Forerunner of the SBS, the Special Air Service, was formed in World War Two during the North African conflict. And from that they formed as eight man sections of divers and canoeists to recce enemy fortifications from land or sea, raid enemy ports or conduct sabotage operations against merchant shipping. Originally it was named Special Boat Section.
After the war the SBS was not disbanded but absorbed into the Royal Marines in 1946. They became part of the School of Combined operations under the command of Blondie Hasler. Another two squadrons were formed in British troops in West Germany in 1951. Two volunteer squadrons expanded them later. Their first missions were in Palestine (ordnance removal) and in Haifa (limpet mine removal from ships).
SBS and Royal Marines were in action in the Korean War, alongside the North Korean coast. They gathered intelligence and destroyed railways and installations. SBS operated first from submarines and then from islands off Wonsan, behind enemy lines. They used 2-man canoes and inflatable boats with a motor.
In 1952 SBS teams were in combat readiness in Egypt in case Gamal Abdal Nassers coup turned more violent than it did. They were also alerted during the Suez Crisis and during a coup against Libyan king Idris but did not see any action. Similar situations followed.
SBS teams did reconnaissance in Indonesian Confrontation in 1961. They primarily gathered intelligence and trained other special forces during the Vietnam War. When Iraq threatened with the invasion of Kuwait for the first time in 1961, the SBS placed a detachment at Bahrain.
The SBS was later stationed in Gibraltar where they gathered intelligence in case Francos Spain decided to take over. They found themselves involved with anti-drug activities in the Caribbean. In 1972 the SAS and SBS came into the spotlight for a moment during their involvement with a bomb threat that proved to a hoax onboard the Cunard Liner RMS Queen Elizabeth II, in the middle of the Atlantic.
The SBS adopted a new form of its name in 1977: Special Boat Squadron. In 1979, 5 SBS become part of the Comacchio Company that protects North Sea oilrigs. In 1987 it formed Special Forces Group alongside Special Air Service and the Fourteenth Intelligence Company (4 Int).
During the Falklands War 2 SBS took part of liberating South Georgia and 6 SBS reconnoitered in East Falkland.
During the Gulf War SBS made raids in the Kuwaiti coast to draw Iraqi troops away from the land attack. Liberation of the British Embassy in Kuwait was one of their most high-profile operations. Recently the SBS have been involved in operations in East Timor and Sierra Leone.
SBS is not an independent unit but part of the Royal Marines. They use the same uniform and live in the same barracks. To be eligible for SBS selection, a trooper must have served for two years in the Marines. They serve for three years before they return to the Marines. SBS HQ is in Poole, Dorset.
Their selection includes survival test in the wilds of Scotland and grueling underwater exercises. In the diving phase they swim underwater for miles in the dark and mud. It included tests of map reading skills, underwater demolitions and maritime antiterrorism training.
The SBSs role is confined to seaborne and maritime operations their responsibilities end at the tide line. SBS training concentrates on demolitions, diving and parachuting. Klepper canoes are a regular issue. They can also use parachute and high-speed rope deployments from helicopters.
The SBS has three main groups. C squadron is responsible for canoe and diving operations. M squadron concentrates on counterterrorist and shipboard operations. S squadron takes care of small watercraft and minisub insertions. In addition, inside M squadron there is a Black Group, a counterterrorist team that use helicopter assaults.