The Royal Marines (RM) are the marine corps and amphibious infantry of the United Kingdom and, along with the Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary, form the Naval Service. They are also the United Kingdom’s specialists in amphibious warfare, including the operation of landing craft; mountain warfare; and Arctic warfare. A core component of the country’s Rapid Deployment Force, the Corps’s 3 Commando Brigade is capable of operating independently and is highly trained as a commando force. It is trained to deploy quickly and fight in any terrain. The Royal Marines have one of the longest basic infantry training courses in the world.
The Royal Marines are a maritime-focused, amphibious, highly specialised light infantry force capable of deploying at short notice in support of the United Kingdom Government’s military and diplomatic objectives overseas and are optimised for operational situations requiring highly manoeuvreable forces. As the United Kingdom Armed Forces’ specialists in cold weather warfare the Corps provide lead element expertise in the NATO Northern Flank and are optimised for high altitude operations, with jungle training still carried out when deployments allows.
Command, control and organisation
The overall head of the Royal Marines is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, in her role as Commander-in-Chief of the British Armed Forces.
The ceremonial head of the Royal Marines is the Captain General Royal Marines (equivalent to the Colonel-in-Chief of a British Army regiment). The current Captain-General is Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
Full Command of the Royal Marines is vested in the Commander-in-Chief Fleet (CINCFLEET) with the Commandant-General Royal Marines, a Major-General, embedded within the CINCFLEET staff as Commander UK Amphibious Force (COMUKAMPHIBFOR).
The operational capability of the Corps comprises a number of Battalion-sized units, of which three are designated as “Commandos”:
- 40 Commando (known as Forty Commando) based at Norton Manor Barracks, Taunton, Somerset, England
- 42 Commando (known as Four Two Commando) based at Bickleigh Barracks, Plymouth, Devon, England
- 45 Commando (known as Four Five Commando) based at RM Condor, Arbroath, Angus, Scotland
- Commando Logistic Regiment based at Chivenor, Devon
- UK Landing Force Command Support Group based at Stonehouse Barracks, Plymouth
- Fleet Protection Group Royal Marines based at HM Naval Base Clyde, Helensburgh, Argyll and Bute (Previously Comacchio Group).
- Special Boat Service based at Royal Marines Base Poole, Dorset (although Full Command is retained by CINCFLEET, Operational Command of SBS RM is assigned to Director Special Forces).
- 1 Assault Group Royal Marines based at HM Naval Base Devonport, PLymouth, Devon.
With the exception of the Fleet Protection Group and Commando Logistic Regiment, which are each commanded by full Colonel, each of these units is commanded by a Lieutenant-Colonel of the Royal Marines, who may have sub-specialised in a number of ways throughout his career.
There is also a Mountain Leader Training Cadre based at Stonehouse Barracks, Plymouth.
In common with the other armed forces, the Royal Marines can provide resources for Military Aid to the Civil Community and Military Aid to the Civil Power operations and have done so.
The independent elements of the Royal Marines are:
- Fleet Protection Group Royal Marines is responsible for the security of the United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent and other security-related duties. It also provides a security detachment at the Northwood military headquarters near London; as well as specialist boarding party support for the Royal Navy worldwide, for roles such as embargo enforcement, counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency activities of the Royal Navy. It is commando-sized, however the structure differs to reflect its role; it bears the colours, battle honours and customs of the former 43 Commando.
- Commando Training Centre: This is the training unit for the entire corps, and consists of three separate sections:
- Commando Training Wing: This is the initial basic commando training section for new recruits to the Royal Marines, and the All Arms Commando Course.
- Specialist Wing. This provides specialist training in the various trades which Marines may elect to join once qualified and experienced in a Rifle Company.
- Command Wing: This provides command training for both officers and NCOs of the Royal Marines.
- 1 Assault Group Royal Marines: Provides training in the use of landing craft and boats, and also serves as a parent unit for the three assault squadrons permanently-embarked on the Royal Navy’samphibious ships.
- 4 Assault Squadron—HMS Bulwark
- 6 Assault Squadron—HMS Albion
- 9 Assault Squadron—HMS Ocean
- Special Boat Service (SBS) are naval special forces and under OpCom of Director Special Forces. It is commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel qualified as a Swimmer Canoeist. SBS Responsibilities include water-borne operations, Maritime Counter-Terrorism and other special forces tasks.
- Royal Marines Band Service provides regular bands for the Royal Navy and provides expertise to train RN Volunteer Bands. Musicians have a secondary role as field hospital orderlies. Personnel may not be commando trained, wearing a blue beret instead of green; the band service is the only branch of the Royal Marines which admits women.
