Seoul—September 1950 Part IV

A pair of North Korean vehicles (T-34/85, SU-76) in Seoul, probably knocked out during the initial North Korean nighttime counterattack on the 1st Marines when the Marines first entered the city.

Operations in Korea—United Nations Offensive. The Department of History, United States Military Academy at West Point.

Mobility and Counter-Mobility

Although counter-mobility was central to the NKPA’s strategy in Seoul, and the 1st Marine Division described “a most skillful delaying action,” the Marines proved capable of pressing the advance. Even before US forces entered the city, the North Koreans had recovered from their initial surprise at the Inchon landings, relying on mines to slow the American advance. The 1st Marines and their supporting armor encountered large minefields along the Inchon-Seoul highway, which damaged or destroyed several vehicles. However, these minefields were sometimes not well camouflaged or covered by fire.

That changed inside the city, where the NKPA combined mines with barricades, and kept both nearby and under the observation of infantry, crew-served weapons, artillery, and tanks. The barricades were mainly composed of earth-filled rice bags, spanned the full width of the street, were approximately ten feet high and five feet thick, and emplaced at every major intersection (200–400 yards). Covering forces were usually waiting in adjacent buildings or on nearby rooftops. Any approach by US forces sparked heavy fire from small arms and crew-served weapons. While the main roads in Seoul were wide, paved, and straight, the secondary roads were not. The North Korean focus on the major roads was prudent as many of the secondary roads were also dead ends. Some of the US troops tried exploring the secondary roads and found them too narrow for their vehicles. Even on the main roads, debris and downed power and telephone lines made travel difficult, causing many flat tires.

These mutually reinforcing elements at each defensive position required US forces to carefully combine many elements of their own capabilities to continue the advance. The infantry-armor-engineer team had to work well together to keep US losses low and maintain the pace of advance. Tanks would move forward and suppress the NKPA fire in the area, so that the engineers could advance and clear the mines. Aircraft contributed by strafing and rocketing. Mines were especially difficult to deal with inside the city because they were harder to find in the rubble and debris in the streets. The infantry would cover the armor, so NKPA infantry could not exploit the limited visibility of the buttoned-up tank crews and charge forward with satchel charges. Once the mines were cleared, the armor would blast holes in the barricades and charge through (some with dozer blades), while continuing to engage enemy forces behind the barricade. Some of the infantry would continue to cover the tanks; others would then clear the nearby buildings and rooftops. US troops repeated this process over and over, the average barricade taking forty-five minutes to clear. Sometimes it took longer, and sometimes tanks were knocked out by mines, but progress was steady. Despite the advantages afforded a defender in urban terrain, and the NKPA focus on counter-mobility, the Marine advance across the city still sometimes exceeded 2000 yards in a day.

While Marine Corps doctrine on urban warfare did not specifically prescribe these methods to clear barricades, they were in line with the spirit of the doctrine. The Marine Corps’ manual on urban warfare mentioned the utility of “obstacles” for defensive urban warfare and the section on street fighting in the Marine Corps’ manual for rifle squads was immediately followed by a section on attacking fortified areas, which it defined as any area where military construction had enhanced the defensive characteristics of the terrain.

The weak link in this choreography of arms was de-mining. While the 1st Marine Division had distributed extra engineer units across the assaulting forces, they were still in short supply. Occasionally the advance stalled while the infantry waited for engineers to arrive. The division’s after-action report called for more training of the infantry in de-mining. When armor was not present, as during the day on 25 September for the 1st Marines, the pace of advance was slower and the cost higher. Several times, when dozer blade-equipped Shermans tried pushing through the barricades without the engineers, they were knocked out by mines.

The Korean War was the debut for one radical improvement in US mobility, the helicopter, but this was not a mode of transportation ready for the urban environment. The first generation HO3S-1 helicopters did facilitate the rescue of downed pilots, medical evacuation, and the movement of commanders around the battlefield, but they were vulnerable to small arms fire. The Marines had only eight helicopters (the only helicopters then in Korea), and several were lost to ground fire, resulting in a command policy to minimize their exposure to fire.

The primary counter-mobility tool for US forces was aircraft. Even several days prior to the Inchon landings, US carrier-borne aircraft were roaming thirty miles inland to attack NKPA forces and restrict any early North Korean reaction. Both US Navy and Marine Corps aircraft maintained a continuous cap of twelve aircraft during daylight hours. On 16 September alone US air units reported destroying 200 trucks just south of the 38th parallel, in addition to seven tanks across the patrol zone. The NKPA response to the danger of daylight movement was to reserve most of its movements for the hours of darkness. To counter this, there were a number of night fighters in use (F7F Tigercats and a night fighter version of the Corsair), some flying from Japan, and then later out of Kimpo. C-47 “flare ships,” each carrying hundreds of one-million-candle-power flares, sometimes supported night interdiction missions.

At night, the two best US counter-mobility tools were mines and harassing artillery fire. Each night US forces dug in, often laying out mines to protect against the frequent NKPA night-time counterattacks. In the large NKPA attack on the night of 25 to 26 September, the lead T-34 was knocked out by a Marine mine. At times harassing fires were directed into Seoul, as the 4.2-inch Mortar Company of the 1st Marines did “throughout the night” of 23 to 24 September.


The firepower-intensive operations in Seoul required large quantities of ammunition, and while strained at times, the American logistical system proved capable of supplying that need. Only two general shortages of artillery ammunition occurred. As the demand for white phosphorous ammunition sometimes exceeded the supply, artillerymen had to substitute high explosive rounds. The Marine 4.5-inch rocket battery was rendered useless because the wrong type of fuses had been brought from Japan, a problem that was not corrected until after Seoul had fallen. This was discovered when a full salvo of 144 rockets was fired into Yongdungpo, supporting the 1st Marines, and not a single rocket detonated. During the NKPA night attack of 25 to 26 September, Marine 105mm howitzer battalions ran low on ammunition, which interrupted their fire missions, before overheated howitzer tubes did the same. Despite those problems, as previously discussed, another US Army artillery unit was in range and was able to shift its support to the Marines in Seoul.

Heavy ammunition consumption by the units in Seoul did draw down the 1st Marine Division’s overall stockpile, but the supply flow was “never seriously interrupted.” This was in part because Marine logisticians aggressively pushed supply dumps forward. By 22 September several were in Yongdungpo, and the first dumps were set up across the Han on 24 September. While American logisticians established no dumps in Seoul until after its capture, one was on the city’s outskirts on the first day of the assault, 25 September.

When local supplies ran low, US personnel usually found a rapid remedy. During that same heavy attack of 25 to 26 September, an emergency request came from the 3rd Infantry Battalion (1st Marines) for more ammunition. The regimental supply dump was moving and could not respond. However, the supply dump for another battalion in the regiment was in place nearby, so several officers using a jeep conducted an emergency resupply from its stocks. They navigated the debris-filled streets at night, directly resupplying the companies in need while under fire. When the regimental dump arrived at 0330 that night, it sent several amphibious trucks full of ammunition to those same companies. Captain Barrow’s Able Company ran low on supplies, as it spent a night isolated in Yongdungpo. His men managed by scavenging some NKPA supplies they captured, and then a resupply run of five American tanks arrived in the morning.

Supplying the tanks in Seoul did present some difficulties, but not sufficiently to detract from their supporting role. Even before the 1st Tank Battalion shipped out from the United States, its personnel discovered a nation-wide spare parts shortage for the M26 Pershing, which logisticians could never solve during the Inchon-Seoul operation. The supply of 90mm high explosive and white phosphorous ammunition for the M26 was low at times (although not “critical”), and tank units shifted to using the Shermans with their 105mm guns. The 1st Marines complained that their supporting armor spent too much time away from the front line refueling and rearming at distant resupply points. At times the advance of the infantry halted until the armor returned. The armor supporting the Marine infantry was a mix of organic and attached from the 1st Tank Battalion, and the Marines found the infantry regiments lacked the maintenance capabilities to support these large contingents of tanks. This was exacerbated by delays in movement of support elements of the 1st Tank Battalion across the Han.

Several operational logistical factors were present during CHROMITE, but the tempo of operations in the city was not affected. Some units experienced resupply difficulties because they had not brought their full complement of trucks, driven by shipping limitations and the rushed planning for the Inchon landings. Another constraining operational factor was the Han. The lack of bridging material, at least before Seoul was cleared, required all units and supplies to move across via motorized pontoon barges, amphibious tractors, or amphibious trucks, creating long lines at the three crossing points. Helping matters was the success of US engineers in rapidly restoring at least partial rail service in the Inchon-Seoul area, and the early capture of Kimpo, into which US transport aircraft flew over 1700 tons of supplies from Japan during the fighting in Seoul (25 to 27 September). US forces also captured significant amounts of NKPA supplies in the advance on Seoul.

Dealing with the Population

During the abbreviated planning phase for Operation CHROMITE, US planners addressed support for the civilian population and stipulated an aggressive schedule for handing over responsibility to the South Korean government. X Corps estimated that 15 percent of Seoul’s population, which had been 1.5 million in 1949, would be destitute and require direct assistance. To that end, the invasion fleet carried with it 2500 tons of rice for distribution to civilians. US intelligence reports on the city included the location of hospitals, water system components, power plants, and lists of those civilians known to be hostile or friendly to the United Nations forces.

Medical care emerged as the salient service provided by US forces to the population. In the first few days after the Inchon landings, only the medical facilities of the 1st Marine Division were ashore, and those facilities were overtaxed supporting the injured from the Marines, Army, Navy, ROK, POWs and “hordes of civilian casualties.” Also in those early days, the 1st Marine Division set up a hospital in Inchon for treating civilian casualties, staffed with US personnel and some “rounded up” local Korean nurses. US forces had some initial difficulty supporting this facility, but this was soon corrected with supplies carried by the assault fleet, flown in from Japan, and captured from the NKPA.

As US forces approached Seoul, it became apparent to the 1st Marine Division Surgeon that the fight for Seoul would generate greater than expected civilian casualties. He took this matter up with headquarters X Corps on 25 September, stating his estimate of five thousand casualties would overwhelm US military medical capabilities ashore at that time, and that there could be political repercussions should this need not be met. Two days later, a letter from the 1st Marine Division commander to Almond estimated a minimum of five thousand civilian casualties and suggested “urgent attention.” Over the next two days, the Marines began establishing two more civilian hospitals, in Yongdungpo and Seoul. Given the overall transport shortfalls for X Corps, few trucks were available to transport civilian wounded, but those most seriously injured were moved in US military vehicles. Out of concern for the spread of insect-borne diseases, resulting from the disruptions to civil services and the number of unburied dead, US forces conducted insecticide “fogging” operations in Seoul and Inchon. Several days before US forces entered Seoul, former city officials were flown up from Pusan on US aircraft, including public health and welfare personnel. Once US forces were inside the city, they established collection points for civilian casualties in the city, and US troops passed captured medical supplies on to the local South Korean officials. In the Inchon-Seoul operation, civilians represented 35 percent of the patients treated by the 1st Marine Division’s 1st Medical Battalion, and the medical company sent by that unit into Seoul actually treated more civilians than it did Marines (615 vs. 518). Additional civilians were cared for at the regimental level, although the 1st Marines’ after-action report identified the need for expanded preparation for this.

Key to the success in the X Corps support of the population was the rapid transition back to South Korean civilian control, something MacArthur had personally emphasized. The Americans flew Seoul’s mayor, police chief, and other city officials up from the south into Kimpo. The mayor of Seoul officially resumed his duties in Seoul’s City Hall on 28 September.

Under direction of the mayor of Seoul a program was initiated to establish the civil police, public health and sanitation, reconstruction of public utilities including water and electricity, and to clear, in general, the destroyed portions of the city.

Civilian police units were slow to reorganize, but US MPs augmented with ROK personnel and self-organized groups of civilians were reasonably effective in restoring order in the city. Marine after-action reports, however, noted that many units needed more civil affairs personnel.

