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British Commandos after returning from Operation Abercrombie, a raid on the French coast near Boulogne in April 1942

Commando raids during the Second World War became so effective that by October 1942 Adolf Hitler issued the Commando Order, which required the execution of all Commandos captured. The raids were conducted by the armed forces of Britain, the Commonwealth and a small number of men from the occupied territories serving with No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando during the Second World War. All the operations took place between the Arctic Circle in Norway to the French border with Spain, along what was known as the Atlantic Wall.

The raiding forces were mostly provided by the British Commandos but the two largest raids, Operation Gauntlet and Operation Jubilee, drew heavily on Canadian troops. The size of the raiding force depended on the objective. The smallest raid was two men from No. 6 Commando in Operation J V. The largest raid involved over 10,500 men in Operation Jubilee. Most of the raids were scheduled to only last overnight, but some, like Operation Gauntlet, were conducted over a number of days.

The 57 raids were all between 1940 and 1944 and were mostly against targets in France, which had 36 raids. There were 12 raids in Norway, seven raids in the Channel Islands and one each in Belgium and the Netherlands. The raids met with a mixture of fortunes. Operation Chariot—the raid against dock installations at Saint-Nazaire—has since been called the greatest raid of all. Others, like Operation Aquatint and Operation Musketoon, resulted in the capture or death of all the Commandos involved.

The raids ended in mid-1944 on the orders of Major-General Robert Laycock, the chief of Combined Operations Headquarters. He suggested that they were no longer as effective and only resulted in the Germans strengthening their beach defences, which could be detrimental to Allied plans.[1]

Commandos formation

The Commandos were formed after the British Expeditionary Force was evacuated from Dunkirk in 1940. Prime Minister Winston Churchill called for a force to be assembled and equipped to inflict casualties on the Germans and bolster British morale. Churchill told the joint Chiefs of Staff to propose measures for an offensive against German-occupied Europe, and stated, "they must be prepared with specially trained troops of the hunter class who can develop a reign of terror down the enemy coast."[2]

One staff officer, Lieutenant Colonel Dudley Clarke, had already submitted such a proposal to General Sir John Dill, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff. Dill, aware of Churchill's intentions, approved Clarke's proposal.[2] Three weeks later the first Commando raid took place. The raiders failed to gather any intelligence or damage any German equipment; their only success was in killing two German sentries.[3]

In 1940 the call went out for volunteers from among the serving Army soldiers within certain formations still in Britain, and men of the disbanding Divisional Independent Companies originally raised from Territorial Army Divisions who had seen service in Norway.[nb 1] In November 1940 the new army units were organised into a Special Service Brigade under Brigadier J. C. Haydon, with four Special Service Battalions.[5] By the autumn of 1940 more than 2,000 men had volunteered for Commando training.[6]

There were 19 British Army Commandos formed in the United Kingdom and the Middle East.[7] The No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando was formed from volunteers from the occupied territories and enemy aliens.[8] In February 1942 the Royal Marines were asked to organise Commando units of their own; 6,000 men volunteered, forming nine Commandos.[7][9] In 1943 the Royal Naval Commandos and the Royal Air Force Commandos were formed from volunteers from the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.[10][11]

Also in 1943, the commandos started to move away from smaller raiding operations. They were being formed into brigades of assault infantry to spearhead the future Allied landing operations. Of the remaining 20 Commandos, 17 were used in the formation of the four Special Service brigades. The three remaining units, No. 12, No. 14 and No. 62 Commandos, were left to carry out smaller scale raids.[12] A shortage of volunteers and the need to provide replacements for casualties forced the disbandment of these three Commando units by the end of 1943.[13][14] No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando was left for the task of small scale raiding. No. 10 was the largest Commando and was formed from volunteers belonging to the occupied territories. It could now provide both parachute and canoe trained sub units.[15]

