In recognition of the consistently high training and operational standards in which the formation has archived over the years, its one and only active battalion, 1st Commando Battalion (abbreviation: 1CDO; Chinese: 第一突机队), has won the Singapore Armed Forces Best Unit Competition’s “Best Combat Unit Award” for a record 20 times since the competition was introduced in 1969.
The effort to create an elite units comprising of regular servicemen began in earnest in 1967, when two officers Major Tan Kim Peng Clarence and James Chia were given the task to begin recruiting eligible candidates from any unit in the SAF, thus forming the SAF Regular Battalion on 1 December 1969 under the direct command of the Ministry of Defence. Captain Tham Chee Onn was selected as acting Commanding Officer for the new unit of 20 men, with nine other officers assisting him. MAJ Tan subsequently joined the unit as its Commanding Officer, who was responsible for establishing its training program. A second recruitment drive was launched in early 1970 particularly aimed at beefing up the strength of officers.
In early 1971, the unit was renamed as the Singapore Armed Forces Commando Unit. The red-coloured berets which the unit is most visibly famous for was introduced on 3 May 1971 with the SAF’s initiative in replacing the jungle hats with berets across all units. Red was chosen as it
was synonymous with many other special forces around the world. It is also the official beret colour for paratroopers.
On 16 July 1971, the unit moved from its first home at the old School of Infantry Specialists’s Advance Specialist Training Wing building at Pasir Laba Camp to Changi Camp. At the same time, the unit was renamed as the 1st Commando Battalion (1 Cdo Bn), with one company fully comprised of regular soldiers.
With National Service (NS) introduced in Singapore in 1967 and constituting a large part of the SAF’s manpower, the talent pool from which the unit could draw from was greatly restricted. Thus, the decision to allow full-time national servicemen (NSFs) to join the unit was made in 1972, and on 15 January 1973, the pioneer batch formed the new Second Company under the command of CPT Gwee Peng Hong and with WO2 Kiong Kian Khoon as the Company Sergeant Major. The success of the first company helped to accelerate the program and the establishment of the Third, Fourth and Fifth companies from July 1973 to January 1975 under the command of CPT Boon Hon Lim, CPT Lim Siang Tong and LTA Dominic Teo respectively. Sixth company or “Wolf Company” was formed in 2005 with CPT Arnold Low as Officer Commanding and 2WO Kasinathan as Company Sergeant Major.
With its six companies, comprising of one regular company and four NSF Rifle companies, and a headquarters company involving men from both regular and NSF servicemen, the 1 Cdo Bn was restructured and placed under the command of the 3rd Division in April 1975. It came under the command of the newly-formed 7th Singapore Infantry Brigade (7SIB) together with two Guards Battalions in 1977 under an initiative to turn 7SIB into an elite formation, and received its State and Regimental Colours on 22 January 1977 by then Minister for Defence, Dr Goh Keng Swee, on behalf of the President of Singapore, Dr Benjamin Henry Sheares.
On 1 July 1980, the 1 Cdo Bn was transferred out again when the decision was made to turn 7SIB into a Guards formation, and it came under the direct command of Headquarters Infantry. The Headquarters School of Commando Training (SOCT) was established on 1 October 1980, and took over the command of 1 Cdo Bn. The newly reorganized unit was presented with a new formation sign by then Acting Chief of General Staff, BG Tan Chin Tiong, incorporating the Winged Stiletto as the new emblem of the Commandos and with the new unit motto, “For Honour and Glory”.
The all-regular composition of the 1 Cdo Bn’s First Company meant it was entrusted with critical counter-terrorism responsibilities, as well as helping to train their NSF counterparts. It began to induct NSFs from 17 December 1984, however, thus turning 1 Cdo Bn into a full NSF Battalion. In 1986, another tradition of the Commandos was created when the stiletto was presented to graduates of Second Company during their Red Beret Presentation ceremony in December 1986, a practice which has been continued ever since.
The need to form a governing policy-making body since the mid-1980s led to the establishment of Headquarters Commandos in November 1989, and received its State and Formation Colours from the then President of Singapore, Mr Wee Kim Wee, on 20 October 1991. The Changi Camp facilities began to restrict the unit’s growth, and BG (NS) Lee Hsien Loong, currently serving as the Prime Minister of Singapore, instructed for the “best camp in the SAF” to be built nearby at a site near Sungei Selarang east of Loyang. The new camp, Hendon Camp, was officially inaugurated on 27 January 1994 by then Chief of Defence Force, LTG Ng Jui Ping, and remains its home till this day.
