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



Welcome to the Combined Ops Home Page & Website
 
 

Saving our Combined Ops Heritage for future generations. See veterans' personal recollections in 40 D Day Stories. Published & hosted by Geoff Slee since 2000.

The Command's Formation & Purpose

After the Dunkirk Evacuation of the defeated Allied Expeditionary Force in early June 1940, Churchill decreed that a new joint or combined fighting force (land, sea and air) was required, whose unique challenge and sole purpose was to plan, train for and undertake offensive amphibious operations against the enemy. It was to be, organisationally, completely independent of the traditional military services to avoid distractions arising from defensive considerations.

[Photo; The Combined Operations Command Memorial dedication ceremony, July 4th, 2013 at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, England. Entirely funded by veterans, their families and friends.]

Initially, Small Scale Amphibious Raiding Forces were formed, which soon developed into larger, better trained and equipped Commando Units, each around 500 men in strength. They raided coastal areas of enemy occupied territories from northern Norway to south west France, causing the Germans to reinforce their coastal defences including the deployment of thousands of additional troops taken from other duties. Special Forces, including the Special Boat Service (SBS) and Special Air Services (SAS), took the Commando concept to a new level for clandestine operations behind enemy lines.

Concurrent with these developments, plans were prepared for large scale landings (invasions) onto unimproved beaches in countries occupied by the enemy, which culminated in the D Day landings. The Combined Operations Command was not to be distracted from its offensive operations task by the unfolding events of war as the three traditional services concentrated their resources in defence of the UK and her interests.

In fulfilling this task, RAF actions included the Battle of Britain, bombing raids, coastal defence patrols, U-boat detection and support for Combined Operations raids and landings, while the Royal Navy defended trade routes, detected and destroyed surface raiders and U-boats, maintained a maritime blockade of Germany, defended UK coasts and escorted and supported Combined Operations raids and landings.

After a period of re-equipping and training, including Combined Operations landing craft training, the Army saw action in North Africa, Madagascar, Sicily, Italy, East Africa, southern France, Normandy, Holland, the Rhine Crossing and the Far East, assisted throughout by the forces of the Combined Operations Command during amphibious landings.

For the purposes of training and offensive amphibious operations against the enemy, all RNVR and RN landing craft officers and ratings, and their Royal Navy landing craft, were attached to the Combined Operations Command, itself staffed by Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force personnel under the command of naval men Keyes and Mountbatten from July 1940 to October 1943 and Major General Laycock until 1947.

Under their stewardship and close liaison with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, extensive training in the use of landing craft through dozens of Training Establishments, mainly in central Scotland and the south of England, were set up. For pay and accounting purposes HMS Copra was established for RNVR and RN personnel attached to the Combined Operations Command.

The training included general seafaring, joint army/navy training in all aspects of amphibious warfare using landing craft with RAF support, particularly at the No 1 Combined Training Centre at Inveraray on Loch Fyne.

[Photos; L -R Churchill, Keyes, Mountbatten and Laycock.]

In the final stages of training, 516 Squadron RAF (also attached to the Command) created realistic war conditions by attacking the landing beaches with live ammunition, small bombs and smoke canisters. This was usually followed by many months of joint Army/Navy training exercises in loading, unloading, forming and maintaining position in convoys and mock beach landings.

The Command's Development

On June 4th 1940, as the last of the troops were evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk, Churchill sent a memorandum to his Chief Military Assistant and Staff Officer, General Ismay. He was Churchill's main communications link with the Chiefs of Staff. The memorandum warned against the dangers of concentrating too much on the defence of the United Kingdom against enemy attack or invasion. "It is of the highest consequence to keep the largest numbers of German forces all along the coasts of the countries they have conquered, and we should immediately set to work to organise raiding forces on these coasts where the populations are friendly." Two days later, he continued on the same theme, "I look to the Chiefs of Staff to propose me measures for a vigorous, enterprising and ceaseless offensive against the whole German-occupied coastline."

On the 14th of June, the Chiefs of staff appointed Lieutenant-General Alan Bourne to the amply described post of "Commander of Raiding Operations on coasts in enemy occupation, and Adviser to the Chiefs of Staff on Combined Operations." Bourne was 58 and had been in charge of the Royal Marines for about a year. His wide experience on land and sea, and attendance at the Imperial Defence and Army Staff Colleges, were no doubt factors in his selection for this new and challenging post.

[Photo by Sarah Slee. General Sir Richard Barrons looks on as the Revd Prebendary Tony Wood dedicates the memorial.]

Churchill was not consulted about the appointment during these frenzied and anxious times. Whilst he held Bourne in high regard, he felt he was too close to the Admiralty to be able to operate without undue influence from them and he lacked the seniority and authority to deal with the three Ministries. On the 17th of July 1940, Churchill appointed Admiral of the fleet, Roger Keyes to the newly named post of Director of Combined Operations. He was succeeded by Lord Louis Mountbatten, who held the redefined post from 27/10/41 until he moved to Burma in October 1943. Major General Robert Laycock then held the post until 1947.

