New website built in memory of the COPP commandos who trained at Hayling Island from 1942-45
SERVICEMEN who fought in Burma often claimed they felt they were the “Forgotten Army” with all the attention on liberating Europe.
But many special forces units like COPP – Combined Operations Pilotage Parties who trained on Hayling Island – were not even widely known about in the first place.
While it’s inevitable that attention has focused on COPP’s role in the big amphibious assaults of the war – such as the landings in North Africa and Sicily, and especially Normandy after D-Day – the work of COPP in the Far East was equally important.
Rob Crane’s grandfather Jack was one of the most senior soldiers attached to COPP joining COPP1 in August 1944.
He was a captain in the Royal Engineers and after training at Hayling, he was posted to Colombo, in Sri Lanka, in November 1944.
Captain Crane replaced one of the most famous COPPists – Major Logan Scott-Bowden, who carried out the first mission in Normandy on New Year’s Eve 1943, and rejoined his regiment after going ashore with the US Army at Omaha, having acted as a pilot for the Landing Craft carrying American tanks.
Rob has spent the last couple of years building a website pulling together a number of published accounts of COPP’s missions around the world.
By retelling the story of his grandfather’s comrades, he believes a torch has finally been shone on how important the work in the Far East was in the top-secret commando unit’s history.
Rob said: ‘COPP teams in the Far East did not have the big “set-piece” amphibious landings like those in Europe.
‘Instead, it was a relentless series of almost nightly operations.
‘The COPPists were helping mainly Indian forces carry out a sequence of landings to push the Japanese forces southwards.
‘They had to hurdle lots of tidal rivers that meander and intertwine along Burma’s west coast.
“The rivers were almost always very shallow and the ships and boats taking part in the landings could easily run aground if they weren’t careful. And lots of the riverbanks
were masses of mud.
‘That’s why COPP’s role, carrying out reconnaissance of the rivers for possible landing points, was so important.
‘It was a very different experience for COPP compared with Europe.
‘In the still silence of a Burmese night, sound would travel long distances.
‘They could often hear voices, whether from local villagers or from Japanese soldiers, they wouldn’t really know.
‘And the sound of Japanese patrol craft could travel for miles. Even if the patrol was almost on top of them as the crow flies, it might still be many minutes away as it’d have to
travel along the meandering river before getting to where COPP were carrying out their reconnaissance.
‘It must have been a war of nerves. I don’t think I’d have coped with it as well as they did.
‘It must have seemed a world away from Hayling Island, where they did most of their training.’
Unfortunately a number of COPP men were caught and either killed in shootouts or executed, while others were held as prisoners of war.
And even after the war in the Far East ended on August 15, it was another month before most of the COPPists were able to start their month-long ship journey back to the UK.