The rules of engagement under which US forces operated in the city allowed for the extensive use of firepower, understandably given the operational military considerations and the nature of the foe. As Puller’s 1st Marines encountered stiff resistance outside of Yongdungpo, he asked for a free hand in applying artillery and air strikes inside the suburb, and Almond “authorized the burning of Yongdungpo.” The 11th Marine Artillery Regiment lamented the lack of proper 4.5-inch rocket fuses as they “Would have been very effective in destroying the town of Yong-Dong-Po.” They also directed extensive harassment, interdiction, and supporting artillery fire into Seoul itself. One Marine 4.2-inch mortar company fired 700 rounds of high-explosive and white phosphorous and reported “the burning out of several blocks within the city.” Restraint in the use of firepower was occasionally evident, but this was most often out of concerns for the safety of friendly military personnel.

An aggressive use of firepower made sense from an operational perspective. The speed at which US forces captured Seoul had a direct connection to the duration of the war in the minds of the American commanders. To that end, US commanders needed an abundance of firepower to overcome the delaying tactics of a determined defender. A shorter war would mean fewer overall civilian casualties. Puller’s mix of regret and determination were evident in his comments to the press.

I am sorry I had to use that stuff [155mm artillery] last night. The Koreans won’t forget this in 500 years. I’m convinced the Reds are holing-up deliberately to force us to use artillery and flame throwers.

Speed was also important for the welfare of the civilians and American POWs. The Marines received reports from informants in the city of NKPA atrocities there, including that approximately 50 percent of the damaged buildings were due to NKPA arson, in a planned scorched earth policy. US units also received reports of American POWs being killed by the NKPA in the city. A captured NKPA memorandum “Directive Re Slaughtering of Captives,” dated 16 August 1950, complained that too many NKPA units were still slaughtering captured Americans, and urged that they should stop as it was no longer useful since the war effort was going so well.

The human cost to the civilian population of Seoul is a moot subject in US after-action reports. The chaos of the battle and the preceding three-month North Korean occupation explain the absence of an accurate count as to the number of civilians actually present in the city, but the number was likely a large proportion of the 1.5 million pre-war figure. Even the official South Korean history of the war avoids the topic. In its eleven-page section describing the battle and handover to South Korean government control, not only is there no estimate of civilian casualties, there is not even a mention of civilian dead. While the duration of the fight inside the city was short, the liberal use of firepower by both sides probably cost considerable civilian life. A gross estimate could be in the low thousands.


The capture of Seoul presented a range of problems, including minimal planning for the fight in the city itself, a hasty operational planning cycle, and some units that were recently created, but US forces overcame these and proved capable of accomplishing their mission. Despite the paucity of attention in the US military to city fighting in the period after World War II, the Marines managed to break through determined resistance at several points outside the city and clear Seoul in just three days. As was the case in Aachen and Manila, the two key drivers behind that success were transferable competence and adaptation.

Carried over from World War II, the USMC’s emphasis on firepower and combined arms—in training, organization, and equipment—paid handsomely on the streets of Seoul. The skillful blending of armor, infantry, artillery, engineers, and air support allowed steady progress against the NKPA barricades—which were themselves a blending of capabilities (mines, infantry, artillery, and armor). When the NKPA chose to attack, Marine firepower was even more effective, as when the NKPA’s offensive capability in the city was largely destroyed on the night of 25 to 26 September. Equally as important, the American logistical system was able to provide the large amounts of ammunition needed for such a firepower-intensive approach. The NKPA did possess some significant armor and anti-armor capabilities, at least on paper, but poor crew quality and training resulted in a decided armor advantage for the Marines.

Unlike the previously examined battles in Aachen and Manila, the Marines at Seoul had no recent experience that carried over into urban warfare. The 5th Marines had just come from the Pusan Perimeter, but none of the American units involved had fought extensively in urban terrain or dealt with the NKPA on the defensive. The quality of Marine personnel, including its small unit leaders, helped make up for that lack of experience. The Marine doctrinal emphasis on aggression and initiative fit perfectly with the needs of the urban landscape. Small unit leaders also contributed greatly to the NKPA’s effectiveness, particularly in the hill mass northwest of the city.

Adaptation by US forces inside the city was minimized by the short duration of the battle, but there were still some examples of adaptation. The 1st Marines’ combined arms solution to the NKPA barricades was not fully applied until their second day in the city, although only because problems with crossing the Han delayed the arrival of its armor into the city. When the US Army first lieutenant could not see the spotting rounds for the badly needed artillery support during the NKPA night attack of 25 to 26 September, he requested a switch to white phosphorous, which proved much more visible amid the many burning buildings.

The greatest difficulties in Operation CHROMITE were induced by higher-level decision making—the relatively low priority given to the isolation of the city, and the direct approach taken by the 5th Marines into the city. Unlike the commanders at Aachen and Manila, Almond gave low priority to cutting off the city before beginning the assault. Perhaps this came from a belief that the city would fall quickly, but his assigning of that task to his two later arriving regiments resulted in the NKPA escape routes remaining open during the battle. A 1st Marine Division intelligence report, produced at the end of the battle, stated,

His [the NKPA] determined delay through the city has afforded him ample time to regroup and reorganize his remaining forces for a determined stand along a line of his choosing.

The route into Seoul from where the 5th Marines crossed the Han took them directly into the NKPA’s main line of resistance. This both delayed the capture of the city and weakened the 5th Marines sufficiently to relegate them to a secondary role in the fighting inside Seoul. Once by plan, and once by accident, US troops entering both Aachen and Manila had managed to bypass the enemy’s main line of resistance.

The battle for Seoul was a decisive point in the Korean War, and probably the most operationally important urban battle in US military history. Of the 70,000 NKPA troops around the Pusan Perimeter, only an estimated 25,000 made it back to North Korea. US forces, mostly Marines, conducted the battle in an aggressive and largely competent manner, ending the first phase of that war. Perhaps most impressively, it was conducted only three months into a war that had shaken the United States out of its demobilized daze. The battle also proved a strong rebuttal to the notion that nuclear weapons had marginalized conventional ground combat operations.


Abwehr II Department – Brandenburgers

Date Founded: October, 25, 1939
Date Disbanded: September, 11, 1944
Mission When Founded: Military special operations as detailed below.
Mission During the War: Same
Jurisdiction: Global
Headquarters: Berlin (staff). Generalfeldzeugmeister-Kaserne, Brandenburg/Havel (main barracks). Later several smaller barracks scattered over Germany and Austria, including Rathenow/Havel (airborne), Admont/Steiermark in Austria (mountain) and Swinemünde on the Baltic Sea (coastal raiders), later at Langenargen (Lake Constance). Subunits were headquartered at various times at Baden-Unterwaltersdorf (near Vienna), Freiburg im Breisgau (Black Forest), Allenstein (East Prussia), Ploesti (Romania) and Gatron (Libya)
# of Personnel: 320 in October 1939, full division with several independent smaller units attached in late 1944
Annual Budget: N/A

Hauptmann Dr. Theodor von Hippel

History/Profile: The term Brandenburger (the men from Brandenburg), while slightly sloppy, is used here to describe a German Army special forces unit that changed its size, composition and name continually during its short history. The unit had its origins in several small and secret formations which played a part in the first stages of the war, notably the invasions in Czechoslovakia and Poland. They consisted mainly of people born and raised as minorities in these countries, and operated behind the lines in advance of the main forces.

The driving force behind the creation of what was to become the Brandenburg units was Admiral Canaris, head of the Abwehr (the military intelligence agency operated by the Wehrmacht). Abwehr Abteilung II/Ausland, the department responsible for foreign intelligence and sabotage, created the Baulehr-Kompanie zur besonderen Verwendung 800 (construction/training company for special applications no. 800) shortly after the start of the war, incorporating men from the earlier units as well as other suitable volunteers. Since the original barracks were located near Brandenburg, a small town to the west of Berlin, the unit would soon earn the nickname “Brandenburg”, and the men “Brandenburger”. The unit was to become a tactical tool of the Abwehr. Actual command lay in the hands of the Wehrmacht, though, which sometimes led to problems, as many newly transferred officers had no real clue what the unit was doing.

At least in the early years, all men were competent in at least one foreign language, and thoroughly trained in special military operations. Specialized training was provided at the Kampf- und Abwehrschule Quenzsee near Brandenburg, a training facility operated by the Abwehr and also used for the instruction of spies and saboteurs. The curriculum concentrated on foreign languages, demolitions, communications, covert insertion including parachuting, and small-unit tactics. Furthermore, riding, driving and piloting skills were offered. Weapons familiarization included working Allied equipment such as T-34 and M-4 Sherman tanks. A few men were pilots, and one mission in North Africa used a captured Spitfire fighter as recon aircraft. Some received special instruction at the laboratories of the Abwehr in Berlin-Tegel, where secret equipment such as long-term detonators, forged papers, concealments, etc. was prepared.

Typical operations included long range reconnaissance, the destruction or seizure and protection of communication centers, bridges and supply facilities such as oil refineries, the formation of bridgeheads through insertion by overland vehicles, parachute, attack boats or U-boats, and similar missions only achievable by a small force operating in secrecy. The men often operated in disguise, which could mean anything from quickly donning foreign great coats and steel helmets to a complete disguise, down to beards, circumcised willies and forged papers.

Siegfried Grabert (11 January 1916 – 25 July 1942) was a highly decorated Major der Reserve in the Wehrmacht during World War II. He was also a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves. The Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher grade Oak Leaves was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership. Siegfried Grabert was killed on 25 July 1942 during a commando operation to destroy a dam between Rostov and Bataisk. He was posthumously promoted to Major der Reserve and on 6 November 1943 was awarded the Oak Leaves to his Knight’s Cross.

Brandenburger were used in many operations, in many areas. They operated in Denmark (during the invasion), Norway (“Unternehmen Widar”, during the invasion), Finland, Spain (“Unternehmen Felix”, planned seizure of Gibraltar), France, Belgium, the Netherlands, England (notably prior to the abortive “Unternehmen Seelöwe”, the planned invasion), Italy, Greece (especially the airborne landing on Crete), Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and the rest of the Balkans, Russia, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Iran, Iraq and other countries of the Middle East, Afghanistan, India and South Africa.

Unit set-up varied widely according to the mission, from 2-men teams over companies (about 300 men, the most usual deployment size) to complete battalions. A squad had twelve men. Methods of insertion also varied, some of the more bizarre missions including: the flight of the Afghanische Kompanie (about 20 men) via civilian aircraft in neutral markings from Austria to Afghanistan (two tonnes of equipment, including a disassembled 20×138mmB Rheinmetall FLAK30 AA gun, had earlier been smuggled into the country in 30 diplomatic pouches!) in 1940. Another interesting one was the covert insertion of a five-man team via U-boat to South Africa in 1943.

While Admiral Canaris and other leaders of the Abwehr are believed to have created the Brandenburger as a means of getting at an efficient private army, this idea soon failed – most members of this unit, while not necessarily fanatical loyal to Hitler and his Nazi ideology, were extremely patriotic and nationalistic. Many had lived abroad when the war started, and reached Germany on dangerous and adventurous ways, breaching the British blockade, only to serve their country. These men were not loyal to the head of the Abwehr, but to their immediate commanders and their country only. In 1943, when being enlarged to division-size, its mission was changed to provide an always available force under direct command of the Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH – Army High Command).

After the failed assassination of Hitler in 1944, operations of the Abwehr were delegated to the SD. In September 1944, it was decided that the unit’s special operations capability was no longer required. The Division “Brandenburg” was transformed into a conventional motorized infantry division, while 1,800 soldiers joined the ranks of Otto Skorzeny’s Jagdverbände, combat units with similar missions that were earlier carried out by the Brandenburger. When the war ended, some of those with good English-language skills were hired by the British Commandos and later given British passes. Most of these emigrated to African countries after their service with the British. Many others joined the French Légion Étrangere.

Baulehr-Kompanie zbV 800 “Deutsche Kompanie”
Founded on October, 25, 1939. Knowledge of a foreign language was mandatory. Most members were Germans who had lived in Eastern and South-eastern Europe, such as Silesia, the Sudetenland etc, and were fluent in the languages spoken there.

