Category Archives: Commandos

Cockleshell Heroes on Tour

Men of “L” Squadron SBS (Special Boat Squadron) investigate the ruins of the Acropolis in Athens, 13-14 October 1944. Note that three of the operators carry M1 Carbines while the fourth seems to have a more British BREN gun.

Offical caption, “Once inside the Acropolis, the troops take time off to examine these famous ruins of a former civilization. Photo by Johnson, Sergeant, No. 2 Army Film and Photo Section, Army Film and Photographic Unit. IWM Photo NA 19483.

When it comes to the fact that the Marines above are using American carbines, other British elite units in Greece at the time did the same thing, as referenced by this image of Paras from 5th (Scots) Parachute Battalion, 2nd Parachute Brigade, taking cover on a street corner in Athens during operations against members of ELAS, 6 December 1944.

IWM NA 20515

A good primer on the SBS in Greece, as well as other such units in the Med during WWII, is Brook Richard’s excellent “Secret Flotillas Vol II: Clandestine Sea Operations in the Western Mediterranean, North African & the Adriatic 1940-1944.” 

Queen’s new Rangers Low Crawling to a Reality

In 1999, there were six regiments in the “Scottish Division” — the Royal Scots, the Royal Highland Fusiliers (RHF), the King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB), the Black Watch, The Highlanders, and the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. These were all amalgamated, reduced, blended with several Lowland units, and eventually labeled as the *seven-battalion (*five active, two reserve) Royal Regiment of Scotland by 2006. However, this has been whittled down over the years, but we’ll get to that. 

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace last week announced that The First Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, The Royal Scots Borderers (1 SCOTS), will be recast as the initial backbone of the British Army’s new Ranger Regiment, a force which will ultimately have four battalions when fleshed out. These will eventually be made up of the transferred 2nd Battalion, Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (2 PWRR); the 2nd Battalion, Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment (2 LANCS); and the 4th Battalion, The Rifles (4 RIFLES).

The Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (1 SCOTS) march down the Royal Mile after accepting the Freedom of the city of Edinburgh on behalf of the Regiment. Sadly, the unit will lose its “Scottishness” when it becomes a Ranger unit. Photo by Mark Owens/HQScot. MOD/Crown copyright

Two of the Royal Regiment of Scotland’s other roughly 500-man battalions will continue to be based in Scotland, for now at least, with 2 SCOTS staying in Edinburgh and 3 SCOTS staying in Inverness until 2029 before moving to Leuchars – forming an integral part of a new Security Force Assistance Brigade. The Highlanders (4 SCOTS) are based in England at Bourlon Barracks as part of Catterick Garrison. This means, instead of the seven Scottish battalions that the RRS was founded with, it will be down to just three active, plus an independent company branded as a battalion (the famed Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, 5 SCOTS, was long ago cut down to company strength – branded the Balaklava Company in recognition to its “Thin Red Line” days – used for ceremonial duties in Scotland.) 6 SCOTS and 7 SCOTS are reserve units. However, the regiment will still have at least 10 bands left over after 1 SCOTS converts to the Rangers. 

Speaking of the Rangers, it is envisioned they would be a quick-deploying special operations-ish group, seemingly falling shy of SAS and about the same level as the Paras only without the chutes or the RM Commandos but without the amphibious skillset. Each battalion will consist of just 250 men– less than half the size of a U.S. Green Beret battalion/British Para battalion or a third the size of a battalion of the U.S. 75th Ranger Regiment. The smaller force will be chosen from the current soldiers after an eight-week, two-part assessment then undergoes a further eight months of additional training before the unit is rated ready. 

The British Army has also in the past week unveiled the cap badge of The Ranger Regiment, a Peregrine Falcon clasping a Ranger scroll. The badge will be worn on a gun-metal beret, augmented by the shoulder flash of the old WWII Special Service Brigade, two Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knives:

The Ranger Regiment is very proud of its new cap badge which takes inspiration and spirit from the Peregrine Falcon; fast, agile and fiercely loyal to its partner, it operates around the world in all environments including deserts, mountains and cities. It has been designed to demonstrate a new capability for the Army.

It follows a long history of birds being used as emblems and logos around the world. Peregrine derives from the medieval Latin word ‘peregrinus’ which means wanderer. It is the most geographically dispersed bird of prey and can be found on every continent, less Antarctica. The Peregrine Falcon is also the fastest bird on the planet, with a diving speed of over 200 miles per hour.

