30 (Commando) Assault Unit
The brainchild of Commander Ian Fleming,
post war author of the James Bond spy books
In March 1942,
Commander Ian Fleming RNVR (opposite), later to become famous for his James Bond
novels, proposed the formation of an Intelligence Assault Unit,
based on the German AbwherKommando units. The proposal was approved by
Combined Operations HQ in July and the structure of the unit was to be
composed of 33 Troop (Royal Marines), 34 Troop (Army) and 36 Troop
(Royal Navy). An RAF Troop was planned but the Air Ministry felt the RAF
Regiment was sufficient at present for their needs. The elite
Intelligence Assault Unit was later renamed 30 Commando (or Special
Engineering Unit to keep its real role secret), and was further
re-designated 30 Assault Unit in January 1944.
primary role was to move ahead of advancing Allied forces, or to
undertake covert infiltrations into enemy territory to capture much
needed Intelligence in the form of codes, documents, equipment or enemy
personnel. Admiral Godfrey, Director of Naval Intelligence called them
“authorised looters” and the Services were asked to provide a “shopping
list” of targets for the unit. In 1942, its primary objective was vital SIGINT (signals intelligence) concerning the Enigma machines and codes
used by the Germans, but it was also tasked with obtaining mine,
torpedo, radar and weapons technology.
Some of the men
that would go on to form the nucleus of the new unit were part of the
failed Dieppe raid in August 1942, specifically tasked with seizing
vital SIGINT from the German naval HQ in the port. Unable even to reach
the shore, they returned to the UK and in November 1942, the unit
undertook its first operation as part of the Torch landings. Its task
was to seize enemy intel in the Axis forces based in French-held
Algiers. Despite another botched landing, due to heavier than expected
French resistance, this time the unit made it into Algiers and came away
with some useful intel.
In January 1943,
the unit returned to North Africa and, driving across over 1200 miles of
desert, was the first unit to link up the 1st
Armies as they made a pincer drive into Tunisia against Rommel’s Afrika
Korps. Operating as a small, highly mobile force alongside lead British
units, they managed to grab vital intel, including Enigma cribs and code
books, as well as radar and weapons technology. The achievements of the
this small detachment was recognised as vitally important by the
code-breakers of Bletchley Park and senior intelligence officers and
orders were issued for further expansion of the unit.
From May to
December 1943, the unit operated in Sicily, Italy, Corsica, Yugoslavia,
Norway and the Greek Islands participating in the Husky and
landings. It continued to work alongside front line units but also used
requisitioned Italian motor torpedo boats to raid the many small islands
and naval facilities along the Italian coast.
In December 1943,
the Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel of 30 Commando returned to
the UK to prepare for the Allied invasion of German occupied Europe. The
Army personnel, 34 Troop, remained in Italy working as part of the ICU,
a combined unit of British, American and Italian intelligence troops.
Still operating under the ‘nom de guerre’, Special Engineering Unit (SEU),
they took part in the liberation of Rome, Florence and conducted some
reconnaissance missions behind German lines working with Italian
partisans and the SAS.
Normandy and Beyond
for Operation Overlord, 30 Commando was re-designated 30 Assault Unit and
was expanded in both terms of men and vehicles, becoming one of the most
mobile units of the war. For D-Day, the unit was split into three units,
codenamed CURTFORCE, WOOLFORCE and PIKEFORCE, and landed on JUNO, GOLD
and UTAH beaches. PIKEFORCE, landed on JUNO at H+20, alongside the first
waves of the Canadian troops. Their target was a German radar station at
Douvres-la-Delivrande, but this proved too well defended and they later
joined the rest of the unit in the west of Normandy and Brittany,
working their way through targets in Cherbourg, St Malo, Brest, etc. In
August, the unit took part in the liberation of Paris, entering the city
alongside the French vanguard and ahead of any other British or American
units. In September, 30 Assault Unit began a series of operations in the
Channel coast ports of Le Havre and Dieppe, as they were captured by the
At the end of
1944, the unit was returned to the UK and underwent a second period of
reorganisation and significant expansion in preparation for the large
number of targets expected in Germany.
In March 1945,
the unit returned to the continent and entered Germany. Operating once
again in small, highly mobile teams, they continued to locate and search
the targets identified in the ‘Black Books’ prepared by Naval
Intelligence back in Whitehall. Teams from 30 AU took the surrender of
Bremen and Bremerhaven and seized the entire German Naval archives at
Schloss Tambach. As the war in Europe drew to a close, 30 AU seized
vital naval bases and technology in Kiel as well as seizing some of the
most sought after German scientists who had developed new propulsion
systems and technology.
successes in Europe, a small detachment was sent to the Far East in 1945
to continue its operations there. The Japanese surrender in August
precluded operations, but subsequent activities in Singapore, Indo-China
and Hong Kong eventually provided much useful intelligence.
In 1946 the unit
was finally disbanded, but many of the exploits and adventures of 30AU
would find their way into Ian Fleming's 007 books, starting with the
first Casino Royale in 1953.
In 2010, the Royal
Marines formed 30 Commando Information Exploitation Group, which carries
the history of 30 Assault Unit. In 2013 30 Commando IEX was granted the
freedom of Littlehampton in honour of the original unit being based in
This brief account of the illustrious history of
the 30 Assault Commandos was written by Dave Roberts.