1st Special Service Brigade

1st Special Service Brigade

Infobox Military Unit
unit_name= 1st Special Service Brigade
abbreviation= 1st SS

dates= 1941 - 1946
country= United Kingdom
branch= British Army
type= Commando
role= Special Service Raiding
size= Brigade
Past Commanders=
notable_commanders=Brigadier The Lord Lovat
Brigadier Derek Mills Roberts
battles= Operation Ambassador
Operation Claymore
Operation Jubilee
Operation Overlord
operation Plunder
The 1st Special Service Brigade was a brigade of the British Army, formed during World War II it consisted of battalions of the British Army Commandos and Royal Marine Commandos. The brigade's component units saw action individually in Norway and during the Dieppe Raid before being combined under one commander for service in Normandy during Operation Overlord. On 6 December 1944 the Brigade was redesignated 1st Commando Brigade, removing the hated title "Special Service" and its association with the German SS. [British Commandos 1940-46 By Timothy Robert Moreman,p 32]


Recruiting for the Commandos began in 1940 when a call was made for volunteers from certain formations still in Britain as well as disbanding Divisional Independent Companies originally raised from Territorial Army Divisions, as well as men who had seen service in Norway. Recruiting for the commandos was later also conducted in the various theatres or war and among foreign nationals joining the Allies.

Each Commando was to consist of a headquarters plus ten troops of 50 men including three officers. This changed in 1941 to six troops of 65 men per Commando, including a Heavy Weapons Troop.

Each Commando was initially responsible for the selection and training of its own officers and men. Commando soldiers received extra pay from which they had to find their own accommodation whenever in Britain. They trained in physical fitness, survival, orienteering, close quarter combat, silent killing, signalling, amphibious and cliff assault, motor vehicle operation, weapons (including the use of captured enemy small arms) and demolition. Many officers, NCOs and trainee instructors initially attended various courses at the all forces Special Training Centre at Lochailort, Scotland. Also in the Scottish Highlands, Combined Operations established a substantial all forces amphibious training centre at Inveraray, and in 1942 a specific Commando Training Centre at Achnacarry near Spean Bridge. All field training was conducted with live ammunition.


*Brigadier The Lord Lovat , DSO , MC ,(wounded 12 June 1944)
*Brigadier Derek Mills Roberts (from 12 June, 1944)


*No.3 Commando
*No.4 Commando
*No.6 Commando
*No.45 (RM) Commandos

Independent actions

Before the formation of the brigade, each Commando fought independently in various actions, being employed as directed by Combined Operations Headquarters.

No. 4 Special Service Battalion was formed from Nos. 3 and 8 Independent Companies in November 1940 , and saw their first action in Guernsey during Operation Ambassador. At the end of February 1941 they were designated No. 3 Commando.

No. 3 Special Service Battalion was formed from Nos. 4 and 7 Independent Companies in late October 1940. In February 1941 they were designated No. 4 Commando.

No. 6 Commando saw action in Norway in December 1941.

In March 1941 No.3 Commando and No.4 Commando were involved in the raid on the Lofoten Islands in Norway.

Operation Claymore

Operation Claymore was a raid on the Lofoten Islands, on the 4 March, 1941, by No. 3 Commando and No. 4 Commando , 52 Norwegians of Norwegian Independent Company 1 and demolition teams from the 55th Field Squadron Royal Engineers. The force made an unopposed landing and generally continued to meet no opposition. They achieved their objective of destroying fish oil factories and some 3,600 tonnes (800,000 gallons) of oil and glycerin (some of the oil being destined for use in munitions).Through naval gunfire and demolition parties, 18,000 tons of shipping were sunk. Perhaps the most significant outcome of the raid, however, was the capture of a set of rotor wheels for an Enigma cypher machine and its code books from the German armed trawler "Krebs". This enabled German naval codes to be read at Bletchley Park, providing the intelligence needed to allow allied convoys to avoid U-boat concentrations.The British experienced only one accidental injury and returned with some 228 German prisoners, 314 loyal Norwegian volunteers and a number of Quisling collaborators.

