Tuesday, June 14, 2011

British Special Operations Forces Start in WWII

Here is a guest post from Phil Ward, who spent a great deal of time behind the scenes of Texas politics as son-in-law to the late Lieutenant Governor of Texas, Bob Bullock. Ward lives in Austin with his wife and currently serves as the president of USA Training Company, a national driving safety organization. He is the author of the novel THOSE WHO DARE and the upcoming (November 2011) DEAD EAGLES.

Our modern day Special Operations Force has its origins in WWII. The story of how SpecOps began is a fascinating tale you could not make up. No one would believe it.

At the start of WWII there were no special operations units in Great Britain or in the United States.

In England independent companies were soon formed. These independent companies operated in Norway and carried out several successful sabotage missions.

Lt. Col. Dudley Clarke came up with a plan to raise raiding units along the lines of the South African Boer commandos to carry out "tip and run" raids on the German Occupied French coast line.

Prime Minister Churchill immediately approved the plan and called for the raising of 5,000 men of the "hunter class" to fall on the enemy like "leopards."

MO-9 was created to recruit, plan and conduct raiding operations with Capt. David Niven, the international movie star, as Lt. Col. Clarke’s assistant.

One of the independent companies, Number 11 commanded by Maj. Ronnie Todd, was selected (designated 11 Commando for the operation) as the troops for the first raid.

What happened next could only be described as a military farce with live ammo.

The Royal Navy was approached to supply small craft. In what was possibly the finest example of inner-service cooperation of the entire war, upon hearing of the plan to strike back at the Nazis, the Admiralty responded "for that you can have anything that you want."

Only the navy did not have any small boats suitable for amphibious assaults. Seven air-sea rescue boats had to be borrowed from the Royal Air Force, each capable of carrying 30 fully armed men. One of the crash boats, for reasons that have not been explained to this day, was crewed by civilian yachtsmen.

The Royal Navy assigned a real fire-eater, Lt. Cdr. J.W.F. Milner-Gibson, to command the flotilla. Commander Milner-Gibson went ashore an incredible 10 times to personally reconnoiter the beaches. Whether he was super brave or merely had a death wish was a matter of some speculation.

The Royal Air Force wanted in on the operation. Someone came up with the idea of Avro Ansons buzzing the beach to cover the sound of the engines of the boats as they made their run in. What the planner was thinking is hard to imagine. Any German who heard Royal Air Force planes repeatedly buzzing was sure to stand-to.

The navy plan called for the boats to sail from three different ports to confuse any enemy agents who might be lurking about and to rendezvous in mid-channel,then sail to the target.

On the big night Lt. Cdr. Milner-Gibson, acting in his capacity of master navigator, got it wrong and, with RAF Avro Ansons overhead, he sailed right up to the harbor entrance of Boulogne. The commander realized his mistake when the Germans manning the lighthouse, having heard the sound of airplane engines, turned on the light. Uh-oh.

The raiders made an immediate U-turn. The boats then became separated and landed in several different places.

Eleven commandos were armed with exactly half of the .45 Thompson submachine guns the British Army possessed (which was a grand total of 40 weapons kept in a central armory).

Major Todd led his men inland while Lt. Col. Clarke paced back and forth on the beach. He had come along on the raid and against orders had landed. Some firing broke out in the distance. Maj. Todd came back to consult and, at that moment, a German bicycle patrol happened along out of the dark.

Maj. Todd raised his Thompson submachine gun to fire, but not having any idea how the controls on the weapon worked for lack of a single a minute of training on how to operate a Tommy gun, he accidentally punched the magazine release button instead of the safety. The sound of his magazine falling to the ground alerted the Nazis.

Being trained men they immediately commenced fire with their 9mm machine pistol 38s and they did not drop their magazines until they ran empty.

A round from the initial burst nearly took Lt. Col. Clarke’s ear off, giving him the distinction of being the man who dreamed up, named, organized and became the first commando wounded in action.

On the second commando raid, Number 11 got lost and invaded the wrong island. Becoming an elite fighting force is not without its trials and tribulations.

But they never gave up and, within a year, British commandos were the rock stars of small scale raiding. Later in 1942 commandos trained the 1st Ranger Battalion.

The US Marines formed "Raider Battalions" along the lines of the commandos. After the war the US Army organized a ranger school. Selected army, navy and marine personnel went through the school.

These men went back to their services and became the seeds of the highly professional modern day multi-service Special Operations Force that is fighting terrorism worldwide today.

Phyllis Zimbler Miller is the author of the novel MRS. LIEUTENANT and her social media marketing company Miller Mosaic Power Marketing works with clients to use social media to attract more business. Read her social media marketing blog.

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