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Royal Navy Commandos in World War II

6/12/2006 • World War II

In 1942 a group of commandos gathered for a class in Inveraray, a small village in the Highlands of Scotland. Their instructor was a former assistant commissioner of the Shanghai Police named William Fairbairn, and he surprised the commandos by giving each in turn a loaded revolver. They were even more surprised when Fairbairn selected Albert Cattell and told him to stick the gun in his back. The instructor then said, ‘Now, when I move you pull the trigger!’ Cattell was convinced that Fairbairn would be shot and was amazed to find himself shooting wide. ‘As soon as he moved, I pulled the trigger,’ Cattell remarked. ‘My arm was over there, bang! We couldn’t fathom out how he did it, he did it with all of us. The trick was, before your brain could get the signal to your trigger finger, he’d turn round. If you were right-handed he’d turn to the left, so as he came round his left arm knocked that away, his right hand at your throat or your eyes.’Fairbairn had taught the commandos a valuable lesson. ‘What I’m trying to demonstrate is you never push a gun into the enemy’s back; you never get that close,’ he told them. Such unorthodox training was new for British forces in World War II, but the commandos themselves were a brand-new type of highly trained special forces that had been formed under Combined Operations Command to raid and to fight in enemy territory.

Since WWII, commandos have become legendary in military history, and their famous green beret is now an internationally recognized symbol of an elite fighting force. During the war each branch of Britain’s armed forces had its own commando force.

Thousands of pages have been written about the exploits of the British army and Royal Marine commandos who carried out recklessly daring raids at such places as St. Nazaire (see World War II, March 2003), Vaagso and Normandy. Lost in all the accolades, however, has been the role played by the Royal Navy Commandos, Britain’s forgotten special forces.

The Royal Navy Commandos had one of the most important and dangerous tasks of the war: They were the first onto invasion beaches and the last to leave. The navy commandos had their beginnings after the disastrous campaign in France and the ‘Miracle of Dunkirk’ in June 1940, when small groups of Royal Navy officers and ratings (enlisted men) were organized to man an assorted collection of vessels that would be used to carry out the first commando raids from England across the Channel into occupied France. These groups later became designated as Royal Navy Beach Parties, and in 1942 they led the landings at Madagascar and Dieppe, where they suffered terrible casualties.

Assigned to Combined Operations Command following the Dieppe mission, the beach parties were officially formed into Royal Navy Beach Commandos. Later they became known simply as Royal Navy Commandos. Apart from spearheading the landings on invasion beaches, the commandos had the task of establishing communications (their signalers were organized into separate Royal Navy Beach Signals sections) and controlling the landing craft of an invasion force.

The Royal Navy Commandos had their base, called HMS Armadillo, at a forestry camp near the small Highland village of Ardentinny. It was at Armadillo, and the famous commando training center at Achnacarry, that the sailors were turned into commandos. And it was at Armadillo that they were issued their Fairborn Sykes Commando knives–the hallmark of all British commandos.

Unlike their army and marine colleagues, Royal Navy Commando units were denoted by letters, from A Commando through the all-Canadian W Commando. Each such unit consisted of 10 officers and 60 ratings and was commanded by a principal beachmaster with the rank of lieutenant commander. Junior officers were beachmasters and assistant beachmasters. Much like the captain of a ship, during a landing a beachmaster had the final word on operations and outranked any officer who crossed his beach.

Following their official organization after Dieppe, the Royal Navy Commandos participated in Allied landings in North Africa, Pantelleria, Sicily, Salerno, the Volturno River, Anzio, Arakan, Normandy, Elba, Walcheren and Commachio. Of all those operations, Normandy was the largest, with nine commando units taking part. The second largest commitment was at the July 10, 1943, landings on Sicily.

As a precursor to Operation Husky, as the Sicily invasion was known, Royal Navy Commando D led the way during the operation to seize the island of Pantelleria in June 1943. Securing that island was vital because of the threat posed by Axis aircraft stationed there. The landings were accomplished successfully, and the stage was set for the beginning of the Italian campaign in Sicily.

While the operation to capture Pantelleria was underway, the main body of the Royal Navy Commandos had been making its way to Sicily. On the way, F Commando stopped at Suez long enough to attend a review by General Bernard L. Montgomery. Sub Lieutenant Derek Whitehorn’s experience at that parade illustrates his unit’s relative obscurity, even to the general who was leading the invasion force that it would be spearheading. ‘Doing his rounds in a jeep,’ Whitehorn remembered, ‘General Montgomery pulled up and asked me, ‘Who are the sailors and where do they come from?”

