"COCKLESHELL HEROES": BRITISH SMALL BOAT OPERATIONS IN WORLD WAR 2
by Ryan Wulfsohn
Webmaster's Note: Special Operations.Com wishes to thank Ryan Wulfsohn for his contribution to this website, and the historical study of special operations units during World War Two.
Note on Commandos: Britain's Commandos began forming in 1940, with the specific purpose of raiding German- occupied Europe. Recruited from all regiments and corps of the army, they performed a multitude of tasks from Norway to Burma. The first Royal Marine Commando was formed in 1942, and by the end of the war nine of the seventeen Commandos in existence were RM.
Special Boat Sections "Excreta Tauri Astutos Frustantor"
Lieutenant Roger Courtney, King's Royal Rifle Corps, was the first to explore the military possibilities of the two-man kayak-type canoe.
"Jumbo", as he was known, had been a gold prospector and big-game hunter in East Africa, a sergeant in the Palestine Police and had once paddled the length of the Nile by himself. He and his wife had even spent their honeymoon in 1938 canoeing down the Danube. In July 1940 Courtney was serving with No.8 Commando in Scotland when he put forward his idea for a raiding and reconnaissance force. His superiors were skeptical, but after a series of demonstrations, in which he approached ships by canoe and then placed chalk marks on them or removed items, some of them changed their minds. The 40 year old subaltern was promoted to Captain and allowed to recruit eleven more men for the Folbot Troop, to be attached to his Commando. ( The first canoes were known as Folbots, after the company which made them)
Early in 1941 No.8 Commando and two others, 7 and 11, known collectively as Layforce( after the commander, Colonel Bob Laycock, originally CO of No.8) set sail for Egypt, for a proposed operation in the Eastern Mediterranean. Their target was to be the Italian-held island of Rhodes and Courtney's first mission was to this island, to find suitable landing sites. However the operation to capture Rhodes was cancelled and the Folbot Troop was attached to the Royal Navy's 1st Submarine
Flotilla at Alexandria. Here it became the Special Boat Section and after a period of training operations began. Several SBS members were also sent to work with RN submarines operating from Malta, and it was from here that the first demolition raid was carried out at the end of June 1941. Lieutenant Robert " Tug " Wilson and Marine Wally Hughes landed on the Sicilian coast and blew up a railway tunnel, after which they paddled back to the waiting submarine, HMS Urge. Several other raids followed , as well as more " recce jobs". Equipment was primitive;
There were no suitable radios and a torch with a sock pulled over it to dim the light was about the extent of signalling devices. There were no wetsuits or drysuits, normal uniform was worn, and weapons consisted mainly of .45 automatics and Thompson guns. Favoured targets in the early days were bridges, railways and aqueducts. Other missions were landing agents for the various intelligence services and bringing out Allied evaders from behind enemy lines. Lance Corporal G. C. Bremner was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for arranging the rescue of 200 Australian soldiers from Crete, who were pulled to three waiting submarines by grasslines. By the end of 1941 the SB Section was up to a strength of sixty, mostly recruited from the remnants of the disbanded Layforce, which also provided the original members of the SAS. ( David Stirling, like Courtney, was from No.8 Commando) At this time Courtney, by now a Major, was ordered home to set up a second SB Section.
A small canoe force, known as 101 Troop, had already been formed in the UK. This was absorbed into No.2 SBS when it was formed on 1 March 1942. ( Those left in the Middle East became No.1. Later the 2 was dropped when 1 ceased to exist) From an original establishment of 47 all ranks, the new SBS was to grow to an authorised strength of 160 swimmer-canoeists by the end of the war. A seventeen-week training course was adopted for SBS recruits, to be followed by parachute training. They were considered Commandos and wore the green beret and " COMMANDO SBS" shoulder title. However Courtney did not succeed in getting his motto adopted.
