Did Britain's Commando heroes die in vain?

1- No one doubted the ability to land small units on continental europe with such an enormous coastline to guard. Comparisons between Lofoton, or Vaagso to Normandy.........
Yes it was such a bad idea that, when the USA finally decided to join the fight, they copied the idea with Ranger Battalions.
Trained by British Commandos to boot.
 

Pteranadon

LE
Book Reviewer
Simple. Its military ethos and status based on an obsolete specialisation. No one has needed to operationaly parachute since the invention of the helicopter.

So the SAS sabre squadrons as discussed in Task Force Black never parachuted onto a operational DZ and prosecuted a target then?


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I thought we were discussing parachute and commando trained troops in acts of war rather than special forces choosing an exotic way to strat a cpounter terrorist operation?
 

Pteranadon

LE
Book Reviewer
Written like one who has never done an arduous course.

And regrets it.

No, as a military historian.

The issue is not whether there is a role for arduous courses or troops selected and trained for raiding, but whether brigading them into a separate cap badge is a good idea. Its about the efficiency of the Army as a whole rather than the self esteem of those who undertake arduous training.

The C18th Elite were the Grenadiers in each battalion, and available to the CO as a mechanism for rewarding individual achievement and the promotion plot.

In military history there is a case for arguing that army's only start to rely on elite troops when they are in decline. Napoleon only relied on the Guard when the quality of the line infantry declined. Imperial Rome grew when it was enough to be a Legionary and only in its decline was there a difference between the Palatine troops. The proportion of polioticlaly organised SSmen in the German army grew as the Wehrmacht declined.

The British Empire was built by its line infantry (with its grenadiers, light and hat companies) The British Army was arguably at its peak in the Great War which it won with its brightest and best serving in the line and not in private armies.

In theory the elites are available for undertaking the most difficult tasks. But over the past thirty years its been hard to see when paras or commands have undertaken a role not assigned to other units.

The last time elite troops were selected for an operation not easily undertaken by a light role line infantry unit was the Falklands. Even then the choice to send 2 Para to the Falklands and not Belize had an unintended knock on effect of sending a well trained operationally ready battalion 3 R Anglian to Belize and under trained ceremonial troops to the Falklands!

If you were designing the British armed forces from scratch it would be hard to make the case for whole brigades fo elite troops.
 

4(T)

LE
The proportion of polioticlaly organised SSmen in the German army grew as the Wehrmacht declined.

Only because the SS was able to take the lion's share of available conscripts. The SS in the last three years of the war was substantially made up of unwilling draftees.
 
Dear Fluffy,
I guess you got tired of having your ass handed to you on the other forum so you decided to wag your tail over here. I am nothing if not accommodating, so let's start giving you a bit of education on this subject...shall we?

First let us dispel your Commando Order BS, as it was not a result of the British Commandos.

On 19 August 1942, during this raid, a Canadian Brigadier took a copy of the operational order ashore against explicit orders. The order was subsequently discovered on the beach by the Germans and found its way to Hitler. Among the dozens of pages of orders was an instruction to "bind prisoners". (The orders were for the Canadian forces participating in the raid, and not the commandos.) Bodies of shot German prisoners with their hands tied were allegedly found by German forces after the battle.

Strike one...........

In April 1941 Layforce received orders to begin carrying out a raids on the Afrika Korps lines of communication along the North African coast. On 12 April they carried out a preliminary move to Alexandria and three days later they received orders to carry out a raid on Bardia and another on Bomba The attacks had to be abandoned, however, due to high seas which would have made disembarking and re-embarking too dangerous. The appearance of the commandos behind their lines forced the Germans to divert the main part of an armoured brigade from where they had previously been undertaking offensive action around Sollum in order to defend against further raids.

Strike 2...........

In Burma 142 Commando Company formed part of the Chindits (the 77th Indian Infantry Brigade), and fought in the first long-range Chindit operation behind Japanese lines, codenamed Operation Longcloth. The raid began on 8 February 1943 and lasted for about three months. It inflicted little damage on Japanese supply lines but it did show that British and Indian Army and Indian forces could fight in the jungle as well as or better than the Japanese; this gave a boost to the morale of the Allied forces fighting in the South-East Asian Theatre.
Strike 3................And you're out !!!!

