Special Boat Service: Wikis


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Special Boat Service
Official cap badge and motto of the SBS
Emblem and Motto of the SBS[1]
Active 1940–present
Country United Kingdom
Branch Naval Service
Type Special Forces
Role Special operations
Counter Terrorism
Size One Regiment
Part of United Kingdom Special Forces
Garrison/HQ Royal Marines Poole
Motto "By strength and guile"[2]
Engagements Second World War
Korean War
Indonesian Confrontation
Falklands War
Gulf War
Operation Barras
War in Afghanistan
2003 invasion of Iraq
Captain-General HRH The Duke of Edinburgh (Captain-General, Royal Marines)[3]
Colonel of
the Regiment
Admiral The Lord Boyce[4]
George Jellicoe, 2nd Earl Jellicoe
Anders Lassen
Blondie Hasler
Paddy Ashdown

The Special Boat Service or SBS is the special forces unit of the British Naval Service. 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. The SBS can trace their 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 similar role to the Army's SAS, but, traditionally, with more of a focus on amphibious operations. Two of the SBS's four squadrons, C and X, are configured for general operations. S squadron specialises in the use of minisubs and small boats and M squadron specialises in Maritime Counter Terrorism. The SBS also operate on dry land, with recent operations in the mountains of land locked Afghanistan and in the deserts of Iraq.




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 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 the 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. [5]

Initially known as the Folboat Troop, after the type of folding canoe employed in raiding operations, and then renamed No1 Special Boat Section in early 1941.[6] Attached to Layforce they moved to the middle east,[7] and later worked with the 1st Submarine Flotilla based at Alexandria and carried out beech reconnaissance of Rhodes, evacuated troops left behind on Crete and a number of small-scale raids and other operations.[6] In December 1941 Courtney returned to the United Kingdom where he formed No2 SBS,[6] and No1 SBS became attached to the Special Air Service (SAS). 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, the SBS was then absorbed into the SAS.[8][nb 1]

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 Jellico.[10] they moved to Haifa and trained with the Greek Sacred Regiment for operations in the Aegean.[11]

picture of soldier wearing beret and binoculars slung around neck
Major Anders Lassen, VC, MC and two bars the only UKSF recipient of the VC was a SBS commander during the Second World War

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. In August 1944 it 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.[12]

The No2 SBS, which retained its name, Special Boat Section, throughout the war, took Major General Mark Clark ashore before the Operation Torch landings in November 1942.[13] 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 No2 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.[14]

Post war

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.[15] Their first missions were in Palestine (ordnance removal) and in Haifa (limpet mine removal from ships). In 1952, SBS teams were held at combat readiness in Egypt in case Gamal Abdel Nasser's coup 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. 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 1961, SBS teams carried out reconnaissance missions during the Indonesian Confrontation (see Operation Claret).[16] 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.[17]

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.[18] 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 the SAS patrol, mistaking them for Argentinians.[19]

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 first Gulf War 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.[20] 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.[19] In September 1999 the SBS were involved in operations in East Timor. A small SBS team landed and drove out the back of a C-130 Hercules transport aircraft in Land Rover Defenders at Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport in Dili.[21]

21st Century

In September 2000 the SBS were involved in Operation Barras, a hostage rescue operation in Sierra Leone.[22] During the United States invasion of Afghanistan in November 2001 the SBS had an extensive role in the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and were involved in the Battle of Tora Bora. [23] The SBS were used in vital phases of the invasion of Afghanistan. A small SBS contingent secured Bagram Airbase prior to the deployment of larger forces that would become the main staging area for allied forces during Operation Enduring Freedom.[1] Members of the SBS helped quell an Afghan prison revolt during the Battle of Qala-i-Jangi near Mazar-i-Sharif, in November 2001.[24] In the invasion of Iraq in 2003 Corporal Ian Plank was killed when his patrol was engaged by Iraqi insurgent during a house to house search for a wanted high ranking militia leader. On 27 June 2006 Captain David Patten SAS and Sergeant Paul Bartlett, SBS, were killed and another serviceman seriously injured in a Taliban ambush in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan. It was reported that the ambushed vehicle was part of an SBS patrol.[25][26] On 12 May 2007 a joint SBS and Special Forces Support Group (SFSG) team killed the Taliban leader Mullah Dadullah in Helmand province after a raid on a compound where his associates were meeting.[27] On 18 February 2008, Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Matin and one of his sub-commanders, Mullah Karim Agha, were travelling through the desert on motorbikes when they were ambushed and killed by an SBS unit after they were dropped into his path by helicopter.[28]

