History of the Royal Marines

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The Corps of Royal Marines, the infantry land fighting element of the United Kingdom's Royal Navy, was formed as part of the Naval Service in 1755. However, it can trace its origins back as far as 1664, when English soldiers first went to sea to fight the Dutch.

Early in their history, Marines were responsible for leading and repelling boarding attacks on the lower deck, while harassing the enemy from the upper decks with effective musket fire. At present, the Royal Marines are an elite fighting force within the British Armed forces, having undergone many substantial changes.[1]


The 'first official' unit of English Naval Infantry, originally called the Duke of York and Albany's Maritime Regiment of Foot and soon becoming known as the Admiral's Regiment, was formed on Tuesday, 28 October 1664, with an initial strength of 1,200 infantrymen recruited from the Trained Bands of London as part of the mobilisation for the Second Anglo-Dutch War. James (later King James VII & II), the Duke of York and Albany, Lord High Admiral and brother of King Charles II, was Captain-General of the Company of the Artillery Garden, now the Honourable Artillery Company, the unit that trained the Trained Bands.

It was the fourth European Marine unit formed, being preceded by the Spain's Infantería de Marina (1537), the Portuguese Marine Corps (1610) and France's Troupes de marine (1622). It consisted of six 200 man companies and was initially commanded by Colonel Sir William Killigrew with Sir Charles Lyttleton as Lieutenant-Colonel. Killigrew had commanded an English regiment in Dutch service and many of the regiment's initial complement of officers had served there as well.

The Holland Regiment (later The Buffs) was also raised to serve at sea and both of these "Naval" regiments were paid for by the Treasurer of the Navy by Order of Council of 11 July 1665. They were also different in that they had no pikemen, every man being issued a musket. The Holland Regiment remained on the naval establishments until May 1667. The name "Marines" first appeared in official records in 1672.

The Regiment was very distinctive, being dressed in old gold, rather than the Red coat of the other regiments, until 1685. John Churchill, later the 1st Duke of Marlborough, was the most famous member of this regiment. A Company of Foot Guards served as Marines to augment the Marines of the Admiral's Regiment during the key sea battle the Battle of Solebay in 1672. Marlborough's conduct as an Ensign in the Guards during the battle so impressed James that he commissioned him a Captain in the Admiral's Regiment after four marine captains died during the battle. Marlborough served eight years in the regiment and led a battalion of the regiment in the land battle, the Battle of Enzheim in 1674. The regiment was disbanded in 1689 shortly after James II was deposed in the Glorious Revolution. The Buffs replaced them as third in precedence in the British Army.

Portrait of a Maritime officer, by William Dobson, 17th century
Lawrence Washington

Two marine regiments of the army were raised in 1690. They were the Earl of Pembroke's and Torrington's, later Lord Berkeley's. Each had twelve companies (948 men) and a Grenadier company (237 men) and again there were no pikemen, each man carrying a Dutch snaphance musket. In addition, each Marine carried a bayonet, which was unusual at that time. These two regiments participated in an opposed landing during the Williamite War in Ireland at Cork, Ireland on 21 September 1690 under the command of John Churchill, now the Duke of Marlborough.

In 1698, the Marine establishment was reformed: the two existing regiments were reformed into a single one under the command of Thomas Brudenell, while the foot regiments of William Seymour, Edward Dutton Colt, and Harry Mordaunt were converted into Marine regiments.[2] These regiments were disbanded in 1699.[3]

In 1702, six Regiments of Marines and six Sea Service Regiments of Foot were formed for the War of the Spanish Succession. When on land, the Marines were commanded by Brigadier-General William Seymour, formerly of the 4th Foot. The most historic achievement of these Marines was the capture of the mole during the assault on Gibraltar (sailors of the Royal Navy captured the Rock itself) and the subsequent defence of the fortress alongside the Dutch Marines in 1704. In 1713, after the Peace of Utrecht, three of these Regiments were transferred to the Line, where they became the 30th through 32nd Foot, and the others disbanded. Only four Companies of Marine Invalids remained.

Eighteenth Century[edit]

Six Marine Regiments (1st to 6th Marines, 44th to 49th Foot) were raised on 17 November–22 November 1739 for the War of Jenkins' Ear, with four more being raised later. One large Marine Regiment (Spotswood's Regiment, later Gooch's Marines, the 43rd Foot) was formed of American colonists and served alongside British Marines at the Battle of Cartagena de Indias, Colombia and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba in the War of Jenkins' Ear (1741). Among its officers was Lawrence Washington, the half-brother of George Washington. In 1747, the remaining regiments were transferred to the Admiralty and then disbanded in 1748. Many of the disbanded men were offered transportation to Nova Scotia and helped form the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Even though they were part of the Army, these Marines were quite nautical at times. Some Royal Navy officers began in these Marine regiments and some kept their Marine rank throughout their careers, one Royal Navy Captain even serving as the Captain of Marines on his own ship. They were used by the Admiralty to rig ships before they were placed in commission as the Royal Navy had no extra sailors - the law required that all sailors must be part of a commissioned vessel. It was another law, one which required that an entire Army Regiment had to muster before it could be paid, that led to their transfer to the Admiralty. This requirement was hard for the Marine Regiments to follow, as their Companies were stationed on many different ships.

