Once A Marine Always A Marine


 40 Commando Royal Marines History

Formed in 1942, from A Commando, 40 Commando was the first RM Commando Unit. It saw early action during the raid on Dieppe in August of that year. From 1943 to 1945 the Commando was involved in the Italian Campaign, at Termoli, Lake Comacchio and subsequently in Yugoslavia. For its decisive action the Commando was awarded the Termoli battle honour.

Following the second world war the Commando was deeply involved in Palestine acting as the rearguard in the Protectorate, leaving in 1948. They subsequently undertook security duties in Cyprus, Hong Kong and Egypt before the main party moved to Singapore in May1962 on the Oxford, where it was involved in operations during the confrontation with Indonesia throughout the following decade.

In 1971 the Commando left Singapore and re-established itself in Seaton Barracks, Plymouth. Over the next decade the Commando found itself deployed to Northern Ireland five times and also undertook an unexpected two month tour in Cyprus after the invasion by the Turkish Army.

In 1982, following the Argentinean invasion of the Falkland Islands, the Commando deployed on Operation Corporate. On 21 May the Commando were among the first troops ashore and secured the beachhead at San Carlos. The Unit was subsequently split having two companies attached to the Welsh Guards, preparing to attack Port Stanley, when the Argentinean surrender came.

On their return the Commando spent the rest of the decade involved in a variety of tasks including two Northern Ireland tours to South Armagh, a six-month Peace-Keeping tour in Cyprus and a six month operational tour in Belize. During the tour in Cyprus the Commando was awarded the Wilkinson Sword of Peace for the third time. Also during this period, in 1983, the Commando relocated to Norton Manor Camp near Taunton.

In 1991 the Unit undertook its first Norway deployment but found itself undergoing a dramatic climatic change when, due to the Gulf War, it deployed to Northern Iraq to ensure the security of Kurdish refugees. Northern Ireland tours, Norway winter deployments and a major Asia-Pacific Exercise kept the Commando busy through the following years.

In 1998 a substantial part of the Commando deployed to the Congo to ensure the safe evacuation of UK nationals from Kinshasa City.

The new millennium saw the Commando deploy to Northern Ireland and on their return they were the first Commando to reorganise under a new structural concept called Commando 21.

The Unit deployed in its entirety in January 2003, initially part of the Naval Task Group (NTG) 03 in HMS Ocean, Ark Royal and RFAs Sir Galahad and Tristram. The group sailed through the Mediterranean, after a brief stop at Cyprus, continuing through the Suez Canal bound for the Arabian Gulf. The United Nations were engaged in diplomatic efforts to avoid the need for military intervention in Iraq as the Unit was busy rehearsing in the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait for possible operations against Sadaam Hussein's repressive regime.

In March 2003 a coalition force, under the overall command of the United States, entered Iraq with the expressed intention of liberating its population from persecution and removing the intolerable threat to global security posed by its dictator.

During Operation TELIC, the liberation of Iraq, on the night of 20 March 2003, 40 Commando, under the command of Lt Col G K Messenger OBE, mounted an amphibious helicopter assault to seize key Iraqi oil infrastructure on the Al Faw peninsula. As the first conventional troops on the ground, the strategic significance of the operation was immense and, as the Divisional Main Effort, the assault was supported by a vast array of coalition firepower.

The Commando Group's role in the success of the coalition operation in Iraq was pivotal and profound. In a two-week period of intense operations, it secured key oil infrastructure, cleared a large expanse of enemy held terrain, and defeated a major enemy stronghold on the periphery of Basra, killing over 150 Iraqi soldiers and taking 440 prisoners.

In 2004 the Unit returned to Iraq as part of a multi-national division peace-support operation. Under the command of Lt Col R W Watts OBE and Lt Col D King, it was instrumental in maintaining the security of the country's infrastructure with particular attention being paid to the oil-pipelines in the southern region that keep the economic 'life-blood' of Iraq flowing

The Unit has continued to remain busy since its return in 2005, conducting a series of amphibious deployments including large joint exercises in both Senegal in autumn 2005 and Sierra Leone in 2006. Concurrently individual companies within the Unit have also undertaken operational deployments to both Afghanistan and the Middle East.

Currently the Commando is preparing to deploy to the Helmand Province of Afghanistan under the command of Lt Col S Birrell where it will continue the work of British forces and our multi-national partners to stabilise the country.



Amphibious operations


One of the Original functions of the Corps of Royal Marines was; to provide detachments for amphibious operations, such as raids along an enemy coastline or fortifications and bases. However World War II imposed new conditions, amplifying this function, by the magnitude of targets available. At that time at Combined Operations Mountbatten had taken over from Keys, they played a major role in all of the decisions and strategies.

The Royal Marines were particularly suited to conduct raids but they had not been overly used; this was to change. The definitions of their duties were altered to make it clear that they would in future, undertake, in co-operation with other services, special amphibious operations.

