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RN Commando Operations in Italy and the Mediterranean 1943-45

     Here and on the previous page I have listed the main operations in which the Royal Naval Beach Commandos were involved and started a set of brief descriptions with photographs, maps and links to web pages and documents specific to those operations to give some insight of what each operation involved.

      Please note that the Royal Naval Beach Commandos were one of many units deployed by Combined Operations for amphibious operations many of whom had equally dangerous duties, however it was still the combat units primarily the infantry be they American, British, Commonwealth or other allies that did most of the fighting and dying.

      For the purposes of this website I have concentrated only on the beach operations and for larger operations just the beaches where Royal Naval Beach Commandos were present. This is a self-imposed limitation and not meant to detract from the actions on other beaches or those operations beyond the beaches.

     I have divided the operations into four sections, RN Beach Party Operations in 1942, North West Europe 1944-45 and South East Asia Command 1944-45 on the previous webpage and Italy and the Mediterranean 1943-45 on this webpage.

Spreadsheet showing listing of all the Royal Naval Commando units and their operations

Operations in Italy and the Mediterranean 1943-45

BBC Animated Map: The Italian Campaign

BBC - History - The 'D-Day Dodgers' by Richard Holmes

Imperial War Museum Despatches Summer 2009: Italy: Masterstroke or 'Missioncreep'?

Operation Corkscrew
June 11th  1943

Combined Operations - OPERATION CORKSCREW - PANTELLERIA 11th JUNE 1943

Operation Husky
July 10th 1943

     A total of seven RN Commandos took part in Operation Husky, C, E, F, G, K, M and N. All were attached to the Eastern Naval Task Force to assist the Eighth Army Landings. Follow this link to see where they landed.
     Although overshadowed by the Normandy Landings the following year, “Operation HUSKY the invasion of Sicily in 1943 was actually the largest amphibious operation of World War II in terms of the size of the landing zone and the number of divisions put ashore on the first day of the invasion”(Sicily 1943 U.S. Army Centre of Military History).
     “The forces assembled for the invasion of Sicily were enormous. Never before had the numbers of ships and men been equalled in an amphibious operation. The Armada of 3,200 ships assembled for Husky was in fact the most gigantic fleet in the world's history” (from Bitter Victory, The Battle for Sicily 1943 by Carlo D'Este).

         To locate where the British and Canadian units landed see Operation Husky, Eighth Army Landings in Sicily July 10th 1943 for further information see the Combined Operations web page Operation Husky or better still read Carl D'Este's excellent book 'Bitter Victory'.

Bark West

     Force ‘V’ was to land the Canadians in the Bark West assault area on the west side of the
Pachino Peninsula, on a total front (including that of the two Commandos) of roughly 10,000 yards.
The Royal Marine Commandos landing at Commando Cove were on the extreme left wing of the
Eighth Army, the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade landed in Sugar sector with the aid of RN Beach
Commando G and the 1st and later the 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigades landed in Roger sector with
the aid of RN Beach Commando N.

BBC WW2 People's War - The Sicily landings, July 1943 by Stewart E Linsell

Bark South

The Highland Division landed in Queen sector on a four-battalion frontage led by the 154th Brigade aided by RN Beach Commando M. For the landing the brigade was split into two groups, the 154th brigade group landing on the Red beaches and the 1st Gordon Highlanders group landing on the Green beaches. The 1st Gordon Highlanders group’s objectives were the Capo Passero Island and the village of Portopalo, a tuna factory, a lighthouse and the ridge beyond dominating the approach to Pachino, these they achieved by 09:00hrs on the tenth.

The 51st Highland Division land at Portopalo

IWM (A 17916) View from Queen Red II at Isola del Correnti

Bark East

     The comparatively small Force 'N' under Captain Lord Ashbourne RN in HMS Keren had sailed
from the Middle East as part of Force ‘A’ and had with them the 231st (Malta) Infantry Brigade
commanded by Brigadier R E Urquhart. This force landed in Nan Sector of the Bark East Assault Area
assisted by RN Beach Commando K.

Acid Centre

     Force 'A' under Rear-Admiral T.H. Troubridge in HMS Bulolo sailed from the Middle East with 13 Corps consisting of the 50th and 5th Division plus No.3 Army Commando, three RN Beach Commandos C, E and F assisted the 13th Corps to land in the Acid Centre Assault Area.

Operation Baytown
The Calabria Landings, Italy
September 3rd 1943

     The initial invasion of southern Italy, Operation Baytown, was launched on the 3rd of September 1943 on the fourth anniversary of Britain declaring war on Germany and was carried out by the British 13th Corps consisting of the British 5th Infantry Division and the Canadian 1st Division. The operation was carried out on a three brigade front with the British 17th Infantry Brigade Group landing in ‘HOW’ Sector, the 13th British Infantry Brigade Group landing in ‘GEORGE’ Sector and the 3rd Canadian Brigade Group landing in ‘FOX’ Sector.

     As the Straits of Messina were relatively narrow the operation was executed as a shore-to-shore landing craft operation. The British and Canadian forces embarked in landing craft from beaches in Sicily near Mili Marina. They then crossed the straits to the coast of Calabria travelling an average of 12,000 yards. The flotillas of Landing Craft Assault (LCA) and Landing Craft Mechanised (LCM) that comprised the initial assault wave being joined by DUKWs and Landing Craft Infantry - Large (LCI(L)) in subsequent waves.

