Special Forces

Oct 2015
871
Virginia
#1
The great General Slim (conqueror of Burma and possibly the best WW2 commander no one has ever heard of) wrote:

"The Chindits gave a splendid example of courage and hardihood. Yet I came firmly to the conclusion that such formations, trained, equipped and mentally adjusted for one type of operation were wasteful. They did not give, militarily, a worthwhile return for the resources in men, materiel and time that they absorbed....[special forces] were usually formed by attracting the best men...The result of these methods was undoubtedly to lower the quality of the rest of the army....This cult of special forces is as sensible as to form a Royal Corps of Tree-Climbers and say that no soldier who does not wear its green hat with a bunch of oak leaves stuck in it should be expected to climb a tree."

Slim acknowledged the need for small forces operating in the enemy rear, but thought special forces weakened the quality and spirit of the regular troops and made regular battalions think some tasks could only be performed by special forces.

I've always thought that the plethora of "private armies" and special forces that sprouted from fertile minds during WW2 were excessive. Commandos/Rangers, Chindits, SOE, SBS, SAS, SIS, OSS, Kachin Rangers...Air Commandos, Dam Busters, kayaks/canoes, midget submarines, chariots. All courageous, resourceful and dedicated organizations who suffered heavy losses and accomplished some remarkable things; but why so many? (sometimes working at cross purposes) and did they achieve results worthwhile relative to the cost? Couldn't the intelligence services and details from the regular forces have done the job as well?

I'm sure many disagree. What was the most important contribution to victory in WW2 made by these (or other) special forces?
 

Nemowork

Ad Honorem
Jan 2011
8,443
South of the barcodes
#3
The great General Slim (conqueror of Burma and possibly the best WW2 commander no one has ever heard of) wrote:

"The Chindits gave a splendid example of courage and hardihood. Yet I came firmly to the conclusion that such formations, trained, equipped and mentally adjusted for one type of operation were wasteful. They did not give, militarily, a worthwhile return for the resources in men, materiel and time that they absorbed....[special forces] were usually formed by attracting the best men...The result of these methods was undoubtedly to lower the quality of the rest of the army....This cult of special forces is as sensible as to form a Royal Corps of Tree-Climbers and say that no soldier who does not wear its green hat with a bunch of oak leaves stuck in it should be expected to climb a tree."

Slim acknowledged the need for small forces operating in the enemy rear, but thought special forces weakened the quality and spirit of the regular troops and made regular battalions think some tasks could only be performed by special forces.

I've always thought that the plethora of "private armies" and special forces that sprouted from fertile minds during WW2 were excessive. Commandos/Rangers, Chindits, SOE, SBS, SAS, SIS, OSS, Kachin Rangers...Air Commandos, Dam Busters, kayaks/canoes, midget submarines, chariots. All courageous, resourceful and dedicated organizations who suffered heavy losses and accomplished some remarkable things; but why so many? (sometimes working at cross purposes) and did they achieve results worthwhile relative to the cost? Couldn't the intelligence services and details from the regular forces have done the job as well?

I'm sure many disagree. What was the most important contribution to victory in WW2 made by these (or other) special forces?
Britain had a small professional military who took significant damage to the manpower, equipment, prestige and plans.

During the rebuilding and planning phase the army was sitting round doing very little for three years. Commandos and other raiders were an attempt to use minimal amount of force to do the most damage and keep the Germans off balance.

It also had the advantage of keeping the most energetic and fractious members of the army busy while the more regimented officers built up the army.

It allowed the military to try out different ideas on a small scale and test its effectiveness. These forces tend to be small scale, dedicated to performing a specialist task in a limited geographic area and when that need is fixed they are disbanded or moved on to other things.
 
Likes: sparky
Sep 2012
1,072
Tarkington, Texas
#4
The British had Manpower issues. The RAF and Royal Navy both absorbed large numbers of high quality manpower. By the time Wingate came to India, India was full of British units that tended to be a bit older and less fit. They were mainly engaged in Garrison duties. As the Frontline units lost men these units were often leveed for their younger, more fit men. The Paratroops and Commandos were popular as well. The Germans faced manpower issues by transferring people from the Luftwaffe and Kreigsmarine. The British only transferred a few men from the RAF Regiment. As the war went on the British used more and more men for Infantry duty. The Royal Marines became Commandos and went into the Line. The Royal Marines were normally used as gun crews on ships.

