~ 9 COMMANDO
is a brief account of the history of No 9 Commando from its formation in the
summer of 1940 to disbandment in 1946. It was most heavily involved in
operations around the coasts of Italy, Yugoslavia, Albania and Greece.
The evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force
from the beaches of
Dunkirk in May and
June of 1940 had a profound effect on the future conduct of the war. Gone was
the chance of shipping large armies onto friendly shores to take on the Germans.
Instead, large scale amphibious assaults against heavily defended enemy held
territory would be required and, for this, a new approach was needed involving
the combined forces of the army, navy and air force.
realised that an amphibious invasion of mainland Europe, with any reasonable
chance of success, would not be possible for several years. In the
meantime he wanted to harass the enemy along the length of the occupied
coastline from northern Norway to
southern France. This would force the Germans to deploy more men, armaments and
materials in these areas than would otherwise have been necessary leaving
fewer resources to be used elsewhere (notably against the Soviet Union from June
of 1941). On the 3rd of June 1940 he wrote to the Chiefs of Staff;
The completely defensive habit of mind, which has ruined the French, must not be allowed to ruin all our
initiative. It is of the highest consequence to keep the largest numbers of German forces all along the coasts of the countries that have been
conquered, and we should immediately set to work to organise raiding forces on these coasts where the populations are friendly. Such forces might
be composed by self-contained, thoroughly equipped units of say 1,000 up to not less than 10,000 when combined.
And two days later he elaborated:
Enterprises must be prepared with specially trained troops of the hunter class, who can develop a reign
of terror first of all on the 'butcher and bolt' policy. I look to the Chiefs of Staff to propose me measures for a vigorous,
enterprising and ceaseless offensive against the whole German occupied coastline.
consequence of these new circumstances on June 14 1940 Lieutenant-General Alan Bourne was appointed
by the Chiefs of Staff (under increasing pressure from Churchill to make
an appointment) to the position of "Commander of
Raiding Operations on coasts in enemy occupation and Adviser to the Chiefs of
Staff on Combined Operations." Bourne was a Royal Marine Commander with
experience of both land and sea operations. However, at Churchill's behest, on the 17th of July
Keyes replaced Bourne and was appointed
to the strengthened position (certainly as viewed by Keyes himself) of Director of
Combined Operations to be followed by
Lord Louis Mountbatten
in October 1941.
Commando units were raised and undertook what turned out to be ineffective raids on Boulogne and the
Channel Islands. Churchill was not impressed with these pin-prick raids and for
8 months there was little activity as the role of the Commandos, their
training needs and modus operandi were refined and developed. These
deliberations resulted in the formation of Commando Units in the first few weeks of July 1940.
Some of the
Units had a distinct
geographical base as Army volunteers came forward. Nos 3 and 4 Commandos were
formed from Southern Command, Nos 5 and 6 from Western Command, No 7 from
Eastern Command, No 8 mainly from the London District and the Household
Division and Nos 9 and 11 from Scottish Command. No 1 Commando was formed from
disbanded Independent Companies whose members were trained to fight
independently as irregulars and not as part of a formed military unit. Initially designated the No 1 SS Battalion by March 1941 it was renamed No 1 Commando.
[Photo; the Commando Memorial, Spean
Bridge, Scotland, courtesy of Stephen Eblet.]
Unless otherwise stated SS in this article denotes 'Special Service,' not
to be confused with the
Canary Islands Alert
There was not much Commando activity after the
successful 1st Lofoten Islands raid in March of 1941. It was a frustrating time
for all concerned but in July
the idea took hold that the Spanish might enter the war on the side of the Axis
powers. As a result planning for the invasion of the Canary Islands was set in
train to deny the enemy a naval base from which they could threaten Allied
shipping in the Atlantic approaches to the Mediterranean. The operation was
codenamed Puma (later Pilgrim).
The force comprised two Royal Marine Brigades, Army
troops and Commandos. They were assembled at Inveraray under Major General
Robert Sturges of the Royal Marines. The Commando element comprised Nos 1, 2, 4, 9 &
12. Command of Force 110, as it became known, was transferred to Lt General Sir
Harold Alexander, the GOC of Southern Command.