Present day


frogmen on the deck of a submarine at sea
An SBS team linking up with a submarine during an exercise

The Ministry of Defence does not comment on special forces matters, therefore little verifiable information exists in the public domain.[29] The SBS are under the Operational Command of Director Special Forces and are based in Hamworthy barracks, Poole Dorset.[22]

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.[30] About 200–250 men make up the SBS at any one time,[31][32] and once qualified, personnel are known as "Swimmer Canoeists". They are experts in swimming, diving, parachuting, navigation, demolition and reconnaissance.[33]

There are four active squadrons and a reserve unit:

C Squadron — is responsible for swimmer and canoe operations.[20]

M Squadron — is responsible for maritime anti-terrorism and ship boarding operations. The Black Group, counter–terrorist team who specialise in helicopter assault are included in M Squadron.[20]

S Squadron — specialises in small water borne craft and mini-sub operations.[20]

X Squadron— in June 2004 it was reported that a new squadron had been formed from volunteers from the SAS and the SBS. This is believed to be the first phase of an expansion of Britain’s Special Forces ordered by the Government because of an increased threat to national security.[34]

SBS Reserve or SBS(R) provides individual reservists to serve with the regular SBS rather than forming independent teams. Only candidates with military experience will be eligible to enlist. The SBS(R) are located at locations throughout the United Kingdom, but training is carried out in the South of England.[35]

Recruitment, selection and training

In the past The SBS was staffed entirely, with few exceptions, by the Royal Marines. Volunteers for the SBS are now taken from all the British Armed Forces although volunteers still predominantly come from the Royal Marines. Candidates wishing to serve with SBS must have completed two years regular service and will only be accepted into the SBS after completion of the selection process.[36]

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 UKSF selection alongside candidates for the SAS. Selection includes marches across the Brecon Beacons, both alone and in small teams, carrying up to 50 pounds of equipment. After completing selection continuation training starts which includes parachute training, jungle warfare, combat and survival training, first aid and Combat Survival in which recruits must evade capture for a week while surviving only off the land, before undergoing interrogation.[37]

After the joint training phase, SBS candidates will undergo further training in amphibious warfare, scuba diving, canoeing, underwater demolitions, reconnaissance and surveying. On completion of this training they will become a qualified Swimmer Canoeist.[37]

For SBS(R) selection, candidates will be required to complete the following tests over the four day initial selection course:

  • Combat Fitness Test (CFT) — 12.8 km (8.0 mi) carrying 25kg within 1 hour 50 minutes
  • Swim test— .5 km (0.31 mi) using any stroke in uniform and retrieve an object from 5m
  • Gym tests
  • Advanced CFT 1 — 15 km (9.3 mi) carrying 25kg
  • Advanced CFT 2 — 24 km (15 mi) carrying 30kg [35]

See also

External links

  • Special Boat Service at Britain's small wars [1]
  • Video of SBS in action at Qala-i-janghi.[2]


