A comparative latecomer to the idea of using combat divers and swimmers in an offensive role, the nucleus of what was to become Germany’s KampfSchwimmerKompanie, (the ‘K-force’) were sent to Italy in 1943 to learn from, and train in, the techniques and tactics employed by the successful Italian combat divers of WWII, the Decima Mas.
In 1944, the Germans developed their own version of the ‘human torpedo’ – in which a partially submerged ‘delivery vehicle’, guided by a pilot wearing a Draeger rebreather, rode ‘piggy-back’ on a second torpedo armed with a high explosive warhead.
Using a variety of weaponry, including the manned torpedoes and mini-submarines, the K-force achieved limited success during the 1944 D-Day landings with the sinking of a number of allied vessels, including the British minesweeper, ‘Cato’.
The attrition rate was high. Of 30-combat swimmers engaged in the first wave of attacks only fourteen returned. Other successful operations of this period included the destruction of key bridges by underwater saboteurs.
In 1959 – and following the lead of several other Navies – Germany established an elite unit of combat swimmers that, today, rank among the world’s best.
(An excellent account of the WWII period is contained in the book, ‘K-Men: The Story of the German Frogmen and Midget Submarines’ by C.D. Becker, first published in 1955, with a preface by Hellmuth Heye, formerly Admiral of the K-Force.)