Navy sailors from various ships
In this fictional John
Storm ocean adventure, Commander
James Maynard, on behalf of his
Majesty's Royal Navy, offers to part fund Lord
Huntington's expedition to survey a ship wreck off the
western coast of Haiti, in the Caribbean,
to be known as Operation
Hispaniola. The Navy has more than a passing interest in
Swann, to be able to evaluate the solar
propulsion system, and onboard AI; Hal.
But then, so too has China, Japan, the CIA,
and US Navy.
Special Boat Services (SBS) deals with Black Ops, counter
terrorism and highly classified matters, from where Billy
Bones attained his training, making him a deadly assassin,
where required. He was recruited from the Royal
The SBS is the special forces unit of the United Kingdom's Royal Navy. The SBS can trace its origins back to the Second World War when the Army Special Boat Section was formed in 1940. After the
War, the Royal Navy formed special forces with several name
changes - Special Boat Company was adopted in 1951 and re-designated as the Special Boat Squadron in
1974 - until on 28 July 1987 when the unit was renamed as the Special Boat Service after assuming responsibility for maritime counter-terrorism. Most of the operations conducted by the SBS are highly classified, and are rarely commented on by the British government or the Ministry of Defence, owing to their sensitive nature.
The Special Boat Service is the maritime special forces unit of the United Kingdom Special Forces and is described as the sister unit of the British Army 22nd Special Air Service Regiment (22nd SAS), with both under the operational control of the Director Special Forces. In October 2001, full command of the SBS was transferred from the Commandant General Royal Marines to the Commander-in-Chief Fleet. On 18 November 2003, the SBS were given their own cap badge with the motto "By Strength and Guile". The SBS has traditionally been staffed mostly by Royal Marines Commandos.
ROLE OF THE SBS
The principal roles of the SBS are Surveillance and Reconnaissance (SR), including information reporting and target acquisition; Offensive Action (OA), including the direction of air strikes, artillery and naval gunfire, designation for precision guided munitions, use of integral weapons and demolitions; and Support and Influence (SI), including overseas training tasks. The SBS also provide immediate response Military Counter Terrorism (CT) and Maritime Counter Terrorism (MCT) teams.
The operational capabilities of the SBS and the SAS are broadly similar. However, the SBS (being the principal Royal Navy contribution to UKSF) has the additional training and equipment required to lead in the maritime, amphibious and riverine environments. Both units come under the operational command of HQ Directorate of Special Forces (DSF) and undergo an identical selection process.
HISTORICAL ORIGINS: SECOND WORLD WAR
Roger Courtney became a Commando 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 Sir 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 HMS Glengyle, an infantry landing ship 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 as the first Special Boat Service/Special Boat Section.
The unit, on the shores of Sannox, Isle of Arran, was initially named the Folboat Troop, after the type of folding canoe employed in raiding operations and then renamed No. 1 Special Boat Section in early 1941. Attached to Layforce, it moved to the Middle East. The unit worked with the 1st Submarine Flotilla based at Alexandria and did beach reconnaissance of Rhodes, evacuated troops left behind on Crete, and carried out a number of small-scale raids and other operations. In December 1941 Courtney returned to the United Kingdom where he formed No2 SBS, and No1 SBS became attached to the Special Air Service (SAS) as the Folboat Section. In June 1942 they took part in the Crete airfield raids. In September 1942 eight men of the SBS carried out Operation Anglo, a raid on two airfields on the island of Rhodes; all but two of the men were captured after carrying out their mission. Destroying three aircraft, a fuel dump and numerous buildings, the two uncaptured SBS men had to hide in the countryside for four days before they could reach the waiting submarine. After the Rhodes raid, the SBS was absorbed into the SAS due to the heavy casualties they had suffered.
The Royal Marines Boom Patrol Detachment (RMBPD) was formed on 6 July 1942, and based at Southsea, Portsmouth. The RMBPD was under the command of Royal Marines Major Herbert 'Blondie' Hasler with Captain J. D. Stewart as second in command. The detachment consisted of 34 men and was based at Lumps Fort, and often exercised in the Portsmouth Harbour and patrolled the harbour boom at nights.