Heritage & Tradition
Like many of its counterparts, the elite status of the Singapore Commando Formation utilizes various artifacts or elements to build a unit identity and to foster greater camaraderie amongst its members. These include:
- The Formation Motto: For Honour & Glory. This motto entreats each Commando to achieve each and every mission he undertakes for the honour and glory of the Formation and Nation.
- The Formation Insignia. Prior to 1981, Commandos wore flashes identifying them with the Formation to which they belonged. As part of the inauguration of HQ SOCT, the Winged Stiletto was introduced as the emblem of the Commandos. The wings and stiletto denotes their elite airborne status.
- The Red Beret, won by all Commandos is given great prominence, with a formal Red Beret Presentation ceremony held at the Passing Out Parade for all training graduates. Sometimes worn even when in battle gear in place of the jungle hat, they are also worn during military parades and formal ceremonies.
- The Stiletto Knife. Razor sharp from edge to edge, the Commando knife is a weapon well suited for silencing the enemy quickly and effectively. Otherwise known as the Stiletto knife, or the Fairburn and Sykes Commando Dagger, it is unique to the Commandos and is just what they need in close quarter, one to one combat. The blade measures 20 cm and features the Commando Formation Insignia.
- The Silver Wings. The Parachutist Badge awarded upon successful completion of the Basic Airborne Course conducted by the Parachute Training Wing, School of Commandos, is also known affectionately as the Silver Wings. First awarded to the pioneering graduating batch of 27 NSFs from Second Company, 1st Commando Battalion (1 Cdo Bn), it comprises of a pair of outspread wings on both wigs of a deployed parachute, with the words “SINGAPURA” below the canopy. With the design sanctioned by 1 Cdo Bn’s Commanding Officer, Tan Kim Peng Clarence, it is differentiated by a crimson velvet backing for only for Commandos, while those of the Commando Parachute Jump Instructors have a golden velvet backing. The “red backing” signifies that only Commandos are operationally capable to jump into battles.
1st Commando Battalion organizes an annual Commando Skills-At-Arms Meet, where by companies vie for honours on an inter-section basis. A practice begun in 1992, it tests Commandos in executing a range of skills which may range from marksmanship, to demolition, and the completion of the Standard Obstacle Course in Full Battle Order. During Skills-At-Arms, a part of the camp will be cordoned off and made available to the public, so that the families and friends of the commandos are able to witness the event.
The Singapore Commandos was the first SAF unit to have an alliance with a foreign unit, the 1st Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, in 1982. An annual Alliance Parade was first held on 14 March 1982, until the return of the unit to New Zealand on 2 August 1989. Ties are maintained, however, by the annual exchange of officers since 1993.
The Commandos are a regular feature in the SAF’s major parades and events, such as the annual Singapore Armed Forces Military Tattoo and the Singapore Armed Forces Day Parade. They also appear in various national events, including the National Day Parade where they form one of the four Guard of Honour contingents after winning the Best Combat Unit awards in the preceding year. They have appeared in various mass display segments, often by displaying their rappelling skills. The Singapore Armed Forces Parachute Team has appeared in the parade since 1989.
Commandos have also formed up the Guard of Honour for important visitors to the Istana, although this task has been increasingly taken over by the Singapore Armed Forces Military Police Command due to the irrelevance to its official duties.
From an all-regular unit, the 1 Cdo Bn became an all-NSF battalion on 17 December 1984, with equal expectations from the NSFs as with their regular counterparts. The recruitment process is thus equally stringent, with NSFs hand-picked even before they formally begin their National Service liability, this taking precedence over most other units of the SAF as well as that of other organizations. Medical examination reports and physical fitness results taken prior to enlistment were taken into account, amongst other criteria, and short listed candidates were subjected to more tests prior to selection. These criteria included above average intelligence and excellent eyesight, although the later has been loosened somewhat as the number of myopic Singaporeans increase. After successfully completing an interview, the candidate will be enlisted into a company and go through his Basic Military Training phase.
The reservists, or known locally as “Operationally Ready National Servicement”, form the largest manpower source for the Commando Formation, as is the case for the rest of the SAF. NSmen are similarly called up for In-Camp Training (ICT), and receive refresher courses where necessary at the School of Commandos, including the two-day Basic Combat Training course which is conducted several months prior to the commencement of the ICT itself. Nsmen are expected to meet the same standards in their annual Individual Physical Proficiency Tests as their NSF and regular counterparts.
