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The first units to be formed were independent companies, which began training at Wilson's Promontory in Victoria in early 1941 under the tutelage of British instructors.
With an establishment of 17 officers and 256 men, the independent companies were trained as "stay behind" forces, a role that they were later employed in against the Japanese in the South West Pacific Area during 1942–43, most notably fighting a guerilla campaign in Timor, as well as actions in New Guinea.
Training and assessment started immediately on arrival, with the volunteers having to complete an 8-mile (13 km) march with all their equipment from the Spean Bridge railway station to the commando depot.
Reaching a wartime strength of over 30 individual units and four assault brigades, the Commandos served in all theatres of war from the Arctic Circle to Europe and from the Mediterranean and Middle East to South-East Asia.
Scouting units such as the Lovat Scouts, a Scottish Highland regiment made up of exceptional woodsmen outfitted in ghillie suits and well practised in the arts of marksmanship, field craft, and military tactics filled this role.
This unit was formed in 1900 by Lord Lovat and early on reported to an American, Major Frederick Russell Burnham, the Chief of Scouts under Lord Roberts.
The British Indian Army deployed two special forces during their border wars: the Corps of Guides formed in 1846 and the Gurkha Scouts (a force that was formed in the 1890s and was first used as a detached unit during the 1897–1898 Tirah Campaign).
During the Second Boer War (1899–1902) the British Army felt the need for more specialised units became most apparent.