"By strength and guile"
RM Poole, Poole, United Kingdom
Her Majesty's Naval Service
Royal Marines, Special warfare combatan, Special Forces, United States Marine C, United States Navy Exp
The Special Boat Service (SBS) is the special forces unit of the Naval Service of the United Kingdom. Together with the Special Air Service, Special Reconnaissance Regiment and the Special Forces Support Group, they form the United Kingdom Special Forces and come under joint control of the same Director Special Forces.
- Second World War
- Special Boat Squadron
- Special Boat Service
- 21st century
- Recruitment selection and training
The Special Boat Service is described as the naval special forces of the United Kingdom and the sister unit of the SAS. The operational capabilities of both units are broadly similar. However, the SBS (being the principal Royal Navy contribution to UKSF) has the additional training and equipment to lead in the maritime, amphibious and riverine environments. Both units come under the operational command of HQ Directorate of Special Forces (DSF) and undergo an identical selection process, enjoy significant interoperability in training and on operations.
In times of armed conflict and war, the Special Boat Service (SBS) and 22 Special Air Service Regiment (22 SAS) are required to operate in small parties in enemy-controlled territory. Operations of this nature require men of courage and high morale who have excellent tactical awareness be it knowledge of special tactics or simply knowing one's place in a polyvalent unit. Self-discipline neatly ties into this. Intelligence, reliability, determination and also being physically fit are key skills.
Principal roles of the SBS are Surveillance Reconnaissance (SR), including information reporting and target acquisition; Offensive Action (OA), including direction of air strikes, artillery and naval gunfire, designation for precision guided munitions, use of integral weapons and demolitions; and Support and Influence (SI), including overseas training tasks. The SBS also provide immediate response Military Counter Terrorism (CT) and Maritime Counter Terrorism (MCT) teams.
The SBS can trace its origins to the Second World War, when they were formed as the Special Boat Section in 1940. They became the Special Boat Squadron after the Second World War and the Special Boat Service in the 1980s.
The SBS is manned by ranks drawn mostly from the Royal Marines and carries out a role that is similar to the Special Air Service, but with a traditionally stronger focus on amphibious operations. Their training involves parachute exercises, helicopter training and boat training, which recruits will get the chance to earn their licence for.
All of the SBS's four squadrons, C, Z, M and X, are configured for general operations, and rotate through the Maritime Counter Terrorism Role, also known as Black Role. The SBS also operates on land, with recent operations in the mountains of landlocked Afghanistan and in the deserts of Iraq. Their main tasks include intelligence gathering, counter-terrorism operations (surveillance or offensive action), sabotage and the disruption of enemy infrastructure, capture of specific individuals, close protection of senior politicians and military personnel, plus reconnaissance and direct action in foreign territory.
Second World War
The Special Boat Section was founded in July 1940 by a Commando officer, Roger Courtney. Courtney became a commando recruit in mid-1940, and was sent to the Combined Training Centre in Scotland. He was unsuccessful in his initial attempts to convince Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes and later Admiral Theodore Hallett, commander of the Combined Training Centre, that his idea of a folding kayak brigade would be effective. He decided to infiltrate HMS Glengyle, a Landing Ship, Infantry anchored in the River Clyde. Courtney paddled to the ship, climbed aboard undetected, wrote his initials on the door to the captain's cabin, and stole a deck gun cover. He presented the soaking cover to a group of high-ranking Royal Navy officers meeting at a nearby Inveraray hotel. He was promoted to captain, and given command of twelve men, the first Special Boat Service/Special Boat Section.
It was initially named the Folboat Troop, after the type of folding canoe employed in raiding operations, and then renamed No. 1 Special Boat Section in early 1941. Attached to Layforce, they moved to the Middle East. They worked with the 1st Submarine Flotilla based at Alexandria and carried out beach reconnaissance of Rhodes, evacuated troops left behind on Crete and a number of small-scale raids and other operations. In December 1941 Courtney returned to the United Kingdom where he formed No2 SBS, and No1 SBS became attached to the Special Air Service (SAS) as the Folboat Section. In June 1942, they took part in the Crete airfield raids. In September 1942, they carried out Operation Anglo, a raid on two airfields on the island of Rhodes, from which only two men returned. Destroying three aircraft, a fuel dump and numerous buildings, the surviving SBS men had to hide in the countryside for four days before they could reach the waiting submarine. After the Rhodes raid, the SBS was absorbed into the SAS due to the casualties they had suffered.