The new Special Boat Section first saw service in the North African landings of November 1942. A small team under Captain Godfrey Courtney, Jumbo's brother, landed American General Mark Clark in Algeria for discussions with French commanders just before the invasion, and brought him and his staff officers out again two days later.
During the invasion itself SBS parties guided in the assault forces onto the Algerian beaches. In this and in the beach recces prior to the landings they were assisted by Party Inhuman, consisting of both SBS members and men from the Navy's Hydrographic Branch. Less successful was the attempt to sink ships in Oran harbour using miniature torpedoes, hand-launched from canoes. They proved to be quite unreliable. A small sub-unit, known as Z Group, remained in North Africa afterward and raided Sicily and Italy, as well as assisting the Combined Operations Pilotage Parties in the Salerno landings.
From 1944 the SB Section's main area of action was in the Far East, although small teams served with RN submarines all over the world. Several operations had been carried out on the German-occupied coasts of Norway and France, but they were generally not as successful as those in the Med, due to sea conditions and coastal defences. Accordingly Z Group was transferred to Ceylon; shortly afterward A, B and C Groups, each of about twenty all ranks under a Major, were sent to India. In Burma they formed part of the Small Operations Group (SOG), formed in June 1944. Besides SBS it had four COPPs, a Royal Marine assault unit known as Detachment 385 and the Sea Reconnaissance Unit. The rivers and coastline of Burma provided many opportunities for these units to show their talents. There were over eighty operations on the west coast alone, many of them in conjunction with V Force, a locally-raised intelligence organisation. Normal as well as motorised canoes were used, and equipment was generally much better than in 1941. Later there were operations on the coasts of Malaya and Sumatra, mainly in support of local guerillas. SBS teams brought in supplies and members of Force 136, the Ceylon-based element of Special Operations Executive, who provided training and liaison for the guerillas, and often ended up commanding them. Lieutenant Colonel Roger Courtney did not go out to the Far East- he had been transferred to the British Military Administration in Somaliland. He died in 1949.
Small Scale Raiding Force " The hand of steel which plucks the German sentries from their posts"
This unit was formed in 1941 at Poole, Dorset, the home of the modern-day SBS, and was originally known as Maid Honor Force after the small sailing boat which was its first home. It was to conduct small raids on behalf of SOE, Britain's wartime sabotage service in charge of aiding resistance organisations in enemy-held territory. The thirty volunteers went out to West Africa in August, and it was from Lagos in Nigeria that their first operation, code-named Postmaster, was launched in January 1942. The plan was to steal a German tanker and an Italian freighter in harbour at the Spanish-owned island of Fernando Po, and therefor in neutral territory. While the ships' officers were distracted by a party thrown by an SOE agent, the raiders entered the port aboard two tugs, overpowered the crews and made off with the ships.
Back in Britain the SSRF's founders, Commando officers Gus March-Phillips and Geoffrey Appleyard, received permission to expand it. There were never more than sixty men, about half of them officers, and most came from the Commandos or SOE. One of them was Anders Lassen, a Danish seaman who joined as a private but was commissioned after Postmaster, and soon gained a fearsome reputation with pistol and knife. There were also French and Dutch members, and several Poles, Czechs and Germans, who served under British names. The alternate names of 62 Commando and 62 Special Training School reflected the SSRF's joint responsibilities to Combined Operations Headquarters and SOE. Training was done mostly around Anderson Manor near Poole, the units new home, but also in the Lake District and at sea.
Small raids were launched on the French coast, mostly from a souped-up Motor Torpedo Boat known as the " Little Pisser". The approach to the shore was done on Goatley boats, ten-man collapsible craft, and dories, 18/22 foot (5.5/6.6m) wooden powerboats, both of which soon became popular with other small boat units. Canoes, now named Cockles, were also used. Targets included lighthouses, observation posts and beach defences, with a general objective of taking prisoners and unsettling the Germans. Agents were also landed for SOE. All the members were parachute trained but no airborne operations were undertaken.
