WW2 elite forces - were they worth it?

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by Micawber, Feb 3, 2011.

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  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.
  4. jim24

    jim24 Book Reviewer

    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. 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. 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.
  7. maninblack

    maninblack LE Book Reviewer

    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:

  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. 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.

  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. 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