AGM Talk 12th October 2018, Mike Slack, Royal Marine Commando Unit


Reporter: Chris Fildes

27 members attended the 2018 AGM held at the Chill Factore. Chairman Richard Mayers summed up another successful year. (See the Chairman’s report). The meeting closed at 7.55pm and we eagerly awaited the talk by SCoM member Mike Slack.

Mike explained the briefly the history of the Royal Marines, which were formed in 1664 during the reign of King Charles II. By 1802 they were titled The Royal Marines by King George II. The British Army created its first commando unit in 1940 and from 1942 it joined with The Royal Marines.

40 Commando was formed in Feb 1942 and recruits were drawn from the British Police Force. The 45 Commando was formed in 1943. It saw its first active service in 1944 at the Normandy invasion. Mike told us that Louis Mountbatten (Admiral of the Fleet) was responsible for saving the unit from being disbanded. Between 1947 and 1948 they were based in Malta, They were were utilised during The Suez Crisis, Falklands, Iraq / Afghanistan and Northern Ireland.

In 1942 the basic Commando training centre was established at Achnacarry Castle near Spean Bridge. Live ammunition was used during training in those days! The famous bronze Commando statue stands proudly for all to see here, much visited by tourists when visiting the Highlands.

In 1943 the Amphibious 45 unit (known as the 4-5 Commando unit) was established in Arbroath. Later on Mike’s role was to train Mountain and Arctic Warfare. The 36 week rigorous training consisted of assault courses which took place in Devon on the muddy banks of the tidal River Exe at Lympstone, stamina training, yomping over Dartmoor, standing on toes with finger tips pressed against a wall for 48 hours before interrogation (first by the bad guy and then the good guy, one slip of the tongue and you were out! (Actually you were given 3 chances to succeed) and then you were out!

Mike’s love of climbing & mountaineering stood him in good stead, The Lake District, Snowdonia, and the Highlands were excellent training grounds, He explained that ice climbing was safer on crags that were covered with spongy freshly blown snow, rather than compacted ice, and many of the climbing exercises took place at night!

Arctic training was, in the Arctic Circle region of Norway. Camouflaged in white ski suits, they carried their white skis with them at all times. and became adept in Telemarking. Mike brought his ski along to show us. They were made of wood, and very long, apparently whatever your height, the skis would all be the same length! Bindings were somewhat primitive, boots black leather heavy army issue. Candidates became experts at digging snow holes to overnight in. Minus 20ºC would then be reduced to a more comfortable zero degrees!!

When the 36 week training period was successfully completed the famous Green Beret was awarded. The failure rate is high, an average of only 7 candidates in 40 pass. Although all were given every chance to succeed, obviously not all were suitable. Mike showed us his green beret and explained that the famous badge was covered during action, so as to be inconspicuous!

When the course was successfully completed, the sign up period was for twenty five years!

By 9.30pm the talk was concluded, unfortunately not enough time to answer questions!

Thanks Mike, it was apparent you were dedicated to your career. You spoke with great enthusiasm and your talk was complimented by an excellent slide show.