A raid in September 1942 resulted in the death of March-Phillips and several others, but ops continued under the command of Major Appleyard. At the end of the year most of the SSRF was transferred to Algeria, where they formed the nucleus of Bill Stirling's new 2nd SAS Regiment. Appleyard was made Second In Command of 2SAS but was killed in the invasion of Sicily. Anders Lassen achieved fame at the other end of the Mediterranean.
Royal Marines Boom Patrol Detachment
The RMBPD was formed on 6 July 1942, specifically for attacking enemy shipping. It was the first small boat unit completely manned by Royal Marines, though others had served and would continue to serve in units such as the Special Boat Sections and Special Boat Squadron. Its founding commander was Major H.G. " Blondie" Hasler, a regular officer and experienced yachtsman. The name came from the detachment's intended equipment, code-named the Boom Patrol Boat, based on a captured Italian explosive motor boat, several of which had been used against the British. This was a 16 foot hydroplane with a 500lb charge, which the pilot would have to abandon close to the target. In fact the BPB never saw action. The second of the two sections was to use Motor Submersible Canoes, known as "Sleeping Beauties", single-seat 12ft 8in
(4.9m) craft, powered by an electric motor. The pilot lay in them as in a modern Formula 1 car and controlled the craft by a joystick. He breathed through scuba gear and would have to come close to the surface to establish his whereabouts. Until these new craft were ready the detachment, twenty-five swimmer-canoeists, trained with canoes, assault boats and surfboats.
The RMBPD's first operation, Frankton, gave rise to the book and the film "Cockleshell Heroes". Ten men in five canoes, known as Cockle Mk.IIs, were launched off the Gironde estuary in the Bay of Biscay by a submarine on 7 December 1942. Their mission was to paddle some 75 miles(120 km ) upriver to Bordeaux and attack German blockade runners, fast merchantmen used to sail to Japan. Only two canoes made it to the harbour on the night of 11/12 December and placed limpet mines on four ships. All of the men on the operation were drowned or captured and executed, except for Major Hasler and his canoe partner, Marine Billy Sparks. These two escaped to Spain after the attack and from there to the UK in April 1943. One of the ships was sunk and the others badly damaged.
The RMBPD was increased in size but several operations were cancelled through 1943. They were to have been carried out by BPBs dropped by Lancaster bombers. In February 1944 eighteen men, known as Earthworm Section, were sent out to the Middle East with several Cockles. Here they came under the command of Raiding Forces (see below). Their first operation was against German shipping at Portolago Bay, Leros, in mid-June. Three canoe parties were disembarked from a Royal Navy motor launch and then infiltrated the harbour, placing mines which sank three escort vessels and damaged three destroyers. All escaped successfully to the rendezvous with the ML. Other raids were carried out in the Aegean, but eventually a lack of worthwhile targets forced the section to return home in October 1944. A proposal to send two sections to the Far East came to nothing. However Hasler had gone there in June as a Lieutenant Colonel and second in command of the Small Operations Group. The RMBPD was the only small boat unit not disbanded at the end of the war, but was reduced to token strength after the discharge of most Hostilities Only personnel.
Combined Operations Pilotage Parties " Priority number one of the war"
Lieutenant Commander Nigel Clogstoun-Willmott, a Royal Navy navigation specialist, had been Courtney's partner in the Rhodes recce, and had commanded Party Inhuman in the North Africa landings. After this he was put in charge of raising teams specifically for beach recce and assault force navigation. These became known as COPPs and the first was formed at Hayling Island in December 1942. They each had an establishment of a lieutenant-commander or lieutenant(navigation or hydrographic specialist) RN or RNR as officer in charge; a Royal Engineer major or captain to be the military recce officer; two lieutenants RNVR(one to be assistant to officer commanding, the other to be maintenance officer); four seamen ratings AB(Able Seaman) and above
( three paddlers and one maintenance officer's assistant); one electrical mechanic; one Commando corporal to be paddler and guard to the RE officer; and late in 1943, an RE draughtsman. The Army personnel were regarded as SBS, though usually trained by the Commando Depot and COPPs themselves. Besides the varied personnel, a great deal of specialist equipment was required, most of unheard of at this time, including luminous compasses, underwater writing tablets, watches and torches, infra-red homing gear, augers for beach samples at every stratum, beach gradient reels, special swimsuits and indeed waterproof kit of all kinds.
