45 ROYAL MARINE COMMANDO
NORTH AFRICA & SICILY
On 6 November 1939, Enos
‘Eddie’ Fellows (photo opposite) was conscripted to HMS
training centres. He served on HMS
a converted Cunard luxury liner, between February and June 1940 mainly on
'Contraband Control' in the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean. This ship
was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine in June 1940.
service onshore, he joined HMS
a tribal class destroyer, between September 1940 and April 1942, on Russian convoy duties to Murmansk
and Archangel. Service in Iceland and on the Lofoten Islands raid followed and
he was involved in operations to sink
the pocket battleships 'Bismark' and 'Scharnhorst'. During the action, HMS
sustained damage and
was decommissioned on the Clyde.
Enos then returned to barracks in Devonport. He had no thoughts about giving
up the excitement and danger
when he declared that he "would have volunteered for
anything, to get out of that lot". So, at the age of 23, he signed up for 'hazardous service' and commenced commando training
in Scotland and England.
His story continues..
We were kitted out at Devonport and boarded a train from a railway
siding that came into the base. For security reasons, all the train doors were
locked. Ahead of us lay a 500 mile journey to Gourock, on the River Clyde, in Scotland and then on to
HMS Copra at Largs on the Ayrshire coast.
On or about the 21st August 1942, we crossed
the River Clyde by ferry to H.M.S.
Armadillo, a formation and training base for
RN Beach Commandos, located close by Ardentinny. This was where our strenuous
commando training began and which was to become 3 Commando’s base.
Day in and day out for several weeks, we were deposited on the other side of a
nearby mountain and told to get back to camp the best way we could. The mountain
itself was not too high, most in the area being below 1000 metres, but at a
latitude of around 55 degrees north, the hillsides were rough, featureless and hazardous, especially in the winter months when the snow often drifted to a
depth of 2 metres. We thought it was great in the summer months but in winter
the going was tough, as we struggled through the snow drifts up to our chests.
In the training area the landscape was reminiscent of Norwegian
We were often up to our waists when crossing icy streams and I more than most,
because I was the smallest on the course. We all got soaked through on the
assault courses as we practiced landing on beaches from landing craft. They were
often anchored some distance from the shore. It was no more than we could
expect when we landed on beaches defended by a determined enemy, so the more realistic
the training, the better.
At some point we were split into 3 Troops (A, B & C ) and I was allocated to C
Troop. In a typical practice landing, one division would go ashore in advance
to play the role of the Beach Commando, while the other two were in LCAs as the
landing force. Bearing in mind that our purpose was to ensure the most
efficient transit of men, armaments, supplies and vehicles across the beaches,
we erected signs, with lights, on the beaches to help achieve this - yellow for
wheeled vehicles and red for tracked vehicles.
This was followed by training in
the control of vehicle movements across the beaches onto their designated roads. When LCTs or LCAs came
ashore with their cargoes, we directed bren-carriers and similar trucks across
the beach to their pre-determined routes.
The procedures for handling food and
ammunition lorries were different. Their carrying craft were unloaded and
their cargoes stacked up at the back of the beach to keep the roads clear
for more urgent traffic. During training for this work, we had to achieve
the various tasks in a given time. With practice, we did achieve the
We also practiced procedures to reinforce
the surface of the beaches with wire mesh and railway sleepers for heavy tracked vehicles.
This was work normally undertaken by the Engineers but we were trained in case
they were not available. It was heavy back breaking work but we took it
in our stride. I was also trained to swim underwater to ‘recce’ for rocks and other
submerged vehicle traps
and to mark their position with warning signs.
Training in demolition
work was next on the schedule. It was
based at an army camp attached to HMS Dundonald and involved the felling
of trees using explosive charges, including hand grenades. The most common
technique was to wrap the explosive, which was in the form of a thick tape or
bandage, around the tree trunk, twice in the case of large trees. We then set the fuses,
retired from the scene and fired - which felled the tree.
Training in unarmed combat
followed, except for the use of the
famous Commando knife. I learned how to creep up on a sentry in woods by walking
backwards and making some noise. This deceived our sentry
during training exercises, who swore he could hear us walking away from him! We learned how to kill
the enemy quietly with an arm round the throat to throttle them and to stab them
in the back or lungs under the rib-cage. This may sound gruesome today but, back
in the war, it was a question of survival.