In April 1943, 1st SAS was divided into two with 250 men from the SAS and the Small Scale Raiding Force, forming the Special Boat Squadron under command Major the Earl Jellicoe. They moved to Haifa and trained with the Greek Sacred Regiment for operations in the Aegean.
They later operated among the Dodecanese and Cyclades groups of islands in the Dodecanese Campaign and took part in the Battle of Leros and the Battle of Kos. They with Greek Sacred Band took part in the successful Raid on Symi in July 1944 in which the entire German garrison was either killed or captured. In August 1944, they joined with the Long Range Desert Group in operations in the Adriatic, on the Peloponnese, in Albania, and, finally, Istria. So effective were they that, by 1944, 200–300 SBS men held down six German divisions.
Throughout the war, No.2 SBS did not use the Special Boat Squadron name, but instead retained the name Special Boat Section. They accompanied Major General Mark Clark ashore before the Operation Torch landings in November 1942. Later, one group, Z SBS, which was based in Algiers from March 1943, carried out the beach reconnaissance for the Salerno landings and a raid on Crete, before moving to Ceylon to work with the Special Operations Executives, Force 136 and later with Special Operations Australia. The rest of No. 2 SBS became part of South-East Asia Command's Small Operations Group, operating on the Chindwin and Irrawaddy rivers, and in the Arakan, during the Burma campaign.
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. Their first missions were in Palestine (ordnance removal) and in Haifa (limpet mine removal from ships). The SBS went on to serve in the Korean War deployed on operations along the North Korean coast as well as operating behind enemy lines destroying lines of communication, installations and gathering intelligence. It was during the Korean War that the SBS first started operating from submarines. In 1952, SBS teams were held at combat readiness in Egypt in case Gamal Abdel Nasser's revolution turned more violent than it did. The SBS were also alerted during the Suez Crisis of 1956 and coup against King Idris I of Libya (1959), but in both cases they did not see action. In 1961, SBS teams carried out reconnaissance missions during the Indonesian Confrontation (see Operation Claret). In the same year, Iraq threatened to invade Kuwait for the first time, and the SBS put a detachment at Bahrain. In 1972, the SBS and SAS came into prominence when members of a combined SBS and SAS team parachuted into the Atlantic Ocean after a bomb threat on board the cruise liner RMS Queen Elizabeth 2. A thorough search of the ship found no evidence of any device drawing the conclusion that it was a hoax. The SBS conducted operations in Northern Ireland during the The Troubles including with submarines. In January 1975, two SBS kayak teams were inserted from HMS Cachalot to conduct an anti gun running operation in the area between Torr Head and Garron.
Special Boat Squadron
In 1977, their name was changed to the Special Boat Squadron and in 1980 the SBS relinquished North Sea oil rig protection to Comacchio Company. In 1982, after the Argentinian invasion of the Falkland Islands, they deployed to South Georgia. The only losses to the SBS during the Falklands War occurred when the SBS and SAS were operating behind the lines and two members of the SBS were shot by an SAS patrol, who had mistaken them for Argentinians.
Special Boat Service
In 1987, they were renamed Special Boat Service, and became part of the United Kingdom Special Forces Group alongside the Special Air Service and 14 Intelligence Company. In the Gulf War, there was no amphibious role assigned to the SBS, an "area of operations line" was drawn down the middle of Iraq, the SAS would operate west of the line and the SBS to the east. As well as searching for mobile scuds, their area contained a mass of fibre-optic cable that provided Iraq with intelligence, the location of the main junction was 32 miles from Baghdad; On 22 January 1991, 36 SBS members were inserted by 2 chinook helicopters from No. 7 Squadron RAF, into an area full of Iraqi ground and air forces as well as spies and nomands, they avoided them and destroyed a 40-yard section of the cable with explosives-destroying what was left of the Iraqi communication grid. The SBS carried out one of its most high-profile operations when it liberated the British Embassy in Kuwait, abseiling from helicopters hovering above the embassy. They were also responsible for carrying out diversionary raids along the Kuwaiti coast which in effect diverted a number of Iraqi troops to the SBS area of operations and away from the main thrust of the coalition build up.