In January 1943 training had barely started but nevertheless Clogstoun-Willmott was ordered to send two of his six initial parties to the Mediterranean for beach recces on Sicily. Equipped with inadequate canoes and cumbersome rubber suits, COPPs 3 and 4 suffered heavy casualties on the ops conducted in February and March. Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, then Chief of Combined Operations, convinced the Chiefs of Staff to make COPPs a number one priority, and from then on they received the equipment and support they needed, for theirs was an arduous, dangerous and vital task. After being taken to within 3 or 4 miles(5 or 6km) of the coastline by submarine(or sometimes small craft such as MLs or MTBs) the two-man canoes were paddled to about 200 yards( ) offshore. From here the No.1s swam, leaving the No2s or paddlers to remain anchored or carry out an offshore reconnaissance. Naval and military personnel had their own special functions but whenever possible were cross-trained. Navy concerns were related to the approach to the beach, such as rocks or shoals, minefields, tides, beach gradients, conditions of surf and positioning of markers. The Army members of the team would look at the beach itself in detail- whether it could handle armour or not, obstructions, exits- as well as defences and landmarks. When those ashore had completed their tasks withdrawal was by a well-rehearsed plan and use of infra-red or other homing devices. When piloting an assault landing COPPists would flash their torches and infra-red beacons from submarines and canoe, while other members were in the leading landing craft.
COPPs 5 and 6 were the first to finish training and arrived in Algeria in April and May 1943 with new canoes, multi-pocketed drysuits and all the other gear they needed. Their recces of the Sicilian beaches were successful, and in July they marked the beaches from canoes. They then moved on to the coasts of southern Italy, and soon COPPs were in great demand. From the summer of 1943 their biggest commitment was to preparation for the Normandy invasion. Clogstoun-Wilmott was in personal command, leading COPP 1. Teams were launched both from X-Craft, midget submarines, and from LCNs, assault landing craft converted for navigation. On 6 June 1944 1 and 9 were offshore marking from X-Craft, while COPP 6 used two assault boats to pilot in the leading armoured troops, in amphibious Sherman DD tanks, right onto the beaches. By now there were four other teams operational: 10 and 4 in the Mediterranean, where they had participated in the Anzio landings , and 7 and 8 in the Far East. These last two were replaced late in 1944 by COPPs 1, 3, 4 and 9, who as stated above formed part of the Small Operations Group. Besides many missions in the rivers, creeks and swamps of southern Burma, they piloted in the Commando landings at Akyab in January 1945. In this theatre motorised canoes were sometimes used, and men also deployed by Catalina flying boats. At the end of the war COPPists were carrying out recces for the proposed invasions of Phuket island, Thailand, and Malaya. COPPs 5 and 7 aided in the crossings of the Rhine and Elbe in Germany in 1945.
After the Japanese surrender the number of parties was reduced to four. Three were disbanded in 1946 and the last, an all-naval team known as S COPP, was transferred to the RMBPD.
Special Boat Squadron/Service " The bravest of the brave"
After Courtney's departure his original SB Section continued its raids, especially against German airfields on Sicily and Crete. However it came increasingly under the influence of David Stirling and what was then referred to as L Detachment, SAS Brigade. Following heavy casualties, such as the Rhodes raid when only two of the ten-man team returned, it was absorbed into the newly-formed 1st SAS Regiment in September 1942. A small party under Tommy Langton had gone on the Tobruk raid that month; this is often but erroneously credited as an SAS operation. In fact most of the troops in the land force were from No.1 Special Service Regiment, the last remnants of the Middle East Commandos. In any event Operation Daffodil was a complete disaster, with almost all the men who drove into Tobruk or landed from the sea being killed or captured. Langton and three others who spent two months wandering the desert were the only ones to escape.
