40 Commando RM
Life Begins At Forty
War-Time Operations 1942-45
This page is the beginning of the "40 Commando Royal Marines" section; all Links in this section are on this page. To follow the Links in order click on the highlighted Link displayed at the bottom of the page; or use the "Links" shown at the side.
The previous page was: "Special Service Brigades"
On 15th February 1942, Volunteers from the Royal Marines and 8th
Battalion Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders paraded at Deal to
form the first Royal Marine Commando, comprised of 446 all ranks. Although the term Commando was new to the general public, the Corps has long been familiar with its functions.
They came to the Commando as volunteers fully trained. It was
therefore assumed that the "team spirit" was not unknown to them, and that the chief problem was therefore to build up, without destroying this spirit, the individual qualities of each man.
To master the mind as well as the body, and to become not only
a specially trained soldier but a specially trained individual
soldier, who can fight and who can survive; that was the aim.
One of the original functions of the Corps of Royal Marines was
"to provide detachments; for amphibious operations, such as raids on the enemy coastline and bases." With the advent of new
conditions imposed by the peculiar nature of the Second World War, a change, or more properly an amplification, of this function became necessary.
Since the Royal Marines were peculiarly suitable for their
conduct the definition of their duties was altered to make it
clear that they would in future "undertake, in co-operation with
other services, special amphibious operations."
The reason why they had not done so at once, from the moment
Britain became a beleaguered fortress, was simple. At that time
the Royal Marine Brigade was one of the very few trained
formations left in the country capable of withstanding an
invader, should he appear.
Special Service Brigades
Dieppe A Perilous Undertaking
The Commando took part in the first major amphibious raid on the
French coast, on 19th August 1942. The day did not go well. They
moved in towards land through a series of smoke screens which
afforded excellent cover.
When, however, they emerged into the light, they were at once met with a hail of fire. "With a courage terrible to see," runs the official report, "the Marines went into land determined. if
fortune so willed, to repeat at Dieppe what their fathers had
accomplished at Zeebrugge."
Very few reached land unwounded. Among them was Lieutenant K. W.
Smale who, taking cover with what remained of his platoon behind
a stranded tank landing craft, fought on till all were killed.
There were many casualties, including the loss of the Commanding
Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Picton Phillips, the Adjutant,
Captain Comyn, and the Royal Naval Medical Officer, Surgeon
Some 40 men who swam out to sea were rescued, but the Second-in-
Command, Major Houghton, and others, unable to leave the beach,
continued to fight until all ammunition was expended and they
were taken prisoner.
He rose to: Major-General Robert Houghton CB, OBE, MC, DL
40 Cdo Commachio
40 Cdo Dieppe
40 Cdo Sangin
"T" Company joined the ship's Company of H.M.S. Fidelity in May
1942. Commanded by an extrovert Corsican, Fidelity was intended
to prowl the Far East shipping lanes and raid enemy held
territory, but soon after leaving England in December 1942 she
was attacked by a U-Boat pack and sunk, she was torpedoed by
U-435, off the Azores, with the loss of all hands.
40 Commando Medical Centre
40 Commando Sibu
40 Cdo Garigliano
Spearhead For The Enterprise Of Invasion Europe
On 10th July 1943, 40 RM Commando, led by Lt Col Manners, was in
the first wave of landings in Sicily, the hour of touchdown was
02:30 hrs 41 RM Commando 03:00 hours. No.3 Army Commando landed at first light on the other side of the island.
A Royal Marine officer wrote: "It was hard to believe that this
land beneath us, was enemy soil, the first bastion of the
fortress of Europe. The 10th July should be cherished by forty
because they were chosen above all others to be the Spearhead of
The Royal Marine Commandos had been allotted an historic mission. They had been chosen as the very spearhead of the invasion so long awaited by the world. They had been the first seaborne troops ashore. They had done all that had been asked of them. They were indeed Mountbatten's secret weapon in waiting.
40 Cdo Spearhead World War II
40 Cdo Termoli
60s life Malta
The Toe Of Southern Italy
On 8th September, 40 RM Commando and two troops of No.3 Commando
made an opposed landing on the toe on Italy. They landed at dawn
in the harbour of San Venere, cleared the quayside, moved through the town as quickly as possible, and consolidated beyond it.
Counter-attacks delivered that day were beaten off with prompt
aid of Kittyhawk bombers and the guns of the Royal Navy. On the
next morning, 9th September, a patrol from "X" Troop entered the
neighbouring town of Pizzo.
The advance proper of the 8th Army was underway. 40 RM Commando
and the troops of No.3 Commando their task accomplished, remained for a moment in Vibo Valentia.
Disappointed to discover that the women of that town were not,
as an intelligence summary had warned them, "of very powerful
physique, of strong Fascist sympathies, and adherents of an
ancient cult which ordained upon them the duty of kissing an
invader and at the same time injecting poison into his mouth.
They had been the first British troops to fight in this part of
Italy since 1806, when Sir John Stuart defeated the French on the nearby plateau of Maida. News was received that Italy had
declared an armistice.