On the 15th of Sept 1941 part of the force was sent
to Freetown and then Lagos in Sierra Leone to undergo amphibious training in the
right topographical and climatic conditions. The Commando contribution to the
Force comprised four small parties of one officer and 25 other ranks
including one drawn from No 9. However, by February 1942 the risk had subsided
and they returned home.
On the night of November 22/3 1941 a troop of 100 men of the Commando set out to attack a 4
gun emplacement east of Houlgate on the French coast south of Le Havre. They
came ashore a few hundred metres from their intended landing beach and were
unable to press home their attack because of an intervening clay cliff. Pte J
Davidson, a bren gunner in the cover party who stayed aboard the 2 LCAs involved,
recalled that the troop had stayed aboard Princess Beatrix for a couple of weeks
before setting off on the mission. They were issued with 1000 French francs
and escape rations.
As they landed one of the LCAs broached to and was towed off with difficulty. It
was likely that the returning raiding party would have to swim out to the craft.
At first there was no sign of the enemy but soon the area was lit up with Very
lights and search lights. Trucks were seen approaching from about 3 or 4 miles
away so the raiders still on the beach swam out after exchanging torch signals
with the cover party. The LCA gunners withheld fire not wishing to give away
Meantime another party of raiders called at a farmhouse to be told of an
imminent 2 man bicycle patrol. The raiders set a rope across the road to dismount them
but no sooner had this been done when a Stuka aircraft attacked the LCAs. By
this time Pte Davidson's
LCA was half full of water with only one engine working. However, on the second strafing
he managed to put two bursts into the plane. It did not return and may have been
disabled or shot down.
This version of events differs from the official record which reports a
successful landing and that the raiders had insufficient time to carry out the
intended raid. The Commandos had difficulty contacting the LCAs and they were,
in any event, too far off the beach to come in and lift them off. The men swam
out to the craft but the enemy had been aroused by the commotion. The Commandos
suffered no casualties but the raid proved the need for better planning and
Mediterranean [ Gibralter, Italy, Albania, Yugoslavia, Greece.]
Early in November 1942 No 9 Commando, under Lt Col Ronnie Todd, was indirectly
involved in Operation Torch when they were sent to Gibraltar to reinforce the
garrison there. There was concern that the Axis forces might move through Spain
in retaliation for the Allied invasion of North Africa. The Commandos returned
to the UK in early March 1943 to be replaced by No 3 Commando. [Map opposite
shows major place names mentioned in the text. Greece is on a separate map
In the autumn of 1943 Laycock reinforced the Mediterranean Commandos by
sending out No 9 and later No 43 (RM) Commando after the latter had completed
their training. By the time No 43 arrived in the Mediterranean in November 1943, No 9 had been
operational at Molfetta on the east coast of Italy since November 8. A week
later they were carrying out reconnaissance on the small islands of Tremiti and
Pianoso in the Adriatic to the north but found no evidence of the enemy on
At the end of November they moved to Naples on the west coast of Italy this time coming under the
command of the US Fifth Army. The Germans had set up a defensive line on the Garigliano and Rapido rivers. A plan to force a crossing of the Garigliano near
its mouth was abandoned in favour of a similar operation but this time a feint
to keep the German's forces occupied in the west.
No 9 Commando were given three objectives by X Corps - a hill called Monte
d'Argento about 2000 yards NW of the river mouth, the destroyed bridge carrying
route 7 over the river and a spit of land NW of the river mouth which separated
it from the coast. The three formed a triangle and Lt Col RJF Tod's idea was to
land half way along the shore side of the triangle and then divide the force
into three, one for each objective. Since the operation was a feint they would
withdraw across the river to their home bank once the positions had been taken.
As a pre-requisite to the Commando action the enemy positions on their home bank
were to be softened up and subdued.