While many regiments have a cloth badge for officers and a metal badge for soldiers, everyone serving in the Ranger Regiment will wear a metal badge, irrespective of rank.

Of course, the badge is already drawing flak due to the fact that it looks a whole lot like the Osprey badge worn by the Rhodies of the old Selous Scouts, the controversial and oft-smeared Rhodesian Army irregulars that did all sorts of nastiness during the Bush Wars in the late 1970s.

Ranger Falcon. vs Rhodie Osprey

And the beat goes on…

To Find a Path

77 Years Ago Today:

Jacquinot Bay, New Britain. 1944-11-06. Members of B Company, 1st New Guinea Infantry Battalion aboard the former Hawkesbury River (New South Wales) vehicular ferry, the Frances Peat, which is to transport them to Pomio Village where the unit is to establish its headquarters. Identified personnel is company Sergeant Major Kube (with machete).

Note the machetes, Owen SMGs, No. III Lee-Enfields, dog tags, and British kit– along with not much else. Interestingly, many of the men have bicep dressings, possibly from recent inoculations. AWM Photo 076702 https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/076702

One of four battalions raised in New Guinea during WWII, 1 NGIB was formed in March 1944 from a cadre that had been in the ranks as early as 1942 and soon started deploying company-sized elements in support of combat operations on Bougainville and on New Guinea, where their particular skillset was in high-demand in the thick jungle.

The unit was folded into the Royal Pacific Islands Regiment (RPIR) before being disbanded in June 1946.

Reformed in 1951 as part of the Australian Army, the RPIR became part of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) in 1975 and carried the battle honors of the old 1 NGIB on its crest. In an ode to their old task of ranging and scouting, the RPIR’s motto today is “To Find a Path.”

Duck Boat

This picture just screams old-school cool.

Sadly, I ran across this on a Hungarian military forum of all places, a venue I typically haunt to find great pictures of Central European firearms. It had no source or explanation and reverse image sources come up with nothing so I have it here for our enjoyment.

It seems to show U.S. Marines in M1942 Frog Skin pattern (AKA “Beo Gam” or “Duck Hunter”) camo tearing ocean for a simulated beach landing from an assault boat (“Landing Craft, Rubber”) with everyone getting as low to the deck as possible. You can count nine M1 Garands. Also, dig the Johnson commercial outboard. I’d place the image likely in the mid-1950s, when the USMC was very much into putting the Marine back into the Navy’s diesel submarine fleet.

For comparison, check out this image of USS Greenfish (SS-351):

Reconnaissance scouts of the 1st Provisional Marine Air-Ground Task Force load into a rubber boat from Greenfish, a submarine of the Pacific fleet as they leave on a night mission against “enemy” installations on the island of Maui. The training afforded the Marines of the Task Force, which is based at the Marine Corps Air Station, Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, is the most versatile offered to Marines anywhere October 7, 1954. Note the classic WWII “duck hunter” camo which had by 1954 been out of use for almost a decade except for special operations units. (Sgt D.E. Reyher DEFENSE DEPT PHOTO (MARINE CORPS) A290040.)

Great stuff, and, as ususal, if anyone has any other feedback or details, please let me know.

Access Denied: A New Role for the Marines in the WestPac

Official caption: “Nissan Atoll, Green Islands, South Pacific, 31 January 1944: Inside enemy territory, a recon party lands, senses keyed up for sounds of the Japanese troops known to be present. A perilous fact-finding mission is underway.” The SMLEs and Mills bombs on the men in the center of the landing craft point to Commonwealth troops in Marine frogskin camo. The non-camo’d fellows at the ramp are likely USCG. A Marine is at the rear

Gen. David H. Berger, who celebrated his 40th anniversary in the USMC and is currently serving as the Marine’s 38th Commandant, wrote an excellent piece in this month’s Proceedings on the subject of “Stand-in Forces,” the pared-down direction the service is going towards in which they can (quietly) seize and hold forward areas with small units to deny access to larger sea forces.

