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The term commando, in English, means a specific kind of individual soldier or military unit. In contemporary usage, commando usually means élite light infantry and/or special forces units, specialised in amphibious landings, parachuting, rappelling and similar techniques, to conduct and effect attacks. Originally “a commando” was a type of combat unit, as opposed to an individual in that unit. In other languages, commando and kommando denote a “command”, in the sense of a military unit.

In the militaries of most countries, commandos are distinctive in that they specialise in assault on conventional military targets. This is in contrast to other special forces units, which specialise in counter-terrorism, reconnaissance, and sabotage. However, the term commando is sometimes used in relation to units carrying out the latter tasks (including some civilian police units).

History

The word commando originated in the Portuguese language (Comando in Portuguese), in which it means simply "command". The modern sense of the word stems from the Dutch/Afrikaans kommando, which was derived from the Portuguese word, as a result of contact between Afrikaans and Portuguese settlers in Africa (and in Dutch and Afrikaans kommando still also means "command" including e.g. instructions given to computers).

After the Dutch Cape Colony was established in 1652, a system known as Commando Law was created. This compelled settlers, known as Free Burgers, who had been released from their indentures with the Dutch East India Company, to equip themselves with a horse and a firearm, in exchange for the right to a piece of agricultural land. When required, a mounted militia force known as a kommando would be formed, to defend the colony. As the European population at the Cape increased it was no longer practical to make every Burger comply with the Commando Law and a voluntary militia system was introduced.

In conflicts with southern African peoples (such as the Xhosa and the Zulu during and after the Great Trek), Boer communities and farmsteads formed self-equipped, mounted commandos among themselves.

In the final phase of the Second Boer War, 75,000 Boers occupied the attention of the 450,000-strong British Empire forces. Because of the numerical imbalance, the commandos (militias) adopted guerrilla or raiding tactics, to minimise their casualties and prolong the war. These tactics gave commando its modern sense of specialised raiding forces.

During and after WWII in Britain, unexplained newspaper and radio news references to the deeds of "the commandos" led to public misunderstanding about what the singular meant and thus to the modern common habit of using "a commando" to mean one man of such a unit, or one man engaged on a raiding-type operation.

World War II

Germany

In December 1939, following the success of German infiltration and sabotage operations in the Polish campaign, the German Office for Foreign and Counter-Intelligence (OKW Amt Ausland/Abwehr) formed the Brandenburger Regiment (known officially as the 800th Special Purpose Training and Construction Company). The Brandenburgers conducted a mixture of covert and conventional operations but became increasingly involved in ordinary infantry actions and were eventually converted to a Panzer-Grenadier Division, suffering heavy losses in Russiamarker. Otto Skorzeny (most famed for his rescue of Benito Mussolini) conducted many special operations for Adolf Hitler. Skorzeny commanded Sonderlehrgang z.b.V. Oranienburg, Sonderverband z.b.V. Friedenthal, and SS-Jäger-Bataillon 502, all SSmarker commando units.

A report written by Major-General Robert Laycock in 1947 said there was a German raid on a radar station on the Isle of Wight in 1941.

Italy

Italy employed specialist trench raiding teams to break the stalemate of static fighting against Austria-Hungary, in the Alpine battles of World War I.

These teams were baptised "Arditi" (meaning "daring, brave ones"), they were almost always men under 25 in top physical condition and, at first, possibly bachelors (due to the fear of very high casualty rates). Actually Arditi (who were led to the lines just a few hours prior to the assault, having familiarised with the terrain via photo-reconaissance and trained on trench systems re-created ad hoc for them) experiences "less" casualties than regular line infantry and were highly succesful in their tasks. Many of them volunteerd into extreme right formations in the turbulent years after the war (the Fascist Party took proud in this and adopted the style and the mannerism of Arditi), but some of different political persuasions created the "Arditi del Popolo" (People's Arditi) and for some years held the fascist raids in check, defending Socialist and Communist Party sections, buildings, rallies and meeting points.