Most of the SBS ended up in D Squadron of 1SAS, together with a troop from the Greek Sacred Squadron. Following Lieutenant Colonel Stirling's capture in Tunisia in January 1943, the regiment was split into two elements: the Special Raiding Squadron under Major Paddy Mayne and the Special Boat Squadron under Major Lord George Jellicoe. The SRS fought in Sicily and Italy and later in the UK was expanded as the new 1SAS. The SBS meanwhile began training at Athlit, south of Haifa in Palestine. It had an initial strength of about 230, divided into three operational detachments and a base group. Each detachment, known as L, M and S after their original commanders, Captains Tommy Langton, Fitzroy Maclean and David Sutherland, had an establishment of six fighting patrols( one officer and twelve other ranks each) and a smaller HQ patrol. The SBS retained the SAS beret and wings- it did not change to the maroon Airborne Forces beret as the UK based SAS were forced to in 1944, staying with beige.
The first operation was by S Detachment, a raid by several four -man teams, one led by Anders Lassen, on German airfields in Crete. This took place in support of the Sicily landings in July 1943. L Detachment carried out an unsuccessful series of raids on Sardinia, launched by parachute and submarine ( one of the few airborne ops by the SBS). Most of those who landed were killed or captured and the detachment had to be reconstituted. Langton was invalided home and replaced by Major Ian Patterson from 11th Parachute Battalion.
The SBS first operated in the Aegean in September 1943, when men from M and S Detachments had the task of securing Simi. This was one of the Italian-held Dodecanese islands which the British were attempting to bring under their control, with the ultimate aim of opening a new front in the Balkans. While small units moved onto some of the islands, Jellicoe parachuted onto Rhodes to try and convince the Italian commander not give in to the Germans stationed there. He failed, and soon the British-held islands were under attack, weakly-defended Cos being the first to fall. The first landing attempt on Simi in October was fought off by Major Jock Lapraik and his men together with the Italian garrison , with Lassen intimidating those of his new allies who weren't too keen on fighting. Simi was soon facing heavy air attacks and had to be abandoned. The only large British formation was an infantry brigade on Leros, and with Cos had gone the only airfield. Jellicoe and several patrols were present when the Germans assaulted Leros in November, their job being to attack paratroopers as they landed. However the fall of the island was inevitable, but unlike most of the garrison almost all of the SBS escaped to Turkey and were sent back to Palestine.
Raiding Forces Middle East was established in October 1943 and the SBS was the major element of this formation. Other units included the Greek Sacred Squadron, the Long Range Desert Group, now operating in the long range reconnaissance patrol role, and the Raiding Support Regiment, which provided the heavy firepower needed for larger raids. Jellicoe's men were soon back in the Aegean, coming out of the night to shoot up German garrisons, demolish installations and generally raise havoc. In fact Raiding Forces carried out 381 operations on 70 different islands. The SBS detachments operated in rotation from a secret base, a large schooner anchored on the Turkish coast. Transport to and from targets was sometimes by Royal Navy Motor Launch, but more often by the caiques( local fishing boats) of the Levant Schooner Flotilla, crewed by the Navy and local volunteers. Lassen had been wounded on Simi but he and his "Irish" patrol were back in action, serving with both M and S Detachments, although officially part of the latter. He was often armed only with a Luger and a Commando fighting knife, and always led from the very front. Most raiders preferred heavier armament, Thompson guns, captured MP40s( " Schmeissers"), M1 carbines, Bren guns and .45 Colt automatics being popular, as well as the Italian mini-grenades known as "Red Devils". Landing was by canoe, Goatley boat and seven-man inflatables("Jellicoe Intruders"), or sometimes directly from caiques. By now there was a standard course for new recruits, many of them soldiers bored with garrison duty or Marines tired of manning warship guns which were never fired. Training in weapons, boating, swimming, high-speed marching and unarmed combat was done at Athlit, followed by a parachute course at Ramat David and ski training in Lebanon. All detachments had Greeks attached on their two-month operational tours, both officers and interpreters/guides.
