Category Archives: Commandos

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.

Rig for divers

COMSUBPAC recently released several images of things you don’t usually see: Dry Deck Shelter and submerged diver operations on a Virginia-class hunter-killer submarine.

PACIFIC OCEAN (June 18, 2021) — The Virginia-class fast-attack submarine USS North Carolina (SSN 777) conducts operations off the coast of Oahu, Hawai’i. U.S. military forces are present and active in and around the Pacific in support of allies and partners and a free and open Indo-Pacific for more than 75 years. (U.S. Navy photos by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alex Perlman/Released)

The Navy only has about a half-dozen of the 38-foot DDSs (2-3 in each of the SDV Teams), which were put into service in the 1980s to replace the capability lost when the Pentagon scrapped the old transport submarines (see USS Perch) of the Vietnam-era. Boats such as Perch could put ashore platoon-sized elements of Marines or UDTs/SEALs via small boats and do so in relatively (for the blue water Navy) shallow water.

While usually older boats operate DDSs– for instance converted Tridents turned into SSGNs– 10 of Virginias are believed equipped to operate DDSs, which can support a SEAL platoon (16 operators) for dive or small boat (CRRC) operations.

Previous to these images, some of the last good quality released images of DDS shelters in use on DVIDS date to earlier this year and, beyond that to 2008, both on converted SSGNs.

RN Flattops Echo History in the Med

Moving on to the second leg of the Royal Navy’s 28-week CSG21 deployment (which has already seen combat sorties), HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08), along with her task force, on 6 July passed into the Suez Canal from the Med and into the Red Sea and firmly inside the Middle East on her way, eventually, to the Pacific.

“Flanked by the spectacular scenery of Egypt’s desert landscape, HMS Queen Elizabeth and her escorts and auxiliaries have passed through the Suez Canal, marking a new chapter in the operational deployment of the UK Carrier Strike Group,” photo/caption by RN. Note the American Aegis destroyer (The Sullivans) behind her.

With an airwing made up of RAF, RN, and USMC aviators flying a mix of 40 AEW, strike fighter (F-35B), and ASW/ASuW helicopters (Wildcats), the 65,000-ton carrier is escorted by the RN Type 23 ASW frigates HMS Richmond (F239) and HMS Kent (F78); Type 45 air defense destroyers HMS Defender (D36) and HMS Diamond (D34); Royal Fleet Auxiliaries RFA Fort Victoria and RFA Tidespring; the Burke-class destroyer USS The Sullivans (DDG-68), the Dutch frigate HNLMS Evertsen (F805); and the (largely unseen) attack boat HMS Artful (S121).

As the task force has a company of 42 Royal Marine Commando spread out in dets across the various ships, you can bet eyeballs are peeled and magazines are loaded, if needed.

Royal Marines of 42 Commando have been on intensive training missions as part of their role on the Carrier Strike Group deployment (Photo/caption, RN)

Enter player #2 

On the same day as HMSQNLZ ran the Suez, 6 July, her sistership, HMS Prince of Wales (R09) entered Gibraltar with a rotary-wing group of Apache attack helicopters of the British Army’s 656 Squadron and Wildcats of 825 Naval Air Squadron (as the ship is still in shakedown and the Brits don’t have any “spare” F-35s currently)

HMS Prince of Wales, Gibraltar July 6, 2021

Still, this makes it the first time two British large-deck carriers (not Invincible-class through-deck destroyers/Harrier carriers) were in the Med in the same year– much less the same time– was circa 1970, when both of the operational 40,000-ton Audacious-class flattops of the Royal Navy– HMS Eagle (R05) and HMS Ark Royal (R09)— passed through the sea with active air wings. Alternatively, Ark Royal and the smaller 23,000-ton HMS Hermes (R12) were both in Gibraltar at the same time in 1970 immediately before Hermes was downgraded to a helicopter-only “Commando Carrier” (that would later carry Harriers in the Falklands) and still had an airwing that included a squadron each of Blackburn Buccaneer S.2s (801 NAS) and De Havilland Sea Vixen FAW.2s (893 NAS).

