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3rd Marine Commando Division

The 3rd Marine Commando "Division" was a regular army formation, assembled during the civil war, with some amphibious capabilities as part of their remit. They were never designated as special forces as most of their listed and recorded engagements were conventional combat operations. The founder, then Colonel Benjamin Adekunle, simply changed the name from the 3rd infantry division without formal approval from Army HQ. The 3rd Marine Commando was stretched across a vast area of jungle and riverain creeks called the southern front extending 150 miles from the Orashi river through Owerri, Aba and Ikot Ekpene to Itu along the Cross-River.

Amphibious landings by the Nigerian marines led by Major Isaac Adaka Boro captured the Niger Delta cities of Bonny, Okrika and Port Harcourt on 26 July 1967. The Bonny landing of July 1967 was hailed as the first such operation by any Third World country. The 3 Marine Commando landing at Bonny was the first large scale amphibious operation planned and executed by the Nigerian Armed Forces. The troops were hurriedly assembled and launched into operation. Quite a number of them suffered sea sickness which impacted negatively on their fighting efficiency. The casualties suffered during the landing were attributed to inadequate sea familiarisation by the troops.

This was followed by the Delta Ports Amphibious Operations in September 1967 to recapture the riverside ports of Warri, Koko and Sapele from the Biafrans. Another major operation was mounted on 19 October 1967 to liberate Calabar by November 1967, followed by the amphibious landing of the 3 Marine Commandos at a beachhead in Oron to capture the mainland of Cross River State.

The only thing that stood between Col. Mohammed and Onitsha was the great Niger Bridge. However, while he was standing on the Asaba end of it contemplating driving across Biafran sappers blew it up. The 2DIV assault river crossing of the River Niger to take Onitsha on 9 October 1967 was under then Lt. Col. Murtala Mohammed. Using Inland Waterway ferries, and preceded by a three to four day artillery and air bombardment, on the night of October 8, 1967 two poorly trained and equipped federal battalions landed on the shores of Onitsha near the market. Ferries bringing reinforcements (including Panhard armored vehicles and ammo) to them were abandoned midstream by scared civilian ferry pilots. It became a turkey shoot with panicky federal troops roaming around in a discoordinated fashion. The Onitsha landing disaster took a great toll on Federal troops due to the ad hoc manner the troops embarked on the operation without adequate watermanship skill and air support. Two more attempts at a frontal river crossing were made before efforts to take Onitsha from Asaba were finally abandoned. In January 1968, after the abortive attempts to capture Onitsha from Asaba, Murtala moves up the Niger, crosses it at Idah and advances down to Awka and Onitsha, and captured Onitsha on 21 March 1968.

Shell did not only bankroll Nigerian war efforts against Biafra. It offered logistics to the Nigerian Marines by actively using its empty tankers to ferry Nigerian soldiers from Lagos to the ports of Biafra. The Nigerian federal forces launched one of their final offensive the Biafrans on 23 December 1969 with a major thrust by the Nigerian marines led by Colonel Olusegun Obasanjo which split the Biafran enclave into two. Another offensive was launched on 7 January, 1970 which led to the surrender of the Biafran forces on 13 January, 1970 with Ojukwu fleeing to Ivory Coast.

In January 1970, Nigerian marines invaded a Red Cross hospital near Orlu in Biafra, took all the food and raped the white nurses. In Owerri, looting took place right on the main square in front of of visiting newsmen. Several marine enlisted men simply entered a house and started ransacking it. On the other side of the square, a drunken marine spotted a young refugee with his wife. The marine demanded the wife and was about to make off with her when a marine lieutenant happened by. The lieutenant pulled out his .45 and shot the soldier in the foot. Neither rape nor looting is condoned by Nigerian officers. One marine was shot to death on the spot when he was found raping an Ibo girl near the Owerri radio station. He was not even arrested and tried. "There was no need," an officer said, matter-of-factly. "He was caught in the act." Afterwards, a particular western foreign power, demanded and insisted on the dismantling of the Nigerian Marine Commandos.

Nigerian Civil War Ambphbious Operations

Amphibious Army-Navy assault at Bonny on July 26, 1967.


This opposed beach landing operation also involved the use of merchant ships from the Nigerian National Shipping Line.  It was the first joint Army-Navy combat operation in post-colonial Nigeria.

Joint amphibious Army-Navy operations at Escravos, Koko, Youngtown, Sapele and Warri during operations to clear the Midwest. (August  and September 1967)


These landings were mostly unopposed.

Operation Tiger-Claw:  Joint amphibious Army-Navy assault on Calabar on October 18, 1967.



Joint amphibious assault on Oron, March 1968.


This was the first full coordinated tri-service joint operation, involving the NA, NN and NAF.

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Page last modified: 20-11-2011 19:23:13 ZULU