Special Boat Service

From Academic Kids

The Special Boat Service (SBS) is the British Royal Navy's and Royal Marines’ Special Forces unit. The service's motto is Not by Strength, By Guile.



The Special Air Service was formed in World War II during the North African conflict. The SAS later formed a unit comprising eight-man sections of divers and canoeists to reconnoitre enemy fortifications from land or sea, raid enemy ports, and conduct sabotage operations against merchant shipping. Originally this unit was named the Special Boat Section to fool German radio operators listening in on British military communications. It was assumed that Wehrmacht operators would have little interest in a "Special Boat Section" when there was so much else going on.

In 1946, after the war, the SBS was absorbed into the Royal Marines. It became part of the School of Combined Operations under the command of Blondie Hasler. Another two squadrons were formed from British troops in West Germany in 1951. Two volunteer squadrons were later added. Their first missions were in Palestine (ordnance removal) and in Haifa (limpet mine removal from ships).

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.

In 1952, SBS teams were held at combat readiness in Egypt in case Gamal Abdal Nasser's coup turned more violent than it did. They were also alerted during the Suez Crisis and during a coup against Libyan king Idris, but did not see any action. Similar situations followed.

SBS teams carried out reconnaissance missions during the Indonesian Confrontation in 1961. They primarily gathered intelligence and trained other special forces during the Vietnam War. When Iraq threatened the invasion of Kuwait for the first time in 1961, the SBS placed a detachment at Bahrain.

The SBS was later stationed in Gibraltar, where they gathered intelligence in case Franco's Spain decided to invade. They also found themselves involved in anti-drug operations in the Caribbean. In 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.

The SBS adopted a new form of its name in 1977: Special Boat Squadron. In 1979, 5 SBS become part of the Comacchio Company, which protected North Sea oil rigs. In 1987, the SBS became part of the UK Special Forces group alongside the Special Air Service and 14 Intelligence Company.

Throughout the Cold War, the SBS was organized to perform a "conventional " special forces role for the Royal Marines 3 Commando Brigade. However, in recent decades the SBS's role has become more and more devoted to counter-terrorist operations.

The SBS were frequently involved in covert operations in Northern Ireland and SBS members also played a part in the 1980 Iranian Embassy Siege.

During 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.

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.

The SBS have also been involved in operations in East Timor, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan, and in the Second Gulf War.

On 14 March 2005, the Commanding Officer of the SBS was killed in a training accident in Norway.


The SBS is not an independent unit but part of the Royal Marines. To be eligible for SBS selection, a candidate must have served for at least two years in the Royal Marines or the Royal Navy, and then pass a rigorous selection course.

Those who pass the selection course then undergo a swimmer canoeist (SC3) training course. During this course the candidates are still considered to be on probation. The swimmer canoeist course includes survival training in the wilds of Scotland and diving training in cold water with poor visibility. In the diving phase they swim underwater for miles in the dark and mud. The course includes beach reconnaissance, canoeing, photography, underwater demolitions, and maritime counter-terrorism training.

Both commissioned officers and non-commissioned officers serve in the SBS for three years before they return to the Royal Marines or Royal Navy. The SBS is based in Poole, Dorset.

Today, a potential member of the SBS has to pass SAS selection before he can move on and attempt SBS selection. On passing SAS selection, he is technically qualified to join the SAS.


Missing image

The SBS’s role is not confined to seaborne and maritime operations – their responsibilities do not end at the tide line. SBS training concentrates on swimming, demolitions, diving, infiltrating ships at sea and oil platforms, and parachuting. Klepper canoes are standard issue. They are also trained to parachute and to undertake high-speed rope deployments from helicopters.

The SBS is thought to have a complement of around 100 "swimmer canoeists" at any one time. These are split into three main groups.

  • C squadron is responsible for canoe and diving operations.
  • M squadron concentrates on counterterrorist and shipboard operations.
  • S squadron takes care of small watercraft and minisub insertions. In addition, inside M squadron there is a Black Group, a counterterrorist team that specialises in helicopter assaults.

SBS veterans include British politician Paddy Ashdown, former leader of the Liberal Democrats, and British author and travel writer Eric Newby.

See also


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