WW2 elite forces - were they worth it?

#1
I was watching a couple of the Youtube clips put up in the US forum about the Special Forces 'Devils' Brigade and my thoughts turned to the benefits of forming these large elite formations compared with the inevitable degrading of the parent units from which these super-soldiers are drawn.

Infantry especially, with the harsh conditions, the likelihood of high casualties and the sheer terror of trying to keep the momentum going in an attack depend an enormous amount on internal unit moral, which in turn is going to be dictated by a hard core of what, 50 soldiers of all ranks in a Bn?

I can imagine regiments being raised, trained and prepared for, say, DDay and then being gutted by a recruiter who promptly lures the best blokes away with the promise of parachute training or whatever leaving the parent unit bereft of exactly the sort of people who, when the pressure comes on, will carry those around them forward and win the day.

Obviously the hope is that these elite formations will provide returns in mass feats of daring-do, but when you look at the quality of soldiers attracted to the Commandos, for example, then any one of them would have been worth his weight in gold in an ordinary line infantry battalion.

Certainly my impression is, and I may be bang out of order here, that in the offensive to capture Caen a lot of days were not being won, and I wonder if the men who were later to drop on Arnhem had still been scattered about the place in their original units then things may gone a bit better.

I wonder if any kind of cost/benefit analysis was ever done afterwards to see if the right balance was struck?
 
#2
Dunno. They reckon when they moved elements of the 8th army to Caen to re-vitalise the offensive (as they were the most battle hardened we had) it backfired because they were wise to assaulting positions and were very slow to attack-hoping gerry would bugger off.
The Dieppe raid was good but incredibly costly in men. As for your standard WWII squaddie-he was a civvy. Even the elite ones in the main. Things went well enough I reckon. The Krauts were doomed when they took on Russia. It was only a matter of time. The Yanks involvement ensured a speedy ending in Europe and stopped the spread of communism. But I reckon you've not given enough credit to the good old,5'6" British,plucky Tom of the line.Even though blokes were skimmed from the top, the average lad did good.
 
#3
There is also when an elite unit disbands and send men back to line units the inevitable retirbution for volunteering happens

When the US 29th Rangers disbanded upon the arrival in the UK of the 2nd and 5th Rangers from the US, the men were sent back to their old units in the 29th division. Many were assigned to less than challenging dutys considering they had been on active missions. These were graduates of the British Commando School, being assigned as ammo bearers, cooks, clerks, drivers, etc. At least 1 officer (Lt. Dance )was assigned to run a Sniper school. After weeks and not one unit sending students he volunteered for the 101st Many of the men volunteered for the 82nd & 101st Airborne Divisions and were accepted.

Some units werent given the chance to cream off from other units. The 6th Ranger Bn. was reformed from a Pack Artillery bn by LTC. Mucci in the pacific. those who fell short were transferred out but the bulk of the original men stayed put. Even then they were used as Palace guards by the 8th Army.


US Rangers at least did some effective work until they were misused as line Infantry at Cisterna, much as in the Korean War when the ranger companies were again misused(one company was a HQ Palace guard) until disbanded in 51.

When the 82nd Division was at Ft. Benning in 1941 and was notified that it was chosen to become an Airborne Division, over 5,000 Men and Officers went AWOL. They had seen numerous Glider crashes with fatalities, jump injuries, and wanted nothing to do with it. Within the month they were transferred out to other units for volunteers (in the Parachute units anyway, Glider riders didnt have much choice)


The Alamo Scouts of the 6th Army ran recce teams and a school to train recce platoons of infantry units in the pacific. Few were kept by the scouts, most sent back to units to spread their skillsets among the units.
 

jim24

LE
Book Reviewer
#4
I remember reading somewhere that special forces are not in the long run cost effective, and that normal infantry units were quite capable of doing the role with a little extra training, in fact the Chindits are a good example of this,
 
#5
I remember reading somewhere that special forces are not in the long run cost effective, and that normal infantry units were quite capable of doing the role with a little extra training, in fact the Chindits are a good example of this,
So why are the SAS acredited with destroying more aircraft than the RAF and The Selous Scouts 80 odd % of all terrorists killed in Rodesia?
 