But the history of last week’s evolution by the Royal Navy goes further.

“Hello, Gibraltar!” noted Prince of Wales‘ social media feed on the occasion of sighting The Rock. “It’s been a fair few years since the name @HMSPWLS has graced your shores. We are looking forward to it.”

Indeed, the last HMS Prince of Wales, the famed King George V-class battleship that, although not fully complete, engaged in the epic Hunt for the Bismarck in May 1941, called at Gibraltar during WWII twice that same year, in September, as bookends of a series of convoys to Malta.

That makes it an almost 80-year gap, shy of just a couple months. 

King George V-class battleship HMS Prince of Wales (53) in Gibraltar, 1941.

The battleship, just over two months later, was famously lost to strikes from ground-based Japanese aircraft off the coast of Malaya as part of Force Z when she was sunk on 10 December 1941, two days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Makeshift STEN foregrips

No matter what, you just gotta love a STEN.

British 6th Para Div on D-Day, note the Denison smocks, Skrimmed helmets, toggle ropes, and a STEN MK V. Introduced in 1944, the MK V was a better-quality, more elaborate version of the Mk II including included a wooden pistol grip, a vertical wooden foregrip, a wooden stock, and a bayonet mount for the No. 4 Enfield rifle, whose sights it borrowed.

These “plumbers’ dreams” were, even in their most finished forms, always very ad hoc not to mention dangerous to due to their open bolt design. With that being said, both the American M3 Grease gun and at least the first two varieties of the STENs were often modified in-field to make them a bit more user-friendly.

With that, The Armourer’s Bench (TAB) has a great 5-minute video, new this week, on makeshift STEN foregrips spotted in the wild.

Enjoy!

Frogman Art

Although lots of people harp on the JFK connection to today’s SEALs, the fact is, they were just an updated rebranding of units that date back to the old UDTs and NCDUs (Naval Combat Demolition Unit) of WWII. Speaking of which, the first NCDU unit was established some 78 years ago this month when a”Naval Demolition Project” at Amphibious Training Base (ATB) Solomons, Maryland resulted in the establishment of Operational Naval Demolition Unit No. 1.

Ultimately some 34 NCDUs, largely trained at ATB, Fort Pierce, Florida, where the SEAL Museum stands today, would land at Normandy, 13 hit the beach in Southern France for the Dragoon Landings, and a further 30 see action in the Pacific before the end of the war.

With that, the Naval History and Heritage Command have a great selection of combat art involving SEAL Teams. It makes sense as so much of their training and operations are purposely off-camera.

Check out this sampling:

Seals on Ambush. Established to carry out guerrilla and anti-guerrilla operations in harbors, inland waters, and their adjacent land areas, SEAL (Sea, Air, Land) teams usually operated in 6 man units to gather intelligence and conduct raids, reconnaissance patrols, salvage dives, and, as depicted here, ambushes of enemy forces. (Painting, Acrylic on Canvas, by Marbury Brown, 1967; Framed Dimensions 38H X 50 1/2W Accession #: 88-161-EU)

Parachuting SEAL Team, (Painting by P. Granbinetti, 1974. Courtesy of Navy Experimental Diving Unit. NH 85219-KN)

93-088-a U.S. Navy SEALs Recon Beach Near Pearlis Airport, Grenada Painting, Watercolor on Paper; by Mike Leahy; 1982; Unframed Dimensions 18H X 24W

US Navy Special Warfare Team Surveys the Sava River. The Navy continued to act as part of a United Nations team peacekeeping in the Serbia and Kosovo regions. Here, a Navy SEAL team helps locate mines and underwater impediments laid in the Sava River. (Painting, Oil on Canvas Board; by John Charles Roach; 1997; Accession #: 97-141-O)

