Shapps misunderstands the Royal Marines and worryingly lacks awareness of UK defence capability

9 January 2024, 17:09 | Updated: 9 January 2024, 17:30

Shapps misunderstands the Royal Marines and worryingly lacks awareness of UK defence capability
Shapps misunderstands the Royal Marines and worryingly lacks awareness of UK defence capability. Picture: LBC/Alamy

Former Royal Marine Lee Spencer BEM completed tours of Northern Ireland and Iraq. Before qualifying for special duties and subsequently undertook 3 tours of Afghanistan often working in undercover and covert roles.

Lee Spencer BEM

By Lee Spencer BEM

Grant Shapps questioning the need for The Royal Navy’s amphibious assault ships, HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark, and ordering a review of the future of Royal Marines, unfortunately displays a complete lack of military understanding.

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The Royal Marines along with the Navy’s amphibious assault ships that carry and launch them ashore, are a crucial military capability. Over half the worlds’ population live within 150 miles of a coastline and the Royal Marines are integral to any capability projecting military influence within the littoral.

The Royal Marines have an illustrious 360-year history, but history and tradition do not win wars, soldiers do and Royal Marines are different. Full disclosure, I served as a Royal Marine for over 24 years; However, the last eight was as a volunteer for Special Duties within a Tri Service unit where I worked alongside every cap badge imaginable. So, I understand what makes a Royal Marine unique.

From the very start, Royal Marines training is based on self-discipline, self-motivation, adaptability and resourcefulness. It is the longest training of any conventional armed forces and widely regarded as the hardest.

The Royal Marines, along with supporting units from the Army Commandos are the backbone of 3 Commando Brigade, Britain’s Commando force and a key defence capability.

Uniquely within the British Armed Forces, Royal Marine officers train alongside the men they will lead and this fosters an understanding and respect throughout the rank structure.

Every cap badge is rightly proud of their respective regiment, branch or Corps, but every cap badge I worked with would grudgingly admire the Royal Marines camaraderie, that is second to none within defence.

But camaraderie and Esprit de Corps alone do not win wars. The individual quality of the Royal Marines that pass out of Lympstone is best expressed in the following statistic taken from written evidence submitted to a parliamentary committee.

Despite making up only 4.5% of the UK Armed forces the Royal Marines make up 43% of the ‘badged’ manpower in the UK Special Forces.

They are doing something right.

The Royal Marines are more than just an amphibious capability, they are an incredibly cost-efficient military asset that would be impossible to replace.

Shapps's lack of military understanding displays a Secretary of State for Defence who is grossly out of his depth, thankfully unlike the Royal Marines.


In 2014, Lee lost his right leg below the knee while aiding motorists in a crash. Conscious throughout, he used military training to save his own life. In 2015, as part of Row2Recovery's all-amputee crew, he rowed across the Atlantic, setting a Guinness World Record. In 2019, Lee solo-rowed from Portugal to South America, achieving three more Guinness World Records. In 2019, he received the British Empire Medal for charity work. A compelling speaker, Lee shares his story of courage and overcoming adversity at various events.

Find out more about Lee here

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