Marines from 45 Commando on an inflatable raiding craft
Royal Marines

Know Your Navy – The Royal Marines

An overview of the Royal Marines and the equipment they use.

Marines from 45 Commando on an inflatable raiding craft

The Royal Marines are a vital part of the UK’s Armed Forces, and one of the Royal Navy’s five fighting arms.

Indeed, for anyone tempted to think of them as an entirely separate arm of the military, it is worth pointing out what some people joke that MARINE stands for: My A** Rides In Navy Equipment.

In actual fact, all three of the main services – the Army, Navy and RAF – are involved in supporting the Royal Marines, something that will be discussed further below.

Royal Marines Organisation - Commandos

Officially named the Corps of Royal Marines (RM), these amphibious light-infantry commandos are a complex organisation that actually performs a variety of different roles in support of its larger objective: that of being an elite rapid-response force deployable anywhere in the world.

The term ‘commando’ dates back to the Second World War when Winston Churchill called for the establishment of elite infantry units similar in size and structure to Army battalions but primarily for the job of coastal raiding.

The term was derived from the formidable South African guerrilla fighters the British had faced during the Boer War of 1899 – 1902.

When the British adopted the term, it referred (and still refers) to the troops who ended up within these new coastal-raiding units, as well as to the units themselves.

At first, commandos were also part of the Army as well as the Royal Marines, though after the Second World War, Army commando units were disbanded while the Royal Marines remained a commando-based force. This is why they are referred to today as the Royal Marines Commandos.

Today’s Royal Marines Commandos are structured as follows:

There is 30 Commando (also named the Information Exploitation Group), which has the primary role of supporting 3 Commando Brigade Headquarters, providing the signals and infrastructure for the Brigade HQ.

Royal Marines aboard an LCU (Landing Craft Utility – see below) taking part in a remembrance service (picture: MOD)
Royal Marines aboard an LCU (Landing Craft Utility – see below) taking part in a remembrance service (picture: MOD)

40 and 45 Commandos are the closest to conventional Army battalions, providing Company Groups to the Lead Commando Group (see just below) and, in future, strike Company Groups for the Littoral Response Group and then Littoral Strike Group – forces with varying vessels, helicopters and other vehicles custom-assembled for a particular mission and geographical area.

42 Commando provides specialist marine assault and interdiction and well as SALT (Support, Augment, Liaise and Train) elements for 3 Commando Brigade, the main field formation of the Royal Marines.

43 Commando, meanwhile, is a fleet protection group specialising in the protection of the UK’s nuclear arsenal and 47 Commando is a raiding group that supports the Lead Commando Group, which is the main force put together for a particular operation (and therefore varies in size and composition, depending on the nature of that operation.)

These elements are further supported by the Commando Logistic Regiment which provides particular equipment as well as mobility, medical and logistic services; Commando Helicopter Force, which is part of the Fleet Air Arm and provides aviation transport and support to the Royal Marines;  the Royal Marines Reserves, which provides additional personnel; and the Commando Training Centre Royal Marines (CTCRM), which ensures reservists and regulars are trained up for the various roles they perform.

This diversity and versatility means the Royal Marines have a wide variety of different types of vehicles and kit, not all of which can be covered in a single article.

What follows then is a rundown of the main equipment used by the Corps.

Royal Marines Weapons – Small Arms And Support

The main weapon for an individual Royal Marine is the L85A2, a variant of the SA80 assault rifle. It can fire individual rounds, bursts of several rounds or on fully automatic, something that the MOD says makes it quick and accurate at short range, as well as at long-range. (There is also a longer-barrelled version of the SA80 with a bipod called the L86 which functions as a Light Support Weapon, or LSW.)

A Royal Marine with an L85 assault rifle during Exercise Talisman Sabre in Australia in 2021 (picture: MOD)
A Royal Marine with an L85 assault rifle during Exercise Talisman Sabre in Australia in 2021 (picture: MOD)

For short range, Royal Marines also carry the 9mm L131A1 pistol (a version of the Glock 17) and a fragmentation grenade (the L109A1) and, for very close encounters, the L3A1 socket bayonet.

For the use of grenades at longer ranges, there is also the UGL (Under-slung Grenade Launcher) attached to the L85A2, and the Heckler & Koch Grenade Machine Gun, essentially a rapid-fire, belt-fed version the UGL that is often vehicle mounted.

Additional infantry support weapons include the Minimi light machine gun (or the L110A2), the L7A2 General Purpose Machine Gun (or GPMG) and the L111A1 heavy machine gun, a weapon usually mounted on vehicles (more below.)

The Marines also use sniper rifles (the L96, L115A3 and L129A1), mortars (60 and 81mm mortars) and anti-tank weapons (the MBT LAW, or NLAW, and the Javelin.)

