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Royal Naval Commandos
Royal Naval Commandos Normandy IWM Image A 024092.jpg
A beach party from the Royal Naval Commandos at Normandy, 13 June 1944
Active 1942–1945
Country United Kingdom United Kingdom
Branch Royal Navy
Type Commando
Size 22 units each consisting of 10 officers and 65 ratings
Motto(s) In Primo Exulto (First in last out)[1]

Second World War

Combined Operations Shoulder Flash Insignia of Combined Operations units it is a combination of a red Thompson submachine gun, a pair of wings, an anchor and mortar rounds on a black backing

The Royal Naval Commandos were a commando formation of the Royal Navy which served during the Second World War. The first units were raised in 1942 and by the end of the war, 22 company-sized units had been raised to carry out various tasks associated with establishing, maintaining and controlling beachheads during amphibious operations. Royal Naval Commando parties took part in all Allied amphibious landings from early 1942 to the end of the war, when they were disbanded. Operations included the landings at Diego Suarez on Madagascar, Operation Torch, Operation Neptune, the Screwdriver operations in Burma, Operation Market-Garden and the assault on Walcheren.



Early Allied amphibious operations during the war were hampered by poor organisation and control of the landing beaches. In 1941 the Royal Naval beach parties, which were the forerunners to the Royal Naval Commandos, were raised.[2]

The first Royal Naval Commandos were formed from these beach parties shortly after Operation Ironclad, the initial Allied landings on Madagascar to capture the Vichy French-held port of Diego Suarez in early May 1942.[1] During this operation specially-trained Royal Navy beach parties were landed along with the first wave of assault troops in order to organise the beachheads and control the landings.[3] The success of these parties led to the decision to form the Royal Naval Commandos and over the course of 1942–43 personnel were selected and training undertaken at HMS Armadillo at Ardentinny and then later at the commando school at Achnacarry in Scotland.[1][4]

In the end 22 Royal Naval Commando units were raised, designated 'A' through to 'W' (although there was no 'I' Commando), each with its own distinctively coloured lanyard worn on the left shoulder when wearing general British army battledress.[4] Of note, ‘W’ Commando was largely formed from personnel drawn from the Royal Canadian Navy.[4] Each unit was roughly equivalent in size to a company. They were commanded by an officer of the rank of lieutenant commander or commander and consisted of 10 officers and 65 ratings organised into three parties, each of 25 men.[1]


Due to their specialised skills, parties from the Royal Naval Commandos took part in every amphibious operation carried out by Allies from early 1942 to the end of the war.[4]

Following their initial involvement in Operation Ironclad on Madagascar, the next major operation that the Royal Naval Commandos were involved in came in August 1942, when two Royal Naval Commandos units—'C' and 'D'—were involved in the ill-fated Operation Jubilee. The units provided a beachmaster and beach party to each of the landing beaches, however, in the end many of the parties were unable to get ashore, while those that managed to land were prevented from carrying out their assigned tasks due to the high volume of machine gun fire directed on the beaches from the Germans defending them. As a result casualties among the naval commandos were high and when the operation was eventually abandoned, many of them were captured.[1]

During Operation Torch the Royal Naval Commando contribution consisted of parties from 'C', 'E', 'F' and 'G' Commandos augmented with elements from 'H' and 'J'.[1] Spread across the three task forces, the naval commandos—wearing American uniforms in some cases, in order to placate the Vichy French defenders—landed among the first wave of troops at Casablanca, Oran and Algiers.[5] After clearing the defending troops from the beaches, carried out the task of marking out the beachhead, organising the wounded and prisoners of war, and controlling the subsequent waves that were landing on the beaches.[1][6]

In June 1943, 'D' Commando took part in the landing on Pantelleria, while in July seven naval commandos—'C', 'E', 'F', 'G', 'K', 'M' and 'N'—took part in the Allied invasion of Sicily, providing beach parties to 27 different beaches.[1] In September 1943 parties from 'C', 'G', 'H', 'K', 'M', 'N' and ‘O’ Commandos took part in the landings on mainland Italy. Landing at Salerno and Anzio, they undertook tasks including clearing mines from the beaches.[1] Later in June 1944, 'A' and 'O' parties suffered heavy casualties when they were involved in Operation Brassard, the capture of the island of Elba.[7] Others took part in Allied operations in Yugoslavia and Greece.[1]

British commandos

Also in June 1944, eight units—'F', 'J', 'L', 'P', 'Q', 'R', 'S', 'T' and 'W' Commandos—took part in Operation Neptune during the D-Day landings in Normandy in June 1944.[1] Here they were involved in establishing and defending the landing beaches against German counterattacks at the same time as carrying out their assigned tasks of controlling the beaches to ensure the steady and efficient flow of supplies and men to the front. The parties remained in Normandy for about six weeks before they were withdrawn to reconstitute in preparation for further operations.[1][8] These operations were limited in scope after the effort of D-Day, but included participation in the assault on Walcheren with the Royal Marines Commandos from the 4th Special Service Brigade and attempts by ‘L’ and ‘M’ Commandos to cross the Rhine at Arnhem during Operation Market-Garden.[1]

After this, the decision was made that the Royal Naval Commandos would be moved to the Far East. In February 1944, 'H' Commando had been involved in landings along the Arakan coast as part of Operation Screwdriver,[9] while 'C' and 'E' Commandos undertook operations in Malaya later.[1] As the war in Europe was coming to an end it was felt that the naval commandos would be able to play a role in later operations against the Japanese where they would be involved in operations that were planned for Malaya and the home islands of Japan and in this regard, seven units—'C', 'E', 'H', 'J', 'M', 'N', 'R' and 'V' Commandos—were allocated to these operations,[1] but in the end the war in the Pacific ended before they were deployed.[4]


Following the end of the war, the Royal Naval Commandos were disbanded.[1] The process began in late 1944 as the need for beach parties decreased and was finally completed in 1945.[10]

Battle honours[]

The following Battle honours were awarded to the British Commandos during the Second World War.[11]



  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 Kipling, S.H. "Royal Naval Commandos". Retrieved 2009-08-26. 
  2. Lee 2004, p. 23.
  3. Lee 2004, p. 37.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Sumner 2001, p. 55.
  5. Lee 2004, p. 63.
  6. Lee 2004, pp. 63–64.
  7. Lee 2004, p. 224.
  8. Lee 2004, p. 138–223.
  9. Lee 2004, p. 127.
  10. Lee 2004, p. 253.
  11. Moreman, p.94


  • Lee, David (2004). Beachhead Assault: The Story of the Royal Naval Commandos in World War II. Greenhill. ISBN 978-1-85367-619-2. 
  • Moreman, Tim (2006). British Commandos 1940–46. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84176-986-8. 
  • Sumner, Ian (2001). The Royal Navy 1939–45. Botley, Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-84176-195-8. 

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