In April 1943, 1st SAS was divided, with 250 men from the SAS joining the Small Scale Raiding Force to form the Special Boat Squadron under the command of Major the Earl Jellicoe. They moved to Haifa and trained with the Greek Sacred Regiment for operations in the Aegean.
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. They, with the Greek Sacred Band, took part in the successful Raid on Symi in July 1944 in which the entire German garrison was either killed or captured. In August 1944 they joined with the Long Range Desert Group in operations in the Adriatic, on the Peloponnese, in Albania, and, finally, in Istria. So effective were they that, by 1944, the 200–300 men of the SBS were holding down six German divisions.
Throughout the war, No.2 SBS did not use the Special Boat Squadron name but instead retained the name Special Boat Section. They accompanied US Major General Mark Clark ashore before the Operation Torch landings in October 1942 on Operation Flagpole. 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.
Although their roles always overlapped to some extent, the various canoe and boat units became more specialised from late 1942 onwards. The RMBPD focused on ship attack and harbour sabotage, the Special Boat Section and COPP undertook covert beach surveys, and the Special Boat Squadron engaged in raiding, sabotage and reconnaissance above the high-water mark.
POST WAR ERA
In 1946, the SBS, whether of Commando or SAS parentage, was disbanded. The RMBPD was the only British Special Forces unit to survive the end of World War II intact, and one of three Special Service units to survive (the other two being the RM Commandos and the Parachute Regiment). In 1946, the RMBPD became the School of Combined Operations Beach and Boat Section (SCOBBS) at Fremington, Devon. Lt-Col "Blondie" Hasler RM became the adviser to SCOBBS and wrote the pamphlet "General Notes on the Use of Special Parties". The basic SCOBBS course of fourteen weeks covered the range of skills of the wartime COPPS, SRU, SBS and Detachment 385. In October 1947 SCOBBS dropped the word School from its name and moved to RM Eastney to become the Small Raids Wing (SRW) of the Amphibious School, Royal Marines. The school's Chief Instructor Norman Tailyour established the Royal Marines Special Boat Sections taking on the roles proposed in Hasler's paper. Their first missions were in Palestine, involving ordnance removal, and limpet mine removal from ships in Haifa. 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. During the Korean War the SBS operated from submarines like their wartime predecessors.
In the early 1950s, NATO doctrine for the defence of Western Europe called for a rapid fall-back to the west bank of the Rhine River, a natural defensive barrier. Royal Navy Rhine Flotilla’s SBS detachment had the task of demolishing the bridges over the river as well as destroying the many river barges on the river. The SBS teams of a radio operator and two SBS swimmer-canoeists would then stay behind on the eastern side of the river providing reconnaissance and intelligence and to sabotage Warsaw Pact forces logistics. 2 SB Section, and later also the newly formed 3 SB Section, were part of the Rhine Squadron until around 1958 and took part in all major British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) exercises when they would be joined by 4 and 5 SB Section, formed from the Royal Marines Reserve.
In 1952, SBS teams were held at combat readiness in Egypt in case Gamal Abdel Nasser's revolution 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. In 1961, SBS teams carried out reconnaissance missions during the Indonesian Confrontation (see 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 came into prominence when members of a combined SBS and RAOC team parachuted into the Atlantic Ocean after a bomb threat on board the cruise liner Queen Elizabeth 2. A thorough search of the ship found no evidence of any device drawing the conclusion that it was a hoax. The SBS conducted operations in Northern Ireland during The Troubles including with submarines. In January 1975, two SBS kayak teams were inserted from HMS Cachalot to conduct an anti gun running operation in the area between Torr Head and Garron.
SPECIAL BOAT SQUADRON
In 1973, 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 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, one fatally, by an SAS patrol, who had mistaken them for
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 Gulf War, there was no amphibious role assigned to the SBS. An "area of operations line" was drawn down the middle of Iraq; the SAS would operate west of the line and the SBS to the east. As well as searching for mobile Scud missile launchers, the SBS's assigned area contained a mass of fibre-optic cable that provided Iraq with intelligence; the location of the main junction of the network was 32 miles from Baghdad. On 22 January 1991, 36 SBS members were inserted by two Chinook helicopters from No. 7 Squadron RAF into an area full of Iraqi ground and air forces as well as spies and nomads. The SBS team managed to avoid these and destroyed a 40-yard section of the cable with explosives, neutralising what was left of the Iraqi communication grid. The SBS also 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 also carried out diversionary raids along the Kuwaiti coast which diverted a number of Iraqi troops away from the main thrust of the coalition buildup, to the SBS area of operations.