With this action the invasion of the Continent had begun, and
the Commandos, as had been promised, were at the forefront. In
the south of Italy matters went well, but further north near the
old Norman town of Salerno, a grim battle was in progress, in
which Commando troops were to score a great, if costly, triumph.
Forty in Brunei
On the east coast of Italy, on the shores of the Adriatic, stands the little town of Termoli. For many years a small port, it was in the Middle Ages of some importance and in 1247 the Emperor Frederick II built a fine castle there.
The town, says the guide books, has suffered repeatedly from war
and earthquakes. One of these misfortunes was to fall upon it
once again shortly before dawn that day.
An audacious night amphibious landing by 40 RM Commando, No.3 Army Commando and the Special Raiding Squadron at the east coast town of Termoli, on 3rd October, surprised the German garrison and Forty Commando were in the town centre before the first shot was fired, by 08:00 hours all objectives had been seized and 500
prisoners were taken, mostly German 1st Parachute Regiment.
There followed four days of hard fighting against the German 9th
Parachute Regiment, 26th Panzer Division and the Luftwaffe, after which the Commandos were able to hand over the port and rail junction, intact, to the leading elements of the Eighth Army.
40 RM Commando and No.9 Commando were attached to the 10th
British Corps, operating with US 5th Army, to assist in the
advance north of Garigliano River. Five weeks of fighting cost
40 RM Commando a quarter of its strength. The Commandos had
attacked and disrupted communications behind German lines with
After a fortnight of rest and reorganisation, 40 RM Commando found themselves moving once more to Anzio. On 2nd March the Commando went ashore and joined 169th Brigade 10 miles north of the Anzio in flat, marshy ground covered with scrub which hid them from sight of the enemy but not from his bullets and mortar bombs.
Here, they found the difficulties of digging in almost impossible. At Anzio they encountered, a foot beneath the soil, water. They did what they could to scrape protection for themselves, building earthworks upon the rim of the shallow watery scoops in the ground.
The enemy they faced were two thousand yards away. In this
comfortless place the Commando maintained itself until 22nd March, carrying out a number of fighting patrols and generally displaying a spirit of marked aggression.
In the course of one of them, Lieutenant C. L. Dutton rushed an
enemy machine gun post, shot one of the gunners and laid out the
other with a punch to the jaw. He and his runner, Marine Bissenden, then picked up the unconscious German and brought him back to Commando headquarters.
Manners, the colonel, despatched the three of them in a jeep to
brigade headquarters, and on the way Dutton, who spoke no German, described to his now recovered prisoner with the aid of a dictionary exactly what he proposed to do to him should he refuse to answer questions. The prisoner provided valuable information.
Sadly depleted in strength since its arrival in Italy at the
beginning of November 1943, the Commando had completed two long periods in the line. They were in great need of rest and refreshment, and for a month these were granted to them.
The Island Of Vis
On 6th April 1941, the German armies poured into the Balkan
peninsular, and within a week had made themselves masters of Yugoslavia. Her armies were officially routed in a matter of days, almost hours; but her people were not.
In her desolate mountains and high, hidden valleys, they
maintained a stubborn opposition which earned them the admiration of the civilized world.
40 RM Commando crossed the Adriatic in May, to join forces with
Yugoslavia's Marshal Tito's Partisans on the island of Vis. The
Commando took part in boarding party operations and exploratory
patrols on German-occupied islands.
Culminating in a large Partisan and Commando raid on the heavily-
fortified island of Brac. In this action the Unit incurred many
casualties, including the loss of Lt Col Manners, and the capture of Colonel Jack Churchill, who was quickly sent to Berlin.
After Brac 40 RM Commando, raided and harassed the Germans on the island of Mljet and reduced their courage to a very low point. By October 1944, the part played by the Commandos on the island of Vis was at an end.
They had accomplished much. Being responsible for tying down
three German divisions and maintaining the attention of two more, preventing them being used to fight the Allied landings in France. This was no mean achievement, which made them the unique force they were.
Those who they left behind slept in graves beside their
forefathers who had fought; in the same manner and with the same
courage against the soldiers of the great Napoleon.
The Isles Of Greece
After re-organising in Malta and Italy the numbers of 40 RM
Commando, now under the command of Lt Col Sankey, were back up
to strength. They sailed from Otranto, to Albania and, in
company with No.2 Army Commando and Albanian Partisans attacked and captured the port of Sarande.
The hardest fighting fell to 40 RM Commando. By dawn they were
through the enemy's outposts and into Sarande. Here they met
fierce machine gun, light automatic weapons and mortar fire
which swept through the streets to bring them to a halt.
They struggled on when their Commanding Officer Lt Col Sankey
discovered the main core of the enemy's resistance. It was
situated in a large building, from every doorway and window
poured fire despite it having huge red crosses all over the
After a short but heavy concentration of artillery fire, the
Commando went in with the utmost determination; the building fell and resistance died away. The Germans may well have surrendered knowing the town had be mined, which was discovered by an astute engineer. Everybody was evacuated; the main charge exploding two days later under the concrete floor of the shopping area.