#6
So why are the SAS acredited with destroying more aircraft than the RAF and The Selous Scouts 80 odd % of all terrorists killed in Rodesia?
Well, a few things. First, whose to say that if a decent infantry regiment were handed the jeeps and the training they wouldn't have done a comparable job and, secondly, I would think the SAS and SBS type units were small enough to provide really good value.

My point is a bit specific to a national service 'duration' army where there is little, or no, volunteer element to it and very little 'quality control' that you would get by being able to set minimum standards in a volunteer army.

I think the average squaddie did fantastically well, especially in N Europe when the war was as good as won, but still needed finishing off.

I know I would have appreciated all the leadership going under those circumstances and I'm sure the CO 1Blanks would have been pulling his hair out in the build up watching his best NCO's and keenest young Pl Cdrs peeling off into the Commandos, only for them to all be killed on the dockside at Dieppe.
 

maninblack

LE
Book Reviewer
#7
Smaller, specialist units potentially cause disproportionate damage compared to their size.

If you look at the historically successful SF they have usually been small.

i.e. Long Range Desert Group
L Detachment
Popski's Private Army.
 
#8
What an odd mix of comments? What period is being spoken of? Whose SF is being questioned? Which mindset is all this coming from?

There are numerous examples, throughout history, of Units being formed and/or trained up for a specific task, then returned to regular duties. As far as the British military is concerned, Churchill forced through the concept of ‘permanent’ special formations in 1940 with the Army Commandos. Immediately prior to this were the short lived (and thereby with next to no training and no development) Independent Companies. The concept behind these was in line with that of a Rapid Reaction Force and not Raiders.

As Churchill rubber stamped Clarke’s format for Churchill’s concept, the dissenters were already at work to block/scupper/oppose the idea, both in Whitehall and the senior military. Popular arguments from the military were that it would take their ‘best’ men, and/or, if we must have these new Units then every Regiment could form their own – and when not deployed they could revert to square bashing and spud peeling :omg:

The former was/is not true, and the latter shows a failure to understand the requirements for SF :wink:

The statement, ‘All the best soldiers are in SF’ is utter bollox :omg: Many of our very best soldiers have not and never would apply for SF. Unless of course, a soldier is liable to be called into the Adj.’s office and informed he’s become far too good for his Unit, so he’ll have to go to SF??? What it is true to say is that unless you are one of the very best you will not be accepted by, or remain in, our SF. Then again, even though the physical test have been passed, in some cases there’s the intangible of Selection – what the selectors (at the time) are looking for?

SF are a very sparse commodity and achieve their objectives IF they are given appropriate objectives ;) Other than posing, what’s the point of using a Lamborghini to pop down the road to the shops? You get better economy out of a Fiesta and can carry much more with a Volvo estate. However, if you want to win a Production Race on the track……………… :slow:

No.9
 
#9
In his book 'Defeat into Victory' Field Marshal Slim criticized the growth industry and cult of 'special' Forces, predicting that the trend was deleting the effectiveness of line batallions and would even go so far as creating elite corps of tree climbers.... His belief was that good infantry could do 95% of the jobs that were called for, and that only a small, select number of missions needed highly specialised forces. Good enough for Uncle Bill, good enough for me.
 
#10
I think they were, they certainly rattled Hitlers cage hence his "nacht und nebel" order that commando type troops should be summarily executed if caught. They tied up huge numbers of troops behind the lines.
 
#11
In his book 'Defeat into Victory' Field Marshal Slim criticized the growth industry and cult of 'special' Forces, predicting that the trend was deleting the effectiveness of line batallions and would even go so far as creating elite corps of tree climbers.... His belief was that good infantry could do 95% of the jobs that were called for, and that only a small, select number of missions needed highly specialised forces. Good enough for Uncle Bill, good enough for me.
That was the thinking behind force H, the flying column which advanced through Europe ahead of the main allied advance towards the German sea ports. They even captured a battleship, the Admiral Hipper, which had been lying damaged in harbour after an uneven encounter with the tiny British destroyer Gloworm. I've met some of the Force H survivors on the pop in Fallingbostel, those "old when I's" really rocked!
 
