Land service

Sea soldiers back on dry land

During World War Two the Royal Marines resumed many of the brigades that had fought in World War One.

As before they established an RM Brigade on the outbreak of war. The Corps also reformed Howitzer and Anti-Aircraft Brigades as well as Siege and Field Artillery Regiments and Anti-Tank Brigades.

By late 1942 the battalions of the Royal Marine Brigade were becoming surplus to requirements as strategists allocated many of the land actions to the new Commandos.

By mid 1944 all Royal Marines Battalions were disbanded and converted to Commandos. Those not good enough to qualify to become a Commando were drafted to serve elsewhere.

The most notable actions undertaken by the Royal Marine Battalions were at Tobruk and the Allied invasion of Sicily.

During the Allied Invasion of Sicily in July 1943 the 7th Battalion performed a special role alongside the Corps' Commandos.

Also during World War Two the Royal Marines served for the first time in tanks - using their naval gunnery experience to bombard defences on the beaches of Normandy.

13.5-inch railway gun operated by the Royal Marine Siege Regiment, c.1941.The Siege Regiment used these guns to fire across the Channel and bombard the German forces in Belgium and France during World War Two. (RMM)
13.5-inch railway gun operated by the Royal Marine Siege Regiment, c.1941.The Siege Regiment used these guns to fire across the Channel and bombard the German forces in Belgium and France during World War Two. (RMM)

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The 11th Battalion at Tobruk

In September 1942 the 11th Battalion RM undertook a raid on the North African port of Tobruk.

The battalion’s aim was to destroy oil tanks, ammunition dumps, repair facilities, harbour defences and installations.

In addition, another force was to attack inland with the Royal Marines attacking from the shoreline.

Tobruk was 300 miles from the German Panzer tanks under Rommel were fighting the British 8th Army at Alamein.

The port of Tobruk provided most of the German Army with their supplies and therefore was a prime target for an attack.

The assault proved disastrous for the battalion who lost most of its men in the raid.

Royal Marine Memorial Service for the dead and missing troops of the 11th Battalion following their disastrous raid on Tobruk, September 1942. (RMM)
Royal Marine Memorial Service for the dead and missing troops of the 11th Battalion following their disastrous raid on Tobruk, September 1942. (RMM)

Due to the lack of equipment for the landing operation the 11th Battalion RM had to use vessels and tactics not unlike those used in the Dardanelles during World War One.

The battalion set off from the destroyers HMS Sikh and HMS Zulu on to wooden lighters joined in groups of three.

From there the lead boats, which possessed the only motorised means of approaching the shore, towed their adjoined crafts.

The land attack failed and German searchlights spotted the amphibious attack as the first wave approached the shore.

The inferior craft floundered in the high seas and many men drowned. Only 70 marines reached the shore, but they were two miles away from their target.

By 0830 only 21 marines had survived. The remainder of the battalion hid in caves hoping to be able to escape to safety but the Germans captured all of them just after nightfall.

Letter from the General Officer Commanding the Royal Marines issuing orders for the disbandment of 11th Battalion and the absorption of its personnel into the other units of the Corps. In the letter he praises the Battalion for their proud history including their involvement in the Middle East including the raid on Tobruk. Dated 13 April 1944. (RMM)
Letter from the General Officer Commanding the Royal Marines issuing orders for the disbandment of 11th Battalion and the absorption of its personnel into the other units of the Corps. In the letter he praises the Battalion for their proud history including their involvement in the Middle East including the raid on Tobruk. Dated 13 April 1944. (RMM)

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The 7th Battalion and the Invasion of Sicily

The Allied invasion of Sicily, Operation Husky, began on 10 July 1943. Amongst the Royal Marines taking part were 40 and 41 Commando and the 7th Battalion RM.

The 7th Battalion were the last to convert to the Commando role with all other battalions already assuming Commando formation.

The battalion bore the name of ‘Beach Brick 31’ and were to be involved in the invasion to move stores, ammunition and fuel out from the landing craft and ships in order to aid the advance of the troops.

Unloading stores and digging roads. Invasion of Sicily, July 1943. (RMM)
Unloading stores and digging roads. Invasion of Sicily, July 1943. (RMM)

After working on the beach in the role of ‘Beach Brick’ for several days, the battalion went forward to aid the Army’s 51st Highland Division.

Their mission was to attack the weakly held Italian positions in the high ground of the Dittaino River valley, on the left flank of the division.

Despite the battalion having not undertaken any infantry training for over a year they accepted their orders and moved towards their positions.

When they arrived however, the battalion spotted what they believed to be German soldiers.

When the battalion notified the 51st Highland Division however, they were told they were mistaken and to carry out their orders.

The battalion moved out after dark with B Company successfully reaching their objective, taking some 150 Italian prisoners.

3-inch mortar crew of the 7th Battalion RM in action. 21 July 1943. (RMM)
3-inch mortar crew of the 7th Battalion RM in action. 21 July 1943. (RMM)

The battalion ran into trouble however, when the sun began to rise and the Germans on the high ground barraged the battalion with their superior gunfire.

The 7th withdrew back to their start positions where the Germans treated them to massive German shellfire for the next nine days.

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The Armoured Support Regiment

During World War Two Royal Marines fought for the first time in tanks.

The Armoured Support Regiment manned the guns of Centaur Tanks during the D Day landings of 6 June 1944.

Centaur Tank, used by Royal Marines at D Day, 1944. The tank was driven by a member of the Royal Artillery, but the guns were manned by the Royal Marines of the Armoured Support Group. (RMM)
Centaur Tank, used by Royal Marines at D Day, 1944. The tank was driven by a member of the Royal Artillery, but the guns were manned by the Royal Marines of the Armoured Support Group. (RMM)

During the inter war years and World War Two the Royal Marines developed much equipment for the purpose of amphibious warfare.

The Royal Marines developed Centaur tanks to support the landing parties during the D Day.

They initially designed them as stationary and to remain in the landing craft after the initial landings had taken place.

Observers noted, however, that they would be more useful if they would move up the beachhead after landing to support the advance.

Supporting sketch for the letter entitled Hoist for ammunitioning Centaur Tanks in LCT(A)s. 14 May 1944. (RMM)
Supporting sketch for the letter entitled Hoist for ammunitioning Centaur Tanks in LCT(A)s. 14 May 1944. (RMM)

Centaurs carried Howitzer guns, which Royal Marines already had experience in operating dating back to World War One.

Again the Royal Marines showed the value of their training with the markings on the side of the turret adopting the principles of naval gunnery.

Due to this experience in naval gunnery possessed by the Royal Marines, Centaurs were the only tanks to be able to fire in a co-ordinated barrage on the same target.