The Commandos came under the operational control of the Combined Operations Headquarters. The man initially selected as the commander was Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes, a veteran of the Gallipoli Campaign and the Zeebrugge Raid in World War I.[16] Keyes resigned in October 1941 and was replaced by Admiral Louis Mountbatten.[6] The final Commander of Combined Operations was Major General Robert Laycock, who took over from Mountbatten in October 1943.[17]


No. Date Codename Unit Numbers
Location Objective Result
1 24/25 June 1940 Operation Collar No. 11 Independent Company 200 men Boulogne
Le Touquet
Reconnaissance and
capture prisoners[18]
The mission was only a propaganda victory; two Germans were killed for no loss and all the Commandos returned safely.[19]
2 14/15 July 1940 Operation Ambassador No. 3 Commando
No. 11 Independent Company
100 men Guernsey
Channel Islands
Capture prisoners[18] The raid was a failure due to a series of mishaps, poor fortune and the haste with which it was planned and implemented. It resulted in no immediate military gains.[20]
3 4 March 1941 Operation Claymore No. 3 Commando
No. 4 Commando
800 men Lofoten Islands
Destroy industry[18] About 800,000 gallons of fish oil, kerosene and paraffin were set on fire; the factories were destroyed and they captured 228 prisoners of war.[21]
4 27/28 July 1941 Operation Chess No. 12 Commando 16 men Ambleteuse
Reconnaissance and
capture prisoners[18]
The Commandos remained ashore for one hour; no prisoners were taken and there were no casualties.[22]
5 24 August–
2 September 1941
Operation Gauntlet 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade 1,500 men Spitsbergen
Destroy industry[18] Coal mining facilities were destroyed.[23]
6 30/31 August 1941 Operation Acid Drop No. 3 Commando 25 men Neufchâtel-Hardelot
Reconnaissance and
capture prisoners[18]
The Commandos spent 30 minutes ashore but did not encounter any Germans.[24]
7 27/28 September 1941 Operation Chopper No. 1 Commando 25 men St Aubin
Reconnaissance and
capture prisoners[18]
Two Commandos were killed and had to be left behind.[25]
8 27/28 September 1941 Operation Deep Cut No. 1 Commando 25 men St Vaast
Reconnaissance and
capture prisoners[18]
Commandos encountered and opened fire on a German Bicycle patrol; the Germans returned fire and wounded two men.[26]
9 12/13 November 1941 Operation Astrakan No. 6 Commando 4 men Houlgate
Beach reconnaissance[18] The Commandos did not encounter any Germans, but did gather information on the suitability of the beach for use by Landing craft.[27]
10 22/23 November 1941 Operation Sunstar No. 9 Commando 100 men Houlgate
Gun battery[18] A partial success, the operation encountered difficulties and did not succeed in destroying the battery or taking any prisoners; they did obtain documents and other information.[28][29]
11 26–28 December 1941 Operation Anklet No. 12 Commando 300 men Florø
Capture prisoners and destroy radio stations[18] Two radio stations were destroyed and a number of ships sunk or captured and prisoners taken. Anklet is often mistaken as a diversionary raid for Archery, but it was the other way around.[30]
12 27 December 1941 Operation Archery No. 2 Commando
No. 3 Commando
No. 4 Commando
No. 6 Commando
800 men Vågsøy
German shipping
harbour installations
and personnel[18]
Four fish oil factories and stores were destroyed and German prisoners taken with a loss of 17 killed and 53 wounded.[30]
13 17/18 January 1942 Operation Curlew V Corps school of raiding
[nb 2]
100 men St Laurent
Reconnaissance of beach defences[18] The mission failed and the landing party had to be rescued by the navy.[31]
