23 January 2023
Graham Caldwell explains the decision to rebrand the Royal Marine Commandos with a new uniform, now badged to reflect its association with the Royal Navy
Royal Marine Commandos received a brand new warfare uniform in 2020, the most significant transformation and rebranding program since World War II. This came at a time when there was a shift in the concept of operations for the UK maritime amphibious forces; its concept and badging is designed to differentiate the Corps from the Army and be a visible symbol of its connection to the Royal Navy. For example, a patch depicting the Royal Navy ensign will be worn on the left upper arm for the first time since 1664. The Future Commando Force Program will overhaul the way the world famous Green Berets operate around the globe, with more emphasis and training to operate from the sea out of Royal Naval amphibious vessels, both for specific combat missions, commando raids or providing humanitarian assistance.
The new NATO procured uniform, or rig in Marine parlance, is lighter in weight, has higher tear-strength, is faster drying and is more breathable than typical cotton/nylon material. Instead of the previous multi-terrain pattern, the uniform now uses the US Crye Precision’s MultiCam camouflage pattern. Lieutenant Colonel Ben Reynolds RM, who led the design and procurement project said, “The Royal Marines are integral to the Royal Navy and an extremely versatile elite force, able to operate from mountain and Arctic wastes to jungle and desert conditions. The Commando Uniform 2020 reflects our distinctiveness and the unique capabilities we bring to defence, in addition to the Royal Navy’s eagerness to invest in our development towards the Future Commando Force. The practical benefits of this uniform shouldn’t be underestimated. It has been specifically selected to serve Commandos as they carry out operations all around the world.” The kit was issued to force members from Autumn 2020.
Left: Purpose-built weather-proof helmet camera links to a new network system ensuring live data can be analysed and exploited quickly, instead of relying on Bluetooth, WiFi or cloud-based systems (royalnavy.mod.uk)
Badge and insignia rebranding
One of the most striking differences in the new uniform is the change from the arched Royal Marines Commando shoulder flash to a velcro attaching rectangular patch. The traditional black and green flash is now black and red, which will be familiar to the Marines from the flashes on their jerseys. This colour scheme dates back to World War II and June 2020 marked the 80th anniversary of the introduction of the first Commando units, originally part of the Army. A decision was made to return to the traditional Commando insignia, represented by the iconic Fairbairn-Sykes Dagger patch of the 3rd Commando Brigade Royal Marines, but redesigned to be based on the legionary fighting knife introduced in 1940. The media photos released by the Royal Navy also depict the latest equipment being used, including the C8 Diemaco assault rifle rather than the standard SA80. The announcement was made that this weapon will also be used by other selected maritime units, for example the Special Boat Service, much depending on limited availability.
Left: A tactical White Ensign depicts that the Royal Marines are part of the Royal Navy. This is the first time since formation in 1664 that the Ensign will be worn (royalnavy.mod.uk)
Left: The patch of 3rd Commando Brigade now features the first pattern Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife, which was designed in 1940. The para wings are now in black with a green background (royalnavy.mod.uk)
Royal Marine and commando heritage
The Royal Marines celebrated its 350th anniversary in 2014, marked by the Corps commissioning a series of nine themed uniform paintings by renowned artist Charles Madden illustrating the great changes to its uniforms since 1664, the year when the Duke of York and Albany’s Maritime Regiment of Foot was raised, soon to become known as the Admiral’s Regiment. During the War of the Spanish Succession, the most historic achievement of the Marines (supported by Royal Navy sailors) was in 1704 with the capture of the mole during the assault on Gibraltar. On the 5 April 1755 His Majesty’s Marine Forces, made up of 50 companies, in three divisions headquartered at Portsmouth, Chatham and Plymouth, were formed by Order of Council under Admiralty control. The Navy now had its own soldiers incorporated within its ships for a multitude of traditional infantry type duties, including shore landings, upper-mast sharpshooters and, not least, quartered amidships to protect the officers in the wardroom aft, from any mutinous intent by the ratings quartered in their mess decks forward!
In 1804 it was decided to form the Royal Marine Artillery within the Marine organisation to man the artillery in bomb vessels, later traditionally manning one of the after turrets (usually X turret) in warships of cruiser size upwards, which spurned fierce completion in gunnery practice with their naval counterparts.
