WW2 Army Commando records, location?

We've been looking through a scrapbook that contains details of my FiL's military service. He entered Sandhurst in August 39, left in Jan 40, was posted to the Devonshire's RHQ, and stayed there until June 40.

He then volunteered for what I think were still called the Special Service units, and spent 6 months on courses in Scotland. By this time his unit was called 3 Commando, but he left to return to his regt in Jan 41, just before the unit took part in an action on the Lofoten islands, according to the notes.

It would be interesting to find out why he left. He was not yet 20, with no regimental experience, so it seems quite likely that his CO sent him back to his regiment to get some proper experience. He subsequently fought with the Devons in Burma finishing as an acting Major and Coy Cmdr, leading his Coy on at least one operation behind enemy lines, so he did his bit in the end.

Any thoughts on where to look?
There is a very slight chance you might find some reference in the War Diary for No.3 in the PRO or the Diaries for the Devons', but frankly doubtful. Would say your theory about being returned to get more experience is probably the least likely.

June 1940 was when the order to form the Special Service Units (aka Commandos – the tile used by many especially the men themselves but not totally sanction by Whitehall until towards the end of the war), and the first Unit to be established ‘by the book’ was No.3 by John Durnford-Slater who previously was a RA officer out of the Citadel in Plymouth.

In the beginning all Cdos were responsible for training their own men – Achnacarry was only a holding depot till 1942. There were several schools in Scotland which offered training in various arts of specialist warfare which the Cdos made use of. The largest centre was that for amphibious training at Inveraray and a frequent practice location was the Isle of Aaron.

Some of No.3 took part in the second Cdo raid soon after their formation which was directed at Guernsey. While it was partially successful, it hardly went to plan and by no means to the satisfaction of Churchill. The PM brought Roger Keyes in to head SSs – or Combined Operations which had been instated – with a mandate to took to larger scale raids. The first passion was Pantelleria which frustratingly was on and off for some time. No.3 and No.8, principally, trained for this in Scotland which probably accounts for your reference to ‘training in Scotland’.

To join the Cdos you had to already be in the Forces and pass the individual Units’ selection. First was an interview and assessment and thereafter any and all training regimes they decided. You were permanently seconded meaning you remained on your original Units payroll – the Army Cdos were never Regimented in their own right. A condition of the Army Cdos was that you could leave at any time and equally could be Returned To Unit at any time. Re RTU you were just advised of the decision and there was no inquest or appeal. e.g. If for whatever reason decided by the Cdo you were not up to their requirements, or had fallen below them, or ‘didn’t fit’, you were RTUed.

In the early years, even after Lofoten, with long periods of training but no enemy action, a number of men felt the Cdos did not deliver what it promised, and elected to leave and rejoin their former Regiments. Lofoten actually was not a great help as this was a ‘soft’ target and felt by many to be a bit of a publicity stunt, together with plenty of media along. Consequently a number of men left after Lofoten.

Re your FiL, other than they not suiting him or he not suiting them, as an officer there may have been a promotion element in the return action, or lack of it?

If you want to read about No.3 from the beginning, suggest starting with “Commando” by John Durnford-Slater.

I think you might find that most of these records are now help at the PRO at Kew in West London. I had to try chase up my Great Grandfathers RM record and that is where it was.

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