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Updated on January 16, 2010

A commando is a word adopted by the Boers in South Africa to designate a command or military unit and eventually by the British to denote a military unit trained for swift hit-and-run raids on enemy territory. The Boers originally used the term for military and quasi-military expeditions against native Africans. By the time of the South African War (1899-1902) a commando was the local Boer militia unit.

In World War II the British organized commandos that were the size of an infantry battalion. Specially trained for raiding the coasts of German-held Europe, the first unit was created in June 1940 of army volunteers in excellent health who learned the tactics of hand-to-hand combat, night infiltration, and surprise. Later, commando units were established in the Royal Marines. Commandos participated in the Dieppe raid of August 1942, in Mediterranean campaigns, notably the Salerno invasion, and in campaigns in northwestern Europe. The U. S. Army Rangers, from which developed the Special Forces, were modeled on commandos.

After the war the commando role in Britain was reserved for the Royal Marines, and one commando unit fought in Korea. Always ready, the commandos are used chiefly to quell disorders such as the Tanzanian army revolt of 1964.


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