In September 1999, about 20 SBS members were involved in the Australian led International Force for East Timor (INTERFET) in East Timor. Together with the Australian Special Air Service Regiment and the New Zealand Special Air Service they formed INTERFET's special forces element named Response Force. Response Force departed from Darwin by C-130 Hercules transport aircraft and flew into Dili tasked with securing the airport, a seaport and a heli-port to enable regular forces to land and deploy with the SBS filmed driving a Land Rover Defender out of a Hercules. Response Force was then utilised to perform to a variety of tasks including direct action and special reconnaissance through out East Timor. The British forces withdrew in December 1999, including the SBS. A Sergeant was awarded the Military Cross after his patrol came under fire from pro-Indonesian militia.
In September 2000, the SBS was involved in Operation Barras, a hostage rescue operation in Sierra Leone. In November 2001, C and M squadron SBS had an extensive role in the invasion of Afghanistan at the start of the War in Afghanistan and were involved in the Battle of Tora Bora. The SBS was integrated directly into Task Force Sword – a Black SOF, under direct command of JSOC, this was a so-called hunter-killer force whose primary objective was of capturing or killing senior leadership and HVT within both al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Troops from C squadron (with at least one SEAL attached to them) were tasked with several missions, some with General Dostum's Northern Alliance forces at Mazar-e-Sharif. On November 10, C squadron inserted into the recently captured Bagram Airbase, which caused an immediate political quandary with the Northern Alliance leadership which claimed that the British had failed to consult them on it before the deployment. Members of C squadron SBS, were involved in a prison revolt during the Battle of Qala-i-Jangi, members of the SBS along with US and Northern Alliance troops enetually quelled the uprising, however during one CAS mission, a misdirected JDAM bomb wounded 4 SBS personnel to various degrees. In appreciation for the SBS contribution to the battle, the CIA attempted to recognise the personnel with US decorations, but due to Military and political bureaucracy, the decorations were never awarded. The SBS continued to work with Task Force Sword and the CIA.
In the 2003 invasion of Iraq, M Squadron deployed to Jordan as Task Force 7, which was part of CJSOTF-West (Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force - West) and were earmarked for a heliborne assault on several Iraqi oil facilities that had their own desert airstrips that once captured would be used for SOF staging areas. In northern Iraq in early March, a small reconnaissance team from M Squadron mounted on Honda ATVs inserted into Iraq from Jordan, its first mission was to conduct reconnaissance of an Iraqi air base at al-Sahara. The team was compromised by an anti-special forces Fedayeen unit and barley escaped thanks to a U.S. F-15E that flew air cover for the team and the bravery of an RAF Chinook that extracted the team under the Fedayeen's 'noses'. M Squadron launched a second operation at full strength in a mix of land rovers and ATVs into northern Iraq from H-2 Air Base, the objective was to locate, make contact and take the surrender of the Iraqi 5th Army Corps somewhere past Tikrit and to survey and mark viable temporary landing zones for follow-on forces. However the Squadron was compromised by a goat herder; the SBS drove for several days whilst unknown to them anti-special forces Fedayeen units followed them. At an overnight position near Mosul the Fedayeen ambushed the Squadron with DShK heavy machine guns and RPGs, the SBS returned fire and began taking fire from a T-72, the Squadron scattered and escaped the well-constructed trap. A number of Land Rovers became bogged down in a nearby wadi, so the troops mined the vehicles and abandoned them - though several did not detonate and were captured and exhibited on Iraqi television. The SBS was now in three distinct groups: one with