Special Boat Service

Special Boat Service

Infobox Military Unit
unit_name=Special Boat Service

caption=Emblem and Motto of the SBS
country=United Kingdom
branch=Royal Marines
type= Naval Special Forces
role= Special operations / Maritime Counter Terrorism
size= One Regiment
command_structure=UK Special Forces
ceremonial_chief=HRH The Duke of Edinburgh (Captain-General, Royal Marines)
motto="By strength and guile" [Originally "Not By Strength By Guile" the motto changed with the move from SB Sqn to Special Boat Service"

The Special Boat Service (SBS) is the special forces unit of the British Royal Navy. The service's motto is "By Strength and Guile". It forms part of the United Kingdom Special Forces group, alongside the Special Air Service (SAS), Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR), Special Forces Support Group (SFSG) and Special Forces Communicators (SFC).

The SBS is an independent unit of the Royal Marines based at Royal Marines Poole, in Poole, Dorset, co-located with 1 Assault Group Royal Marines and 148 Commando Forward Observation Battery, Royal Artillery.


The roles of the Special Boat Service are predominantly focused on, but not restricted to, the littoral and riverine waterborne domains, including:

*Coastal reconnaissance
*Covert beach reconnaissance (Hydrographic survey) in advance of amphibious assault
*Covert assault route preparation in advance of amphibious assault
*Recovery or protection of ships and oil installations subject to hostile state or non-state (terrorist) action.
*Maritime Counter-Terrorism
*Support to Police and customs
*Reconnaissance and target indication in the deep battlespace
*Assault on verified targets
*Personal protection of VIPs


The Ministry of Defence does not comment on special forces matters therefore little verifiable information exists in the public domain. Memoirs suggest an organisation split into four operational squadrons and a training wing, with a range of supporting personnel drawn from the Royal Marines, Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and the British Army.

The SBS is under the Operational Command of Director Special Forces, which allocates resources to the Permanent Joint Headquarters, deployed forces or other tasks as required.

Qualified personnel are known as "Swimmer Canoeists" and are employed in one of the operational squadrons, training wing or elsewhere in the RM, RN, DSF or MOD.

*Two squadrons, C and X, support general SBS tasks.
*M squadron is the Maritime Counter-Terrorism and shipboard operations unit. [cite web|url=http://www.royalmarines.mod.uk/server/show/nav.6699|title=Fleet Protection Group Royal Marines History |publisher=Royal Marines|quote=Following a study into the centralisation of the Royal Marines Maritime Counter Terrorist (MCT) forces, approval was given for elements of Comacchio Group Royal Marines to move from Royal Marines Condor to Royal Marines Poole and form part of the Special Boat Squadron (SBS); sub units of the SBS were called squadrons and existing SB sections were called troops. M Squadron was formed and was responsible for the MCT tasks formerly carried out by O Company of Comacchio Group Royal Marines. From this date onwards, Comacchio Group ceased to have any MCT responsibility but retained its main task of safe-guarding Britain's nuclear deterrent.]
*Z squadron conducts small watercraft and mini-sub insertions.
*Training Wing conducts selection and continuation training and includes a concepts and doctrine capability.

Personnel have previously been required to return to the main Commando force after the first three -year tour, potentially returning again after a short period.

The special forces element of 3 Commando Brigade is usually provided by the SBS, tasked from the Directorate of Special Forces.

The SBS Reserve (SBS(R)), provides individual reservists to serve with the regular SBS rather than forming independent teams.


To be eligible for SBS selection, a candidate must have at least two years regular service in the British Armed Forces. Formerly candidates were from the Royal Marines or the Royal Navy, but now volunteers are taken from any arm of the services. In order to qualify as a Swimmer Canoeist, Candidates must first undergo Special Forces Selection with the SAS before continuing to SBS selection.

For SBS Reserve (SBS(R)) selection, candidates must have previous military experience or have served at least two years in the Royal Marines Reserve before passing the three main elements (Hills Phase @ 4 km/h / Ex Atap Hurdle / SERE) of regular UKSF selection and gaining the specialist qualification of swimmer canoeist.


Qualification as an SBS Swimmer Canoeist involves an extensive training course, building on the skills gained during SF Selection at Hereford. Training includes:
*Diving both closed and open circuit - candidates swim underwater for miles in poor visibility completing complex navigational tasks and employment exercises
*Parachuting static line
*Infiltration of ships, in harbour and whilst under way, and oil platforms
*Canoeing - Use of the Klepper canoe during selection is extensive
*Further survival training in the wilds of Scotland
*Beach reconnaissance including photography
*Maritime Counter-Terrorism activities

Those who pass the selection course qualify as a Swimmer Canoeist (SC3) and are then probationers, advancement to Corporal and Sergeant are predicated on qualification as an SC2 and SC1 respectively. Advancement to Sergeant also requires completion of the Senior Command Course at Commando Training Centre Royal Marines, mandatory for all Royal Marines at this stage.

On qualification Marines of the SBS wear the branch badge on the left cuff of lovat green and blue uniform jackets, the letters SC over a wreath, Officers wear no branch designators. On qualification as an advanced parachutist, personnel are awarded the SBS variant of special forces parachute wings, worn on the shoulder of the right sleeve. Marines continue to wear the commandos green beret.

