The Corps of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines, commonly just referred to as the Royal Marines (RM), are the marine corps and amphibious infantry of the United Kingdom and, along with the Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary, form the Naval Service. They are also the United Kingdom’s specialists in amphibious warfare, including the operation of landing craft; mountain warfare; and Arctic warfare. A core component of the country’s Rapid Deployment Force, the Corps’s 3 Commando Brigade is capable of operating independently and is highly trained as a commando force. It is trained to deploy quickly and fight in any terrain. The Royal Marines have one of the longest basic infantry training courses in the world.
Traditions & Insignia
The Royal Marines have a proud history and unique traditions. Colours (flags) do not carry individual battle honours in the manner of the regiments of the British Army but rather the “globe itself” as the symbol of the Corps.
The badge of the Royal Marines is designed to commemorate the history of the Corps. The Lion and Crown denote a Royal Regiment. King George III conferred this honour in 1802 “in consideration of the very meritorious services of the Marines in the late war.”
Dress Pith Helmet
Dress headgear is a white Wolseley pattern pith helmet surmounted by a ball, a distinction once standard for artillerymen. This derives from the part of the Corps that was once the Royal Marine Artillery.
Royal Marines Band
The Coveted Green Beret
For those members of The Royal Marines that have completed and passed the Commando Course at the CTCRM at Lympstone their everyday headgear is the Coveted Green Beret.
The Royal Marines are one of six regiments allowed by the Lord Mayor of the City of London to march through the City as a regiment in full array.
The Special Boat Service or SBS
The Special Boat Service or SBS is the special forces unit of the British Naval Service. Their motto is “By Strength and Guile”. It forms part of the United Kingdom Special Forces (UKSF) group.
The SBS is an independent unit of the Royal Marines based at Royal Marines Poole, in Poole, Dorset, co-located with 1 Assault Group Royal Marines and 148 Commando Forward Observation Battery, Royal Artillery.
The Special Boat Service was the brain-child of an East African big-game hunter called Roger Courtney who had spent much of the 1930s canoeing from Lake Victoria down the Nile and into Egypt. He came to England at the outbreak of World War II determined to persuade the Royal Navy to use the flimsy, wood framed canoes. Although the Royal Navy dismissed his idea, he was determined to prove that using the canoe can allow a small force to infiltrate silently and plant explosives on ships.
The challenge they set was for him to paddle out to HMS Glengyle and plant a limpet mine on its hull. Courtney was able to infiltrate the ship without being seen in his canoe and plant the limpet mine. This demonstration impressed the Royal Navy and heralded the beginning of the Special Boat Service.
The Special Boat Section was formed from the Folbot Troop of HQ Layforce in the Middle East and was sometimes known as ‘1 SBS’. In 1942, the personnel were subsumed within 1 Special Air Service Regiment and formed part of ‘D’ Squadron, subsequently retitled the “Special Boat Squadron”; as such they adopted the cap badge and tan beret of the SAS. A second Special Boat Section was raised in 1943 in the United Kingdom for service with the Special Service Brigade (subsequently re-titled Commando Brigade) as ‘2 SBS’. As a British Commando formation, personnel of 2 SBS wore the Commando Green beret. The Special Boat Squadron of 1 SAS became an independently operating squadron and was subsequently expanded to regimental status as the Special Boat Service continuing to wear their parent regiment cap badge and beret.
In 1946, the SBS, whether of Commando or SAS parentage, were disbanded. The functional title SBS was adopted by the Royal Marines. It became part of the School of Combined Operations under the command of “Blondie” Hasler. In 1951 another two squadrons were formed from British troops in West Germany. Two volunteer squadrons were later added. Their first missions were in Palestine (ordnance removal) and in Haifa (limpet mine removal from ships). In 1977, the SBS changed its name to Special Boat Squadron and in 1987 the SBS became part of the British Special Forces group alongside the Special Air Service and 14 Intelligence Company. In March 2005, the commanding officer of the SBS, Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Van Der Horst, was killed in a training accident in Norway.
Role and capabilities
The roles of the Special Boat Service are predominantly focused on, but not restricted to, littoral and riverine operations. Activities include:
Reconnaissance and Surveillance
Covert beach reconnaissance (hydrographic survey) in advance of an amphibious assault
Recovery or protection of ships and oil installations subject to hostile state or non-state (terrorist) action.
Maritime Counter-Terrorism (MCT)
Support to British police forces and customs
Elements from the British Special Boat Service has been part of Task Force Black working alongside their SAS counterparts as part of Task Force 145 currently designated as Task Force 88.