In September 1999, about 20 SBS members contributed to the Australian-led International Force for East Timor (INTERFET) in East Timor. Together with the Australian Special Air Service Regiment and the New Zealand Special Air Service they formed INTERFET's special forces element, named Response Force. Response Force departed from Darwin by C-130 Hercules transport aircraft and flew into Dili tasked with securing the airport, a seaport and a heli-port to enable regular forces to land and deploy. The SBS were filmed driving a Land Rover Defender out of a Hercules. Response Force was then used to perform a variety of tasks including direct action and special reconnaissance throughout East Timor. The British forces, including the SBS, withdrew in December 1999. Sergeant Mark Andrew Cox was awarded the Military Cross after his patrol came under fire from pro-Indonesian militia.
PRESENT DAY ORGANIZATION
The Ministry of Defence does not comment on special forces matters, and there is consequently little verifiable information in the public domain. The SBS is under the Operational Command of Director Special Forces and are based in Hamworthy barracks, Poole, Dorset.
According to military sources in 2020, the SBS numbers about a couple of hundred personnel. While women have been eligible to join since 2018, there is no official information on women serving on the frontline. Members are on standby at all times.
In 1987, when renamed the Special Boat Service, the SBS was also reformed along SAS lines, with 16-person troops (each equivalent to a platoon) instead of the traditional
sections. About 200–250 commandos 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.
Since the SBS joined the UKSF Group in the 1980s, it has been restructured. Instead of one squadron being tasked with a permanent role the unit adopted the same system of squadron rotation as the SAS. Each Squadron rotates through counter terrorism duties and conventional operations and tasking. For example, in December 2001 C squadron was on MCT Role, and was called in to intercept the MV Nisha while M and Z Squadron were deployed in Afghanistan.
The SBS has a sub unit dedicated to operating Swimmer Delivery Vehicles (SDVs) known as the SDV Troop. In 2019, the troop operated three Mk8 Mod 1 SDVs, with an order to replace them with three new Mk11 SWCS SDVs. A SDV can be housed in an Astute-class submarine's dry deck shelter. SBS members are provided with assistance by Chalfont Diving Group divers when using dry deck shelters.
The SBS Reserve (SBS(R)) provides individual reservists to augment the regular SBS. Recruits need to be serving members of UK reserve forces and a high level of commitment is
required. The SBS(R) is based at various locations throughout the United Kingdom, but training is carried out in the South of England.
RECRUITMENT SELECTION AND TRAINING
Originally the SBS had its own independent selection programme to qualify as a Swimmer Canoeist, but its selection has now been integrated into a joint UKSF selection alongside candidates for the Special Air Service. In the past, the SBS was staffed almost entirely by the Royal Marines; now, all members of His Majesty's Armed Forces can be considered for special forces selection, approximately 40% of all UK Special Forces are recruited from the Royal Marines. There are two selection courses per year, one in winter and the other summer. Candidates wishing to serve with the Special Boat Service must have completed at least two years regular service and are only accepted into the SBS after completion of the selection process.
For SBS(R) selection, only candidates with previous military experience are eligible to enlist. Training is carried out in the South of England and candidates are required to complete the following tests over the four-day initial selection course:
Combat Fitness Test (CFT) – 12.8 km (8 mi) carrying 25 kg (55 lb) within 1 hour 50 minutes.
Swim test – 500 m (1,600 ft) using any stroke in uniform and retrieve an object from 5 m (16 ft).
Advanced CFT 1 – 15 km (9.3 mi) carrying 25 kg (55 lb).
Advanced CFT 2 – 24 km (15 mi) carrying 30 kg (66 lb)
or UUVs - Are generally smaller unmanned underwater vessels,
than their crewed counterparts,
without life support, making them cheaper to build and