In recent years, the Royal Marines have also been making use of the Colt Canada C8 in place of the SA80 as a primary weapon. The C8SFW, the version of the Colt Canada adopted by the UK Armed Forces, was rebranded as L119A1, with an upgraded to the A2 version coming later.

42 Cdo on RFA Mounts Bay using an L119, variant of the Colt Canada C8 CQB
Members of 42 Commando on RFA Mounts Bay using the L119, variant of the Colt Canada C8 CQB (picture: MOD)

Still heavier weapons are provided by the Army, or 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery to be precise. A Commando-trained element of the Royal Artillery, 29 Commando Regiment support the Royal Marines with the L118 Light Gun, which is a 105mm howitzer (a howitzer being essentially an artillery gun with a more steeply inclined barrel that is more suited to indirect fire.) It can be towed into position by a Pinzgauer truck or LV 206 (see the vehicles section below for more on these) or carried by helicopter.

A comparison of the main firearms used by or in support of the Royal Marines:

Weapon

Calibre

Magazine/load capacity

Max effective range

L85A2

5.56mm

30

400 metres

L131A1 pistol

9mm

17

50 metres

UGL

40mm grenade

1

350 metres

Grenade Machine Gun

40mm grendade

32-round belt

2,000 metres (for area targets)

Minimi

5.56mm

100-round belt

800 metres

Colt Canada C8

5.56mm

30

400 metres

L7A2 GPMG

7.62mm

100-round belt

800 metres (light role) 1,800 for sustained fire

L111A1 Heavy Machine Gun

12.7mm

50-round belt

2,000 metres

L96 sniper rifle

7.62mm

10

1,100 metres

L115A3 sniper rifle

8.58mm

5

1,100 metres

L129A1 marksman rifle

7.62mm

20

800 metres

Mortar (60mm)

60mm

1

3,800 metres

Mortar (81mm)

81mm

1

5,650 metres*

NLAW

150mm anti-tank missile

1

600 metres

Javelin

127mm HEAT

1

2,500 metres

L118 Light Gun

105mm shell

1

17,200 metres*

*Range for HE, or High Explosive, rounds.

8 Battery of 29 Commando, Royal Artillery live firing in Wales with an L118 Light Gun (picture: MOD)
8 Battery of 29 Commando, Royal Artillery, live firing in Wales with an L118 Light Gun (picture: MOD)

Royal Marines Land Vehicles – Conventional And Amphibious

As a kind of amphibious light infantry, the Royal Marines sometimes require an amphibious vehicle to give them armoured protection during combat.

This role is performed by the Viking, which can carry Marines from sea to shore or across lakes and rivers, though it is not limited to this role: it can also serve as a mobile command platform, or as a fire support or reconnaissance vehicle.

The Viking is also versatile in other ways. It can operate in jungles, desert or in Arctic conditions due to its ability to withstand temperatures from minus 46 to plus 50 degrees Celsius. It can also be flexibly transported, by ship or air, within either a Hercules C130 or (in two parts) underneath the heavy-lift Chinook helicopter (provided, along with the medium-lift Puma HC2, by the RAF.)

The Marines also use the BV206 to provide additional tracked transport. The Viking is similar to the BV 206, but is a later model that is larger and fully amphibious.

Forces News on exercise with Viking Squadron, the Royal Marines Armoured Support Group

Armoured support also comes in the form of the Jackal, a four-wheeled vehicle also known as the MWMIK, or M-WMIK (which stands for Mobility Weapon-Mounted Installation Kit.) Designed for quick mobility and reconnaissance, the Jackal also has armour designed to protect occupants from mines and roadside explosions.

In addition to the Jackal, there is the Coyote, which is similar but has six wheels instead of four. The two extra wheels enable it to haul more supplies and equipment and a small number of these vehicles are in use by 29 and 30 Commandos.

The Royal Marines also have a number of what might be thought of as workhorse vehicles. The first of these is a waterproofed variant of the Wolf Land Rover, a military version of the Land Rover Defender. These can drive with the entire engine submerged under water and come in two main versions: the Wolf 90, or Truck Utility Light (TUL), and the Wolf 110, or Truck Utility Medium (TUM.)

There is also the Pinzgauer High-Mobility All-Terrain Vehicle, which can be either four or six-wheeled and is often used to tow artillery such as the L118 Light Gun used by 29 Commando Regiment (see above.) It may also carry mortars or other equipment.

The Hippo BRV (Beach Recovery Vehicle) is used for hauling boats and other vehicles up or down a beach, as needed. A hefty vehicle weighing 50 tonnes, the Hippo is impressive for being able to haul other vehicles up to its own weight or push a landing craft off the beach that weights up to 240 tonnes, something else facilitated by the fact that it can work in almost three metres of water.

