WW2 land, sea and air forces of the Allied Nations planning, training and operating together as a unified force on amphibious raids and landings against the enemy.

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The Royal Naval Commandos were also informally known as the Beach Commandos. Their primary task was to control the movement of men, vehicles and supplies through the landing beaches during major amphibious landings. The avoidance of bottlenecks and delays gave them a pivotal role in the supply chain. [This account was written by S. H. Kipling.]


The earliest attempts at exerting some control were undertaken by the Royal Navy manning the landing craft but these proved to be inadequate. As a result specialized 'beach parties' were formed and trained and were first tried during Operation Ironclad to capture the port of Diego Suarez at the northern tip of Madagascar between 5th and 7th May l942. This proved so successful that the Royal Naval Commandos (RNC), sometimes known as 'Beachhead Commandos,' were formed. Their duties included:
- landing in or ahead of the first wave to clear the beaches, to mark the limits of the beachhead and to consolidate the beachhead;

- clearing Allied personnel and equipment from the beachhead expeditiously,
-  helping moor landing craft correctly,
- removing mines and underwater obstructions and taping the safe passage routes off the beaches for the wounded,
- informing subsequent waves of important intelligence about the defences and strengths of the enemy and advising how to exploit the enemy's weaknesses,
- setting up important ammunition and supply dumps,
- supporting a wide variety of troops with any initial advance inland,
- supervising enemy prisoners of war,
- being available to tackle any task and act as a rearguard during any withdrawals.

The first RNCs were formed during the spring of l942 from general service, reservists and 'hostilities only' officers and ratings. Each Commando unit came under the command of a Lieutenant-Commander or Commander and comprised three sections e.g. K1, K2, and K3. Each section consisted of two officers (a Beach Master (BM) and Assistant Beach Master (ABM), a Petty Officer and seventeen other ratings of varying rank. Acting rank could be found from time to time. Later, in the light of experience,  the structure of the Commandos was changed to ten officers and sixty-five other ranks divided into three parties of twenty-five men each  - one BM, three ABMs and twenty-two other ranks. They were responsible for a particular section of beach on a large invasion. Each RN Commando unit could occasionally come under the command of a Principal Beach Master (PBM) with the rank of Captain but this usually only occurred on larger invasions where each unit was spread over many miles.


In August l942 members of the RNCs (C and D) took part in Operation Jubilee, the Dieppe raid, with a BM and beach party assigned to each of the beaches. Some could not reach their assigned beach due to heavy gunfire. They suffered very heavy casualties with many others becoming prisoners of war. They would go on to play other roles within the heart of Germany itself. One such was the famous account of 'Albert RN'... but that's another story.

The problems at Dieppe were very grave but many lessons were learnt including the need for Combined Operations and within this the vital role of the RN Beach Parties in any future amphibious landings large and small. It was clear that those recruited to the Beach Parties needed specialized training and a school was established at Ardentinny in the Clyde estuary in Scotland.

To put all this activity into context it's worth mentioning here that in October 1941 Lord Louis Mountbatten took over the command of Combined Operations from Roger Keyes. The motto of Combined Operations was appropriately 'United We Conquer' and the RN Commandos were later to share in the many actions undertaken by this famous wartime organisation.


The school at Ardentinny (HMS Armadillo) accommodated between 500 and 600 men. Officers were mixed in with the ratings which was a most unusual arrangement for the times. Good use was made of Loch Long for amphibious landing drills, reconnaissance and specialised beach skills. Other training included weapons usage, rock climbing, assault courses, embarkation and debarkation using various types of landing craft under battle conditions, route marches and field survival.

Many of these skills were honed at Achnacarry in the north of Scotland in the area where the famous Commando Memorial has stood at Spean Bridge since the early 1950s. Trainees were put through their paces by the famous Army Commando Officer, Colonel Vaughan. Despite the arduous nature of the training very few men were RTU'd (returned to unit) as being unable to complete the course.... nobody wanted their service record noted with such an entry. The RNCs were expected to pass the Commando training course and receive their much coveted green beret along with the famous F-S dagger from Colonel Vaughan at special parades. It is said that their time spent at Achnacarry was responsible for their new motto IN PRIMO EXULTO  - first in last out.

There was additional training for those selected for overseas operations and other specialised duties viz;

  •  training at Kabritt, near the Suez Canal, for service in the Middle East,

  •  training at the Jungle Battle School at Chittagong for service in South East Asia,

  •  parachute training (many would later wear the SAS/SBS wings),

  •  underwater swimming to qualify as 'frogmen'.

All of the skills acquired during the extensive training period were to prove invaluable in subsequent operations. The experience gained at Dieppe was instrumental in shaping the then future expanded role of the RNC.