On 5 April 1755, His Majesty's Marine Forces, fifty Companies in three Divisions, headquartered at Chatham, Portsmouth, and Plymouth-Dock, were formed by Order of Council under Admiralty control. Initially, all field officers were Royal Navy officers as the Royal Navy felt that the ranks of Marine field officers were largely honorary. This meant that the farthest a Marine officer could advance was to Lieutenant Colonel. It was not until 1771 that the first Marine was promoted to Colonel. This situation persisted well into the 1800s. During the rest of the 18th century, they served in numerous landings all over the world, the most famous being the landing at Bellisle on the Brittany coast in 1761. They also served in the American War of Independence. A company of Marines under the command of Major John Pitcairn broke the rebel resistance in the Battle of Bunker Hill and took possession of the enemy redoubt. These Marines also often took to the ship's boats to repel attackers in small boats when RN ships were becalmed on close blockade. On 14 February 1779, Captain James Cook took with him the following Marines: Lt.Phillips; a Sgt; Corporal Thomas and seven Privates; besides Cook, four Marines-Corporal Thomas and three Privates Hinks; Allen, and Fatchett-were killed and 2-Lt Phillips and Private Jackson-wounded.

New South Wales[edit]

In 1788, a detachment of four companies of marines, under Major Robert Ross, accompanied the First Fleet to protect a new colony at Botany Bay (New South Wales). Due to an unknown error the Fleet left Portsmouth without its main supply of ammunition, cartridge paper and tools to repair their flintlocks. The omission was noted early during the voyage and, in July 1787, a request was sent back to the British Home Office from Santa Cruz that the missing supplies be sent out in William Bligh's ship HMS Bounty. As Christopher Warren noted, this expected resupply meant that the voyage could still continue to its final destination - Botany Bay in New South Wales. However, despite the Home Office receiving the request, the resupply was never sent and consequently, after 12 months, the marines ended up in dire circumstances.[4] Ten thousand musquet balls were obtained when the Fleet called into Rio de Janeiro.

The First Fleet detachment had a strength of 212 including 160 privates. This relatively small force was arranged on the advice of Joseph Banks who advised the British government that local Aborigines were few and retiring. On arrival in New South Wales the Governor of the new colony, naval Captain Arthur Phillip, found that the natives were vastly more numerous than expected and also that they soon started resisting the settlers. Within 12 months, natives killed 5 or 6 First Fleeters and wounded many more. The marines also found that their single shot musquets could not compete against native weapons, apart from an initial period of shock and awe. To further aggravate their predicament, around a dozen marines had died and over a dozen were typically on the unfit list. Finally, in October 1788, the marines were tasked to expand the initial settlement at Sydney Cove to commence farming more fertile land at Parramatta.

It has been suggested that British personnel deliberately introduced smallpox, as a biological weapon, to Aboriginal people near Sydney in 1789.[5][6][7] However, this theory is controversial and has been rebutted by other historians. (See History of smallpox in Australia for further details.)


A large number of English and British marine regiments were raised for various specific wars. After the war for which they were raised, these regiments either became ordinary army infantry regiments or were disbanded. His Majesty's Marine Forces raised in 1755 are the oldest direct predecessor of the Royal Marines.

  • 1664: Duke of York and Albany's Maritime Regiment of Foot raised from the Trained Bands of London and later renamed Lord Admiral's Regiment. This marine regiment is the predecessor of The Buffs, itself a predecessor of the Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment.
  • Two Marine Regiments of the Army raised in 1690 and disbanded in 1696: Earl of Pembroke's Regiment and Torrington's, (later Lord Berkeley's) Regiment.
  • 1697: Mordaunt's Regiment and Seymour's Regiment converted into Marines.
  • 1702: Six Regiments of Marines and six Sea Service Regiments of Foot raised. In 1713, three of these Regiments were transferred to the Line to become the 30th Foot (a predecessor of the Royal Anglian Regiment), 31st Foot (a predecessor of the Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment), and 32nd Foot (a predecessor of the Rifles). The others were disbanded.
  • 1739-1748: Marine Regiments raised in the War of Jenkins' Ear.
  • 1741: Spotswood's Regiment, later renamed Gooch's Marines, later becoming the 61st Foot (a predecessor of the Rifles) was raised from North American colonists.
  • 1755: His Majesty's Marine Forces raised. The oldest predecessor to which the Royal Marines can trace a direct lineage.
  • 1802: His Majesty's Marine Forces designated Royal Marines in recognition of past services to the nation.
  • 1804: The Royal Marine Artillery (RMA) raised to replace Royal Artillery units formerly assigned to ships of the Royal Navy[8]
  • 1808: First Corps of Colonial Marines raised
  • 1814: Second Corps of Colonial Marines raised from escaped American slaves
  • 1855: His Majesty's Marine Forces renamed the Royal Marines Light Infantry (RMLI)
  • 1862: Royal Marines Light Infantry slightly renamed Royal Marine Light Infantry (RMLI)
  • 1914-1918: Royal Naval Brigades used during the First World War were composed of both marines and sailors
  • 1923: The Royal Marine Artillery and Royal Marine Light Infantry amalgamated into the Corps of Royal Marines

Nineteenth century[edit]

In 1802, largely at the instigation of Admiral John Jervis, 1st Earl of St Vincent, they were titled the Royal Marines by King George III.[9]

The Royal Marine Artillery (RMA) was formed as an establishment within the British Royal Marines in 1804 to man the artillery in bomb vessels. This had been done by the Royal Regiment of Artillery, but a lawsuit by a Royal Artillery officer resulted in a court decision that Army officers were not subject to Naval orders. As their coats were the blue of the Royal Regiment of Artillery, this group was nicknamed the "Blue Marines" and the Infantry element, who wore the scarlet coats of the British infantry, became known as the "Red Marines", often given the derogatory nickname "Lobsters" by sailors.