Operation Archery

Operation Archery was a raid in December 1941 by No.2 Commando , No.3 Commando , No.4 Commando and No.6 Commando with a small party of Norwegians to destroy the German installations at Vågsøy , supported by the RAF who provided air cover and attack the airfield of Herdla near Bergen. The naval part of the force consisted of one cruiser, four destroyers and two landingships, the warships opened the proceedings with a shore bombardment of the island of Måløy.

The commandos were split into five groups, one landed to the West of South Vagsoy to secure the area then move up to the town. The second group landed to the North of the town to prevent German reinforcements getting in. The third group landed on Maloy to deal with the guns and garrison there however the navy had done their job well and the guns were silent. The fourth group landed at the town itself and this proved to be the main center of resistance. The last group was kept onboard ship to act as a floating reserve.

The Germans garrison in the town was larger than expected and reinforcements had to be requested from the group to the West, from the floating reserve and from elements of the group on Maloy.House to house fighting ensued but by 1345 hours it was over and the force reembarked soon afterwards.Leaving behind 15,000 tons of shipping destroyed, warehouses, dockyards, fish-oil processing plants and all German installations destroyed.98 Germans were taken prisoner along with 4 ‘Quislings’, 77 Norwegians also decided to come with them back to Britain. The Germans Garrison had around 150 killed, the British lost 19 men and 57 wounded and the Norwegian force lost 1 man and 2 wounded. The after effects of the raid had far reaching consequences, the Germans took reprisals against the Norwegian population which prompted protests from the Norwegian King Haakon VII and the government-in-exile. The Germans also reinforced and strengthened the defences which tied down troops that could have been used elsewhere.


The Dieppe Raid on 19 August 1942 involved over 6,000 Canadian soldiers supported by large British naval and Allied air force contingents, the objective of which was to seize the port, gather intelligence and assess the German responses. The raid was also intended to use air power to draw the "Luftwaffe" into a large, planned encounter.

The mission of Lieutenant Colonel John Durnford-Slater's , No. 3 Commando was to neutralize a German coastal battery (code named GOEBBELS), near Berneval on the extreme left flank of the landings, which could engage the landing at Dieppe some six kilometres to the west. The three 170 mm and four 105 mm guns of "2/770 Batterie" had to be out of action by the time the main force approached the main beach. The craft carrying No. 3 Commando, No. 5 Group, approaching the coast to the east were not warned of the approach of a German coastal convoy that had been located by British "Chain Home" radar stations at 2130 hours. German S-boats escorting a German tanker torpedoed some of the landing craft and disabled the escorting Steam Gun Boat 5. Subsequently Motor Launch 346 and Landing Craft Flak 1 combined to drive off the German boats but the Group was dispersed, with some losses, and the enemy's coastal defences were alerted. Only a handful of commandos under the Second in Command, Major Peter Young, landed and scaled the barbed wire-laced cliffs. Eventually 18 Commandos reached the perimeter of the GOEBBELS Battery via Bernevall and engaged their target with small arms fire. Unable to destroy the guns, their sniping of the German gun crews, however, prevented the guns from firing effectively on the main assault. Thus, just a handful of determined British soldiers neutralised the most dangerous German coastal battery in the area of the raid for the most critical period of the operation.

No. 4 Commando was tasked to land on the extreme right flank of the landing, and in fact landed in force and destroyed their targets, providing the only major success of the operation. Most of No. 4 safely returned to England. This portion of the raid was considered a model for future commando raids. Lord Lovat became famous as an officer here on Orange Beach (and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his part), [LondonGazette|issue=35729|supp=yes|startpage=3825|endpage=4328|date=2 October 1942|accessdaymonth = 10 January |accessyear=2008] and Captain Patrick Porteous attached to No. 4 Commando was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery.

