During the winter of 1939-1940, and prior to the Norway campaign, twelve independent
volunteer companies, one from each of twelve British divisions were formed. These companies
were trained to perform especially hazardous tasks in support of divisional operations. Upon
conclusion of the Norway campaign, and in June 1940, these twelve companies were formed
into six independent battalions. In February 1941, these were regrouped into eleven commandos
which now comprise the Special Service Brigade. Conversation with several officers indicated
that while it was believed that this S.S. Brigade originally should have been comprised of
Marines, this was not possible at the time as the Royal Marines were unable to furnish the
The primary mission of the S.S. Brigade is to carry out raids. Raiding parties may vary in
size from a small reconnaissance group to a complete commando or even a larger force. Secondary
(1) To act as an elite or shock assault brigade to seize and hold a bridgehead to
cover a landing in force.
(2) To provide especially trained covering forces for any operation.
The S.S. Brigade functions under the Advisor for Combined Operations (A.C.O.). The A.C.O. acts
in an advisory capacity to, and executes the orders of, the Chiefs of Staff Committee of the
Imperial Defence Council. The staff of the A.C.O. consists of officers of the
Army, Navy, Air Force, and Royal Marines. The S.S. Brigade is commanded by a Brigadier
who has both an operational and an administrative staff. The Brigade, however, does not
train, nor does it function normally as a Brigade, but as separate commandos which are
stationed in various parts of the British Isles and abroad. The S.S. Brigade is
entirely serviced by the Army.
The commando consists of approximately 25 officers and 450 enlisted men, all of whom are
volunteers. The unit is organized into a commando headquarters and six troops. The former
consists of seven officers and 77 enlisted men organized into Administrative, Intelligence,
Signal, and Transport Sections. In addition there are attached: one surgeon, seven
Royal Army Medical Corps personnel and two Royal Army Ordnance Corps men.
Each troop consists of three officers and 62 enlisted men, organized into a Troop HQS. and
two sections. Troop HQS. consists of a Captain (C.O.), a troop sergeant major and an
orderly (runner and batman). Each section (1 officer and 30 enlisted men) is
commanded by a Lieutenant. The section is composed of two or more subsections (squads
of six to eight men each. Subsections are commanded by sergeants. It will be noted
that the section is exactly suitable for boating in one Assault Landing Craft (A.L.L.).
Although the establishment (Tables of Organization) provides a definite allowance and
allocation of weapons, neither the numbers of weapons nor their distribution is rigidly
adhered to. In every case the distribution of weapons is made according to the tactical
requirements of the particular mission to be performed. Each commando HQS. has a separate
store of extra weapons and thus extreme flexibility in armament is assured. A typical
Bren guns; TSMG's; cal. .55 anti-tank rifles; 2" and 3" mortars and a supply of both
smoke and HE shell for each; defensive (fragmentation) Mills hand grenades; offensive (plastic
body, concussion type) hand grenades, smoke pots; Very pistols; fighting knives; knuckle
dusters; limpets (magnetic attaching, acid, H.E.) one type suitable for use against
ships and another for use against tanks; demolitions of all types.
The establishment provides the following weapons in addition to rifles and Colt
automatic pistols, cal. .45 for each troop:
4 Bren guns
1 AT rifle, cal. .55
1 2" Mortar
Normally each subsection (squad) is allocated one Bren gun and one TSMG. The
allocation of the anti-tank rifle and the 2" mortar is left entirely to the troop
commander who employs them according to the requirements of the situation. As
indicated above, additional weapons are available in Commando stores and may be
assigned. The important point to note is the extreme flexibility in armament and
the degree of initiative permitted troop leaders in its distribution.
Clothing and Equipment.
Clothing and equipment furnished commandos includes a variety of types thus permitting
flexibility in dress and battle equipment.
Normal clothing is "battle dress," a two piece woolen garment, stout shoes and
anklets (short leggings). In colder weather a sleeveless button-up leather jacket
which reaches the hips is worn over or under battle dress. A two piece denim dungaree is
also provided for wear over battle dress in damp or rainy weather. In addition to the
ordinary hobnailed shoes, a rubber soled shoe and a rope soled shoe are provided for
missions that require stealthy movements over paved roads, through village streets, for
cliff climbing, and so forth. A heavy ribbed wool cardigan with long sleeves and
turtle neck and a wool undervest are also available for cold weather wear. No
overcoats are worn at any time during training or operations even in severe
weather. All clothing is designed and worn with the sole purpose in view of
comfort and utility under actual operating conditions. No leather belts are
worn either by officers or enlisted men. A fabric waist belt is provided for
wear when deemed appropriate.
Basically, every officer and man is provided with standard army field equipment
similar to our own. In addition, certain special equipment is available in Commando
stores and is issued to individuals or troops as the occasion requires. Principal
items are listed below:
Fighting knife; Tommy (individual) cooker; Lensatic compass; Field ration; skiis and
poles; individual waist life belt (Mae West); Primus stoves; one gallon thermal food
containers; gas cape; wristlets; 2 man rubber boat; plywood (sectionalized) canoe; collapsible
canvas canoe; bamboo and canvas stretchers; 2" scaling ropes; 1" mesh heavy
wire (6' x 24") in rolls for crossing entanglements (see
under "Training"); Toggle ropes (see under "Training"); Transportation
equipment (administrative) consisting of: 6-Hillman pick-ups (4 seats),
3-1500 lb. trucks, 1-3 ton truck, 10-motorcycles;
Communication equipment: 10 Radio sets (018 portable voice and key type, weight 36 lbs,
voice range 5 miles), Semaphore flags, Blinker guns, Very pistols and flares.
