This is a story about the British military force that inspired special forces around the world, written by a Commando. British Commandos served in every theatre of WWII. Between the Dunkirk evacuation and the large scale raid on Dieppe, the Commandos were the only direct action force attacking the Germans in Occupied Europe as a uniformed organization of the British Army. The author has told their story with authority and feeling. This is a must read history from WWII.
NAME: When Shall Their Glory Fade? The Stories of the Thirty Eight Battle Honours of the Army Commandos
AUTHOR: James Dunning
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword, frontline
BINDING: soft back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: WWII, Second World War, World War Two, Commando, Special Forces, raiders, sea land & air, light infantry, hit and run, British Army, Royal Marines
DESCRIPTION: This is a story about the British military force that inspired special forces around the world, written by a Commando. British Commandos served in every theatre of WWII. Between the Dunkirk evacuation and the large scale raid on Dieppe, the Commandos were the only direct action force attacking the Germans in Occupied Europe as a uniformed organization of the British Army. The author has told their story with authority and feeling. This is a must read history from WWII.
The foreword has been written by Countess Mountbatten of Burma with admiration and affection. A better suited writer of a foreword to this book cannot be envisaged. In 1940, the British Expeditionary Force, and a large number of French troops, had been evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk, under the noses of the Germans, in what was one of the great epics of warfare. Inevitably, the BEF had to leave behind all of its heavy weapons, leaving Britain almost without serious land forces firepower. Churchill was already planning two audacious new capabilities. One, which has remained a virtually untold story to this day, was the formation of a British Resistance Force under the cover of the Land Defence Volunteers. This force recognized the severe threat of a Germain invasion and was part of Churchill’s commitment to fight them on the beaches, on the landing grounds, in the streets, in the hills, to never surrender. That would address in part the need to resist in the event of invasion. The second plan was to create a Commando Force that would take the fight directly to the Germans in Occupied Europe. While Churchill may have been the creator, Lord Louis Mountbatten was the commander of the combined operations that were to embody the Army Commando Force and cause a major headache for the Germans, to the point where Hitler decided to remove the protection of the Geneva Convention from any captured Commandos. Lord Mountbatten was a natural Patron of the Commando Association after WWII and, on his assassination, his daughter, Countess Mountbatten, was a natural successor as Patron. What is perhaps less well-known is that the Countess was herself directly associated with the Commandos, as an 18 year old Wren serving for fifteen months in a Combined Operations base near Southampton. Her foreword is also moving.
The name ‘Commando’ has been claimed to derive from various sources, but the most credible is that it came directly from Churchill’s own experience as a young war reporter in South Africa during the Boer Wars when the Boers used fast moving cavalry Commandos in very effective hit and run attacks on the British. The British Army Commandos were intended to take a similar role in striking hard and fast at the Germans and withdrawing before they could be faced by superior numbers of enemy troops. Initially the attacks were across the Channel on the occupied coast of France. These attacks became more numerous, more effective and larger as time went by. The first attacks were of necessity small and launched from Coastal Forces vessels, submarines, or by parachute. They included vital attacks to acquire German radar secrets to aid the growing air assault by Bomber Command and the RAF Fighter Sweeps that followed the conclusion of the Battle of Britain. They also played a very important role in raising morale at home and through Occupied Europe.
As time went by, and experience grew, much larger raids were planned, including the very effective raid on St Nazaire to blow up the lock gates, denying dry dock facilities to major German warships, and the full frontal assault at Dieppe which was intended to probe German defences against the planned landings to liberate Europe. Dieppe was certainly a costly affair, but it provided the experience that was to decide the location of the D-Day landings and the work that had to go into providing an amazing array of special technology that was to get the Allied Forces onto the beaches, establish a viable beachhead, and then sustain the breakout through Normandy and on to the defeat of the Germans.
The Commando operations into France have received the greatest coverage, and it is well-deserved, but it was only a part of the outstanding service of Commando volunteers in all of the theatres of WWII. Today, the legend and the famous Green Beret continue in the Royal Marine Commando units, the Army having lost its part in the story at the end of WWII. That can make the story a little confusing for new readers and be further confused by the large number of other British Forces that grew up during WWII and then vanished at the end of hostilities.
In addition to the many attacks on occupied France, Commandos operated in Norway, the Mediterranean and Burma. From 1943 to 1945, the Commandos operated in the Far East as special forces, landing behind Japanese lines and carrying out a range of duties in sabotage of communications, attacks on Japanese troops and in support of other Allied Forces. During operations in Burma, one of the painful duties was in reaching POW camps and recording evidence for possible war crimes trials, the happier duty being to protect POWs and help in their evacuation.
Between the first classic hit and run attacks and the final special forces operations in Burma, the Commandos evolved. As the Allies began their large scale amphibious landings in North Africa with Operation Torch and then crossed to Sicily and Italy, before the huge landings in Normandy, Commandos became increasingly part of much larger operations, contributing their special skills to ensure success for the main forces. They carried out reconnaissance and marked landing beaches. They also went ashore before the main assault and, working with airborne forces, seized vital locations and held them until relieved by the main force.
However history reviews the story of the British Army Commandos, it is a story of great courage and determination against what should have been overwhelming opposition. The glory of thirty eight battle honours will never fade and the Commandos of WWII will be immortal in the long history of the triumph of British Arms. The Army Commandos may be no more, but their legacy is to be seen today in the British Royal Marine Commandos, the Special Boat Squadron, the Special Air Service and the Reconnaissance and air mobile forces of the British Army. However, the legacy is even wider because the skills and courage of the British Army Commandos have inspired military organizations around the world to the extent that several have adopted the Green Beret.