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Welsh Military Special Forces Units (Welsh History Post Glyndwr)

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Unedau Lluoedd Arbennig/Special Forces Units (Welsh Military)

Special Forces are a major part of any Military Force. They are essential for the conducting of Anti-Terror, Counter Insurgency and other 'Black' operations. Wales is no stranger to any of these subjects and as such the Welsh Military fields a number of Elite units in a number of areas. Included are units that whilst not particularly Special Forces in nature are considered Elite in status.

Current Units

As at 01 August 2010 the Welsh Military ORBAT contains the following Special Forces.  These Fall under the Operational Command of Ysgrifennydd Gwladol dros Amddiffyn (the Secretary of State for Defence) who holds the ancient title of Penteulu, rather than the Staff Cyffredinol (General Staff).

  • Bataliwn 1af y Ffin Reifflwyr (Parasiwt) - 1st Bn The Border Rifles (Parachute) –
    • Based at Corless Lines, Aberhonddu – A and Support Coys deployed to Afghanistan
  • Rhif 1 Gwasanaethau Arbennig Catrawd ‘Y Llwyd’ - No 1 Special Services Regiment ‘The Greys’
    • Based at Simpson Lines, Llanfair ym Muallt (Builth Wells) – D Sqn Deployed to Afghanistan, Ranger Sqn covering Counter Terror duties
  • Rhif 2 Llyngesol Cwmni Mor-filwr - No 2 Naval Marine Company
    • Based at Pembroke Dock Naval Base
  • Mor-Filwr Ysbeilio'r Sgwadron, Llyngesol Troedfilwyr - Marine Raiding Sqn, Naval Infantry
    • Based at Pembroke Dock Naval Base. Elements deployed aboard Y Mers and Henffrdd on CT duties and in Afghanistan.
  • Rhif 2 Asgell Amddiffyn Tir - No 2 Ground Defence Wing - LFAG
    • Based at Llanilltyd Fawr Ganolfan Awyr (Llantwit Major Air Base)

Equipment used by the above units varies but in the main follows standard Army doctrine. On operation certain latitude is given in uniform and equipment but whilst on home soil normal Army/Marine uniform is worn. The Greys wearing the Grey Beret with Dragon and Dagger badge, Naval Infantry wear the Green Beret with anchor badge and the Border Rifles wearing the maroon beret associated with Parachute units worldwide. Use of Multicam and British MTP patterns has been noted recently in Afghanistan.


Rhif 1 Gwasanaethau Arbennig Catrawd ‘Y Llwyd’

No 1 Special Services Regiment (The Greys)

Simpson Lines, Builth Wells

Originally a Light Infantry Regiment, the Greys were disbanded in 1935. They became the Army’s first SF unit in 1941. Its creator, Colonel Iwan Rhys-Corwen a former CO of the Greys when it had been an infantry unit, saw how the irregular fighters of 1940 had created havoc with the Wehrmacht during the period of chaos that was the ‘occupation’. His friend David Stirling of the British Army, instrumental in creating the SAS, held many of the same ideas and beliefs. As Rhys-Corwen deployed with the Welsh Expeditionary Brigade to North Africa the pair met up again and the G (for Greys) Troop was born over numerous Gin and Tonics in the Savoy bar, Cairo.


Col Rhys-Corwen (Centre) with members of 1 SAS in 1944. Just visible is the WALES shoulder title and the SAS style cap badge with dragon backing on his Grey Beret

Initially a small raiding unit attached to Stirling’s L Detachment, G Troop numbered only 45 men. They were drawn from Welsh Army regular Regiments and Welshmen serving with the Anglo-Scottish Army. The men were an eclectic mix of characters and many in the mainstream army saw them as pirates and brigands. Many were minor criminals and more than a few had disciplinary problems of one kind or another. Equipped with Jeeps and Chevrolet 30 Cwt trucks ‘borrowed’ from the LRDG and the A-S Army the unit participated in operations against the Afrika Korps up until 1942. It expanded from the 45 man 4 patrol set up to the 150 man Special Raiding Squadron over this time. Following the lead of their British cousins they used any equipment they could beg, borrow or steal!