several operational Land Rovers was being pursued by the Iraqi hunter force, a second mainly equipped with ATVs was hunkered down and trying to arrange extraction, the third with just 2 personnel on an ATV raced for the Syrian border. The first group tried to call in coalition strike aircraft but the aircraft couldn't identify friendly forces because the SBS were not equipped with infra-red strobes - although their vehicles did have Blue Force Tracker units, they eventually made it to an emergency rendezvous point and were extracted by an RAF Chinook. The second group was also extracted by an RAF Chinook and the third group made it to Syria and was held there until their release was negotiated, there were no SBS casualties. the incident has since been commended by senior British officials. M squadron also had a 3-month tour in early 2003. Corporal Ian Plank, an SBS member attached to the SAS was killed by Iraqi insurgents during a house-to-house search for a wanted high-ranking Islamist terrorist in an insurgent compound in Ramadi on 31 October 2003, he was the first UKSF combat casualty of the Iraq War. The SBS was also very active as part of Task Force Black, C squadron deployed to Baghdad as part of the task force in 2004, in its four-month deployment it mounted 22 raids. On 23 July 2005, M squadron, supported by troops from the SAS and US forces carried out Operation Marlborough, killing 3 members of AQI.
In Spring 2005, the Director of Special Forces re-balanced British special forces deployments so that Afghanistan would be the responsibility of the SBS and Iraq would be the 22nd SAS Regiment's. In Spring 2006, the British military deployed over 4,000 troops to southern Afghanistan and the SBS were assigned to take the lead in supporting the deployment. The SBS were part of Task Force 42/84: the British contingent in the Joint Special Forces command; their deployment with other British special forces units was codenamed Operation Kindle (similar to the SAS and other British SF deployment in Iraq, known as Operation Crichton); the SBS carried out missions all over southern Afghanistan with US Apache helicopters. Along with training and mentoring Afghan Provincial Response Companies, Afghan police tactical units the operated jointly with Coalition SOF, TF 42 conducted operations in direct support of the British Battle Group deployed in Helmand Province and for ISAF SOF Command and operations directly for the Americans in pursuit of high-value targets. The main objective of the SBS (and later on other British special forces units with Afghan forces) was targeting Taliban leaders and drug barons using "Carrot and stick" tactics. On 27 June 2006, a 16-man unit from C Squadron and members of the SRR carried out Operation Ilois: an operation that silently captured 4 Taliban leaders in compounds on the outskirts of Sangin, Helmand province. As they returned to their Land Rover vehicles, they were ambushed by an estimated 60-70 Taliban insurgents, with one vehicle disabled by RPG fire, the team took cover in an irrigation ditch and requested assistance whilst holding off against the Taliban force. The Helmand Battle Group had not been informed of the operation until it went wrong; a QRF made up of a platoon of Gurkhas responded but ran into another insurgent ambush; one SBS member was seriously injured in the ambush. After an hour (some sources say 3)-long gunfight, Apache attack helicopters, the Gurkha QRF and the 16-man unit, supported by a U.S. A-10 Thunderbolt and 2 Harrier GR7s managed to break contact and return to the closest FOB; 2 of the 4 Taliban leaders were killed in the firefight whilst the other 2 escaped in the chaos. Upon reaching the FOB it was discovered that Captain David Patten, SRR, and Sergeant Paul Bartlett, SBS were missing – one was helping wounded out of a vehicle when he was shot and assumed killed, whilst the second went missing during the firefight. An RAF Chinook carrying a company from the Parachute Regiment took off to find them, a pair of Apaches spotted the bodies and the Paras recovered them. One SBS member was awarded the MC for his actions in the ambush.