Baulehr-Battallion zbV 800 “Brandenburg”
On December 15, 1939, the company was enlarged to battalion-size. It consisted of four companies. A motorcycle platoon, a paratrooper platoon and several other specialized units such as the Afghanische Kompanie (undersized) were later attached.

1st Co. Baltenkompanie with ethnic Germans from Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Ukraine and Russia, all spoke Russian.
2nd Co. mainly men who had lived overseas, many being fluent in English, French, Portuguese and/or African languages.
3rd Co. Composed of Sudetendeutsche, who spoke Czech.
4th Co. Composed of Oberschlesier, who spoke Polish.

Lehr-Regiment zbV 800 “Brandenburg”
On October 12, 1940, the battalion was enlarged to regiment-size. The regiment consisted of three battalions plus some attached units.

I. Four companies (1.-4.)
1st Co. was the Baltenkompanie. Battallion Nachtigal (“nightingale”), a “legionary” unit consisting of Ukrainian volunteers, was attached. That unit’s “political leader” was Hauptmann Prof. Oberländer, Minister for Refugees in post-war West Germany. The unit was disbanded in summer 1941 as unreliable.

II. Four companies (5.-8.).
5th, 7th and 8th Co. were Gebirgsjäger. 5th Co. had three platoons, one each with men from Palestine, SW-Africa and Tyrol. 6th Co. was a Aufklärungskompanie (recon unit), and stationed undercover in Romania.

III. Five companies (9.-12., 15.).
12th Co. was the Englische Kompanie, whose members received special training for “Unternehmen Seelöwe”. In spring 1941, the Tropen-Kompanie was formed under Leutnant Fritz von Koenen from parts of the 11th Co. Most members had good knowledge of North Africa, its people and languages. The 15th (Light) Co. was made up of 127 of the best skiers of the German Army (including one gold medalist of the 1936 Olympic Games) and received further specialized training for operations in the Finnish-Russian border area against Murmansk. They also had 60 sled-dogs and 6 tracker/silent take-down dogs.

In 1941, the 13. (Sonder) und 17. (Sonder)-Kompanie were attached to regiment headquarters.

In summer 1942, the Küstenjäger-Kompanie was formed, a marine raider units composed mostly of people from the Caucasus. It was directly attached to regiment headquarters.

Arabische Brigade.
A volunteer force, fighting from 1940 onwards in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran, later with Kurdish allies in the Caucasus. It had only few German officers and was attached to the Deutsche Militär-Mission, Orient.

Deutsch-Arabische Legion.
Mixed German-Arabian membership, operated mainly in Tunisia.

Lehr-Division zbV 800 “Brandenburg”
Between late 1942 and January 1943, the regiment was transformed into a division, eventually including various specialized subunits such as U-boat crews, artillery, tank, antitank, combat engineer and air defense subunits. It was declared operational on April 4, 1943.

Tropen-Abteilung “von Koenen”
Five companies, based on the former Afrika-Kompanie and led by Fritz von Koenen. 5th Co. was a coastal raider unit (1.-5.).

Küstenjäger-Abteilung “Brandenburg”
Coastal raiders, trained by and many men originally from the Kriegsmarine (1.-4.).

Fallschirmjäger-Abteilung “Brandenburg”
Four companies of paratroopers (1.-4.).

Gebirgsjäger-Abteilung “Brandenburg”
Four companies of mountain troops (1.-4.).

1. Regiment “Brandenburg”
Consisted of three battalions.
I. Three companies (1.-3.) and one legionary company (4.)
II. Three companies (5.-7.)
III. Four companies (9.-12.)

2. Regiment “Brandenburg”
2nd regiment consisted of three battalions.
I. Three companies (1.-3.) and one legionary company (4.)
II. Three companies (5.-7.) and one legionary company (8.)
III. Three companies (9.-11.)

3. Regiment “Brandenburg”
3rd regiment consisted of three battalions.
I. Three companies (1.-3.) and one legionary company (4.)
II. Four companies (5.-8.) and the Italienische Kompanie
III. Four companies (9.-12.)

4. Regiment “Brandenburg”
4th regiment consisted of three battalions and several attached volunteer units.
I. Four companies (1.-4.)
II. Three companies (6.-8.) and one legionary company (9.)
III. Three companies (11.-13.)
Montenegrinische Legion (from May 1943) and Muselmanische Legion, both made up from Albanians, Bosnians, Macedonians and Montenigrinians of Islamic faith.
Indische Legion “Asad Hind” (Free India), a regiment-sized volunteer force made up from Indian students and prisoners of war. Trained in Germany, partly transported to India, rest served in air defense units.

14. Kompanie
15. (Leichte) Kompanie (Fallschirmjäger)
16. (Leichte) Kompanie (Fallschirmjäger)

5. Lehrregiment “Brandenburg”
5th regiment consisted of two battalions and one legionary battalion

I. Lehrbattallion
Four companies (1.-4.)
II. Gebirgsjägerbattallion
Four companies (5.-8.)
III. Legionärsbattallion “Alexander”
Two companies (1.-2.). 1. Kompanie (Weiss) was made up from volunteers from Belorussia and the Ukraine, 2. Kompanie (Schwarz) was composed of men from the Caucasus.

Panzer-Grenadier-Division “Brandenburg”
From September, 13, 1944, the unit was no longer used for special operations.

Weapons: The Brandenburger used whatever was available or seemed appropriate. In the early years, they had to do with various weapons which were not standard issue with the Wehrmacht, such as the Schmeisser MP28/II submachine gun and the Steyr MP16(ö) machine pistol. As the unit grew in size, and the operations changed to large scale motorized and later mechanized infantry assaults, the armament increasingly changed to standard Wehrmacht issue. At the same time, dedicated SpecOps weaponry such as sound-suppressed guns became available. Foreign equipment was often used. For example, during operations in the Finnish-Russian border area, Finnish Suomi Model 1931 and Soviet PPSh-41 submachine guns were issued. In 1943, organic squad weapons included: Walther P38 pistol, MP40 submachine gun, Sten MkIIS sound-suppressed submachine gun, MP43 assault rifle (sometimes with sound-suppressor), Mauser Kar98k rifle, MG42 general-purpose machine gun, rifle grenades, egg and stick hand grenades. The heavy weapons platoon provided more machine guns, 81mm Rheinmetall GrW34 mortars, 105mm LG42 recoilless rifles and 20mm FlAK38 anti-aircraft guns.

Equipment: On covert operations, all men were issued a poison pill to avoid capture.

Selected Reading:
Kurowski, Franz (2000): Deutsche Kommandotrupps 1939-1945. “Brandenburger” und Abwehr im weltweiten Einsatz. Motorbuch-Verlag, Stuttgart.
Skorzeny, Otto (1973): Deutsche Kommandos im 2. Weltkrieg. Band 1: Lebegefährlich. Helmut Cramer-Verlag, Königswinter.
Skorzeny, Otto (1973): Deutsche Kommandos im 2. Weltkrieg. Band 2: Wirkämpften, wir verloren. Helmut Cramer-Verlag, Königswinter.
Spaeter, Helmuth (1982): Die Brandenburger – eine deutsche Kommandotruppe zbV 800. 2. überarbeitete Auflage. Walter Angerer, München.

 By Hans-Christian Vortisch.


The site of an Abwehr incursion immediately prior to the outbreak of World War II, the Jablonka Pass is a key strategic point in the Carpathian Mountains between Poland and Czechoslovakia. On 26 August 1939, not having received word of the delay of the Polish invasion, an advance 70-man unit of the Abwehr under the command of Albrecht Herzner attacked a critical rail station and tunnel and captured some 800 Polish soldiers. A German combat division was then prepared to advance from its camp in the High Tatra. This untimely incursion, however, compromised the effect of Operation Tannenberg-the plan of the Sicherheitsdienst to paint Poland as the instigator of hostilities.

Once Hitler was certain that an agreement with Stalin was possible, he established the final timetable for the attack on Poland. On August 12, 1939, Canaris put all his espionage units on full alert. Two days later, Hitler met with his Wehrmacht chiefs in his Berghof mountain retreat outside Munich. The following day, Canaris ordered his commando and sabotage units to move into position in Poland. On August 19, two trucks from Abwehr II delivered uniforms to the SD for the 364 Abwehr and SS operatives who were to take part in the phony assaults just inside Poland. Three days later, Hitler met again with a larger body of Wehrmacht commanders, including Canaris. Also in attendance was Hermann Göring, who was about to be named head of the Ministerial Council for the Defense of the Reich (Ministerrat für die Reichsverteidigung) and Hitler’s official successor, and Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. On Hitler’s instructions, all his top officers wore civilian clothing. At the end of the meeting, which, as usual, the Führer dominated, he told his military leaders that he expected the attack on Poland to begin in four days. His parting words: “I have done my duty. Now do yours.”

At 4:05 P. M. on August 25, the Wehrmacht High Command under General Wilhelm Keitel issued the order to invade Poland. Canaris immediately sent his combat and sabotage teams into action. Two and a half hours later, though, Keitel ordered his units to stand down at 8:30 P. M. because of new political developments. Great Britain, which Hitler had hoped to isolate through an alliance offer, instead signed a mutual assistance treaty with Poland that day. Benito Mussolini, Hitler’s Pact of Steel ally, now informed the Führer that Italy was militarily unprepared to join in a war that would probably include Britain and France.

Hitler had never intended to halt his invasion of Poland; instead, he delayed his assault for a few days to convince the British to abandon their guarantees to Poland and pressure Mussolini to reconsider his position about joining Hitler in war. By August 28, Hitler had decided to invade Poland on September 1.

War’s First Battle

The war in Europe began with the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. True? Not entirely. The first “battle” of World War II was fought—in Poland, to be sure—six days earlier. Moreover, the ultimate commander of the German combat team that fought the little-known Battle of Mosty in Polish Silesia on August 26, 1939, was a displaced admiral of the German navy, one Wilhelm Franz Canaris.

Canaris was chief of Nazi Germany’s Abwehr, or military secret service. With the attack on Poland originally scheduled for 4:15 A.M., August 26, a Saturday, the admiral’s Abwehr was supposed to send sixteen Kampfgruppen (combat teams) into Poland twelve hours ahead of the German armies for a series of raids on Polish communication and transportation facilities, such as telephone lines or bridges. In other cases, the special K-teams were to seize and hold certain facilities intact for their own Wehrmacht’s use.

Late on August 25, the teams were assembled and ready at their jump-off points—Canaris and his staff had done their homework and followed their orders explicitly. But an agitated aide from the chief of staff’s office called to report that Hitler had postponed the invasion because of political developments. “You must do everything humanly possible to halt your combat teams,” said the aide.

Fifteen of the K-teams were halted in time, but one, headed by Lieutenant Albrecht Herzner, already, irrevocably, was on its way. Herzner, striking out from a German base at Zilina in Slovakia, had been ordered to seize the railroad station at Mosty and secure the Jablunkov Pass in the Beskids. The rail line here ran from Slovakia, past Mosty, and on deeper into Polish Silesia. Following his original orders, Herzner positioned his team and gave the signal to attack. Opening fire at 1 A.M. on August 26, his K-group overwhelmed the Poles guarding Mosty, capturing the rail station and securing the pass as planned.

Leutnant Hans-Albrecht Herzner

Oberst Edwin Lahousen frantically informed Admiral Canaris that his agents overseeing the attack on the Jablunkov Pass railway tunnel had lost contact with the sabotage team under Leutnant Hans-Albrecht Herzner. The fear now was that Herzner’s squad would provoke the very war that the Führer had just called off. Desperate Abwehr II radio operators in Germany and northern Slovakia did everything possible to contact the missing unit. Oskar Schindler’s Commando VIII unit was the main physical link to Herzner’s squad. On the morning of August 26, Oskar’s team informed Abwehr headquarters that it had heard reports of heavy rifle fire near the Jablunkov Pass and concluded that it was probably Leutnant Herzner’s unit.