14 27/28 February 1942 Operation Biting 1st Parachute Battalion 100 men Bruneval
Capture Radar equipment[18] This was a successful raid that led to the expansion of the British airborne forces and the creation of the Parachute Regiment.[32]
15 27/28 March 1942 Operation Chariot No. 2 Commando detachments from
No's. 1, 3, 4, 5 and 9 Commandos
200 men Saint-Nazaire
Harbour installations[18] Chariot has since been called the greatest raid of all time.[33][34]
[nb 3]
16 5 April 1942 Operation Myrmidon No. 1 Commando
No. 6 Commando
100 men Ardour Estuary
Harbour installations[18] The transport ships encountered a sandbar that they were unable to pass. That together with bad weather caused the raid to be called off.[37][38]
17 11/12 April 1942 Operation JV No. 6 Commando 2 men Boulogne-sur-Mer
Shipping[18] The two men planted a limpet mine on a tanker and escaped unseen.[39]
18 21/22 April 1942 Operation Abercrombie No. 4 Commando
Detachment from the Carleton and York Regiment
150 men Neufchâtel-Hardelot
Capture prisoners
destroy searchlight battery[18]
One commando was wounded but their objectives were not achieved.[40]
19 3/4 June 1942 Operation Bristle No. 6 Commando unknown St Cecile
German Radar site[18] The raid was a success but the transports were intercepted on the way home and casualties taken.[41]
20 14/15 August 1942 Operation Barricade No. 62 Commando
[nb 4]
11 men Pointe de Saire
Radar and anti-aircraft site[18] Three Germans were killed and six wounded without loss to the Commandos, but their objective was not achieved.[42]
21 19 August 1942 Operation Jubilee 2nd Canadian Infantry Division
No. 3 Commando
No. 4 Commando
10,500 men Dieppe
in force[18][nb 5]
The raid was a failure. The casualties included 3,367 Canadians and 275 British commandos. The Royal Navy lost one destroyer and 33 landing craft, suffering 550 dead and wounded. The RAF lost 106 aircraft to the Luftwaffe's 48. The German army had 591 casualties.[43]
22 2/3 September 1942 Operation Dryad No. 62 Commando 12 men Le Casquets
Channel islands
and capture prisoners[18]
Seven prisoners were captured. Several codebooks were found and taken back for analysis.[42]
23 7/8 September 1942 Operation Branford No. 62 Commando 12 men Burhou
Channel islands
Reconnaissance[44] The raid was to locate a suitable gun position to support an attack upon Alderney, and was uneventful.[45]
24 12/13 September 1942 Operation Aquatint No. 62 Commando 12 men St Honerine
Reconnaissance and
capture prisoners[18]
All who landed were either killed or captured.[46]
25 20/21 September 1942 Operation Musketoon No. 12 Commando 12 men Glomfjord
Industrial site[18] The raid was a success, but most of the Commandos were captured trying to cross into Sweden. They became the first victims of the Commando Order.[47][48]
26 3/4 October 1942 Operation Basalt No. 12 Commando
No. 62 Commando
12 men Sark
Channel islands
Reconnaissance and
capture prisoners[18]
Four Germans were killed and one taken prisoner.[49]
27 11/12 November 1942 Operation Fahrenheit No. 12 Commando
No. 62 Commando
10 men Plouézec
Reconnaissance and
capture prisoners[18]
This was a raid on a signals station; after killing at least two Germans the Commandos withdrew.[50]
28 15/16 November 1942 Operation Batman No. 12 Commando
No. 62 Commando
10 men Cherbourg
Objective not known[51] The raid had to be cancelled, as they were unable to land in the high seas on the rocky shoreline.[52]
29 19/20 November 1942 Operation Freshman Royal Engineers 32 men Telemark