From Berger’s piece:

Small, lethal, low signature, and mobile, stand-in forces (SIF) are relatively simple to maintain and sustain, designed to operate across the competition continuum within a contested area as the leading edge of a maritime defense-in-depth. Depending on the situation, SIF may include elements from the Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, special operations forces, interagency forces, and allies and partners. This last element is the most critical: every aspect of these deployments must be carried out in close partnership with host nations and partners. Whenever U.S. forces operate in a host nation, they must do so with the full involvement of that nation in conceptualizing and executing the overall mission.

The main ideas behind the SIF concept are deceptively simple. First, find a potential adversary’s people and things (such as weapon systems, sensor systems, submarines, etc.) in a given area, and then track them at a level that facilitates targeting by fleet or joint weapons until they leave that area. This finding and tracking effort starts as soon as the possible target is identified and continues at every point along the competition continuum. Next, SIF must be hard for a potential adversary to find by maintaining a low signature, moving frequently and unpredictably, and using deception. If armed conflict begins, use knowledge of the adversary to help the fleet or other elements of the joint force attack quickly and effectively, blind the adversary, and deny him maritime areas to disrupt his plans and force him to move into other places where SIF and the fleet have an advantage.

Stand-in forces’ enduring function emerges from these straightforward ideas: win the reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance fight in support of the fleet and joint force—and do so at every point on the competition continuum.

The full piece, which is a good read, is here.

In very related news, the Navy/Marine Corps Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System (NMESIS), which recently proved capable of hitting a target in a SINKEX at least, is set to become operational in 2023 with the newly formed 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment. Basically, a pack of Naval Strike Missiles on a remote control JLTV truck platform, the unmanned launcher can be landed by LCAC, LCU, or the planned new Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) LST design as well as (likely) by the CH-53 or C-130.

Naval News talked to the USMC about the NMESIS system, including this gem on why it is remote controlled.

Naval News: Why is the launcher “unmanned” ? Is it because it is intended to be controlled by company (i.e. small) sized Marine units ? Or is it because NMESIS is intended to be deployed on remote islands or locations with no human operators on those islands?

USMC: The launcher is remotely operated in order to enable a smaller, more expeditionary deployable capability. Additionally, remote firing position increases personnel survivability. Marine crews are still expected to be in the vicinity to provide security for the systems.

Food for thought.

A Navy Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System launcher, a command and control vehicle and a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle are transported by a U.S. Navy Landing Craft Air Cushion from Pacific Missile Range Facility Barking Sands, Hawaii, out to U.S.S. San Diego, Aug. 16, 2021. The movement demonstrated the mobility of a Marine Corps fires expeditionary advanced base, a core concept in the Marine Corps’ Force Design 2030 efforts. U.S. Navy and Marine Corps units came together from across 17 time zones as they participated in Large Scale Exercise 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Luke Cohen, released)

Shadow Warriors: The Unsung Story of the 112th Signal Battalion in Panama

CPT Steve Kestner (right) and another unidentified Company A, 112th Signal Battalion soldier (left) conduct rappel training at Fort Bragg, NC (circa 1989-90). (Photo courtesy of James S. Kestner)

From Veritas, Vol. 16, No. 1, 2020. “Formed in 1986, the 112th Signal Battalion first experienced combat in Panama, during Operation JUST CAUSE, December 1989. Their support to Special Operations Command, South, validated the need for a dedicated Army Special Operations signal battalion.”

All in all, an interesting (and free) online read. 

A New Generation of (Bearded) Gurkha?

A member of 10 Queen’s Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment challenges on Guard during the drill practice for the Ceremony of the Keys The Queen's Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment Kukri

A member of 10 Queen’s Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment challenges on Guard during the drill practice for the Ceremony of the Keys (MOD)

Lawmakers in Britain are looking to find a purpose for the diaspora of Afghan National Army commando and special forces currently studying at specialist schools in the UK, to include Sandhurst: form them into a unit of commandos in British uniform.

Of note, the all-volunteer and highly trained ANA Commando Corps – only about 20,000 soldiers out of an army of 160,000 — had a good reputation and served as the primary unit fighting the Taliban, raced from place to place like a fire brigade while the rest of the Afghan troops largely formed garrison units. Cut off from their air support and lift due to the rapid exfil of western contractors that kept the turbines turning, the Taliban was able to roll through the country in days while the Commandos assisted in the extraction from HKIA– many leaving on planes to points west from there during the endgame. 