The Sicily landings took place on the southeast corner of the island. The Royal Navy Commandos led the way for the Eastern Task Force on the beaches from a point just south of Syracuse down to Cape Passero. The American Western Task Force, which had its own separate beach arrangements, landed from Scoglitti westward.

In the British northern sector, code-named ‘Acid,’ Whitehorn’s F Commando was first in when H-hour came at 0330 hours. Able Seaman Ken Oakley remembered that the sea was very rough when his unit set off for the beach in its assault craft. ‘Now came that very trying time between ship and shore when one wonders if he will survive the unknown that lies ahead,’ he later said. ‘The boats were tossed all over the ocean and all the soldiers were seasick, but they had cardboard boxes to vomit into and this helped them a lot.’

With about a mile to go, Whitehorn and Oakley had an additional danger to overcome–they were spotted from the shore, and all hell broke loose. ‘Suddenly a flare burst above us and surprise was lost,’ Oakley said. ‘The formations split up and began to make for their own landing places, with fire from enemy machine guns passing over them. Tat-Tat-Tat-Tat, Bren guns began to speak and then, ‘Crunch,’ ‘Down door,’ and we were there. A sapper began to cry, plead and cling to the floorboards, swearing he would not move.

We left him–his nerve was gone–and dived into about three feet of water to wade 50 yards to the shore. The shrill whine of bullets speeded us on, and at last we went to earth at the water’s edge. Bren guns engaged the enemy machine guns and we began to take our bearings. We had landed in almost exactly the right place.’

Farther north, E Commando was also running into difficulties. Strong winds had caused the airborne division’s gliders to ditch in the sea. Petty Officer Henry Clark would never forget the sight as he and the men came into the beaches: ‘It was heartbreaking to pass glider troops in the water. They were shouting, ‘Go on commandos, knock hell out of the Eyeties!’ We were overloaded. So we couldn’t help. I later learned that a lot drowned.’

Unlike F Commando, E Commando landed on the wrong beach. Prior to the landings the beaches had been surveyed by canoeists from the Combined Operations Pilotage Parties, and they had identified which beaches were suitable for landing large numbers of troops and vehicles.

Some of the soldiers traveling with the commandos as they went toward shore decided that they would rather be on dry land than head out to sea again, so they climbed out of the landing craft when it touched at the wrong place and disappeared. Clark, however, knew that it was critical that he land on the correct beach and decided to make a second attempt. ‘We went back out to sea and approached the beach to our right,’ he said. ‘Before we hit the beach a machine gun opened fire from a pillbox, and because the LCAs [landing craft, assault] are made of plywood, we started to take in water. I lifted the cover over the engines and said to the stoker, ‘Can you go any faster? We are under fire.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Is this where all this bloody water’s coming from?’ He was sat [sic] in between the two engines and was up to his knees in water.

‘After a bit of juggling he coaxed more speed, and we hit the beach. My objective was the pillbox on the right. As I ran toward it, a huge steel door opened, and four men ran out and ran up a lane along the side of the river. At the top of this lane was a bridge over the road to Syracuse. We chased after them and caught up to them sitting on boxes of explosives that they were supposed to explode. Fortunately, they changed their minds. We took them prisoner and later handed them over to the military police.’

Farther south, near Cape Passero, N Commando was leading the way in for units of the First Canadian Army. Immediately south of Acid Sector was Bark East Sector and Bark West Sector, which ran right down around Cape Passero. Each sector was further divided into areas, and these areas contained the individual landing beaches, which were always code-named ‘Green,’ ‘Amber’ or ‘Red.’

For some commando units the landings were uneventful, but for Leading Seaman Ray Bromley’s N Commando there was heavy shelling before they even got to the beach. ‘We landed…and came under fire from the German howitzer guns on our way in,’ Bromley said. ‘At first we thought the shells were from one of our cruisers falling short and only later learned that they were firing at the howitzers that were firing at us. On leaving the assault ship and on our way in, Able Seaman Perry of our commando wanted to go to the toilet real bad and was promptly told to sit over the stern to the amusement of all including the LCA crews. This while shells were dropping all round us!’