Major General John Tupper His Majesty's Marine Forces.

French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars[edit]

The Royal Marines served throughout the Napoleonic Wars on-board Royal Navy ships in every notable naval battle including St Vincent, Camperdown, the Nile, Copenhagen, Trafalgar, the Dardanelles, Cape Lissa and Aix Roads. The marines also saw action in various amphibious operations.

The number of marines on board Royal Naval ships depended on the size of the ship and was generally kept at a ratio of one marine per ship gun, plus officers. For example: a First Rate Ship of the Line contained 104 marines while a 28 gun Frigate had 29. Between 1807 and 1814, the total marine establishment number was 31,400 men. Manpower (recruitment and retention) problems saw regular infantry units from the British Army being used as shipboard replacements on numerous occasions. One result of the Royal Navy's dominance of the seas in Europe, and the blockading of the French Navy's ports did mean that manpower constraints became less of an issue at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. From 1812, such maritime supremacy meant the Mediterranean and Channel Fleets were assigned additional marines for use 'in destroying signal communications and other petty harassing modes of warfare'.[10] The British established several Royal Marine raiding battalions at this time.

In the War of 1812, the participation of the Royal Marines was not limited to battles at sea. Royal Marines in the raiding battalions harassed the coasts of Maryland and Virginia in 1813, and participated in the Chesapeake campaign (Jul-Sep 1814), including the following actions:

Battle of Bladensburg - the use of Congreve rockets by the detachment of Royal Marine Artillery commanded by Lieutenant John Lawrence resulted in the rout of the US militiamen.[11]

Burning of Washington - performed by those men, of the Royal Marines battalion and the 21st Foot, in the 3rd Brigade.[12]

Battle of Baltimore - Royal Marine Artillerymen aboard HMS Erebus (1807) illuminated Fort McHenry with the "rockets' red glare", as mentioned in The Star-Spangled Banner

Also present on shore during the Chesapeake campaign was a composite battalion of Marines, formed from ships' Marine detachments, frequently led by Captain John Robyns. A smaller composite battalion of about 100 men (23 officers,[13] 2 of whom (John Wilson 1787-1850 & John Alexander Phillips 1790-1865) were Trafalgar veterans, and 80 other ranks) also took part in the Battle of New Orleans, under the command of Brevet Major Thomas Adair. The only British success at New Orleans was an attack on the west bank of the Mississippi River by a 700-man force, consisting of the 100 Royal Marines, 100 sailors under Captain Rowland Money, and 3 companies of the 85th Foot.[14] A Corps of Colonial Marines existed from May 1814 to 20 August 1816, and was formed from volunteer escaped slaves. It served on the Atlantic coast.

Crimean War and beyond[edit]

Royal Marines parade in the streets of Chania in Crete following the occupation of the island by the Great Powers (Britain, France, Italy and Russia) in spring 1897

In 1855, the marine Infantry forces were renamed the Royal Marines Light Infantry (RMLI) and in 1862 the name was slightly altered to Royal Marine Light Infantry. The Royal Navy only saw limited active service at sea after 1850 (until 1914) and became interested in developing the concept of landings by Naval Brigades. In these Naval Brigades, the function of the Royal Marines was to land first and act as skirmishers ahead of sailors trained as conventional infantry and artillery. This skirmishing was the traditional function of Light Infantry. It was not until 1923 that the separate Artillery and light Infantry forces were formally amalgamated into the Corps of Royal Marines (see below).

During the Crimean War in 1854 and 1855, three Royal Marines earned the Victoria Cross, two in the Crimea and one in the Baltic. The use of the new "torpedoes" (mines) by the Russians in the Baltic made the campaign there particularly suited to RM raiding and reconnaissance parties. Landings by the British and French Navy and Marines in 1854 were repulsed by the Russians at Petropavlovsk on the Pacific coast of Russia.

In the rest of the 19th Century, the Royal Marines served in many landings, especially in the First and Second Opium Wars (1839–1842 and 1856–1860) against the Chinese. These were all successful except for the landing at the Mouth of the Peiho in 1859, where Admiral Sir James Hope ordered a landing across extensive mudflats even though his Brigadier, Colonel Thomas Lemon RMLI, advised against it.

Early 20th Century[edit]

The Royal Marines also played a prominent role in the Boxer Rebellion in China (1900), where a Royal Marine earned a further Corps Victoria Cross. For the first part of the 20th century, the Royal Marines' role was the traditional one of providing shipboard infantry for security, boarding parties and small-scale landings. The Marines' other traditional position on a Royal Navy ship was manning 'X' and 'Y' (the aftermost) gun turrets on a battleship or cruiser. During both World War I and World War II Royal Marine detachments were limited to Cruisers and above and until the latter part of the 20th century Royal Marine Bands were also carried on those ships. In times of war the Bandsmen traditionally operated the ship's comprehensive fire-control system, situated for stability and safety at the lowest deck of the ship. Consequently, when ships were sunk, almost inevitably the entire ship's band was lost.