The reason they had not been used before, from the moment when Britain became a beleaguered island, was simple. The Royal Marine Special Service Brigades which were set up in 1939 were one of the very few trained formations in the country who was capable of withstanding a German invasion.

When the threat of an invasion became negligible the Royal Marine Special Service Brigades had been preserved intact. The emergence of the Commandos was viewed with mixed feelings. It appeared they had been formed to carry out the duties, which the Royal Marines had been justly famous for more than two centuries.     

Others thought that it was right, for the Army to form special volunteers to maintain its fighting spirit by raiding the enemy. True, within their ranks there had been some Marines notably in No. 8 Commando; true, to, that the Corps had co-operated with the Commandos in a certain number of operations.

In Madagascar fifty fleet Royal Marines had turned the scale at what might have been a critical moment in the Army attack on Antsirane. No. 40 Commando Royal Marines composed entirely of volunteers had suffered grievous losses at Dieppe. No.

At the beginning of 1943, these had been the main amphibious actions of any note that they had been engaged. Then the change came, henceforth they were to bear their full share in all such enterprises.

Royal Marine Commandos were formed 14th February 1942. By the middle of 1942, the Corps was available for Amphibious Operations so more Royal Marine Commandos were formed of which members were very largely not volunteers. The difference between the two types of Commandos was but one of degree, which with every operation became smaller and smaller until they were all volunteers.

Army Commandos and Royal Marine Commandos were brigaded together, with two of each forming a Brigade. They fought alongside each other in one-hundred and forty-seven actions with a success amply proved by their deeds.

The first time these brigades of Commandos performed was in Sicily. The Decision to invade Sicily was taken at the Casablanca Conference in January 1943. The planning for the invasion began before Von Arnim surrendered in Tunis.

Montgomery, was in Command of the 8th Army, his intention was to seize the south-east corner of Sicily by putting troops ashore to the east and south, and then to advance through Syracuse and Augusta to Catania and the port of Messina which faces Italy at the narrowest point of the Straits.

To carry out this operation the 1st Canadian Division was to land on beaches on the south coat close to the baroque town of Pachino. To make it possible for them to go ashore, certain coast defence batteries covering the planned landing beaches would have to be put out of action.

It was a task well suited to Commandos; it was entrusted to, No. 40 Commando Royal Marines, who had reorganised and had been brought up to strength after Dieppe. No. 41 Commando Royal Marines were taken from the Isle of White to Scotland. There they were put through a rigorous course of training. Which was supervised from time to time by the Combined Operations Headquarters, in London?

On Monday, 28th June 1943, all was deemed ready; the two Commandos sailed with Laycock and his headquarters in the troop transport ships "Derbyshire" and "Durban Castle".

"It was a moment for which we had all been waiting," records Colonel T.B.L. Churchill of Brigade Headquarters. "I felt as if we were all on a conveyor-belt which now would take us inexorably on, and the feeling brought a noticeable sensation of awe mixed with relief and resignation."

"My servant, Sapper Baldwin, was very anxious to know where we were going, he was very indignant when I told him it was a secret." "After all," he said, “we’re the blokes who've got to do the fighting, and there ain't any pubs we can let it out now?"

Far away at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, Durnford Slater’s, No. 3 Commando, half of them on board H.M. Transport "Dunera," a famous ship belonging to the British India Steam Navigation Company, and the other half on H.M.S. "Prince Albert", one of the staunchest of the landing ships, were steaming through the Suez Canal.

The two bands of Commandos, one from Scotland, the other from Egypt, were to meet before the low shores of Sicily. After its heavy losses at Dieppe, No 3 Commando had been brought up to strength by what their Commanding Officer described as "a magnificent draft consisting entirely of policemen; of superb physique and excellent initiative and intelligence."

Unlike the Commando soldiers who passed through the depot at Achnacarry, the police recruits had come direct from civil life. They were all of the same opinion; since they could not hope to apprehend a Commando Soldier, they thought it better to join their ranks.

On 3rd July the main plan was outlined by Laycock to the officers. Off of the North African coast one of the escort vessels sank a submarine. By 8th July two other convoys were on the horizon, one of them carrying American forces which were to land at Gela, West of the positions to be assaulted by the Commandos. The other included the monitor H.M.S. "Roberts," mounting two 15-inch guns which were to prove of the greatest use.

"Everywhere you looked," writes Tom Churchill, "you saw ships all steaming steadily in the same direction. It was a most majestic spectacle; it warmed our hearts and sharpened our spirits."

On the 9th July 1943, 40 and 41 Commandos of the Royal Marines were informed that they would be leading the spearhead of the invasion of Sicily; it would be the beginning of freeing Europe from the German occupation.

On the 9th July the final meeting took place, a sudden change of weather almost wrecked the enterprise. About noon the breeze began to freshen, by dusk the velocity of the wind was between forty and forty-five miles per hour. All of the ships were rolling and pitching, while the little motor launches were being tossed about like corks.

