SAS V SBS in Amphibious Insertion Skills.
Way back in the mid 1970s the war in Dhofar, Oman was coming to a close. Since the conflicts in Malaya, Borneo and parts of the Middle East, the Regiment had barely time to breath. So it goes without saying that amphibious troop insertion skills were greatly lacking.
SF soldiering skills were right up there however, mountain troop skills, air troop skills, mobility troop skills were good but not great. As for amphibious troop skills they were poor to atrocious. As a new green trooper at that time, fresh into B Squadron’s troops skills period, even I could see where the basics were lacking.
Continuous war had taken it’s toll on troop training. Amphibious troop needs a bit more than just swimming, diving, or playing with the Klepper canoes and small Gemini type craft up and down the River Wye…Hereford’s local river. We needed solid course work from the river and lakes to the sea. Being based in a landlocked county was always a big minus for amphibious troop. Our brothers in the SBS were based on the coast. They could train in O2 diving and boat work in a day’s programme just to keep the minutes up.
The other factor was rivalry…not between the lads (although there was a bit of that), but between the hierarchy of the Army, RN and Royal Marines. Yes, stupid but yet it existed.
The ideal would be to send individuals from Hereford to Poole to attend their boat and diving courses as students alongside the SBS lads. But no, crazy bureaucracy wouldn’t allow for the obvious. Cap badges and egos were getting in the way.
So, SAS amphibious troop members (mainly the newer lads) were sent on the Royal Engineers shallow water (SW: shark wrestlers) compressed air diving course at Marchwood on the south coast. As good as the course was, that would become a tick in the box stepping stone to allow us to attend the Royal Navy clearance divers course, beginning again with compressed air (bubbles) before being allowed to move onto 02 closed demand diving (no bubbles). Only then could we dive alongside the SBS in training, exercises and operations as close to their equals. Boat skills with the Klepper canoes and inflatable engine mounted boats were our own doing, and over a period of time we would improve greatly.
All in all with everything else that an SAS trooper had to fit in within the year, it would take at least 3 years for an amphibious troop operator to be fully “worked up” in their basic troop skills.
Over the years we would try to fight this…writing paper after paper to justify why it would be better to work together with the SBS on troop skills. It would be in the late 80s that things began to change. I was on one of the first small boat courses run for us by the SBS down in Poole then up in the West coast of Scotland. A terrific course ran by “adults” that greatly enhanced our troop skills without doubt.
After my time in the Regiment (post 94) the diving would be taken away from us and given wholly to the SBS…no bad thing in my view. I had spent almost a year with the SBS as a troop Staff Sergeant, learnt lots, and suggested in numerous papers back to Hereford how to move forward. One was to make the SBS the SF amphibious troop…do a common selection course and all be based at an RAF airfield on the coast, giving all of us the ability to train and move globally as fast as possible by being based alongside an airfield. Away from the troop skills, I even brought the SBS counter terrorist team to Hereford to train with our facilities…both sides getting maximum benefit from it.
It was crazy that two tiny units were continuously butting heads at the top level, when we could all work together in all roles in some sort of harmony. At the end of the day, when it comes to operations, we were co-located in theatre sitting looking at one another while both our gallant leadership would be fighting about just which unit should deploy on the ground for which operation!
I’m pleased to hear that after decades of unneeded rivalry at the top end, both units are now much more integrated.
My time in the Regiment was amazing, but boy it would have been nice if the SAS and SBS could have worked together at the coalface much earlier.
4 thoughts on “PLAYING CATCHUP IN THE 1970s SAS”
Very insightful Bob and couldn’t agree more. To remain at the top of our game SF have to evolve and find the best strategy for success. It’s often the soldiers on the ground that have the best ideas for improvement as they are living it and not the Rupert’s in charge.
Hope things the otherwise if the pond are ok.
Anthony Sent from my iPhone
Bob, I like how’s it’s developed over the years where SF forces not only work more closely within the UK but with other SF forces. Makes total sense
I reckon someone should make a film of the SAS rescue at Peterhead prison in 1987. Thanks Scott
Hi Scott, I saw a TV documentary (BBC?). A number of years ago. The military personnel played by actors. The Prison Service staff were interviewed on camera, including the Officer held hostage. Newsreel footage was included which added realism.