Right: British Beach Commandos armed with Sten sub-machine guns, seen here training at the Great Bitter Lake, Egypt, 1943
Fast forward to WWII when the call went out in 1940 for volunteers for service of a hazardous nature, enabling the Army to form Independent Companies for special service as shock troops during the Norway campaign. Upon return, the Independent Companies morphed into 12 battalion-sized Army Commando units (including No. 3 Commando of the fighting dagger fame mentioned above) followed in February 1942 when the first Royal Marine Commando unit was raised. Many Commandos fought as part of Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten’s Combined Operations Force, in fact the proposal that Commandos should start wearing a green beret as their official headdress was inaugurated by Mountbatten in October 1942. At the end of the war all Army Commando units were disbanded, at which time the special raiding force role was expanded to become the sole prerogative of the Royal Marines thereafter.
Today the Corps comprise 7,730 regulars and 700 reservists of which the Commando units form an important part. Major General Matthew Holmes, Commandant-General Royal Marines, says that, “There will be tangible differences in how Britain’s Commando forces operate from next year. The Future Commando Force will be a more lethal, survivable and sustained amphibious capability. A persistent forward presence based on ships seeks to offer global access and pose greater dilemmas to our adversaries.” The Royal Navy’s three Bay class Landing Ship Dock Auxiliary (LSD) ships will support two Littoral Response Groups (LRG) each of a few hundred Commandos, plus supporting elements. These will deploy on six-month cycles to respond to crises ranging from humanitarian disaster to conventional warfare. One LRG will be permanently based east of Suez, whilst the other will focus on NATO’s northern flank, working closely with Norwegian amphibious forces and in the Mediterranean.
An identical maritime strategy was announced by the Royal Navy in July, whereby the two new 65,000t fleet carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, will each form the nucleus of a task force in the Indo-Pacific region and North Atlantic, mirroring where the marines will be based. Both carriers have the capability of converting solely to an amphibious helicopter carrier role (LPH) if required. Commando reinforcement is backed up by HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion, two dock landing ships (LPD) plus the dedicated Landing Ship Helicopter (LPH) HMS Ocean.
Nick Childs of the International Institute for Strategic Studies said, “Developing the Future Commando Force is a recognition that Britain’s amphibious capability needed updating and is being developed just as the US Marine Corps wrestles with similar ideas. The Future Commando Force will be more flexible, dispersed and available.” Examples of Commando assets that provide the flexibility advocated by Nick Childs comprise 539th Assault Squadron, which operates the small craft that provide amphibious movement for the marines, including Hovercraft (LCAC) Rigid Raiding Craft (RRC) Inflatable Raiding Craft (IRC) and Landing Craft Vehicle/Personnel (LCVP). The Fleet Air Arm’s Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) affectionately known as the ‘Junglies’, comprise Merlin Mk4/4A heavy-lift transports (converted RAF Merlin HC3s) the backbone method traditionally used to rapidly air-land Commandos.
Left: The Landing Craft Vehicle/Personnel (LCV/P) manned by the 1st Assault Group, Royal Marines, are the workhorse craft for delivering troops, trucks and armoured vehicles from ship to shore
James Heappey, the UK’s Armed Forces Minister, said, “Today, the Marine Commandos are in a unique position to fulfil the needs of the Future Commando Force Program, whereby amphibious operations are now planned to be their prime role into the foreseeable future. It is fitting that on the 80th anniversary of the first Commando raid of the Second World War, that the new Commando fighting uniform now bears the traditional Royal Marine Commando insignia, a poignant link to their history as the Commando force embarks on a modernisation program that will keep them in their place as the world’s best amphibious force.”
Can't get to the newsagents for your copy of The Armourer? Order it online (now with free postage!) or take out a subscription and avoid the general public for the next 12 months entirely. And if you're confined to quarters, stock up on some bookazines to keep you entertained.
Buy the latest copy or any back issues, either in print or digital editions by clicking on The Armourer.
They were the mightiest of ships, able to project power around the world courtesy of fearsome armament. Now, a new 132 page bookazine, Battleships of WWII, brings their story to life with 85 battleships from seven nations. Here is your guide to why they were built, how they were armoured and fitted out with equipment and weapons, and what action they saw in WWII, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. With colour photos and blueprints, statistic tables and key production details, it’s the ultimate guide to the greatest ships of World War II. Order your print or digital copy here.
How about Tanks of WWII, a 164-page guide to the tanks, commanders and battles of WWII. With over 170 tank prototypes, variants, models from the Axis and Allied nations, plus blueprints, rare photos and 3D illustrations. This collector's bookazine can be yours for just £9.99. Click here for your copy.
Celebrate the heroes of the Battle of Britain with a commemorative bookazine, with colour images throughout, for £8.99. Get your 164 page copy here.
Buy a copy of Aircraft of the RAF, featuring 595 flying machines, for £7.99 by clicking here.
Or how about a copy of the Collecting German Militaria bookazine for £7.99? Click here to buy this.