England was an island under siege. Her expeditionary force that had been sent to the Continent in late 1939 to whip Adolf Hitler had just been withdrawn in total disarray from the English Channel port of Dunkirk. Nearly all weapons, tanks, and vehicles had to be left behind. Contingency plans had been developed to evacuate the royal family and government to Canada. It was June 1940. On the far shore of the Channel was poised the German Wehrmacht, the most powerful armed force known to that time. It was preparing to bolt across the relatively narrow body of water and conquer England, a task Hitler and his generals estimated would take about six weeks. In this haunting climate of impending doom for an entire nation, sixty six-year-old, rotund Winston S. Churchill, the first lord of the Admiralty, was summoned by King George VI and appointed prime minister to replace the fumbling, elderly Neville Chamberlain. Churchill immediately plunged into his task of saving Great Britain. He surrounded himself with a youthful, blue-blooded staff and began establishing an apparatus known as special means. This included the creation of “troops of the hunter class,” who became known as Commandos, tough, resourceful men with killer instincts. Their function was to keep the Feldgrau (field gray, the average German soldier) across the Channel jittery and awake nights by launching hit-and-run raids and sneaking behind enemy lines to collect intelligence. The task of organizing the Commandos was given to forty-one-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Dudley Clarke. There was no time to lose. Churchill was demanding that the cross-Channel raids be launched within three weeks. Clarke hastily recruited the toughest men he could find, and by June 15, a training base was established on England’s southern coast. There were only forty-one submachine guns in the British Isles, and the fledgling Commandos were loaned twenty of them, but only after Clarke took a blood oath that he would return the weapons following the first raid. Assault boats were nonexistent. So Royal Navy Captain Garnons-Williams quickly scraped up a motley collection of small vessels that had been used for sailing in quiet inland waters. Their seagoing qualities and the reliability of their engines were open to question. The first raid was laid on for the night of June 23/24, barely three weeks since Dunkirk. A party of 120 Commandos under Major Ronald J. F. Todd, carried in four small boats, would strike at beaches to both sides of Boulogne opposite Dover. Colonel Clarke would accompany the raiders, but he had received strict orders not to go ashore. A movie company furnished the Commandos with black makeup, and at dusk, the raiders set sail. Just before reaching the dark coast of France, the four boats split, according to plan, each heading for its own beach. There were patches of fog, and the pale rays of the moon were filtering through a haze. The dim silhouettes of Luftwaffe airplanes could be seen overhead. One boat stumbled into the center of a German seaplane anchorage, was detected, and had to pull out before reaching shore. Commandos in two other craft stole inland for hours. Men in the boat carrying Colonel Clarke and Major Todd were spotted by a German bicycle patrol. A shoot-out erupted, and a bullet pierced Clarke’s car, causing a stream of blood to cascade down his neck and saturate his clothing. The Commando leader was angry and roundly cursed the Germans: they had ruined his uniform. The Commando force returned to England in broad daylight, each boat to a different port. At one harbour, permission was denied for a boat to enter; no one knew the identity of the sinister-looking, black-faced men in a craft with no identifying markings. The boat had to lay off the boom at the entrance; all the time it was covered by shore gun batteries. The Commandos were soaked to the skin, exhausted, and famished. They unfurled their most colourful profanity for the idiots in the port who would not let them dock. As the morning rolled by, the waiting men got drunk, having consumed jars of rum that someone had stowed on board. Finally, the Commandos were allowed to enter the port, and as they staggered onto the docks, they were arrested as deserters by red-capped British military police.