Formation of the brigade

The brigade was assembled under one commander in 1943 and trained to operate as a formation in preparation for Operation Overlord and the Normandy landings.

D DAY , Sword Beach

The plan was for 1st Special Service Brigade comprising No.3, No.4, No.6 and No.45 (RM) Commandos to land at Ouistreham in "Queen Red" sector (leftmost). No.4 Commando were augmented by 1 and 8 Troop (both French) of No.10 (Inter Allied) Commando

"No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando was formed in January 1942 and included No. 1 and No. 7 Troops (French) , No. 4 Troop (Belgian), Dutch Troop, Norwegian Troop, Polish Troop, X Troop (German and Austrian, Hungarians and Greeks), Yugoslav Troop, which often served detached in other theatres. In August 1942 They were involved in the Dieppe raids. June 1944 they took part in the Normandy Landings and fought across North Western Europe."

The assault on Sword Beach began at about 03:00 with an aerial bombardment of the German coastal defences and artillery sites. The naval bombardment began a few hours later. At 07:30, the first units reached the beach. These were the DD tanks of 13th/18th Hussars followed closely by the infantry of 8th Infantry Brigade.

1st Special Service Brigade, under the command of Brigadier The Lord Lovat DSO, MC, went ashore in the second wave led by No.4 Commando with the two French Troops first, as agreed amongst themselves. The 1st Special Service Brigade landing is famous for having been led by Piper Bill Millin. The British and French of No.4 Commando had separate targets in Ouistreham , the French a blockhouse and the Casino, and the British two batteries which overlooked the beach. The blockhouse proved too strong for the Commandos' PIAT (Projector Infantry Anti Tank) weapons, but the Casino was taken with the aid of a Centaur tank. The British Commandos achieved both battery objectives only to find the gun mounts empty and the guns removed. Leaving the mopping-up procedure to the infantry, the Commandos withdrew from Ouistreham to join the other units of their brigade (Nos.3, 6 and 45), moving inland to join-up with the 6th Airborne Division.

Lord Lovat reputedly waded ashore donning a white jumper under his battledress, with "Lovat" inscribed into the collar, while armed with an old Winchester rifle. Lord Lovat instructed his personal piper, Bill Millin, to pipe the commandos ashore, in defiance of specific orders not to allow such an action in battle.

Lovat's forces swiftly pressed on, Lovat himself advancing with parts of his brigade from Sword Beach to Pegasus Bridge, which had been defiantly defended by men of the 6th Airborne Division who had landed in the early hours. Lord Lovat's commandos arrived almost exactly on time, late by about two minutes, for which Lord Lovat apologised to Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Pine Coffin , (Yorks. L. I.), of 7th Parachute Battalion. The commandos ran across Pegasus Bridge , to the sound of Bill Millin's bagpipes. Despite rushing across in small groups sniper fire led to the deaths of twelve men, most of who were shot in the head through their berets (the men crossing the bridge wore their helmets from then on). He went on to establish defensive positions around Ranville, east of the River Orne. The bridges were relieved later in the day by elements of the British 3rd Infantry Division.

During an attack on the village of Bréville on 12 June, Lord Lovat was seriously wounded whilst observing an artillery bombardment by the 51st Highland Division. A stray shell fell short of its target and landed amongst the officers, killing Lieutenant-Colonel A. P. Johnston, commanding officer of the 12th Parachute Battalion, and seriously wounding Brigadier Hugh Kindersley of the 6th Airlanding Brigade.

On 1st August, the Brigade was ordered to seize and hold a section of high ground by dawn the following day. This was in support of a further advance to Dozule , by 6th Airborne Division. No.4 Commando led with Nos.3, 45 and 6 following behind. The Brigade infiltrated through the German line and reached the objective before the Germans realized it. There were four counter-attacks throughout the day but the brigade held firm.

