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Commandos

The Commandos were British special forces units. The word commando was originally simply a Boer word for a military command. The name was adopted by Lieutenant Colonel Dudley Clarke, a staff officer with the British War Office in 1940, for raiding units he envisioned operating against German forces in occupied France. Clark was acquainted with the history of the Boer raiding parties during the Boer War of 1899-1902 and the Spanish guerrillas of the Peninsular War of 1808-1814 and had personally witnessed the activities of Arab raiding parties in Palestine in 1936. Clarke's Commandos were intended to strike terror the enemy and rekindle the British Army's fighting spirit. The idea was well received by Clarke's superiors and the new units were authorized on 5 June 1940.

Each Commando had approximately the strength of a battalion but was specially trained for surprise hit-and-run raids. Commandos were later grouped into Commando brigades for larger operations. Clarke intended from the start that the elite status of the Commandos should reinforced with relaxed rules of formal discipline and a spirit of self-discipline and self-reliance. The officers and men of the Commandos were given a very generous stipend for room and board and permitted to lodge as they chose when off-duty.

The first raids were rather amateurish affairs, but because the concept captured the imagination of Prime Minster Winston Churchill, it continued to receive support. Fleet Admiral Sir Roger Keyes was appointed director of Combined Operations on 17 July 1940 on the theory that he had the rank to coordinate Army, Navy, and Royal Air Force assets in support of Commando operations. However, Keyes proved ineffective, and he was replaced in October 1941 by Louis Mountbatten. Mountbatten was given acting rank as Vice Admiral and honorary ranks of Lieutenant General and Air Marshal. Mountbatten served until October 1944 when he took over Southeast Asia Command.

Commandos saw significant service in the Far East. 3 Commando Brigade participated in the third Akyab campaign and in the final advance on Rangoon. In a theater famous for the participation of a variety of special units, the Commandos were overshadowed by the Chindits and by Merrill's Marauders. However, their roles were different: The Commandos specialized in hit-and-run raids while the Chindits and Marauders were deep penetration formations trained for sustained operations behind enemy lines.

Although commando originally referred to the special raiding battalions themselves, the name became associated with the men of these battalions, and from there it became a general term for special forces trained for surprise raids. The Marine Raiders and U.S. Army Rangers were both consciously modeled after the Commandos.

References

Miller (1981)



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