3 Commando Brigade comprises a HQ, a number of battalion sized units called ‘Commandos’, specialist units and combat support units provided by the British Army.
The Corps of the Royal Marines (RM)
The January 2017 RN/RM Personnel Bulletin lists the Royal Marines strength as 6,790
This is broken down as RM General Service Officers at 740, and 10 RM Band Officers. Other ranks are 5,510 General Service and 340 RM Band.
Organisational constructs do change, the relatively recent Special Purpose Task Group (SPTG) for example saw 150 personnel from 45 and 30 Commando with 29 and 23 Squadron plus other enablers, is an example of the flexibility and ability to re-organise inherent in 3 Commando.
The Commando Training Centre and 1 Assault Group provide training for the brigade.
The following is a high level overview of the brigade and some of its key equipment and capabilities.
3 Commando Headquarters and the Amphibious Manoeuvre Force
The main amphibious manoeuvre force comprises 40 Commando and 45 Commando, two battalion sized specialist light infantry groups. A Commando is organised as with a command company, logistic company, two close combat companies and two stand-off companies, the latter providing the heavy weapons and anti-tank guided weapons capability for the unit.
Generally speaking, the Royal Marines are equipped as the British Army.
It is also perhaps a convenient place to mention the Korps Mariniers and the UK/NL Amphibious Force, a model of interoperability that I don’t think is matched anywhere else in NATO and one which has a very long history, as residents of Gibraltar know well!
30 Commando Information Exploitation Group
30 CDO was formed from the old HQ and Signals Squadron and conducts a number of roles, ISTAR, communications, intelligence, reconnaissance, air defence, policing, equipment support and electronic warfare/signals intelligence.
It comprises 4 squadrons; Surveillance and Reconnaissance Squadron (SR Sqn), Y Squadron, electronic warfare, Communications Squadron and a Logistics Squadron.
Fleet Protection and Maritime Security
42 Commando have recently seen 200 posts removed and transferred to the Royal Navy. Half of the posts are drivers and other administrative tasks that will now be carried out by Reservists and civilians and the other half as a result of the conversion of 42 Commando to a specialised Maritime Operations unit, removing heavy weapons specialists for example.
Roles seem to be boarding groups, SF support, personnel recovery, ship based maritime security teams and equipment denial for example.
43 Commando Fleet Protection Group is a specialist unit of the Royal Marines whose principal role is that of protecting the UK’s nuclear deterrent and providing a very high readiness force for maritime interdiction and boarding roles.
In addition to the various small craft in service across the wider brigade, 43 Commando also has in service a pair of Island Class patrol vessels, from Holyhead Marine.
The CAMARC designed and Holyhead Marine manufactured Island Class Patrol Boats are used by the Royal Marines to protect high value Royal Navy shipping on the Clyde, Gare Loch and Long Loch. The pair (Mull and Rona) are a conversion of the more common 15m MoD Police patrol craft also used for similar duties. Six of the MoD Police variant were purchased in 2013 for £7 million, more since. They are 15m, 4.6m wide and have a draught of 1m. All have a high specification, ballistic panels, rescue equipment, security cameras and recording systems for example.
Commando Logistic Regiment
The CLR provides combat service support for the brigade, medical, equipment support, logistics management and movement etc.
539 Assault Squadron
The squadron is delivers the brigades integral movement capability, split roughly between the BVs10 Viking tracked vehicles and various landing craft, hovercraft and raiding craft.
The Royal Marines choice of primary mobility vehicle has been largely coloured by their traditional NATO role of operating in Norway, the Hägglunds BV series of vehicles have excellent over-snow performance. This high level of mobility in snow also provides high levels of mobility in other soft terrain such as marsh and beach. The Royal Marines Snow Trac’s were one of the few vehicle types able to operate in the Falkland Islands in 1982 for example.
Currently in service are two main types, the Hägglunds/BAE Bv206 and BVS10 Viking.
Both are used for transporting personnel and light stores with the latter providing a greater degree of protection.