The Aegean raids kept six German divisions in the islands who could have been fighting elsewhere. The biggest raid, and the finale for the SBS in Raiding Forces, was on Simi in July 1944. The whole garrison, 180 strong, was killed or captured by the 200 raiders, who left a troop of the Greek Sacred Regiment in its place. The SB Squadron was now transferred to Italy for raids on the Adriatic coasts of Yugoslavia and Albania, its place being taken by the expanded Greek raiding force. The LRDG and most of the RSR had left for Italy earlier. The Adriatic raids were generally not as successful, facing tougher defences and often uncooperative local guerillas. In October 1944 the Germans were in the process of evacuating southern Greece and L Detachment was parachuted onto the airfield at Araxos as the leading part of a task force commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Jellicoe. This was 450 strong, with an LRDG squadron, two infantry companies and a few RM Commandos, known as Bucketforce and had the mission of clearing the Peloponnese.
This they soon did, but were unable to cut off the German retreat from Athens. After liberating Athens Jellicoe formed an expanded task force( Pompforce), with L Det, 4th Parachute Battalion, RAF Regiment armoured cars and engineers and artillery. With these 950 men he was soon as far north as the Albanian border, forcing the Germans to retreat further than they had wanted, and had made contact with Sutherland, who was operating in that area. In the meantime Lassen and M Detachment had been island-hopping in the Sporadhes, but had decided to liberate Salonika. They commandeered four fire engines as transport and chased the last Germans out the city.
For the remainder of their time in Greece the SBS were caught up in the fighting between the Royalist and Communist Greek factions. Near the end of the year Jellicoe was sent off to Staff College and Lieutenant Colonel David Sutherland took over command; he was one of the few who had served under Courtney still remaining. The SB Squadron now became the Special Boat Service and the detachments were renamed squadrons. L Squadron rejoined S in Land Forces Adriatic, where the SBS operated from a semi-permanent base at Zara on the Yugoslav coast, which they shared with the patrols of the LRDG. M went to Crete to assist the guerillas now besieging the Germans in a few enclaves. (Allied sea and air raiding meant that the enemy on Crete and other islands could not even leave.)
In early April 1945 the 2nd Commando Brigade was fighting in the area around Lake Commachio in northern Italy. Andy Lassen and the sixty men of M Squadron were under command, initially patrolling the lake. The main Commando assault was launched from the south-east corner of the lake on the night of 8/9 April, with SBS men guiding in the assault boats through the few deep channels in the shallow water. Lassen himself took a seventeen-man patrol on a diversionary raid 2 miles(3km) to the north of the main landings. They came under heavy fire from well dug-in machine guns, immediately killing one man and wounding several others. Lassen went forward and knocked out one of the MGs with grenades; then he destroyed a second, and other men joined him in attacking a third. He was mortally wounded by fire from a fourth gun after its crew pretended to surrender; they did not survive long. The thirteen survivors of the patrol managed to escape back to their boats. Major Anders Lassen, age 24 and already the holder of the Military Cross and two Bars, was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.
This was the last operation of the Special Boat Service in the war. The end of the war with Japan found its members preparing to go the Far East. The service was disbanded soon afterward.
Group X " The Singapore Grip"
Small boat operations launched from Australia came under the Services Reconnaissance Department, the local name for SOE. Out here there was no Combined Operations Headquarters or the various raiding formations, and few special forces units other than the Australian Independent Companies( later Commando Squadrons). The two canoe raids on Singapore were mainly the work of two men, Ivan Lyon and Don Davidson. Lyon, a Captain in the Gordon Highlanders, was serving on the British military intelligence staff at Singapore when it fell to the Japanese in February 1942. Charged with organizing escape routes, he himself escaped to Ceylon with the intention of going back as soon as possible. During his escape work Lyon had come across a Japanese-built fishing boat, now known as Krait, and when he found out this boat had made it to India, he started making plans to use it in a raid on Singapore. Most senior officers regarded the idea as insane, but Lyon was persistent; the plan was approved and he went to Australia(as a Major), with Krait being shipped there some months afterward, in November 1942.
