Commando General - The Life of Major General Sir Robert Laycock KCMG CB DSO, Richard Mead

Commando General - The Life of Major General Sir Robert Laycock KCMG CB DSO, Richard Mead

General Robert Laycock is probably best known for his role in the formation of the British Commandos, and his command of ‘Layforce’, a fairly unsuccessful commando unit that was deployed to the Middle East. However his most important role was as the head of Combined Operations from 1943 until 1947, following on from Mountbatton. In this role he thus played a major part in the planning for D-Day,

On the surface Laycock’s pre-war career looks like a classic example of the sort of aristocratic amateurishness that many critisied in the British army of this period. He was able to get long periods of leave, in one case so he could attempt to sail to Australia as part of the crew of a sailing ship! His regiment was normally posted around London, so he had a active social life, including time spent hunting. However at the same time his reading shows that he had much wider interests that this would suggest, and he took the chance to become a specialist in gas warfare. 

Once war began he soon found his way into the new field of Special Forces. Although his own combat carreer wasn’t terribly impressive – limited to only twenty four days split between Crete, North Africa, Sicily and Salerno as well as several days evaded the enemy after the failure of Operation Flipper in North Africa – he played an important role in the creation and then defence of the Commandos. He often found himself defending them against the home army establishment, who saw them a something of a nuisance, but supported by commanders who were actually engaged against the Germans, who considered them to be invaluable.

Some elements of his limited combat career have since become controversial – in particular his decision to evacuate from Crete as the defence collapsed, but they clearly weren’t viewed in that way at the time. His time with the commandos appears to have been successful, although he does appear to have held on to some unsuitable officers for longer than was justifiable – most notably Evelyn Waugh and Randolf Churchill.

Leycock wasn’t one of the top Allied commanders of the war, but he did play an important role in the development of Special Forces, and in the planning for D-Day, and its nice to have a biography that follows his entire career, having read about fragments of his life in other works. This book helps to prove that the apparently aristocratic, frivolous type of officers of the interwar years could very easily turn into hard working capable officers once war broke out.

1 - Joe
2 - Bob
3 - Blues
4 - Barque
5 - Angie
6 - Gas
7 - Commando
8 - Training
9 - Layforce
10 - Bardia
11 - Crete
12 - Disbandment
13 - Flipper
14 - Brigade
15 - Reorganization
16 - Husky
17 - Avalanche
18 - COHQ
19 - Chief
20 - Peace
21 - Malta
22 - Sunset
23 - Reflections

Author: Richard Mead
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 256
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2016

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