Commando country: special training centres in the Scottish highlands, 1940-45 - NMS Research Repository
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Doctoral thesis

Commando country: special training centres in the Scottish highlands, 1940-45

30 June 2011


Commando Country assesses the nature of more than 30 special training centres that operated in the Scottish highlands between 1940 and 1945, in order to explore the origins, evolution and culture of British special service training during the Second World War. These locations were chosen by virtue of the utility of the physical environment of the highland estate, strongly influenced by associated ideas about the challenge of that environment, individual character and the nature of irregular warfare. By virtue of its Scottish geographical perspective, Commando Country diverges from the existing literature by looking across the training establishments used by different organisations, principally Military Intelligence, the Commandos, and Special Operations Executive (SOE), whose histories tend to be considered in isolation. The book investigates the development and function of each category of training centre, the relationships between them, and their place in the broader framework of British and Allied special operations. Based on research in official documentary sources, unpublished and published memoirs and on fieldwork and interviews with surviving participants conducted by the author, Commando Country also presents rare unpublished photographs from public and private sources and artefacts assembled for the exhibition of the same name held at the National War Museum, Edinburgh in 2007. The resulting thesis is that the philosophy and practice improvised at the original school of irregular warfare at Inverailort House in the summer of 1940 permeated the culture of the training centres that developed thereafter. Close attention is accordingly given to the circumstances, organisation and instructing personnel that created the Inverailort syllabus, and the backgrounds and skills brought to bear, some drawn from civilian professions. The application of similar methods to the newly formed Commando forces is then traced. In this context the original operational purposes of individual aspects of the training became standardised into a general test of fitness and character designed to control admission of volunteers into the Commandos, the raiding and assault units that regarded themselves as a new military elite. Simultaneously, the approach pioneered at Inverailort was adapted to form the paramilitary training element of SOE, the organisation that coordinated and supported Resistance organisations in enemy-occupied countries. Particular attention is paid to the dedicated training establishments for Polish and Norwegian SOE units based in Scotland. The book concludes by considering how techniques and philosophy were applied more widely as conventional military training itself evolved, extending influence even into postwar civilian outdoor recreation


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