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Memorial donations of around 27,500 funded construction, dedication and routine ground maintenance in perpetuity.

  Donate here to a small contingency fund to repair and maintain the memorial structures as and when required.

Combined Operations - Preserving its Heritage.

United We Conquer

Google map showing location of Combined Operations land bases and training centres.Introduction

This web page originally set out to promote the idea of a Combined Operations museum located in an easily accessible area with very strong historical connections to the Command. There were only two contenders - West Central Scotland and the South Coast of England.

An initial enquiry to the National Lottery Heritage Fund (Scotland), while providing helpful comment and a contact for advice and information, cautioned that such a costly proposal was not a priority partly due to the absence of any existing similar museum on which to draw on for artefacts, display material and practical experience.

[Image Opposite; this list of RN/Combined Ops training establishments and bases is not complete but it is indicative of the areas most closely associated with the Command.]

An alternative to a museum, such as a Heritage / Educational / Historical Society or Organisation, would mitigate NLHF concerns by reducing costs, becoming less dependant on the procurement of artefacts and less time consuming in its planning, development and implementation, especially if Combined Operations was added on to an existing synergistic facility.

Such a 'not for profit' organisation with management experience in running a heritage / educational / historical society or organisation would take the lead role. This website, developed over 21 years, together with a small library of Combined Operations related books, would be offered as a ready made, on line, educational resource and the (Edinburgh based) publisher and host of the website would be happy to assist and advise.

The achievements of the Combined Operations Command in WW2 are part of the illustrious histories of the Navy (including Marines), Army and Air Force, whose top ranking officers headed the organisationally independent Combined Operations Directorate and whose rank and file members took part in countless offensive amphibious operations against the enemy as a unified force, as they proudly wore the Combined Operations badge.

The Combined Operations history is, therefore, spread around various museums and archives but it is quite difficult to find and certainly not accessible as an entity. Its history would benefit from a single focal point to provide an accurate, enduring, cohesive and comprehensive record of real educational value, lest it becomes accessible only to the most skilled and determined of researchers.

Combined Operations was of its time and will never be repeated, although its influence on the deployment of today's armed forces around the world transcends the intervening years, as explained below.

Is this history is worth preserving in an accessible form for future generations? If it is, time is now of the essence.

What Did Combined Operations Do?

The Combined Operations Command was given two main tasks - to harass the enemy along the coasts of friendly occupied countries, which occasioned the formation of the Commandos and, in the longer term, to plan, train and equip an amphibious force for large scale invasions on the coasts of North Africa, Madagascar, Sicily, Italy, East Africa, Southern France, Normandy, Holland, the Rhine Crossing and the Far East. In popular parlance to 'put boots on beaches' with all the weaponry, supplies and munitions needed to conduct offensive operations against the enemy.

It was a new kind of warfare which required troops to be landed directly onto unimproved beaches often against entrenched enemy coastal defences. How this was achieved by the Combined Operations Directorate and the traditional armed forces of land, sea and air working as one, is a most remarkable, little understood aspect of WW2.

At the dedication ceremony of the Combined Operations Memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum in 2013, General Sir Richard Barrons said, "Outside my office there is a new board with my name as the second Commander of the Joint Forces Command after Air Chief Marshal, Sir Stuart Peach .... but his is not the first name on that board. Above our names are the names of very distinguished officers and warriors, who previously commanded an organisation that stands as our alma mater.....the Combined Operations Directorate."

[Photo; General Barrons delivering his speech at the dedication ceremony.]

He went on, "My predecessors include no less than Admiral Keyes and Mountbatten* but 'Combined' in those days was very much related to the amphibious landing of troops, coloured by Gallipoli and reaching its high point on D Day. After the end of the war, the skills and lessons faded quickly with little imperative and nobody to champion them. For some, the increasing importance of air power made these capabilities seem less relevant, and they were quite wrong." [*The first Commanders of the Combined Operations Directorate.]

That the Combined Operations heritage is more relevant today than it was 60 or 70 years ago, is further demonstrated by the latest Queen Elizabeth class of Aircraft Carriers, each having amongst its sea and air crews a company of 250 Royal Marines - land, sea and air forces, planning, training and working together - Combined Operations by any other name!

Lottery Heritage funding requires the lead role to be taken by a not for profit organisation with expertise in the planning, organising and managing a similar project. The purpose of this web page is to obtain feedback from individuals and organisations.

The Command's Formation & Purpose

Immediately after the Dunkirk Evacuation of the defeated 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 and undertake offensive operations against the enemy. It was to be, organisationally, completely independent of the existing military services.

Small scale amphibious raiding forces soon emerged, which later developed into Commando Units of around 500 men each. They raided coastal areas of enemy occupied territories from northern Norway to south west France. Special Forces, including the Special Boat Service (SBS) and Special Air Services (SAS), took the Commando concept to a new level for clandestine operations often behind enemy lines.