Industrial site[18] All Royal Engineers involved were killed either when their gliders crashed on the way to their landing zone or survived the crash but were executed by the Germans.[53][54]
30 22–29 November 1942 unknown No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando 5 men Bergen
Reconnaissance and
capture prisoners[18]
There were three attempts at this operation. The first one turned back after being spotted by German aircraft, the second did gather some intelligence from Norwegian fishermen before turning back and the third was abandoned due to bad weather.[55]
31 11/12 December 1942 Operation Frankton Royal Marines
boom patrol detachment
12 men Bordeaux
Shipping[18] Commandos successfully breached the harbour, but only two of the 12 involved survived. In 1955 the events of Frankton were made into the film The Cockleshell Heroes.[56]
32 23/24 January 1943 Operation Cartoon No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando
No. 12 Commando
63 men Stord
Industrial site[18] The mission successfully destroyed a Pyrite mine.[55]
33 24 February–
1 March 1943
Operation Crackers No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando
No. 12 Commando
No. 30 Commando
16 men Sognefjord
Capture prisoners[18] Bad weather stopped the raid but they set up an observation post which gathered much information.[55]
34 27/28 January 1943 Operation Huckaback No. 62 Commando 10 men Herm
Channel islands
Capture prisoners[18] After scaling the cliff on the third attempt, the raiders did not find any signs of the German occupation or the island's population.[57]
35 14/15 February 1943 Operation Brandy No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando
No. 12 Commando
7 men Florø
Shipping[18] The raid attacked two German ships and laid mines in the harbour. A Motor Torpedo Boat ran aground and had to be abandoned.[55]
36 19 March 1943 Operation Roundabout No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando
No. 12 Commando
10 men Stad
Reconnaissance and
capture prisoners[18]
The raid was aborted after running into a German patrol.[55]
37 29 April 1943 Operation Checkmate No. 14 (Arctic) Commando 7 men Haugesund
Shipping[18] The raiders successfully planted mines, but all the Commandos involved were captured and executed.[58]
38 3/4 July 1943 Operation Forfar Easy No. 12 Commando 10 men Onival
Reconnaissance and
capture prisoners[18]
They managed to scale the cliffs but were unable to breach the barbed wire on top.[59]
39 5/6 July 1943 Operation Forfar Dog No. 12 Commando 10 men Biville
Reconnaissance and
capture prisoners[18]
The Motor Torpedo Boat came under fire as the commandos were put ashore.[59]
40 3–5 August 1943 Operation Forfar Beer No. 12 Commando 10 men Életot
Reconnaissance and
capture prisoners[18]
The Commando's transport ships were discovered en route by German patrol ship.[60]
41 3/4 August 1943 Operation Forfar Love Special Boat Section 4 men Dunkirk
Reconnaissance of pier[18] The two canoes were forced to withdraw when picked up by searchlight.[61]
42 1–4 September 1943 Operation Forfar Item No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando
No. 12 Commando
8 men St Valery
Reconnaissance of
searchlight battery
and capture prisoners[18]
The raid was a partial success. The team was successfully parachuted in but their ship was swamped when leaving, with the loss of all equipment.[15]
43 3/4 September 1943 Operation Pound No. 12 Commando unknown Ushant
Reconnaissance and capture prisoners[62] Two Germans were believed to have been killed but they were unable to identify their unit.[62]
44 24/25 December 1943 Operation Hardtack 11 No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando 7 men Gravelines