Commando training is conducted along the following lines:
It seeks the development of a high degree of stamina and endurance under any operating
conditions and in all types of climate.
It seeks to perfect all individuals in every basic military requirement as well as in
special work likely to be encountered in operations viz: wall climbing, skiing and
It aims to develop a high percentage of men with particular qualifications, viz: motorcyclists, truck
drivers, small boat operators, locomotive engineers, etc.
It aims to develop self confidence, initiative and ingenuity in the individual and in the group.
It seeks to develop perfect team work in operating and combat.
An officer or enlisted man volunteering for commando duty is personally interviewed by an officer.
In its training the S.S. Brigade is prepared to accept casualties rather than to suffer 50% or
higher battle casualties because of inexperienced personnel. All training is conducted with the
utmost reality and to the end that the offensive spirit is highly developed. Wide latitude is
accorded commanders in the training methods employed, and thus the development of
initiative, enterprise, and ingenuity in the solution of battle problems, and the
development of new techniques is encouraged. A corresponding latitude is accorded troop
commanders. Only the highest standards are acceptable and if officers and men are unable to
attain them, they are returned to their units immediately. Leaves are accorded commando personnel
during prolonged training periods and after actual operations in order to prevent
men "going stale."
An appreciation of the type of training conducted by commandos may be arrived at by
brief descriptions of observed routine training executed by five different commandos
over a period of five days.
All obstacle assault courses are not the same but vary in accordance with terrain.
Commandos receive special training in cliff climbing and troops are sent from
time to time to appropriate regions for practice.
A general course is given to all members of commando troops in demolitions and
more detailed instructions are given to a demolition group within each troop. These
specially trained groups are taught demolition as affecting bridges, rail
installations, machinery, oil tanks, etc. They are taught how to crater and
to blow buildings to provide temporary road blocks. At Troun on December 3, during
the course of a night problem (attack on a village), in which three troops participated, the
following demolitions were employed: Bangalore torpedoes for gapping wire, booby traps
installed in likely avenues of approach, and well camouflaged piano trip wires set to
explode land mines. The Bangalore torpedoes were real enough but booby traps and
land mines were represented by detonators. Very few booby traps were exploded as
men kept their wits about them and their eyes open. Sufficient training allowance of
all types of high explosives, fuzes, and detonators is made available so that this
important training is continuous. A plastic type of HE is used extensively. Neither
TNT nor Nitro-starch is employed.
House to house street fighting is extensively practiced.
Field Combat Firings.
Both day and night field firings were observed. In one night firing exercise, a troop
fired on low silhouette targets at a range of about 150 yards. The terrain was
rolling countryside. A light rain was falling. Illumination was provided by Very lights
fired from the flank. It was attempted to keep the flares 50 yards in front of the
targets. Bren gunners posted on the flanks of each subsection fired with the
subsection. Approximately 50% hits were scored out, of an average 170 rounds
fired per section.
Much time is devoted to tactical problems ("schemes") in which live ammunition is
fired by all weapons. The strikingly effective use of smoke in assault at night was
On December 5, 1941, one troop of commandos executed a forced march of seven miles in
one hour. Equipment: combat packs and rifles, uniform: battledress and steel helmets. This
march took place along a macadam road through rolling countryside. The weather was chilly.
On December 3, and December 5, different troops were observed crossing barbed wire
obstacles. Training and overcoming obstacles include:
1. Action against triple concertina.
2. Action against double-apron fence.
(In attacking any type of wire fastened securely to screw pickets, the pickets
themselves on each side of the bay of wire to be crossed are seized by the
leading men and bent to the ground, thus materially aiding in the wire-crossing.)
3. Use of Bangalore Torpedoes
1. Walls 10 - 12 feet high.
2. Walls 20 feet high.
Stealth and initiative in field operations.
Troop operational methods of infiltration.
Discipline and Morale.
To all appearances the discipline and morale of commandos is exceptionally high. This
may be in large measure accounted for by the fact that all commando personnel are
selected volunteers who applied for this type of duty because of the prospects of
In talks with officers and sergeants major we gained the impression that the
discipline is largely self imposed and that the application of disciplinary
measures by commanders is a rare necessity.
An excellent spirit of fellowship prevails between officers and enlisted men and is
evident in all training and exercises. Officers participate in athletics with the men
and two half days a week are set aside for rugger, soccer, cross-country runs, boxing
and so forth. All are required to take part in one form or another.
Officers and enlisted men are normally billeted in various houses throughout the town in
which the unit is stationed and an extra living allowance is authorized. Contrary to the
expectations of most officers this system has improved morale. It is probable too that the
extremely low rate of venereal admissions is due to this form of billeting.
Undoubtedly the fact that commanders have the prerogative of immediately returning a
man to his unit for breaches of discipline or inaptitude for commando duties has an
important effect in maintaining the existing high disciplinary level.
The varied and realistic nature of the training undertaken is likewise an aid to
morale. Current events talks are given weekly by all troop commanders using material
furnished by ABCA (Army Bureau of Current Affairs). Outside
speakers, (Naval officers, civilians, professors and so on) give weekly talks on the
larger aspects of the war, its economics, etc. These all broaden the soldiers' point
of view and dispel boredom.
Frequent weekends are granted from Friday P.M. to Monday A.M., and liberal leave policy
obtains. The men are not allowed to go stale in training.
(Special Naval Observer, Serial 00013, A16-3)