Monday, February 20, 2017

Book: The Beachhead Commandos

The Beachhead Commandos

By A. Cecil Hampshire

Stock image - Book purchased at

This book was briefly mentioned in an earlier post concerning a Canadian Beach Commando. Please link to Commandos: Beach Commando Work for more details*.

The book is a 'must read' for those interested in the training and work of Beach Commandos, and the training and assignments of Commandos in general. Details provided, often by commandos themselves, are very honest, revealing and thorough.

As well, some Canadians became Beach Commandos (Commando Unit W was entirely made up of Canadians, many of whom would have initially volunteered for Combined Operations). And other Canadians in Combined Ops working aboard various landing crafts, like my father, would have trained with commandos in some of the training sites mentioned in the book, e.g., at HMS Quebec in Inveraray.

Early commando raids on the coast of Europe are mentioned (e.g., Operation Collar, Operation Comatose), not always successful, but it is interesting to read about the growing pains of "the kind of hit-and-run warfare now visualised." New types of landing craft, new types of training were the result.

Table of Contents

We read about the development of HMS Quebec in Scotland, HMS Northney in S. England and other important Combined Ops sites, the acquisition of new types of craft, and the training of "specialist naval crews":

"Thus while the landing craft building programme was being got underway. a six-week course of basic naval training in the operation and maintenance of the new vessels was inaugurated in a former holiday camp at Northney on Hayling Island, in Sussex. The camp had been requisitioned by the Admiralty early in June 1940 and was commissioned as HMS Northney that same month. Unhappily the capacity of the drains in the camp were sufficient to allow the functioning of only eighteen lavatories." Page 25

About this shortcoming my father wrote (re Jan. 1942), "There was no heat at all in the brick cabins. The toilets all froze and split. But we made out. Our eating quarters were heated." (DAD, WELL DONE, page 11)

Eight of Canada's earliest members of Comb. Ops at HMS Northney. Jan. 1942
(L - R) Al Adlington, Joe Spencer, Chuck Rose, Doug Harrison, Art Bradfield,
Don Linder, Joe Watson, Jake Jacobs. Photo credit - Joe Spencer, Brighton

We read about the selection of Lord Louis Mountbatten to lead Combined Operations (in place of Admiral Keyes), the planning of larger raids (e.g., Operation Archery, "in the vicinity of Vaagso"), and the introduction of "a body of naval officers and ratings whose part in future Allied invasion landings was considered to be among the most important and dangerous of any", i.e., the Beach Commandos.

And their purposes and activities are well-documented, from beginning to end, over the course of 202 pages, including their role at Dieppe, the invasions of North Africa, Sicily, Italy, Normandy and more. Several photographs are informative as well.

 HMS Armadillo. Page 33

 Kabrit, Suez Canal. (L - R) Jack Sibley, Albert Perry, Peter Lightfoot. Page 48

Salerno. First Prisoners. Page 96

*I was able to find this book easily and the price was less than daunting, approximately $8.00 U.S., including shipping.

Please link to Book: A Good Read, A Good Connection

Unattributed Photos GH

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