BBC television documentary on the Commandos in WWII

EWS member Jeffrey Manley brings to our attention Castle Commando, a fascinating new BBC documentary about British Commandos in World War II and their specialized training. Mr. Manley writes:

[The program] features prominently both Waugh and his nemesis Lord Lovat. Waugh’s diaries for 1940-41 are quoted to illustrate the shambolic nature of the early commando units. Lovat is given credit for addressing the problems described by Waugh by organizing special training for the commandos after their formation in 1940. This was first centered at Inverailort and Loch Ailort, but was later set up on much larger scale at Achnacarry on the estate of the Cameron of Lochiel. Most of the program is devoted to the course of rigorous training offered at Achnacarry. To support a point made in the documentary’s audio commentary about the realism of the training, the program quotes from Waugh’s diary entry for Sept 28, 1942 in which he mentions that a man in the first group of trainees (made up of ex-policemen) had been killed during an exercise a few days previously.

As an example of the success of the training credited to Lovat and Achnacarry, the film cites the raid on Dieppe in 1942. I had always thought this was an unmitigated disaster, but not so according to this version. Two commando units (one lead by Lovat) participated in successful preliminary raids to knock out gun installations east and west of Dieppe, raids which the program suggests demonstrated the value of the hard training given the commandos. The raids were intended to soften up the Germans for the main thrust undertaken by Canadian forces, but that part was indeed a disaster. Although not mentioned in the program, I think it was Lovat’s order to assign Waugh to basic training at the Achnacarry depot (and Waugh’s efforts to thwart Lovat’s orders) that lead to Waugh’s sacking from the commandos (see Stannard II, 85-86).

This interesting, well written, and well-edited documentary contains interviews of commando veterans who trained at Achnacarry intercut with black-and-white training films from the war and talking heads pronouncing on the events described.

The program is available for five more days at the BBC program archive. Viewers outside the UK will need to use a proxy server to watch it.

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