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British Commandos
Military Intelligence Service, Special Series No. 1, August 9, 1942
[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from a WWII U.S. War Department Special Series publication. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


Section I. Special and Combined Training

11. General.—Volunteers who are accepted for the commandos now receive basic training in a 3 months' course at The Commando Depot. Formerly most of the commando training was conducted at the old Special Training Center, now known as The Advanced Infantry Assault School. The chief mission of this assault school is to develop shock troops for the Army as a whole, but a majority of the officers and noncommissioned officers of the commandos are sent there to take advanced training courses especially designed to qualify them as instructors. These special courses last from 2 weeks to 1 month. The Commando Depot and The Advanced Infantry Assault School are located in Scotland, where the combination of extremely rugged terrain with lakes and seacoast makes an ideal environment for amphibious training. Special courses for selected commando officers and noncommissioned officers are also available at the Combined Training Center, also in Scotland, where special stress is given to cooperation with naval units. In addition to these training centers the commandos have ample facilities for unit training at their home stations.

By the time a member of the commandos is ready for action, he can handle instinctively and confidently all the weapons and equipment assigned to him. Even then, however, his training is not finished. Before any commando unit goes on a raid, it carefully rehearses every phase of that particular raid in a geographical setting that most nearly corresponds to the actual theater of operations.

12. Special Training.—The next three subsections will describe commando training methods at the old Special Training Center, as reported by a U.S. observer. Although the basic training has been transferred to The Commando Depot, the methods and principles remain practically the same.

Students were chosen on the basis of physical fitness and aptitude for enduring and absorbing the rigorous training that is required. Those who graduated with the recommendation of staff and medical officers were permitted to apply for membership in the commandos, and approximately 50 percent of the officers and the enlisted men were accepted after each training course. The remaining students were returned to their original organizations to conduct appropriate assault courses within their respective units. It was believed that this type of instruction would tend to improve the fighting ability of the British soldier in general.

The Special Training Center had a "Holding Wing" where officers and enlisted personnel were trained and held as replacements for existing units or as personnel for new commandos. An allied section of the Center was operated for the training of Polish, Free French, Czechoslovakian, and Norwegian troops. Basic combined training with the Navy was carried out at a nearby naval establishment.

The Special Training Center was located in extremely rough terrain in the Scottish Highlands, on a lake connecting with the sea. The surrounding country is mountainous, reaching altitudes up to 4,000 feet, and the rainfall is the heaviest in the British Isles. In such terrain it was possible to conduct training that required the greatest physical exertion.

At this Center full recognition was given to the imperative need for physical efficiency in war. On many occasions students were exposed to conditions in which the noise, the extreme fatigue, and the mental strain of battle were simulated in a very realistic manner. Such training tested the relation between fatigue and mental efficiency, for students were required to consider and render tactical decisions when the going was seemingly unbearable.

Practical and theoretical instruction in map problems was stressed. French, German, and Russian, as well as English, maps were used. Students were taught to make hasty sketches, perspective drawings of shore lines, and overlays.

Day and night, practical map problems that required mountaincraft and considerable physical exertion were worked out in the field. The average distance covered in these map problems was approximately 40 miles. The students had to contend with poor visibility, sleep in the rain, build fires with wet fuel, cross swift mountain streams, and move rapidly over exceedingly difficult terrain. In the beginning some students unfamiliar with the terrain and training were lost in the Highlands for as many as 3 days.

The use of ground and cover was taught practically in progressive stages. At first the students were required to move toward given objectives over terrain affording good cover; and when they exposed themselves unnecessarily, this fact was brought to their attention. In the later training, the facilities for cover were much more limited. In the middle stages of this work, blank cartridges were fired from an Enfield rifle when a student exposed himself unnecessarily. In the final stage, ball cartridges from rifles and Bren guns were fired so that the bullets fell 3 to 5 feet from such a student. This method produced excellent results, compelling the men to take cover naturally and quickly.

Another phase of training involved the use of canvas assault boats and reconnaissance boats. Practice in the use of this equipment was conducted in swift streams as well as in the sea. This training was further developed in the form of opposed landings, usually made before dawn, the students being required to fight their way to objectives situated from a few hundred yards to several miles inland. These objectives were usually high up the side of a mountain. During the attack the men were subjected to very close fire from Bren guns and rifles as well as to the bursts of the Mills grenade, the bakelite grenade, and 2-inch-mortar smoke shells. This realistic instruction occasionally produced casualties. In one exercise one man lost an eye and another was cut severely in the leg by grenade splinters. On another occasion one man was killed. A combination of confusion and a strong desire to take cover quickly when under fire caused a number of sprained ankles and twisted knees. It was emphasized that these casualties were generally a result of carelessness.