Due to the operationally different requirements of the Singapore Commandos, training of Commandos to-be are conducted separately and away from that of other recruits, with basic training held at company-level at the Battalion’s Hendon Camp. More advanced training are conducted at the School of Commandos (SOC), which every Commando trainee will pass through at least once since compulsory courses such as the Basic Airborne Course are conducted there. It takes about one year to train a newly-enlisted soldier into a full-fledged Commando, with specialists and commanders requiring an even longer time to train.
All newly enlisted Commandos to-be are trained at their respective companies where they go through Basic Military Training (BMT). While the training syllabus is largely similar to that of regular BMT conducted SAF-wide, these recruits are pushed further, with constant reminders of their roles as elite soldiers. As a result, the unit, for example, has an unbroken record of 100% passes in the annual marksmanship tests.
Upon successful completion of the BMT, candidates who display unsuitable attributes may be posted out to other units, which may include attitude, aptitude, and medical reasons. Otherwise, they proceed on to the Basic Commando Training (BCT), where skills specific to Commandos are imparted. Physical training becomes increasingly demanding, and trainees are introduced to more weaponry such as the Carl Gustav 84mm recoilless rifle and the general purpose machine gun. Trainees gain proficiency in navigation over land or water, in fieldcraft and watercraft, basic demolition, and in various insertion methods such as via heli-rappelling or via dingies.
Besides learning to operate as individual Commandos, trainees are also taught to operate in teams, thus building on team-building skills already imparted during the BMT phase. The Commando is promoted to the rank of Corporal upon successful completion of the course.
Commandos are assigned specific tasks when functioning as a section, and are thus trained to specialize in each of them. These roles may include signalers, medical specialists, weapons specialists, small boat operators, snipers, and demolition experts. Outstanding trainees from the BMT and BCT may be trained as Section Leaders at the Commando Training Wing. All trainees must also go through the Basic Airborne Course at the Parachute Training Wing, where they earn their silver wings after five jumps, of which two must be conducted after dusk.
Skills taught during vocational training are then fused with skills taught in the BCT, with the aim of building trust and team bonding between members. These are put to the test when the company goes on its overseas exercise in Brunei, where multiple exercises are conducted in the jungles over several weeks of intensive training.
Upon their return to Singapore, the trainees mark the completion of their one-year-long training stint, and become full-fledged Commandos. The Red Beret Presentation ceremony is held as part of their Passing Out Parade, and the newly-trained Commandos will then begin operational duties, where further training may also be conducted on more advanced and specialized skills.
Most advanced and leadership training course for Commandos are conducted at the School of Commandos (SOC), which was formed as the Commando Training Centre (CTC) in 1982 before being given its present name in January 1994. It comprises of two wings, namely the Commando Training Wing (CTW) and the Parachute Training Wing (PTW).
Courses conducted by the CTW include the Commando Section Leaders’ Course (CSLC), the Commando Small Boat Operators’ Course, the Commando Officer Conversion Course (COCC), and the highly esteemed Singapore Armed Forces Ranger Course. The PTW is responsible for the Basic Airborne Course, the Parachute Jump Instructor Course, the Military Free Fall Course, and so on.
Special Operations Force
An elite among the elites. The all-regular SOF are specially trained to operate in longe-range deployments and special missions. All team members are able to be inserted by air/land or sea, with specialized skills in demolitions, explosives and special tactics. They are also trained by US NAVY SEALs and the United States DELTA force. Members of the SOF are extremely low-profile in public, and shuns public attention. Former SOF members can be spotted donning various foreign badges and special skills training badges.
Part of the Singapore Commandos’ arsenal is classified, top secret information. What is revealed to the general public are the following weapons used in operations:
- Singapore Assault Rifle (SAR-21), 5.56mm
- Singapore Technologies Ultimax 100, 5.56mm Automatic SAW
- Colt M4A1 Carbine, 5.56mm
- Colt M-203, 40mm GL
- Various Shotguns
- Steyr Sniper Rifles, 7.62mm
- PGM mini-Hecate Long-Range Sniper Rifle, 8.6mm
- FN MAG GPMG, 7.62mm
- FN P90, 5.7mm Submachine Gun
- FN Five-Seven, 5.7mm Pistol
- Heckler & Koch MP-5 Submachine Gun, 9mm
- Sig-Sauer P226, 9mm Pistol
- Vektor Pistols
- SFG-87 Hand grenades
- Various Smoke grenades
- Other specialized Assault weapons