Reconnaissance and
capture prisoners[18]
The Motor Torpedo Boat transporting them diverted to attack a convoy and their dory sank with the death of one man. The other six reached the shore and joined the French Resistance.[55]
45 25/26 December 1943 Operation Hardtack 13 No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando
Special Boat Squadron
10 men Bénouville
Reconnaissance and
capture prisoners[55]
The raid was a successful reconnaissance but they did not capture any prisoners.[55]
46 25/26 December 1943 Operation Hardtack 28 No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando 10 men Sark
Channel islands
Capture prisoners[18] After climbing the cliffs the Commandos entered a minefield which resulted in the death of two men and one wounded. The exploding mines alerted the German garrison, and the commandos had to leave.[55]
47 26/27 December 1943 Operation Hardtack 4 No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando 10 men Biville
Reconnaissance and
capture prisoners[18]
The Commandos were forced to withdraw by German patrol activity.[55]
48 26/27 December 1943 Operation Hardtack 5 No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando 10 men Onival
Reconnaissance and
capture prisoners[18]
One Commando was injured by an anti-personnel mine on landing; the rest spend four and a half hours ashore but did not see any Germans, just unoccupied strong points.[63]
49 26/27 December 1943 Operation Hardtack 7 No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando
No. 12 Commando
5 men Sark
Channel Islands
Reconnaissance and
capture prisoners[18]
On the first attempt the Commandos had to return to England when they were unable to scale the cliffs, the second attempt was abandoned when the Commandos entered a minefield losing two men.[55][64]
50 26/27 December 1943 Operation Hardtack 21 No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando 10 men Quinéville
Reconnaissance and
capture prisoners[18]
The raid gathered information on the defensive obstacles on what would become Utah Beach.[55]
51 27/28 December 1943 Operation Hardtack 23 No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando 10 men Ostend
Reconnaissance and
capture prisoners[55]
The raid was called off after their Motor Torpedo Boat transport ran aground.[55]
52 24/25 December 1943 Operation Hardtack 36 No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando 10 men Wassenaar
Reconnaissance and
capture prisoners[55]
All the Commandos involved were killed after landing.[55]
53 15/16 May 1944 Operation Tarbrush 5 No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando 2 men Dunkirk
Beach reconnaissance[65] The raid was a successful examination of beach obstacles.[66][67]
54 15/16 May 1944 Operation Tarbrush 8 No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando 2 men Quend
Beach reconnaissance[65] The raid was a successful examination of beach obstacles; a teller mine was brought back for examination.[55]
55 16/17 May 1944 Operation Tarbrush 3 No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando 2 men Bray-Dunes
Beach reconnaissance[65] The Commandos were unable to land in rough seas.[55]
56 17/18 May 1944 Operation Tarbrush 10 No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando 2 men Onival
Beach reconnaissance[65] A navigation error meant the Commandos were landed in the wrong place and captured.[55]
57 24/25 August 1944 Operation Rumford No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando 10 men Île d'Yeu
Capture German held island[68] This was a successful landing, but the Germans had already evacuated the island.[55]