The Bv206 is an extremely versatile tracked articulated amphibious vehicle and with a ground pressure of less than 14kPa/2PSI, highly mobile.
The basic vehicle weighs approximately 4.5 tonnes and with a maximum payload of 2.2 tonnes, it could still be sling loaded by a Chinook. A feature of the vehicle is that the front and rear cars can be detached to create a lighter sling load, in this configuration, by a Merlin for example. It can also be carried on the LCVP Mk5.
In general, the Bv206D is used for non-protected mobility tasks, logistics, mortar carrier and communications (REACHER) for example.
Three Bv206 are also usually carried on HMS Protector, the Royal Navy arctic patrol vessel.
The Royal Marines also use the standard range of light and logistic wheeled vehicles available to the wider British forces, Land Rovers and MAN SV’s for example.
The BvS10 Viking is also an articulated all terrain amphibious vehicle in the mould of the Bv206 but it is more powerful and much better protected. The All-Terrain Vehicle (Protected) were first ordered in 2001, entering service in 2005, and have seen continual service since then, Iraq and Afghanistan. Additional vehicles were ordered in 2008 and 2009, the latter in the Mk2 version.
A £38 million recapitalisation contract was let to BAE in 2012 to rebuild existing vehicles and bring them up to the Mk2 specification, the contract has resulted in 99 Viking BVs10 Mk2 now in service. The upgrade included new hulls, uprated suspension, brakes and other systems to allow it to be certified for a 14 tonne gross weight limit. The programme also including converting 19 rear cars for use with crew served weapons using Platt MR550 mounts and 9 rear cars for use with the 81mm mortar. Additional vehicles have been purchased as part of the Watchkeeper UAS programme.
A complete Viking can be sling loaded by a Chinook helicopter but not the Merlin, even when the front and rear cabs are separated.
Nearly 30 were removed from service after damage sustained during operations in Afghanistan and part of the recapitalisation programme was to return them to amphibious capability.
Variants in service include the Troop Carrying Variant (TCV), Mortar Variant (MOR), Command Variant (CV), Repair and Recovery Variant (RRV) and Watchkeeper Tactical Party variant.
In addition to the protected high mobility vehicles the Royal Marines have the usual range of light utility and logistics vehicles common with the British Army and specialist equipment such as skidoos for use in Arctic terrain.
Specialist Vehicles and Engineering Plant
Beach Armoured Recovery Vehicles
To recover damaged, destroyed or broken down vehicles from beach areas during amphibious landings and push beached landing craft back into open water specialised vehicles are needed.
The surf zone is a difficult operating environment and the vehicle must be sufficiently protected, have sufficient pulling and/or pushing power to deal with vehicle casualties and landing craft and be heavy enough so they can operate whilst subject to wave loading.
By 1996 it was obvious a replacement for Centurion BARV’s and Falkland’s veteran was needed.
Invitations to tender were issued in 1999 for the Future Beach Recovery Vehicle and four companies responded, Hägglunds, Pearson Engineering, Marconi Marine Land & Naval Systems and the Dutch company, RDM Technologies, who had developed a Leopard 1 based BARV for the Dutch Marines.
Hägglunds won (who had then become part of Alvis, now BAE) with a design based on a Leopard 1A5 Main Battle Tank. Four were ordered at a total cost of £7.5 million with one dedicated for trials and development.
In 2001 the Hippo Beach Recovery Vehicle was unveiled with Lord Bach stating;
The design is broadly similar to previous generations but with obvious ergonomic improvements and a revised gearbox that decreases speed but increases torque.
Designed to recover vehicles up to the size and weight of Challenger 2 Main Battle Tank or fully loaded DROPS plus trailer the Hippo has a weight of about 50 tonnes, has two days fuel, protection from small arms and artillery splinters, a crew of four and can operate in up to 2.95m of water.
It is also designed push the 240 tonne LCU Mk10 and lighter LCVP Mk5 landing craft of the beach.
HMS Albion and Bulwark have one each and the other two are used for training with 11(Amphibious Trials and Training (11 ATT)) Squadron Royal Marines and as a war reserve.