Once the commandos reached the beach, they found a troublesome machine gun pit that had to be knocked out in order for the landing troops to quickly get off the beach and proceed inland. Bromley was one of those who was tasked with neutralizing the enemy position. ‘We were pinned down for a while until I was called forward with my stripped Lewis gun to return fire,’ he said. ‘Able Seaman Dodds, my number two, took up position among some grapevines, and Lieutenant Harrison took up position on my right to direct my fire. We opened up on the hut and spotted the machine gun post to the right, which was duly attended to. On completion of the return fire Petty Officer Letby, Leading Seaman Lamb and Able Seaman Pete Lightfoot charged from the left as Lieutenant Russell and Leading Seaman Sam Gregory came in from the right.’ Working as a closely coordinated team, the commandos were able to neutralize the gun position and secure that portion of the beach.

Another portion of N Commando landed a little to the south of Bromley and his group. Lieutenant Commander Maurice Vernon Redshaw was the beachmaster in charge. ‘Our landing craft hit a false beach in the half light,’ he reported, ‘and we had to swim a little way. The weather was warm and a swim would have been welcome but for the fact that we were in battle order and rather weighed down–I carried a tommy gun, a Smith & Wesson .45, four hand grenades, binoculars, compass and a great deal of ammunition and 24-hour ration pack. We landed against light opposition.’

Although the commandos were now ashore, a new set of problems presented themselves to Oakley and his comrades. They had landed with Whitehorn, their assistant beachmaster, but now they could not find their superior officer, and Oakley was sent off to try to find him. ‘Off I went toward the Marina d’Avola,’ Oakley said. ‘I joined up with four more beach commandos but could not find the beachmaster. We were approaching the marina tower when a sniper opened fire at us. We took cover and replied as best we could. Our cover was a ledge toward the top of a small cliff, and to regain the beach we had to cross a lot of open ground.’

At that point, Whitehorn was approaching Oakley and his group of commandos. As assistant beachmaster, it was Whitehorn’s job to conduct a reconnaissance of the smaller side beaches, looking for obstacles in the water and on the beach, as well as exit points for possible use later on. As he came toward Oakley and his group of commandos, the bullets from the sniper’s rifle started to kick up the sand a couple of feet in front of him.

Not only was the sniper a problem but shells from a British destroyer also were falling short and endangering the commandos. Whitehorn was totally exposed on the beach, with no cover and only a loaded revolver with which to defend himself. With time running out, Oakley and his men also knew that they had to act. ‘We had decided to make a dash for it when one of our destroyers, HMS Tartar, opened fire at the tower,’ he said. ‘The situation became sticky. Tartar‘s shells fell short and were too close for comfort. I decided to make a run for it when the sniper opened up again at a man coming from our beach. This man appeared to be hit for he rolled in the water and floated away–we found out later that it was Whitehorn and he was just playing possum. A little while later we made a run for it and regained our beach safely.’

This had all taken place in the immediate aftermath of the landings, and now Oakley and the others had made it back to their own beach, where they hoped things had quieted down a little. It was not to be. About an hour after Oakley and his group had landed, a battery in the hills behind the beaches began shelling the area. The guns’ target was a landing craft carrying about 250 men.

As ladders went down and men were coming off the landing craft, shells from the battery were landing all around. Oakley went out to help. ‘I waded out and told the men to jump for it as the water was not very deep,’ he said. ‘A few jumped and I steadied them as they fell, and then it came. A terrific explosion–and I felt myself fading away into oblivion. I came to under the water. I felt numb and shocked. Had I been wounded? Or maybe some limbs were missing? I could not tell, and then I felt someone catch my legs and drag me down again.

‘I lost my reason and kicked like mad until I was free and shot to the surface. A body floated by, its limbs still kicking. It must have been the man who clutched me. The water had become a sea of blood and limbs, the remains of once grand fighting men who would never be identified. I staggered through all this to the water’s edge and then looked dazedly around. My comrades were fleeing for cover, and in the water were men crying for help.’

After one more trip into the water to help anyone he could find, Oakley came back with a wounded man. ‘I then collapsed,’ said Oakley, ‘exhausted, and still those shells came down, far too close for comfort. I rose again to see a man sitting on the ladder of the landing craft crying, ‘Help me, oh help!’ I went and goodness knows how I got him to the beach. He was hit all over his body and was a dead weight with shattered legs dragging in the water. I shall never forget how he thanked me as I lay there almost sobbing at such terrible sights; so this was war! By this time the cruiser supporting us had silenced the batteries, and I had time to look around. The landing craft had been hit directly above where I was standing at the time of the explosion.’

