• Si Biggs

VE Day - Royal Marines in WW2




Royal Marines served in every theater and in almost every major sea engagement in the Second World War and were in action until the last day of the war in Europe and still engaged in Asia until the Japanese surrender.

On 17th September 1939 HMS Courageous was struck by 2 torpedoes, the carrier capsized and sank in 20 minutes, the first British ship sunk in WW2, with the loss of 519 lives, 23 Royal Marines are listed as killed on the Plymouth War Memorial.

In December of the same year Royal Marines were in action manning turrets on HMS Ajax, Achilles and Exeter during the Battle of the River Plate, 15 Marines lost their lives.



In Norway a small party of Royal Marines were first ashore at Namsos in April 1940, seizing the approaches to the Norwegian town preparatory to a landing by the British Army two days later.


Royal Marines supported the RAF concentrated at Bardufoss aerodrome mounting A/A guns, here Group Captain Moore, R.A.F. 'speedy and efficient work of Lieutenant Colonel H. R. Lambert, D.S.C., R.M., and his men of the Royal Marine Fortress Unit in mounting guns under difficult conditions merit the highest praise'


Blondie Haslar later of Cockleshell Hero's fame was at the rearguard action in Narvik and one of the last to leave.


Royal Marines fought rearguard action in Calais, supporting the evacuation at Dunkirk, told from the outset that they would likely not be extracted.


A Royal Marine fought in the Battle of Britain in 1940, Ronald Cuthbert Hay, DSO, DSC & Bar was the only Royal Marine fighter ace.


The Royal Marines Division was formed to mount Amphibious Operations, parts of which served at Dakar and in the capture of Madagascar in 1942.



After the assault on the French naval base at Antsirane in Madagascar was held up, fifty Sea Service Royal Marines from HMS Ramilles commanded by Captain Martin Price were landed on the quay of the base by the British destroyer HMS Anthony after it ran the gauntlet of French shore batteries defending Diego Suarez Bay. They then captured two of the batteries, which led to a quick surrender by the French.



In addition the Royal Marines formed Mobile Naval Base Defence Organisations (MNBDOs) . One of these took part in the defence of Crete.


A painting by Lt-Cdr Roland Langmaid of the landing craft in which Colour Sergeant Charlie Bowden and 140 others escaped from Crete in 1941

The first Royal Marines commando unit was formed at Deal in Kent on 14 February 1942 and designated 'The Royal Marine Commando' re-designated 'A' Commando it saw action in the raid on Dieppe, on return designated 40 (RM) Commando. One month after Dieppe, most of the 11th Royal Marine Battalion was killed or captured in an ill staged amphibious landing at Tobruk in Operation Agreement.



In 1942 the Infantry Battalions of the Royal Marine Division were re-organised as Commandos, joining the British Army Commandos. The Division command structure became a Special Service Brigade command. The support troops became landing craft crew and saw extensive action on D-Day in June 1944.


A total of four Special Service Brigades (later Commando brigade) were raised during the war, and Royal Marines were represented in all of them. A total of nine RM Commandos (Battalions) were raised during the war, numbered from 40 to 48.


1 Commando Brigade had just one RM Battalion, No 45 Commando. 2 Commando Brigade had two RM battalions, Nos 40 and 43 Commandos. 3 Commando Brigade also had two, Nos 42 and 44 Commandos. 4 Commando Brigade was entirely Royal Marine after March 1944, comprising Nos 41, 46, 47 and 48 Commandos.


1st Commando Brigade took part in Operation Jubilee the raid on Dieppe and Normandy, campaigns in the Rhineland and crossing the Rhine at Wesel.


2 Commando Brigade was involved in the Salerno landings, Anzio, Comacchio, and operations in the Argenta Gap.


3 Commando Brigade served in Sicily and Burma.


4 Commando Brigade served in the Battle of Normandy and in the Battle of the Scheldt on the island of Walcheren during the clearing of Antwerp.


In January 1945, two further RM brigades were formed, 116th Brigade and 117th Brigade. Both were conventional infantry, rather than in the commando role. 116th Brigade saw some action in the Netherlands, but 117th Brigade was hardly used operationally.

Eighteen Royal Marines commanded Fleet Air Arm squadrons during the course of the war, and with the formation of the British Pacific Fleet were well-represented in the final drive on Japan. Captains and majors generally commanded squadrons, whilst in one case Lt. Colonel R.C. Hay on HMS Indefatigable was Air Group Co-ordinator from HMS Victorious of the entire British Pacific Fleet.


Throughout the war Royal Marines continued in their traditional roles of providing ships detachments and manning a proportion of the guns on cruisers and capital ships, involved in every major sea battle including the Battle of the River Plate in 1939 and the loss of 116 marines during the sinking of HMS Hood.


They also provided beach control units and the crews for the UK's minor landing craft, and the Royal Marines Armoured Support Group manned Centaur IV tanks on D Day; one of these is still on display near Pegasus Bridge.


Only one Marine (Corporal Thomas Peck Hunter of 43 Commando) was awarded the Victoria Cross in the Second World War for action at Lake Comacchio in Italy. Hunter was the most recent RM commando to be awarded the medal.

RM Band members served on all RN Capital Ships and by the end of the Second World War, 225 musicians and buglers had been killed in action, which was a quarter of their strength at the time, and the highest percentage of any branch of any service, after Bomber Command.


The Royal Marines Boom Patrol Detachment under Blondie Haslar carried out Operation Frankton and provided the basis for the post-war continuation of the SBS, Royal Marines also provided divers clearing the beaches in the hours before the D Day invasion.


Royal Marines also formed troops in 30 Assault Unit, driving ahead to capture important documents, take prisoners and secret weapons.



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