North Africa

Once formed, RNC units were assigned letters rather than numbers and by the end of l943 twenty-two units had been formed. During Operation Torch in late l942, four hundred and ten RNCs proved themselves in the first major Anglo-American amphibious operation of the war. Four augmented units took part - C (reformed after the heavy losses incurred at Dieppe), E, F, G and parts of H and J under the auspices of the three task forces (Western Task Force - Casablanca, Central Task Force - Oran and the Eastern Task Force).

The RNCs landed with the first assault elements and took immediate charge of the beaches. After first eliminating snipers they dug slit trenches for protection and set up Lewis guns for use against low flying enemy aircraft. The Commandos' major task was to guide ashore 29,000 troops, 2,400 vehicles and l4,000 tons of supplies on three different beaches. Those RNCs working with the American assault troops wore American uniforms since the Vichy French Troops, in French occupied territories in North Africa, were very suspicious of the British. Overall the RNCs worked very efficiently during Operation Torch despite problems in controlling the incoming landing craft.  However, despite these difficulties, there was no doubt that the outcomes were far better than would have been the case had the RNCs not been present. (Photos left; Christmas card sent home from the Mediterranean by Ken Oakley of Fox Group to his mother in 1943).


The next major operation for the RNCs was Operation Husky the invasion of Sicily. This involved more than 2,000 ships and landing craft. The units involved were C, E, F, G, K, M and N assigned to the Eastern Task Force (British) to cover twenty-seven landing beaches. Getting the Assault troops ashore with their equipment and supplies was just the beginning for the RNCs. They usually had to work the beaches for weeks beyond the initial landings directing in the supplies and reinforcements and guiding out the wounded and prisoners of war. As a sideline the RNCs took the Island of Monte Cristo on which an enemy radio station was located. It was capable of plotting Allied shipping in the area and reporting back to the mainland. Also, D party took part in the capture of the Island of Pantelleria in June l943.

In September of l943 RNCs (C, G, H, K, M, N and O parties) went in with the Army assault troops and Royal Marine Commandos when the Allies landed in Italy. Later during the advance up the Italian coast they helped open up anchorages. At both Salerno and Anzio landings the RNCs neutralised minefields prior to the arrival of waiting landing craft.

At Anzio they used their F-S daggers to probe for wood encased mines which could not be located by the Royal Engineers' metal detectors. Sand bars offshore also created great difficulty during this landing but the RNC performed admirably, keeping the beachhead functioning throughout the initial landings and for months afterwards despite almost constant German shelling. As the advance moved further up the Italian mainland they were given two additional roles - the recovery of escaped Allied prisoners of war along the Adriatic coastline and protecting suspected war criminals from the retribution of local inhabitants. This was necessary in order to hand them over for Allied interrogation and preparation for war crimes trials once the war was over.

[Photo of No 14 Beach Group in 1942 and kit list for "C" Commando courtesy of Ron Giles whose father Ronald Victor Giles is top right. Other names available are: 2nd row from front - Sgt. G C Hillman, BG; Petty Officer H G Ord, RNVR; Sgt A Bagnall BG; Lieut J Palmer, RNVR, Beach Master; Capt T A Lines, Queens, Commanding; Lieut D Durham, RNVR, Beach Master; Sgt E O Strefford, BG; Petty Officer A E Burton, RNVR; Front Row; Lieut A G Dunbar, RA, AMLO; Sgt G Kidd, BG; Lieut R I Walton, P C, AMLO.]

In early June l944 tragedy struck the RNC while involved in Operation Brassard which was the invasion and capture of the Island of Elba involving A and O parties. Two sub-sections from each had undertaken special rehearsals to carry out their assigned tasks in this important landing. However, no amount of training and preparations could have overcome the enemy's coastal defences, inland batteries and gun sites. They put up such stiff opposition that many of their gunners were killed by their own guns.

It was not until the l9 June l944 that the island's garrison finally surrendered and Elba passed into Allied hands. The casualties sustained by the RNC were heavy and the operation was nicknamed 'bloody little sideshow'. The parties making up A and O suffered the greatest casualties but O.(3) was practically wiped out losing 2 officers, 2 petty officers, l leading seaman and l3 ratings, while A party lost 2 officers and l8 men. The remnants of these parties were eventually returned to the United Kingdom.

Yugoslavia and Greece

Some of the RNCs had a break from Italy. They crossed into Yugoslavia or went down to the Greek Islands to help push the enemy back. Those who remained in Italy found themselves up against a new enemy -  those unfortunates who were conscripted from the German occupied countries. They were tough fighters and at times suicidal because they had nothing to lose. If they did not fight they, or their families, would be shot. Even if they were captured on return to their homelands after the war they could have been shot as traitors. The Germans used them mainly against Allied Special Forces who were also known for their toughness. The RNCs reached northern Italy at the end of the war just as the Allies were about to launch the invasion of Austria. They were denied this movement finding themselves returning to southern Italy and then returned back to England by sea.

