Matthew White, OC 1 Raiding Squadron Royal Marines
Updated: Apr 11, 2022
Matthew White 2016
In 1962, while still a blue beret Young Officer, and while “on hold” to do my Commando Course after an Appendix Operation, I had qualified as a Landing Craft Officer. In 1965/66 I had been the last OCRM (Officer Commanding Royal Marines) on a LST (HMS Striker) for a full commission in the Gulf with the Seaborne Tank Force.
By 1967, therefore, I was a qualified and experienced young Landing Craft Officer, not then serving in the branch.
In the early summer of 1967 I was serving as Assistant Adjutant in 41 Commando at Bickleigh in Devon, when I received a summons from Bickleigh to attend the DCGRM (Department of the Commandant General Royal Marines) at Admiralty House, to discover that I had been selected to form and command a brand new Royal Marine Unit within 3 Commando Brigade in Singapore.
It was to be No.1 Raiding Squadron, which was, initially, to be under the direct command of Brigade Headquarters, but very quickly became a unit, with the two Special Boat Sections, forming the Brigade Special Boat Company. This was to be the first Royal Marine shore based operational Landing Craft Unit in the Royal Marines, since the disbandment of the Rhine Squadron.
It was also to be the “little acorn” from which, 50 years later, the “oak tree’ of 1 Assault Group now stands proud as a major Royal Marines Unit, in its own right. It is a particularly personal pleasure that one of their principal buildings at their base in Plymouth is named after HMS Striker!
I would form and train the new unit at the Amphibious Training Unit at Poole. I arrived at Poole for pre-embarkation training and met up with my little team of Sergeant, two Corporals, about a dozen (it varied as we continued through the commission) Landing Craft Marines and a Vehicle Mechanic.
Our purpose was to provide a means of clandestinely transporting small groups of men from ship to shore. The craft, that we were given to do this, were inflatable Geminis with 40hp outboard motors. Whilst we were to be proficient at working with surface ships, our main focus was to become expert at operating out of submarines. Seamanship, Night Navigation and Signal Communication had to be honed and we had to learn the idiosyncrasies of both Gemini and 40hp Johnson engines! Both of these exaggerated their “little ways” in the tropical conditions of Singapore.
Not surprisingly much of our training was spent on the water in Poole Harbour and off Portland with the Submarine Service. This latter collaboration required us to scramble out of the torpedo loading hatches of “A” and “O” class submarines onto their casings, in the middle of the night, inflate our Gemini, load and wait for the boat to dive beneath us. The captain would only allow us a few minutes on the surface, so we had to get our methodology down to fine art! The submarine then had to come and find us again, at an agreed rendez-vous off the coast. A quick “surface” allowed us to scramble back on again!
The team soon came together, with constant exercising and practise, and we set off for Singapore, to fulfil our new role in the Brigade, in the September.
Our home in Singapore was in the Naval Base alongside the two Special Boat Sections. It was a bit ragged and cramped, but we got ourselves, and our equipment, together, and integrated well with lads in the SBS. It helped that all three OCs were batch-mates and, thus, old friends!
Almost immediately, we became familiar with the waters around Singapore and off the islands to the East of Malaya, as we began to give valuable boating help to SBS trials and exercises. This work also gave us the opportunity to familiarise ourselves with our equipment in tropical conditions. The bane of our lives was the poor lasting quality of the adhesive that held the Gemini panels together. Repairs took up rather too much of our time.
When submarines arrived out from the UK, which happened on a regular basis, we took the opportunity to practise with them as they did their own exercises and evolutions. This usually took the form of packing our craft within them in Singapore and going up to Pulau Tioman (then, a pretty much deserted island), doing two or three nights of landings, leaving us on the beach through the day (that was rough!) and then bringing us back to Singapore. Our procedures were new to each submarine, so there was much mutual learning (and camaraderie!)
We were mostly just ourselves, the Raiding Squadron, on these exercises, but occasionally we prised a small party out of a Commando to come with us, so that there were a few Commando personnel familiar with our ways.
No 1 Raiding Squadron on exercise on and off East coast of Malaya
We took part in Brigade exercises providing river transport on jungle exercises, and when exercises were conducted in Australia and around Brunei, we found ourselves racing up and down coasts and coastal waterways.
In the summer of 1968, we were given the task of “surveying” the Pahang river, in Malaya, from as far up as we could get our craft (this time we laid our hands on Rigid Raiders – the Gemini would not have survived!) up the river from the road. We spent a fascinating week making our way down river through the Malayan jungle. We stopped each night in a village, where we were welcomed, but from a distance, by curious inhabitants. What became of our “survey” I have no idea.
On the Pahang River
From time to time we embarked our kit and flew up to Hong Kong, there to exercise with surface ships, primarily Minesweepers, and small groups of Gurkha troops. It was not really their “thing” but they dutifully got on with what they had to do, if not a little bemused by the experience. On one visit we had to batten down for a day as a typhoon came through!
Not long after we arrived in Singapore, we and the two SBSs moved to a purpose built “hangar” and hard, (Japanese Hard) where we had better space to keep and repair our equipment, and easier launching facilities.
I think we, in the Raiding Squadron, much enjoyed our exclusive little role in the Brigade. We had a great deal of fun and plenty of “interesting” moments. We also got pretty good at what we did. My own tour was uniquely enriched by my getting married at the Naval Base Church at the end of March 1968, surrounded by many good friends and the loyal Raiding Squadron lads! My wife and I still cherish that day.
I returned to the UK, to join 45 Commando, in March 1970, having experienced quite the best “commission” of my service thus far. I had been very lucky to “land” this rather special “number”.
The work continues today, albeit on a scale that we could never have been envisaged 50 years ago.
(With kind permission Matthew White. From an article written for the Globe and Laurel October 2016)
On return to the UK 1st Raiding Squadron was established at Royal William Yard next to Stonehouse Barracks the home of 3 CDO Bde, from here they deployed to the Falklands in 1982.
539 ASRM was formed at Royal William Yard on 2 April 1984 and commissioned as operational on 24 July 1984, becoming 3 Commando Brigades surface manoeuvre asset, 1RSRM became Raiding Troop within 539 ASRM.
On 5 November 2019 the unit was renamed 539 Raiding Squadron, apart of 47 Commando (Raiding Group) Royal Marines, reviving the name of the original 47 (Royal Marine) Commando that served between 1943 and 1946.
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