Hours later, Canaris received more information about Leutnant Herzner’s activities. At 3:55 A. M. on August 26, Herzner’s unit was sent to the Eighth Army, which was part of Army Group South; this was the first official dispatch of World War II. It reported that it had taken nearby Mosty u Jablunkova station but had failed to take the Jablunkov tunnel Herzner’s squad then captured a locomotive and tried to enter the tunnel, but the Poles repelled this effort as well. The Abwehr team, which was now trapped behind Polish lines, was ordered to fight its way to the Slovak border. It met stiff resistance from Polish police forces, who now tried to block the German team’s way out of Poland. By early afternoon, Herzner’s unit remained under heavy Polish fire as it tried to move across the Slovak border in the Rakova-Madca region. Just before it entered Slovak territory, General Keitel ordered Herzner to remain in Poland.

The Germans then settled down to await the expected arrival of an entire invading division. When no division appeared after a time, the young German commander approached the Polish colonel he and the K-team had taken prisoner. What’s going on, Herzner asked, weren’t the two countries at war? “I told you they aren’t,” the Polish officer replied. He suggested that Herzner call his home base on the telephone in the station house and find out the facts. Herzner did—and was told to return to Zilina immediately. The war had not started after all!

It was a ludicrous situation, but no joke. In the war that did start six days later, Herzner was among the millions of casualties. So was Poland, which collapsed in just twenty-seven days of assault by the new German blitzkrieg.

On the afternoon of August 31, 1939, the special Abwehr, SS, and SD units that were to initiate the mock attacks were given the code words Grossmutter gestorben (Grandmother is dead). This was the signal for their final moves into Poland. A stunned Admiral Canaris, who received his orders for the initial assaults at 5:30 P. M, broke down and cried. For Canaris, war meant the end of Germany. Two and a half hours later, Germans dressed in Polish uniforms fired shots across the Polish border and left the dead prisoners as “evidence” of Polish aggression. Another group under SS-Sturmbannführer Alfred Naujocks attacked and captured the radio station at Gleiwitz. The phony “Polish” occupiers then announced, in Polish, an attack on Germany. Hitler now had his justification for war.

The following day, the Völkischer Beobachter informed the German people that Polish rebels had moved into German territory and Adolf Hitler told the Reichstag that the Reich would now respond to fourteen “border incidents” of the previous night. The reality was quite different. Hitler had signed the final directive for the attack on Poland at noon on August 31. Seventeen hours later, five German armies moved into Poland, preceded by several Abwehr commando squads. Over the next few days, Hitler rejected the demands of Britain and France to withdraw as a prelude to negotiations. On September 3, London and Paris declared war on the Third Reich. By the time Soviet forces, after considerable German prodding, began to occupy their portion of eastern Poland, the Wehrmacht had almost completed its conquest of Poland and the destruction of Poland’s once proud military forces. Though some Polish units were able to escape into neutral territory, the Germans were able to defeat those that remained in Poland by October 6, 1939.

Underwater Demolition Teams [UDT] at Saipan

Cdr. Draper L. Kauffman was the innovative commander of the first UDT teams. Here his father, Rear Adm. James L. Kauffman, presents him with a gold star in lieu of his second Navy Cross, for action in the Marianas.

The Navy’s first frogmen, the swimmers of the Underwater Demolition Teams, reconnoitered lagoons and blew out reefs to clear the way for Turner’s assault troops and supply train.

Though the Navy had been wargaming a Central Pacific offensive for decades, the globe-spanning ambition of U.S. Army airpower ensured the fleet would come to the Marianas. With Henry “Hap” Arnold, Curtis LeMay, and Paul Tibbets, among others, eager to strike at the heart of Japan, Douglas MacArthur finally had to cease protesting the Navy’s choice of trans-Pacific routes. The Central Pacific drive acquired an irreversible momentum as the carriers of Raymond A. Spruance’s Fifth Fleet, under Marc A. Mitscher, and Richmond Kelly Turner’s amphibious forces delivered this conquest. The powerful triad of naval power, amphibious heavy lift, and strategic air forces opened an air corridor to Japan that would culminate in history’s first uses of atomic weapons. The war would have endured beyond 1945 had Saipan, Tinian, and Guam not been taken

The UDT were among several wrinkles that Turner and Holland Smith, Turner’s corps commander on Saipan,  had in store for D Day, set to roll less than twenty-four hours hence. Some were technical: ranks of LCI gunboats, advancing ahead of the amtracs, firing rockets in swarms. Some were organizational: a new way to organize the Marine divisions and their weapons, based on the concept of the battalion landing team. This was an eleven-hundred-man unit, two or three of them to every regiment, whose nucleus was a regular infantry battalion, muscled up with additional integrated elements: an artillery battery, an amphibious assault vehicle platoon, a combat engineer platoon, a light armored reconnaissance company, a tank platoon, a reconnaissance platoon, and other units as a mission might require. Other wrinkles were tactical. Turner had an entire transport division set aside, carrying a whole Marine regiment, to execute a false landing off Tanapag, the large harbor town north of Garapan. With the feint, he hoped to freeze Japanese forces in place well up the coast from the actual assault area. During planning, the Marines sprang a little surprise of their own. It was intended to deceive the U.S. Navy.

Holland Smith’s chief of staff, Brigadier General Graves Erskine, proposed the idea of embarking a battalion of Marines in rubber boats and, in dark of night, towing them with landing craft to the beach on the north coast of Magicienne Bay, on the side of the island opposite where the main landings would take place. Lieutenant Colonel Wood B. Kyle’s First Battalion of the Second Regiment (1/2) would go in light and mobile. Carrying no weapons heavier than their rifles and a few 60 mm mortars, they would move rapidly inland from Laulau before dawn and assault Saipan’s highest peak, Mount Tapotchau, three times the height of Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi. The 1/2 would take it, and then hold on against the inevitable counterattacks, resupplied by parachute drop, until units of the Second and Fourth Marine divisions had fought their way to the top of the island.

“This was the song and dance I gave,” Erskine said. The audacious administrative caper was calculated to appeal to Spruance and Turner, for the fast conquest of key objectives was always a priority, promising as it did to free the Navy from the dangerous, exposed job of supporting a ground operation. Erskine knew his proposal would never survive review by his higher headquarters, but the plan was not essential. What mattered were its men. “I wanted at least one extra reinforced battalion, but the Navy claimed they were short of ships.”

Holland Smith was in on the gambit. During discussion, he played the role of skeptic and inquisitor with zeal and zest, claiming that he agonized through many sleepless nights over the tactical problem of putting the 1/2 up the heavily defended mountain before reluctantly canceling the mission—but not until the Navy had assigned additional shipping for a Marine Corps brainstorm it decided it liked.

And so, just as Erskine had calculated all along, Colonel Kyle’s battalion was thrown into the general reserve, right where Smith and Erskine had wanted it all along. The shipping stayed, too. Erskine would call it “a beautiful maneuver,” adding, “In our planning we had to do a lot of things like that, in order to get what we really felt we needed to carry out the operation.” The Marine Corps had built a maverick reputation on the battles it fought in the halls of the Pentagon against the Navy’s perceived quest to sideline and humiliate it in various ways. At Saipan, the Marines had a last laugh. They hadn’t won a “special operations” victory so efficiently since Lieutenant O’Bannon roamed the Barbary Coast.

As the sun rose on June 14, D Day minus one, Draper Kauffman and his two Underwater Demolition Teams left their cramped crew spaces in the APDs Gilmer and Brooks and began their part in the action, piling into four landing craft that came alongside the ships. Each of the thirty-six-foot-long LCPRs took sixteen swimmers, each assigned to survey the approach to a particular beach. The Japanese had not reckoned with a volume of preparatory fires reaching such a crescendo. Nor were they expecting to discover, as day broke, swimmers sidestroking toward them, led by officers embarked in flagships no more glorious than a motorized black mattress, puttering in via an electric motor toward the well-defended shore.

Kauffman and his teams were minimally equipped as usual, wearing trunks, swim shoes, a face mask, and a sheath knife. They didn’t have fins or snorkels. Each pair carried a buoy, a reel, a Plexiglas slate, and a grease pencil as well. Though they had trained in the use of oxygen–beryllium chloride rebreathers, they didn’t carry those, either. The gear was cumbersome. Most of Kauffman’s team leaders decided to toss their bulky radios, too, in favor of a faster swim. And so they crossed the reef and entered the lagoon using a basic sidestroke known as the “invasion crawl.” It was less exhausting than an overhand crawl and produced minimal splash.

Kauffman was resigned to the idea that their chances of coming through unbloodied were poor. Team Five, under Kauffman, would reconnoiter the Red and Green beaches; UDT 7, under the command of Lieutenant Richard F. Burke, would take Blue and Yellow. Quietly estimating that his casualties would run as high as fifty percent, he kept his third team, UDT 6, in reserve, prepared for the worst.

As the LCPRs approached the reef, Japanese fire splashed around them. The frogmen began rolling over the gunwales into the water, one pair every twenty-five yards. Each duo dropped a red buoy, anchoring it to the point marking the seaward origin of their route, in order to orient them for the return. When enemy shell splashes began walking in toward the buoys, the Team Seven exec, Sidney Robbins, instructed the crews to stop placing them. He also decided then and there to abandon the use of the string reconnaissance technique that Kauffman had taught them. This was not going to be easy, he thought. The less they carried, the greater their chance of surviving the gauntlet ahead. Shortly after 8:30, Kauffman and his buddy, a frogman named Page, switched on their small outboard electric motor and began their puttering daylight run toward the beach.

The motorized mattresses were humble flagships, but Kauffman wanted his team leaders to keep some semblance of awareness and potential control over their eight dispersed swimming pairs. Kauffman was soon to consider them “the dumbest idea I’d had in a long time. They were the most magnificent targets.” In briefings, he had heard about the large sharks and man-eating giant clams known to be in the area. But he had advised his men to take no precautions against them, because greater threats loomed: Japanese coastal guns, beach pillboxes, and mortars, for starters.

A low ceiling of gun smoke hung over the strand as the bombardment continued. Just inland of the Red beaches, oil storage tanks were burning fiercely. The California’s neutralization fire was meant to keep enemy gunners from shooting at the UDT, and also to interdict Japanese troop movements down from Garapan. But even after rehearsing with real live ships at Kaho’olawe, Kauffman wasn’t prepared for this. When he saw splashes in the lagoon landing perilously close to his men, both ahead of and behind them, he thought the Navy needed work on its marksmanship. He radioed his executive officer, Johnny DeBold, and said, “Blow Pistol, this is Blow Gun. For God’s sake tell the support ships they’re firing short.”

Slowly and calmly DeBold answered, “Skipper, those aren’t shorts, they’re overs. They’re not ours!”

Kauffman’s reply fell flatly from his mouth. “Oh.”

The UDT commander’s many gifts did not include sharp eyesight. He was significantly shortsighted, in fact, so his buddy Page served as his seeing eye. But Page was color-blind. As they motored in, Page told Kauffman what he was looking at and Kauffman told him what color it was. That became the running joke, at any rate, but it was true. To Kauffman’s amazement, all of his men closed to within fifty yards of the beach, and most went in even nearer than that, under continued heavy fire.

On the Indianapolis, on station more than a mile west of Afetna Point in order to cover the lagoon reconnaissance, Raymond Spruance was serenely watching his flagship’s secondary battery pound the Blue beaches when incoming return fire began landing nearby. As large splashes rose close aboard, Captain E. R. Johnson maneuvered sharply back and forth, keeping broadside to his enemy while trying to anticipate the fall of shot. But the Birmingham, astern Spruance’s flagship, seemed to command greater interest from the shore gunners. Her ample battery of fast-firing six- inch/47s probably marked her as the greater threat. As she eased along at five knots, plunging fire straddled her like a pair of calipers two hundred yards off both beams. Two more shells followed quickly, raising splashes just twenty-five yards to port. Captain Thomas B. Inglis backed his engines, then increased his RPMs, backing faster, just then to be straddled seventy-five yards dead ahead, and then again still closer off the starboard bow. Noticing a shore battery on the heights above Garapan—three-inch guns, he thought—the captain ordered his gunnery officer to bring the secondary battery to bear. The first salvo produced a spout of white and yellow smoke that marked a direct hit. But the torrent of incoming fire continued. Japanese ordnance whistled through the cruiser’s masts, over, astern, ahead, and to port. Shells pierced the large square bedspring of her air-search radar antenna. Inglis thought it was mortar fire until one shell burst close enough aboard to throw hot fragments into one of his 40 mm mounts, wounding two crewmen and starting a small fire. Remnants of the shell’s base plate, found aboard, had rotating bands, indicating it had been fired by a heavy antiaircraft gun. He felt like a ball tumbling around war’s roulette wheel, not yet settling in a pocket painted red.