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Raiding Unit Bedford utility truck, Ber Sheba, Tunisia 1941

By Mid 1943 the Raiding Unit was transferred to Gorchymyn Adref (Home Command) in Caerdydd. They now numbered in the hundreds and were being tasked to assist operations in Italy as well as Africa. The majority, however, were attached to the A-S Army to train for the upcoming Invasion of Europe. Members of 24 Troop were attached to 1 SAS and fought alongside them from June 1944 til the end of the war. Capten Martyn ('Môr-leidr o'r Ardennes - The Pirate of the Ardennes') Roberts was awarded the VC and the Pendragon star during this period for actions against a Tiger I of the SS in the Ardenne forest. He single handedly destroyed the tank using a PIAT after it attacked his patrol of Jeeps and wounded and killed most of his men.

By Wars end in 1945 the Greys numbered 1500 men and were firmly established as a cohesive and highly skilled unit. After the war there was a brief period of disbandment but following a number of incidents in Welsh Colonies and the actions in Korea as part of UN forces there, the Welsh Army established No 1 Special Services Regiment in May 1955. The unit fought in many more small actions in the Colonies up to 1967 when A and C Squadrons were deployed to Vietnam to assist the Australian SASR. Although this was seen as an American led decision by many it further established the Regiments credentials in the Special Forces fraternity. Indeed members of the Regiment serve at Ft Bragg and Catterick as instructors on the US Army and British SAS training staffs to this day.

During the seventies and eighties as the world changed and terrorism grew, the need for a dedicated Anti Terrorist section was identified. After witnessing the Mogadishu Raid by GSG 9 and the now infamous Princess Gate operation by 22 SAS in 1980 Warrant Officer Chrys Parry of 1 GAC (SSR) put forward the plans for the formation of a troop whose sole role would be to combat this type of action. On November 10th 1981 the Milwyr Gweithredu Gwrth Derfysgaeth (MGGD/Counter Terror Action Troop) was formed. Not a great deal is known about this shadowy section of the Regiment other than it is a duty rotated amongst the Squadrons, one troop from each completing a 6 month tour at Llanilltyd Fawr GA as the MGGD.

The GAC remains the Primary Special Forces (SF) unit of the Welsh Army. Responsible for Special Operations in wartime and Anti-Terror operations in peacetime it consists of four Operational Sqns and a HQ Sqn based at Built Wells.

Cap Badge of the Greys

  • Ranger Sqn - Infantry Support and Heavy Weapons
  • A Sqn - Raider Sqn
  • B Sqn - Boat Unit
  • C Sqn - Air Unit - UH 72 Lakota flown by SF Pilots of the Air Force
  • P Sqn - Pool/Deployment Sqn
  • CTA Troop - Rotational - One Troop per Sqn undertakes six month rotation
As with many SF units worldwide the Greys are given a reasonable amount of latitude in equipment and uniform. Not unlike Rhys-Corwens brigands they are definitely a most unconventional set of individuals! Whilst on duty at home they wear standard Army uniforms with the Grey beret and Dragon and sword capbadge. The Welsh flag is worn on the right shoulder with the shoulder title 'Y Llywd' above. On operations the use of more unconventional gear such as US Multicam or British MTP and even older forms of the standard Welsh uniform have been noted. Equipment is also an eclectic mix of systems dependent on task, location and the individual operators preference. It is the same story with weapons. C8 carbines, M4 and M16s and even AK47/74s have been used in Afghanistan. Whilst employed on Anti-Terror duties the FN P90, MP7 and FN 5-7 systems are used with Long Range weapons such as the M40A3, M82 Barrat and the Steyr SSG being employed.
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Sgt James Ap Rhisart of the SSR on operations in the Green Zone, Helmand 2008

C Sqn, the Air Unit fly UH 72 Lakota helicopters and occasionally UH60F Blackhawks and operate from Llantwit Major AFB near the capital.