During the Liberation of Rome in 1944, US troops broke in the Italian Ministry of Defence building in the Italian capital and raided the archives of all the WWI materials and documents pertaining to Arditi units.

Italy's most renowned commando unit of World War II was Decima Flottiglia MAS ("10th Assault Vehicle Flotilla") which, from mid-1940, were responsible for the sinking and damage of a considerable tonnage of Allied ships in the Mediterranean.

After Italy surrendered in 1943, some of the Decima Flottiglia MAS were on the Allied side of the battle line and fought with the Allies and renamed themselves the Mariassalto; and the others fought on the German side and kept their original name but did not operate at sea after 1943 and were mostly employed against Italian partisans; some of its men were involved in atrocities against civilians.

In post-war years Italian marine commandos were re-organised in the "Comsubin" (crasis of 'Comando Subacqueo Incursori', or Underwater Raiders Command).

United Kingdom

In 1940, the British Army also formed "independent companies", later reformed as battalion sized "commandos", thereby reviving the word. It was intended that the British Army Commandos would be small, highly mobile surprise raiding and reconnaissance forces. They were not intended to remain in field operations for more than 36 hours and carried all they needed. Army Commandos were all volunteers selected from existing soldiers still in Britain.

During the war the British Army Commandos spawned several other famous British units such as the Special Air Servicemarker, the Special Boat Servicemarker and the Parachute Regiment. The British Army Commandos themselves were never regimented and were disbanded at the end of the war.

The British Special Operations Executive (SOE) also formed commando units from British and displaced European personnel for the purpose of conducting raiding operations in occupied Europe. One example is Norwegian Independent Company 1, which was responsible for the destruction of heavy water facilities in Norway during 1941.

The Royal Navy also controlled Royal Navy Beach Parties, based on teams formed to control the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940. These were later known simply as RN Commandos, and they did not see action until they successfully fought for control of the landing beaches (as in the disastrous Dieppe Raid of 19 August 1942). The RN Commandos, including Commando "W" from the Royal Canadian Navy, saw action on D-Day.

In 1942, the Royal Navy's nine Royal Marines infantry battalions were reorganized as Commandos, numbered from 40 to 48, joining the British Army Commandos in combined Commando Brigades. After the war the Army Commandos were disbanded. The Royal Marines form an enduring Brigade-strength capability as 3 Commando Brigademarker.

The Royal Air Force also formed 15 commando units in 1942, each of which was 150 strong. These units consisted of trained technicians, armourers and maintainers who had volunteered to undertake the commando course. These RAF commandos accompanied the Allied invasion forces in all theatres; their main role was to to allow the forward operation of friendly fighters by servicing and arming them from captured air fields. However due to the forward position of these airfields, the RAF commandos were also trained to secure and make safe these airfields and to help defend them from enemy counter attack.

United States

In mid-1942, the United States Army formed its Army Rangers in Northern Irelandmarker under William O. Darby. The Rangers were designed along the similar lines to the British Army commandos, who supervised their training. The first sizable Ranger action took place in August 1942 at the Dieppe Raid, where 50 Rangers were dispersed among the British Commandos. The first full Ranger action took place during the invasion of North West Africa in (Operation Torchmarker) in November 1942.

During 1941, the United States Marine Corps formed commando battalions, inspired by both the British commandos and the tactics used by Chinese Communist forces, from whom they acquired the war cry "gung-ho". The USMC commandos were known collectively as Marine Raiders. On orders from President Franklin D. Roosevelt through a proposal from OSS Director Colonel William J. Donovan and the former Commander of the United States Marine Detachment Major Evans F Carlson, directed the formation of what would become The Marine Raiders. Initially this unit was to be called Marine Commandos and they were to be the counterpart to the British Commandos. The name Marine Commandos met with much controversy within the Marine Corps leading Commandant Thomas J. Holcomb to state, "the term 'Marine' is sufficient to indicate a man ready for duty at any time, and the injection of a special name, such as 'Commando,' would be undesirable and superfluous." President Roosevelt's son James Roosevelt served with The Marine Raiders. The Raiders initially saw action at the Battle of Tulagi and the Battle of Makin, as well as the Battle of Guadalcanalmarker, the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay, and other parts of the Pacific Ocean Areas. In February 1944 the four Raider battalions were converted to regular marine units.

