Did Britain's Commando heroes die in vain?

Recently there was an interesting documentary on TV in regard to the Dieppe raid which stated that the raids primary objective was actually to capture german naval ciphers from Naval HQ on the seafront, under the control of a certain Ian Fleming who was actually waiting offshore to personally collect the captured data - this was because the germans had recently changed their ciphers and had added an extra wheel on the enigma machine - as a result of our loss of ability to monitor german sub traffic we were losing so many ships that it was felt that a large scale raid would be a perfect cover for capturing the data - in reality it was felt that the loss of so many men would be worth it to save Britain from starvation or worse. As it happens no data was captured but luckily for us fairly soon afterwards another enigma and cipher were captured elsewhere and the boffins at bletchely made further breakthroughs.

The majority of the canadians and other troops were just ordinary fit, keen and green troops who had been trained to attact the beaches or other objectives and it is very doubtful if 'commandos' would have done any better against such a dug in defending force. Indeed the small raiding party whose objectice was the cipher data also failed in their task despite being a specially trained document capture commando troop (they did similar actions in other theatres of the war).
 

4(T)

LE
The majority of the canadians and other troops were just ordinary fit, keen and green troops who had been trained to attact the beaches or other objectives and it is very doubtful if 'commandos' would have done any better against such a dug in defending force. Indeed the small raiding party whose objectice was the cipher data also failed in their task despite being a specially trained document capture commando troop (they did similar actions in other theatres of the war).


Thats all open to debate:

- The paras and commandos used in the flanks of the assault did fairly well, given the chaos over timings and locations, etc.

- Buried in the tragedy and controversy of Dieppe is the uncomfortable view (from contemporary Canadian officers) that many of the casualties arose out of the fatal tendency of green troops to bunch up under fire.
 
Yes good point 4(T) but to mitigate that argument those green troops were landed on the main beach in front of the town which was effectively a killing zone as it was surrounded by high seawalls and there were no terrain features eg ditches or shell holes to take cover in or to use as FUPs - the poor bastards had literally nowhere to go and no way of breaching the walls (all the tanks could do was drive up and down the beach being picked off one by one) so that might be where the herd instinct kicked in - hence the lessons learned the hardway for D Day. The special forces were in the main landed on the flanks/cliffs with more cover and most importantly had retained the element of surprise as they were first in - if I remember correctly by the time the canadians arrived the germans were already stood to.
 
Yes good point 4(T) but to mitigate that argument those green troops were landed on the main beach in front of the town which was effectively a killing zone as it was surrounded by high seawalls and there were no terrain features eg ditches or shell holes to take cover in or to use as FUPs - the poor bastards had literally nowhere to go and no way of breaching the walls (all the tanks could do was drive up and down the beach being picked off one by one) so that might be where the herd instinct kicked in - hence the lessons learned the hardway for D Day. The special forces were in the main landed on the flanks/cliffs with more cover and most importantly had retained the element of surprise as they were first in - if I remember correctly by the time the canadians arrived the germans were already stood to.

I cannot remember the details, but I seem to remember Monty played a significant role in the development of the plan for Dieppe - and then kept very quiet in the aftermath. Anyone out there able to correct me, or otherwise improve my grasp of the facts?
 

4(T)

LE
Ahhh . . . a biog of Dicky Mountbatten. Almost hate to say it, given the atrocity that ended his days, but there was another man for whom global war not really a tragedy, more a massive career opportunity. A good chum to 'Boy' Browning, too. Took him into SEAC, after Arnhem.


Mountbatten is just a favourite whipping post for those with populist views of history, along with Churchill, Montgomery, et al.
 

Pteranadon

LE
Book Reviewer
None of it. It doesn't state that raids caused OKW to divert significant fighting formations from other fronts (which is the justification cited for Commando raids elsewhere in this thread).