Pursuing a career in the Marines had been considered nearly a form of 'social suicide' for the ambitious as, through much of the 18th and 19th centuries, the social standing of Royal Marine officers was not considered to be the equal of their Royal Navy counterparts. An effort was made in 1907 through the common entry portion of the Selborne scheme to reduce the professional differences between RN and RM officers. This provided for an initial period of service where both groups performed the same roles and underwent the same training. Upon promotion to Lieutenant, officers could opt for permanent service with the Royal Marines. The scheme was abandoned after three years when only two of the new entrants chose this option over that of service as naval officers, for whom promotion prospects were much greater. At the outbreak of World War I, the Corps was 58 subalterns under establishment.

First World War[edit]

During World War I, in addition to their usual stations aboard ship, Royal Marines were part of the Royal Naval Division that landed in Belgium in 1914 to help defend Antwerp and later took part in the amphibious landing at Gallipoli in 1915. It also served on the Western Front in the trenches.

The Division's first two commanders were Royal Marine Artillery Generals. Other Royal Marines acted as landing parties in the Naval campaign against the Turkish fortifications in the Dardanelles before the Gallipoli landings. They were sent ashore to assess damage to Turkish fortifications after bombardment by British and French ships and, if necessary, to complete their destruction. The Royal Marines were the last troops to leave Gallipoli, replacing both British and French troops in a neatly planned and executed withdrawal from the beaches. It even required some Marines to wear French uniforms as part of the deception.

In 1918, Royal Marines led the Zeebrugge Raid. Five Royal Marines earned the Victoria Cross in the First World War, two at Zeebrugge, one at Gallipoli, one at the Battle of Jutland and one on the Western Front. After the war Royal Marines took part in the allied intervention in Russia. In 1919, the 6th Battalion RMLI rose in mutiny and was disbanded at Murmansk.

Between the World Wars[edit]

The Royal Marine Artillery (RMA) and Royal Marine Light Infantry (RMLI) were amalgamated on 22 June 1923.[15] Post-war demobilisation had seen the Royal Marines reduced from 55,000 (1918) to 15,000 in 1922 and there was Treasury pressure for a further reduction to 6,000 or even the entire disbandment of the Corps. As a compromise an establishment of 9,500 was settled upon but this meant that two separate branches could no longer be maintained. The abandonment of the Marine's artillery role meant that the Corps would subsequently have to rely on Royal Artillery support when ashore, that the title of Royal Marines would apply to the entire Corps and that only a few specialists would now receive naval gunnery training. As a form of consolation the dark blue and red uniform of the Royal Marine Artillery now became the full dress of the entire Corps. Royal Marine officers and Senior NCO's however continue to wear the historic scarlet in mess dress to the present day. The ranks of Private, used by the RMLI, and Gunner, used by the RMA, were abolished and replaced by the rank of Marine.[16]

Second World War[edit]

During the early parts of World War II, a small party of Royal Marines were first ashore at Namsos in April 1940, seizing the approaches to the Norwegian town preparatory to a landing by the British Army two days later. The Royal Marines formed the Royal Marine Division as an amphibious warfare trained division, parts of which served at Dakar and in the capture of Madagascar. After the assault on the French naval base at Antsirane in Madagascar was held up, fifty Sea Service Royal Marines from HMS Ramilles commanded by Captain Martin Price were landed on the quay of the base by the British destroyer HMS Anthony after it ran the gauntlet of French shore batteries defending Diego Suarez Bay. They then captured two of the batteries, which led to a quick surrender by the French.[17] In addition the Royal Marines formed Mobile Naval Base Defence Organisations (MNBDOs) similar to the US Marine Corps Defense Battalions. One of these took part in the defence of Crete. Royal Marines also served in Malaya and Singapore, where due to losses they were joined with remnants of the 2nd Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders to form the "Plymouth Argylls" (as there is a football club called Plymouth Argyle F.C., and the Royal Marines were associated with Plymouth).

The Royal Marines formed one Commando (A Commando) which served at Dieppe. One month after Dieppe, most of the 11th Royal Marine Battalion was killed or captured in an ill judged amphibious landing at Tobruk in Operation Agreement, again the Marines were involved with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders this time the 1st Battalion. In 1943 the Infantry Battalions of the Royal Marine Division were re-organised as Commandos, joining the Army Commandos. The Division command structure became a Special Service Brigade command. The support troops became landing craft crew, manning almost all Allied landing craft during Operation Overlord.

A total of four Special Service, later Commando, Brigades were raised during the war, and Royal Marines were represented in all of them. Nine RM Commando (battalions) were raised during the war, numbered from 40 to 48.

1st Commando Brigade had just one RM Battalion, No 45 Commando and took part in the Allied invasion of Sicily and the D Day Operation Overlord invasion of German-occupied Normandy, then campaigns in the Rhineland and crossing the Rhine.

2nd Commando Brigade had two RM battalions, No. 40 and No. 43 and was involved in the Salerno landings, Anzio, Comacchio, and operations in the Argenta Gap.

3rd Commando Brigade also had two, No. 42 and No. 44 and served in Allied invasion of Sicily and Burma.

