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30 (Commando) Assault Unit

The brainchild of Commander Ian Fleming, post war author of the James Bond spy books


Commander Ian Fleming in WW2 uniform.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 Roles

The unit's 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.

The Mediterranean

Commandos of 30 Assault Unit relaxing in North Africa.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 and 8th 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 Salerno 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

Map of Normandy showing activities of 30 Commando Assault Unit.In preparation 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 Allies.


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.

Map of Germany showing activities of 30 Commando Assault Group.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.

Following its 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 the town.

Further Reading




This brief account of the illustrious history of the 30 Assault Commandos was written by Dave  Roberts.

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