Many hours were devoted to unarmed combat, involving ju jitsu, wrestling, and general brawling tactics. This training improved the individual's self-confidence and developed a keen desire to fight. Close combat proved highly interesting to both officers and noncommissioned officers. It was an excellent means of physical training, requiring the use of all the muscles and improving bodily coordination. The methods learned were actually employed in tank-hunting exercises and in taking fortified points.

A short course was given on the subject of tank hunting. Men were informed that determined individuals had been able to stalk and destroy tanks effectively in Africa, Norway, and Greece. Highly skilled stalkers are required, who must be aggressive to the point of recklessness.

In a typical problem at the Special Training Center, reconnaissance units located a park of dummy tanks before darkness. Although the park was guarded, the raiders were required to approach the tanks and destroy them without being seen. Usually the results were highly successful. Many parties reached their objectives either without being seen or after having quietly removed the guards in their path. The exercise demonstrated that soft-soled shoes must be worn, that helmets and any equipment which rattles must be left behind, and that knife fighting is effective against sentries. Men were taught that methods of hunting tanks must be varied to meet widely different concrete situations, and common sense was stressed as the basic rule in these exercises.

Orthodox and unorthodox use of grenades and mines for demolitions was taught, including techniques for the bangalore torpedo and the construction of booby traps with grenades. Instruction was also given in the employment of demolitions and explosives in conjunction with ambushes. Several accounts of actual ambushes contrived by commandos were studied and discussed, and a number of ambushes were set up in practice for the instruction of students.

Another subject in the course was the negotiation of obstacles. This included the crossing of barbed-wire barriers set up in German fashion, the crossing of mine fields, and the passing of booby traps and of natural and man-made obstacles of other types. The bangalore torpedo was employed to blast a path through wire. Other methods of crossing, such as the use of logs, gunny sacks, and blankets placed over wire, were demonstrated. A lecturer suggested that bodies of dead men might be employed effectively for bridging wire obstacles, and also that men wearing overcoats for protection against the wire could lie across entanglements so that other men could pass over them.

Two methods of crossing mine fields were taught. In one, students used bayonets to prod the ground until a mine was discovered. These were then dug out or exploded with guncotton. The other method was to use the cup projector in conjunction with an Enfield rifle and a Mills grenade. A 30-yard length of cordtex (explosive cord 1/4 inch in diameter) was coiled with one end tied to the Mills grenade (detonator removed). The grenade was fired across the mine field, dragging the cordtex approximately 30 yards. The cordtex was then detonated, causing all mines in a path 8 inches wide to explode. Ten feet to one side a similar exercise was carried out. Two men followed the paths of the exploded cordtex, dragging a net of cordtex with an 8-inch mesh, 10 feet wide, across the mine field. When the net was detonated, a 10-foot path was cleared. In a practice crossing in which a U.S. observer participated, every mine within the 10-foot path was exploded. The mines were the British Mark IV antitank mines.

13. Instructor Training Courses.—Courses of approximately 2 weeks' duration in even more highly specialized phases of this training were conducted for officers and senior noncommissioned officers who were selected to act as instructors for their units. The courses included the Close Combat Instructors' Course, the Fieldcraft Course, and the Instructors' Course in Demolitions. Schedules of the courses follow:


Subject    Periods
(55 minutes
First aid in the field1  
Street fighting1  
Characteristics of small arms1  
Cover and camouflage1  
Characteristics of small arms1  
Practical Exercises:
Physical training10  
Unarmed combat14  
Saber fencing8  
Grenade throwing4  
Bayonet fighting2  
Automatic pistol; handling, stripping, and cleaning2  
Thompson submachine gun; handling, stripping, and cleaning2  
Rifle firing from hip1  
Subject    Periods
(55 minutes
Practical Exercises—Continued.
     Bren firing from hip and shoulder1  
Use of scaling ladders1  
Obstacle assault course3  
Individual and section stalk6  
Wood stalking2  
Field firing2  
Wood fighting1  
Opposed landing1  
Scheme (tactical exercise)7  
Issue and return of equipment2  
Pistol firing*2  
Thompson submachine gun firing*2  
* Coincident with other periods.


Normally the last 6 of the 14 periods on unarmed combat were utilized to test the ability of the candidates as instructors.

Saber fencing was included in order to develop good footwork and balance, quick mental reactions, and parries and attacks suitable for knife fighting.