     Both N and G Royal Naval Beach Commandos (RNBC) were deployed for Operation Baytown.  N RNBC was landed with the British 5th Division and worked with the 33 Beach Brick in HOW Sector and 32 Beach Brick in GEORGE Sector. G2 and G3 of G RNBC landed with the Canadian 1st Division and worked with 34 Beach Brick. G1 would land a few days later with 20th Beach Group supporting the 231st ‘Malta’ brigade in a subsidiary landing codename Operation Ferdy at Porto San Venere. Later elements of Nan RN Beach Commando landed at Sapri.

Operation Baytown, The Calabria Landings, 3rd of September 1943 by Griffin Turton

BBC WW2 People's War - Activities in Sicily & Italy by John Bartlett

Operation Avalanche
September 9th 1943

     Three Royal Navy Beach Commandos, K, M and D were involved in Operation Avalanche, which Winston Churchill described just prior as 'the most daring we have yet launched', primarily as it was the first large-scale opposed landing on the European continent.

     The Royal Navy Beach Commandos K and M landed on Sugar and Roger sectors respectively with the 56th Division. K Commando's commanding officer was Acting Commander A.A. Havers RN who was also the Principal Beach Master (PBM) for Sugar Sector.

      M Commando's commanding officer was Acting Lieutenant-Commander P.U. Bayly RN, he was also to double up as the PBM of Roger Sector.

      North of Salerno two detachments from D Commando commanded by Lieutenant-Commander J.C. Pearson RN, who was also the designated PBM for the area, were to be landed at two widely separate locations Maiori designated Z sector and Vietri X sector. Pearson commanded one small detachment of seventeen men at Maiori with the Rangers, whilst Lieutenant R.J. Franklin RNVR commanded a detachment of fifteen men which landed with the British Commando Brigade at Vietri.

     See 'RN Beach Commandos and Operation Avalanche'.

     Amongst the D Commando men at Vietri was Assistant Beach Master Hugh Birley whose experiences at Salerno are recounted in 'Hugh Birley Assistant Beach Master 1943-45'.

      A letter written by Warrant Telegraphist Henry Hayles started as he was leaving the beaches at Salerno on the 15th of September 1943 describes his transit to Salerno and his experiences there with Naval Party 874.

Operation Devon
October 3rd to 6th  1943

     Operation Devon was an amphibious landing to outflank the Volturno Line carried out by a force from 2 Commando Brigade. The force was lead by John Durnford-Slater and included No.3 Commando, 40 Commando Royal Marines and the Special Raiding Squadron.

     Later on the 5th October the 38th Irish Brigade of the 78th ‘Battleaxe’ Infantry Division landed by sea, this was probably supported by elements of George RN Beach Commando.

World War Two Memories - Bryan Woolnough, MBE, 2 Commando Brigade Signals

Memoirs of Termoli operation by Bryan Woolnough, MBE, 2 Commando Brigade Signals

Commando Veterans Association - Memories of Jack Cox, No.3 Commando, Termoli 1943

Operation Shingle
Anzio Beachhead
January 22nd to May 25th  1944

     Four RN Beach Commandos were allocated to the Anzio Landing, three were used ashore Able, King and Nan, whilst Oboe was a reserve unit used afloat to unload craft.

Anzio Beachhead 22 January - 25 May 1944 U.S. Army Centre of Military History

Battle for Anzio by William Woodruff

'Anzio Annie' in Action

Operation Brassard
June 17th 1944

Operation Brassard - Combined Operations Website

Operation Dragoon - 1944

Southern France 1944 U.S. Army Centre of Military History

BBC WW2 People's War - Operation 'Dragoon' by Vernon Copeland

Adriatic Operations 1943 - 45

    In November 1943 elements of G RN Beach Commando assisted in recovering allied prisoners in the Adriatic. Afterwards they set up a base on the island of Lucin Piccolo, on the Yugoslav coast. A week later the Germans counterattacked and, after a brief but bloody resistance the survivors were captured.

    In October 1944 men from H RN Beach Commando took a Motor Fishing Vessel (MFV) to Vis with a Yugoslav officer, returning promptly afterwards.

Adriatic Campaign of World War Two

F.O.T.A.L.I - Flag Officer Taranto and Liaison with the Italians

Memoirs of Vis, Albania and Corfu operations by Bryan Woolnough, MBE, 2 Commando Brigade Signals

            Elements of two RN Beach Commandos are believed to have taken part in the Spring Offensive in April 1945. Just prior elements of Nan RNBC were employed at Berchi de Porto near Rimini and possibly also at Porto Corsini north of Ravenna assisting in the deception plan to convince the enemy an amphibious assault was being prepared to land on the Adriatic Coast.  Later elements of N RNBC and H RNBC supported operations on Lake Comacchio, elements of N RNBC using their DUKWs they had acquired at the end of 1944 from Popski’s Private Army and others amongst the naval officers who were brought in to help navigate the LVTs including the PBM of H RNBC, Commander Hudson and Lt John Hill, BM of H3.