About four hours after H-hour, Oakley and his fellow commandos were finally reunited with their beachmaster, and the unit was together again on the beach. But the drama had not yet finished. The beachmaster was now in charge, and there was an LCI (landing craft, infantry) that had just arrived, beached a little way out from the shore. It was clear to the commandos that an order had gone out for the men on board to disembark, but as they were getting out into the deep water their clothing and equipment were weighing them down.

‘I went out to give a hand and was swept off my feet by the receding tide,’ Oakley continued. ‘I caught hold of one soldier and tried to get him ashore but I discovered that my boots and tin helmet were pulling me down. I was forced to release the soldier and had to fight for my own life as the tide was taking me out and under. I struggled desperately but it was no use. I threw away my tin hat and tried again. Twice I went under and I had almost given up when I saw a boat coming along, picking soldiers up. I hailed it with what little breath I had left, and they threw me a line, which I missed. So I was left until they had picked up the two soldiers and then they threw me a life belt and towed me to the beach, where I collapsed again.’

By now the beaches were secure, and the invasion could get underway. But there was still considerable danger from air attack as well as from mines and booby traps. Petty Officer Ken Harvey of E Commando kept a diary throughout the Sicily operation that included this entry: ‘July 12, 1943. We are attacked once again this morning at 0630. We get down as far as possible in our slit trench. One more transport ship hit and after 2 great explosions she goes down in half an hour.’Petty Officer Henry Clark from E Commando also remembered the danger from mines and booby traps: ‘In greenhouses among the tomatoes were red devices shaped like tomatoes. If you weren’t careful they blew your hand off. In houses if you used the toilet and pulled the chain, Bang! Pictures that weren’t straight, once straightened, Bang! S mines had green prongs amongst the grass. If you stood on them, when you removed your foot it sprang into the air and exploded.’

Farther south, G Commando experienced similar terrifying frustration from concealed bombs. Able Seaman Lofty Lucas spent some time after the landings clearing beaches of hardware left behind by the Germans and Italians. ‘We did mine clearance with a bayonet,’ he reported. ‘We had to be careful with barbed wire because of booby traps; we never cut the strands because as soon as you did the whole thing went up. We would get a jeep, put a rope on it and then get well away, then half the beach would go up. Red devils were hand grenades, which the Italians armed and put in the sand. If you stood on one of them you stopped, and the demolition army blokes would come along and put a pin in it so you could take your foot off. They were full of ball bearings.’

M Commando had landed at Cape Passero, and fortunately for its men they encountered no opposition in their landing area. One of their beaches was later found to be too unsuitable to bring in the tank landing craft so the commandos were concentrated together on just one beach where they focused on bringing in the necessary men and equipment.

Sub Lieutenant Joe Bramble, who was one of M Commando’s assistant beachmasters, saw a DUKW amphibious truck being driven off a landing craft that had run aground on a bank and had its bow hanging over deep water. Unfortunately, some mistaken assumptions had been made about the vehicle’s amphibious capabilities. Bramble remembered how the tragedy unfolded: ‘The luckless driver of the first DUKW was given the order, ‘Drive off!’ and proceeded to the ramp, driving straight into the water and immediately sank. The poor fellow was drowned as he was wearing heavy gear and could not swim. Before anyone could do anything it was too late and a salutary lesson was learned–once again too late.’

Despite the dangers, vehicles were a useful addition to any commando on the beaches. Occasionally a DUKW would be available or there was a chance to borrow a jeep. Bramble managed to obtain a motorbike when a Canadian unit went through his beach and left it behind. After a new coat of paint, the motorbike then belonged to the Royal Navy, although it later crashed and was written off by the principal beachmaster of M Commando, Lt. Cmdr. Patrick Bayly.

As the British landing craft continued to come ashore, the Royal Navy Commandos worked tirelessly to get the men and their equipment unloaded and moving inland. In no small measure due to their efforts, by the end of the day Montgomery had established a firm bridgehead from Syracuse to Pozzallo and was ready to move his troops inland.