Grenade instruction included every possible type of throw with dummy grenades, and the throwing of at least four live grenades per man.

Full instruction was given in handling, stripping, cleaning, and firing the .45 Colt automatic pistol and the Thompson submachine gun.

The obstacle assault course included all types of obstacles likely to be met in the field. This course was negotiated in battle order and included field firing with ball ammunition.

The wood-fighting periods were designed to encourage quick reaction in the face of unexpected targets in close country. Students were taken over this course individually and ball ammunition was used.

In the opposed-landing periods, students fired ball ammunition, and realism was added by firing more ball ammunition over their heads and by the use of anti-personnel grenades and smoke.


Subject    Periods
(55 minutes
Map reading4  
Food values5  
Maintaining direction1  
Panoramic drawing1  
Mess-tin cooking1  
Characteristics of small arms1  
German army identifications1  
Physical efficiency in war1  
Cover and camouflage1  
Subject    Periods
(55 minutes
     Mess-tin cooking2  
Characteristics of small arms1  
Practical Exercises:
Map reading15  
Use of telescope1  
Stalking 6  
Construction of bivouacs3  
Bridging 3  
Schemes (tactical exercises)28  
Issue and return of kit (equipment)2  


The first 2-day exercise was in mountainous country; the second in closely wooded country.

Saturday was the only day on which the students could get to the nearest town; hence this was a free day and Sunday was a work day.

The practical map-reading periods included the following subjects:

 Route finding
 Keeping direction with and without map and compass
 Long-range observation
 Panoramic drawing
 Field sketching
 Visualization of ground from map

The periods on stalking were intended to teach use of ground and cover, silent and unobserved movement, and the ability to find the way to an objective which is visible only from a distance.

The periods on bridging dealt with a method of constructing a quick and serviceable bridge over an obstacle without calling on the engineers.


     Theory of explosives.
Calculating and placing of small charges.
Firing initiating charges.
Explosives and their storage.
The main charge.
Detonating fuzes.
Placing charges.
Ring mains and junction boxes; firing large charges.
Placing dummy charges.
Bore-hole charges.
Bombs and incendiaries.
Offensive and defensive demolitions.
Preparation for raids.
Technical appreciation.
Electrical circuits.
 Appreciation for night schemes (tactical exercises).
 Placing and firing charges, practical.
 Destruction and sabotage of railways.
 Destruction of machinery, boilers, lock gates, etc.
 Destruction of petrol and oils.
 Driving trains, practical.
 Night operation involving demolition (in conjunction with other courses).
 Training in units; discussion.

14. Comments by a U.S. Ohserver.—Small tactical exercises were conducted during the course in order to give the students practical work in the subjects covered. The individual's ability to participate in offensive operations, after enduring hardships and forced marches through strange country at night, was tested in exercises of 1 to 3 days' duration. But even when he had reached his objective, he was not allowed to rest, for then he had to practice a rapid withdrawal. These operations usually involved demolitions or sabotage of vital points and utilities; they were often carried out in conjunction with small landing operations in which naval forces participated.

The men were taught to live on concentrated rations during these exercises, to take care of themselves in the field under all conditions of weather and climate, and to maintain themselves in a "fighting condition."

Each man wore battle dress, carried his own arms, and kept all his rations and ammunition in his rucksack. Every effort was made to keep the weight of the load down to a minimum; the pack usually averaged about 35 pounds. As one instructor expressed it: "I tell them the job to be done; the number of days we will be out; the arms arid ammunition required; and leave to the individual to decide what he will carry for his own personal comfort. As each man carries his own load, only the bare necessities are taken along."

Two former sergeants of the Shanghai police force, commissioned as captains in the British Army, gave the instruction in unarmed combat, the use of the fighting knife, and self-defense.

The fighting knife was developed at the school as a weapon to be carried by all members of a raiding party, and was carried in the side pocket of the trousers of the battle dress.

Instruction was given in firing single shots from the submachine gun while it was set for full automatic operation; this was to conserve ammunition and yet have the gun immediately ready for full automatic fire if necessary.

All instructors were carefully chosen and were well qualified in their respective subjects.

Considerable time was spent in teaching students to fire the rifle and Bren gun from the hip.

A very difficult pistol course was arranged which required the student to fire from various angles at unexpected targets.

Every effort was made to develop the offensive spirit in all students, and to teach them to defend themselves against the type of tactics emphasized in their own special training.

The commando personnel appeared to be in excellent fighting trim, and capable of giving a good account of themselves under any conditions.