By this time Lyon had already recruited his second in command and part of his team. Lieutenant Davidson, RNVR, was an Englishman who been a jackeroo in Queensland and a logging company manager in Burma. He had also escaped from Singapore and was an experienced canoeist, now hating his job at Naval Headquarters in Melbourne. Lyon and Davidson were allowed to select men from the naval depot, most of them 18 year olds with only a few months service. They were toughened up by three months of intense Commando-type training and then five of them joined the rest of the party. This was a motley bunch, including a 56 year old Irish leading stoker, an Australian Army cook and a British Army medic, but mainly from the Royal Australian Navy. Lieutenant Bob Page of the Australian Army also joined the team, making fourteen in all. Further training followed at Cairns in Queensland, where Krait was now located.
Mainly due to problems with the boat Operation Jaywick was continually delayed. After sailing around the top of Australia the raiders finally left Exmouth Gulf on the North West Cape on 2 September 1943. During the voyage they darkened their skin and hair and flew the Japanese flag, hoping to remain indistinguishable from the similar boats common in the area. The forward base was to be at Pandjang in the Rhio Archipelago, the " Thousand Islands" south of Singapore. Here Lyon, Davidson and Page, with their No.2s, Able Seamen "Happy" Huston, Walter Falls and Joe Jones, left Krait in three canoes for the raid itself. They were delayed at Dongas island, the advanced attack base, for several days, but on the night of 26/27 September they placed mines on seven ships in and around the various harbours and anchorages of Singapore. 40 000 tons was sent to the bottom, including a fully-loaded tanker. It was then a question of paddling the 30 miles( 50 km ) back to Pandjang the next night, for they were already overdue. This they did and Krait arrived back at Exmouth on 19 October. It had been a journey of some 5000 miles( 8000km) and 33 days in enemy waters. There were medals all round and Lyon, Davidson and Page were promoted. But before the celebrations were over, they were already planning the return.
Rimau was an attempt to repeat and indeed improve on the success of Jaywick. This time fifteen Motor Submersible Canoes (" Sleeping Beauties") were to be used. A team of 23 was recruited, many of them Australian Army Commandos now serving with Z Special Unit, the administrative holding unit for Army personnel serving with SRD. Six of the Jaywick party were to go -Lyon, Davidson, Page, Huston, Falls and Able Seaman F.W. Marsh- as well as the RN sub-lieutenant who had been sent out to instruct in the use of the MSCs. Like the men of the RMBPD, Group X, as the unit was now known, found it hard to control these craft, which were notoriously unreliable. Quite why they were taken nobody knows. It was considered postponing the raid, but the senior officers insisted it go ahead. For them the war was very personal-Lyon believed his wife and daughter to be imprisoned at Singapore, though in fact they were not, Davidson had lost two brothers, Page's father had been killed at the beginning of the Pacific War. Therefore on 11 September 1944 the submarine HMS Porpoise left Fremantle with the 23 raiders and a huge amount of supplies, including the Sleeping Beauties and eleven normal canoes.
Less than two weeks later Group X arrived in the Rhio Archipelago. A forward base was established at Merapas island and a local junk captured for the final run-in on Singapore. From here on nothing went right. On 6 October the junk, named Mustika, was only 20km from Singapore when it was challenged by a patrol boat. The Malay crew gave the raiders away and after a short battle Lyon decided to scuttle Mustika and the MSCs, the raiders now taking to the sea in the canoes.