Shortly after nine, the California stood in Japanese crosshairs with a bit less luck. Salvos from 105 mm howitzers or large mortar tubes landed a pebble’s toss off the port side, and others off the port bow; several more passed close overhead. Then she took a direct hit. Falling nearly vertically, the shell hit the main battery fire-control platform, killing one man and wounding nine. It was well that the California was more than three times the Birmingham’s size, but the damage was substantial nonetheless. Her forward search and gunnery radars were knocked out of action, and for fifteen long minutes the main battery sat mute while control was switched to other stations.

On the bridge of the Birmingham, Captain Inglis took a moment to admire the courage of the UDT as they methodically sounded the lagoon. “This was all close under the gunfire of the Japanese, and within easy range of their machine guns emplaced on the beach itself. Therefore, their work was about as hazardous as anything that can be imagined.” As splashes played among the frogmen and their landing craft, the Birmingham’s spotters found a battery just north of Charan Kanoa’s sugar mill and took it under fire. A huge explosion marked its destruction, part and parcel of the detonation of a neighboring ammo dump. Closer to the water, Japanese soldiers could be seen moving among several gun positions. The crews of Kauffman’s LCPRs, using the two .30-caliber machine guns mounted on either side of the forward ramp, laid suppressive fire close over the heads of the swimmers. But there was little to be done against gunners they could not see.

The volume of incoming fire persuaded Kauffman to abandon his floating mattress experiment. The writing was on the wall for that oddball scheme as soon as he realized the morning naval bombardment hadn’t helped him much. Kelly Turner, to his chagrin, would find his instructions to his fire-support ships—target the beachfront first, then walk fire slowly inland—largely unexecuted. The first salvos started too far inland to neutralize the waterfront defenses. The commanding officer of the California, Captain Henry Poynter Burnett, had not been properly briefed, for he was under the misapprehension that Kauffman’s men would actually land. “Due to faulty communications, this ship was not so informed and considerable protection of their activities thus was unfortunately lost,” he admitted. As the salvos plowed farther inland, Japanese snipers and machine gunners near the beach were left unhindered. Larger guns located on Afetna Point, jutting through the surf between Green Beaches Two and Three, could enfilade the entire landing area, to the north and south. Somehow surviving an early-morning plastering by Oldendorf’s fire-support ships, Japanese crews located there kept their sights on Kauffman all morning long. So the UDT commander and his guide, Page, opted to ditch their awkward floating command post three hundred yards out. “We anchored it there and swam in because it would have been ridiculous to take the mattress in any further,” Kauffman said.

Lacking direct radio contact with the bombardment ships, the frogmen were poorly prepared to deal with surprises. Sid Robbins of Team Seven was startled to find that mortar teams had made a firing position out of a cluster of a dozen Japanese barges moored to the pier at Blue Beach One. Because of the intensity of the barrage that came down upon them, Robbins’s swimmers weren’t able to reconnoiter Yellow Beach One at all. After several attempts, this detachment returned to the Brooks with casualties that seemed light under the circumstances: just two men seriously injured.

Kauffman was mystified by the absence of airpower supporting him. Just after sunrise, the Wasp had sent a large strike with the ostensible mission of covering the UDTs, but the air coordinator routed them to other targets, and it was wise that he did, for Oldendorf’s heavies were in full voice then. The Avengers of Torpedo Fourteen hit gun positions around Aslito Field and tried to burn nearby sugarcane fields with phosphorus incendiaries. The remaining Helldivers, joined by Hellcats, attacked targets on Nafutan Point, where photo interpreters noticed six-inch shore batteries, the largest on the island.

At ten o’clock, a large flight of Hellcats was scheduled to sweep the full two-mile length of the four landing beaches. The mission would likely have scattered, killed, or suppressed most of the enemy soldiers working the waterfront and filled the gap in the pattern of supporting naval gunfire close to the water. But to Kauffman’s chagrin, the fighters never appeared. Their no-show likely had to do with confusion arising from the fact that Turner’s commander of support aircraft, Captain Richard F. Whitehead, had not yet arrived as of D Day minus one. He would not join Turner on the Rocky Mount until the day of the landings. That left an air support coordinator in the Tennessee to make sure the mission was carried out. But the battleship had a long list of scheduled fires to manage, and the air mission seemed to give way to other priorities on a day that was loaded with them.

Kauffman’s losses were light under the circumstances. Six men from Team Five were injured—internal damage from hydraulic concussion. Only one frogman was killed. This was Robert Christensen, a first-class petty officer who was one of the best-liked men on the team. He was shot in the head while helping Ensign Bill Running supervise his platoon from their floating mattress. Team Seven had five wounded, but they, too, lost only one man, Albert G. Weidner. He was the coxswain on Lieutenant Burke’s own LCPR, blown from the wheel when the boat took a direct hit after dropping off its swimmers at the reef. Burke escaped serious injury, but a Navy crewman from the Brooks was killed as well.

At 11:30, the Birmingham, her barrels radiating hot as a forge, checked fire after dealing more than thirteen hundred six-inch rounds and nearly twelve hundred five-inch rounds into Saipan. Around this same time, Kauffman ordered all his swimmers back to the reef, where their landing craft would be waiting for them. It proved to be an unpopular order, for two of his men were unaccounted for. But with mortars dropping around his boats, he had no wish to lose any of his critical information on the reef and the lagoon. Team Seven had lost one of its landing craft already, and Admirals Turner and Hill, as well as General Smith and his division and regimental commanders, were counting on a complete report. The Gilmer and Brooks poured smoke onto the water as the frogmen climbed aboard their LCPRs. The Tennessee, California, Indianapolis, and Birmingham threw their final salvos, then hauled clear to recover their planes and prepare for what was sure to be an even harder trial the next morning, when four Marine regiments would storm ashore.


Kelly Turner continued to doubt the wisdom of allowing the amtracs to ride inland, and he worried, too, about the chances of getting tanks over the reef and through the lagoon. That was until the leadership of UDT 7 appeared on the Rocky Mount and presented him and General Smith with the fruits of their morning of work. Draper Kauffman reported to Rear Admiral Harry Hill, Turner’s deputy, and the commanding general of the Second Marine Division, Tommy Watson.

Kauffman brought good news. There was about two feet of water over the reef, and the depth of the lagoon did not surpass eight feet. He reported that the reef was flat enough to be passable by amtracs and DUKWs, and that while stores of barbed wire, concrete, and posts on the beach suggested the Japanese had had plans, no man-made obstacles or mines were in the lagoon. Equally valuable, Team Seven had located off Blue Beach One a natural channel large enough for LSTs. Little work was needed to make it serviceable, aside from marking it with buoys. Blasting such a route through the reef after the landings would have been difficult given that the dense, sand-cemented coral polyps did not seem likely to disintegrate into a smooth ramp but to fracture into a mess of boulders and craters needing further demolition.

The UDT also found that the route the Marines had planned to use for their waterproofed tanks, set to paddle ashore following the assault waves, would lead them to disaster. It was potholed, and the water was too deep for these jury-rigged amphibs, which were never designed to swim and drowned out easily. Kauffman believed he had found a better way, a smooth path that crossed the lagoon in front of Red Beach Three diagonally onto Green Two. The Marines didn’t know what to make of Kauffman, with his professorial airs, thick glasses, and careful manner of speech. “He had none of the rough, tough appearance of an Underwater Demolition Team man,” said Colonel Robert E. Hogaboom, General Smith’s operations officer. “But there was no question about his competence and his willingness and his courage.” Kauffman passed along the positions of enemy guns and snipers, and he marked the nest of mortar barges for special attention by Oldendorf’s fire-support group.

That night Kauffman had his handiest draftsmen make charts based on the lagoon soundings. When the invasion force arrived before the next sunrise, the commanders of the amtrac and tank battalions and transport groups would have hand-drawn maps delivered to them.

During the evening, Admiral Hill summoned Kauffman to see General Watson. The Second Marine Division boss asked, “What in the hell is this I hear about your changing the route for my tanks?” He had wanted them to swim in across Red Two.

“General, they’ll never get through there,” Kauffman said, showing him his charts.

“Well, all right. But, young man, you’re going to lead that first tank in, and you’d better be damned sure that every one of them gets in safely, without drowning out.”

And now, considering Kauffman’s report and his calm, overriding confidence, Kelly Turner began to think that the idea of sending twenty thousand Marines ashore in these newfangled swamp buggies might just work out after all.


Halifax bomber towing a Horsa Glider.

SF Hydro at the rail dock on Lake Tinnsjo. She would be later sunk by Norwegian operative in order to deny the Germans heavy water from the plant at Vermork.

On 19 November 1942, the British initiated their glider operations with “Freshman,” a mission to destroy the Norsk Hydro Plant at Vermork, eighty miles inland and sixty miles from Oslo. This was a heavy water plant reportedly connected with German research on the atomic bomb. Two Halifaxes, each towing a Horsa, took off from Skiffen in Scotland. Each glider carried fifteen sappers (army engineers)-all volunteers-with Lieutenant G. M. Methuen in command. Two of the pilots, Staff Sergeant M. F. C. Strathdee and Sergeant P. Doig, came from the Glider Pilot Regiment. The other glider pilots were Australian: Pilot Officer Davies and Sergeant Fraser, RAAF. Squadron Leader Wilkinson of the RAF piloted the first tow plane and was accompanied by Group Captain Cooper. A Canadian, Flight Lieutenant Parkinson, piloted the second aircraft.

The small force faced many difficulties. The worst of them was the fact that the Halifax crews had little experience in towing gliders. The Halifaxes were modified for the mission, but their performance was marginal for the job they had to accomplish. The cooling system was inadequate to keep the engines from overheating, as they worked harder than normal while towing gliders. No one was certain that the straining engines could pull the load the 400 miles across the North Sea. The flight over water almost all the way called for pinpoint navigation, so that the two combinations could cross the Norwegian shore almost on target. Plans dictated that once Methuen’s men had destroyed the “heavy water” and the plant, he then had to lead his men through snow-covered mountains to Sweden. The Norwegian underground stood ready with guides for the long and arduous trek.

At 2341 hours, monitors at Skiffen got a faint voice by radio, believed to be Parkinson’s, asking for a course to bring him back to Skiffen. The monitors worked frantically trying to plot his location. By intersection of radio beams, they located Parkinson over the North Sea. Fourteen minutes later, monitors heard a voice grimly stating: “Glider released in sea.” But could it be? A quick calculation on a signal received from Wilkinson showed him to be above the mountains in southern Norway. The mission was in trouble-that much was certain.

The full story did not become known until some years after the war.

Trouble plagued the mission from the start. Weather was thick, although meteorologists promised a clear sky and a moon over the target. Before takeoff, one tug’s wingtip light and both towrope telephones failed. Because the use of radio was frowned upon, a simple code of light signals had to be improvised. By the time they had accommodated to these faults, darkness had fallen. What was worse, a night take-off with full load had not been practiced before. Given the “option to postpone the operation until the next day,” the pilots chose to take off at night and get on with the job. By 1750 hours, Wilkinson’s combination had taken wing into a darkening sky; twenty minutes later, the second followed. Wilkinson chose to fly high, picking his way through broken cloud and reaching Norway at 10,000 feet altitude. Then, just as he needed his Rebecca radio beam system to tie into the Norwegian agents’ Eureka system to direct the airplane to the target, he found the Rebecca did not work. Cooper, doing the navigation, could only rely on maps, but a heavy layer of snow disguised all landmarks.