They undertook a rehearsal on the night of the 27/28 December on their home bank
and on the 30th they learned that most of the enemy on their home bank had been
cleared by the 167 Brigade and the Guards Brigade. The task would be quickly
completed. The scene was therefore set for the operation and on the evening of
the 29th the Commando embarked in HMS Royal Ulsterman and Princess
The LCAs were lowered into the sea 6 miles south of the landing beach opposite
friendly shores. They formed up and set off at 2130 hrs. Inaccurate navigational
advice from accompanying US Navy craft would have placed the raiding party 2
miles SE of the river but Tod realised the error and advised his 2nd in command,
Major E W Clark. He moved his craft up the coast and landed about 700 yards NW
of the river mouth at 0035 hrs. This was about 1000 yards short of the intended
beach and 90 minutes later than planned. There were no distinguishing features
on the coastline which was, in any event, difficult to see because of smoke and
One LCA developed a steering fault and did not land. The three raiding parties
were reorganised and by 0100 hrs they had accurately established their position
on the coast. Y force of 120 men from Nos 1 & 2 Troop was under the command of
Captain J McNeil. Their objective was the hill feature. Progress was slow due to
the extra distance, irrigation ditches, mines and wire but they reached their
objective after 2 hours. They split into two troops one to attack the top of the
hill and the other to clear the houses and to block the road to the north.
The hill itself was defended mainly by mines and booby traps with the enemy
concentrated to the north. The troop searched the lower ground and blew up a
PzKw Mk III Special tank found in a cave. In the action they killed six enemy
and captured four at a cost of four casualties to themselves.
Their route back to the beach took them close to No 6 Troop's objective - the
bridge. As they approached they heard the unmistakable skirl of bag pipes
playing the 'Pwbrrachd of Donald Dubh'. In reply McNeil ordered his piper to
play his Troop's march 'Green Hills'. In this way the two Troops met up without
firing on each other. [No 9 and No 11 Commando were originally
formed as Scottish Commandos and each Troop had its own piper. This proved
invaluable in action for locating and rallying the men.]
Captain Cameron who led Z Force comprising Nos 4 and 6 Troops had also found progress very
slow arriving at the bridge at 0500 hrs. With the support of artillery they
overran a pillbox and suffered no casualties. Cameron was sceptical about a
message he then received from 201 Brigade that the home bank near the bridge had
been cleared of the enemy. The Commandos rigged up a toggle rope bridge to cross
the two 15 foot gaps in the road bridge and made there way across where they
took a number of German prisoners.
X Force, meantime, had swept through the spit taking one prisoner although they
suffered 5 casualties to a mine. They joined up with Y Force and returned to
their home bank in American DUKW amphibious wheeled vehicles at 0730 hrs. 9
Commando lost 9 men and suffered 21 wounded in the operation but they killed 16
enemy and took 28 prisoners. Operation Partridge successfully persuaded the
enemy to reinforce this part of the front line to the betterment of operations
in other areas.
A plan to drop parachutists on high ground which overlooked the
planned landing beaches at Anzio was set aside in favour of an overland assault.
The objective was to deny the elevated position to the enemy. On the morning of
January 20 1944 No 9 Commando with 43 (RM) Commando embarked in HMS
Derbyshire. They sailed with the rest of the Armada and arrived off the
beaches on the night of January 21/22. They made the shore without difficulty
but sustained a few casualties from an early morning aircraft attack.
Each man carried 70 lb of equipment and supplies and they dragged along a number
of heavily laden handcarts. Progress was slow due to mud but only occasionally
did they run into enemy parties. Both Commandos were in position for the main
assault by 1330 hrs. They attacked from the NE and W and by 1430 they were
securely on the high ground. Next morning the US Rangers took over their
positions and the Commandos were placed in reserve before returning to Naples on
an LST arriving on the morning of the 25th January. It had been a relatively
easy operation but Anzio had not yet earned its dreadful reputation for fierce
On arrival No 2 SS Brigade, of which No 9 Commando was part, was warned to
prepare for further action at short notice. Initially No 9 and No 43(RM)
Commandos were to meet up with No 40 (RM) Commando to form part of a
counter-attack force. However, General McCreery, the Commander of X Force,
decided to use Nos 9 and 43(RM) to extend his foothold in the hills west of
Garigliano by taking control of the three peaks that made up the Monte Ornito -
Tugo (2000 ft), Ornito (2,400 ft) and Faito (3000 ft). The terrain was rocky,
uneven and in places very steep with scree slopes... and there was virtually no
cover. Even without enemy action supplying troops on these summits with food,
water and ammunition would involve a great deal of human effort.
