539 Assault Squadron performing a beach assault from a LCAC Hovercraft in Norway, 2016. The name change also sees 539 renamed to 539 Raiding Squadron. (Donny Osmond/Crown Copyright)

Royal Marines Revive Unit Name

A name synonymous with some of the Royal Marine’s most prolific actions has been revived as part of a raft of changes intended to restructure the force.

1 Assault Group, Royal Marines, the force’s primary amphibious warfare specialists, were renamed on November 5 as 47 Commando, Raiding Group, reviving a name not used since No.47 disbanded in 1946.

The announcement followed the 75th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of the Scheldt, during which 47 Commando played a key role in the landings on Walcheren Island (see Britain at War, November 2019).

A Royal Marine Jackal on patrol in Helmand, Afghanistan, 2009. (Dave Husbands/Crown Copyright)

The historic unit was also involved in the Normandy Landings, seizing Port-en-Bessin in a daring raid on June 7-8, which saw the force engaged in bitter cliff-top skirmishes and house-to-house fighting. More than a third of the 330 or so men landed were killed or wounded.

Commandant General Royal Marines, Major-General Matt Holmes, stated the name change embraces the unit’s “Commando ethos” and “better captures the future role of this specialist unit”.

The change comes among controversial restructure proposals which may see the force replace the L85A2/A3 rifle with the Canadian C8 – already adopted by some specialist units – adopt lighter, more flexible body armour, and deploy in smaller 16-man troops rather than platoon-size elements.

The name change embraces the unit’s “Commando ethos” and “better captures the future role of this specialist unit”.

The proposals see the Marines move away from the light infantry role and toward their traditional commando and amphibious roles, with additional focus on special operations.

The restructure is pinned on the acquisition of two Future Littoral Strike Ships, a concept announced back in February by then Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson. Theoretically, these will enable Marine detachments to conduct or support special operations and raiding, in addition to disaster and humanitarian relief duties, with helicopters and amphibious equipment.

No.47 Commando’s operation to clear Port-en-Bessin was vital to sustaining the Normandy Invasion, as it enabled the first of the PLUTO (PipeLine Under The Ocean) oil pipelines to be laid.

Similar ships and units are employed by the US Marine Corps, upon which the proposals are partially based. However, commentators have highlighted potential problems, including the reduction in British rotary assets in the last decade and the sale of HMS Ocean.

Major-General Julian Thompson, who led 3 Commando Brigade during the Falklands Conflict, has warned of the force’s unique identity and character being lost as the plans include scrapping the existing system of rank, which not only distinguishes the force from the wider navy, but Thompson also claims prevents confusion. ∎

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