Sorry Fluffy, but you seem to forget that raids had a primary mission (set objective of the raid), and a secondary mission; to cause Axis forces to redistribute forces away from areas that were going to be used for actual large landings. Even if the primary objective was not accomplished, and a large number of these men sacrificed themselves - it always furthered the secondary mission.




First up the Commando Order- Commandos from No.12 Cdo. and the SSRF of SOE on Operation Basalt 3/4 October 1942 isle of Sark. tied up with Issue toggle ropes. 5 Wehrmacht POW's and stuffed rags in their mouths. 1 tried to yell and was shot (which alerted the enemy, brills that is shoot him as you don't want him to alert the rest)and left bound to be found by his comrades. On the Beach 2 others were shot and another stabbed or bayoneted to death and again left bound for their comrades to find. result 1 POW taken back to Base. Within Days the Germans were crowing about the treatment of their men when captured. At Dieppe German POW's were found dead by their comrades and they bodies were bound. On October 7, Hitler gave the infamous Order, notice he didnt include Canadian Army units or the division which took part, just the Commandos.

Secondly lets examine the mission to Kill Rommel, Operation Flipper. Executed on November 15th. Objective -Kill Rommel, attack several Italian headquarters and destroy a communications tower. Objectives met? 1 (Tower knocked out temporarily) aka, failure. The Commandos could not even land the entire force, only 39 made it to shore. Not only was the Objectives not met, it was NOT even Rommels HQ that Keyes attacked. But the Losses included Lieutenant Colonel Keyes killed and many of the raiders, were captured by Arabs turning them into the Italians. Laycock and 1 other man escaped IIRC. Enemy losses were 4 KIA. Value for Money? Pretty sure the British could well have used Col. Keyes instead of wasting him like he was.


Chindits? well first of all they weren't mostly Commandos (142 coy being a hq element and 8 sections) the bulk of the force were regular troops with some specialized jungle training. Of 3,000 men sent 818 were KIA/DOW, or abandoned on the trial after being wounded. 600 were too delibitated or diseased for further service, aka almost 47% casualties. Today we would call such casualty rates a disaster and no amount of Lipstick on the pig would hide it

Their Objectives were apparently at Wingates whim he changed them so often. 2 of the Columns almost immediately ran in. to a Japanese ambush and had to run back to India. Calverts Column only very temporarily disabled the Railroad. Japanese actions forced the Chindits into ever smaller areas to operate so Wingate sent most of the force back. he sent one column further. Some had to escape to China, some never made it back across the Irawaddy as the Japanese had outposts watching all fords.
Objective met? Japanese Rail Comms out for a week at the cost of almost half the force.

Hell of a Boost to Morale that half your force is dead or so sick they can never soldier again, that you leave your wounded behind for the jungle or Japanese mercies just to say you can operate in the Jungle.

Again, Custer, a Raid has Objectives and a Withdrawal plan. Leaving your wounded to an enemy known to be so humanitarian to POW's doesn't boost morale. To know you'll be left with a mills bomb or given a morphine overdose because a medical evacuation plan was non existent. Wingate had no real set Objectives,

Hitting the enemy and he reacts by heavily reinforcing doesnt make it easier to later on take those same objectives. Again look at how Carlsons raid cost us MORE casualties because of showing the enemy he was weak and allowing him to reinforce. Tarawa Pre Raid was lightly defended, as was most of the Marshall islands, Gilberts. Bardia didnt stop the Afrika Korps from pushing the British back to Sollum, or the battle of the Salient did it?
 
Yes it was such a bad idea that, when the USA finally decided to join the fight, they copied the idea with Ranger Battalions.
Trained by British Commandos to boot.
Ahh they typical knee jerk. Rangers and Commandos did not prove you could land in Europe as the numbers of men involved were never that of a second front Mongty...

At best they were Nuisances. If the Commandos were so godly and awesome why were they used as regular line units by 1944? Hell even the Ranger Bns last hurrah as special troops was Pointe du Hoc. Hell wasn't a Army or RM Commando used to repair House damage in London in 1944?
EDIT: Correction that was 26th RM Battalion , not commando, who were the House Repairmen.
 

seaweed

LE
Book Reviewer
RIP
In spite of the cost St Nazaire was a complete victory in terms of achieving its primary objective, which was to destroy the only drydock on the Atlantic coast that could accommodate the Tirpitz, thus changing the game completely against any Tirpitz breakout.
 