Although one can never have enough heavy plant the beach role creates some very specific requirements.
Sand and shingle beaches might not be able to support the weight of heavy vehicles and shingle especially, can cause many problems for tracked vehicles. Repeated trafficking of a small area will also likely make things worse and so trackway can be used to enhance the surface.
The UK has a total of 22 Medium Wheeled Tractor Winterised/Waterproof, the JCB 436 EHT, that can each operate at a fording depth of 1.5m with an additional splash height of 0.5m.
It is also modified to be able to operate in -46 degree Celsius temperatures and can be fitted with the Ulrich Trackway Dispenser and a number of other attachments.
The video below shows the Ulrich Trackway Dispenser in action with the Faun Class 30 trackway. Class 30 has now been renamed the Medium Ground Mobility System (MGMS) and Class 70, Heavy Ground Mobility System (HGMS). Heavier vehicles can use the trackway beyond its classification but this depends on the ground bearing capacity and number of passes before the trackway becomes unusable.
Continuous lengths can also be joined using a joining strip.
From Faun’s website;
A couple of Medium Wheeled Tractors, trackway dispensers and other attachments are usually carried onboard one of the LPD’s
Combat Support (CS) functions are provided by the British Army in the form of 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery and 24 Commando Regiment Royal Engineers. Members of these two are not Royal Marines but have passed the All Arms Commando course.
29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery
The regiment’s main role is to provide fire support for 3 Commando Brigade, comprising a HQ Battery, two 105mm Light Gun Battery’s, a Forward Observation Battery.
Naval Gunfire Support has a great deal of utility and used much more often that many of the more esoteric systems, the Falklands, Iraq and Libya being recent outings; it is much cheaper than using air-delivered munitions if circumstances permit and can use a graduated force model where a well-aimed smoke or illumination round that signals loud and clear the next one will be of the type that goes bang can influence subsequent activity or neutralise threats both on land and at sea.
The existing 115mm/4.5” Mark 8 Mod 1 gun aboard Royal Navy vessels has its origins in the late sixties and has given excellent service but how reliable they are now is apparently an open question. The HE Extended Range round uses base bleed to propel the round to a maximum range of 27.5km and the existing illumination nature is also still available. In order to maintain a sustained rate of fire of 16-20 rounds per minute and accommodate the more powerful ammunition types the barrel is 62 calibres long. It has seen extensive service including action off the Falkland Islands (8,000 rounds), Iraq and Libya.
24 Commando Regiment Royal Engineers
24 Commando Engineer Regiment comprises a HQ squadron and three field squadrons; 54 Squadron and 59 Squadron, with 131 Squadron (Reserve).
To carry out covert beach or landing area surveys, raiding and other sneaking around tasks, the Special Boat Service (SBS) can use a number of equipment platforms.
A small number of Mk 8 Mod 1 Swimmer Delivery Vehicles are in service that can be launched and recovered from a role fit shelter fitted to the Astute class of SSN’s, designed and built under Project Chalfont by BAE. The SDV can also be deployed using a Chinook helicopter.
The SD Victoria, part of the Serco fleet providing a contract service to the MoD, has also often been seen with special-forces fast boats.
Special-forces can of course, also deploy using any of the other means and methods of transport available to the wider force.
At present, no unmanned airborne system is in service with the Royal Navy able to support an amphibious operation although those in service with the RAF and Royal Artillery are used.
The main use for the CHF Wildcat helicopters will be for ISTAR, potentially joined by the Scan Eagle RPAS.
The Commando Helicopter Force (CHF), 846 Naval Air Squadron, operates 6 Wildcat AH.1, the same configuration as those in service with the Army Air Corps.
CHF is part of the Fleet Air Arm, commanded by Joint Helicopter Command (JHC), and comprises personnel from both the Royal Navy and Royal Marines.
Apache AH1 and the announced Apache E variant replacement will provide the littoral manoeuvre force with significant firepower, teaming with Wildcat as required.