Bataliwn 1af y Ffin Reifflwyr (Parasiwt)

1st Battalion The Border Rifles (Parachute) Based at Corless Lines, Aberhonddu

OC – Lt Col Brion Ap Gwylim

The Border Rifles began life as an occupation regiment. Over the years the regiment found itself in the forefront of many operations and campaigns. In the 1920s they were deployed to Ireland and Greece and also fought in two major battles in the Welsh colonies. During the 30s the Regiment returned from an elongated tour of duty in Africa to find German influence everywhere. Having been out of the picture for so long the officers were viewed with suspicion by those in government and by a number of German officers acting as advisors. As such when, in 1939/40, Iago began to cement the Nazis as a major ally the CO of the Regiment began to speak out, in private at first, against the Germans and then Iago. He was arrested in January 1940 by a joint Gestapo and Welsh Secret Police unit and interned at Castell Coch alongside a number of other high priority officers and other outspoken dignitaries. When the civil war erupted later in the year, the Regiments acting CO, a self confessed Nazi sympathiser, was arrested by soldiers loyal to Field Marshall Thomas.

Numbers 2 and 3 companies were dispatched to free the CO from imprisonment and he led them in the fight to retake Tonyrefail and Pontypridd from the small Garrison of Wehrmacht and Waffen SS troops there. No 1 Company, having been held in their Abertawe barracks broke out and fought with other units to take back the industrial area around the city and in neighbouring Castell Nedd and Aberafan. No 4 Company fighting West with the Militia to retake Llanelli and the steel works at Troestre.

As Major Gwyn Rees of 1 Coy fought East he began to notice more Waffen SS and Fallschirmjager uniforms in evidence and it turned out that elements of the 1st Leibstandarte and 3rd Totenkopf Divisions of the SS and a detachment of the 1st Fallschirmjager Regiment were based at Margam Abbey. Battle was joined as elements of a joint Border Regiment and Militia unit engaged the recce force of SS troops. In a bloody pitched battle during which Waffen SS troops fought hard and fast actions against the Welsh many acts of bravery were seen from the Borders. Major Rees and the Assault Platoon of 1 Coy attacked the main HQ section of the SS in the Orangery at Margam. Rees and Sgt Meic Rogers fought forward and succeeded in destroying the command group and three MG34 positions before being captured by a squad of German Paratroopers and Totenkopf soldiers. It was at this point that the officer in command of the Waffen SS, a Captain of the Totenkopf Division, angered by the loss of so many of his men shot Rees and Rogers. The officer commanding the Fallschirmjager platoon, Hauptmann Kurt Steiner, disgusted with this treatment of prisoners attempted to arrest the SS Hauptsturmfuhrer. A brief standoff between the remaining SS troops and the German Paratroopers was ended when Feldwebel Otto Brandt shot the SS officer as he made to shoot Steiner. As this was happening Militia and 1 Company troops overran the remaining German positions. Faced with further losses, Steiner surrendered to Sergeant Colin Barker-Williams of the Border Regiment. Explaining the conduct of the Waffen-SS and saying that no officer of the Luftwaffe could condone it he handed his sidearm over to Barker -Williams and in doing so cemented the relationship between German Airborne Forces and those of Wales that remains as strong today as it did in a damp field near Aberafan. The Luger 08 has pride of place in the Parachute museum in Abertawe.