An Afghan National Army soldier assigned to the Mobile Strike Force Kandak fires an RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenade launcher during a live-fire exercise

Now, left countryless in much the same way as the White Russians were in the 1920s, they have a “particular set of skills,” honed over a lifetime of use, as it would seem. 

Members of Parliament from Britain’s Conservative Party have now proposed “the creation of a new regiment of Afghans, similar to the brigade of Gurkhas, which comprises more than 4,000 Nepalese soldiers and was first recruited by the British 200 years ago,” according to the Daily Telegraph. It makes a certain sense as the MoD is short-staffed in just about every unit, even as it extensively relies on new enlistees recruited from impoverished Third World Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean and Africa to help flesh out the ranks. 

As further noted in Forbes:

But can Britain really turn Afghans into New Gurkhas? That’s a tricky question. Craig Lawrence, a former British Army general and Gurkha commander who has written several histories and novels about the Gurkhas, sees the optimum approach as having smaller Afghan-only units serve as part of larger British formations. “This might be as complete units of 400 to 600 personnel, or as sub-units of 80 to 120 personnel within other composite units,” he said. “This would enable them to fight together, as they have done for years, and would seem to be the best way of maximizing their lethality against the Taliban. Dispersing them across British infantry units at this early stage would dilute their capability, and would probably create integration issues.”

Besides the homeless commandos, there are some 465 skilled Western-trained military Afghan pilots and ground crews who escaped to Uzbekistan and are now exiled, with which the Brits could field a curious little airwing used to operating Hips, Hinds, and small fixed-wing COIN aircraft under primitive conditions. Could be a useful skill in places like West Africa or elsewhere in the Middle East. 

Will it happen? Well, if anyone would do it, it would be the British.

There would have to be a waiver for beards, of course. 

Marines to get upto 904 new CRRCs, which is way more than they ‘should’ need

From DOD: 

Wing Inflatables Inc., Arcata, California, is awarded a $31,921,100 firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for the purchase of up to a maximum 904 Enhanced – Combat Rubber Reconnaissance Craft. Work will be performed in Arcata, California, and is expected to be complete by August 2026. Fiscal 2019 and 2022 procurement (Marine Corps) contract funds in the amount of $3,126,894 will be obligated on the first delivery order immediately following contract award and funds will expire the end of the fiscal 2022 and 2023, respectively. This contract was competitively procured via the System for Award Management website, with three proposals received. The Marine Corps Systems Command, Quantico, Virginia, is the contracting activity (M67854-21-D-1801).

Wing’s five-chamber P4.7 series inflatable runs 15′ 5″-feet long, has a 6′ 5″-foot beam, offers 38.32ft² of usable deck space on a 12×3-foot deck. Empty weight is 180-pounds not counting the 274-pound rollup hard deck insert and can accommodate a 65hp outboard and 10 passengers/2,768-pounds of payload. The whole thing folds up into a 27″x29″x56″ package, or roughly the size of a curbside garbage can.

Each of the 7 Marine Expeditionary Units (a battalion landing team with a bunch of stuff bolted onto it and a harrier/helicopter airwing for support) has a bunch of different ways to get to the beach. These include of course the choppers, navy landing craft (LCU, LCAC, etc), and the Marines own amtrac swimming APCs. However, each one of these MAUs also has 18 of these little rubber zodiac-style boats, designated Combat Rubber Raiding Craft (CRRC, or “Crick”).

PACIFIC OCEAN (Aug. 30, 2013) Marines from the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (13th MEU) depart from the stern gate of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4) in a combat rubber raiding craft (CRRC). Boxer is underway as part of the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group, comprised of Boxer, the amphibious transport dock ship USS New Orleans (LPD 18), the amphibious dock landing ship USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49), and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brian P. Biller/Released)

A little larger than a sectional couch and powered by an outboard (or two) these can motor out from a task force still some 20 miles out at sea and approach an enemy-held beach, port, or vessel with very little footprint. They are hard to spot by eyeball, radar, or other means, especially in a light chop state. It’s a wet ride for the Marines aboard and anyone who has ever ridden one through the surf doesn’t look forward to doing it a second time– especially on a contested beach.