Because of transport problems and lack of sleep the attack was postponed by 24
hours during which time further reconnaissance was not possible due to thick
mist and enemy shelling which caused 16 casualties including 5 killed.
No 9 Commando passed Monte Tugo and proceeded NW. They came under heavy fire
from a feature which lay in front of Monte Faito. This was taken by three Troops
against heavy mortar and shell fire causing some casualties. The firing
continued while the Commando consolidated and reorganised. They continued to
advance still under fire during which Tod suffered a bad injury to an arm, Major
E W Clark the 2nd in command was killed and six other officers wounded. There was little
choice other than to withdraw to Monte Ornito because of the withering fire.
Interrogation of prisoners indicated that the enemy had withdrawn to Monte Faito
and that a counter attack was likely. Because of the serious injury to his arm
Tod was ordered to hand over command to his 2nd in command. Reinforcements were needed to
continue the attack but meantime the increasing intensity of the enemy artillery
indicated that a counter attack was imminent. At 1600 hours it started with No
43 (RM) Commando taking the brunt, but they succeeded in beating it off.
Such was the German determination to hold on to their defensive position it
changed hands 6 times in the ensuing months before finally falling to French
Anzio was not yet finished with No 9 Commando. The Allied presence in the Anzio
area threatened the German lines of communication running north of Rome and
Kesselring had been strongly counter-attacking from the end of January. No
9 Commando was ordered back to the area with Tod once more in command. They
arrived on March 2 1944 and under 167 Brigade of the 56th Division they
undertook offensive patrolling.
On March 10 they were put on notice of an imminent operation and were soon
engaged clearing three wadis about 11 miles N of Anzio and 2 miles west of the
main road north. It was known that the Germans used this area as a forming up point for
counter attacks. The Commando had one week to prepare their plans
The wadis formed
a U shape and each arm was given a code name (see opposite). Tod's plan was to
attack Haydon at night and then to clear Charles giving access to Laycock. Once
Laycock had been cleared a defensive position would be established. For the raid
Tod split the Commando into 3 'two troop' squadrons A, B & C.
The action started at 0200 hrs on March 19 and Haydon was easily taken by B & C
Squadrons. Machine gun fire was then encountered but was quickly silenced. A
Squadron and Tod's HQ came under artillery fire as they moved on the wadis but
they joined up with the B&C in Haydon. The action to clear Charles commenced at
0530 hrs but was met with heavy fire and Tod ordered his men back to Haydon in
the midst of a German counter-attack and heavy sniper fire.
The enemy concentrated heavy fire on their positions to the extent that it
became impossible for urgently needed supplies to get through. The evacuation of
the wounded also proved impossible but this was achieved under cover of a Red
Cross flag which the Germans respected.
As darkness approached the Germans had already mounted a number of
counter-attacks which were beaten off, but such was their determination and
ferocity it became clear that to hold Haydon would be costly and risky. When
there was a lull in the fighting an order to withdraw, received earlier from 15 Brigade, was put in train. Improvised stretchers were used to remove the wounded
and friendly machine gun fire and artillery prevented the enemy pursuing the
withdrawal too closely.
No 9 Commando had lost 19 killed, 50 wounded and 4 missing in the action. The
Commando was withdrawn to Anzio and met up with No 40 where they remained for a
few days before moving with the rest of the Brigade to Molfetta on the Adriatic for rest and
By May 1944 No 9 Commando was getting back to full operational status. On the
night of May 25/26, under the Command of Major M R H Allen MC, 75 men were
involved in an operation to rescue Allied prisoners of war. They sailed from
Termoli in an LCI to a point 30 miles south of Ancona which was 70 miles behind
enemy held lines. They met up with A Force who were responsible for handling
escaped prisoners of war. After an initial navigating error they were guided in
by a US Navy 'Beach Jumper Party' and 120 POWs were evacuated.