The Welsh Border Regiment went on to fight with the Welsh Expeditionary Brigade in North Africa and Italy from 1941 to 1944. No 1 Company returned to the mainland in 1943 to begin training as the Welsh Army's first Parachute unit. They remained part of the Regiment but were deployed alongside Anglo-Scot and US Airborne units. In March of 1944 the remainder of the Regiment returned to Wales and began training for operations in support of Operation Overlord. Landing at Juno beach with the British Army they participated in operations
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Soldiers of No 1 (Independent) Company Welsh Border Regiment, Oosterbeek, Arnhem 1944

against the Germans valiantly, quickly gaining a reputation as one of the toughest Welsh units. No 1 Company jumped as part of 6th Airborne Division over Normandy and then again as part of Market Garden at Arnhem. Over a third of the Company were killed or captured at Arnhem and a stone Daffodil has been erected at Arnhem bridge in memory of the fallen. Following the War the Regiment fought in Korea and undertook deployments to the colonies to assist in quelling uprisings, even sending a Company to Vietnam from 1967 to 1971 as part of the Australian Army Area of Operations. The Regiment had held the Army's Airborne role since 1943, having a company trained as Paratroopers specifically to take part in D Day and the drop on Arnhem.
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A paratrooper of the Border Rifles jumps from a C27 of the Welsh Air Force

By 1994 though the Army was contracting and amalgamation was on the horizon. On 01 Mar 1995 they amalgamated with the Kings Rifles and became a properly constituted Parachute Battalion. Major Gaz Gregory of the Battalions A Coy winning the post of first Battalion commander. Today the Regiment regularly sends troops to Afghanistan and fought alongside US troops in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. They also provide a parachute display team for many shows and air shows, the Red Dragons.

As with Airborne units across the world they wear the Maroon Beret with pride with the badge of the Parachute Regiment of the AS Army changed with a dragon replacing the Queens crown above the crossed rifles of the Border Rifles, indicative of the close relationship the two units share. Dress is the standard Welsh Army uniform with the winged Dragon para wings on the right shoulder. Many soldiers wear jump wings from other nations as well. Instead of the normal infantry battle rifle, the C7A2, Borderers carry the shorter C8A2 as their standard arm.

  • A Cwm (Coy) – Cwmni Reiffl (Rifle Company)
  • B Cwm – Cwmni Reiffl
  • C Cwm – Cwmni Reiffl
  • D(CP) Cwm – Cwmni Pencadlys (Headquarters Company)
  • Cefnogaeth Cwmni (Support Coy) – Heavy Weapons, Vehicle, Training, Sniper, Signals, Medical.


Catrawd Morol Llyngesol - Naval Marine Regiment

Rhif 2 Llyngesol Cwmni Mor-Filwr - No 2 Naval Marine Company

The Naval Infantry has a long and distinguished army history. Taking a different path to the English, the Welsh Army formed Naval Marine companies to be placed on board ship and even today the Naval & Air force infantry units form part of the Army. Initially formed in 1821 to serve on capital ships of the Navy the men served as gun crews aboard ship and in Coastal batteries and as limited Marine infantry.

Naval Infantry (Marine) guard at Admiralty HQ Doc Penfro 1855

As a result of their original formation they were referred to as Marine Companies as they were part of the "ships company". This oddity in naming continues to the modern day with the Naval Marine regiment made up of companies rather than battalions. The original Naval Marine units were very small and the entire Company numbered only 300 men and 30 officers. Their role remained the same until the early 20th Century when the regiment began operating solely as Marines in the truest sense of the word, fighting with aplomb in the Irish and Greek wars.

It was not until the onset of conflict in 1940 that any major role change or deployment of the Naval Marine Regiment was seen.
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Welsh Naval Infantry at a coastal light gun position near Barri. 1939

Despite having been used as minor shock troops of a sort, in Ireland and Greece earlier in the century, the Company had been utilized as gun crews on the Coastal batteries around the Welsh shoreline and security troops on Naval bases.

From 1942 however, they began to be trained as landing craft crew and beachmasters in preparation for the Invasion of Europe. Many Marines fought at Point du Hoc with the US Army Rangers, employed due to their expertise in coastal artillery. They assisted in the destruction of German batteries on the cliffs. Marines fought hard during the rest of the conflict attached to the Royal Marines and USMC.