For landings, a company of the battalion landing team is designated the “Boat Company” and they spend a couple weeks figuring these boats out. This includes sending as many as 36 of its force before deployment through a four-week coxswains school where they learn basic sea-nav, and what not to do with these temperamental crafts. Meanwhile, other members of the Boat Coy head off to scout swimmer school where they learn the finer points of exiting a rubber raft on fins and doing lite frogman shit.

In the end, Cricks allow a 144-man company to be landed on a strip of beach or empty pier in three, six-boat waves. The former was done under OOTW conditions by Marines in Somalia in 1992.

Air transportable, Cricks can be slid out the rear ramp of MV-22s or parachuted from cargo planes such as the C-130 (and Navy C-2 CODs), can be launched from surface vessels such ranging from Amphibious assault ships (shown) or smaller craft like patrol boats, LCS and frigates. They can also be (and are) carried up from submerged submarines by divers for inflation on the surface.

The thing is, if you do the basic math on 7 MEU boat companies x 18 E-CRRCs, you get just 126 boats. Even if you double that amount to cover training and attrition, then add some for SEAL ops from submarines and for the use of Force Recon/Raider units, you still have like ~500 extra small boats.

That’s an interesting thing to ponder. 

I’d like to mention that a few months back, I theorized that the Marines might use Cricks to displace human assets from anti-ship missile batteries after they have fired their missiles from isolated atolls before the Chinese show up in force. Fire off their NSSMs, drop some WP grenades on their trucks, hop in the inflatables, and meet with a passing SSN or EPF just past the 15-fathom curve. May be easier to accomplish and have less of a footprint than an MV-22 pickup. 

Codename Snake Eyes and Jungle Green

Royal Marines exercise “Codename Snake Eyes” circa 1960 documentary– in Color!— by the Central Office of Information for the Admiralty. A great way to spend a half-hour. 

The exercise involves a combined-arms amphibious attack on a fictitious Mediterranean island nation that looks suspiciously like Cyprus, complete with an airfield and radar station.

It is jolly good stuff, complete with pipe smoking, beards, Denison smocks, a wet predawn paradrop from an RAF Boxcar by SBS frogmen, Fleet Air Arm Vampires launched from an RN carrier conducting rocket attacks to soften things up, dory-landed (and Enfield/Sterling-armed!) Royal Marines from 45 Commando leaping ashore from LCVPs to complete a rock face free climb, then reinforced by Wessex helicopter-delivered 40 Commando (“choppers may be useful but they have no natural dignity”), finished off by LCM-landed 42 Commando (who finally have some FN FALs/L1A1s) on the third wave after NGFS from gun-armed cruisers.

And that’s just in the first 10 minutes!

Enjoy.

For a less varnished but no less fascinating look at Royal Marines at the sharp end, check out “Jungle Green,” a 1964 BBC documentary following an isolated 25-man long-range patrol/listening post of 40 Commando and their two Iban trackers some 50 miles deep in the bush in Borneo during the very Vietnam-ish Konfrontasi, the Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation.

Hovering around the Amazon

The Marina de Guerra del Perú recently published a photo essay on brown water infantry troops doing what they do via some interesting watercraft. As part of the 45th annual Exercise BRACOLPER, in which Colombian and Brazilian riverine units visit Peru for a joint training op, the Peruvians have been showing off their British-made T-class Griffon Hoverwork (GHL) 2000TD hovercraft, of which they own seven.

The 2000TD is in use with several NATO countries such as Belgium, the Baltic states, and Poland, as well as with the Royal Marines, Finnish border guard, and Colombian naval infantry– which is the largest user. Some 38-feet long, they can carry 20 passengers at a speed of 35 knots. The Peruvian models are fitted with aluminum armor and have a forward gun mount that can accept anything from a 5.56mm LMG to a Mini Gun.

The 25,000-member Peruvian Navy has a decent blue water force to include modern frigates and a professional submarine force (they were also the last fleet in the world to operate a large gun-armed cruiser outside of the U.S. and Russia) but, as the country is bisected by the Amazon, Apurimac, Ene, Mantaro, and Madre de Dios river systems, they also have significant riverine forces as well.

The Peruvians have a marine (naval infantry) brigade that includes three battalions oriented towards blue-water and coastal operations and two (Teniente Quevedo and Teniente Villapando) to riverine ops as well as a commando unit and supporting artillery and engineer assets.

For reference, check out this video of Peruvian 2000TDs at work.

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