Wilkinson passed over what might have been the release point. Lacking clear identification, however, he made another circle to find the target. The Norwegian agents in the landing zone had heard the aircraft flying almost directly over them on its first attempt, but they could make no contact since the Rebecca radio beam had failed. By then, he had been flying for five and a half hours and still had 400 miles to go to get back to Skiffen. He flew into thick cloud about 40 miles northwest of Rjukan and could not climb out of it. By this time, there was barely sufficient petrol to get the tug and glider home. Ice began forming on the aircraft and, worse still, on the tow rope. Both tug and glider lost height rapidly. They sank into unbroken cloud and, somewhere in the void above Stavanger, the rope parted. Staff Sergeant Strathee started a descent in zero visibility. Dense cloud turned into swirling snow. It was at this point that the wireless operator had sent out his signal. The aircraft, unable to do any more, just succeeded in returning before its fuel ran out. The glider crash-landed at Fylesdalen, on top of the snow-covered mountains overlooking Lysefjord, killing Methuen, Strathee, Doig and five others and injuring four more severely.

Meanwhile, Parkinson flew low above the sea, trying to keep beneath the clouds until just short of the Norwegian coast. He hoped to encounter the promised clear weather there. Parkinson crossed the coast near Egersund and was heading towards Rjukan when his plane hit a mountain beyond Helleland. Somehow, the tow rope snapped as the plane crashed, but the glider, with little chance for maneuver left, made a heavy landing close by, killing three. German personnel soon captured all survivors. The Gestapo then took over. They poisoned the four injured in the first glider crash while they were in a hospital recovering. On Hitler’s standing orders, the Gestapo then shot the nineteen uninjured men as saboteurs.

Along with this hideous war crime a map was found amongst the wreckage plotting Vermork as the target for the raid, the Germans increased security of the plant immediately.

With the failure of the operation the men of the Grouse team now had to retreat into their mountain hideaway, a small ski cabin high on the plateau north of the plant and exist on meagre rations, even resorting to eating lichen, until further on into the winter a reindeer was spotted and butchered.

On the evening of the 16 February 1943 a further six men were dropped on the plateau to supplement the Grouse team, known as Operation Gunnerside, these men were also Norwegian nationals who had been trained by SOE and the Commandos. Bringing with them much needed supplies and sabotage equipment the night of 27/28 February was chosen for the attack. Due to the discovery of the documents amongst the Freshman raid German security had been substantially raised, especially the bridge linking to the plant. It was decided that the team would descend into the valley and climb the opposite side then follow a rail line into the plant. Thanks to intelligence gleaned from workers inside the plant the men were able to gain access to the plant without alerting the German guards. However a caretaker was disturbed but he was happy to let the men continue their sabotage mission. Charges were placed and a British sub-machine gun was purposely left behind to show that it had been a Commando raid and therefore reduce local reprisals.

The men escaped without discovery and the machinery and stocks of heavy water were destroyed. Four of the raiding party decided to stay in the area to monitor the German response and act accordingly whilst two men moved to Oslo to continue work with the Norwegian underground, whilst the rest headed east to neutral Sweden.

Within two months the plant had been restored to full capability and this was relayed to SOE back in Britain. The chance of another raids success was minimal now that the Germans had increased the protection of the plant, but by early 1943 the USAAF had started to arrive in numbers in Britain, so a daylight raid, carried out by over 140 bombers was flown in November when the weather permitted a reasonable chance of target acquisition. However many of the bombs fell without result and the machinery itself was easily protected by the heavy concrete construction of the plant. However this caused the Germans to fear further raids and decided to transfer what stocks of heavy water they had produced and the machinery to a safer location in Germany. In order to transfer the remaining heavy water to the coast for transport to Germany it first had to travel a short distance from the plant to Mael. Here it would be loaded on to the steam ferry SF Hydro. Four men of the Norwegian resistance decided to sabotage the vessel whilst it was over the deepest part of lake Tinnsjo and deny the Germans the heavy water. The Germans decided to move the stock on a Sunday, lucky for the saboteurs as this would reduce any Norwegians travelling on the Hydro too.

The men snuck aboard the ferry on the evening of Saturday 19 February 1944 and proceeded to place an explosive charge in the bows of the ship. With the timers set the men withdrew.

The ferry left the station on time and by 10.30 am it was over the required area and the explosives blew as hoped. The ship started to list almost immediately, with those on deck managing to clamber aboard lifeboats or stumble over the side, however eighteen people were killed, including three Norwegian passengers, seven crew and eight German guards. The rest were picked up by locals using nearby boats to drag them out of the freezing water. The Hydro itself sank to below 400 metres, well beyond salvageable depth. The German Atomic programme, although never advanced, had taken a massive blow and would never recover.

Elsewhere in Norway, particularly in the south and especially in and around Oslo, there quickly formed a strong resistance movement, the men and women of the country having a strong patriotic streak and being disappointed by how quickly their country had fallen to the Nazi oppressor joined in droves. With the leaders of what became known as ‘Milorg’ making contact with the government in exile, based in London, the resistance grew and grew.

At first underground papers were the only course of action these groups could take, counteracting the strong bias of the local press and the propaganda that abound through all sources of media. Nearly 300 such papers were founded but would only appear at random intervals as the men and women of the publications played a cat-and-mouse game with the Gestapo and their Norwegian counterparts.

To assist the Norwegian underground the SOE set up what would become known as the Shetland Bus. This was a group of Norwegian trawlers that were tasked with infiltrating and bringing back agents from occupied Norway. Using fishing trawlers they were ideally camouflaged and only lightly armed. They still ran the risk of having to cross the North sea at night, in winter under the constant threat of discovery, however they were extremely successful right up to the end of the war.

Armed resistance and sabotage in Norway itself posed other problems, with any act of sabotage usually met with harsh reprisals by the occupies. However, members of the Norwegian Independent Company No. 1 were highly successful, notably Max Manus, a veteran who had fought in the Finnish campaign of 1939–40. Having seen his country capitulate to the Germans in 1940 he actively worked in underground propaganda. He was then caught and injured trying to escape custody. He then dramatically escaped the hospital he was being treated in and arrived in Scotland for Commando training following an epic journey through Sweden, Soviet Russia, Africa and eventually to Canada.

Following training he was dropped into Norway along with a friend Gregors Gram. They were tasked with attacking shipping in Oslo harbour using Limpet mines, a small explosive charge, attached below the waterline of a ship by magnets.

The first raid was carried out on the evening of 28 April 1943, where they successfully sunk two transports and damaged a third.

In January the following year the decision was made to attack the large troop carrier Donau. This vessel had previously been used to transport Norwegian Jews to Germany where they were then sent onto concentration camps. This time canoes could not be used to approach the ship at night as security was high by the wharf. However, with great audacity Manus and his companion, Roy Nielson, entered the docks dressed as workmen. Whilst a colleague distracted the gate guards the two men were only given a cursory security check and proceeded to a small area beneath a lift where an insider had left a dinghy. The men took off their boiler suits to reveal full British uniform, so if they were captured reprisals would be reduced to the local populace. The explosives were placed and the men withdrew without any attention. At ten o’clock that evening the charges blew, and although the captain of the Donau tried to beach her, she was lost.

ANALYSIS: The Italian Manned Torpedo Attack at Alexandria, 19 December 1941

Routes of the Three Manned Torpedoes (Petroliera is the tanker Sagona.) From de Risio, I Mezzi d’Assalto, 123


Were the objectives worth the risks? The Italian navy, although beaten badly in the months prior to the attack on Alexandria, was in the process of commissioning three new battleships, Doria, Vittorio Veneto, and Littorio. The British had also suffered several naval defeats with the loss of the aircraft carrier Ark Royal and the battleship Barham in November 1941. If the Italians could destroy the remaining two battleships, Queen Elizabeth and Valiant, they, along with the Germans, could dominate the Mediterranean. As it stood, however, even with its numerical superiority, the Italian fleet was insufficient to challenge the British in the eastern Mediterranean. With the British still controlling the vital sea-lanes, the Italians had to struggle to resupply Rommel’s forces in North Africa. By using the manned torpedoes to conduct underwater guerrilla warfare, the Italians were able to make maximum use of their maritime resources. With the destruction of two battleships and a destroyer, the Italians had an opportunity to control the maritime playing field and propagandize about the “weakness” of the British. Unfortunately, they did neither. Nevertheless, when one considers that only six men and three manned torpedoes were used to destroy the targets, the objectives were undeniably worth the risk.

Was the plan developed to maximize superiority over the enemy and minimize the risk to the assault force? The development of the manned torpedoes was a technological revolution in underwater warfare. It allowed the Italians to circumvent the conventional submarine marine defenses protecting the capital ships and to bypass the picketboats that were specifically designed to stop frogmen and divers. Superb operational intelligence allowed the planners to tailor the rehearsals to the mission and thereby ensured that the manned torpedo crews were properly prepared to overcome most obstacles. Although the plan maximized the possibility that the battleships would be destroyed, it did not minimize the risk to the divers. Unlike the attacks on Gibraltar, in which the divers could hit the target and swim to neutral Spain, there was little chance the Alexandria divers would return from a trip deep in enemy territory. The Scire, which would have provided the best extraction platform, departed immediately after launching the torpedoes. This reduced the submarine’s vulnerability, but certainly did not help the manned torpedo crews. There was an escape and evasion plan, but it was not well thought out and the divers did not truly expect to return.* Although this one-way trip may seem unacceptable by today’s standards, the Italians were able to maximize their combat effectiveness by eliminating the extraction phase. The torpedo’s battery power, the air in their Belloni rigs, and their physical endurance were all dedicated to mission accomplishment and not saved for escape.

Was the mission executed according to the plan, and if not, what unforeseen circumstances dictated the outcome? With some minor exceptions, the plan was executed exactly as rehearsed. Schergat said later, “From my point of view, the mission looked just like further training.” However, several problems arose that typify the frictions of war. Durand de la Penne lost his second diver, Bianchi, when the petty officer fainted and floated to the surface. One of the three manned torpedoes took on too much ballast and sank to the bottom of the harbor. One of the officers, Martellotta, got violently ill and had to direct the actions of his torpedo from the surface. All of these incidents were happenstance, but that is the nature of war. Regardless of how well the planning and preparation phases go, the environment of war is different from the environment of preparing for war. But, by being specially trained, equipped, and supported for a specific mission, special forces personnel can reduce those frictions to the bare minimum and then overcome them with courage, boldness, perseverance, and intellect—the moral factors.

What modifications could have improved the outcome of the mission? The success of the mission speaks for itself. However, it is conceivable that had a more thorough escape and evasion plan been arranged, two of the crews might have escaped. By prepositioning an agent and a small boat outside the harbor, the evading crews could have quickly linked up and sailed away from the scene before the demolitions exploded. Apparently, this was never addressed. The Italians did have an agent in Cairo who was supposed to assist the divers in their escape, but the Italians, being unfamiliar with the city and unable to speak the language, had little chance of reaching this individual. This part of the plan notwithstanding, the operation was extremely well planned and coordinated, and there are very few modifications that could have improved the outcome.

Relative Superiority

Operations that rely entirely on stealth for the successful accomplishment of their mission have inherent weaknesses; however, they have one overwhelming advantage. As long as the attacking force remains concealed, they are not subject to the will of the enemy. Therefore their chances of success are immediately better than 50 percent because the inherent superiority of the defense is lost. The attacking force has the initiative, choosing when and where it wants to attack, and if the mission is planned correctly, the force will attack at the weakest point in the defense. Consequently, if the will of the enemy is not a factor, only the frictions of war (i.e., chance and uncertainty) will affect the outcome of the mission. Clearly the frictions of war can be detrimental to success, but through good preparation and strong moral factors, the frictions can be managed. The inherent problem with special operations that rely entirely on stealth is obvious. If that concealment is compromised, the mission has little or no chance of success.