Structure of a Commando
The three Commandos are each organised into six companies, further organised into platoon-sized troops, as follows:
- Command Company
- Main HQ
- Tactical HQ
- Reconnaissance Troop (includes a sniper section)
- Mortar Troop (9 Barrels of 81 mm) (Includes 4 MFC pairs)
- Anti-Tank (AT) Troop (Milan—to be replaced by Javelin ATGW)
- Medium Machine Gun Troop
- One Logistic Company
- A Echelon 1 (A Ech1)
- A Echelon 2 (A Ech2)
- B Echelon (B Ech)
- Two Close Combat Companies
- Company Headquarters (Coy HQ)
- Three Close Combat Troops (Troop HQ, 3 Rifle Sections, Manoeuvre Support Section)
- Two Stand Off Companies
- Company Headquarters (Coy HQ)
- Heavy Machine Gun (HMG) Troop (0.5″ heavy machine guns)
- AT Troop
- Close Combat Troop
In general a rifle company Marine will be a member of a four-man fire team, the building block of commando operations. A Royal Marine works with his team in the field and shares accommodation if living in barracks.
This structure is a recent development, formerly Commandos were structured similarly to British Army light Infantry Battalions. During the restructuring of the United Kingdom’s military services the Corps evolved from a Cold War focus on NATO’s Northern Flank towards a more expeditionary posture.
Amphibious Task Group
Formerly known as the Amphibious Ready Group, the Amphibious Task Group (or ATG) is a mobile, balanced amphibious warfare force, based on a Commando Group and its supporting assets, that can be kept at high readiness to deploy into an area of operations. The ATG is normally based around specialist amphibious ships, most notably HMS Ocean, the largest ship in the British fleet. Ocean was designed and built to accommodate an embarked commando and its associated stores and equipment. The strategy of the ATG is to wait “beyond the horizon” and then deploy swiftly as directed by HM Government. The whole amphibious force is intended to be self-sustaining and capable of operating without host-nation support. The concept was successfully tested in operations in Sierra Leone.
Commando Helicopter Force
The Commando Helicopter Force forms part of the Fleet Air Arm. The force comprises four helicopter squadrons and is commanded by the Joint Helicopter Command. It consists of both Royal Navy (RN) and Royal Marines personnel. RN personnel need not be commando trained. The Commando Helicopter Force is neither under the permanent control of 3 Commando Brigade nor that of the Commandant General Royal Marines but rather is allocated to support Royal Marines units as required. It uses both Sea King transport and Lynx Light lift helicopters to provide aviation support for the Royal Marines.
Training and selection
Royal Marines recruit training is the longest basic modern infantry training programme of any NATO combat troops. The Royal Marines are the only part of the British Armed Forces where officers and other ranks are trained at the same location, the Commando Training Centre Royal Marines (CTCRM) at Lympstone, Devon. Much of the basic training is carried out on the rugged terrain of Dartmoor and Woodbury Common with a significant proportion taking place at night.
Before beginning Royal Marines recruit training the potential recruit must attend a Potential Royal Marine Course (PRMC) or Potential Officer Course (POC) held at CTCRM. PRMC lasts three days and assesses physical ability and intellectual capacity to undertake the recruit training. Officer candidates must also undertake the Admiralty Interview Board.
Officers and Marines undergo the same training up to the commando tests, thereafter Marines go on to employment in a rifle company while Officers continue training. Officer candidates are required to meet higher standards in the Commando tests.
The first weeks of training are spent learning basic skills that will be used later. This includes much time spent on the parade ground and on the rifle ranges. The long history of the Royal Marines is also highlighted through a visit to the Royal Marines Museum in Southsea, Hampshire. Physical training at this stage emphasizes all-round physical strength, endurance and flexibility in order to develop the muscles necessary to carry the heavy equipment a marine will use in an operational unit. Key milestones include a gym passout at week 9 (not carried out with fighting order), a battle swimming test, and learning to do a “regain” (i.e. climb back onto a rope suspended over a water tank). Most of these tests are completed wearing fighting order of 32 lb (14.5 kg) of Personal Load Carrying Equipment. Individual fieldcraft skills are also taught at this basic stage.
The Commando course
The culmination of training is the Commando course. Following the Royal Marines taking on responsibility for the Commando role with the disbandment of the Army Commandos at the end of World War II, all Royal Marines, except those in theRoyal Marines Band Service, complete the Commando course as part of their training (see below). Key aspects of the course include climbing and ropework techniques, patrolling, and amphibious warfare operations.
This intense phase ends with a series of tests which have remained virtually unchanged since World War II. Again, these tests are done in full fighting order of 32 lb (14.5 kg) of equipment.