In 1950 they deployed to Korea and took part in operations at Inchon amongst others, again distinguishing themselves. As with the Army's GAC a need was identified for specialist units to undertake taskings specific to Naval operations. Marines had fought in the Med with the SBS and this led to the Sgwadron Ysbeilio Mor-Filwr (Marine Raiding Sqn) being formed in 1944.

In 1961 Y Morlys (the Admiralty) requested that the SYM be a properly constituted specialist Naval Marine Company. By June of 1962 this resulted in the birth of No2 Naval Marine Company. Four

M163A2 Vulcan CPDWS (Coastal Point Defence Weapon System) manned by Welsh Marines at Castell Barri

squadrons, numbered 1st to 4th Squadron (No2 Marine Company) were formed from the existing Marines and divided into specialties that the Admiralty required. At present the Company numbers around 250 men and is deployed around the country and abroad. 

OC - UG (Maj) Owain Rhodri

  • 1st Sqn – responsible for swimmer and canoe operations
  • 2nd Sqn – responsible for maritime anti-terrorism and ship boarding operations
  • 3rd Sqn – specialises in small water borne craft and mini-sub operations
  • 4th Sqn - non-active duties, reserve & training squadron

Air Force

Rhif 2 Asgell Amddiffyn Tir - Catrawd Gwarchod Llu Awyr

No 2 Ground Defence Wing - Air force Guard Regiment

The LAFG is only a very recent member of the SF family. Its first real association had been with the stationing of loyal Army units to provide security at Air Bases during the 1940 revolt against German occupying forces. These units fought hard against the Germans and many normal tradesmen, cooks, clerks and engineering staff, assisted.

In 1941 the Swyddfa Ryfel (War Office) authorised the formation of a permanent security squadron. This was in addition to the already available Air Force police personnel who dealt with normal policing duties. Each base had a company strength security detachment commanded by an Air Major that dealt with perimeter security and possible incursion by enemy forces. In some cases these units deployed with Squadrons of the Air Force overseas to provide security at deployed locations. Following the invasion of Europe in 1944 a small detachment moved forward with Allied forces to assist in the taking of Luftwaffe bases in France and the Low Countries.

The Uned Ysbeilio Maes Awyr (Airfield Raiding Unit) came into being in August 1944 and in 1961 became 33 Squadron. Its personnel became the fledgling Air Force Special ops unit. In 1946 No 7 Squadron was officially stood up to provide a centralized home for the personnel of the Air Security branch. In the 1950's and 60's the unit expanded, personnel being sent to colonial locations to provide security at bases in the Welsh colonies and in 1967 a small number went to Vietnam to provide security at Welsh Air Force assets in the province.

From 1983 the unit found it was taking on increasing taskings. Forward Air control had come into being during the Korean and Vietnamese conflicts and the Air Security branch had taken on this new tasking with enthusiasm. In 1983 the Swyddfa Ryfel again authorised the formation of 10 Squadron which took on the FAC and later in 2001 the Tactical Air Control tasks for the Welsh Military.
33 Sqn ACC

Air Force Combat Controller of 10 Sqn in Afghanistan 2009

In 2002 No 2 Ground Defence Wing was formed at Llanilltud Fawr Air Base and became the home for all three squadrons. Each Air Base still has a Defence Flight and 10 and 33 Squadrons take part in operations and exercises worldwide including in Afghanistan and Iraq.

OC – Milwraid (LA) Colonel (Air force/AF) Sion Durman (Brother of Deputy Defence Secretary).

  • 7 Sqn – Provides Airfield Security for all Air Bases and HQ Unit for all LAFGHGA Personnel.
  • 10 Sqn – Provides Forward Air Control and TACP personnel.
  • 33 Sqn – Provides Airfield Raiding units tasked with taking and holding forward operating bases.

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