Combined Operations made a huge contribution to the successful outcome of the Second World War by undertaking dozens of Commando raids and landings, mostly against the Axis forces, from Norway in the north to Madagascar in the south and from North Africa and the Mediterranean in the west to the Far East, culminating in the D-Day Invasion on the 6th of June 1944.

The Command drew on the best practices and expertise the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force had to offer to create a  unified force. Many of their top planners and experts formed the nucleus around which the Command was formed and, as the requirements of offensive operations took on an international dimension, the service personnel of many Allied countries proudly wore the Combined Operations badge.

In addition to the nations represented by the flags in the banner heading, German speaking refugees from the following countries served in No 10 Inter-Allied Commando, particularly No 3 Troop. They were; Austria, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Romania, Russia and Yugoslavia. Greece's Sacred Commando Squadron was not part of Combined Operations but in all regards they served the Allied cause in defence of their Homeland, hence the inclusion of their flag on this website.

[Photo by Harriet Calfo. Lord Lieutenant Dudson with WW2 Veteran Kenneth Howes.]

The 'All Pages Index' in the page banner heading has brief descriptions of around 190 web pages about this amazing and ubiquitous WWII organisation whose auspices included such diverse subjects as Commando Raids and Major Landings, Landing Craft Training for hundreds of thousands, Mulberry Harbours, the PLUTO Pipeline project, "Hobarts Funnies" tank adaptations and even top secret experiments on an unsinkable "Ice Ship" in the Rocky mountains.

It's a testimony to the enduring nature of the Combined Operations concept that the Combined Operations Badge, designed by Lt D A Grant, RNVR, in 1942, is still in use to this day in a number of countries worldwide.

The Combined Ops Memorial

If you plan to visit the memorial, you'll find useful information on the link to help you make the most of your day.

On Thursday, July 4th 2013, in the presence of Her Majesty's Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire, Mr Ian Dudson, CBE and 200 guests, including 25 WW2 veterans and 6 Standard Bearers, the Combined Operations Command Memorial was unveiled by General Sir Richard Barrons KCB CBE ADC Gen, Commander of the Joint Forces Command. It was dedicated by the Reverend Prebendary, Tony Wood.

 [Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017.]

No greater honour could be bestowed on the service personnel of yesteryear, than for the Commander of their modern equivalent Force to honour their memory, sacrifices and achievements in this way.

A Spontaneous Act of Heartfelt Appreciation

In the summer of 2004, a WW2 veteran from Canada and his friend were travelling north to Scotland by rail, having attended the 60th anniversary D-Day commemorations in Normandy. They engaged an elderly lady in conversation and found they had much in common. The veteran had served in Combined Operations as an LAC on a radar vessel off the beaches of Normandy and her late husband had been an officer in the Combined Operations Pilotage Parties (COPPs). His clandestine visits to the landing beaches prior to invasions, provided invaluable intelligence on enemy defences, hidden obstacles and beach and tidal conditions.

The miles drifted by almost unnoticed as they relived their youthful memories of wartime... for she had also served her country in the WAAF, including some time at RAF Charterhall, near Kelso, in the Scottish Borders.

Unbeknown to them all, a young business woman, sitting nearby, overheard much of the animated conversation over several hours. At York she slid a sealed envelope onto their table as she left the train. She was gone before they had time to gather their senses.

Wherever you are in the world, your life has certainly been touched by the achievements and sacrifices of those who served under the Combined Operations Command in WW2. Viv felt compelled to show her appreciation and gratitude having heard but a tiny fraction of the experiences of just a couple of veterans.

Further Reading

See the website's main Index page for access to 184 pages about many different aspects of Combined Operations including 40 D Day accounts from veterans who served in or alongside Combined Operations - precious personal testimonies they left behind of a vastly important time in the history of the world.

There are around 300 books listed on our 'Combined Operations Books' page. They, or any other books you know about, can be purchased on-line from the Advanced Book Exchange (ABE). Their search banner link, on our 'Books' page, checks the shelves of thousands of book shops world-wide. Just 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.

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News & Information

About Us

Background to the website and memorial project and a look to the future; plus other small print stuff and website accounts etc. Click here for information.

Remember a Veteran

Pay a personal tribute to veterans who served in, or alongside, the Combined Operations Command in WW2 by adding their details and optional photo to our Roll of Honour and They Also Served pages on this website. Read the Combined Operations prayer.

Facebook

Visit our Facebook page about the Combined Operations Command in appreciation of our WW2 veterans. You are welcome to add information, photos and comment or reply to messages posted by others.

Events and Places to Visit

Organisers: Reach the people who will be interested to know about your Combined Operations or war related event by adding it to our  webpage free of charge. Everyone else: Visit our webpage for information on events and places to visit. If you know of an event or place of interest, that is not listed, please let us know. To notify an event or place of interest, click here. To visit the webpage click here.

Find Books of Interest 

Search for Books direct from our Books page. Don't have the name of a book in mind? Just type in a keyword to get a list of possibilities... and if you want to purchase you can do so on line through the Advanced Book Exchange (ABE).

Combined Operations Handbook (Far East)

The 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.

New to Combined Ops?

Visit Combined Operations Explained for an easy introduction to this complex subject.

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