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"Organization and Training of British Commandos" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following U.S. military report on the organization, equipment, and training of British Commandos in WWII was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 1, June 18, 1942.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]



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 required personnel.


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 missions are:

(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 store contains:

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
          4 TSMG
          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 so forth.

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.

Assault Course.

All obstacle assault courses are not the same but vary in accordance with terrain.

Cliff Climbing.

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.

Street Fighting.

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 shown.


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.

Stream Crossings.

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 frequent action.

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)


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