It was no surprise that the training also included driving anything that was
likely to cross over the beaches from motorbikes to Churchill Tanks. There was a high
probability that some drivers would be injured or killed, and it was vital to the
whole operation that their vehicles were cleared from the beaches without holding up
It seemed our training would never be completed as we made our way from Ardentinny to Dartmoor
for assault training. This training would equip us to land on beaches and
overcome natural and manmade obstacles such as cliffs, deep gullies and high
walls. The training took place at an old army camp with a rough assault course
and included climbing ropes up a
cliff-wall, slinging them over the far side and, hand over fist, down again.
[Map courtesy of Google
Map Data 2017.]
Another challenge was to crawl under a heavy net, strung up about half a metre
above the ground, with full equipment and rucksack weighing about 50 kilos. Such
assault training would not have been complete without a pulley and steel cable
strung out over water at some considerable height. If you lost your grip during
the rapid decent you ended up in the water below.
Small arms training using a variety of guns such as Tommy guns, revolvers and
Lewis guns, were a staple throughout our training. We were also introduced to signals using flags and Morse Code using lamps.
The acid test was to signal from a tower or church to
someone half a mile away. Speed was essential and some, including me, did not
make the grade.
About Xmas 1942, number 3 RN Commando moved to H.M.S. Dundonald, near Troon,
for more amphibious training in the handling of landing craft. We also visited
firing ranges to improve our skills with revolvers, rifles, Tommy guns and Lewis guns.
I was issued with a Tommy gun and a revolver. During this period, the Army
transported us to an
assault course twice a day, which many of us enjoyed to the point where we joined
these excursions whenever possible.
As we acquired more skills, we returned to
HMS Armadillo for further
training, but now, with
full back packs, weapons, hand grenades and a commando knife, but no ammunition. For
a couple of months, we made amphibious landings on beaches all around the
Western Isles. I was appointed ‘Beachmaster’s Bodyguard’ for Lt. Cmdr.
Richardson. A sub lieutenant and two others went ashore to find an
opening or road through the beachhead and to mark it with a lamp facing the sea. Then,
the remainder of the Commandos were brought in to ‘recce’ the beaches for
obstacles, etc. The beach master finally signalled the assault troops, the tank
landing craft and other vehicles to make for their appointed lights which had
been rigged up earlier. These ‘mock landings’ went on night and day for weeks.
Our training came
to a sudden end when 3 Commando were given just one hour to pack up their gear and board a ‘lighter’. There was no hint as to our destination, although most of us
thought it could be ‘the real thing’. The next day we found ourselves at Castle Howard in
Yorkshire, which was a US marine base, where we were to stay for a few weeks. We did
more mock landings, this time on the lake in the
grounds, with the Americans as ‘assault troops’. To replicate the landing
conditions we were likely to experience, live ammunition was used to strafe the
landing beaches. Some bullets ricocheted around, and although no
injuries were reported, it was a bit ‘dodgy' since machine guns, as well as
rifles, were used. We were fit and we were told we could be making a landing in
Norway in similar conditions. However, in the event, our actual destination was
The invasion of North Africa
comprised army battle dress with a navy blue hat, ammunition pouches and webbing. The ‘Beachmaster’ was Lt.
Commander RC Richardson of the Navy. I was his bodyguard and accompanied him
everywhere. He was much respected by all. I carried a Tommy gun, revolver and
commando knife. Each ‘Special Service Commando Brigade’ was divided into three
troops of about 40 men.
We arrived off North Africa on the ‘Monarch of Bermuda’ at a place
called Moda Zar Bir. They piped
C Commando to muster on the boat deck while it was ‘black dark’. With our full
kit, we lined up on deck and transferred to landing craft and
headed for the shore. It was the 18th October 1942 and the British Commandos,
including Commando troops C1, 2 and 3 landed first, closely followed by
the American Assault Troops.
The Germans (Rommel’s troops),
were caught unawares by our arrival and only one shot was fired by our group in error. There was little or no opposition from
the Axis forces at that time. We erected signs on the beach to separate and
direct traffic with the objective of avoiding bottle necks and congestion. When
this was done, we brought the US Assault
troops ashore, while signalling their supporting vehicles to their designated
routes across the beaches and on to the road network beyond. We then
signalled for the heavy armaments but the first
American vehicle ashore was their ‘Ice Cream & Coffee Pot’ vehicle! It came in
very handy and I soon acquired a taste for hot dogs and coffee!