  1. The 10 independent companies were raised from volunteers in second–line Territorial Army divisions in April 1940. They were intended for guerrilla style operations in Norway following the German invasion. Each of the 10 companies initially consisted of 21 officers and 268 other ranks.[4]
  2. Also known for security reasons as Department V Corps School, Warsash[31]
  3. Out of 622 men who entered the St Nazaire harbour, 169 were killed, 215 became prisoners of war, and only 228 returned to England. To recognise their bravery a total of 89 decorations were awarded, including five Victoria Crosses.[35] After the war St Nazaire was one of 38 battle honours awarded to the Commandos.[36]
  4. No. 62 Commando was also known as the Small Scale Raiding Force.[13]
  5. Operation Jubilee was the largest raid conducted, with 10,500 men taking part.[18]
  1. Messenger 1985, p. 251
  2. 2.0 2.1 Haskew 2007, p. 47
  3. Haskew 2007, pp. 47–48
  4. Moreman 2006, p. 13
  5. Joslen 1990, p. 454
  6. 6.0 6.1 Haskew 2007, p. 48
  7. 7.0 7.1 Chappell 1996, pp. 45–48
  8. Bijl 2006, p. 6
  9. Haskew 2007, pp. 48–49
  10. "Memories of D-Day: Juno Beach". D Day museum. Retrieved 15 May 2010. 
  11. "Royal Air Force Servicing Commandos 1942 to 1946". The RAF Servicing Commando and Tactical Supply Wing Association. Retrieved 7 May 2010. 
  12. Moreman 2006, pp. 84–85
  13. 13.0 13.1 Chappell 1996, p. 48
  14. Chappell 1996, p. 14
  15. 15.0 15.1 Bijl 2006, p. 24
  16. Chappell 1996, p. 6
  17. Chappell 1996, p. 30
  18. 18.00 18.01 18.02 18.03 18.04 18.05 18.06 18.07 18.08 18.09 18.10 18.11 18.12 18.13 18.14 18.15 18.16 18.17 18.18 18.19 18.20 18.21 18.22 18.23 18.24 18.25 18.26 18.27 18.28 18.29 18.30 18.31 18.32 18.33 18.34 18.35 18.36 18.37 18.38 18.39 18.40 18.41 18.42 18.43 18.44 18.45 18.46 Messenger 2004, p. 15
  19. Haining 2004, pp. 118–119
  20. Durnford-Slater 2002, p. 32
  21. "No. 38331". 22 June 1948. 
  22. Ladd 1983, p. 41
  23. "Biography: Philip Vian". Royal Navy Museum. 2004. Retrieved 19 July 2010. 
  24. Messenger 1985, p. 58
  25. O'Sullivan 2004, pp. 96–97
  26. "Operation Deepcut". Commando Veterans Association. Retrieved 11 June 2010. 
  27. Ladd 1978, p. 31
  28. "No. 9 Commando". Commando Veterans Association. Retrieved 2 July 2010. 
  29. Miocene 2006, p. 182
  30. 30.0 30.1 "No. 38342". 2 July 1948. 
  31. 31.0 31.1 Messenger 1985, p. 120
  32. Harclerode 2005, p. 218
  33. Saunders 2005, p. 82
  34. Moreman 2006, p. 66
  35. Ford 2001, p. 89
  36. Moreman 2006, p. 94
  37. Chappell 1996, p. 23
  38. Saunders 1959, p. 102
  39. Young 1969, p. 122
  40. Dunning 2003, pp. 58–63
  41. Campbell 1993, p. 128
  42. 42.0 42.1 Binney 2006, p. 152
  43. Thompson, Julian. "The Dieppe Raid". BBC. Retrieved 19 July 2010. 
  44. Forty 2005, p. 192
  45. Macksey 1990, p. 138
  46. "Obituary;Freddie Bourne". London: The Daily Telegraph. 5 March 2002. Retrieved 3 June 2010. 
  47. "History of No. 2 Commando". Commando Veterans Association. Retrieved 27 April 2010. 
  48. Messenger 1991, p. 165
  49. Saunders 2005, p. XXV
  50. Macksey 1990, p. 142
  51. "12 Commando". Commando Veterans Association. Retrieved 8 June 2010. 
  52. Macksey 1990, p. 143
  53. Otway 1990, p. 72
  54. Mears 2004, pp. 85–87
  55. 55.00 55.01 55.02 55.03 55.04 55.05 55.06 55.07 55.08 55.09 55.10 55.11 55.12 55.13 55.14 55.15 55.16 55.17 55.18 55.19 Bijl 2006, p. 23
  56. Mackenzie 2004, p. 144
  57. Macksey 1990, p. 170
  58. "Operation Checkmate – Haugesund, Norway". Commando Veterans Association. Retrieved 8 May 2010. 
  59. 59.0 59.1 Messenger 1985, p. 248
  60. Messenger 1985, p. 243
  61. Ladd 1978, p. 270
  62. 62.0 62.1 Ladd 1978, p. 260
  63. Messenger 1985, p. 254
  64. Cruickshank 1975, pp. 243 & 244
  65. 65.0 65.1 65.2 65.3 Anderson 2000, p. 23
  66. "Colonel George Lane". The Daily Telegraph. London. 26 March 2010. Retrieved 19 July 20106. 
  67. Naughton, Philippe; Costello, Miles (7 April 2010). "George Lane, wartime commando". The Times. London. Retrieved 19 July 2010. 
  68. Allen 2003, p. 150


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