The Small Scale Raiding Force (SSRF) was created in 1942 by the Chief of Combined Operations, Lord Louis Mountbatten. He, unlike some senior military commanders, believed in the use of specialist soldiers trained in sabotage. The SSRF was to be an amphibious force, which numbered no more than fifty men and it was placed directly under Mountbatten’s command.
The force in essence already existed as the Special Operation Executive’s ‘Maid Honour Force’, named after the converted trawler used by the force. Though Mountbatten had control over the SSRF, it remained on the SOE’s role as ‘Station 62’. Combined Operations had operational control of the unit where it was known as No. 62 Commando. The SSRF was commanded by Major Gus March-Phillipps.
As their name suggests, the unit took part in raids on German targets. They worked only in small groups, as it was believed that such groups would be far more difficult for the defenders to detect. However, this logic did not always work. On the night of September 12th 1942, the SSRF attacked St Honorine in Normandy but most in the raiding force were killed, including March-Phillipps. The command of the force passed to Major Geoffrey Appleyard, previously its second in command. On October 3rd, 1942, the SSRF attacked the island of Sark in the Channel Islands. While no long term strategic damage was done, the boost such raids gave to the public, if and when they were announced, was great. Raids such as this also undermined the morale of the Germans troops as they would never know where the next attack would take place.
The SSRF was disbanded in April 1943. Other commando units were getting larger and the Chiefs of Staff believed that a clash of interests existed over which unit did what. SOE had their own ideas – and so did the military intelligence bracnch, SIS. Major Appleyard joined the Special Air Service but was killed.
At the start of the war, there were some in the army’s senior ranks who did not believe in the benefit of small specialist forces operating at night. The SSRF, along with the SAS and SBS, changed this belief and World War Two witnessed the era of special forces operating within the whole structure of the military command, but invariably at an arm’s length to it.