When the other armoured vehicles
were ashore, we received a
signal from an officer stating that a craft called a ‘Maracaibo’ was next. It
was a shallow draught ship that had its bows cut and replaced by ramps. These
craft were capable of carrying two LCMs (Mark 1) or 22 X 25 ton tanks or 18 X
30 ton tanks or 33 X 3 ton vehicles. There was also accommodation for 210
Such was the amount of traffic emerging from the interior, that it was
easy to imagine half the American Army was aboard! There were tanks, bren gun carriers, heavy vehicles with big chains for clearing
mines, etc. It was a marvellous craft! Having successfully disembarked all the troops and gear ashore, more battalions arrived on LCAs.
We were the only British forces to land there and we were instructed
to stay on the beaches to keep them clear. The rest of the Allied troops
proceeded inland, eventually pushing back Rommel’s troops towards the beaches,
where they were sandwiched between Montgomery's forces in the east and
Eisenhower's forces in the west. We remained on the beaches for about three
weeks, after which we travelled to Alexandria by army trucks and then by train to
Port Said. Around mid December 1942, we
returned to Greenock on a Dutch ship and later transferred to Ardentinny
Commando Camp for routine training. Meantime landing craft involved in the initial
landings, were sent back
to England to bring more troops.
The Sicily Landings
Around late June 1943, we travelled by train from Ardentinny to
Liverpool and embarked on an LCA/troop carrier. The vessel carried 6 landing
craft and 1000 troops. Each LCA could carry around 30 men, so each would make around
6 trips to disembark all the men onto the landing beach. The landing craft were on davits (like
lifeboats on modern ships), ready to be lowered into the water at our final
We headed south on a now familiar route across the Bay of Biscay. We called at
Casablanca for a couple of days, but were not allowed ashore. After steaming
west out of Casablanca for a couple of days, we turned about and entered the
Mediterranean at Gibraltar. We linked up with around 20 big troop carriers and
headed for Sicily.
It was early July 1943 when C3 commando were piped on deck at dawn. There was heavy
gunfire from our big ships, all firing at targets on Sicily. Hundreds of gliders were coming in to land on the Sicily beaches,
but sadly, some misjudged their landing zones and ended up in the sea.
We lined up into 3 sectors
as before and climbed into our landing craft, approximately 30 men carrying
small arms equipment. The next morning, at about 4 am, three LCAs were lowered
with a Beach master and 6 ratings in each. The beach was about an hour away at about
3knots. We felt exposed and vulnerable and the time dragged. It seemed more like three days!. We beached,
the ramp was lowered and we disembarked into the unknown. It was a nightmare
but, in the event, not a single shot was fired at us in anger.
However, we could hear gunfire from German defensive positions inshore. It
was not directed at us but we were in the line of fire as the Germans strafed
the area with what was known as ‘rough gunfire'. With the last of the shells
fired from our ships onto the landing beaches, we reconnoitred the beaches,
rigged up lamps, and signalled the troops in, as we had been trained to do. A
converted merchant ship beached and its bows opened up. We were amazed to see
that a mobile coffee bar was first out so we put to one
side for our break. Next out came the tanks, Bren gun carriers and other
vehicles of war. This was our first taste of real action!
We did not have time to put up any signs, due to ‘rough gunfire,
but we could see gliders coming in to land over our heads towards the back of the beaches.
Some immediately came under enemy fire. We then did a further ‘recce’ at
the back of the beaches to ensure the pathways off the beaches were clear and then signalled the
next assault craft to disembark their human cargoes.
What happened next remains one of the most memorable and emotional events I
witnessed during the war. Amidst all the hazardous activity, a Scottish regiment
marched ashore in time to the bagpipes! It was a marvellous sight. The Germans
were well aware of our presence as the piper led assault troops up
the beaches toward the enemy. I was singing in my mind to the tunes they were
playing. It really bucked everyone up.
We set them off on the correct roads and could hear the sound of incessant
gunfire in their direction. When dawn broke, we could clearly see all the LCA
carriers and troop ships, at anchor in the bay off our British sector. As our
troops moved inland, things quietened down a bit but our ships were still shelling
the shoreline while LCAs were coming in with fresh troops and going out with the
injured. German planes came across and strafed the beaches with machine guns at regular
We took some Italian prisoners and put them to work digging a hole in the sand
over which they placed armour plating to form our own air-raid shelter. Our
troops built a compound to keep the prisoners in and we rounded them up (2/300 approx. on our beach alone)
and were given responsibility to guard them. They were very docile and didn’t take much guarding.
