Our history was filled with a lot of bloody wars and battles for hundreds of years. We’ve heard about great exceptional military individuals who have established an empire, which even lasted for decades or even centuries. However, do they do this by themselves? The answer is NO! Each of these military individuals has a special group of people who are willing to fight for them and their country!
These special groups are considered the best elite military units or special forces. They can be considered to be the best-trained, well-equipped, and surely the most experienced compared to the other units. Their presence on the battlefield could boost the morale of their fellow countrymen and spread fear to their enemies. In addition, these elite military units are very well-known, celebrated, and respected even by their enemies. Without further due, here is the list of the five most elite military units of all time:
1. Special Air Service (SAS)
The first elite military unit on our list is the SAS. Britannica mentioned that SAS was created in 1941 with the aim of special operations, counter-terrorism, and surveillance. The members of the SAS were recruited from across the United Kingdom, especially from the army and parachute regiments. To join the SAS, potential candidates must be tested in terms of military skills, fitness, endurance, and willpower.
This unit saw its first action back then in the Second World War. Back in 1941, The British armed forces were battling Nazi Germany in North Africa. David Stirling, the founder of SAS, aimed for this group to be able to operate behind the enemy lines, sabotaging airfields and attacking vital facilities. Moreover, the SAS has also seen action across European countries such as France, the Netherlands, Italy, and Germany.
After the Second World War, this group was disbanded in 1945. However, 2 years later, it was revived and saw more actions in the upcoming wars and operations. These notable actions include the Malayan emergency (1950-1965), the Iranian embassy siege (1980), the Falklands War (1982), the Persian Gulf war (1991), the War in Afghanistan (2001), and also the Invasion of Iraq (2003).
2. Napoleon’s Old Guard
Everyone knows about Napoleon Bonaparte of France and who he is. He was the French emperor and a military mastermind back in the 1800s. One of his main components of success was the old guard. This military unit was known as the most prestigious, finest, and battle-hardened imperial unit in his army.
To join this prestigious unit, they must be:
- Under 35 years age of entry,
- 10 years of service in the military
- Participated in at least 3 campaigns
- Must be tall
According to militaryhistorynow, Napoleon himself rewarded this unit with the best quarters, dressed them in the most ferocious and sharp-looking uniforms, and most importantly gave them the best rations in the military. On the other hand, Napoleon expected them to fight until their last breath and to give their everything in battle.
The old guard fought side by side with their emperors in every battle from the 1790s until the famous Battle of Waterloo came place in 1815. In this last battle, the old guard was beaten and forced to retreat. When they were retreating and trying to rally their unit, the British surrounded them and gave them a chance to surrender. However, their commander, Pierre Cambrone replied “La Garde Meurt Masis Ne Se Rend Pas!” (“The Guard dies but does not surrender“). After the battle, the remains of the old guard were disbanded by Louis XVIII.
3. The Gurkhas
The Gurkha brigades have a long history and it goes back as far as 1815. The Gurkhas have been a part of the British Army for more than 200 years, Which is longer than their counterpart, the SAS! The Gurkhas were well known for carrying their traditional weapon called the “Kukri”. In addition, these Gurkhas were recruited directly from Nepal and this practice continues today.
As part of the British Armed forces, the Gurkhas have seen actions across the world. According to BBC, The Gurkhas have fought valiantly in both world wars and they also have served in countries and regions such as Malaysia, Hong Kong, Falklands, Cyprus, Kosovo, Iraq, and even Afghanistan.
To be part of the Gurkhas, you need to be from Nepal and you need to pass the selection process. It was believed that this selection process is considered the toughest in the world. In addition, the Gurkhas are very tough, durable, brave, and disciplined, and most importantly, they have a very strong family tradition within the battalions.
4. Spartan Warriors
When we hear the word “Spartan”, most of us will have a flashback of the movie called 300. A bunch of warriors wearing red underwear and a cloak? holding long spears and big shields to protect themselves in battle. This movie might be exaggerated but this was based on a true event in history.
The Spartans were known due to their professionalism and were feared back then. Sparta itself was a city-state back in ancient Greece, which was built based on a militaristic society. All Spartan boys aged 7, started their service with the military and they lived in military barracks based on their age group. This tough upbringing and training for a few years created a professional Hoplite army that made all other city-states in Greece fear them. Sparta was involved in multiple wars, particularly in the famous Greco-Persian Wars and the Peloponnesian War.
However, their fierce reputation started to spread more after the battle of Thermopylae. However, some of the facts are a bit exaggerated in this case, it was mentioned that only 300 Spartans were fighting a million Persians at that moment. In fact, Panarkas (2020) mentioned that the Spartans were not alone. There were 298 Spartans fighting side by side with other city-states in this battle, which included 700 Thespians and 400 Thebans who remained to delay the Persian’s aggression. The aftermath of this battle was a total decimation of the Greek defenders and a pyrrhic victory for the Persians. However, the legacy of the Spartan warriors and their king Leonidas remains today.
5. Varangian Guards
The final elite military units on the list fall to the Varangian guards! The Varangian guards were the elite unit of the Eastern Roman Empire or the Byzantine Empire. The uniqueness of this unit was their composition which consisted of Anglo-Saxons, Russian, and also Scandinavian people who are related to the Vikings. The Varangian guards themselves can be considered an international mercenary group, assembled from a group of fierce and terrifying warriors who have an objective to protect the Byzantine emperor for almost 5 centuries! A lot of past accounts mentioned that these guards look very frightening in their physical appearance and equipment.
The reason why the emperor decided to use this international mercenary group was due to the lack of trust toward the native Byzantine guards. According to Mandal (2022), the Varangians are very loyal to the direct paymaster, which is the emperor himself. The unit saw its first action in 988 AD when some witnesses mentioned that the Varangians swung their swords and battle axes without mercy toward their enemies. In addition, they cheerfully hacked their opponents and cut them into pieces, making the battlefield to be filled with blood.
In addition to guarding and accompanying the emperor to war, the Varangian guards also acted as police where they went on patrol throughout the city of Constantinople. Some of these guards also know about sailing as well as maritime knowledge and they also have the job of guarding the territorial water around Constantinople in a battle against pirates.
So we’ve come to the end of the list! Here is the first part of the top 5 Elite Military Units of all time! Stay tuned for the second part!