Although there were some differences in the individual profiles, basically all three torpedoes reached the critical points at approximately the same time. At midnight on 19 December 1941, all three torpedoes entered the harbor and passed by the antisubmarine net. This was the point of vulnerability, but because the British did not know the torpedoes were in the harbor, the Italians began with relative superiority, albeit not very decisively. As the manned torpedoes continued into the harbor, circumventing the picketboats and pier security, their probability of mission completion improved marginally. Their decisive advantage came when they penetrated the antitorpedo nets. After this point, there were no other defenses that could prevent them from successfully fulfilling their mission. However, as the graph depicts, there was still an area of vulnerability even after overcoming the antitorpedo net. Had the Italians been detected (for instance, when Bianchi floated to the surface), the British crews could have dropped concussion grenades and possibly stopped the attack. Fortunately for the Italians, they were able to set their charges before the British detected them. Three hours later the charges exploded, and the mission was complete.

The Principles of Special Operations

Simplicity. This mission had several advantages not normally associated with a special operation. Although the target was clearly strategic, with the balance of the naval forces in the Mediterranean hinging on the mission success, the execution was almost an extension of routine training and wartime operations. Under Borghese’s command the Scire had previously conducted three missions that paralleled the attack on Alexandria. Durand de la Penne and Bianchi were also veterans of a previous attempt to attack the British. This experience helped mold the approach the Italians took in planning and preparing for Alexandria.

The lessons of the disaster at Malta convinced Borghese, who was the overall mission commander, not to create a complex plan of operation. Borghese limited the objectives by reducing the forces assigned to attack Alexandria. He could just as easily have incorporated another three manned torpedoes and several E-boats to overload British defenses and ensure the Italians of some success. Additionally, although each manned torpedo had only one warhead, it was possible, and often rehearsed, for each crew to hit multiple targets by placing the smaller limpet mines on as many ships as feasible. Borghese chose to avoid both these pitfalls and limit each manned torpedo to only one target with “all other targets consisting of active war units to be ignored.” Although not involved in the planning, Bianchi recognized the need to limit the number of targets. He said later, “In limiting the attack to one objective [per crew] the commander considered having the offensive power increased.” Even attacking one target became difficult. In each of the three cases the frogmen were able to execute their assigned tasks, but only after overcoming significant physical problems (vomiting, unconsciousness, headaches) and equipment failures (dry suit leaks, flooded torpedoes). Had the mission called for more than one target per dive pair, it is unlikely the divers would have had the physical or technical resources to complete it. Also, with multiple targets, the fuses on the charges would have to have been set for more time to allow the divers time to attack their other targets and escape. Arguably this might have allowed the British to find the charges or move the vessels from their anchorage (in Durand de la Penne’s case, moving the vessel would have prevented any damage to the Valiant). In either case, limiting the objectives clearly simplified the plan and allowed maximum effort to be applied against the primary targets.

Borghese knew the value of accurate intelligence, and he consistently used it throughout the operation to reduce the unknown variables and improve the divers’ chances of success. Knowing the physical limitations of divers exposed to cold water, Borghese insisted on getting his submarine as close to the harbor entrance as possible. Italian agents in Alexandria provided the 10th Light Flotilla with a clear picture of the British defenses and in particular the minefields off the coast. Borghese wrote later, “I had therefore decided that as soon as we reached a depth of 400 meters [which was probably where the minefield started], we would proceed at a depth of not less than 60 meters, since I assumed that the mines, even if they were anti-submarine, would be located at a higher level.”

This information eventually allowed the Scire to maneuver to a point only 1.3 miles from the entrance of the harbor. So close, in fact, that after launching the torpedoes, Durand de la Penne stopped his assault crews for a sip of cognac and a tin of food.

The torpedo crews were also provided the latest human intelligence and aerial reconnaissance photos to allow them to plot courses and find the simplest approach to the target. Borghese noted during the preparation phase that the divers’ desks “were covered with aerial photographs and maps … daily examined under a magnifying glass and annotated from the latest intelligence and air reconnaissance reports; those harbours, with their moles, obstacles, wharfs, docks, mooring places and defences, were no mysteries to the pilots, who perfectly knew their configuration, orientation and depths, so that they, astride the ‘pig’, could make their way about them at night just as easily as a man in his own room.”

The accurate intelligence had simplified the problem of negotiating minefields and navigating in an enemy harbor. Alexandria Harbor was thirty-five hundred miles from Italy. It was ringed with antiaircraft guns and supported by Spitfires from the Royal Air Force. It seemed impenetrable from the air. On the other hand, the Italian navy, which had almost no presence in the eastern Mediterranean, posed no significant threat to the more than two hundred vessels (merchant and warships) tied up in Alexandria. The only major fears the British had were from submarines and saboteurs, and extensive precautions had been taken to overcome both these possibilities. Until the establishment of the 10th Light Flotilla and the innovations that followed (i.e., the manned torpedoes, diving rigs, limpet mines, Belloni dry suits, and submarine transport chambers), the difficulty of penetrating the static defenses of Alexandria was not worth the risk in human lives or equipment.* These innovations allowed the Italians to reconsider the possibility of a direct assault.

The most significant tactical innovation was the use of disposable torpedoes. Having to plan for only a one-way trip meant enhanced time on target for the divers and reduced the threat envelope for the submarine Scire. Obviously one-way trips have their drawbacks for the individual operators, but from a mission accomplishment standpoint they improve the possibility of success by reducing the extraction variables. The technological innovations allowed the divers to completely bypass the British defenses. The small visual signature of the manned torpedo provided the Italians a host of tactical advantages. It allowed them to surface unobserved and ride out the depth charges. They were able to navigate around the harbor undetected by ballasting the submersible just under the surface. These actions would not have been possible with either a midget submarine or a conventional submarine. The ease of handling the torpedo also allowed the crews to climb over antitorpedo nets and allowed Durand de la Penne to physically move his flooded machine to a position under the Valiant’s keel. Innovation simplified the assault plan by eliminating the defensive threats posed by the nets and depth charges, and it was without question the dominant factor in the success of the mission.

Security. The raid on Alexandria again demonstrates how the importance of security was not a function of hiding the intent of the mission but of the timing and the insertion means. By December 1941 British intelligence was fully aware that the Italians had manned submersibles capable of penetrating their harbors. The second Italian attack on Gibraltar had provided the British with one torpedo and its crew. The attack on Malta had also resulted in the capture of Italian frogmen. And the sinking of the Gondar resulted in the capture of Elios Toschi, the designer of the original manned torpedo. With all this information, the British unquestionably knew the kind of operations they could expect from the 10th Light Flotilla. As Winston Churchill later said in his speech to the House of Commons, “Extreme precautions had been taken for some time past against the varieties of human torpedo or one-man submarines entering our harbours.” Even with all these precautions, however, the Italians still managed to sneak in and destroy the fleet.

The security employed by the Italians was tight but not overbearing. It did not prevent Borghese from asking for volunteers from among all the members of the 10th Light Flotilla, nor did it prevent the crews from conducting several full-mission profiles in and around La Spezia Harbor, although in both cases it is believed that the actual target was not made known to the general participants.

Borghese was, however, cognizant of the need to conceal the timing of the operation. Upon departing La Spezia for the final voyage, he ensured that the Scire’s transport chambers were visibly empty, and he did not load the manned torpedoes until he was out of sight of the harbor. He took these actions to convince possible onlookers that the Scire was out for just another routine operation. Borghese kept up pretenses when he arrived in Leros. While in port he had the transport chambers covered to reduce speculation about the submarine’s mission, and he refused an admiral’s order to conduct another exercise for fear of compromising the impending mission.

Borghese also understood that all things being equal, operational needs were more important than security. Throughout the mission he maintained radio contact with Athens and Rome. Although interception of the message traffic could have compromised the mission, Borghese obviously felt the need for updated intelligence outweighed that concern. In the end, Italian security was instrumental in preventing the enemy from gaining an advantage by knowing the timing of the mission. A good special operation will succeed in spite of the enemy’s attempt to fortify his position, provided security prevents the enemy from knowing when and how the attack is coming. In the case of the Italians’ attack on Alexandria, security achieved its aims.

Repetition. The principle of repetition as it applies to the attack on Alexandria can be viewed in both the macro and the micro senses of the word. The manned torpedoes of the 10th Light Flotilla had a very limited role: to conduct attacks on ships in port. Every mission profile was similar: launch from the submarine, transit to the objective, cut through the nets, place the charge, and withdraw. Because of this narrowly defined role every training exercise added to the base of knowledge of the operator regardless of what specific mission he would eventually undertake. If one considers that each of the six divers had been on board the 10th Light Flotilla an average of eighteen months (Durand de la Penne and Bianchi almost two years), during which time they had dived at least two times a week, then each man had over 150 dives. In addition, three of the divers (Durand de la Penne, Bianchi, and Marceglia) had previously conducted wartime missions, and all of the divers had at one time or another been designated as reserve crewmembers and undergone a complete mission workup. So, in the macro sense, the only aspect of the Alexandria mission that had not been rehearsed well over one hundred times was the exact course the divers would take.

The operational and reserve crews for the Alexandria mission were assembled in September 1941 to begin mission-specific training. It was during this preparation that the crews conducted exact profiles of the Alexandria mission. Borghese reported that this training “became highly intensified, this being the key to secure the greatest possible efficiency in the men and materials composing the unit. The pilots of the human torpedoes … travelled to La Spezia twice a week and were there dropped off from a boat or, in all-around tests, from one of the transport submarines, and then performed a complete assault exercise, naturally at night; this consisted of getting near the harbour, negotiating the net-defences, advancing stealthily within the harbour, approaching the target, attacking the hull, applying the warhead and, finally, withdrawing.”

Although exact numbers are not available, Spartaco Schergat indicates that a total of ten full-mission profiles were conducted by all three crews and the reserves. Other limited dives concentrated on specific aspects of the mission, such as net cutting or charge emplacement. In the end, however, it was repetition that provided the divers familiarity with their machines and their environment. The training became so routine that Schergat later remarked, “Being in Alexandria or La Spezia was the same. For me it didn’t make any difference.”

The raid on Alexandria presents a broader view of the principle of repetition. It shows that repetition must be measured in terms of both experience and mission-specific training. Special operations forces that are multidimensional will require more rehearsals and more time during the preparation phase than a unit whose sole mission encompasses this training on a daily basis.* However, no amount of experience can obviate the need to conduct a minimum of two full-dress rehearsals prior to the mission.

Surprise. In an underwater attack, unlike other special operations, surprise is not only necessary, it is essential. As illustrated in the relative superiority graph, special operations forces that attack underwater have the advantage of being relatively superior to the enemy throughout the engagement as long as they remain concealed. Owing to their inherent lack of speed and firepower, however, once surprise is compromised, underwater attackers have little opportunity to escape. Although many commanders may find this risk unacceptable, experience shows that this type of operation is mostly successful. During World War II the Italians sank over 260,000 tons of shipping and lost only a dozen men, while the British had similar successes in both the European and the Japanese theaters. The reason for this paradox is that it is relatively easy for divers or submersibles to remain concealed, up to a certain point. Alexandria was a huge harbor with approximately two hundred vessels anchored out, and wartime conditions called for all vessels to be at darken ship. Consequently, a small black submersible, even on the surface of the water, would have been detected only by chance. However, once the manned torpedoes got within close proximity of the target, the chance of detection was greatly increased. This is true of all underwater attacks. The fatigue of the divers, the vigilance of the crew, and the uncertainty of the situation combine to make the actions at the objective exceedingly difficult. This is why relative superiority remained only marginal in this operation until the Italians actually overcame the final obstacle, the antitorpedo net. Beyond the antitorpedo net the British were least prepared to defend themselves, and now the Italians had all the advantages.

The antisubmarine and antitorpedo defenses at Alexandria also show that, contrary to the accepted definition of surprise, the enemy is usually prepared for an attack. To be effective, special operations forces must either attack the enemy when he is off guard or, as in the Italians’ case, elude the enemy entirely. But to assume that the enemy is unprepared to counterattack is foolhardy and might lead to overconfidence on the part of the attacker. It is the nature of defensive warfare to be prepared for an attack. Consequently, if the attacker is compromised, the enemy will be able to react rapidly and the attacker’s only hope for success lies in quickly achieving his objective.