On 12 May 2007, an SBS team killed the Taliban leader Mullah Dadullah after JSOC and the ISA tracked him to a compound - where his associates were meeting - near Bahram Chah, Helmand province. The ISA confirmed he was there and an SBS reconnaissance element carried out reconnaissance of the compound which showed that Dadullah was protected 20 insurgents. That night, with the ISA monitoring the target, the majority of C Squadron were inserted by RAF CH-47D Chinooks whilst covered by Apache helicopters, the troops stormed the compound and a one hour long firefight took place as small groups of Taliban were hunted down and killed. 4 SBS personnel were wounded (one seriously), eventually Dadullah was shot in the chest and head, quick SSE was conducted and before the assault force was picked up by helicopter. On 24 September 2007, members of C squadron SBS and the Italian SOF unit Col Moschin rescued two Italian intelligence agents who were kidnapped by the Taliban in Herat province near Farah, they had been kidnapped 2 days before. Col Moschin parachuted onto a drop zone and marched overnight to surround the target compound, whilst the SBS were standing by in Lynx and Chinook helicopters to provide cut off groups in-case the insurgents attempted to escape, whilst a US Predator drone supported the British and Italians. The insurgents brought the hostages out of the compound and loaded them into vehicles before the Italians were in position to rescue them, the SBS closed in on the vehicles: aerial snipers using M82A1 antimaterial rifles forced the vehicles to stop. A Chinook dropped off more than a dozen SBS personnel who engaged the Taliban who were disembarking the vehicles, 8 Taliban insurgents were killed and the hostages were rescued, however one died of gunshot wounds.
On 18 February 2008, Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Matin and one of his sub-commanders, Mullah Karim Agha, along with several bodyguards were travelling through the desert near Gereshk, Helmand province on motorbikes when they were ambushed and killed by an SBS unit dropped into his path by helicopter. In February 2009, members of the SBS took part in Operation Diesel, which resulted in the seizure of £50 million of heroin and the killing of at least 20 Taliban insurgents. On 9 September 2009, an SBS team supported by the SFSG rescued Times journalist Stephen Farrell after he and his Afghan interpreter were captured by the Taliban whilst reporting on the Kunduz airstrike and were held at a Taliban safe house in Char Dara District, Kunduz Province. The British special forces were forced to act when signal intercepts of Taliban leader showed them discussing moving the hostages into Pakistan. They were inserted by 160th SOAR helicopters at pre-dawn directly onto the target building, whilst the SFSG set up a cordon, the Afghan interpreter was accidentally shot and killed as was two civilians by an explosive breaching charge on the compound, whilst a soldier from the SFSG was killed, Farrell was rescued. On 1 July 2010 whilst carrying out an operation against insurgents in Haji Wakil, Helmand Province, Corporal Seth Stephens of the SBS was killed during a heavy firefight whilst clearing a compound, as a result of his actions during that operation, he was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross. On 15 April 2012, during the Taliban attack on Kabul SBS member cleared Taliban militants from a central location overlooking foreign embassies.
On 27 February 2011, during the Libyan Civil War, the BBC reported that C Squadron assisted in the evacuation of 150 oil workers in three flights by RAF C-130 Hercules from an airfield near Zella to Valletta.
On 8 March 2012, a small Special Boat Service (SBS) team, attempted to rescue two hostages, Chris McManus (British) and Franco Lamolinara (Italian), being held in Nigeria by members of the Boko Haram terrorist organisation loyal to al-Qaeda. The two hostages were killed before or during the rescue attempt. All the hostage takers were reportedly killed. On 23 December 2013, Captain Richard Holloway was serving with the SBS when he was killed by Taliban small arms fire while conducting an operation to suppress the Taliban in a joint SBS-Afghan forces raid (with air support) on Taliban insurgents in a valley east of Kabul ahead of the Afghanistan elections.
The Ministry of Defence does not comment on special forces matters, therefore little verifiable information exists in the public domain. The SBS is under the Operational Command of Director Special Forces and are based in Hamworthy barracks, Poole, Dorset.
In 1987, when renamed the Special Boat Service, the SBS was also reformed along SAS lines, with 16 man troops instead of the traditional sections. About 200–250 men make up the SBS at any one time, and once qualified, personnel are known as "Swimmer Canoeists". They are experts in swimming, diving, parachuting, navigation, demolition and reconnaissance.