The Commando Tests are taken on consecutive days and all four tests must be successfully completed within a seven day period; they include;
- A nine mile (14.5 km) speed march, carrying full fighting order, to be completed in 90 minutes; the pace is thus 10 minutes per mile (6 min/km or 6 mph).
- The Endurance course is a six mile (9.65 km) course across rough moorland and woodland terrain at Woodbury Common near Lympstone, which includes tunnels, pipes, wading pools, and an underwater culvert. The course ends with a four mile (6 km) run back to CTCRM. Followed by a marksmanship test, where the recruit must hit 6 out of 10 shots at a 25m target simulating 200 m. To be completed in 73 minutes (71 minutes for Royal Marine officers). Originally 72 minutes, these times were recently increased by one minute as the route of the course was altered.
- The Tarzan Assault Course. This is an assault course combined with an aerial confidence test. It starts with a death slide (now known as The Commando Slide) and ends with a rope climb up a thirty foot near-vertical wall. It must be completed with full fighting order in 13 minutes, 12 minutes for officers. The Potential Officers Course also includes confidence tests from the Tarzan Assault Course, although not with equipment.
- The 30 miler. This is a 30 mile (48 km) march across upland Dartmoor, wearing full fighting order, and additional safety equipment carried by the recruit in a daysack. It must be completed in eight hours for recruits and seven hours for Royal Marine officers, who must also navigate the route themselves, rather than following a DS (a trained Royal Marine) with the rest of a syndicate and carry their own equipment.
After the 30-mile (48 km) march, any who failed any of the tests may attempt to retake them up until the seven day window expires. However if a recruit fails two or more of the tests, it is unlikely that they will be given a chance to re-attempt them.
Normally the seven day schedule for the Commando Tests is as follows:
- Saturday – Endurance Course
- Sunday – Rest
- Monday – Nine Mile Speed March
- Tuesday – Tarzan Assault Course
- Wednesday – 30 Miler
- Thursday – Failed test re-runs
- Friday – Failed test re-runs
Completing the Commando course successfully entitles the recruit or officer to wear the coveted green beret but does not mean that the Royal Marine has finished his training. That decision will be made by the troop or batch training team and will depend on the recruit’s or young officer’s overall performance. Furthermore, officer training still consists of many more months.
Training to be a Royal Marine takes 32 weeks. The last week is spent mainly on administration and preparing for the pass out parade. Recruits in their final week of training are known as the King’s Squad and have their own section of the recruits’ galley at Lympstone.
After basic and commando training, a Royal Marine Commando will normally join a unit of 3 Commando Brigade. There are three Royal Marines Commando infantry units in the Brigade: 40 Commando located at Norton Manor Camp nearTaunton in Somerset, 42 Commando at Bickleigh Barracks, near Plymouth, Devon, and 45 Commando at RM Condor, Arbroath on the coast of Angus.
Non-Royal Marine volunteers for Commando training undertake the All Arms Commando Course
There is also a Reserve Commando Course run for members of the Royal Marines Reserve and Commando units of the Territorial Army.
Royal Marines may then go on to undertake specialist training in a variety of skills; Platoon Weapons Instructor, Mortar operator, signaller, clerk, sniper, Physical Training Instructor (PTI), Mountain Leader,Swimmer Canoeist, chef, Landing Craft coxswain, Telecommunications Technician (Tels Tech), Assault Engineer etc.
Training for these specialisations may be undertaken at CTCRM or in a joint environment, such as the Defence School of Transport at Leconfield or the Defence Police College.
Some marines are trained in military parachuting to allow flexibility of insertion methods for all force elements. Marines complete this training at RAF Brize Norton (but are not required to undergo Pre Parachute Selection Course (P-Company) training due to the arduous nature of the commando course they have already completed.
Current Weapons and Equipment
The Royal Marines operate a diverse range of vehicles, weapons and landing craft.
- L85A2 Rifle – 5.56 x 45 mm (Individual Weapon)
- L86A2 LSW – 5.56 x 45 mm (Light Support Weapon)
- L110A1 Light Machine Gun 5.56 x 45 mm belt or magazine.
- L82A1 Barrett – .50 inch (12.7 mm) BMG (Browning Machine gun) anti-materiel sniper rifle
- L96A1 Sniper Rifle – 7.62 x 51 mm Accuracy International bolt-action sniper rifle
- L115A3 Sniper Rifle – .338 Lapua Magnum Accuracy International bolt-action sniper rifle
- L7A2 GPMG (General Purpose Machine Gun) – the FN MAG 7.62 x 51 mm belt-fed machine gun.