Canada

A joint Canadianmarker-Americanmarker Commando unit, the 1st Special Service Force, nicknamed the Devil's Brigade, was formed in 1942 under the command of Colonel Robert Frederick. The unit initially saw service in the Pacific, in August 1943 at Kiskamarker in the Aleutians campaign. However most of its operations occurred during the Italian campaign and in southern France. Its most famous raid, which was documented in the film Devil's Brigade, was the battle of Monte la Difensa. In 1945, the unit was disbanded; the Canadian members were sent to the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion as replacements, and the American members were sent to either the 101st Airborne Division or the 82nd Airborne Division as replacements.

Australia

Following the British example, the Australian Army formed commando units, known as Australian independent companies in the early stages of World War II. They first saw action in early 1942 during the Japanese assault on New Ireland, and in the Battle of Timor. Part of the 2/1st Independent Company was wiped out on New Irelandmarker, but on Timormarker, the 2/2nd Independent Company formed the heart of an Allied force which engaged Japanesemarker forces in a guerrilla campaign. The Japanese commander on the island drew parallels with the Boer War, and decided that it would take a numerical advantage of 10:1 in order to defeat the Allies. The campaign occupied the attention of an entire Japanese division for almost a year. The independent companies were later renamed commando squadrons, and they saw widespread action in the South West Pacific Area, especially in New Guineamarker and Borneomarker. In 1943, all the commando squadrons except the 2/2nd and 2/8th were grouped into the 2/6th, 2/7th and 2/9th Cavalry Commando Regiments.

Later in the war the Royal Australian Navy also formed commando units along the lines of the Royal Navy Commandos to go ashore with the first waves of major amphibious assaults, to signpost the beaches and carry out other naval tasks. These were known as RAN Commandos. Four were formed — lettered A, B, C and D like their British counterparts — and they took part in the Borneo campaign.

Z Force, an Australian-British-New Zealand military intelligence commando unit, formed by the Australian Services Reconnaissance Department, also carried out many raiding and reconnaissance operations in the South West Pacific theatre, most notably Operation Jaywick, in which they destroyed tonnes of Japanese shipping at Singaporemarker Harbour. An attempt to replicate this success, with Operation Rimau, resulted in the death of almost all those involved. However, Z Force and other SRD units continued operations until the war's end.

Greece

The Sacred band ( ) was a Greekmarker special forces unit formed in 1942 in the Middle East, composed entirely of Greek officers and officer cadets under the command of Col. Christodoulos Tsigantes. It fought alongside the SASmarker in the Libyan desertmarker and with the SBSmarker in the Aegeanmarker, as well as with General Leclerc's Free French Forces in Tunisiamarker. It was disbanded in August 1945.

Japan

In 1944-45, Japanese Teishin Shudan ("Raiding Group") and Giretsu ("heroic") detachments made airborne assaults on Allied airfields in the Philippinesmarker, Marianasmarker and Okinawamarker. The attacking forces varied in size from a few paratroopers to operations involving several companies. Due to the balance of forces concerned, these raids achieved little in the way of damage or casualties, and resulted in the destruction of the Japanese units concerned. Considering that there were no plans to extract these forces, and the reluctance to surrender by Japanese personnel during that era, they are often seen in the same light as kamikaze pilots of 1944-45.

After 1945

Weapons of the modern commando Jaubert are clearly visible


Australia

In Australia, the Army's commando squadrons were disbanded at the end of the war. However, in 1954, two Citizens Military Force (reserve) units, 1 and 2 Commando Companies, were raised.

1st Commando Regiment (1 Cdo Regt), a regimental structure for the reserve commando companies – and 126 Signal Squadron (Special Forces) – was formed during the 1980s. It adopted the green berets worn by its World War II predecessors.

