The term Commando originates from the South African War of 1899-1902. The Boers had no regular forces, apart from the Staat Artillery, which was officered by Dutch and Germans and their Police. Consequently they raised bands of men based on electoral districts.
They were called Commandos and each man was responsible for providing his own horse and received no pay or uniform. Commando tactics were marked by lightning strikes on the British Forces, with the Boers fading away into the veldt before the British could react.
Although by October 1900, the British had virtually defeated the Boers in the field, it was the activities of the Commandos, who would not surrender, which would cause the war to drag on for a further 18 months. Little note was taken of the Boer method of fighting, it was merely considered guerrilla warfare, in which regular armies did not indulge.
In 1940 Sir Winston Churchill was concerned that an offensive spirit must be fostered of the already formed independent companies and wrote the following to the Chief of Staff:
The Commando Idea was born.
June 3rd 1940
“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. Enterprises must be prepared with specially trained troops by the hunter class, who can develop a reign of terror first of all on the butcher and bolt policy.
August 25th 1940
“If we are to have any campaign in 1941 it must be amphibious in its character and there will certainly be many opportunities of minor operations all of which will depend on surprise landings of lightly equipped mobile forces accustomed to work like packs of hounds. For every reason therefore we must develop the storm troop or commando idea. I have asked for 5,000 parachutists and we must also have at least 10,000 of these small “bands of brothers” that will be capable of lightning action.
The concept of a ‘Commando’ force, as an integral part of the British Army, was the brainchild of Major J C Holland – Royal Engineers, part of GS(R) in the War Office 1940.
The Commando Units were formed into Independent Companies, consisting of many RE’s.
As the war progressed, the Commando’s specialised in Amphibious operations and lessons learnt from their experiences, provided knowledge for Operation Overlord – Amphibious Assault in Normandy.