In theory the elites are available for undertaking the most difficult tasks. But over the past thirty years its been hard to see when paras or commands have undertaken a role not assigned to other units.

Well that's either a testament to the adaptability and robustness of our "average" PBI or arguably because the headshed under-uses the "elite" troops. Most likely a bit of both.*

The attitude towards "elite" and "special" troops is quite immature within Brit Mil. There isn't a definitive line in the sand or tick list that clarifies the criteria for "Elite" status. I've met some "hat" recce platoons that would give anyone within the SF world a good run for their money, likewise I've seen some supposed "elite" units fail to hit minimum standards. For instance, the lack of UKSF in Basra resulted in Line Inf Plt's acing traditional SF roles. Also, for decades in NI, Bn's operated COP's which would be considered unconventional or "special" to outsiders. The line between conventional and un-conventional is crossed much easier than many would readily admit.



*Incidentally, the creation of the SFSG role was not a new concept to Para Reg. Sub units had previously deployed in the role and the creation of SFSG was just a formalisation and expansion of an existing relationship. The role was so welcomed by Para Reg because it finally made official the role they had been carrying out ad-hoc for years and finally gave them the "special" role that fitted their self perceived elite status. Something they'd been trying to regain since the mid 60's.
 
Only because the SS was able to take the lion's share of available conscripts. The SS in the last three years of the war was substantially made up of unwilling draftees.

For the record, the SS were required by Nazi law (a result of the Army and Air Force successfully politicking against them, quite early on, in order to defend their own access to German manpower) to recruit no less than 40% of their total strength from the 'Recishsdeutsch' or 'Volksdeutsch' populations of countries occupied by Germany. Hence odd formations like the Moslem Waffen SS Division that was raised in Jugoslavia.
 

4(T)

LE
If the Commandos were so godly and awesome why were they used as regular line units by 1944? Hell even the Ranger Bns last hurrah as special troops was Pointe du Hoc.

Er... because by that stage there no exposed German flanks worth attacking?


If there had been more air assets available, no doubt the commandos could have been added to the airlanding part of Market Garden. MG, for all its flaws, came within a hair's breadth of achieving a major strategic breakthrough in the European war, and can be viewed as the utility of elite troops when used en masse - as can the securing of the left and right flanks of the Normandy landings.
 
4- In fact if anything stupid acts like handcuffing/binding German POW's and then they being found by the Germans dead, dragging bodies behind launches tied up and losing them to be recovered by the Wehrmacht led to the Commando Order.

'Stupid acts'?

As a matter of routine, Commandos on their small raids would kill everyone in a position they overran except for the lucky Helmut chosen to take a holiday in the UK.
The resulting psychological terror that knowing that the rough men in the night would slit your throats even if you gave up was very much part and parcel of the very dirty and nasty game we were playing with the Germans. German 2nd line garrison troops lived in abject terror of the visit in the night and would run away bravely if an owl hooted or shoot at ghosts. They were also not too keen to go for a walk in the dark or show too much interest of what was going on after dark outside their post, rather a handy habit if you were landing people to go sniff around or drop things off or collect things.
 
^ heard a 2* say last week that Infantry now are doing the jobs that ten years ago would have been done by SF.

I have heard the same line, more than once. It can be taken to mean a number of things, not all of them especially extraordinary. F'rinstance, the mentoring of indigenoous troops, a role currently being conducted by line infantry at considerable personal risk in Afg, would once upon a time have been considered the preserve of Hereford's finest.

It is an expedient forced upon the UK by a combination of factors: the fact that 'They' have been heavily committed to tracking down and killing the enemy's command hierarchy; the fact that there are not, nor ever have been, enough NATO resources in Afg to do the job that needs to be done; and the fact that with a fixed drawdown timetable, there's a political need for UK to be seen to be doing something to plug the gap that will open up when the main Brit presence is withdrawn to UK.

Well done, nevertheless, to 'ordinary' line troops for stepping up to the mark : see HTD's post #131.
 
'Stupid acts'?

