NATO Allies put the “special” in “special relationship” – UK Royal Marines train with US Green Berets in Germany
The United Kingdom and the United States have long enjoyed a “special relationship” – a phrase first coined by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1946 to describe the strong cultural, political and military ties between the two countries based on their shared history. The US Special Forces recently got a chance to deepen that relationship by training with UK Royal Marines in Germany.
UK Royal Marines from 45 Commando and US Army Green Berets from 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) during a training mission at Grafenwöhr Training Area in Germany. (US Navy photo by LT Rob Kunzig)
During the training, Green Berets from US Army 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) teamed up with Royal Marines from the United Kingdom’s 45 Commando unit for two weeks at Grafenwöhr Training Area in southern Germany. They focused on the art of “direct action” raids, using speed, stealth and surprise to overcome the opposing force. By day, they planned and rehearsed missions at secluded barracks tucked into a corner of the training grounds. When the sun set, they checked their weapons, strapped on their gear and mounted up in M1288 GMV 1.1s, a light utility vehicle bristling with mounted weapons.
While the missions varied night by night, they were all designed to test the ability of the Green Berets and the Royal Marine Commandos to work together under pressure. The Green Berets pride themselves as being “masters of the basics”, but when you’re fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with soldiers from another country, tiny differences in tactics and techniques can create friction.
Finding and solving these problems during training exercises means that, should a crisis occur, the Green Berets and Royal Marines will be able to seamlessly fight side-by-side.
“Early on, we figured out that they were a high-calibre fighting force,” said the Green Beret Master Sergeant running the training (who, like most Special Forces operators, remains anonymous for security purposes). “They’re highly motivated, tactically sound and they’re in great shape.”
A UK Royal Marine mans an M2 .50 calibre machine gun on top of an M1288 GMV 1.1 light utility vehicle during a live-fire exercise at Grafenwöhr Training Area in Germany. (US Navy photo by LT Rob Kunzig)
The exercise was just the latest in a string of training engagements designed to help the two forces build off each other’s strengths. In 2022, the Royal Marines hosted the Green Berets in the rugged hills of Scotland, where the Americans endured the country’s famously foul weather while learning from the Marines’ mountain warfare experts. Later, the Green Berets joined the Royal Marines in Bardufoss, Norway, where the Marines have honed their Arctic warfare skills for decades, developing tactics that allow them to thrive in the lethal conditions of the High North.
The UK and US troops not only train on the territory of other NATO Allies like Germany and Norway, but exercise with their Special Forces as well. These trainings, whether bilateral or involving multiple countries, teach NATO Allies and partners how to work together and allow them to learn from each other. Special Forces are an important asset for NATO, particularly because they can be deployed to solve specific problems in situations requiring clandestine (and potentially high-risk) operations.
In Germany, it was the Green Berets’ turn to put the Royal Marines through their paces. Each training mission was followed by an unsparing after-action review, with every aspect of the raid dissected and scrutinised. One Green Beret Master Sergeant reminded the US and UK soldiers that disciplined use of infrared lasers and flashlights would be important in actions against an adversary equipped with night vision optics. The Royal Marines took the critique to heart, and during the following mission, they were able to sneak into the target buildings undetected.
“There’s an attitude of relentless self-improvement throughout their service,” the US Master Sergeant said.
UK Royal Marines and US Green Berets lock and load their weapons before moving out on a training mission at Grafenwöhr Training Area in Germany. (US Navy photo by LT Rob Kunzig)
For the Royal Marines, direct action raids are a foundational part of their heritage. Established during the Second World War, the Commando groups pioneered the use of small units to strike targets deep behind enemy lines. The Commandos were so effective that in 1942, the Nazi high command issued the “Commando Order”, which mandated immediate execution for every commando captured.
Now, the Royal Marines are trying to shape their force into something resembling these daring teams. Through an intensive modernisation effort called the Future Commando Force, the Marines are transforming their Commando units into small, technologically advanced, operationally agile forces that can conduct Special Operations alongside their NATO peers.
“We’re kind of moving back to our origin,” said the Captain who led the Royal Marine detachment at Grafenwöhr. “It’s not about small teams taking on large enemies. It’s about small teams wreaking havoc and disruption for the enemy by attacking strategic soft targets.”
A US Army Green Beret fires an M240 machine gun during a live-fire exercise with UK Royal Marines at Grafenwöhr Training Area in Germany. (US Navy photo by LT Rob Kunzig)
The US Green Berets are ideal partners for this unconventional mission, the Captain said. Though they’ve mastered the art of the direct action raid, they’re also able to use cultural savvy to work their way through an increasingly complicated world. For the Marines, it’s not all about kicking in doors; indeed, the commando force of the future might need to conduct a raid deep behind enemy lines and then use diplomacy and guile to work their way back to friendly territory.
“It’s not just about brute force and violence of action,” the Captain said. “This is about intelligence and precision.”
It’s also about building relationships. At Grafenwöhr, the Green Berets and the Royal Marines shared an open-bay barracks that buzzed with banter and friendly ribbing. Every night, they gathered for a Marine tradition called “patching” – whoever committed the most embarrassing tactical error during the day’s training had to wear a humorous patch. For one Royal Marine, the patchable offense was banging his rifle against a metal handrail in a pitch-black house; for a US Special Forces soldier, it was failing to hurdle a fence in spectacular fashion.
UK Royal Marines and US Green Berets run a tabletop rehearsal before conducting a training mission at Grafenwöhr Training Area in Germany. (US Navy photo by LT Rob Kunzig).
Beneath the light mockery, there was an affection forged through weeks of hard work and shared adversity. These are the bonds that, in a time of crisis, could make all the difference.
“Working with Americans, there’s a confidence in each other that allows us to actually push ourselves,” the Captain said. “We’re genuinely out there growing and learning as a force.”
A previous version of this article appeared in Tip of the Spear, the magazine of United States Special Operations Command (US SOCOM). It has been republished with permission.