From the inception of World War II, the need for highly trained commando units to conduct targeted strikes in coordination with larger military strategies was crucial. To respond to this need, the British government organized the 1st Special Service Brigade and began organizing and training them for commando style tactics beginning in 1940. However on December 6, 1944, the units were renamed the 1st Commando Brigade to break any association with the German SS in using the term “Special Services”.
While we think of a “commando” as an individual, the term could be used for the plural as well as is appropriate when discussing the 1st Commando Brigade. The units were broken down into an organization system where one Commando consisted of ten troops of fifty men or six troops of sixty five men depending on the needs of the unit.
Each Commando unit was described simply by numerical designation. Hence the commandos were delineated as No 1 Commando, No 2 Commando, No 3 Commando, etc. They were deployed in this organization and reporting system which was small, flexible and easy to command at the field level. The Commando troops trained with their officers from day one to build unity and identity so important in a military unit. The training was intense with much more focus on intense battle skills as well as survival capabilities.
To be ready to deploy in a Commando unit, each troop had to conquer close quarter combat, orienteering, , survival, silent killing, amphibious assault techniques as well as cliff assault, motor vehicle operation, weapons, signaling, and demolition. Each member of a Commando unit had to be in peak physical condition and had to pass grueling tests in combat, survival and the ability to react to extreme conditions and complete each mission despite obstacles. Commando troops had to be swift and brutal in combat and be prepared to withstand torture and even death should he be captured.
The success of the 1st Commando Brigade is most well known because of their important contributions in some of the biggest conflicts of World War II including the Battle of the Bulge and the D-Day invasion. While we must never discount the courage and fighting ability of all Allied military personnel, it took the specialized skills of these commando units to take out enemy resistance, facilitate communications and coordinate invasion forces so the battle remained focused on identifying and exploiting enemy weaknesses and neutralizing enemy strengths that threatened to give the victory to the Nazis.
In Operation Claymore, No. 3 Commando succeeded in destroying huge amounts of enemy ammunition and supplies and in capturing part of a German Enigma Code translation machine that would be used to crack Nazi Communications. In Operation Archery, No 2 Commando with the assistance from No 3, 4 and 6 Commando succeeded in destroying German assault installations in the Vagsoy, Norway. At the battle at Dieppe, No 3 Commando destroyed the German’s ability to defend the coastline this allowing an allied landing.
These are just a small representation of the many battles and military objectives that the 1st Commando Brigade played a pivotal role in assuring success for the allied forces. The added combat ability that these different Commando units enabled military planners to carry out operations that would have been impossible otherwise. As such, we must never forget the important role that the 1st Commando Brigade and other commando units like it played in the victory against Hitler and the Axis forces in World War II.