In 1997, the Australian government ordered the conversion of 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regimentmarker (4RAR) into a permanent, non-reserve commando battalion, with instructors from 1st Commando Regiment and Australian Special Air Service Regiment (SASR). 126 Signal Squadron was reassigned to 4RAR and 301 Signal Squadron re-raised to join 1 Cdo Regt. In 2009, 4RAR was renamed 2nd Commando Regiment (2 Cdo Regt).

1 Cdo and 2 Cdo utilise identical selection and training courses. One company of 2 Cdo is responsible for counter-terrorism operations and response in eastern Australia and is officially known as Tactical Assault Group-East (TAG-E). This company mirrors its sister unit (the original Tactical Assault Group) in the West (TAG-W), which is part of the SASR.

Commandos from 1CDO and 2CDO have been deployed on peacekeeping and combat missions in several countries, including East Timormarker, the Solomon Islandsmarker, Iraqmarker and Afghanistanmarker.

Brazil

Brazilmarker created its special operations forces in the 1950s. There are commando units in the Brazilian Army and in the navy. In Brazilian Army the main unit is the Brazilian Special Operations Brigade.Brazilian Navy have the COMANF Amphibious Commandos of Brazilian Marine Corps

Canada

Canadian commando forces were disbanded and recreated at various times in the post-war years, and in 1968 the Canadian Airborne Regiment was formed. It was divided into three Airborne Commandos each of company strength. This resulted in a ceiling of about 750 members in all ranks, organized into three smaller company-sized commandos. The three airborne commandos took shape around the three regimental affiliations: 1 Commando with the Royal 22e Régiment, 2 Commando with Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, and 3 Commando with The Royal Canadian Regiment. The Canadian Airborne Regiment was disbanded after the torture and murder of Shidane Arone, a Somaliamarker civilian, in 1993, and other allegations of wrongdoing within the Regiment. Later, parliamentary investigations would question why such an elite commando unit was sent on a peacekeeping mission. (The Canadian Joint Task Force Two, or JTF2, is also sometimes referred to as a "commando" unit, but it is technically a specialist counter-terrorist unit.)

Germany

The German Army currently operates the Fernspähkompanie (Germany's elite long range reconnaissance company), and the Kommando Spezialkräfte .The KSK is stationed in Calwmarker, in the Black forestmarker area in southern Germany. It consists of about 1,100 soldiers, but only a nucleus of these are in fighting units. Exact numbers are not available, as this information is considered to be secret. The KSK is a part of the Special Operations Division (Div. Spezielle Operationen - DSO).

The fighting units are divided into four commando companies of about 100 men each and the special commando company with veteran members, taking supporting tasks. Each of the four commando companies has five specialised platoons:
  • 1st platoon: land insertions
  • 2nd platoon: airborne operations
  • 3rd platoon: amphibious operations
  • 4th platoon: operations in special geographic or meteorologic surroundings (e.g. mountains or polar-regions)
  • 5th platoon: reconnaissance, sniper and counter-sniper operations
  • Command Platoon
There are four commando squads in every platoon. Each of these groups consists of about four equally skilled soldiers. One of each group is specially trained as weapons expert, medic, combat engineer or communications expert respectively. Additionally a group can contain other specialists, e.g. heavy weapons or language experts.

Another special unit, the Kampfschwimmer (comparable to the U.S.N. SEALS) are operated by the German Navy.

India

Indiamarker created its commando force in the mid 1980s. India's National Security Guard (NSG) personnel are popularly known as Black Cat Commandos. Besides that there are commando units of the army, mainly from the Parachute Regiment of the Indian Army. Formed in 1966, these Para Commandos are an elite special forces unit of the Indian Army. MARCOS (marine commandos) is a commando unit of the Indian Navy. The Indian Air Force Commando unit is known as the Garud Commando Force. Along with that, there is a Commando wing in every State, comprising of the Union Territorial Police Force and Paramilitary Forces of India.