For the next two weeks, the Royal Navy Commandos remained on the invasion beaches, working to remove enemy mines and booby traps and helping to clear the beach. Following a brief respite, most would go on to repeat their Sicilian performance when Montgomery led his army onto the Italian mainland at Reggio di Calabria on September 3, 1943. N and G Commandos were in action again for the crossing from Sicily to Reggio di Calabria, and G Commando was involved shortly afterward in the landing at Vibo Valentia.

After Vibo Valentia the Royal Naval Commandos went on to lead the landings at Salerno and Anzio. But F Commando was on its way back to the Royal Navy Commando base at Ardentinny, where it would prepare for its role as the spearhead of the British landing at Normandy’s Sword Beach on June 6, 1944. Despite their continued valuable performance in many of the remaining battles, shortly after the end of the war, the Royal Navy Commandos were disbanded and forgotten. The tradition-bound Royal Navy was never very happy seeing its sailors fighting in army khaki and was quick to dispense with their services. Their wartime assignment as amphibious landing specialists was given to the Royal Marine Commandos, who retain that role to this day.


This article was written by David Lee and originally appeared in the January/February 2005 issue of World War II.

David Lee is an expert on the Royal Navy Commandos. For further reading, see his book Beachhead Assault: The Story of the Royal Navy Commandos in World War II. For more great articles subscribe to World War II magazine today!

17 Responses to Royal Navy Commandos in World War II

  1. […] on the Naval Commandos of the Royal Navy (and since there was a Canadian unit I assume RCN): Royal Navy Commandos in World War II ? HistoryNet – From the World's Largest History Magazine P… "In 1942 a group of commandos gathered for a class in Inveraray, a small village in the […]

  2. peter gallacher says:

    As my grandfather was a british Royal Marine Commando, and as I have also read the book called “Castle commando” a book of only 8 copies ever published by Oliver and Boyd.
    The book based on a one of the original commnado trainers Donald Gilchrist at Achancarry training camp “the orignal place where the commando’s were formed” near Speanbridge. NOT Inveraray!!!

    I feel that all this information is nothing but a load of crapp! let me go in more detail and by all means google all this information yourself.

    Commando’s were formed in Inverness-shire highland’s of Scotland, started in 1942 to 1945 was the ORIGINAL training camp formed to train the commando’s for world war 2. The actual property im referring to or the estate of land used for the training grounds was a place called Achnacarry owned by the Clan Cameron, a well known Scottish clann that is stillv ery much around to this day!

    The person they put in charge of the training camp at achancarry was Non-other then a man called Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Edward Vaughan. A well respected man, and was army through and through, prior to this assignment he was a Seargent major in the gaurds etc…

    Without goin into great detail my grandfather was in the 45 commando unit that took part in many Historical battles such as, D-DAY, Normandy, Battle of Wlachren in holland etc..

    These men were harshly trained great soldiers, and belive it or not, were the elite soldier that really had a significant impact on how the war turned out. Although British royal marine command’s are still around today with the massive differnences in there training bach at the Commando Depot, at Achnacarry training camp, alls they got was 12 weeks of grueling, hard core fittness, elite soldier training, and yes believe it or not a fare few did not make it through the training, as in did not survive it!

    The commando’s that are trained today are still the crown’s most Elite soldier the british have they are certainly not trained in the same harsh and unbareable condition’s today as they were back then.

    BUT however theyer training today make no joke of it is still nothing less then Un-imaginable hardcore training, but you just can’t compare the different Commano’s we have today to what they were back then. And i have watched all the training video’s that the british royal marin commando training official website hosts for all to see and can get a Idea of exactly what to expect if anyone chose this path.

    All in all I dont like what I see above me on how they were formed and by whom was in charge and instrcutor’s name cause it’s all a load of crapp, that need’s fixing.

    These soldier’s will never be forgotten

    United we Conquer!!! <- there orignal slogan )

    • Stephen McGowan says:

      You obviously didn’t read the caption to the piece – Royal NAVY Commandos in World War 11.
      You say your grandfather was a Royal MARINE Commando, different.

      There were originally Royal NAVY Commando, Army Commando and Royal Marine Commando Units trained around 1942.
      Royal Navy Commando were indeed, as the author states trained at Ardentinny, Dunoon.
      In 1946 all but Royal Marine Commando were disbanded, probably as the most of the Army and Navy units had been killed or injured.
      I met a original Royal NAVY Commando today and I can ascertain some FACTS for you.
      In the meantime, don’t slag the authors off until You get YOUR facts right!