Then, even more suddenly than it had risen, the wind abated. The Commandos prepared to go ashore. Churchill left his cabin, tipped the steward, and then went to his waiting landing craft. "The night was not very dark," he says, "as there was a bright moon, near the full. I could see the dark loom of the ship, the brilliantly clear stars, and the Milky Way like a great white road in the sky.

One after another the flights of landing craft took to the water carrying No. 40 Commando Royal Marines with Lieutenant-Colonel J.C. Manners in Command. Brigade Headquarters moved off to the rendezvous in a motor launch. No. 41 Commando Royal Marines under Lieutenant-Colonel B.J.D. Lumsden came from the "Durban Castle".

40 & 41 Royal Marine Commandos on 10th July 1943 were the very spearhead of invasion Europe.

They had the glorious honour of leading the Allies to triumph in World War II. This very privilege of leading the Allied Forces was allotted to the Royal Marine Commandos.

No greater responsibility, trust of duty or worthiness can be bestowed upon any Fighting Force, and rightly so. The Royal Marines were not new to this type of action; they had been at the forefront of Britain’s amphibious landings; and they had been doing it with distinction, for hundreds of years; nobody was as experienced as the Royal Marines this type of warfare was their special prerogative.

Immediately after mid-night on the 10th July 1943, 41 Commando under Lieutenant-Colonel Lumsden, (Lumsden's Commandos) boarded their landing craft from the "Durban Castle". Twenty-two assault craft carrying members of the two commandos headed for the coast they could not see.

No. 41 Commando Royal Marines was the first ashore. The motor launch had led the Commando to the right place, but some of the coxswains were reluctant to bring their landing craft up to the beach. Most of the Flotilla carrying No. 40 Commando Royal Marines was too far to the east.

Churchill induced the coxswain of his craft to turn to port, where he recognised Punta Castellazzo. When the assault craft rounded the point it came under fire. "I directed the coxswain to the second bay-as I knew this would be Commando Cove. On the way round we were fired at again four or five times- we grounded some fifteen yards from the beach and ran ashore dropping in waist high water."

When 41 Commando landed; it was almost 3 a.m. “It was hard to believe that this land beneath us , the first we had trodden since leaving Britain, was enemy soil, the first bastion of the fortress of Europe,” wrote a Royal Marine officer.

Now they set foot on the south coast of the enemy held territory of Sicily, they were determined to hold it. Their first task was to capture the beach and form a bridgehead, for 40 Commando to go through, they would branch off to the left and attack the German batteries covering the main beach where the Allied Canadian Forces, were due to land when signalled.

The second; 40 Commando under Lieutenant-Colonel J. C. Manners, (nick named 'Manners Commandos') landed on time ten minutes later.  They quickly passed through the bridgehead and moved to the left to attack the next batch of coastal defences. All expected resolute opposition and all were prepared to overcome it.

At approximately 5 a.m. Manners 40 Commando fired a green success flare to show that they had fulfilled all of their objectives. When Lumsden's Commandos fired theirs, success was complete; the two Commandos had captured a huge swathe of enemy held territory. All had been accomplished within five hours

Lumsden’s 41 Commando joined with the Canadian advance party together they moved forward having completed their objectives they continued to advance on the enemy.  The Royal Marines had been allotted this mission; even if the resistance had been fiercer it is not likely that the Commandos would have failed. The Commandos were trained to strike more swiftly than other fighting men, by virtue of a special discipline, a special devotion, that is their aim, which is why they accomplished their tasks.

 Royal Marines had been chosen for the spearhead of the invasion so long awaited by the world.

I believe this date is more significant than some of those that we celebrate on an annual basis. It is a very important date in history-the Royal Marines history especially-Lord Mountbatten was Chief of Combined Operations at the time. During his tenure of command he wanted to see the Commandos develop and prosper, especially the Navy’s sea soldiers the Royal Marine Commandos.

On 23rd October 1943 Brigadier R. E. Laycock, D.S.O. (Royal Horse Guards) was appointed to succeed Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten with the acting rank of Major-General. On this day Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten took over command of the Far East where he attained the title of Burma.

Had this change happened earlier; it is highly possible an Army Commando unit would have led the Invasion Spearhead.

After the occupation of Sicily the two Commandos took part in the first landings in Italy itself. During the night of 7th September, 40 Commando RM secured a bridgehead at Vibo Valentia, in face of enemy opposition from mortars and 88mm. guns, and captured the town. Later they made another landing in advance of the Eighth Army at Termoli on the Adriatic coast.

On 9th September, 41 Commando RM landed with the Fifth Army at Marina, to the west of Salerno. In company with an Army Commando they took the town of Vietri and seized the La Mollina defile, through which runs the shortest road to Naples. They held out against determined German attacks for five days until they were relieved.

During these operations, the two Royal Marine Commandos had performed tasks which were wholly in keeping with the traditions and functions of the Corps; their forbearers had made such landings at Gibraltar and Belle Isle, at Gallipoli, and on a hundred other beaches all over the Globe.

In the future their Silver Bugles will have yet another day-the 10th of July-on which to blow a fanfare of honour.   



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