Special Boats Service
Elite Unit Of The Royal Navy
This page is the beginning of the "Special Boats Section" section; all links in this section are on this page. To follow the Links in order click-on the highlighted Link at the bottom of the page; or use the Links at the side.
The previous page was: "Rhine 1945"
The SBS (sbs) are without doubt among the greatest stealth raiders that appear from out of the ocean unseen. There is not another military body that can match their stealth and guile.
The way they surretitiously arrive from the depths of the ocean leaves their enemies dumbfounded.
Their training is unique in the fact that they have to arrive by sea, air or land undetected. All of their operations are clandestine by the nature of what is required. Many of their achievements go untold. However it is not possible to hide every gallant action that they carry out.
The Special Boat Service (SBS) is primarily the special forces unit of the British Royal Navy. Together with the Special Air Service, Special Reconnaissance Regiment and the Special Forces Support Group they form the United Kingdom's Special Forces and come under joint control of the same Director of 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 role similar to the Special Air Service, but with a traditionally stronger 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 operates on dry land, with recent operations in the mountains of landlocked Afghanistan, and in the deserts of Iraq. Their main tasks are surveillance, including intelligence gathering and counter-terrorism operations.
Their offensive action includes, sabotage and the disruption of enemy infrastructure, capture of specific individuals, close protection of senior politicians and military personnel, plus reconnaissance and combat action on enemy 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 Operations Training Centre in Scotland and transferred to the SBS.
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 Operations Training Centre, that his idea of a folding kayak brigade could cause effective damage in enemy held territory.
Not being a man to give way easily he decided to infiltrate the "H.M.S. 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.
That same night, he presented the soaking cover to a group of high ranking Royal Navy officers meeting at a nearby Inveraray hotel. He was immediately promoted to captain, and given command of twelve men. Forming the first Special Boat Section.
It was initially named the Folboat Troop, after the type of folding canoe employed in future raiding operations, it was then renamed No.1 Special Boat Section in early 1941.
Attached to Layforce they moved to the Middle East, they later 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 No.2 SBS, meanwhile No.1 SBS became attached to the Special Air Service (SAS) as their Folboat Section.
SBS Rhodes 1942
Folboat Section Special Air Service
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.
After 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 rendezvous point to signal the submarine waiting out at sea.
After the Rhodes raid the SBS was absorbed into the SAS due to the number of 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. Major Anders Lassen, VC, MC and two bars was the only UK Special Forces recipient of the VC, he was the 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 they joined with the Long Range Desert Group in operations on the Greel Islands 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
The 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 Royal Marines SBS first started operating from submarines. 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 in 1959, but in both cases they did not see action.
In 1961, SBS teams carried out reconnaissance missions during the Indonesian Confrontation code named '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.
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 Royal Marines.
In 1982 after the Argentinian invasion of the Falkland Islands they deployed to South Georgia. The SBS landed from a submarine and gathered the intelligence for the British landings.
While surveying in their snow warfare suits and listening to the Argies they heard one report say: "nobody here only penguins." Those peguins were the SBS moving about.
The only losses to the SBS during the Falklands War occurred when the SBS and SAS were operating behind the lines and the patrols met in the dark.
The SBS were aware someone else was there and wanted to confirm who it was before opening fire.
The SAS opened fire not knowing who they were shooting at; not a sign of professional coolness which we have come to expect. Two members of the SBS were shot by the SAS patrol, mistaking them for Argentinians they claimed. The SBS know the names of the men in the patrol.
Special Boat Service
In 1987, they were once more renamed Special Boat Service, and abecame 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.
They were also responsible for carrying out diversionary raids along the Kuwaiti coast; including the heavily defended island of Faylakah 10 miles off the 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.
They also landed in Kuwait while it was still occupied by Sadam's forces; swimming under the thick layer of crude oil covering the whole of the Gulf and emerging through the gunge in large plastic bags.
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.
The 21st Century
In September 2000 the SBS were involved in Operation Barras, a hostage rescue operation in Sierra Leone.
In November 2001 the SBS had an extensive role in the invasion of Afghanistan and were involved in the Battle of Tora Bora.
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.
Members of the SBS helped quell an Afghan prison revolt during the Battle of Qala-i-Jangi near Mazar-i-Sharif, in November 2001.
In the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Corporal Ian Plank was killed when his patrol was engaged by Iraqi insurgents during a house-to-house search for a wanted high ranking militia leader.
On 27th 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.
On 12th 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 he and his associates were meeting.
On 18th 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.
Present Day Organisation
The Ministry of Defence does not comment on special forces matters, therefore little verifiable information exists in the public domain.
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:
C Squadron – responsible for swimmer and canoe operations.
M Squadron – 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.
S Squadron – specialises in small water borne craft and mini-sub
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.
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.
Fast Boats Pages
Joe Wezley Pages
UK Special Forces Selection
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.
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.
All members of the United Kingdom armed forces can be considered for special forces selection, but historically the majority of military 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.
Selection lasts for five weeks in Sennybridge, Powys in the Brecon Beacons and normally starts with about 200 candidates. On arrival candidates have to complete a Basic Fitness Test, and an infantry Combat Fitness Test.
They then complete a series of cross country marches against the clock, with the distances covered increasing each day and includes a 14 miles (23 km) march with full equipment on Pen-y-Fan known as the Fan dance in four hours.
By the end of the hill phase candidates must be able to walk four miles in 30 minutes and swim two miles in 90 minutes.
Those who successfully complete the hill phase move onto the jungle phase which can take place in Belize, Brunei or Malaysia. In the jungle phase candidates are taught navigation, moving in patrol formation and how to survive in the jungle.
After successfully completing the jungle phase candidates return to Hereford for training in battle plans, foreign weapons and take part in a combat survival exercise.
The final exercise is an escape and evasion exercise the remaining candidates are formed into patrols and carrying nothing more than a tin can filled with survival equipment they are dressed in old Second World War uniforms and told to head for a point by first light.
The exercise lasts for one week and is followed by the final selection test resistance to interrogation, which lasts for 36 hours.
At the end of the resistance to interrogation phase the candidates that have survived are transferred to an operational squadron.
For SBS(R) selection, candidates will be required to complete the following tests over the four day initial selection course:
Combat Fitness Test – 12.8 km (8.0 miles) carrying 25 kg within 1 hour 50 minutes
Swim test – 0.5 km (0.31 miiles) using any stroke in uniform and retrieve an object from 5m deep.
Advanced Combat Fitness Test 1 – 15 km (9.3 miles) carrying 25 kg
Advanced Combat Fitness Test 2 – 24 km (15 miles) carrying 30 kg
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Special Boats Service (SBS)
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