Maritime small combat units in World War II

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Lieutenant Lionel Crabb, one of the first British "Frog-Men" (photo taken in 1944)

The maritime small combat units in World War II are a synonym for small weapons of the warring states. These are weapons at sea of ​​relatively small size, which were partly based on improvisations. While the Japanese Empire and Fascist Italy had already started the war with such units, Great Britain and Germany only equipped their fleets with this type of weapon in the course of the conflict. The Soviet Union and the United States of America as potential major war powers did not develop their own small arms weapons despite a few attempts.

Japanese development

Imperial Japanese Navy
Naval Ensign of Japan.svg
Branch of service Sinkings Damage
manned torpedo 1 merchant ship 2 destroyers
2 merchant ships
Small submarine 1 barge 1 battleship
3 merchant ships
Explosives 1 destroyer
1 PT boat
4 landing craft
1 destroyer
3 merchant ships
Total 10 ships 17 ships

The Japanese development of small weapons began as early as 1934. As a result, the Imperial Japanese Navy had an extensive arsenal of micro-submarines, which were used for the first time in the battle for Pearl Harbor, before the start of the Pacific War at the end of 1941. Due to the failure of the small arms deployed in the attack on Pearl Harbor, however, the priority of the small combat units was given significantly back in the following two years and, in comparison, more energy was devoted to the development and construction of normal-sized submarines. Only when the Allied superiority in the Pacific increased more and more and the Japanese capital ship units were gradually smashed, more attention was paid to small arms again, as it was hoped that they could fend off a possible Allied invasion of Japan inexpensively. The result was the conception and construction of a whole range of new micro-submarines. Newly manned torpedoes of the Kaiten type ( 回 天 ), the Shin'yō type explosive devices ( 震 洋 ) and a combat diving association , the Fukuryū ( 伏 竜 ). In retrospect, the Japanese small-scale weapons, which were to be increasingly used in self-sacrifice , especially towards the end of the war , could not meet the expectations placed on them, and false reports about alleged sinkings and damage often arose after operations.

Italian development

Italian Decima MAS
Flag of Italy (1861-1946) crowned.svg
Branch of service Sinkings Damage
manned torpedo 1 battleship
3 merchant ships
2 battleships
1 destroyer
11 merchant ships
Small submarine 3 submarines -
Explosives 1 cruiser 1 merchant ship
Motor torpedo boats - 1 cruiser
1 destroyer
1 merchant ship
Total 8 ships 18 ships

The development of Italian small weapons went back to the Marina Militare , which produced the “ Decima MAS ”, the “10. Schnellboot-Flotilla ”. In this all Italian small combat units were summarized. Its foundations had already been laid during the First World War under Corvette Captain Rafaele Rosetti in collaboration with Lieutenant Rafaele Paolucci. Their concept was to use extremely small units to penetrate the ports of the Austrian Navy unnoticed and to mine the hulls of the warships lying there with time fuse charges. The subsequent explosions should then cause the ships to sink. The "Decima MAS" was from June 1940 until the armistice of Cassibile on September 3, 1943, the only operating association of small weapons in the Mediterranean and consisted mainly of manned torpedoes of the SLC type , also known colloquially as "Maiali" (pigs), with mounted torpedo leaders . In addition, she had a considerable number of high explosive and small motor torpedo boats (MAS) . Its remnants, which had remained largely loyal to Mussolini during the time of the Italian Social Republic , later came under German authority.

The "Decima MAS" carried out its most famous commando operation on the night of December 18-19, 1941. Six combat swimmers on three SLCs broke through the defensive barriers of the port of Alexandria in Egypt undetected and attached mines to the hulls of the British battleships Queen Elizabeth and Valiant anchored there . The following explosions could not sink the ships, but damaged them so badly that they failed for months and weakened the British position in the Mediterranean.

British development

Royal Navy
Naval Ensign of the United Kingdom, svg
Branch of service Sinkings Damage
manned torpedo 2 cruisers
2 merchant ships
Small submarine 1 cruiser
1 floating dock
1 merchant ship
1 merchant ship
1 battleship
Total 8 ships 2 ships

Having become aware of the Italian success, the Royal Navy made its own efforts to also set up such small combat units. It was a coincidence that the British were able to recover an undamaged SLC off Gibraltar in the spring of 1942 . It served as a model for the development of the Royal Navy's first manned torpedo, the Chariot . The Underwater Working Party was founded in the summer of 1942 .

It consisted of the three types of manned torpedoes, micro-submarines and combat swimmers (frog men). The Royal Navy decided not to use explosive boats. One of the first operations of these associations took place at the end of October 1942 and aimed at the sinking of the German battleship Tirpitz , which was moored in the Norwegian Åsenfjord . The operation failed, however, because the mounts of the two chariots came loose in the heavy seas from the camouflaged fishing trawler used for this purpose and the torpedoes sank. The first successes were the damage and sinking of some German and Italian ships in the ports of Palermo and Tripoli .

German development

Small combat units of the Kriegsmarine
War Ensign of Germany (1935–1938) .svg
Branch of service Sinkings Damage
manned torpedo 1 cruiser
2 destroyers
3 M-boats
1 merchant ship
1 trawler
Small submarine 1 destroyer
9 merchant ships (18,451 GRT)
3 merchant ships (18,384 GRT)
Explosives -
Total 19 ships 3 ships

The formation was the result of a defensive strategy of the German Navy . From spring 1944 at the latest, the latter was forced to develop a naval combat concept of the "needle prick tactics" in order to sink supply , war and merchant ships of the Allies in the coastal apron and disrupt their supply routes.