#12
Agree entirely with No9 - and I suspect this is what Slim was driving at. In the context of the latter half of WW2, we as a country had gone a tad OTT on special forces / "private armies" of varying shades and colours. There were the SOE, SAS, SBS, LRDG, Army Commandoes, Royal Marine Commandoes, Chindits, Popski's, etc, not to mention attached foreign Free Forces types like the Greek Sacred Band. Plus the Airborne fraternity - maybe less SF in their employment, but still, at least in part, drawing off potential from line units. There does seem to have been a mentality in some quarters (most obviously GHQ Cairo)of divining a challenging task, then assuming the answer is to form yet another special force to deal with it, rather than looking at what one already had - SF and line - and seeing if they could be made fit for purpose.

Of course, there were some tasks that genuinely needed something special. I think the best example is the Beach Organization for Neptune, with the beach recce teams, and then, on the day, the obstacle clearance divers, Army Beach Commandoes and the RAF Beach Commandoes. But they had all been carefully designed in a complementary fashion by a single HQ (Combined Ops), did not involve more bodies than necessary - IIRC each Beach Commando was given its own dedicated line infantry battalion to provide the mass of manpower for its organizational tasks - and were disbanded once the need for over-the-beach supply had faded.
 
#13
Bill Slim certainly had, had enough of Special Forces, Wingate's Chindits who lost over 1/3rd of troops employed in first mission.
Although they where 'Line Battalions' taken from the 14th Army and placed under command of one of the 'Strangest Officers' that Britain ever produced.
Wingate in his first Campaign gave Churchill something to shout about before the US 'Took Over' and as a result a fully formed Division was broken up to to provide troops for what was Wingate's Own 'Army'.
Slim could not afford to lose a trained Major unit and was anti Wingate afterwards, although there are references that Slim had been in favour of small scale Special Forces.
I remember John Masters puts up a serious downer on Large Scale use of Special Forces.

john
 
#14
I seem to remember reading that Slim was against Wingate breaking up 70th Div (I believe his only full "British" Div - I may be wrong) for dispersal in his columns. Wingate was also refused the 26th Div as reinforcements (again memory a little hazy). Apart from a boost to morale Wingate achieved very little Militarily.
 
#15
I think they were, they certainly rattled Hitlers cage hence his "nacht und nebel" order that commando type troops should be summarily executed if caught. They tied up huge numbers of troops behind the lines.
Was this not in response to our "SF" tied up some prisoners? I believe that the prisoners were shot and that is what made Hitler issue his order. It happened on one of the early Channel Island raids
 

jim24

LE
Book Reviewer
#16
Special forces tend to attract the the type of soldier who loves the life,as opposed to the regimental REMFS and blanket stacker's, and I think you will find that this has a much greater effect on SF unit efficiency, if you read some of the regimental diaries from the First World War you find that it is almost always the same small group of regimental members who get mentioned the most in post action reports ect. It is not really the quality of training or unit, but the quality of the men involved that really matters,
 
#17
Certainly my impression is, and I may be bang out of order here, that in the offensive to capture Caen a lot of days were not being won, and I wonder if the men who were later to drop on Arnhem had still been scattered about the place in their original units then things may gone a bit better.
On the one hand, I'm not sure that the delay in capturing Caen was really due to a failure on the part of the BLA to get stuck in, such as would have been remedied by better small-unit leadership. On the other, one wonders what would have happened if 1st Airborne Div had been dropped behind Caen as part of the plan to take it, as provided for in Operation "Wild Oats".

There will always be a need for "special" forces, however defined, when it is a question of getting things done in places so inacessible that only a few guys can get there. I would, however, question the necessity for these to necessarily be men specially selected from the best of existing regular units; the action of the Calcultta Light Horse and the Heroes of Telemark I think show what small bands of what one might call "talented amateurs" can achieve. And there is a swashbuckling amateurishness about all the best SF, I think.