4th Commando Brigade was entirely Royal Marine after March 1944, comprising No. 41, No. 46, No. 47 and No. 48 Commando served in Normandy and in the Battle of the Scheldt on the island of Walcheren during the clearing of Antwerp.

In January 1945, two further RM Brigades were formed, 116th Royal Marine Brigade and 117th Royal Marine Brigade. Both were conventional Infantry, rather than Commando brigades, and were formed by surplus landing craft crews. 116th Brigade saw some action in the Netherlands, but 117th Brigade was hardly used operationally. In addition, one Landing Craft Assault (LCA) unit was stationed in Australia late in the war as a training unit. That month the elements of the Royal Marines saw action in the Pacific theatre when they were deployed to Arakan as part of the British campaign in Burma. 42 Commando & No. 44 Commando as part of 3 Commando Brigade took part in the Battle of Hill 170. Royal Marines also took part in capturing Ramree and Cheduba islands, the latter achieved without resistance.

In 1946, the Army Commandos and all but three Royal Marine Commandos and three out of four Commando brigades were disbanded, leaving 3 Commando Brigade and 40, 42 and 45 Commando Royal Marines to continue the Commando role (with supporting Army elements).

A number of Royal Marines served as aircraft pilots during the Second World War. It was a Royal Marines officer who led the attack by a formation of Blackburn Skuas that sank the German cruiser Königsberg. Eighteen Royal Marines commanded Fleet Air Arm squadrons during the course of the war, and with the formation of the British Pacific Fleet were well represented in the final drive on Japan in the Pacific Theatre. Captains and Majors generally commanded squadrons, whilst in one case Lt. Colonel R.C.Hay on HMS Indefatigable (R10) was Air Group Co-ordinator from HMS Victorious (R38) of the entire British Pacific Fleet. Some were captured including Captain Guy Griffiths, who was captured very early on in the war.

Only one Marine, 21-year-old Corporal Thomas Peck Hunter of 43 Commando, was awarded the Victoria Cross in the Second World War. The medal was awarded for action at Comacchio lagoon during Operation Roast in the Spring 1945 offensive in Italy. Hunter was the last Royal Marine Commando to be awarded the medal to date.

A Centaur IV tank belonging to the Royal Marines Armoured Support Group, which supported the D-Day landings at "Las Breche d'Hermanville" on 6 June 1944.

Throughout the war Royal Marines continued in their traditional role of providing ships detachments and manning a proportion of the guns on cruisers and capital ships. They also provided the crew for the UK's minor Landing Craft and operated two regiments of Centaur IV tanks of the Royal Marines Armoured Support Group on D Day.

The Royal Marines Boom Patrol Detachment, The Cockleshell Heroes, under Blondie Hasler carried out Operation Frankton and provided the basis for the post-war continuation of the Special Boat Service.

After 1945[edit]

Royal Marines in 1972

Royal Marines were involved in the Korean War. 41 (Independent) Commando was reformed in 1950, and was originally envisaged as a raiding force for use against North Korea. It performed this role in partnership with the United States Navy until after the landing of United States Army X Corps at Wonsan. It then joined the 1st Marine Division at Koto-Ri. As Task Force Drysdale with Lt. Col. D.B. Drysdale RM in command, 41 Commando, a USMC company, a US Army company and part of the divisional train fought their way from Koto-Ri to Hagaru after the Chinese had blocked the road to the North. It then took part in the famous withdrawal from Chosin Reservoir. After that, a small amount of raiding followed, before the Marines were withdrawn from the conflict in 1951. It received the Presidential Unit Citation (United States) after the USMC got the regulations modified to allow foreign units to receive the award.

After playing a part in the long-running Malayan Emergency, the next action came in 1956, during the Suez Crisis. Headquarters 3 Commando Brigade, and Nos 40, 42 and 45 Commandos took part in the operation. It marked the first time that a helicopter assault was used operationally to land troops in an amphibious attack. British and French forces defeated the Egyptians, but after pressure from the United States, and French domestic pressure, they backed down.

From 1955 to 1959, 40 and 45 Commando alternated duties in Cyprus undertaking anti-terrorist operations against the EOKA guerrillas during tensions between the Greek and Turkish inhabitants of the island. The EOKA were a small, but powerful organisation of Greek Cypriots, who had great local support from the Greek community. On 6 September 1955, the UN called 45 Commando at a moments notice to move to Cyprus amid escalating tensions and EOKA atrocities. The unit, based in Malta at the time travelled to the Kyrenia mountain area of the island and by 10 September, around 1,300 Marines and 150 vehicles used by the unit had arrived in the and ready to patrol.

Further action in the Far East was seen during the Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation. Nos 40 and 42 Commando went to Borneo at various times to help keep Indonesian forces from worsening situations in the neighbouring region, in what was an already heated part of the world, with conflicts in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. During the campaign there was a company-strength amphibious assault by Lima Company of 42 Commando at the town of Limbang to rescue hostages. The Limbang raid saw three of the 150 marines involved decorated, L company 42 commando are still referred to today as Limbang Company in memory of this archetypal commando raid.