Royal Marines Armoured Support Group Viking on exercise in Norway
A Royal Marines Armoured Support Group Viking on exercise in Norway (picture: MOD)

Finally, there is what is commonly known as the MAN SV (Support Vehicle), which is really a group of support vehicles otherwise known as LSVs (Logistic Support Vehicles.) These are in fact manufactured by Bus UK as well as MAN Truck and one model commonly used by the Commando Logistic Regiment in support of the Royal Marines is the MAN HX60, profiled in the table just below.

Logistic Support Vehicles can be modified to be armoured, armed (with a 7.62mm machine gun) and to have communications and electronic countermeasure (ECM) equipment.

A comparison of the main vehicles used by or in support of the Royal Marines:

Vehicle name

Length

Weight (minus cargo, passengers)

Max Speed (on roads)

Max Range

Viking

7.6 metres

8.5 tonnes (both cars)

40 mph

186 miles**

BV 206

6.9 metres

4.3 tonnes (both cars)

40 mph

186 miles**

Jackal 2

5.8 metres

5.5 tonnes

75 mph

500 miles

Coyote

7 metres

6.6 tonnes

75 mph

435 miles

Wolf Land Rover (TUM)

4.6 metres

1.6 tonnes

99 mph

355 miles

Pinzgauer (4x4)

4.2 metres

2.1 tonnes

68 mph

273 miles

Hippo BRV

7.3 metres

50 tonnes

12 mph

249 miles

MAN HX60

7.6 metres

6 Tonnes

55 mph

500 miles

**According to the Royal Marines, range can vary considerably based on how armoured the vehicle is (in the case of the Viking) or how much it is carrying.

Commando Logistics Regt Jackal 2s on exercise in Wales
Commando Logistics Regiment Jackal 2s on exercise in Wales (picture: MOD)

Royal Marines Vessels – Large And Small

Being an amphibious force, the Royal Marines do of course require ship-to-shore transportation, and this comes in a number of forms.

The one most likely to invite comparisons to the Higgins boats used during D-Day is the LCU (Landing Craft Utility) Mk 10, which can carry a tank or several other vehicles, or over 100 Royal Marines. It can also be loaded from both ends, speeding up loading times when the LCU Mk10 is in dock or aboard a ship.

Although they themselves are transported on larger ships, LCU Mk10s are also capable of operating independently for 14 days, or up to 600 nautical miles.

There is also a smaller landing craft known as the LCVP Mk 5, which can carry 35 Royal Marines or a vehicle like the Viking to shore.

Wildcat above an LCU Mk 10 and Inflatable Raiding Craft during Ex First Wave
A Wildcat helicopter above an LCU Mk 10 and Inflatable Raiding Craft during Exercise First Wave (picture: MOD)

As well as boats, the Royal Marines also have a hovercraft serving in this role – the LCAC(L), or Landing Craft Air Cushion (Light.) The LCAC(L) can carry fewer troops (18, including two crew), but, being a hovercraft, it is able to take them further, across the water as well as onto land.

The Royal Marines also have raiding craft. One of these is the ORC, or Off-shore Raiding Craft, which can carry 12 Royal Marines ashore rapidly, protecting them with a mounted GPMG, or General-Purpose Machine Gun.

Another is the Inflatable Raiding Craft, which can carry five Royal Marines (six with a driver) at a speed of 20 knots for up to two hours, whereas the third is the Rigid Raider, capable of carrying eight Royal Marines (and three crew) at a top speed of 30 knots and to a maximum range of 120 nautical miles.

A comparison of the main vessels used by the Royal Marines:

Vessel name

Length

Speed

Max Range (in nautical miles)

LCU Mk 10

29 metres

10 knots

600

LCVP Mk 5

15.5 metres

25 knots

210

LCAC(L)

12.7 metres

45 (on water); 30 (on land)

450

Off-shore Raiding Craft (ORC)

9.1 metres

39 knots

200

Inflatable Raiding Craft (IRC)

5 metres

20 knots

40***

Rigid Raider

5 metres

30 knots

120

***This is an estimate from the IRC travelling at 20 knots for up to two hours, but according to the Royal Marines, the range can vary depending on precisely which IRC is used and which kind of fuel bag is attached to it.

Royal Marines using an Inflatable Raiding Craft during Exercise First Wave (picture: MOD)
Royal Marines using an Inflatable Raiding Craft during Exercise First Wave (picture: MOD)

For more on the Royal Navy, look at the first and second parts of the Know Your Navy series, and click here for more on the Royal Marines, and here for an early history of the Royal Marines.

Cover image: Royal Marines from 45 Commando on an Inflatable Raiding Craft (picture: MOD)