Concurrent with these developments, The Command 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 task by the unfolding events of war as the traditional services concentrated their resources in defence of the UK and her interests.

Mosaic of Combined Operations badge.In fulfilling this task, RAF actions included the Battle of Britain, bombing raids, coastal defence patrols, U-boat detection and support for Combined Operations Commando raids and major 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 Commando raids and major landings.

For the purposes of training for 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 was provided through dozens of Training Establishments, mainly in west central Scotland and the south of England. For pay and accounting purposes HMS Copra at Largs, on the Ayrshire coast, 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 where, in the final stages of training 516 Squadron RAF (also attached to the Command) created realistic war conditions by attacking the mock landing beaches with live ammunition, small bombs and smoke canisters from their airfield at Dundonald in Ayrshire. 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 in many locations around the British coastline, particularly in Scotland and the south of England.

The Command's Directorate

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."

Vaagso,  Norway, 27 December 1941On 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; An oil factory burns in Vaagso, 27 December 1941. British troops can be seen on the quay in the foreground. This was a Commando raid that assembled in Scapa Flow. IWM (N 459).]

Churchill was not consulted about the appointment and, 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 and shortly after Churchill and his Military Advisers showed their appreciation of the role of Combined Operations in the plans and preparations for D Day and their control of thousands of landing craft during the amphibious operations.

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.

 Troops practicing a beach landing from an LCA (Landing Craft Assault) on Loch Fyne, Scotland.Other Information

In addition to the main participating nations, 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.

[Photo; troops practicing a beach landing from an LCA (Landing Craft Assault) on Loch Fyne.  IWM (H 14572).]

The 'All Pages Index' in the page banner heading has brief descriptions of around 180 web pages about this amazing and ubiquitous WW2 organisation, whose auspices included such diverse subjects as Commando Raids and Major Landings, Landing Craft Training for hundreds of thousands, Mulberry Harbours (trialled in Wigtownshire), 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 in 1942, is still in use to this day in a number of countries worldwide.

If you have any thoughts on this proposal or you wish to express support, please let us know. All will be warmly welcomed and may help determine the best way ahead.

Further Reading

The Watery Maze by Bernard Fergusson. Collins 1961. Available from ABE books.


Annual Visits to the website.

The website receives several hundred thousand visits each year from around the world. The countries are listed below in descending order.

Great Britain, United States, Australia, Canada, Norway, Netherlands, France, Germany, Belgium, China, Russian Federation, New Zealand, South Korea, Spain, Poland, South Africa, Italy, Sweden, Ukraine, India, Ireland, Czech Republic, Finland, Greece, Denmark, Portugal, Argentina, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Pakistan, Brazil, Japan, Singapore, European country, Indonesia, Turkey, Romania, Cyprus, Malaysia, Malta, Virgin Islands (British), Philippines, United Arab Emirates, Austria, Honduras, Hungary, Republic of Serbia, Mexico, Egypt, Vietnam, Slovak Republic, Colombia, Israel, Thailand, Jersey, Seychelles, Latvia, Dominica, Sri Lanka, Slovenia, Afghanistan, Chile, Luxembourg, Zambia, Macedonia, Georgia, Nigeria, Croatia, Bangladesh, Bahrain, Morocco, Belize, Malawi, Belarus, Dominican Republic, Monaco, Lithuania, Jamaica, Iran, Venezuela, Madagascar, Iraq, Curacao, Ecuador, Taiwan, Algeria, Kenya, Namibia, Tunisia, Myanmar, Jordan, Bolivia, Uruguay, Mozambique, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Peru, Mali, Qatar, Estonia, Tanzania, Saudi Arabia, Macau, Barbados, Bermuda, Maldives, Suriname, Albania, Lesotho, Solomon Islands, Brunei Darussalam, Puerto Rico, Azerbaidjan, Nepal, Bhutan, Armenia, Rwanda, Paraguay, Montenegro,  Oman,, Kuwait, Fiji, Ethiopia, Papua New Guinea, Liberia, Grenada, Ghana, Haiti, Guam (USA), Guinea, El Salvador, Lebanon, Cambodia, Mauritius, Moldova, Bahamas, Bulgaria, Iceland, Guyana, Liechtenstein, Panama, Zimbabwe, Saint Vincent & Grenadines, Gibraltar, Trinidad and Tobago, Libya, Kazakhstan, Greenland, Angola, Costa Rica and Guatemala.

News & Information

Photo of single poppy.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.

Photo of single poppy.

Featured Links; Combined Ops Heritage; 40 D Day Stories & Combined Operations Jigsaw Challenge


Photo of single poppy.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 or They Also Served pages on this website, which include the Combined Operations prayer.

Facebook button.


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.

Photo of single poppy.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.

Photo of single poppy.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).

Photo of single poppy.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.

Photo of single poppy.New to Combined Ops?

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

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