In January 1964, part of the Tanzanian Army mutinied. Within 24 hours. Royal Marines had left Bickleigh Camp, Plymouth, Devon, and were travelling by air to Nairobi, Kenya, continuing by road into Tanzania. At the same time, Commandos aboard HMS Bulwark sailed to East Africa and anchored off-shore from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The revolt was put down and the next six months were spent in touring Tanzanian military out-posts disarming military personnel. The Royal Marines were then relieved by Canadian armed forces.

From 1969 onwards, Royal Marine units regularly deployed to Northern Ireland during The Troubles, during the course of which 13 were killed in action.[18] A further eleven died in the 1989 Deal bombing of the Royal Marines School of Music.

Between 1974 and 1984, the Royal Marines undertook three United Nations tours of duty in Cyprus. The first was in November 1974 when 41 Commando took over the Limassol District from the 2nd Battalion of the Guards Brigade and became the first Commando to wear the light blue berets of the UN when they began the Corps' first six-month tour with the UN forces in Cyprus (UNIFCYP). The Commando also consisted of the 8th (Alma) Battery of 29 Commando RA and two troops of Independent Squadron Royal Engineers. In 1974, 41 Commando was awarded the Wilkinson Sword of Peace for "The establishment or unit which contributes the most towards establishing good and friendly relations with the inhabitants of any territory within, or outside the UK."

The Falklands War provided the backdrop to the next action of the Royal Marines. Argentina invaded the islands in April 1982. A British task force was immediately despatched to recapture them, and given that an amphibious assault would be necessary, the Royal Marines were heavily involved. 3 Commando Brigade was brought to full combat strength, with not only 40, 42 and 45 Commandos, but also the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the Parachute Regiment attached. The troops were landed at San Carlos Water at the western end of East Falkland, and proceeded to "yomp" across the entire island to the capital, Stanley, which fell on 14 June 1982. A Royal Marines divisional headquarters was deployed, under Major-General Jeremy Moore, who was commander of British land forces during the war.

The main element of 3 Commando Brigade was not deployed in the 1991 Gulf War. However, 24 men from K Company, 42 Commando Royal Marines were deployed as six man teams aboard two Royal Navy frigates and two Royal Navy destroyers. They were used as ship boarding parties and took part in numerous boardings of suspect shipping. There were also further elements deployed to provide protection of shipping whilst in ports throughout the Gulf. The main element of 3 Commando Brigade was deployed to northern Iraq in the aftermath to provide aid to the Kurds as part of Operation Safe Haven. The remainder of the 1990s saw no major warfighting deployments, other than a divisional headquarters to control land forces during the short NATO intervention that ended the Bosnian War.

More recently, Royal Marines detachments have been involved in operations in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, East Timor and the Congo where alongside French troops they prepared for a NEO Non-combatant evacuation operation of Brits from the embassies.

From 2000 onwards, the Royal Marines began converting from their traditional light infantry role towards an expanded force protection type role, with the introduction of the Commando 21 concept, leading to the introduction of the Viking, the first armoured vehicle to be operated by the Royal Marines for half a century.

In November 2001, after the seizure of Bagram Air Base by the Special Boat Service, Charlie Company of 40 Commando became the first British regular forces into Afghanistan, using Bagram Air base to support British and US Special Forces Operations. Bravo Company 40 Commando arrived in December 2001, eventually moving into Kabul itself, beginning the building of the infrastructure which became ISAF. 40 Commando continued to roulement Companies until October 2002.

Royal Marines in Afghanistan in January 2009

2002 saw the deployment of 45 Commando Royal Marines to Afghanistan, where contact with enemy forces was expected to be heavy. However little action was seen, with no Al-Qaida or Taliban forces being found or engaged. 3 Commando Brigade deployed on Operation TELIC in early 2003 with the USMC's 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit under command. The Brigade conducted an amphibious assault on the Al-Faw peninsula in Iraqin support of the US Navy SEALs, The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and 42 Commando securing the port of Umm Qasr and 40 Commando conducting a helicopter assault in order to secure the oil installations to assure continued operability of Iraq's export capability. The attack proceeded well, with light casualties. 3 Commando Brigade served as part of the US 1st Marine Division and received the US Presidential Unit Citation, in fact the 2nd time in 50 years the Royal Marines received this.

In late 2006, 3 Commando Brigade relieved 16 Air Assault Brigade in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, as part of Operation Herrick. In 2008, Lance-Corporal Matthew Croucher of 40 Commando was awarded the George Cross (GC) after throwing himself on a grenade to save the lives of the other marines of his patrol. Remarkably, he managed to keep his rucksack between himself and the grenade, and that, together with his body armour, meant he suffered only very minor injuries.[19]



Historically, Marine uniforms broadly matched those of the contemporary British Army, at least for full dress. The constraints of shipboard duty, however, brought some practical considerations – for ordinary work duties during the late 18th and early 19th centuries the marines would put aside their easily stained red coats and wore the loose "slop" clothing of the British sailors (then known as Jack Tars). The full uniform was worn for watch and guard duties and would also normally be worn in action. It is recorded that at Trafalgar many marines fought in their undress checked shirts and blue trousers.

The original British marines of the Duke of York and Albany's Maritime Regiment of Foot (1664–1689) wore yellow (probably yellow-brown) coats with red breeches and black felt hats. Other short lived marine regiments during the period 1685 to 1699 wore dark blue, crimson or red coats. Queen Anne's six Marine Regiments wore red coats with different coloured facings according to the preference of their individual colonels. The dress of the ten Regiments of Marines raised for service between 1739 and 1748 is well documented in the coloured illustrations of the official 1742 Clothing Book. All wore red coats and breeches with mitre style caps. Facings, buttons and lace varied according to the regiment.