- L1A1 Heavy Machine Gun .50 inch (12.7 mm) BMG (Browning Machine gun)
- LAW 80 (Light Anti-tank Weapon)
- Javelin Anti-Tank missile
- L9A1 51 mm Mortar (High Explosive, Smoke and Illuminating ammunition)
- L16A2 81 mm Mortar (High Explosive, Smoke and Illuminating ammunition)
- L9A1 Browning – 9 x 19 mm Parabellum semi-automatic pistol
- L107A1 – 9 x 19 mm Parabellum semi-automatic pistol
- L17A2 UGL (Under-slung Grenade Launcher) – Attachment to L85A2
- BvS 10 All Terrain Armoured Vehicles
- Land Rover Wolf
Traditions and insignia
The Royal Marines have a proud history and unique traditions. Their colours (flags) do not carry individual battle honours in the manner of the regiments of the British Army but rather the “globe itself” as the symbol of the Corps.
The badge of the Royal Marines is designed to commemorate the history of the Corps. The Lion and Crown denotes a Royal regiment. King George III conferred this honour in 1802 “in consideration of the very meritorious services of the Marines in the late war.”
The “Great Globe itself” surrounded by laurels was chosen by King George IV as a symbol of the Marines’ successes in every quarter of the world. The laurels are believed to honour the gallantry they displayed during the investment and capture of Belle Isle, off Lorient, in April–June 1761.
The word “Gibraltar” refers to the Siege of Gibraltar in 1704. It was awarded in 1827 by George IV as a special distinction for the services of four of the old Army Marine regiments (Queen’s Own Marines, 1st Marines, 2nd Marines, 3rd Marines). All other honours gained by the Royal Marines are represented by the “Great Globe”. As a consequence, there are no battle honours displayed on the colours of the four battalion sized units in the corps.
When referring to individual Commandos: 45 Commando is referred to as “four-five” rather than “forty-five commando” as is 42 Commando, 40 Commando is “forty”.
The only units which carry colours are 40 Commando, 42 Commando, 45 Commando, and the Fleet Protection Group (which is the custodian of the colours of 43 Commando).
The fouled anchor, incorporated into the emblem in 1747, is the badge of the Lord High Admiral and shows that the Corps is part of the Naval Service.
Per Mare Per Terram (“By Sea By Land”), the motto of the Marines, is believed to have been used for the first time in 1775.
The regimental quick march of the Corps is A Life on the Ocean Wave, while the slow march is Preobrajensky, awarded to the Corps by Admiral of the Fleet Earl Mountbatten of Burma on the occasion of the Corps’s tercentenary in 1964. Lord Mountbatten was Life Colonel Commandant of the Royal Marines until his murder by the IRA in 1979.
Dress headgear is a white Wolseley pattern pith helmet surmounted by a ball, a distinction once standard for artillerymen. This derives from the part of the Corps that was once the Royal Marine Artillery.
The Royal Marines are one of six regiments allowed by the Lord Mayor of the City of London to march through the City as a regiment in full array. This dates to the charter of Charles II that allowed recruiting parties of the Admiral’s Regiment of 1664 to enter the City with drums beating and colours flying.
For historical information regarding Marine uniforms, see History of the Royal Marines.
The modern Royal Marines retain a number of distinctive uniform items. These include the green “Lovat” service dress worn with Coveted Green Beret, the dark blue parade dress worn with either the white Wolseley pattern helmet or white and red peaked cap, the scarlet and blue mess dress for officers and non-commissioned officers and the white hot-weather uniform of the Band Service.
Order of Precedence
As the descendant of the old Marine Regiments of the British Army, the Royal Marines used to have a position in the Order of Precedence of the Infantry; this was after the 49th Regiment of Foot, the descendant of which is the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment. Therefore, the Royal Marines would have paraded after the RGBW. This is because the 49th Foot was the last Regiment raised prior to the formation of the Corps of Marines as part of the Royal Navy in 1755. In 2007, the RGBW was amalgamated into a large Regiment—this new Regiment is placed last in the order of precedence, as it is a regiment of rifles. However as a result of the new Army amalgamations the Royal Marines have now been removed from the Infantry order of precedence and will now always take post, as a constituent part of the Naval Service, at the head of the parade alongside the Navy, or alone if the Navy are not represented. Thus, if only the infantry is represented, the Royal Marines would parade before the Grenadier Guards, the senior infantry regiment in the Army.
As part of Naval Service, assumes precedence before all Army units Infantry Order of Precedence Succeeded by:
- Australia: Royal New South Wales Regiment
- Australia: 1st Commando Regiment
- Barbados: Barbados Defence Force
- Falkland Islands: Falkland Islands Defence Force
- Netherlands: Korps Mariniers (Bond of Friendship)
- United States: United States Marine Corps (Bond of Friendship)