Successful acts of British sabotage in Saint-Nazaire and North Africa finally drew the attention of the new Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz , to this possibility of fighting and led to initial considerations of setting up their own small combat units. These considerations were owed to two things. On the one hand, because of the massive bombing raids on German armaments and industrial centers, which also included the shipyards, German armaments production was no longer able to build larger ships, and ship production therefore increasingly shifted to underground shipyards or submarine shipyards. Bunker off. On the other hand, the allocations of raw materials such as steel or oil were subject to strict limits. The main focus of assignments to the Wehrmacht was on tank production for the army, followed by the Luftwaffe's fighter program and only in third place was the navy's submarine construction program. Doenitz saw the task of the navy in covering the western European coastal areas with a system of barriers of inexpensive and quickly produced small arms, in order to be able to prevent an invasion of "Fortress Europe".

Under maritime small weapons one understood on the part of the high command of the Wehrmacht independently operating and extremely mobile small weapons , which should consist primarily of manned torpedoes, combat swimmers, miniature submarines and explosive vessels. The official abbreviation of K-Associations was announced on April 20, 1944. Their use ended with the surrender of the Wehrmacht on May 8, 1945, although there were still isolated splinter groups of combat swimmers who operated until May 11, 1945.



  • Cajus Bekker : lone fighter at sea. The German torpedo riders, frogmen and explosive device pilots in World War II. Stalling, Oldenburg et al. 1968.
  • Helmut Blocksdorf : The command of small combat units of the navy. The "Storm Vikings". Motorbuch-Verlag, Stuttgart 2003, ISBN 3-613-02330-X .
  • Harald Fock: Naval small weapons. Manned torpedoes, small submarines, small speedboats, explosives yesterday - today - tomorrow. License issue. Nikol, Hamburg 1996, ISBN 3-930656-34-5 .
  • Martin Grabatsch: torpedo rider , storm swimmer , explosive boat driver . A secret weapon in World War II. Verlag Welsermühl, Wels 1979, ISBN 3-85339-159-X .
  • Hellmuth Heye : Naval Small Arms. In: Defense. Vol. 8, 1959, ISSN  0043-213X , pp. 413-421.
  • Paul Kemp: Manned torpedoes and small submarines in use 1939-1945. Motorbuch-Verlag, Stuttgart 1999, ISBN 3-613-01936-1 .
  • Lawrence Paterson: Arms of Despair. German combat swimmers and micro-submarines in World War II. Ullstein, Berlin 2008, ISBN 978-3-5482-6887-3 .

Secondary literature

  • Jürgen Gebauer, Egon Krenz (ed.): Marine encyclopedia. 2nd, revised edition. Brandenburgisches Verlags-Haus, Berlin 1998, ISBN 3-894-88078-3 .
  • Richard Lakowski: Reich and Kriegsmarine secret. 1919-1945. With more than 200 previously unpublished documents from the files of the Kriegsschiffbau office. Brandenburgisches Verlags-Haus, Berlin 1993, ISBN 3-894-88031-7 .
  • Klaus Mattes: The seals. Small submarines. Last German initiative in naval warfare 1939–1945. Mittler, Hamburg et al. 1995, ISBN 3-8132-0484-7 .
  • Kaj-Gunnar Sievert: Command Company. Special units deployed around the world. Mittler, Hamburg et al. 2004, ISBN 3-8132-0822-2 .

Combat swimmer literature

  • Manfred Lau: Ship deaths off Algiers. Combat swimmers, torpedo riders and naval task forces in the Mediterranean 1942–1945. Motorbuch-Verlag, Stuttgart 2001, ISBN 3-613-02098-X .
  • Michael Jung: Sabotage under water. (The German combat swimmers in World War II). Mittler, Hamburg et al. 2004, ISBN 3-8132-0818-4 .
  • Michael Welham: Combat Swimmer. History, equipment, missions. Motorbuch-Verlag, Stuttgart 1996, ISBN 3-613-01730-X .

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Harald Fock: Naval small weapons. 1997, p. 163.
  2. Harald Fock: Naval small weapons. 1997, p. 20.
  3. Harald Fock: Naval small weapons. 1997, p. 182.
  4. a b c d e Werner Rahn (Ed.): German Marines in Transition. From the symbol of national unity to the instrument of international security (= contributions to military history. Vol. 63). R. Oldenbourg, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-486-57674-7 , p. 515.
  5. Harald Fock: Naval small weapons. 1997, pp. 30-32.
  6. The German Navy. 1935-1945. Volume 3: Siegfried Breyer, Gerhard Koop: The Ubootwaffe, small naval combat units, land combat naval units, naval aviation forces, ports and shipyards, members of the navy with the highest honors, successes in sinking warships, uniforms, rank and career badges. License issue. Weltbild-Verlag, Augsburg 1994, ISBN 3-89350-699-3 , p. 86.
  7. a b Harald Fock: Naval small weapons. 1997, pp. 30-31.
  8. Werner Rahn (Ed.): German Marines in Transition. From the symbol of national unity to the instrument of international security (= contributions to military history. Vol. 63). R. Oldenbourg, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-486-57674-7 , pp. 505-506.


  1. Rahn names only 9 ships