From the establishment of a permanent corps of Marine Regiments in 1755 to 1802, red coats with white facings were worn. The normal headdress was a tricorn (later bicorne) hat and the overall appearance closely resembled that of the Army's Regiments of Foot. Grenadier companies were issued with fur hats, for land service only, during the American War of Independence.

Private of Marines, 1815.
Beret badge and green beret of the Royal Marines Commandos.

In 1802 the granting of the title "Royal Marines" meant a change to dark blue facings and a distinctive round hat made of lacquered felt. This is the headdress usually associated with the marines of Nelson's navy. White breeches and gaiters were worn for parade during the Napoleonic Wars but blue or white trousers were normal shipboard wear. Short white jackets and bag-like undress caps were part of the sea-kit for ordinary duties, replacing the earlier casual or slop clothing that had often led to confusion between sailors and marines. The newly created Royal Marine Artillery wore the dark blue coat faced in red of the Royal Artillery with only buttons and badges as a distinction.

The relatively peaceful period that followed the Napoleonic Wars saw the uniforms of the Royal Marines again closely follow Army styles. "Bell Top" Shakos and tight tail coats were adopted, regardless of their suitability for seagoing conditions. (This style of uniform can be seen in pictures of the Fort Cumberland Guard reenactment society.) The Royal Marine Light Infantry continued to wear red coats with dark blue collars and cuffs.

The Royal Marines wore dark blue serge jackets in the Anglo-Egyptian Campaign of 1882 with embroidered badges on their collars - bugle horns for the RMLI and grenades for the RMA. During the subsequent Sudan Campaign a light grey field uniform was adopted. During the siege of the Peking Legations in 1900 the RMLI wore their usual hot weather ship-board working dress of blue field service cap, blue tunic and white trousers. Khaki or all white tropical uniforms were worn subsequent to the relief of the Legations.

In 1905, a white cloth helmet with bronze fittings was adopted to be worn with the scarlet and blue full dress of the RMLI and the dark blue and red of the RMA. This headdress was replaced in 1912 by the white Wolseley pattern pith helmet, which remains the most distinctive feature of modern Royal Marine full dress. The Royal Marine Brigade sent to Ostend in August 1914 wore dark blue undress uniforms but khaki service dress or khaki drill was worn for subsequent active service on land during World War I.

During the Inter-War years the newly merged Royal Marines wore a full dress that combined features of both the RMLI and RMA uniforms worn until 1914. This comprised a Wolseley helmet, dark blue tunic and trousers with scarlet collars and trouser welts. Shoulder cords and slashed cuffs were in yellow. This dress is still worn by the Royal Marines Band Service.

Members of the Royal Marines Band Service in 2010, showing their uniforms.

During World War II, the Royal Marines wore khaki or blue battledress but retained their dark blue undress uniforms with red-banded peaked caps for certain off duty or ceremonial occasions. The well known green beret was introduced for the Royal Marine Commandos in 1942.

Current uniforms[edit]

The modern Royal Marines retain a number of distinctive uniform items. These include the green beret, the commando flash, the green "Lovat" service dress, the dark blue parade dress worn with the white pith helmet or red & white peaked cap, the scarlet and blue mess dress for officers and non-commissioned officers and the white hot-weather dress of the Band Service.

Shore bases[edit]

When first permanently established (1755), the Marines were formed into three Divisions based in the three principal Royal Navy Dockyards: Chatham, Plymouth and Portsmouth. The Dockyards were the normal points of departure for crews joining naval vessels, and it made sense for the Marines to be based there for ease of embarkation; it also meant that, in peacetime, they were on hand to provide a guard for the Dockyard (in wartime, when most Marines were otherwise engaged, this duty was taken over by local Militia).

18th century[edit]

The Royal Marines was the first complete British corps to be provided with its own barracks - one for each Division:[20]

  • Portsmouth's Marine Barracks was the earliest (1765): a former Victualling property was used (the King's Cooperage and Brewery); in the 1820s it was renamed Clarence Barracks following a visit by the Duke of Clarence. The premises did not prove all together satisfactory,[21] and in 1847 the Portsmouth Division was relocated to Forton Barracks in nearby Gosport.
  • Chatham's Royal Marine Barracks was opened in 1780 and remained in use until 1950 (when Chatham ceased to operate as a Naval base). The barracks were situated immediately to the south of the Dockyard, just above the Ordnance wharf. They were subsequently demolished, as was the adjacent Melville Barracks, which had functioned as a barracks extension since the early 20th century, but originally served as the Royal Marine Infirmary.
  • Plymouth Division's barracks were established in Stonehouse in 1779-83 and remain in use today as the headquarters of 3 Commando Brigade. As such, they are considered to be "the oldest and most important barracks in England not forming part of a fortification, a very rare example of C18 planning, and a complete complex of great historic value".[22]

19th century[edit]

In 1805 a fourth Division was established, based at Woolwich (site of another Royal Dockyard). A Royal Marine Barracks and Infirmary were built there (in Frances Street) in the 1840s-50s; both were progressive designs for their time. After the closure of the Dockyard the Division was disbanded (1869). The buildings were handed over to the Army; they were largely demolished in the 1970s.