Danger Ascending: “While I have never observed U.S. Navy Seals in operations, an event from my childhood inspired this painting. I was at Norfolk Naval Station when several Seal/UDT “frogmen” entered the water about a hundred yards out in the harbor. No sign of them for a while. Then, silently they emerged from the water, climbed up onto the pier before us, dripping wet with big grins on their faces. It was a powerful impression. I painted this scene as a modern reflection from my long-ago experience.” (Painting, Oil on Canvas; by Morgan Ian Wilbur; 2013; Framed Dimension 35H X 45W Accession #: 2013-058-04)

Have a great weekend guys. Maybe do some swimming. Go to the beach. 

Keeping the Deeds Alive

I’ve always had a staunch, somewhat old school take when it comes to traditional naval ship names. In short, it is hard for a plank owner rushing aboard to bring a new ship to life if it is named after some smarmy politician who never wore a uniform or activist and be told to “live up to the legacy” of that person. Ships should be named for five things: maritime heroes (Halsey, Farragut, Munro, Puller et. al), historical former ships (Wasp, Wahoo, Ranger), places (especially if they are also former famous ships, e.g. Nevada, Brooklyn), battles (Lexington, Midway, Hue City), and aspirations (Independence, Freedom).

That goes not just for the U.S. Navy but for any fleet.

With that in mind, the word from First Sea Lord Admiral Tony Radakin this week that the first five names for the future Type 31 frigates for the Royal Navy are familiar.

Each name has been selected to represent key themes and operations which will dominate and shape the global mission of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines: carrier operations (Formidable); operational advantage in the North Atlantic (Bulldog); forward deployment of ships around the globe to protect UK interests (Active); technology and innovation (Venturer); and the Future Commando Force (Campbeltown).

We’ve covered the unsinkable aircraft carrier HMS Formidable (R67) in a past Warship Wednesday, but HMS Cambeltown (notably the ex-USS Buchanan, DD-131), famous for the St. Nazaire Raid; the sixth HMS Bulldog (H91), the destroyer whose capture of a complete Enigma machine and codebooks from the German submarine U-110 in 1941 no doubt helped shorten the war; the 12th HMS Active (F171), the frigate whose blistered 4.5-inch gun chased Argentine troops across every hill around Port Stanley in 1982; and the third HMS/m Venturer (P68), the only submarine in history to have sunk another (the very advanced Type IXD2 U-864) while both were submerged; are no less important to naval history.

The well-known image of the fifth and most famous HMS Formidable on fire after the kamikaze hit on 4 May, photograph A 29717 from the collections of the Imperial War Museum

The “Trojan Horse Destroyer” HMS Campbeltown rests on the St Nazaire dock gate shortly before she will explode, March 1942

HMS Bulldog, in her three-shades-of-blue North Atlantic camouflage. IWM Photo No.: FL 1817

RN photo of frigate HMS Active escorting Lanistes through the Straits of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, mid-1987 Armilla patrol

HMS/m Venturer in Holy Loch in 1943. Because of her, U-864 and her cargo of 65 tons of mercury as well as Junkers Jumo 004B jet engine parts (used in the Messerschmitt Me 262) never made it to Japan as a result of an amazing underwater action. IWM A-18832.

Bravo Zulu, ADM Radakin.

Z Man Loadout

The “Z Special Unit” or “Z Force” detachments, immortalized in the early Sam Neil/Mel Gibson action film Attack Force Z (which included some great suppressed M3 Grease Guns and folbot action from an Oberon-class SSK) ripped up Japanese held islands throughout WWII. There is a really fascinating history behind these units and the redoubtable men who served in them.

Check out this loadout, showing a Webley/Enfield revolver, M1 Carbine, the wicked Welrod suppressed .32 “special purpose” gun, a machete (or possibly one of William E. Fairbairn’s Smatchets), and pack, courtesy of A Secret War.

Now, that looks fun. (Photo: A Secret War)