Far East

RNCs who specialised in jungle warfare at the training school at Chittagong included H party which took part in the landings on the Arakan coast. These operations commenced with Screwdriver in February 1944 followed by Srewdriver II. C and E parties were active in Malaya in 1945 and helped prevent the Japanese carrying the war into India.


The largest RNC operation of the war was Neptune, the naval portion of Overlord. Eight parties F, J, L, P, Q, R, S, T and W (mostly Canadians) were assigned and trained for this the largest amphibious operation of the war. RNCs were in the first wave to judge whether subsequent landing craft could land at the same points or divert elsewhere.

They took heavy casualties in Normandy. On some beaches they dug in to fight off counter attacks and their commando training proved very effective in overpowering the German troops... a task many found less difficult than dealing with the congestion on the beaches! Wrecked landing craft and vehicles were a major problem especially when they blocked the exits from the beachhead. Despite these difficulties they managed to clear the obstacles, organise the exits and bring supplies ashore. Most of the RNCs on the Normandy beaches stayed for at least six weeks helping to salvage sunken landing craft, moor Mulberry Harbours and Phoenix Piers but most of all helping to bring order out of the inevitable chaos arising from the largest amphibious operation in the history of warfare. (Photo; RN Commando from FOX group prior to D-Day).

Walcheren and the Rhine

The Normandy invasion was the high point of RNC operations but it did not mark the end of hostilities for them. In early November they took part in the capture of Walcheren and in crossing the Rhine at Arnhem, although not in the abortive airborne assault. L and M parties were most active here. It was later decided to send the RNCs to the Pacific to take part in the invasion of the Japanese home islands. C, E, H, J, M, N, R and V parties were picked for this task. They were to join Force X and Y from the South East Asia Command (SEAC) but  the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought a speedy conclusion to hostilities and the Commandos were not needed.

The end of the War

The RNCs went through the same rigorous training as the Army and Marine Commandos but they also had to perform a difficult command and control task amid the chaotic conditions of amphibious operations. At the end of WW2 they ceased to exist but the importance of their role did not go unnoticed. From time to time, under different names, their roles were revived along with the old spirit, modernised for post war operations right up to the Gulf War of January 1991.

Honours and awards given to members of the Royal Naval Commando both during and after the war are difficult to identify. The London Gazette entries do not normally identify the recipients as serving in the RNC, only doing so when an individual citation comes to light. However, every member who served knows of his own courage, humour and tragedy in those dark war years. To many today it is history but to those who took part at the time it was everyday life which was written in the best traditions of the ROYAL NAVY.


Other specialist R N Assault Landing Parties also served in every assault landing from Dieppe to the crossing of the Rhine and they deserve mention here. These units were the Beach Signal Sections; Landing Craft Obstacle Clearance Units; Combined Operations Pilotage Parties; the Special Boat Squadron; the Forward Observation Bombardment units, and not least members of the WRNS who served in support of them.

On 23 May, l987 a Memorial Plaque was dedicated at Ardentinny ''In memory of the Officers and Men of the Beach Parties and Royal Navy Commandos who gave their lives for their country during the Second World War l939-45."

'Then they are glad, because they are at rest and so he bringeth them unto the haven where they should be.'

Details of the Author's unit RNBC 'NAN'

The author's unit was formed at HMS Armadillo in February, l943 under the command of Lieutenant Commander MV Redshaw, RNVR. On completion of training the unit proceeded to Foliot (camp at Plymouth, now Marine Commando Barracks) and Achnacarry, the Army Commando Training Centre, before being attached to Force V with whom the unit sailed for Sicily on 29 June l943.

After Operation Husky, 'Nan' was stationed at Bougie before returning to Sicily to take part at the crossing from Messina to Reggio. In October, l943 the unit moved to HMS Saunders at Kabrit where it remained until it returned in the cruiser HMS Phoebe to Italy in time for the Anzio Landings, operation Shingle, on 22 January l944 at which 'Nan' company sustained several casualties. After a period in Corsica and Naples the unit moved to the Adriatic in May, l944, where it saw extensive service in the forward port areas with the 8th Army. 'Nan' unit was disbanded at HMS Dundonald in November l945.

Other Information

The Principle Beach Masters RNBC 'NAN' were; Act. Commander PWF Stubbs, DSC, RN, April-September l943; Lieutenant J Russell, DSC, RN September l943-February l944; Lieutenant-Commander TJ Turton RNVR May-June l945; Lieutenant A Varley, RNVR June-November l945.