      • arron fazackerley says:

        Hi stephen my grandad was a navel commando his name was Arthur frederick bennett, he passd away 2 days ago at 90 years of age if there is any thing you could find out about him that would be good :)

    • david hicks says:

      READ THE BOOK before you say he’s wrong, Castle commando was all about Achnacarry (redacted).

  3. Griffin Turton says:

    With reference to the comments above, without any disrespect to the author or his grandfather I would like to make the following comments.

    David Lee’s article is about the Royal Navy Commandos, who were first called Royal Navy Beach Parties and then Royal Navy Beach Commandos before the “Beach” was dropped so to speak. So when he says “Commandos” he means RN Commandos and is not referring to the Army Commandos or those of HM Royal Marines. This may be the source of some confusion.
    Also in Castle Commando by Donald Gilchrist which has been reprinted twice, Chapter two, paragraph nine reads
    “You will meet ex-Commandos who will stoutly deny ever having seen Achnacarry. Prior to 1942, the system was more or less to put the cart before the horse. Volunteers were formed into their Commando groups and then given their training. This process worked well enough at the time, and in most cases, produced an excellent type of fighting man.” Donald Gilchrist is talking about the army commandos that existed before the Commando Training Centre at Achnacarry, whose training though hard was ad hoc and carried out at a number of different locations. These men would not of gone to CTC at all as the formalised training there was primarily for new commando entrants.
    Going back to the Royal Navy Beach Parties some of these were thrown together from ‘volunteers’ and evolved with the job like the Army Commandos. Formalised training for beach parties started at Inverary and moved to HMS Armadillo at Ardentiny. By 1942 the Royal Navy Commandos having completed their “Beach Party” training at HMS Armadillo would then go and do their Commando Training at Achnacarry, this was the case for my grandfather’s unit NAN Commando.
    As a former Royal Marine who served in Northern Ireland, Kurdistan, Bosnia and went on six winter deployments to Norway between 1986 and 1995, I would like to make the following comments on comparisons in training.
    1) Back to “Castle Commando”, Donald Gilchrist writes in chapter 7 paragraph two, “Originally designed for a period of five weeks, the course had now been telescoped into four. It was, consequently tougher than ever”. The men who went to CTC Achnacarry had already completed their basic training and in most cases would have done some advanced training and or had operational experience. The Royal Marines recruits who go to CTC Lympstone start as raw civilians and do 32 weeks and come out Royal Marine Commandos, personal administration and personal skills, advanced infantry training, commando tests and King’s Squad are all rolled into one. These men can then join an operational Commando Unit. We are not comparing apples with apples.
    2) The men who passed through CTC Achnacarry certainly had much more spartan facilities than those that exist at CTCRM Lympstone but you can’t say that the Royal Marines of today are lesser commandos because they have better barracks, when I did my training the toughest bit was the Final Ex which started with a mock cliff assault with weapons and finished after twelve days of living in a tactical environment, with mock assaults and forced marches, I have never been so exhausted in my entire life as when that ended, this one exercise was half the length of the entire commando course during the war!
    3) There is also what is known as “The All Arms Commando Course” which is for trained personnel from the Army, Royal Navy and RAF serving with 3 Commando Brigade, 29 CDO RA, 59 CDO RE and the Royal Marines Logistics Regiment. this course I believe is about 10 to 12 weeks in duration.
    4) At least one recruit died whilst I was at Lympstone and another had to be resuscitated after a troop attack in full NBC gear and respirators, training was tough even when I was in and with the recent fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan I am sure it has not got any easier!

    • david hicks says:

      READ THE BOOK before you say he’s wrong, Castle commando was all about Achnacarry you dumb shiets.

  4. Pete Rogers says:

    I agree with GriffinTurton’s comments above. However I just don’t see the point in trying to compare training of the army commandos during a World War to that of today. They have the time today to have a much longer course. The training given to the army commandos was new in 1942 but the principles are basically the same today. That is a benchmark on how good the planning and structure of the original courses were. It is true that not all Commandos went thru Achnacarry not just those who joined before the CTC began. When No.2 sailed to Gibralter and onto places such as Italy they sufferred heavy casualties in some actions such as Salerno. Recruits were taken on from the Army over there..tested as suitable and if so began training locally under No.2 Officers. Many did not pass and were RTU’d. Many did pass and joined the Commando. This is evidenced in the No.2 Commando War Diaries. The one thing that remains a constant since the time the Green Beret was first issued to the Commandos is that, then, and now, they can wear it with pride and in the knowledge that they are amongst an elite.