Notable members

SBS veterans include:

* Lord Paddy Ashdown - Former Liberal Democrats leader
* Duncan Falconer - Author
* Earl Jellicoe - Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords (1970-1973) †
* Anders Lassen VC, MC & Two Bars - Victoria Cross recipient, World War II
* Paul McGough - Battle of Qala-i-Jangi [ [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/06/24/db2403.xml "Daily Telegraph": Obituary] ] veteran †
* Eric Newby MC, CBE - British travel writer
* Richard Van Der Horst - Former CO Special Boat Service, [ [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2005/11/27/nsbs27.xml "Daily Telegraph": Obituary following death during training exercise] ] †


:See British commando frogmen for a fuller list of their WWII operations.
*1941: The Special Boat Section was formed from the Folbot Troop of HQ Layforce in the Middle East and was sometimes known as '1 SBS'.
*1942: The personnel were subsumed within 1 Special Air Service Regiment and formed part of 'D' Squadron, subsequently retitled Special Boat Squadron; as such they adopted the cap badge and beret of the SAS.
*1943: A second Special Boat Section was re-raised in the United Kingdom for service with the Special Service Brigade (subsequently re-titled Commando Brigade) as '2 SBS'. As a Commando formation personnel of 2 SBS wore the Commando Green beret. The Special Boat Squadron of 1 SAS became an independently operating squadron and was subsequently expanded to regimental status as the Special Boat Service continuing to wear their parent regiment cap badge and beret.
*1946: The SBS, whether of Commando or SAS parentage, were disbanded in 1946. 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. [cite web
last = James Paul & Martin Spirit
first =
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = The Special Boat Service
work =
publisher = Britain's Small Wars Site Index
date = 2000
url = http://www.britains-smallwars.com/main/SBS.htm
format = Web
doi =
accessdate =
*1951: Another two squadrons were formed from British troops in West Germany.
*Two volunteer squadrons were later added. Their first missions were in Palestine (ordnance removal) and in Haifa (limpet mine removal from ships).
*1950–1953: In the Korean War the SBS were in action along the North Korean coast. They gathered intelligence and destroyed railways and installations. The SBS operated first from submarines, and later from islands off Wonsan, behind enemy lines. They used two-man canoes and motorised inflatable boats.
*1952: SBS teams were held at combat readiness in Egypt in case Gamal Abdal Nasser's coup turned more violent than it did.
*1956: The SBS were alerted during the Suez Crisis, but did not see action.
*1959, September: The SBS were alerted during a coup against king Idris I of Libya, but did not see action. "Similar situations followed."
*1961: SBS teams carried out reconnaissance missions during the Indonesian Confrontation.
*1961: The SBS primarily gathered intelligence and trained other special forces during the Vietnam War.
*1961: Iraq threatened to invade Kuwait for the first time, so the SBS put a detachment at Bahrain.
*later: The SBS was stationed in Gibraltar, where they gathered intelligence in case Franco's Spain decided to invade.
*The SBS were involved in anti-drug operations in the Caribbean.
*1972: The SAS and SBS came into the spotlight for a moment during their involvement with a bomb threat (which later proved to be a hoax) onboard the Cunard liner RMS "Queen Elizabeth II", in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
*1977: The SBS changed its name to Special Boat Squadron.
*1979: 5 SBS became part of the Comacchio Company, which protected North Sea oil rigs.
*1980: SBS members played a part in the 1980 Iranian Embassy Siege.
*1982 March-June: In the Falklands War, 2 SBS took part in the liberation of South Georgia and 6 SBS reconnoitered in East Falkland. Their only losses were to friendly fire from the SAS.
*1987: The SBS became part of the UK Special Forces group alongside the Special Air Service and 14 Intelligence Company.
*1987: The SBS changed its name to Special Boat Service and was brought under the command of the Director of Special Forces.
*1991: During the Gulf War, the SBS made raids on the Kuwaiti coast to draw Iraqi troops away from the land attack. The liberation of the British embassy in Kuwait was one of their most high-profile operations.
*1999 or later: The SBS were involved in operations in East Timor.
*2001, November: The SBS took part in the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, where they secured Bagram Airbase.
*2003: The SBS took part in the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
*2005, 14 March: The commanding officer of the SBS, Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Van Der Horst, [Sky News, [http://news.sky.com/skynews/article/0,,30000-13312451,00.html SBS Chief Killed on Exercise in Norway.] Retrieved 5 October 2006.] was killed in a training accident in Norway.
*2006, 27 June: Captain David Patten PARA and Sergeant Paul Bartlett, Royal Marines, were killed and another serviceman seriously injured in a Taliban ambush in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan. [ [http://www.mod.uk/DefenceInternet/DefenceNews/MilitaryOperations/CaptainDavidPattenAndSergeantPaulBartlettKilledInAfghanistanOn27June2006.htm Captain David Patten And Sergeant Paul Bartlett Killed In Afghanistan On 27 June 2006.] ] It was reported by some sources that the ambushed vehicle was part of an SBS patrol and further sources reported that it was a special forces patrol. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/5152430.stm Killed NI soldier 'was due home'] [http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/tm_objectid=17307784%26method=full%26siteid=94762%26headline=on%2dthe%2dtrail%2dof%2dtaliban%2d-name_page.html On the trail of Taliban: As two SBS soldiers die in Afghanistan, we visit British troops charged with keeping the peace ... and fighting a resolute enemy.] ]
*2007, 12 May: A joint British Special Boat Service (SBS) and Special forces support group (SFSG) team killed Taliban leader Mullah Dadullah in Helmand province after a raid on a compound where his associates were meeting. [BBC News, Long haul fight to defeat the Taliban http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/6237290.stm]

ee also

*British Commandos
*US Navy SEALs


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