On Jul 28 1944 a small party of 40 porters drawn from No 9 Commando was involved
with No 2 Commando, a company from the HLI and others, in a raid on Albania,
codename 'Healing II.' It was designed to open up the coastline south of the Linguetta Peninsula because the partisans were in desperate need of supplies.
The action against the 150 strong German garrison at Spilje was designed to
create a relatively safe landing area. However, a combination of events
conspired against the raiding party. Albanian Quislings had alerted the Germans
so the element of surprise was lost and they were well prepared. In addition
radio communications were adversely affected by surrounding trees with
predictable consequences in not achieving the best use of the resources
available. Machine gun nests took an increasingly heavy toll and, with time
running out, the Commanding Officer, Colonel Fynn, had no choice but to withdraw
his exhausted men including the wounded. 20 men were killed in this action and
However, the result was better than had first appeared. Many of the German
defenders had been killed and wounded together with a number of Quislings. The
garrison strength had been weakened to such an extent that local partisans had
rounded up the remaining Germans thus taking control over the coastal strip in
the area. Brigadier Davey, in a note to Colonel Fynn, considered the mission a
'complete success' notwithstanding the casualties.
The only raid in August was 'Gradient I' which was designed to disrupt
enemy shipping in the northern Adriatic. The destruction of a swing bridge
between the islands of Lussino Piccolo and Lussino Grande would cause enemy
vessels plying their trade between Istria (Rumania?) and Yugoslavia, to take a longer
route, and in the case of ships travelling south, would put them within the
range of Allied naval forces at Ancona.
109 men from No 9 Commando left Ancona in 3 MTBs and 1 MGB. One party was to
seize and destroy the bridge while a second, using bicycles for transport, was
to destroy a local garrison. The operation itself took place on the night of
August 9/10 1944. There was no opposition at the bridge which was destroyed and
two Italian guards were taken prisoner. The local garrison could not be found so
the bicycle party destroyed the local telephone exchange and returned with
documents of possible interest and some civilians for questioning. On the way
back to Ancona a grateful American pilot was picked up after spending a week
adrift in the Adriatic.
Another account, which may relate to the same operation, states...
A raid by 109 Commandos on the bridge joining Cherso and Lussino Island and the
Fascist HQ at Nezerine (40 miles NE of Zadar) was successful against no real
No 9 were given the task of destroying a German radar station at Kythira on the
southern tip of Greece. A reconnaissance party parachuted in on the night of
10/11 September 1944 to find that the Germans had pulled out the day before. The
decision was taken to establish a naval base at Kapsali and No 9 Commando were
landed on the island on the 17th September and stayed in Greece for nearly
6 months making up the bulk of Foxforce. Foxforce also included elements of the SBS
(Special Boat Section), LRDG (Long Range Desert Group), the Raiding Support
Regiment and later some Sappers and 350 men of the Greek Sacred Regiment.
Tod was in overall command. His orders were to guard the naval base at Avlemonas
on the eastern end of the island and later Kapsali on the SW corner where
weather and infrastructure were more favourable. However, as the Germans
retreated, division amongst the various resistance groups began to surface in
the political and security vacuum the German's left behind. ELAS
and EAM were controlled by the Greek Communist party while EDES were
non-communist. All were against the Greek monarchy.
Foxforce HQ in Kythira was increasingly the focus for the reporting of malicious
stories about the three factions... by the three factions! Although diplomacy
was not part of his training Tod thought he should do what
he could to prevent a civil war breaking out between the communist and
non-communist forces. On the mainland ELAS tried to take over towns as the
Germans retreated eliminating the Greek Security Battalions left behind to
enforce law and order. The Allied Military Mission asked Foxforce to help and together with
70 of his men, and assisted by the Swedish Red Cross, the Security Battalions
were imprisoned on the Island of Spetsai for their own safety.
As the German retreat continued Tod found himself in a fast moving and changing
situation. When the Peloponnese (large peninsula in southern Greece) and the
island of Poros were evacuated by the Germans, the naval base at Kythira was
moved to Poros for operational reasons. Before leaving Kythira, Tod secured the
agreement of the Partisan leaders to uphold the Greek Government, keep the peace
and not to deport any individuals or factions.