  5. jeanstainsby says:

    my father Tom Haigh was a royal navy commando on the torpedo boats he was cheif stoker he joined up when he was 17 he is now 85 and has unbelievable memories and stories, he was one of the men putting lines down in normandy before the americans landed

  6. julpadilla says:

    for additional skill

  7. Piggywiggz. says:

    Oh Yarze..Iand others, were trained / excercised, to raid-attack-putaway ”enemy” missile pads/launch bases. This was in 1998 99.
    We could wear our own ‘surplus stores cammo’ ..Classroom lectures were by/from a Royal Marine Sgt. who wuzz very proud of us. We were referred to as a “Naval Landing Platoon” and one idea was to back up Royal Marines should they need to advance, and we would take over their previous position. 1969 saw us land on the sandy shores of Anguilla. WI. due to political wranglings after our intel brief from the Colonel of 2 Batt Para Rgt. It was a “hard battle” looking for more “Heineken” post the picnic from our 24 hr ration packs…and ‘where’s my ffwcin Victoria Cross !”..ex HMS Minerva. 1968 – 1971

  8. Piggywiggz. says:

    Errata..I meant 1968 to 69…my bad..

  9. Richard Hardy says:

    I run a small reenactment unit “Fox Commando RN” and it is amazing how many people get us confused with ROYAL MARINE commandos and go on about how we are wearing the wrong kit the wrong badges the wrong head gear.
    To see their faces when you point out to them that WE are ROYAL NAVY Commandos is a treat.
    It is also wonderful to see and hear so called experts go on and on pointing out error,s when they have read A book or they had a granddad in the “Commandos”

    Richard FORMER ROYAL NAVY COMMANDO 1983-2001

  10. Sheilavee says:

    I know that there is a book somewhere which mentions my father, Norman Stewart, who was a Sgt, Major Instructor in the army, and trained his men at Spean Bridge during the war. He was known by his men as the Black Devil, I believe. He is probably just mentioned in passing, but I would like to read the book for myself.
    Can anyone tell me if Castle Commando is that book? If not, does anyone know the name of the book that I am looking for? Also, where can I get it from?

    • Steve says:

      My dad Arthur Bowker unfortunately died last Sunday ages 89yrs. The funeral is next Monday. A lot of people are not aware that in the war there were three different types of commando’s : Army, Royal Marine and Royal Navy. My father volunteered in 1940 at age 17yrs for the Navy. Then in 1942 he volunteered for the the Royal Naval Commando’s with whom he served until 1946. You can recognize the R.N.C. in records as their groups were named by letters of the alphabet (rather than numbers) My dad was in C group. Each commando group was divided into three. I know he was in C3 during training. When he joined C Group they had just lost a lot of men at Dieppe. He said the survivors of Dieppe in his unit never spoke to him or any of the other newcomers about what happened there.
      They had their own training centre HMS Armadillo on Loch Long at Ardentinny. After Ardentinny he trained at various different places. He never talked much about what happened after his training once he commenced ops. Most of the books say the RNC was disbanded in 1945 but I know my fathers group was fighting the Japenese after VJ into 1946. We now have his service record from which the following is an extract:

      “….Served Arakan coast Burma, Ramree Island, Malaya, Normandy . Returned to Far East after Normandy as at that time invasion of Japanese mainland was anticipated. Took part in victory parade in Rangoon on VJ day. Continued ops against Japanese after VJ day, including Maldives….”

  11. arron fazackerley says:

    Is there any of them left my grandad was a rn commando he passd away 2 days ago at 90 years old.

  12. shoalin says:

    My grandfather was the Albert Cattell referred to in the above article. He passed several years ago and I recall him telling us the story of his incredible trainer that was ‘better than Bruce lee’ and ‘so fast that he could not be seen’. One story in particular was that the Chinese instructor would hide in some scrub with no weapons and order all of the commandos to track him and try to kill him With bayonets. Basically they would all be left disarmed and incapacitated with not a scratch on the Chinese guy. No one could touch him apparently. Not long before his death I found this article amongst others to show him as he received a lot of doubt from family members as to the validity of his war stories and they would question his state of mind. I’ll never forget the smile on his face as I read the stories to him. These men endured things they weren’t even allowed to speak about. And he carried many secrets to his grave.

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