Subject - RN (Beach) Commandos. No.3 R.N. Commandos were billeted in the town of Hythe prior to embarkation for Normandy from Hythe Pier.

Location. The Memorial Stone is situated in a small park close to Hythe Pier.

Other Info. The stone was erected by the town's folk to commemorate the event.

Subject. RN (Beach) Commandos.

Location. The memorial plaques on the left are situated in Ardentinny Church on Loch Long in Scotland close to where the RN Commandos training base at HMS Armadillo was located.

Other Information. The primary task of the RN Commandos was to control the movement of men, vehicles and supplies through the landing beaches during major amphibious landings. The avoidance of bottlenecks and delays gave them a pivotal role in the supply chain.

Subject. RN (Beach) Commandos.

Location. The memorial cairn is near the village of Ardentinny on the shore of Loch Long in Scotland where the RN Commandos training base at HMS Armadillo was located. [Photo 1st right.]

Other Information. On the 15th of February 2001, Ken Oakley, Chairman of the RN Commando Association, wrote to Tommy Hamilton "Ted Hinchcliffe made the memorial stone (crossed the bar Jan 01). He was very proud of making it out of Yorkshire stone". In the same letter, Ken asked Tommy if he would paint in the letters, which he did. His son, David, subsequently refreshed the lettering.

The memorial stone was originally placed outside the front door of the old Forestry Commission (FC) office. When the building was demolished, Ian Adams of the FC, moved the stone to a safe location about 30 metres away. The cairn, seen in the photos above, was built by FC workers Stephen Cooper and Ben Blowers in time for Remembrance Sunday, 2013.
The people of Ardentinny have always kept the area around the memorial stone tidy. Flowers, and bulbs in pots, are often placed near the stone as an act of remembrance. [Photos courtesy of Tony Rodaway.]

Further Reading

There are around 300 books listed on our 'Combined Operations Books' page which can be purchased on-line from the Advanced Book Exchange (ABE) whose search banner checks the shelves of thousands of book shops world-wide. Type in or copy and paste the title of your choice or use the 'keyword' box for book suggestions. There's no obligation to buy, no registration and no passwords. Click 'Books' for more information.

Beachhead  Assault by David Lee. The Story of the Royal Naval Commandos in WW2.  Foreword by Tony Parsons. Published By Greenhill Books in October 2004.

The Beachhead Commandos by a Cecil Hampshire. Published by William Kimber & Co Ltd in 1983


I am presently researching my grandfather's unit during World War 2, NAN Commando RN with a view to writing an article or book in the future. I have put together a gallery of pictures with notes predominantly from or about men who served in NAN Commando and I was wondering if you would be willing to put the link below on your page featuring Syd Kipling's article on "The Royal Naval Commandos" in the hope that veterans or their families will get in touch. http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=313941&id=650115304&l=5d2d92de47 Regards, Griffin Turton.

Royal Naval Commando Uniforms. I've just joined Combinedops by paypal and already I have some questions which you might be able to help me with. All are about Royal Naval Commando uniforms. Firstly were green berets worn by ranks and ratings and if so what sort of cap badge was worn by other ranks? Secondly, did Royal Naval Commandos wear the yellow thread tombstone Combined Operations insignia on their battledress or was it for dress uniform? For those Commandos trained as parachutists, were the wings worn above or below the combined operations insignia on the right arm?... and finally what colours of lanyards did each Naval Commando wear as I believe each "letter" wore a different colour.

Many thanks for any help you can give. Simon Moore.

If you have any information or book recommendations about the Royal Naval Commandos please contact us.

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WW2 Combined Operations Handbook

This handbook was prepared for Combined Operations in the Far East. It illustrates the depth and complexity of the planning process necessary to ensure that the 3 services worked together as a unified force.

Submit your D-Day Story

2019 marks the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings and, to mark the occasion, The D-Day Story is asking the British public to share their experiences from the largest invasion ever assembled. Whether its an account of the day from a veteran or a tale passed down by a relative, were keen to showcase never-before-heard stories for an exciting campaign to be launched later in the year.


The Gazelle Helicopter Squadron Display Team

The Gazelle Squadron is a unique team of ex-British Military Gazelle helicopters in their original military colours and with their original military registrations. The core team includes four Gazelles, one from each service; The Royal Navy, The Royal Marines, The Army Air Corps and The Royal Air Force. A fifth Gazelle in Royal Marines colours will provide intimate support for the team. Their crest includes the Combined Operations badge. The last, and possibly, only time the badge was seen on an aircraft was in the early mid 40s. A photo of the Hurricane concerned is included in the 516 Squadron webpage.

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