In 1861 the Royal Marine Depot was established at Deal, Kent, alongside the important naval anchorage known as the Downs. It was initially served by Marines from the Chatham, Portsmouth and Woolwich Divisions. The Depot remained in service until 1991; the Royal Marines School of Music (located there since 1930) remained on site until 1996.

The establishment of the Royal Marine Artillery as a separate unit in 1859 led to new barracks being built to accommodate them at Eastney, Portsmouth. The barracks were opened in 1867 (prior to this they had been accommodated in the nearby Fort Cumberland, which continued to be used for gunnery training into the 20th century). Following the amalgamation of the RM Artillery and Light Infantry in 1927, Forton Barracks was closed and Eastney became the Corps' main base in Portsmouth.[23] It remained so until 1995, when it was sold and converted to public housing. The Royal Marines Museum, established there in 1958, is accommodated in the former officers' mess.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Thompson, Julian, The Royal Marines, From Sea Soldiers to a Special Force, Pan Books, 2001 pg3
  2. ^ Edye 1893, pp. 521–522.
  3. ^ Edye 1893, pp. 577-578.
  4. ^ Warren Christopher (2013). "Smallpox at Sydney Cove - Who, When, Why". Journal of Australian Studies. doi:10.1080/14443058.2013.849750. 
  5. ^ Mear C. "The origin of the smallpox in Sydney in 1789". Journal of Royal Australian Historical Society 94 (1): 1–22. 
  6. ^ Bennett, MJ, "Smallpox and Cowpox under the Southern Cross: The Smallpox Epidemic of 1789 ...", Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 83(1), Spring 2009, pg 48.
  7. ^ http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/ockhamsrazor/smallpox-outbreak-of-sydney27s-past/5375394#transcript
  8. ^ Nicolas, Paul Harris, Historical record of the Royal Marine forces, vol. ii, Thomas & William Boone, London 1845. Available at Internet archives
  9. ^ Tucker, Jedediah Stephens (1844). Admiral the Right Hon The Earl of St Vincent GCB &C. Memoirs 2. Richard Bentley, New Burlington Street. p. 137. OCLC 6083815. 
  10. ^ Brooks, Richard & Little, Matthew, Tracing Your Royal Marine Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians - Published in Association with the Royal Marines Museum, Pen & Sword, Barnsley 2008 ISBN 978-1844158690 pg86
  11. ^ Heidler, David Stephen & Jeanne T (2004): 'Encyclopedia of the War Of 1812'. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1591143624 pp24,56
  12. ^ Gleig, George Robert, The campaigns of the British army at Washington and New Orleans, in the years 1814-1815, John Murray, London 1827 pp95, 131
  13. ^ NICOLAS, p232
  14. ^ The London Gazette: no. 16991. pp. 440–450. 9 March 1815.
  15. ^ The London Gazette: no. 32846. p. 4988. 20 July 1923. Retrieved 2007-12-01.
  16. ^ The London Gazette: no. 32871. p. 6961. 16 October 1923. Retrieved 2007-12-01.
  17. ^ Mountbatten, Lord Louis(1943): Combined Operations: The Official Story Of The Commandos' p107
  18. ^ Britain's Small Wars, Northern Ireland Roll of Honour, Retrieved 29 January 2007
  19. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 58774. pp. 11163–11164. 24 July 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-29.
  20. ^ Douet, James, British Barracks 1600-1914, English Heritage, London 1998.
  21. ^ Lavery, Brian, Nelson's Navy: the ships men and organisation 1793-1815, Conway, London, 1989.
  22. ^ Pevsner N: 'The Buildings of England: Devon'. London: 1989
  23. ^ Historical record, RM museum


  • A Brief Chronology of Marines History 1664-2003, Royal Marines Museum [1]
  • Edye, Lourenço (1893). The Historical Records of the Royal Marines v. 1. London: Harrison & Sons. 
  • H. R. Knight Historical Records of the Buffs, East Kent Regiment, 3rd Foot, Formerly Designated the Holland Regiment 1905.
  • The Whitefoord Papers; Being the Correspondence and Other Manuscripts of Colonel Charles Whitefoord and Caleb Whitefoord, from 1739 to 1810, by Charles Whitefoord, Clarendon press, 1898. Charles Whitefoord served in Wynyard's (4th Marines), Gooch's, and the 5th Marines in the 1740s.
  • Historical record of the Royal marine forces, by Paul Harris Nicolas, Thomas and Boone, London, 1845.
  • Per Mare, Per Terram: Reminiscences of Thirty-two Years' Military, Naval, and Constabulary Service by William Henry Poyntz, Economic Print. & Publ. Co. (1892).
  • Britain's sea soldiers : a history of the Royal Marines and their predecessors and of their services in action, ashore and afloat, and upon sundry other occasions of moment, by Cyril Field, Liverpool: The Lyceum Press, 1924, (2 vol.) Covers British Marines until around 1900.
  • Britain's Sea Soldiers: A Record of the Royal Marines during the War 1914-1919, by General Sir H.E. Blumberg, Devonport, 1927.
  • By Sea and Land by Robin Neillands, 1987, Cassell Military Paperbacks, ISBN 0-304-35683-2.

External links[edit]