Pakistan

Special Service Group (SSG) is an independent commando division of the Pakistan Army. It is an elite special operations force similar to the United States Army Special Forces (the so-called Green Berets) and the British Army's SAS. Official numbers are put at 2,100 men, in 3 Battalions; however the actual strength is classified.

Based out of Cherat and Attock, the SSG was created in 1956 with active support from U.S. Special Operations Forces. That year the 19th Battalion of the Baloch Regiment (19 Baloch) was selected for conversion to a Special Operation Force.

The SSG also has a unit in the Pakistan Navy modeled on the U.S. Navy SEALs and British SBS called the Special Service Group Navy otherwise known as SSGN. The SSGN currently maintains headquarters in Karachi headed by Pakistan Navy Commander.

The SSG in 2001 created a special forces unit for the Pakistan Air Force called the Special Service Wing otherwise known as SSW. It was modeled on the US Air Force's 1st Special Operations Wing unit and the US Army's Rangers. This new component to the Special Forces of Pakistan is still being trained and built up.

Portugal



United Kingdom

3 Commando Brigade, Royal Marines is under the command of the Royal Navy's Commander in Chief Fleet. All Royal Marines (other than the Royal Marines Band Service) are commando trained on entry to the Corps, with supporting units and individuals from the other services undertaking the All Arms Commando Course as required.

The Brigade is made up of the UK Landing Force Support Group (Headquarters Battalion), 40 Commando (home base: Tauntonmarker), 42 Commando (Bickleigh, Plymouth) and 45 Commando {Arbroathmarker, Scotland), the Commando Logistic Regiment, 539 Assault Squadron Royal Marines, 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, 24 Commando Regiment Royal Engineers and 1st battalion, The Rifles .

Vietnam

NVA commando or sapper at work


The North Vietnamese produced some of the most effective commando units of the post WWII era. Called sappers, these units represented a force economy measure for the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) and the Viet Cong. With large scale conventional attacks increasingly untenable, small commando operations came into their own, particularly after the Tet Offensive, and at times inflicted severe damage to US and ARVN troops and bases.

Sappers were originally supporting adjuncts to regular formations prior to 1967, but in time, independent formations were created throughout the Vietnam arena. Sappers could operate in support of a larger regular infantry formation, or as the main spearhead themselves, with regulars as backup. In the spearhead mode, they represented their most potent threat. A typical raiding operation was divided into 4 elements: Assault, Fire-Support, Security and Reserves. Assault teams were generally broken down into three-five man cells. Fire-support was critical, as it forced defenders to keep their heads down, while infiltrating assault elements made their final penetrations. One of the most devastating attacks was against the US Firebase, FSB Maryannmarker in 1971. See chart for detailed breakdown of a typical sapper raiding party.

Typical sapper formation with 4 echelons: Assault, Security, Reserve, and Fire-support


While small in terms of total men deployed throughout the Vietnam theater, sapper attacks had a significant impact for the NLF/PAVN effort. As one US Army history puts it:

See also









References

  1. Commando Country, Stuart Allan, National Museums Scotland 2007, ISBN 9781905267149
  2. Raids in the Late War and their Lessons, R. Laycock, Journal of the Royal United Service Institution November 1947 pp 534-535
  3. TheHistoryNet | World War II | Royal Navy Commandos in World War II
  4. http://www.raf.mod.uk/dday/scus.html
  5. [1]
  6. US Army Center for Military History, Vietnam Studies, "FIELD ARTILLERY, 1954-1973," by Major General David Ewing Ott, (DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY: WASHINGTON, D.C., 1975) p. 1-13
  7. US Army, 'FIELD ARTILLERY" op. cit
  8. Keith William Nolan, Sappers In the Wire: The Life and Death of Firebase Mary Ann, (Texas A&M University Press: 1995) pp. 23-119, 200-245
  9. US Army Center for Military History, Vietnam Studies, "FIELD ARTILLERY, 1954-1973," op. cit


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