Lieutenant-Colonel 'Pug' Davis - founding father of the Special Boat Service, and won a DSC
Lieutenant-Colonel "Pug" Davis (1923 - 2011 aged 87), was the founding father of the Special Boat Service, and won a DSC for a daring wartime rescue.
In the summer of 1944, Davis was off the Dalmatian coast in command of a flotilla of Landing Craft (Assault), or LCAs, based on the island of Vis. Several commando raids had been mounted on the coast of Yugoslavia in support of local partisans and, in early June, Davis landed a large raiding force on the mountainous and heavily defended island of Brac, which the Germans considered pivotal to their defence of the mainland.
In addition to a large number of Tito's partisans, the force included men from 43 Commando Royal Marines (RM) and 40 Commando RM. After four days of heavy fighting and numerous casualties, including the death of their commanding officer, the main body of commandos was forced to withdraw.
On June 5 Davis landed reinforcements, but the next day these were ambushed and only 12 men returned to the shore. Davis, waiting in his LCA, seized the initiative and organised the first five men to reach the beach into a search party, arming them with rifles.
He recovered the force's heavy weapons, which had run out of ammunition, and sent them back to Vis. Then, without waiting for any more commandos or their officers, he set off to the village where the ambush had been staged. After a two-hour climb he found a wounded officer, who had been left for dead, and evacuated him safely back to the beach. He was awarded a DSC for his initiative and courage far beyond the call of duty.
Peter George Davis was born in Paddington, west London, on December 9 1923, the son of Solly Davis, who had won an MC in the First World War. At Highgate School Peter was a member of the cadet force, and one of the masters, a retired Royal Marine, inspired him to enlist in the Corps in 1942.
After training at Chatham and in the use of landing craft, Davis was sent to command RM Flotilla 561 in the Adriatic. He soon acquired the nickname "Pug", though it was unclear whether this derived from his initials, his stocky build, his prowess at boxing or his tenacious leadership.
Postwar, several "private armies" of Royal Marines – including the innocuous-sounding Royal Marine Boom Patrol Detachment (of which Davis was commanding officer) – were rationalised into the Combined Operations Beach and Boat Section, or COBBS.
COBBS inherited a hoard of weaponry from the war but, at least initially, consisted of only a handful of men commanded by Davis, and was restricted to giving demonstrations of its potential. Davis, however, had higher ambitions, and in 1951 (by which time COBBS had been renamed Small Raids Wing) he and six men successfully held up an Army "advance" through southern England, when they paddled undetected up the Thames and painted a sign on a bridge at Pangbourne: "Wot no bridge?" This showed, the umpires decreed, that for exercise purposes the bridge had been blown up and could not be used.
Davis was sent to Germany to set up the RM Demolition Unit of the Rhine Flotilla, intended to deny the Russians any means of crossing the Rhine, and to become a stay-behind force in the event of a Soviet invasion. On Davis's suggestion his team was renamed the 2nd Special Boat Section (2SBS), while 1SBS remained in England. Later several sections were formed – each comprising an officer and a dozen or so men, some of which operated behind enemy lines in Korea.
Davis was sent to Malta from 1952 to 1954 to create a Special Boat Section to support 42 Commando Royal Marines, and this became 6SBS, which operated in the eastern Mediterranean.
The headquarters of the SBS moved to Poole in late 1954, when it was retitled the SB Wing. Meanwhile Davis became, from 1957 to 1959, senior Royal Marines officer in the carrier Eagle. When he took command of the SB Wing (1959-61) it had expanded to the size of a rifle company and was called the Special Boat Company, under the operational command of the Joint Services Amphibious Warfare Centre (JSWAC).
In 1962-63, during the Confrontation (when Indonesia threatened the newly formed Federation of Malaysia), Davis was a company commander in 40 Commando RM. Deployed from the carrier Albion, he landed by helicopter deep in the jungle with "Pugforce", a amalgam of Royal Marines, Ghurkhas, Sarawak Rangers and Iban trackers. On his first operation, Davis set up an ambush near Miri in northern Sarawak, without result; the next day he captured a number of rebels.
Davis served at HQ Plymouth Group RM in 1964-65 and then returned to Albion as Amphibious Operations Officer (1965-67).
In 1968 he went back to Poole as the second-in-command of JSWAC, and on his rapid promotion he moved to the Joint Warfare Establishment at Old Sarum to teach amphibious warfare doctrine. He retired in 1971.
While with the US Navy Underwater Demolition Team in 1961, Davis was invited to parachute from a helicopter. Previously he had jumped from an aircraft only with a static line, but to show willing and to give his American hosts the impression that he was game for anything, Davis accepted. However, he misunderstood the pre-flight briefing that he should pull his ripcord before passing 3,000ft and, as he plunged towards earth, did not hear the frenzied cries of: "Pull the cord, you son of a bitch!"
At the last moment his parachute opened and he floated to the ground, unaware of the commotion he had caused. The jumpmaster rushed to greet Davis, asking: "Are you all right, sir? We all thought you'd bought it, as you hadn't pulled by a thousand." Unharmed, Davis answered serenely: "Oh no, that's perfectly all right, we Royal Marines never pull above a thousand feet."
In retirement Pug Davis was a vice-chairman of the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen, an active supporter of the Bournemouth Reform Synagogue, and a chairman of the Royal Marines' Association.