As a matter of routine, Commandos on their small raids would kill everyone in a position they overran except for the lucky Helmut chosen to take a holiday in the UK.
The resulting psychological terror that knowing that the rough men in the night would slit your throats even if you gave up was very much part and parcel of the very dirty and nasty game we were playing with the Germans. German 2nd line garrison troops lived in abject terror of the visit in the night and would run away bravely if an owl hooted or shoot at ghosts. They were also not too keen to go for a walk in the dark or show too much interest of what was going on after dark outside their post, rather a handy habit if you were landing people to go sniff around or drop things off or collect things.

when you put it like that the commando order seems quite reasonable
 
From the end of the Walcheren campaign 4 Commando Brigade fought its own little small-unit action style of war in the Dutch islands north of the Scheldt, as 2 Commando Brigade had been doing in the Adriatic and 3 Commando Brigade in the Arakan.

I'm not a great fan of large elites, I subscribe to Slim's idea that any good infantry battalion could do the same as a Commando, and that the extraction of the cream from the mainstream of the army only served to degrad the rest. But I have to admit, some of their actions were outstanding: Lofoten, St Nazaire, Dieppe, D-Day and Walcheren just in NW Europe. Others, like the attempt to kill Rommel, were not so bright in concept or execution but I suppose you can't win them all...
 

CD05

Old-Salt
I thought we were discussing parachute and commando trained troops in acts of war rather than special forces choosing an exotic way to strat a cpounter terrorist operation?

Fair point but from what I can recall reading Task Force Black were operating on a war fighting footing rather than the coin intervention/interdictiction type footing (also I know it's written by a journo and you can't believe everything you read). So while it was a "exotic" way to start an operation there must have been some requirements that justified a para infill rather than a traditional ground or helicopter infill. Therefore I believe that it was act of war by commando/parachute trained UK soldiers.

Also the RM PF and Paras along with all other line infantry are daily undertaking the types of missions that back in the armed forces Cold War BAOR days would be given to only para/commando trained units, especially things like the BRF or formation recce combined with the BAG type jobs that I believe would have been the remit of a specially recruited BMATT.

Somebody has already mentioned that the UK infantry regiments including Paras, RM and attached arms are doing the type of jobs that 10 years would have been conducted by UKSF and from my last tour I have to say I agree with that 100%


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4(T)

LE
Re: Slim/chindits: as mentioned in other threads, my view is that one of the key values of elite troops and their operations was not in their direct military effect against the enemy per se, but in catalysing and compelling commanders of regular forces at all levels to think outside the box. The Chindits' operations may have been questionable, but undoubtedly the controversy and high profile of the ops seems to have forced the rest of 14th Army and associated formations to significantly raise their own game.
 
*Incidentally, the creation of the SFSG role was not a new concept to Para Reg. Sub units had previously deployed in the role and the creation of SFSG was just a formalisation and expansion of an existing relationship. The role was so welcomed by Para Reg because it finally made official the role they had been carrying out ad-hoc for years and finally gave them the "special" role that fitted their self perceived elite status.

Also liked because allocating 1 PARA to SFSG also meant that the Prince of Darkness could say the Parachute Regiment lose a Battalion but he still has three Battalions of Parachutists...
 

Pteranadon

LE
Book Reviewer
I would agree with the above except for the pedantic thought that the Palatine legions were more police than soldiers.They were never a match for the German/Persian border legions.
The legions were replaced by mobile armies when the enemy became largely horse born and increased mobility was required.
The mobile armies became the norm and the old legions merely a drain on the economy.
If you have a small standing army without conscripted regiments then they should all be high quality.

You are correct that the pretorians werentl a match for ordinary legions. I thought of Paletine as in auxialia Palatina, but should have used the term comitatenses - field army ve=s the the limitanei.[frontier forces). This does offer a parallel with the German army fo 1944 where the German army consisted of a mass of infantry with limited mobiulity, poor quality manpower and weapons supported by a field army of mobile troops.
 
Also liked because allocating 1 PARA to SFSG also meant that the Prince of Darkness could say the Parachute Regiment lose a Battalion but he still has three Battalions of Parachutists...



Which lends itself to my original comment regarding elite units and the self preservation "smoke and mirrors" tactic

Any move away from death row (AKA the declining Inf ORBAT) is a step in the right direction for any Bn.....not that 1PARA didn't deserve the slot on merit anyway, but then I'm bias.
 

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