Once one starts regarding whole units and formations as "special", though, there comes a point where it's hard to strike a balance between keeping the selected best of your men out of action for long periods (1st Airborne Div from D-Day to Arnhem), or using them up in actions for which they are not properly kitted out which could be perfectly well taken on by line units (Paras and Marines kept in the beachheads at Anzio and Normandy long after they exected to have been withdrawn).

All the best,

John.
 
#18
I think they were, they certainly rattled Hitlers cage hence his "nacht und nebel" order that commando type troops should be summarily executed if caught.
The ‘Nacht und Nebel’ decree (07 Dec 1941) was aimed at civil or political undesirables, under the premise they were ‘Communists’ - The Avalon Project : Hitler on Punishment of Offenders in Occupied Territory, December 7, 1941 – which effectively meant suspects could be arrested/interrogated/deported/imprisoned and the ultimate penalty was death. Around one in twenty arrested were actually killed.

The order of 18 Oct 1942 – referred to as the ‘Commando Order’ – decreed the killing of Commandos and similar. Fuehrer Order Concerning Handling of Commandos, 18 Oct 1942

Various conclude as to what, specifically, the Order was in response to. There is however no firm evidence it was solely due to any specific act, rather that is was Hitler’s reaction to years of frustration and rage at increasing ‘Commando’ type operations, their success, and effect on morale and resources.

Following OP BASALT on Sark by 12 men of the Small Scale Raiding Force and No.12 Cdo – 3/4 Oct ’42 - where five Germans were secured with toggle ropes while the Cdos intended to search a hotel, one man was shot dead when he tried to raise the alarm and the others tried to escape as they were later being led away. The Germans claimed at least one escaped but the Cdos state all were killed?

Following this, and, in view of other ‘outrages’ against German prisoners in such as Dieppe, Libya and the Lofotens, on 09 Oct ’42, Hitler ordered 1376 British POWs shackled, to which Churchill ordered a similar number of German POWs shackled. There wasn’t much enthusiasm from the men carrying out the task on either side, and the order fizzled out in a matter of months.


I would, however, question the necessity for these to necessarily be men specially selected from the best of existing regular units; the action of the Calcultta Light Horse and the Heroes of Telemark I think show what small bands of what one might call "talented amateurs" can achieve.
‘Telemark’, ‘talented amateurs’ ?????????? Norwegian volunteers for Special Service, trained by the Cdos and SOE in Britain and on a formal OP could hardly be called ‘talented amateurs’ :roll:

Paras and Marines kept in the beachheads at Anzio and Normandy long after they exected to have been withdrawn.
Fascinating :omg: . Can you explain which ‘Paras and Marines’ were left to languish at Anzio?

No.9

ps. good job the Army Cdos where pulled out quick at Normandy, what :roll:
 
#19
I seem to remember reading that Slim was against Wingate breaking up 70th Div (I believe his only full "British" Div - I may be wrong) for dispersal in his columns. Wingate was also refused the 26th Div as reinforcements (again memory a little hazy). Apart from a boost to morale Wingate achieved very little Militarily.

70th Infantry Division was the re-titled 6th Infantry Division ( title changed to avoid confusion with 6th Armoured Division) which was transferred to India from the Middle East in 1942. Wingate I have read, did not want the Chindits to be an all Indian/Ghurka formation so 70th Division was given to him. 2nd Infantry Division were also in India, but being a pre war regular formation with some history, a "first eleven" formation) I think were "untouchable" even for Wingate.
 
#20
On the one hand, I'm not sure that the delay in capturing Caen was really due to a failure on the part of the BLA to get stuck in, such as would have been remedied by better small-unit leadership. On the other, one wonders what would have happened if 1st Airborne Div had been dropped behind Caen as part of the plan to take it, as provided for in Operation "Wild Oats".
You have to remember 29th Armoured Brigade was a major part of the tasking for Caen. The Germans got really lucky and managed to wipe out the complete brigade staff very early on with a lucky bit of H&I artillery. It was a few hours before the regiments working in/with the brigade realised something was wrong causing a serious loss of impetus.
 

Similar threads

Latest Threads

Top