15. Combined Training.—a. Advanced combined training.—The following is a sample schedule of the advanced combined training which the commandos practice:

      Day     Night  
        Embarking and disembarking from boats for both beach and rock landings; loading of craft.
Battle Patrol Formations 
Suitable formations for raiding parties by day and night.
Landing Exercises
Simple company exercises involving a landing, a formation of beachhead party, and limited move to objective. The second exercise was preparation for night-landing training.
Pulling cutters and dinghys; bends and hitches; embarking and disembarking from drifters at sea; compass work; rope ladder climbing.
Firing from boats; crossing and clearing obstacles; firing from hip; use of grenades; close combat.
Daylight Raids 
Company exercises in raids by day; elaborating and extending the scope of earlier landing exercises.
Night Raids 
Exercises involving landing in darkness with objective some distance from beach; object of raid to be achieved and troops withdrawn to boats in darkness.
Field Firing—Preparation 
Field Firing—Exercise 
Each company to prepare exercise on field-firing range and subsequently carry it out with ball ammunition; preparation by day, but exercise to involve landing before dawn to secure beachhead, and offensive after first light; mortars to be in support of company on at least one occasion during course.
On return from field-firing exercise; other discussions and lectures to be arranged by group staffs.
By Royal Engineers—to include demolitions, bangalore torpedoes, and booby traps.
Battle Exercise2
Commanded by battalion commander. Probable hours 0500 to 2100, which will involve landing and disembarking in darkness.
Spare Time 
 _____ _____ 
 24 = 12 days
1 Each period is 55 minutes.

b. Ships and lauding craft.—The type of ship assigned to the commandos for training and operations is officially designated as an infantry assault ship. In such a vessel the commando troops, six assault landing craft, or the same number of support landing craft, and two motor landing craft are carried from a home port to the waters of a place that is to be raided. There the mother ship launches the assault, support, and motor landing craft. The infantry assault ship displaces about 3,000 tons, and has a speed of 23 1/2 knots and a cruising range of approximately 12,000 miles at 13 knots.

The characteristics of assault and motor landing craft are as follows:

  Type     Draught   Speed in knots   Length     Beam     Opening     Load     Remarks  
Assault landing craft (A.L.C.). 1 ft. 7 in loaded. 10½ loaded. 38 ft. 9 in. 10 ft. 4 ft. 5 in. 35 men plus naval crew of 5 men or a subsec. 3.7 lt. (how.) btry. Armored against small-arms ammunition. Rate of discharge one platoon 9 sec. Weight: loaded. 10½ tons; unloaded, 7½ tons. Range: 70 miles. Low silhouette. Silent engine.
Support landing craft (S.L.C.). (Same as assault landing craft, except for armament.) 1 ft. 7 in loaded. 10½ loaded. 38 ft. 9 in. 10 ft. 4 ft. 5 in. Manned entirely by naval personnel. Special armament for giving close support; usually equipped with one mortar, which can fire smoke bombs designed to burst on water or on land, and two dual-purpose antiaircraft and ground machine guns.
Motor landing craft (M.L.C.). 1 ft. 6 in forward; 4 ft. aft, loaded. 7½ loaded. 40 ft. 13 ft. 6 in.   2 small vehicles, i.e., 15-cwt. trucks or Bren gun carriers, and 40 men; or 1 large vehicle, i.e., 3-ton lorry (truck) and 40 men; or 1 tank not exceeding 16 tons, and 100 men. If loaded with small vehicles, the M.L.C. can be lowered complete. If loaded with large vehicle, the M.L.C. must be lowered first and the vehicle lowered into her when she is afloat. Weight: 18 tons.

No time schedule covering the foregoing training is available, but the following is a topical list of the subjects covered:

a. Offensive demolitions.
b. Close combat, comprising:
 Unarmed combat;
 Thompson submachine gun;
 Bren firing from hip and shoulder;
 Rifle firing from hip;
 Use of the fighting knife;
 Bayonet fighting;
 Fighting in closely wooded country;
  Street fighting and house clearance.
c. Assault, comprising:
  Assault course;
 Opposed landings;
 Field firings;
 Surmounting obstacles;
 Destruction of antitank mines;
 Elementary bridging;
 Use of assault boats;
 Use of scaling ladders.
d. Tactical schemes (exercises) involving:
 Living on concentrated rations;
 Subordinate leadership;
 Automatic battle drill;
 Night operations;
 Road blocks;
 Quick reactions;
 Necessity for rapid decisions.


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