  1. ^ The events of the raid were portrayed in the movie They Who Dare in 1954 staring Dirk Bogarde[9]
  1. ^ a b "Col Richard Pickup - Obituary". The Daily Telegraph. 11-May-2009. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/military-obituaries/special-forces-obituaries/5309727/Col-Richard-Pickup.html. 
  2. ^ "SBS motto". The Sun. http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/article83043.ece. Retrieved 9-March-2010. 
  3. ^ "The Captain General". Royal Marines. http://www.royalmarinesregimental.co.uk/histctrad10.htm. Retrieved 9-March-2010. 
  4. ^ "Lord Boyce". The White Ensign Association. http://www.whiteensign.co.uk/wordpress/about-the-wea/organisation/chairman. Retrieved 9-March-2010. 
  5. ^ Breuer, pp.46–47
  6. ^ a b c Richards, p.240
  7. ^ Chappell, p.15
  8. ^ "Obituary,Colonel David Sutherland". The Times. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/obituaries/article741433.ece. Retrieved 17-March-2010. 
  9. ^ "Obituary,Commander Michael St John". The Daily Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/5033783/Commander-Michael-St-John.html. Retrieved 17-March-2010. 
  10. ^ Morgan, p.15
  11. ^ Thompson, p.55
  12. ^ Thompson, p.56
  13. ^ Jackson, p.112
  14. ^ I. C. B. Dear and M. R. D. Foot. "Special Boat Section." The Oxford Companion to World War II. 2001.
  15. ^ Paul, James; Martin Spirit (2000). "The Special Boat Service" (Web). Britain's Small Wars Site Index. http://www.britains-smallwars.com/main/SBS.htm. Retrieved 9-March-2010. 
  16. ^ Kennedy, p.209
  17. ^ "QE2 History". Chris' Cunard Page. http://www.chriscunard.com/qe2_history.php. Retrieved 5-January -2010. 
  18. ^ "Other Marine units". Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom). http://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/royalmarines/units-and-deployments/other-royal-marine-units/fleet-protection-group-royal-marines/history/. Retrieved 16-March-2010. 
  19. ^ a b van der Bijl & Hannon, p.16
  20. ^ a b c d "The secretive sister of the SAS". BBC. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/1659585.stm. Retrieved 10-March-2010. 
  21. ^ "British troops start work in East Timor". BBC News. 1999-09-20. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/452208.stm. 
  22. ^ a b "End your rift, SAS and SBS are told". The Daily Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1468360/End-your-rift-SAS-and-SBS-are-told.html. Retrieved 9-March-2010. 
  23. ^ "British forces to take part in assault on cave complex". The Independent. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/british-forces-to-take-part-in-assault-on-cave-complex-618894.html. Retrieved 9-March-2010. 
  24. ^ "US honours Briton in Afghan raid". The Daily Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/1418557/US-honours-Briton-in-Afghan-raid.html. Retrieved 10-March-2010. 
  25. ^ "Hero killed in Taliban ambush". The Sun (newspaper). http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/article855580.ece. Retrieved 16-March-2010. 
  26. ^ "Killed NI soldier 'was due home". BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/5152430.stm. Retrieved 9-March-2010. 
  27. ^ "Long haul fight to defeat the Taliban". BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/6237290.stm. Retrieved 9-March-2010. 
  28. ^ "Mullah Abdul Matin". The Scotsman. http://news.scotsman.com/world/Key-Taliban-warlord-killed-in.3805965.jp. Retrieved 16-March-2010. 
  29. ^ "Special forces quitting to cash in on Iraq". The Scotsman. http://www.sandline.com/hotlinks/Scotsman_Spec-forces.html. Retrieved 9-March-2010. 
  30. ^ "The arrested development of UK special forces and the global war on terror". Cambridge University Press. http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayFulltext?type=1&fid=6459928&jid=RIS&volumeId=35&issueId=04&aid=6459920. Retrieved 17-March-2010. 
  31. ^ "The Special Boat Service". The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2002/jan/20/wageslaves.careers. Retrieved 10-March-2010. 
  32. ^ "Fallen SBS leader set up jungle rescue". The Times. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article432603.ece. Retrieved 10-March-2010. 
  33. ^ "Career Specialisations". Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom). http://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/royalmarines/careers/career-specialisations/#f9. Retrieved 9-March-2010. 
  34. ^ "X-Men lead war on terror". The Sun. http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/article90849.ece. Retrieved 17-March-2010. 
  35. ^ a b "Special Boat Service (Reserve)". Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom). http://www.army.mod.uk/specialforces/10558.aspx. Retrieved 8-March-2010. 
  36. ^ "How do you join the SBS (Special Boat Service)? - Royal Navy - Royal Marines - Careers Website". http://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/royalmarines/careers/your-questions-answered/ask-us/search-results/how-do-you-join-the-sbs/*/changeNav/7137. Retrieved 7-June-2009. 
  37. ^ a b "Special Boat Service". Military-Careers. http://www.military-careers.co.uk/Products/view/13. Retrieved 10-March-2010. 


  • Breuer, William B. (2001). Daring missions of World War II. John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 9780471404194. 
  • Bijl van der, Nick; Hannon, Paul (1995). The Royal Marines 1939-93. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1855323885. 
  • Chappell, Mike (1996). Army Commandos 1940–1945. Elite Series # 64. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1855325799. 
  • Jackson, Ashley (2006). The British Empire and the Second World War. Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 1852854170. 
  • Kennedy, Greg (2005). British naval strategy east of Suez, 1900-2000: influences and actions. Routledge. ISBN 0714655392. 
  • Morgan, Mike (2000). Daggers drawn: Second World War heroes of the SAS and SBS. Sutton. ISBN 0750925094. 
  • Richards, Brooks (2004). Secret Flotillas: Clandestine sea operations in the Mediterranean, North Africa and the Adriatic, 1940-1944. Routledge. ISBN 0714653144. 
  • Thompson, Leroy (1994). SAS: Great Britain's elite Special Air Service. Zenith Imprint. ISBN 0879389400. 


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