When Brigadier Tom Churchill with some of his staff arrived in
the port. "The islanders received us with sunshine in their
hearts and in the skies, with kisses, startling flowers and
flattering speeches." One was delivered by the Archbishop to the
Brigadier, "You and your men are not human; you are half gods;
you are angels sent by God to bring peace and give us again
40 RM Commando then deployed to the Greek island of Corfu, to
re-establish law and order. The Commando lived among the
population who were in continual dread of civil war; rival
factions walked the streets armed, ready to kill.
In such a situation the maintenance of law and order was not
easy, But the Marines, well accustomed to the roll of policemen,
rose to the occasion. The Commando did all it could to ensure
that when Greek met Greek, murder would not be the result, eventually handing over to the Greek authorities in February 1945.
Fast Boats Pages
Joe Wezley Pages
Back To Italy
A few miles north of Ravenna, in a country of lakes whose quiet
surfaces reflect the calm of pine woods, lies the lagoon of
Commachio. It is separated from the sea by a narrow spit of land
running north towards the Valetta canal from a point close to
where the river Reno makes its way between high banks into the
This desolate part of the world, where Garibaldi stumbled ashore with a dying woman in his arms, was to be the scene of some of the strangest battles of the war. Here, 40 RM Commando took part in the mud and water battle for Commachio.
Before leading the assault by 169th Infantry Brigade across the
Menate Canal. One group swam across the river to attack the flank, while a second group attacked across the Menate Bridge.
A few weeks later, when the war was over, General-Lieutenant Graf von Schwern, who had been commanding the Germans at the time, proved the correctness of the tactics. "The right hook to Menate," he said, "came upon us as a complete surprise."
It cost 40 RM Commando a quarter of its strength, but it was the
beginning of the end. On the 3rd May General McCreedy informed
the Commando Brigade that its success in the mud and water had
marked a decisive phase of the battle.
Twenty-four hours before they received his message and
congratulations, Field-Marshal Kesselring had signed the
unconditional surrender of all his forces in Italy. Needless to
say this was 40 RM Commando's final action in World War II; but the 'Mighty Forty' were to continue fighting in many conflicts after that.
Al Faw 1983
One of the initial objectives of the Coalition campaign in Iraq was to capture the oil industry in the Al-Faw Peninsula intact before it could be sabotaged or destroyed by the Iraqi military.
This would prevent an ecological disaster and enable a quicker resumption of oil exports which would be vital to the rebuilding of Iraq after the war.
The British Royal Marines' 3 Commando Brigade would also capture Umm Qasr at the same time so that its only deep water port in Iraq could be used to bring in humanitarian supplies once the Khawr Abd Allah waterway was cleared by the Mine Counter Measures Task group.
The United States Marine Corps placed 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit under the command of 3 Commando Brigade so that the Brigade had the necessary force to capture both targets.
Following days of bad weather, the assault on Al Faw was set for 2200 hours (local time) on 20 March 2003. US gunships and fighter-bombers attacked the known enemy positions on the peninsula in a short bombardment prior to the operation.
In a classic airborne night assault, the 40 Commando and US Marines landed by helicopter, capturing their three strategic objectives without loss and capturing over 200 prisoners. At the same time, air and sea landings captured the gas and oil platforms out at sea.
A second assault by 42 Commando followed within an hour. The Marines were preceded by USMC AH-1 Cobra helicopters gunships and flown in by USMC helicopters to land just north of the town AL Faw, destroying enemy artillery which could threaten the oil infrastructure and 40 Commando's flank.
The second assault was preceded by artillery and naval bombardment, the artillery fire came from three British and one US artillery batteries positioned on Bubiyan Island, the naval component from "H.M.S. Richmond", "H.M.S. Marlborough", "H.M.S. Chatham" and "H.M.A.S. Anzac".
The insertion began badly with appalling visibility, worsened by fires and sand-storms. The Headquarters of the brigade Reconnaissance Force crashed in a US CH-46 Sea Knight, killing everyone aboard.
The cloud base dropped even further and the insertion was aborted. A new insertion was planned, using RAF Chinook and Puma helicopters for dawn. The landings finally took place, six hours late and onto insecure landing zones, all the objectives were taken and secured.
Early that same morning, 15 MEU crossed the Iraq-Kuwaiti border, bypassing Umm Qasr and seized the port area. They then pushed north along the west bank of the Khawr Abd Allah waterway encountering stiff resistance but managed to obtain their main objectives ahead of schedule.
Plans to land armour by hovercraft were abandoned once engineers discovered extensive mining of the beaches near Al Faw which posed too great a danger to heavy U.S. Navy hovercraft carrying UK Scimitars.
The Scimitars of C Squadron Queen's Dragoon Guards, which had been loaded into Hovercraft aboard the "U.S.S. Rushmore" for the landing were instead landing back in Kuwait and finally crossed the waterway north of Umm Qasr twenty-four hours late. They then took up their positions on the salt marshes south of Basrah.
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40 Cdo RM
2 Commando Commachio
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