A timeline of Commando Training
The Commando Basic Training Centre (CBTC) at Achnacarry (above) was regarded as one of, if not, the finest of all the Allied special training centres established in the Second World War. Its reputation was widespread and held in the highest regard by all the Allies, for not only were soldiers and marines of the British forces trained there, but also those from the USA, France, Holland, Belgium, Poland, Norway, and surprisingly, some Germans. These were the ‘Free’ Germans and included Jews who had escaped the tyranny in their own country. In addition volunteers from the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force were trained there too, after the decision was made to raise RN and RAF ‘Commando’ units for special operational roles peculiar to their Service.
However Achnacarry was not the first place set aside for Commando training.
The first call for volunteers for ‘Service of a hazardous nature’ was in the early months of 1940 and for the new Independent Companies. Many of these men went onto action in Norway almost immediately with little training. On their return Winston Churchill wanted his own Corps of ‘shock troops’ to start afresh. Lt Col Dudley Clarke, who was then Military Assistant to the Chiefs of the Imperial General Staff, is generally credited with the initial outline plan of their formation. His plan was approved and the name agreed on. Thus the ‘Commandos’ were formed.
A majority of volunteers for the Independent Companies went onto join the newly raised Army Commandos. Further volunteers came from all sections of the Field Army.
At the time of the formation of the first Commandos, the CBTC at Achnacarry was not yet in use as a training centre and each Commando unit was responsible for its own training (see above photo of No 2 Commando training elsewhere in Scotland)
A Combined Training Centre (CTC) at Inverary and Special Training Centre (STC) at Lochailort (see above photo) had been established. The latter consisted of Nissen huts and tents, with the headquarters installed in Inverailort Castle, about 27 miles West of Fort William. A powerful team of instructors were gathered there, with many going on to became well known leaders of irregular forces, including the Chindits and Special Air Service, all being formed after the Commandos. The Instructors included Lord Lovat, Brigadier 'Mad Mike' Calvert, Colonel Spencer Chapman, Major Peter Kemp, and the Sirling brothers Bill and David.
Additionally other officers and nco's with a wide range of experiences from arctic exploring to rugged campaigning on the North west frontier of India, plus those well versed in signalling, demolitions, and shooting. Two of these Instructors were Messrs Fairbairn and Sykes of Shanghai Police fame. These two men, more than anyone else in the British Army were responsible for the introduction of unarmed combat and close quarter fighting.
From July 1940 officers and selected NCO's from the newly formed Commandos attended STC courses, and then returned to blend the techniques and skills acquired with the other new ideas being developed within the training regime of their own Commandos (see photo below of No 2 Commando training in Ayr) .
Twelve Army Commandos were raised in 1940 and had been involved in operations since then.
It was not until February 1942 that the first Royal Marine Commando unit was raised.
Briefly named The Royal Marine Commando, then 'A' Commando, finally designated with the title of No. 40 Royal Marine Commando, Royal Marines.
40 and the later 41RM Commando would be the only two RM Commando Units raised initially from volunteers as with their Army Commando counterparts.
From August 1943 onwards a further seven RM Commandos were raised from disbanded Royal Marines Bn's.
All would have to pass the same strict selection and training as the Army Commandos. Those Marines from the disbanded RM Bn's who for whatever reason did not proceed to the Commandos, were posted to other areas in the Corps, primarily Landing Craft duties.
Achnacarry House and nearby Achdalieu Lodge were at this time used as a training holding wing for STC Lochailort. This continued until early 1942 when STC Lochailort closed to become a naval training centre.
Now the role of Achnacarry changed. It became the basic training centre for all Commandos and was known as the Commando Depot, later renamed the Commando Basic Training Centre.
Read about the origins of the green beret here: History of the Commando Green Beret
Read about the origins of the fighting knife here: History of the Commando Fighting Knife
View a brief outline on this link to other Commando Training Centres from their formation until the present time.
The late Donald Gilchrist, CBTC Instructor and author of Castle Commando, and James Dunning, CBTC Instructor and author of It Had To Be Tough; CVA Photo Gallery The No 10 Independent Company War Diary © Commando Veterans Archive 2014
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