Did some tonnage of steel reinforced concrete and some extra garrison troops weaken the German war effort? The idea that the Germans "wasted concrete in the wrong place" is only based upon the knowledge that the Allies landed where they did. Had Rommel poured his concrete in the "right place" it would probably have become the "wrong place" once the Allies chose a different landing point.

If you take a rational view of the options for landing in Europe, the only real options were going to be somewhere between Charbourg and Antwerp. Overlord had to lead somewhere 80 divisions could be deployed and under air cover from the UK.
The raids from Norway to the Gironde forced the Germans to take seriously the threats to a much wider area and disperse forces that could never have been on the Overlord front

It wouldn't have taken much concrete to have finished the bunkers at Mont Fleury and one extra division between the Vire and the Orne much have made D Day a bit closer run.

The weekly report for the week 28 may-3 June 1944 from 7th Army, i.e. the last full week before D Day, reports that only 18% of the Atlantic wall projects had been completed in their area (Normandy - Brittany). It also says that theywere suffering from shortages of cement, wire, wood, fuel (they only received 200 frieght wagons instead of 1600)

During that week Army group B employed C.77,000 soldiers and C164,000 civilinas constructing defences.
 
The combined effects of Successfull Intelligence and Commando ops., threat of invasion from the UK and domestic resistance work here in Norway ensured that when the Germans surrendered, AOK Norwegen handed command and control of 300 000+ troops to a few 100's of resistance chaps, shortly reinforced by some a few thousand "Police troops" coming in from Sweden.

300 000 men, tied down on the fringe of the Reich's occupied territory, with no overland route to mainland europe removed quite a large force that could have been put to excellent work in Europe throughout June 44 - May 45.
Access to some of that force and the supplys they consumed and stockpiled anyway, could have changed the course of any of the battles fought on the Western front in that timeperiod, but would hardly have changed the outcome. (granted, if they'd all been under Rommel on 6\6-44, and thrown at the beaches in the counterattacks, who knows, but most of that force would have been committed on the eastern front anyways, if they handn't been here).

If nothing else, that is one definable success of not only the Commandos, but SOE, SIS and the Norwegian exile government working both in cooperation and parallell throughout the war.
And for a large part of the latter half of 40-45, the Commandos didn't actually do much in Norway at all, but the knowledge that it had happened, and could happen again, in combination with SOE, SIS, Resistance, RAF and RN activities was enough to keep large numbers of Germans sat here, thumbs up their collective arses, and ultimately surrendering intact, with no apprecialbe amount of shots fired in anger. And 300 000 men can fire a lot of shots in anger, if directed to.
 

Petardier

War Hero
The number of soldiers in 'Cdo' units was minute, there were only about 8 such units (and about the same number of RM 40 - 47 Cdo) and they were only about 300 strong. Add SAS and one or two other esoteric bands and compare this to the total size of the army in WW2. If the few thousand involved represented a significant amount of the 'cream' of the Army then there was a major problem with the talent pool. This total SF was less than Chindits. Paras weren't in the same league as cdos, but there weren't huge numbers of them either and like Chindits many para bns were converted from line infantry, obviously, and again like Chindits, with a certain amount of 'wastage' along the way.

Amusing than in UK inf are taking on SF tasks. In Aust the complaint has been that SF have been assigned jobs that could by normal infantry (some in Aust might think that SF are part of the govt PR machine).
 
The number of soldiers in 'Cdo' units was minute, there were only about 8 such units (and about the same number of RM 40 - 47 Cdo) and they were only about 300 strong. Add SAS and one or two other esoteric bands and compare this to the total size of the army in WW2. [snip]

There were some thirty all-volunteer Army Commando units, organised - eventually - into four Brigades (roughly a Division's worth of manpower).

Hardly 'minute', IMHO.
 

Petardier

War Hero
I think you need to check reliable sources, the official history's Order of Battle would be a good start.