They were later transported by an LCA to a troop ship for an unknown
We went swimming during daylight. The water was so clear that we could spin sixpenny
coins out and then dive 6 metres to the sea bed to recover them. However, a week or so later, we saw floating
dead bodies, some probably from crashed gliders, in the sea. That finished me
with swimming there! At least half-a-dozen gliders crashed into the sea in our
area alone. However, we couldn’t help them as the German planes were strafing the
beaches and we had to take cover in our shelter.
Some of our troops returned to the landing beach after commandeering a train
from a nearby railway line. They loaded it up with men, trucks and even tanks
and steamed all the way to northern Sicily.
It saved the invasion force a lot of time and effort.
Around this time, a Sikh troop came ashore to provide rearguard gun cover in
case the enemy attacked us from the sea. They set up their Bofors (guns) in entrenched
positions on the beaches, but in doing so, they became targets for over-flying
German planes. One gun emplacement suffered a direct hit. What a gory mess was
left behind. It made me physically sick at the time. Other Sikhs unceremoniously
carried away the many body parts for burial near the beaches. This was the
reality of war in the raw and the actions of these brave men should not be
judged lightly by today's standards. It was a hell of a mess. There would have
been about 8 men in the gun crew and two or
three men carrying ammunition in from the nearby ammunition dump. They were all
killed instantly and would not have suffered.
As the Allied forces drove the Germans inland and deprived them of landing
strips, enemy planes disappeared from the skies in our area. The beach commander
took the opportunity to order a tidy up of the beach which he described as a
'disgrace'. The troops had brought hard tack biscuits, billy cans etc. and some,
had been left behind as they moved across the beaches. He was just giving us something to do!
He also ordered me to carry a shell from the beach and to place it on the seabed
some distance away. Whether or not it was live was unclear to me but, since I'd
received a direct order, I did his bidding.
As the days passed by,
we spent our leisure time swimming, sunbathing and eating black grapes, which we
had collected from nearby vineyards. We found out later that the vineyards had
been booby trapped when tanks, with flailing heavy chains, were sent in to explode the devices. Apart from the danger of unexploded ordnance, we were at
this time living an untroubled life of luxury, eating grapes and food from army
trucks, full of rations, left on the beaches. In all, we were there about three weeks,
by which time all the ships had gone except for hospital ships. We assisted in
the transportation of injured troops from the beach to the hospital ships and prisoners kept coming in.
Later, some of our troops returned and they were transported to troop ships by LCAs
for destinations unknown.
So, our beach commander signalled for a landing craft and eventually we went
aboard a Landing Craft Tank, capable of carrying 3 or 4 tanks. We loaded our
gear and all our sector climbed aboard to go to Grand Harbour, Valletta, Malta,
into a hospital for recuperation! It was good grub, nice beds and lots of nurses
looking after us. While in Malta, we
travelled in old Leyland buses but, of the experience we said ‘the driver was mad
and the roads were bad!'
There were about 40
of us commandos at the hospital in Malta, where we stayed
for nearly a fortnight. We swam on lovely beaches every day, living like lords on
holiday, sunbathing and eating regular American meals. Then we packed our bags and boarded an LCA
for transport to a ship in Valetta's Grand Harbour for the journey to Port Said.
we travelled by train to Alexandria, a transit camp, where our kitbags and
hammocks had been dumped. This camp was next door to King Farouk’s Palace, where we spent another
At last, we were on our way home
on board HMS Monarch of Bermuda,
a luxury liner in peacetime. After arriving back in the UK, we were given 14 days leave,
after which we returned to HMS Armadillo for more training. From there, we went back to our base in Scotland.
While I was based at HMS Copra, at Largs, Ayrshire,
Scotland, my order for release from the Royal Navy was dated 5 December 1945,
Read about 45 RM Commando on the Normandy
See BBC Antiques Roadshow clip about 45 Royal
Marine Commando Peter Thomas -
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45 Royal Marine Commando
is based on the
"Recollections of an Able Seaman - A record of the WWII experiences in the
Royal Navy of Enos ‘Eddie’ Fellows" written by his son in law, Gerry D Brewis.
The text that appears here was written by Geoff Slee for website
presentation and approved
by the author before publication.