The Ministry of Defence does not comment on special forces matters, therefore little verifiable information exists in the public domain. Memoirs suggest an organisation split into four operational squadrons and a training wing, with a range of supporting personnel drawn from the Royal Marines, Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and the British Army.
The SBS is under the Operational Command of Director Special Forces, which allocates resources to the Permanent Joint Headquarters, deployed forces or other tasks as required. Qualified personnel are known as “Swimmer Canoeists” and are employed in one of the operational squadrons, training wing or elsewhere in the RM, RN, DSF or MOD.
C Squadron – Rotates along with X Squadron through three specialist roles. C Squadron are specialists in canoe and small boat operations. Utilizing 2-men Klepper canoes and rigid-hulled inflatable boats for stealth insertion and extraction, the SBS carry out reconnaissance and sabotage missions along coastlines, river networks and up to 40 miles (64 km) inland.
X Squadron – A joint Army SAS and Naval SBS unit made up of proven operators tasked fighting terrorism. It is known as X Squadron and is led by a highly-decorated SBS officer and an SAS captain. The group, based at Poole, Dorset, are on 24-hour worldwide alert. Rotates along with C Squadron through three specialist roles.
M Squadron – The Maritime Counter-Terrorism and shipboard operations unit.
Within M-Squadron is the Black Group, a counter-terrorism team that uses helicopter-borne assaults. They work closely with the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group.
S or Z Squadron – Specialises in small watercraft and minisub (Swimmer Delivery Vehicle) SDV insertions. The divers of S squadron specialise in underwater attack using mini-submarines and swimmer delivery vehicles. During a war, the SBS would sneak into enemy harbours and attach magnetic mines to ship’s hulls
Selection & Training Wing – Along with the British SAS conducts joint selection and training.
Personnel have previously been required to return to the main Commando force after the first three-year tour, potentially returning again after a short period, however this requirement has now ceased.
The special forces element of 3 Commando Brigade is usually provided by the SBS, tasked from the Directorate of Special Forces.
The SBS Reserve (SBS(R)), provides individual reservists to serve with the regular SBS rather than forming independent teams.
Recruitment, selection and training
Main article: United Kingdom Special Forces Selection
Unofficial ‘subdued’ version of SBS Wings
An SBS team linking up with a submarine during an exercise
Historically SBS selection was only open to members of the Royal Marines and the Royal Navy but with the re-brigading of UKSF force elements this has been opened to members of all three Armed Forces. Candidates must have have served a minimum of one year as a general duties marine and have three years left to serve.
Until recently, the SBS had its own independent selection program in order to qualify as a Swimmer Canoeist but has now been integrated its selection program into a joint UK Special Forces Selection alongside candidates for the Special Air Service and the Special Reconnaissance Regiment.
Qualification as an SBS Swimmer Canoeist involves an extensive training course, building on the skills gained during SF Selection at Hereford. Training includes:
8-week boating and diving course Diving including underwater navigation using closed and open circuit breathing apparatus and underwater demolition, negotiating surf zones and navigating a 55 km (34 mi) course in a Klepper canoe, and infiltration via submarine known as – “locking in/locking out”.
Parachuting – Including static line and High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) and High Altitude High Opening (HAHO) freefall jumps often at night with their boats/Klepper canoes into the sea.
Land and underwater demolition
Infiltration of ships, in harbour and whilst under way, and oil platforms
Canoeing – Use of the Klepper canoe during selection is extensive
Further survival training in the wilds of Scotland
Beach reconnaissance including photography
Maritime Counter-Terrorism activities
Those who pass the selection course qualify as a Swimmer Canoeist (SC3) and are then probationers, advancement to Corporal and Sergeant are predicated on qualification as an SC2 and SC1 respectively. Advancement to Sergeant also requires completion of the Senior Command Course at Commando Training Centre Royal Marines, mandatory for all Royal Marines at this stage. Continuation and professional training will continue throughout the individuals career. They may go through further training in combat medicine, communications, counter-terrorist operations, foreign languages, SDV “driving” and many other skills.
On qualification Marines of the SBS wear the branch badge on the left cuff of lovat green and blue uniform jackets, the letters SC over a wreath, Officers wear no branch designators. On qualification as an advanced parachutist, personnel are awarded the SBS variant of special forces parachute wings, worn on the shoulder of the right sleeve. Marines continue to wear the commandos green beret.
For SBS Reserve (SBS(R)) selection, candidates must have previous military experience or before passing the three main elements (Hills Phase @ 4 km/h / Ex Atap Hurdle / SERE) of regular UKSF selection and gaining the specialist qualification of swimmer canoeist.