There were indeed 4 bdes (1943-5), but these included the RM Cdos (Nos 40 - 47). Army Cdos in these bdes were 1,2,3,4,5,6,9 (ie 7 in total). In 1941-3, before RM got serious there were also 12, 14, 30, 62 + 10 Interallied (ie not British). 12,14,30,62 disappeared from the Orbat. That's 11 army cdos at peak. Add SAS , Popski, etc, it's still nowhere near 30 even including RM. Not forgetting that a cdo was about 1/3 size of an inf bn.

These numbers indicate that the 'SF taking the cream story' is a myth. I'd hazard a guess that the numbers going to aircrew were greater.
 

seaweed

LE
Book Reviewer
RIP
The initial RM Commandos were re-roled from the infantry battalions of the RM Brigade, formed I suspect by WSC who as First Lord wanted to have a private army like his RND at the beginning of WW1. However the Cdos were on a reduced bearing from Bns which meant some significant weeding could occur. This would have been welcome as in order to form the Bns NCOs were sought from the Fleet, where OCRMs would jubilantly have sent on draft to the RM Brigade any NCO they had been longing to get rid of. For more, see John St John's 'To the War with Waugh [ 'Amazon.co.uk: to the war with waugh: Books, ] 'and 'Men at Arms', the first volume of Evelyn Waugh's 'Sword of Honour' trilogy [http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/?ie=UTF8&keywords=waugh+men+at+arms&tag=armrumser-21]

(Evelyn Waugh was one of the officers recruited off the street for the RM Brigade).
 
Been interesting to catch up on this thread.

A couple of things that struck me whilst reading

1: That WW2 'elite' soldiers , whilst fitter and better trained, didn't seem necessarily to need a much wider skills base than your average infanteer. It was more about aggression. Engineers could be bought in for explosives expertise and attached to a raid.

2: Whilst the infamous Commando Order was a pretty high level reaction to the mistreatment of German prisoners, I'm sure 'We' would not have reacted in the same way. More likely that unit CO's would have said (and most likely did say) "no prisoners" or something like "remember what happened to ......" The lads who were shot on the abortive gliderborne raid into Norway as well as the Op' Frankton ones were more likely shot due to a typically German slavish response to an order from on high. Neither group had actually operated on the ground. I hope our side would have tempered any such order with a modicum of common sense and understanding of time, place and circumstances.

I think also (but don't hold me to it) that the killings all occurred relatively soon after the order came out (within 12 months or so ..?) and after that, the shooting of prisoners was more ad hoc depending on the savagery of the action and the type of units taking part -SS for example. In fact it wold be dangerous to blame the Comando Order for every Commando / SAS etc shot in captivity. Some Germans may have used that to cover themselves with their higher-ups, others would have acted the same even if no order had ever been given.

Remember too that the Germans did not shoot EVERY PoW caught in civvies or every SOE agent captured - especially British ones.

Not that I am in any position to know, but I think also that the modern SF role is so wide now that units like SRR and others not to be named here have all been created in recognition that single, specialised SF / Elite roles can be undertaken by a much greater percentage of 'normal' soldiers with appropriate training. Training that doesn't have to be as exhaustive as of old. Note I talk of training and not selection - which might or might not be the same for many SF units. Selection is to find a potential SF candidate ref fitness and motivation. Different personalities might be better for different SF roles. Until the recent levels of activity, the SF man prior to the high pace of ops now, whilst fitter and better motivated (perhaps), also had to be a master of many more roles than one.

Please feel free to ignore all of the above bollox :)
 

Petardier

War Hero
The other thing about the RM Cdos is that RM pinned their future on them. They realised that they had no future as 'infantry', and the rise of carriers and demise of battleships meant there would be no gun turrets to be manned. Of course RM did have the challenge of finding significant numbers to crew landing craft. To the army the cdos were just a temporary arrangement, hence the number of army cdos decreased in the last 2 yrs of the was while the number of RM cdos steadily increased.
 

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