1st Special Service Brigade returned to England on the 8th - 9th September landing at Southampton and Gosport. During this period new volunteers were recruited and trained.No.4 Commando was later sent back to the continent to take over from the shattered No.46 (RM) Commando, which was down to a strength of only 200 men.

In December 1944 all the Special service Brigades were renamed Commando Brigades, but with the same Brigade number so "1st Special Service Brigade was now 1st Commando Brigade"'.

About the same time there were plans to send 1 Commando Brigade, to the Far East in the New Year, but due to the German counter offensive in the Ardennes over the New Year and in January they returned to mainland Europe.

Ardennes Offensive Battle of the Bulge

The Brigade was given the task to hold a stretch of the river Maas,it was during this period of operations that Lance Corporal H. Harden, a medical orderly of the RAMC, with 45 RM Commando, won the Victoria Cross.

L/Cpl Henry Eric Harden VC

Lance Cpl. Henry Harden VC , 45 (RM) Commando , Brachterbreek , Holland , 23rd January 1945 .Showing a selfless devotion to his duty as the medical orderly to the forward section of the troop to which he was posted succeeded in rescuing a wounded comrade who was lying in open ground. Although the area was being subjected to heavy and constant machine gun fire Harden went out a second time with stretcher bearers to rescue another wounded marine. On the return journey the wounded man was hit again and died. Undaunted Lance Cpl Harden went out a third time for another wounded comrade and calmly attended his wounds while being fired upon. However on the third journey home Henry Harden himself was hit and was killed.Henry Eric Harden is buried in Nederweert, War Cemetery Holland.

Crossing the Rhine

Subsequently, the Brigade's next large-scale operation was the crossing of the river Rhine at Wesel. Intensive training and detailed planning were the keys to the remarkable success of this Commando operation on 23rd March, which incurred less than 100 casualties.

Operation Plunder

Operation Plunder started at 1800 hours on 23rd March with a barrage of 5,500 guns along the 35 km front, and bomber raid on the city of Wesel. The 51st (Highland) Division , led the river crossing at 2300 hours with Canadians crossing later 6.5 km south of Rees, then the 1st Commando Brigade , 1.5 km north of Wesel. The assault craft - assault boats ,Buffalo amphibious vehicles and DUKWs carrying Infantry, LCM carrying armour, and Sherman D.D. tanks - were guided across the river by CDL search lights and tracer fire from machine guns. General Patton had earlier put the US 5th Infantry Division across the Ludendorff railway bridge at Remagen - a day earlier than planned - thus drawing off German reinforcements and reducing the opposition to the main landings.

Crossing the Wesser

The next obstacle to be tackled by the Brigade was the river Weser , where it was to reinforce and exploit the bridgehead already established. This operation was followed by the crossing of the river Aller , which resulted in some heavy fighting in the woods beyond. A serious situation was averted by a spirited counter attack by No.6 Commando

"the hunting horns sounded and led by Lieut. Colonel A. C. Lewis, the Commando charged forward through the trees at a fast double and with bayonets fixed"

By 19 April, 1st Commando Brigade, had reached Lunenburg and prepared for its final operation, the crossing of the river Elbe and the advance beyond to Neustadt, reached on 3rd May, by No.6 Commando that discern the dead and the survivors of the Cap Arcona, then on 4th May, Brigadier Mills-Roberts took the surrender of Field Marshal Milch with all of the German troops under his command.


On 25th October 1945 the final chapter of the Commandos of World War II was written with the announcement by Major General Robert Laycock , who had been one of the original volunteers for the Commandos in 1940 and had been promoted to succeed Lord Louis Mountbatten as Chief of Combined Operations, that the Commandos were to be disbanded.

In 1946 the Army Commandos were disbanded and the Commando role was taken over by The Royal Marines.



ee also

*2nd Special Service Brigade
*3rd Special Service Brigade
*4th Special Service Brigade
*British Commandos

External links

*http://lofotenkrigmus.no/e_lofotraid.htm Museum article on Lofoten raid

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