BARDIA NORTH AFRICA ~
19/20 APRIL 1941
Bardia on the North African coast was
the location of an early Combined Operations raid. It was not a good start -
more of a learning experience.
This land/naval raid
took place at a time of rapid changes in the fortunes of war - usually in favour
of the Axis forces. The objective was to disrupt enemy lines of communication
and to inflict as much damage as possible to their installations and equipment
Forces involved were HMS Glengyle and A Battalion (ex No 7 Commando).
Bardia lies 500 miles west of Suez and 50 miles east of Tobruk on the North
Plans & Preparations
The story begins
with the formation of a Special Service force with the objective of
capturing the Greek Island of Rhodes. This at first sight may seem an odd
place to start but it puts into context the sequence of events leading to
the Bardia raid, the constant changes to plans and the general
unpredictable dynamics of the war.
In early 1941 the
planners decided that the capture of Rhodes was an achievable and
worthwhile objective. Keyes, in his role of Director of Combined
Operations, proposed the establishment in the UK, of a Special Services
force for rapid transfer to the Mediterranean on the fast "Glen" ships
Glengyle and Glenroy. The idea was accepted by the Chiefs of
the command of Lt. Colonel R. E. Laycock force Z was established
comprising Nos 7,8 & 11 Commandos, A troop of No 3 Commando and Courtney's
folbot section. The hastily assembled force of around 100 officers and
1500 other ranks sailed from the Isle of Arran in the River Clyde on the
31st of Jan 1941. It arrived at Suez, via the Cape, on the 7th of March.
Orders had been received from the War Office that the designation "Layforce"
was to be used and that no mention of Commandos or Royal Navy involvement
was permitted. The concern was that the vital work of force Z might be
compromised if the enemy knew the composition and nature of the force. On
the 10th of March, Layforce disembarked at Geneifa. Shortly after No 50
Middle East Commando (ex Crete) and No 52 Commando (ex Sudan) were
amalgamated under Lt Colonel Young and added to Layforce as follows;
Battalion - No 7 Commando (Lt Colonel Colvin)
B Battalion - No 8
Commando (Lt Colonel Daly)
C Battalion - No 11 Commando (Lt Colonel
D Battalion - No 50/52 Commando (Lt Colonel Young)
the German invasion of Greece and Yugoslavia on the 6th of April the
Rhodes operation was hastily called off. A week or two earlier Rommel had
launched an offensive in North Africa and by the 11th April his forces had
re-occupied Cyrenaica and captured Sollum and Bardia.
the same day the role of Layforce changed to planning and undertaking
raids behind enemy lines along the North African coast - the same task
given to the Middle East Commando force in the previous autumn. Layforce
set off for Alexandria on the 12th of April for provisions and
preparations. Orders were changed and on the 15th of April Brigade HQ and
A & C Battalions set off in the two Glen ships to attack Bardia while 4
Troops of B Battalion sailed for Bomba in a destroyer. Such was the swell
that swept the coast the following night that the operation was called
off. The folbots could not disembark from their submarine and
re-embarkation of the Commandos from the beaches would have been difficult
if not impossible.
were quickly issued. This time A Battalion (No 7 Commando) was selected for a
raid on Bardia with the objective of disrupting enemy lines of communication and
inflicting as much damage as possible to installations and equipment. The plan
was to land simultaneously on four beaches using Glengyle's Assault
Landing Craft (ALC). One ALC could not be lowered and there were difficulties
with the release gear on others. Nonetheless the approaches to the beaches on
the night of 19th/20th of April went smoothly but the expected guiding lights
could not be seen. The placing of these lights on the beaches was the
responsibility of Layforce's folbot section under Roger Courtney. It later
transpired that Courtney and his men were delayed en route to the beaches when
friendly fire caused HMS
Triumph, the submarine on which they took passage, to submerse and take
Despite these setbacks the detachments were only 15 minutes behind
schedule when they hit the beaches. There was some confusion when some
ALCs landed on the wrong beaches. The landings were however unopposed and
progress inland was made to locate and destroy the various targets. Bardia
itself was unoccupied but regrettably, due to inaccurate or incomplete
intelligence, some targets did not exist or were in unexpected locations.
With time running short the return to the beaches commenced with a tally
of one bridge blown up and an Italian tyre dump set on fire. Little else
of significance was achieved. Sadly an over alert Commando sentry mortally
wounded a British officer and one detachment of 67 men returned to the
wrong beach. They were later reported to be prisoners of war. One ALC was
abandoned and another ALC broke down but eventually made its way to Tobruk.
was not a high point in the history of Combined Operations raids but many
valuable lessons were learned for future raids viz.;
training in European conditions had not taken account of the lighter
nights along the North African coast,
the men could have moved much more quickly across the terrain,
more thought should be given to the speed in withdrawal and
spare landing craft should be on hand for stray parties,
the parent ship should lie closer to the shore when conditions
manning the landing craft prior to arrival at the disembarkation
point would speed up the hoisting out.
gains included one German Brigade diverted from other duties to plug the gap in
their defences exposed by the raid, one bridge blown up and one tyre dump set on
fire. Arguably the most important of the gains were the lessons learned for
future amphibious operations. Losses included 67 men taken prisoner, one officer
accidentally mortally wounded by friendly fire and one Assault Landing Craft
Understandably morale, following the raid, was not of the highest order.
It was made all the worse by the now familiar pattern of receiving new
orders only to have them cancelled or seriously modified. When A Battalion
finally vacated the Glengyle at the beginning of May the following
inscription was found on the troop deck - 'Never in the whole of history
of human endeavour have so few been buggered about by so many' .... a
sentiment Laycock identified with as he made clear in a lecture he
delivered back in the UK at the end of 1941.
There are over 200 books listed on our 'Combined Operations Books'
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Chronological summary of North Africa Campaign
Commandos and Rangers of World War 2 by James D. Ladd. Published in 1978 by
MacDonald & Jane's. ISBN 0 356 08432 9
Commandos 1940 - 1946 by Charles Messenger. Pub by William Kimber, London
1985. ISBN 0 7183 0553 1
Watery Maze by Bernard Fergusson published 1961 by Collins.
Compiled from information in the above books.