Unit History: HQ Commando Forces
The effort to create an elite unit comprising 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 programme. 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 composed 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 Lin, 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, consisting 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 reorganised 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 graduants of Second Company during their Red Beret Presentation ceremony in December 1986, a practice which has been continued ever since.