There are four active squadrons and a reserve unit:
Since the SBS joined the UKSF Group in the 1980s it has been restructured. Instead of one squadron being tasked with a permanent role the unit adopted the same system of squadron rotation as the SAS. Each Squadron rotates through Counter Terrorism Duties and Conventional Operations and tasking. For example, in December 2001 it was C squadron who were on MCT Role and were called in to intercept the MV Nisha while M and Z Squadron were deployed in Afghanistan.
Recruitment, selection and training
In the past, the SBS was staffed almost entirely by the Royal Marines. Volunteers for the SBS are now taken from all branches of the British Armed Forces, although volunteers still predominantly come from the Royal Marines Commandos. Candidates wishing to serve with the SBS must have completed two years regular service and will only be accepted into the SBS after completion of the selection process.
Until recently, the SBS had its own independent selection programme in order to qualify as a Swimmer Canoeist, but its selection programme has now been integrated into a joint UKSF selection alongside candidates for the SAS. All male members of the United Kingdom armed forces can be considered for special forces selection, but historically the majority of candidates have an airborne forces background. There are two selections a year, one in winter and the other in summer, and all the instructors are full members of the Special Air Service Regiment.
Before being loaded on to a UKSF Selection course, a candidate must complete a two-week Special Forces Briefing Course. The course tests the candidates physical fitness and looks of their willingness to conduct water-borne operations.
The UKSF course is broken down into two main parts, Selection and Continuation Training.
The Aptitude Phase is designed to select those individuals who are suitable for Special Forces training. The initial three weeks are devoted to gradual physical training and progressive exercises designed to develop physical and navigational ability. Volunteers will be expected to complete the Basic Combat Fitness Test (Infantry) on the first day of the course. Exercise HIGH WALK (Fan dance) will take place on Day 6 and takes the form of an escorted hill march over approximately 23 km (14 mi). As with all assessment marches, additional time may be added for inclement weather conditions. Exercise HIGH WALK identifies those individuals that are not adequately prepared to continue on the course. All other training during this initial period is directed at preparing volunteers for "Test Week" which is the fourth and final week of Aptitude. "Test Week" consists of five timed marches of between 23–28 km (14–17 mi) conducted on consecutive days followed by a final Endurance march of 64 km (40 mi); this must be completed within 20 hours. Bergen weights carried during "Test Week" increase from 40 lb (18 kg) to 55 lb (25 kg) for the Endurance march; in addition a rifle is carried on all marches. Volunteers are also required to pass the UKSF swimming test that consists of; high water entry (3 m (9.8 ft)), treading water for nine minutes followed immediately by a swim of 500 m (1,600 ft) wearing Combat 95. The test finishes with an underwater swim of 10 m (33 ft) including a retrieval of a small weight.
Those who pass the Aptitude Phase will undertake an intensive period of instruction and assessment of Special Forces Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs), including SF weapons and Standard Operation Procedures. The majority of this period is spent in the jungle, an environment that is suitable for SF training and ideal to achieve the purpose of this phase. Much of the training is aimed at discovering an individual's qualities. Continuation training, which consists of SOP and Tactical training in temperate and jungle environments, lasts nine weeks. This is conducted in the UK and Brunei.
Employment Training consists of surveillance and reconnaissance training (2 weeks), army combat survival (2 weeks), SF parachute training (4 weeks), counter terrorist course (3 weeks), signals training (1 week), patrol training and squadron induction training (2 weeks), and 1 week officers week for potential officers. At the end of the resistance to interrogation phase the surviving candidates are transferred to an operational squadron.
When accepted into an operational squadron, the candidates must complete the SBS Swimmer Canoeist Course, SC3 Course. The course lasts for several months and covers long distance Dives, Swims and Kayaks in open sea, often in poor weather. Underwater demolitions, Maritime counter terrorism, are also practised. On completing SBS troopers will be put on one year probation.
For SBS(R) selection, only candidates with previous military experience are eligible to enlist. Training is carried out in the South of England and candidates are required to complete the following tests over the four-day initial selection course:
The Special Boat Service wear the green commando beret, but with their own cap badge.