The British Commandos were a formation of the British Armed Forces organised for special service in June 1940. After the events leading to the British Expeditionary Force's (BEF) evacuation from Dunkirk, after the disastrous Battle of France, Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, 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 in a minute to General Hastings Ismay on 6 June 1940: "Enterprises must be prepared, with specially-trained troops of the hunter class, who can develop a reign of terror down these coasts, first of all on the "butcher and bolt" policy..." The Chief of the Imperial General Staff at that time was General John Dill and his Military Assistant was Lieutenant-Colonel Dudley Clarke. Clarke discussed the matter with Dill at the War Office and prepared a paper for him that proposed the formation of a new force based on the tactics of Boer commandos, 'hit sharp and quick - then run to fight another day'; they became 'The Commandos' from then onwards. Dill, aware of Churchill's intentions, approved Clarke's proposal. The first commando raid, Operation Collar, was conducted on the night of 24/25 June 1940.
In May 1941 the majority of Layforce were sent as reinforcements to the Battle of Crete. Almost as soon as they landed it was decided that they could not be employed in an offensive role and would instead be used to cover the withdrawal route towards the south. They were ill-equipped for this type of operation, as they were lacking in indirect fire support weapons such as mortars or artillery; they were armed mainly with rifles and a few Bren light machine guns. By 31 May the evacuation was drawing to a close and the commandos, running low on ammunition, rations, and water, fell back towards Sphakia. In the end, the vast majority of the commandos were left behind on the island, becoming prisoners of war. About 600 of the 800 commandos that had been sent to Crete were listed as killed, missing, or wounded; only 179 commandos managed to get off the island. In April 1941 men from No. 7 Commando took part in the Bardia raid, but by late July 1941 Layforce had been severely reduced in strength. Reinforcements were unlikely given the circumstances. The operational difficulties that had been exposed during the Bardia raid, combined with the inability of the high command to fully embrace the Commando concept, had largely served to make the force ineffective. The decision was made to disband Layforce.
On 19 August 1942 a major landing took place at the French coastal town of Dieppe. The main force was provided by the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division, supported by No. 3 and No. 4 Commandos. The mission of No. 3 Commando was to neutralize a German coastal battery near Berneval-le-Grand that was in a position to fire upon the landing at Dieppe. The landing craft carrying No. 3 Commando ran into a German coastal convoy. Only a handful of commandos, under the second in command Major Peter Young, landed and scaled the barbed wire laced cliffs. Eventually 18 Commandos reached the perimeter of the battery via Berneval and engaged the target with small arms fire. Although unable to destroy the guns, they prevented the Germans from firing effectively on the main assault by harassing their gun crews with sniper fire. In a subsidiary operation No. 4 Commando landed in force along with the French Troop No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando and 50 United States Army Rangers and destroyed the artillery battery at Varengeville. Most of No. 4 Commando safely returned to England. Captain Patrick Porteous of No. 4 Commando was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions during the raid.
With other military headquarters and commands, SOE cooperated fairly well with Combined Operations Headquarters during the middle years of the war, usually on technical matters as SOE's equipment was readily adopted by commandos and other raiders. This support was lost when Vice Admiral Louis Mountbatten left Combined Operations, though by this time SOE had its own transport and had no need to rely on Combined Operations for resources. On the other hand, the Admiralty objected to SOE developing its own underwater vessels, and the duplication of effort this involved. The Royal Air Force, and in particular RAF Bomber Command under "Bomber" Harris were usually reluctant to allocate aircraft to SOE.
Other, more subtle sabotage methods included lubricants laced with grinding materials, intended for introduction into vehicle oil systems, railway wagon axle boxes, etc., incendiaries disguised as innocuous objects, explosive material concealed in coal piles to destroy locomotives, and land mines disguised as cow or elephant dung. On the other hand, some sabotage methods were extremely simple but effective, such as using sledgehammers to crack cast-iron mountings for machinery.
The neutral Spanish island of Fernando Po was the scene of Operation Postmaster, one of SOE's most successful exploits. The large Italian merchant vessel Duchessa d'Aosta and the German tug Likomba had taken refuge in the harbour of Santa Isabel. On 14 January 1942, while the ships' officers were attending a party ashore thrown by an SOE agent, commandos and SOE personnel led by Gus March-Phillipps boarded the two vessels, cut the anchor cables and towed them out to sea, where they later rendezvoused with Royal Navy ships. Several neutral authorities and observers were impressed by the British display of ruthlessness. 2b1af7f3a8