F Commando, and an Author’s Preface, it is simply explained that, like many other theatres of operations, many young men had gone forth during World War 2, and now found that their Association, in this case the Royal Naval Commando Association, had to be disbanded purely because there are so few left of those who were involved. In his Acknowledgements the author explains that much of the content has been obtained from former serving members, both regular and volunteer reserve, and their families. In fact, although some are named, many contributors are included in the Index and in Appendix 2 are listed all those who were known to have been awarded medals.

The story really begins in 1942 with the part of the Royal Naval Beach Parties in Operation Jubilee at Dieppe. What happened at Dieppe has been covered many times in various books and the men of the Royal Naval Beach Parties were under orders to control the landings on each of the beaches as well as to cover any withdrawal. Following this and other attacks, the definition of a RN Beach Commando was produced by Combined Operations Headquarters and an Admiralty Docket stated “The RNBC is a buffer between the Naval and Military aspects and consequently their training must have a ‘two service’ bias; . . “. Chapter 2 describes the training which was to be carried out at the Combined Operations Commando training base at Achnacarry.

From this point, the remainder of the book, some ten chapters, describes the way in which the RN Commandos perfected their techniques in being the people who carried out preliminary surveys of the beaches, directed those who were landing and unloading while being able to defend themselves from, and if necessary attack, the enemy. The chapters cover the involvement of the RN Commandos in the landings of North Africa, Sicily, Salerno, the Volturno, Anzio, D Day, Walcheren and Commachio among many others which included river crossings both in Europe and the Far East. Toward the end of the war the Admiralty decreed future landings would be controlled by the Assault Squadrons of the Royal Marine Commandos and by the end of 1945 all the Royal Naval Commandos were disbanded. It is interesting to read that the Royal Naval Commando Association was not formed until 1981, being disbanded in 2003.

The book is fairly well illustrated with sketch maps of most of the operations and there is a centre piece of several plates of original photographs depicting training as well as some of those involved. It would have been helpful to have had more description covering what the landings were all about but, then again, this is a book about the Royal Naval Commandos and as such is well worth reading to gain an appreciation of what happened to those who took a part in what was, and is, a little known force. A very high score for this one because it was well worth reading, informative and enjoyable at the same time.

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