The move to Poros caught the Germans by surprise and hastened their withdrawal
from Piraeus and Athens. On October 14 Foxforce landed at Piraeus after
negotiating enemy minefields. They received a tumultuous welcome from the locals
who had seen the last of the Germans leave the day before. One troop provided
guard duty at Kalamaki airfield while the remainder of No 9 Commando took part
in a liberation parade in Athens and Tod was made a freeman of the city. [Photo courtesy of David Cramer shows the ceremonial entry
into Athens on the 14th October 1944. The flag bearer was his father, L/C John
Cramer MM, who was the first to land in Greece on Kithera Island. Click photo to
There then followed some rapid changes to Foxforce. The SBS and LRDG left Tod's
command and he returned to Italy to take over 2 SS Brigade. Major M R H Allen MC
assumed command and, at the end of October, No 9 Commando moved to Salonika where
it undertook normal garrison duties. In early December Lt Col J M Dunning-White,
newly arrived from the UK, took over command. December proved to be a tense
month as civil war broke out in Athens. Fortunately, it did not spill over into
Salonika and 9 Commando returned to Italy in February 1945 when the political
situation had settled down.
On March 14 No 9 Commando rejoined the brigade which by then had the Partisan 28
Garibaldi Brigade under command. For what turned out to be their last mission
the Commando was to seize a spit of land running between Lake Commachio and the
sea and to tie down enemy forces in the area while the main force tackled the
Argenta Gap. They were to approach the south western half of the spit by
crossing the lake. When this had been cleared, and subject to other units
clearing areas to the north, No 9 would pass though and capture Porto Garibaldi.
As darkness came the LVTs formed up on the lake but became bogged down in mud.
The depth of water near the shore was very limited in normal times but a spell
of hot weather had reduced this further. Navigation on the lake was also a
problem since there was no discernable horizon due to the flatness of the land.
Navigational lights were set up across the lake to assist and sufficient
artillery support was made available if needed.
The Commandos transferred from their LVTs to storm-boats and Goatleys amid
considerable chaos. Dunning-White wanted to postpone the operation but Tod, in
overall charge, decided to push on since the same problems would present
themselves again. The storm boats towed strings of Goatleys and, just before first
light, No 9 Commando reported that they were coming under fire and requested
that the supporting
artillery lay down covering fire.
By 0630 hrs the Commando had landed. The enemy was well dug in and the task of
clearing the area was made all the more difficult by the excellent camouflage of
the enemy positions. All but one position succumbed to the attack. The position,
Leviticus, resisted artillery, mortars and fighter bombers. In the
afternoon a second attack was mounted under cover of a smokescreen and with a
piper playing 'The Road to the Isles.' As No 1 and 2 Troops approached at a
distance of 150 yards the smokescreen lifted and they came under heavy Spandau
machine gun and mortar fire. However, the position was taken with the capture of
almost 100 prisoners. As the exhausting day was drawing to an end Tod decided to
postpone the advance to the following day. No 9 was placed in reserve.
No 9 were then tasked to seize a bridge over the canal Fossa Marina which ran
from Lake Comacchio to Reno at Argenta. They landed on April 13 1945 a little
forward of 169 Brigade's position. The Buffs and Scots Guards advanced towards
Fossa Marina but were held by the enemy short of it. No 9 Commando were ordered
to pass through and seize the original objective and a hydro-electric plant.
However, very heavy fire prevented them from taking the two crossing places. A
second attempt the following night also failed when they found a 30 foot gap in
a bridge and the canal had been drained leaving impassable mud several feet
deep. Despite these set-backs No 9 closely observed the enemy positions and drew
up an accurate plan of their disposition. This information was of great value to
the 24 Guards Brigade when the enemy defences were finally overrun the following
This was the last action No 9 Commando fought in and by mid November 1945 disbandment began when personnel, who had not already been demobilised,
were sent back to their regiments.
The following year the Commando was disbanded.
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