30 Assault Unit: Ian Fleming’s Red Indians

Written by Bjorn Mottoulle

September 1942, the Director of Naval Intelligence authorised the formation of the Special Intelligence Unit after receiving a proposal from Ian Fleming, who would later be known as the author of the James Bond novels. His proposal came after reading about the “Abwehr Kommando” better known as Germany’s intelligence unit. His proposal was quite clear: commandos reinforced with forward troops to raid enemy ports or naval installations.

If the attack was successful they had to secure enemy information. And so, The Special Intelligence Unit was born. It composed of 33 Royal Marines Troops, 34 Army Troops, 35 RAF Troops and 36 Royal Navy Troops.  The first task for this new born unit was to enter the Dieppe quayside hotel, which would be housing a Kriegsmarine (German navy) headquarters and to seize all naval documents and a so-called enigma coding machine. But due to bad intelligence on the area, the pebble stone beaches and no fire support, The Royal Navy were doomed to fail.

Fleming now had to watch wounded men being brought back to the destroyers by landing crafts. However, some commandos did go in hard – some even in gym shoes for extra speed who managed to destroy a coastal battery and take some prisoners. But a British written order mentioning that all German prisoners should be shackled was found by the Germans and this led to Hitlers infamous order of 18th October 1942 that all enemy  commandos are to be slaughtered. After this massacre The Special Intelligence Unit was later renamed 30 RN Commando (Special Engineering Unit). 

8th November 1942, HMS Malcolm carries the survivors of the last outing 3 months earlier, all volunteered for a new hazardous mission in French North Africa. This time they landed at Algiers. Their job was to get in the French admiralty and blow up the safes and take the papers, where after they could spent the night in the HQ before moving up towards the Italian armistice commission. Luckily for the unit the Italians surrendered without one shot being fired.

Sicily 10th July 1943 and 30 lands on Cape Passero alongside British XXX corps. The first target was a German radar site south-west towards Malta. Next was the naval base of Augusta which was already bombed by the RAF and raided by the SAS but they did find an enigma machine and this would change the war and help the code breakers at Bletchley park. After this they went into Italy, Greece and Yugoslavia.

In November 1943, 30 RN Commando returned to the UK to prepare for the Allied invasion of German occupied Europe.

December 1943, the unit was given a new name and new structure: 30 Advanced Unit or 30 Assault Unit. The unit’s operational role was now to move ahead of advancing Allied forces, or to undertake covert infiltrations into enemy territory by land, sea or air, to capture much needed Intelligence, in the form of codes, documents, equipment or enemy personnel.

Also, new kit and vehicles such as Humber armoured cars and staghounds were added along side new jeeps and better wireless communications. The new structure scrapped the former wings and mixed the lot in to A, B and X troop (named after naval gun turrets) and an additional HQ troop would handle signals and all intelligence.

On 6th June 1944 in Normandy, France, 30 Assault Unit (codenamed WOOLFORCE and PIKEFORCE) landed on JUNO, GOLD and UTAH beaches, at 8.35am. At  Juno beach they attempted to capture a German Wurzbergradar station at Douvres-la-Delivrande. But they hit upon heavy resistance and had to wait for Canadian reinforcements. Later they fought their way into Cherbourg to capture the port hoping that it would still be in one piece as this would help the allies advancing into the mainland and further into Europe.

During July 1944 the Unit served in the cities of Caen, Rennes, Brest and Granville, not far from the St. Mont Michel and followed French forces into Paris, France in August 1944. After this they moved towards Dieppe and entered a devastated city.

In September 1944 30 Assault Unit began a series of operations in the Channel coast ports and then moved into Belgium, deciding to stay there in mid-February 1945 – setting up a HQ in Genappe, in the Ardennes.

In March 1945, Elements of 30AU advance into the German Reich and noticed that the resistance they encountered was much heavier than before. They seemed to be more fanatical and wouldn’t give up easily. A recce group of 30 Assault Unit reaches the completely ruined city of Cologne only four days later and to their astonishment the inhabitants were friendly and even gave reliable information on German movement. They were able to reach their target (a weapons factory) 24 hours earlier than the allied forces, alongside documents they also found a new type of mine, which helped in clearing the road to Bremen.

By the end of April 1945, Royal Marines from 30 Assault Unit had captured the German Naval Base at Bremen, Germany, including the newest type of high speed U-boats. The next target was Bremerhaven with multiple assignments and tasks such as taking over the port and its naval HQ. but they stumbled upon something completely different: a prisoners ship, full of Russian POW’s who all tried to escape the overcrowded ship, but they had to stay aboard until better arrangements were found. 

The end of the fighting in Germany left many with mixed feelings, as now a 30 Assault Unit detachment was sent to the Far East, but the Japanese surrender precluded operations. Subsequent activities in Singapore, Indo-China and Hong Kong eventually provided much useful intelligence for the allied command.

30 Assault Unit was finally disbanded in 1946 and many of its secrets went with it.

Photo of Bjorn at a Reenactment Event as a solider from 30 Assault Unit photo provided by Bjorn


Ian Fleming’s commandos written by Nicholas Rankin
Artic snow to dust of Normandy written by Patrick Dalzel-Job
Beau Bête written by Guy Allan Farrin

Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.com. Image license found here. No changes have been made to this image.

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