A huge search by the Japanese began, with a series of skirmishes down the chain of islands. Lyon, Davidson and several others were killed. The survivors did not make the rendezvous with a pick-up submarine at Merapas in early November; there is some confusion over the date this was meant to happen, and whether the submarine was too early or too late. The only thing that is known for sure is that eleven men of Group X were eventually captured alive and the rest killed in action or drowned, after inflicting heavy losses on their pursuers. One man made it as far south as Timor, over three-quarters of the way to Australia, before he was picked up by local police loyal to Japan. One of the prisoners, believed to be Falls, died of malaria. The other ten, one of them Page, were executed at Singapore in July 1945. Research in the 1980s suggests that some of the raiders did enter Singapore harbour and seriously damage three Japanese cruisers. The records of the "trial" of the survivors, in which they pled guilty to being spies because they wore no insignia on their jungle greens, are obviously fakes. In the 1980s the Australian Army's 1st Commando Regiment posthumously awarded special medals to those who died on Operation Rimau, denied recognition for so long.
Royal Navy and other special units
There were a number of special units which while not strictly small boat units were closely related to them. These were mostly manned by the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, though some included members of the Army and even the Royal Air Force.
The Chariot was a two-man "human torpedo", a forerunner of today's Swimmer Delivery Vehicles. It was an almost exact copy of the Italian "Maiale"(seapig) used so successfully against British shipping at Gibraltar and Alexandria. The Chariots were not as effective, the only successful attack being at La Spezia in Italy in 1944. Most of the Charioteers came from the Navy, but some were recruited from the SB Section. The La Spezia attack in fact included Italians now serving on the Allied side. X-Craft, five-man midget submarines, proved a better investment. These were based on the Japanese types used at Pearl Harbour and Sydney. Among their operations were the damaging of the Tirpitz in November 1943, in Trondheim fjord, Norway, and the sinking of Japanese ships at Singapore in July 1945. The last X-Craft was retired from service in 1960. The Welman was a one-man submarine, incredibly without a periscope. Four were lost in the only attack attempted, on Bergen harbour in Norway, November 1943.
Landing Craft Obstruction Clearance Units, also known as Boom Commandos, were composed of divers using the primitive scuba gear of that time. Ten of these units, six RM and four RN, 120 men in total, were the first ashore at Gold and Juno beaches on D-Day. After paddling in on rubber boats, launched from landing craft, they took to the water to destroy German obstacles. Over 2500 were destroyed by the end of 6 June, most of them mined, for the loss of only two frogmen killed.
The Underwater Working Party was formed in 1942 to counter the Italian 10th Light Flotilla's " Maiale " attacks on Gibraltar. Its members removed explosives from many Allied ships in the harbour and later cleared harbours in Italy which had been mined by the retreating Germans. The party's most well-known member was Lionel "Buster " Crabb, who so famously disappeared in 1956.
The Sea Reconnaissance Unit was also formed in 1942, by a Canadian naval officer, Lieutenant Commander Bruce Wright. Forty men from all the services were recruited in the UK and sent to California for training as long-distance swimmers and divers, using paddle boards and the Davis Submarine Escape Apparatus, the only scuba gear generally available at the time. The SRU was sent to Burma as part of the Small Operations Group in late 1944. Here it conducted covert recces along the major rivers and also reinforced the canoe-borne COPPs and SB Section groups. At least one Royal Marines member later joined the post-war small boat units.
Many special operations of all types relied on the Motor Torpedo Boats, Motor Launches and Motor Gun Boats of the Navy's Coastal Forces. Submarines also transported raiders and in the Eastern Mediterranean there was the Levant Schooner Flotilla. Here Lieutenant Commander Adrian Seligman assembled a force of about forty caiques, locally-procured fishing boats manned by British and Greek crews. Some were powered by engines taken from Matilda tanks, and most had long-range radios taken from Kittyhawk (P-40) fighter aircraft. Standard procedure was hide up during the day, close to land and under camouflage nets, and move at night without showing any lights. In this way the caiques were able to take the men of Raiding Forces Middle East all over the Aegean.
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