The British Army also transferred men to officer the Indian Army. Slim was one of these. He was once part of the West Indies Regiment!

Pruitt
 
Nov 2014
1,645
Birmingham, UK
#5
Britain had a small professional military who took significant damage to the manpower, equipment, prestige and plans.

During the rebuilding and planning phase the army was sitting round doing very little for three years. Commandos and other raiders were an attempt to use minimal amount of force to do the most damage and keep the Germans off balance.

It also had the advantage of keeping the most energetic and fractious members of the army busy while the more regimented officers built up the army.

It allowed the military to try out different ideas on a small scale and test its effectiveness. These forces tend to be small scale, dedicated to performing a specialist task in a limited geographic area and when that need is fixed they are disbanded or moved on to other things.

all good points, I wonder also if Churchill/etc thought of such units as much in propaganda terms as in terms of any practical impact they had- the practical impact was relatively limited by comparison with the propaganda impact in the first maybe 24 months, IIRC
 

martin76

Ad Honorem
Dec 2014
6,631
Spain
#6
I'm sure many disagree. What was the most important contribution to victory in WW2 made by these (or other) special forces?
Sincerely....not very much to compare to US Industrial Power, US Navy, British technology as Radar, Sonar etc, and the great Soviet offensives.
Special forces did not play any decisive role in the final outcome of the SGM. Their actions were surrounded by excellent propaganda coverage ... because of which the special forces have been given an exaggerated importance that does not correspond to reality.
They certainly performed spectacular operations, supported by naval and air elements, very considerable. But if we compare into the global context of WW2... they did not go beyond being simple anecdotes ... the Germans never dedicated more forces than they had to cover their actions and certainly never withdrew forces from their Main Battle (Eastern or Russian Front for a more or less film action of the special forces ... certainly Special forces didn´t take Berlin!)

Pure romanticism... I think Special Forces are.

These elements really were decisive.. better to say.. they were the Decision.. I think

 
Apr 2014
204
Liverpool, England
#7
I think it is probably true that there were occasions when a regular attack by the Loamshires would stall because the sergeant who would have jumped up with a Bren gun to take out three machine-gun nests single-handed had been recruited by the SAS.
 
Feb 2016
4,426
Japan
#8
Chindits weren't really special forces.
And afaik they didn’t take “good men” from other regiments.
Whole units were selected and given advanced jungle training .... but they were essentially just regular infantry trained in long range warfare.

They were not in the same league as commandos, SAS, Glider Pilots, SBS or even parachute battalions. Who could in fairness claim to be elite/special forces.

They were more like glider infantry. They started out like regulars and got told one morning “congratulations, We are getting converted into a .... battalion”.
For example the 13/Kings Liverpool Regiment... had originally been formed as a coastal defence battalion, and contained many men who had been considered too old, or in poor physical condition. After arriving in Burma... they get told “ you're joining 77th Brigade, Indian Army.. and are now Chindits”.
 
Last edited:
Oct 2015
871
Virginia
#9
Chindits weren't really special forces.
And afaik they didn’t take “good men” from other regiments.
Whole units were selected and given advanced jungle training .... but they were essentially just regular infantry trained in long range warfare.

They were not in the same league as commandos, SAS, Glider Pilots, SBS or even parachute battalions. Who could in fairness claim to be elite/special forces.

They were more like glider infantry. They started out like regulars and got told one morning “congratulations, We are getting converted into a .... battalion”.
For example the 13/Kings Liverpool Regiment... had originally been formed as a coastal defence battalion, and contained many men who had been considered too old, or in poor physical condition. After arriving in Burma... they get told “ you're joining 77th Brigade, Indian Army.. and are now Chindits”.
That's true. Many of the Chindit brigades were created by breaking up the British 70th division. But do you think General Slim's evaluation was right? Would 70 Div have been better used in a more conventional role?
 
Oct 2011
26,843
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#10
Personally [being Italian can influence me about this] I tend to consider Partisans among the best SOFs during WWII. Overall because they hadn't the logistic support and the equipment of the military special forces of the allied armies and they faced the best German units without hesitation.

But it's not only about Italian Partisans, I put in the "club" the French Partisans as well [probably the French ones were even better than the Italian ones].

In any case, since they weren't regular soldiers ... they cannot be considered in this category, but I just wanted to mention them.
 

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