No 7 Commando – The Bardia Raid

At the end of January 1941 No 7 Commando along with Nos 8 and 11 (Scottish) Commando sailed to the Middle East as part of Force ‘Z’, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Bob Laycock. On 19 April 1941 No.7 Commando boarded HMS Glengyle at Alexandria, Egypt and sailed for Bardia, Libya. Operations Orders issued later that day defined their task as ‘harassing the enemy’s lines of communication and inflicting as much damage as possible on supplies and material’.

The Glengyle and her sister ships, the Glenroy and Glenearn, were the first ships to be fitted out permanently as large infantry landing ships. They were able to carry three landing craft mechanised (LCMs) and fourteen infantry landing craft. Accommodation was provided for 1,087 assault troops (700 in the case of the Glengyle). Each ship was armed with three twin 4-inch guns and numerous short-range AA weapons.

Beach landings

Four beaches: ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’ were identified. to No.7 Commando, which was divided into seven detachments – Nos 1 to 4 consisting of 200 men tasked to Beach ‘A’, No.5 detachment of 70 men to Beach ‘B’, 70 men of No.6 to Beach ‘C’, and 35 men of No.7 to Beach ‘D’.

No.1 detachment landed and secured Beach ‘A’, while the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 passed through them and moved out to their respective tasks. No.2 detachment established a road block with the intention of ambushing enemy transport. No.3 were tasked to mount an assault on a position known as the ‘square camp’, while No.4 had the job of raiding Bardia from the south.

For the remainder the enemy was nowhere to be seen the detachments returned to their craft under the cover of No.1 detachment who safeguarded their withdrawal. However, the withdrawal was not without incident. A party from No.3 detachment got lost and made for Sollum. On the way twenty men were picked up by a landing craft from Beach ‘C’. The Italian wireless later claimed that the rest were captured and taken prisoner. The detachments on Beach ‘A’ also suffered an unfortunate casualty – an officer failed to answer his own sentry’s challenge and was shot and killed.

Blowing the bridge

The detachments tasked to beaches ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’ had mixed fortunes. No.5 detachment landed on Beach ‘A’, rather than Beach ‘B’, and was unable to attack Bardia from the north as per their orders. No.6 detachment landed on Beach ‘C’ in two landing craft to demolish a road bridge, pumping station and reservoir, and to crater the roads. Only one craft made it ashore and the plan changed to accommodate the reduced number of men. A small party went to deal with the pumping house, while the remainder prepared the bridge for demolition.

The pumping house party, had difficulty finding the target and arrived too late to inflict and serious damage. The bridge party, however, had more success. They blew the bridge and made it impassable for motor vehicles. Soaking the support trestles in patrol and setting them on fire soon remedied the problem.

No.7 detachment landed on Beach ‘D’ and located the four 5.9-inch naval guns that were part of the coastal defence. The detachment removed the firing mechanisms and blew up their breeches with gelignite, before returning to their landing craft.

Reembarking on the Glengyle

Bar a few mechanical and navigational problems the detachments made it back to HMS Glengyle and re-embarked on to the ship. However, one craft with a faulty compass could not find the Glengyle and went towards Tobruk instead, where after a rough passage at arrived later in the day.

The operation provided a number of lessons to be learned and areas for improvement – namely navigation, landing craft embarkation, formation to the beach, reliability of landing craft and navigational aids – all issues raised in Laycock’s report. However, the raid on Bardia yielded some success, especially at a strategic level, for it caused the enemy to relocate a significant number of troops from Sollum to Bardia, which released so of the pressure on the former. It also caused the enemy enough concern that they constructed boom defences in fear of subsequent raids, resulting in a redistribution of men and materials. 

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