Royal Marines: Photo Copyright Rhys O'Leary/Crown Copyright

Do Military Commandos Really 'Go Commando?'

Royal Marines: Photo Copyright Rhys O'Leary/Crown Copyright

Going commando is said to have first been mentioned in the 1970s as a slang term on American college campuses around the same time as the Vietnam war.

During the Vietnam War, American special forces and soldiers spent extended periods of time in the hot, wet, jungle.

Wearing tight briefs would sometimes lead to 'crotch rot' - the term used by soldiers to describe a fungal infection which affects the skin of your genitals, inner thighs and buttocks.

Medical advice given to troops suffering from the condition was to talc the affected area, increase ventilation and to reduce moisture.

So, the phrase 'going commando' likely evolved when military personnel ditched their undies to prevent the condition or to stop chafing.

Jungle Training Picture: Liam Swan Photography
Jungle Operations (Picture: Liam Swan Photography)

Combat troops operating for weeks or months in the jungle, had no way of cleaning their skivvies, or enough space in their backpacks to carry changes of underwear, so they would often ditch their undies.

The phrase was then made popular after it featured during an episode of the popular sitcom Friends in 1996.

To this day the British Military operating in the jungles of Brunei or Belize ditch their pants. However, due to advances in clothing they now usually wear Lycra undergarments coated in an anti-microbial agent which protects against infections.

Lycra shorts are also moisture-wicking and can help prevent build up of sweat.

lycra shorts Picture: MoD/Crown Copyright
Lycra shorts issued to troops: Picture MoD/Crown Copyright

We wanted to get to the bottom of this, so we spoke to a serving Royal Marine to find out what being a commando and the term ‘going commando’ meant to him.

Colour Sergeant (CSgt) Lee West told us:

“Growing up, the word 'Commando' excited and intrigued me; it brought visions of adventure, danger and daring missions. Whether it was in a comic, a novel or on TV, it would always catch my attention and allow my mind to escape.

“After completing Commando training and becoming a Royal Marine, I had a good understanding of the meaning of the word, but my attention turned to where the term actually came from.

“My curiosity threw up many light-hearted and humorous explanations which had an element of crudeness also.

“One was that troops would sacrifice their underwear when in hot and humid conditions to prevent tight areas where bacteria could cultivate; airing your balls could prevent them dropping off

“Most of the myth surrounding the term 'going commando' originates from jungle warfare and another fanciful tale, tells of small raiding teams leaving behind soiled pants after a successful raid as a taunt to their enemy, ‘Not only did we have your pants down, but we even had time remove ours as a gift'.

“Humorous as these tales are, I think my favourite is probably the least pleasant one.

“It is said by some that the small Commando teams in the jungles would often contract an illness in their stomach; due to the expeditionary nature of their patrols they would have little chance to rest up and/or receive medical attention. Gut bug and all its delightful symptoms would have to be endured.

“Legend has it that the men would ditch their underwear and cut the seam of their fatigues running down their backside.

“Any one of these yarns would be fitting and believable but I believe the actual reason is a little less elaborate and rather simply stolen from foreign shores.

"During the Boer War the Dutch Afrikaans were able to utilise small teams of highly motivated troops from a rural background to project force upon the British Army to a much higher degree than their numbers would suggest.

"The 'Kommandos' had a superior level of marksmanship, field craft and ability to live off the land. They were highly successful against the stagnant, highly visible concentrations of British Troops.

“I believe memories and stories of these encounters lived on back home in Blighty and eventually led to the British using the term for their own band of elite small team units.

"Whatever the true version of the origins of the term Commando, it is a word engrained in modern popular culture; whether that’s for going out with your wang out or in reference to a specialised unit; depends on the individual. Some of us can say it relates to us in both ways.

“For those of you that are wondering whether we 'go commando' on operations, I would have to say it is personal preference.

“I have also seen the odd pink thong from a girl back home being paraded in my time.

“Plus, over the past decade or so the decision has been taken from us because of the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) threat and the need to wear extra 'nappy' protection.

combat nappy picture MoD Crown Copyright
Blast protection 'Combat Nappy' issued to troops: Picture MoD/Crown Copyright

“The Royal Marines seem to be heading back towards more expeditionary operations, isolated far from bases and lightly equipped ... so who knows, a group of unaware rebels could soon see a set of Marks and Spencer's finest briefs flying from the rafters once more”.

So there you have it … 'Going Commando' has been around for a very long time and will most likely continue to do so.

CSgt Lee West is from Swansea, currently posted to the Commando Training Centre Royal Marines in Devon, and has served for 17 years, serving multiple operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Brunei.

Lee has previously authored two books, his first entitled Trampface: Homeless…By Choice is a true story about living on the streets of Swansea. His second book entitled Trampface Calais: Undercover in the Jungle, another true story about living in the notorious Calais 'Jungle' migrant camp.

Both of these experiences were conducted without support, and Lee had to rely on hand-outs and food from strangers to survive.

So far he has raised over £40,000 for charity in the process.

Do you 'Go Commando?' If you think you know the real reason, then please comment and let us know.

Cover Picture: Rhys O'Leary/Crown Copyright

Join Our Newsletter


Amazing view from RAF Voyager supporting Typhoons from XI Squadron

Gurkha recruits face chemical attack test in most arduous training to date

Veterans wear long-awaited Nuclear Test Medals in public for first time