Speed. Underwater attacks are rarely characterized by speed. A quick review of the relative superiority graph shows that it took the manned torpedoes over two hours from the point of vulnerability until they reached the antitorpedo net. Throughout this time they were subject to the frictions of war, and by moving slowly and methodically they only increased their area of vulnerability. However, as long as the will of the enemy is not infringing on the relative superiority of the attacker, speed is not essential, although it is still desirable. Speed becomes essential when the attacker begins to lose relative superiority. Two of the torpedo crews reached their objectives and calmly proceeded to attach the explosives and depart. Durand de la Penne, however, reached his target and immediately began to have difficulties: his torpedo sank to the bottom, he lost his second diver, his dry suit filled with cold water, and he was fatigued to the point of exhaustion. As he said in his after-action report, at that point speed was essential. Durand de la Penne was rapidly losing his advantage and knew that if he didn’t act quickly “the operation … would be doomed to failure.”50 The closer an attacker gets to the objective, the greater the risk. Consequently, speed is still important to minimize the attacker’s vulnerability and improve the probability of mission completion.

Purpose. Commander Borghese, who was in overall charge of the attack on Alexandria, ensured that the purpose of the mission was well defined and that the divers were personally committed to achieving their objectives. This was a straightforward mission without any complicated command and control issues; therefore, defining the goals and objectives—the purpose—was relatively easy. Each manned torpedo had only one warhead and one target. Therefore it was essential not to waste the warhead and the effort on an undesirable objective. Borghese ordered Martellotta and Marino to attack the aircraft carrier Eagle if she were in port, and if not, the tanker Sagona. Once inside the harbor, however, the pair accidently attacked a cruiser. Fortunately, before they could detach the warhead, they realized it was not their target, and as Borghese notes, “with great reluctance, in obedience to orders received, abandoned the attack.” Their orders were clear; they understood the purpose of the mission. They were not to waste their effort on a small cruiser, but instead were to seek out a larger target, which they eventually found and destroyed.

Men who volunteered for the 10th Light Flotilla were typical of special forces personnel everywhere. Each was a combination of adventurer and patriot. They understood the risks involved in penetrating the enemy’s harbor and fully accepted the consequences. They did so out of a love for excitement and the understanding that their missions were important to the country. Teseo Tesei, who, at Malta, detonated his torpedo underneath himself in order to achieve his objective, said, “Whether we sink any ships or not doesn’t matter much; what does matter is that we should be able to blow up with our craft under the very noses of the enemy: we should thus have shown our sons and Italy’s future generations at the price of what sacrifice we live up to our ideals and how success is to be achieved.”

Although Tesei, who had died three months earlier, did not participate in the Alexandria attack, his inspiration was apparent in the attitudes of the Alexandria crews. All six divers knew they would be either captured or killed, and yet Borghese says the difficulties and dangers merely “increased their determination.” This personal commitment to see the mission completed at any cost is, as Tesei said, how success is achieved.

The MEKs – Marineeinsatzkommandos– German Naval Sabotage Units I

Frogmen at a display for Grossadmiral Dönitz (second right) showing an interested admiral – possibly Heye – his watertight Junghans diver’s watch/compass.

Development, Training, Structure

As with other light naval units, the MEKs were formed late in the war. As commandos and naval sabotage troops they operated behind enemy lines close to the coast, attacking harbour installations, bridges, ships, supply depots, ammunition dumps and other worthwhile targets.

The idea was never discussed at OKM until 16 September 1943, the motive for the deliberations being the operations by their British counterparts. During the period from February to July 1942, British forces had launched three commando raids of this kind between Boulogne and Le Havre and collected important intelligence on German defences. In the course of these raids a number of enemy personnel had been captured and paperwork confiscated by the Wehrmacht. This led to certain conclusions being drawn regarding the development, structure of commando units and the tactics of their operations. The evaluation laid the foundations for the equivalent German squads (MEKs – Marineeinsatzkommandos).

The first MEK came into being at Heiligenhafen on the Baltic at the end of 1943. The training camp was barracks immediately behind the beach. Later, as the company grew in size, the artillery barracks was used as a training ground. Oblt (MA) Hans-Friedrich Prinzhorn was the first commando leader. In the summer of 1942 he had been a member of an assault squad which crossed the Strait of Kerch in the Crimea to attack Soviet positions on the Kuban Peninsula. Before his move to the K-Verband, Prinzhorn had been an instructor at the Kriegsmarine flak training school. By the end of 1943 the first thirty officers and men of all ranks were installed at Heiligenhafen, and the training lasted into the spring of 1944. It followed the British commando-training manual very closely, a fact to be kept strictly secret. Each man was required to sign a pledge to this effect. There was no leave and it was not permitted to leave the confines of the camp. All civilian contacts had to be broken off.

The instructors were infantrymen and engineers with frontline experience particularly against the Soviets. Training in sniping and explosives handling was made as realistic as possible. Sports, swimming and judo instructors taught methods of unarmed combat and how to overwhelm enemy sentries silently: experts gave instruction in motor vehicles and radio, specialists taught the use of life-saving devices and oxygen breathing gear, linguists passed on their knowledge of the vernacular used by enemy soldiers. Each man had to be an all-rounder. Candidates who flunked the course were returned to their unit without ever having really understood the purpose of what had been taught at Heiligenhafen. After completing training, the successful men were distributed between the various MEKs.

The authorized strength of an MEK was one officer, 22 men and 15 vehicles (3 radio cars, two amphibious and one catering vehicle, the other vehicles being for transport, equipment and ammunition). Rations and ammunition was to be sufficient for six weeks. In January 1944 Kptlt (S) Opladen’s men were instructed in their missions and the first three units (MEK 60 – Oblt (MA) Prinzhorn, MEK 65 – Oblt Richard and MEK 71 – Oblt Wolters) transferred to waiting positions in Denmark and France. Subsequently each MEK, depending on its assignment, received an influx of personnel for special missions, e.g. one-man torpedoes, midget submarines, Linsen and assault boat pilots, canoeists and frogmen. An MEK might eventually be 150 strong.

MEKs existed before the K-Verband did. They had been set up by the Hamburg Abwehr office, to which they were accountable. These units were: MAREI (Kptlt (S) Opladen) and MARKO (Oblt Broecker). Both units were absorbed into the K-Verband as MEK 20.

As time went on other MEKs were formed. MEK 30 (Kptlt Gegner); MEK 35 (Kptlt Breusch, November 1944–March 1945, Kptlt Wolfgang Woerdemann, March 1945–End); and MEK 40 (Kptlt Buschkämper, August 1944–March 1945, Oblt Schulz, March 1945–End). This unit was formed at Mommark in Denmark on the island of Alsen (Gelbkoppel) with 150 men for special assignments.

Others were:

MEK 70 – nothing known

MEK 75 – KptzS Böhme

MEK 80: Kptlt Dr Krumhaar (March 1944–End)

MEK 85: Oblt Wadenpfuhl (January 1945–End)

MEK 90: Oblt Heinz-Joachim Wilke

There are said to have been other MEKs, e.g. MEK Werschetz and MEK zbV. Leaders of these units may have been Oblt Rudolf Klein, Lts Alexander Spaniel and Wilhelm Pollex amongst others.

The training of MEK men was carried out at a training establishment at Kappeln and Heiligenhafen. Hand-to-hand infantry fighting training was held at Bad Sülze/Rostock, Stolp and Kolberg in Pomerania. Kappeln had the following officer corps:

Commander: KKpt Heinrich Hoffmann

Chief at Staff: Kptlt Erich Dietrich

Adjutant: Lt Günther Schmidt

National Socialist Leadership Officer (after 20.7.1944): Lt Gustav Weinberger

Medical Officer: Kptlt Dr Rudolf Neuman

Company chiefs: Kptlt Friedrich Adler; Oblts Werner Schulz, Hermann Ibach, Eckehard Martienssen, Hans-Günter Beutner; Lt Gerhard Zwinscher

Training Officer: Oblt Hans Diem

At Heiligenhafen the training staff was:

Commander: Kptlt Friedrich Jütz

Camp commandants: Kptlt Heinrich Schütz, Oblt Eberhardt Sauer

Instructors: Oblt Hans-Friedrich Prinzhorn; Lts Erich Kohlberg, Hainz Knaup, Herbert Vargel, Kurt Wagenschieffer, Hermann Baumeister; Oberfähnriche Georg Brink and Anton Ibach.

MEK Operations in the West

In June 1944 the Allies at Caen in Normandy succeeding in crossing the Orne and Orne-Sea Canal to the east, and built a bridgehead posing a severe threat to German units. The Allies ‘pumped’ 10,000 men into this bridgehead. Their supplies were brought up over two intact bridges. Their AA defences were so strong that no attack by the impoverished Luftwaffe stood any chance of success. German engineers were unable to reach the bridges cross-country.

On Thursday 22 June 1944 the Battle for Caen began. It was General Montgomery’s intention to encircle Caen by crossing the high land with its dominant landmark Hill 112 south-west of the city and then the River Odon. This important sector was being stubbornly defended by 12 SS-Panzer Division Hitler Jugend led by SS-Oberführer Kurt ‘Panzermeyer’ Meyer. The demolition of the strategically important bridges was to be the proving test for MEK 60. Oblt (MA) Prinzhorn was given a platoon of frogmen from Venice. As the result of a road traffic accident, this platoon had been reduced in size from ten men to six. Its leader, LtzS Alfred von Wurzian, had been forbidden to take part in the operation because he was too valuable as an instructor.

The assignment was to destroy two bridges at Benouville which British airborne troops had captured in the early hours of the Invasion. The commandos consisted of two groups of three frogmen: Group One – Feldwebel Kurt Kayser, Funkmaat Heinz Brettschneider and Obergefreiter Richard Deimann; Group Two – Oberfähnrich Albert Lindner, Fähnrich Ulrich Schulz and a third man whose name has not been remembered.

The operation was scheduled to begin from Franceville at 2300 on the night of 14 August 1944. Each group was to take a torpedo – actually a time bomb package inside a torpedo-shaped container – to a specific bridge. Things started badly and got worse. When the 800 kg torpedoes were let down to the surface of the river on pulleys, they sank at once. No allowance had been made for the changed specific gravity in fresh water. Floats were improvised from empty fuel barrels to salve the torpedoes. The frogmen now entered the water, two to tow, one to steer, a torpedo.

Prinzhorn’s group, which was to attack the further bridge over the Orne, passed carefully below the enemy-held first bridge. It was another 12 kilometres to the main bridge, which all believed to be the crucial structure. Here they were to anchor their torpedo to the central pillar. After strenuous effort they attained their objective, moored the torpedo about a metre above the bottom on the central pillar and set the timer. Four hours later they were back at MEK. Too soon, as Prinzhorn was to discover. A revision of the map had brought to light the sorry fact that a third bridge, the real objective, had been omitted. The explosive had been set below the wrong bridge. It detonated punctually at 0530 hrs.

Events were equally dramatic for Lindner’s group. Towing the torpedo was sheer torment. Suddenly the third man lost his nerve as they swam past the enemy on the bankside. He could not be convinced to go on and swam to shore. The two midshipmen proceeded with the operation alone. After passing a wooden hindrance designed to intercept drifting mines they reached the first bridge, anchored the torpedo and set off for MEK on foot. When this bridge also blew up at 0530, the British scoured the area for the saboteurs. Once Lindner and Schulz had to hide up in a latrine trench to avoid capture. It was the following evening before they reached the canal, where a weaker current allowed them to swim back. The third man had attempted to make his way back independently, had been shot by the British and died of his wound in captivity.

At the end of August 1944 the Allies had pushed onwards and eastwards. They took Honfeur near Le Havre with its formerly German coastal battery Bac du Hode sited on the south bank of the Seine between Honfleur and Trouville. This battery now menaced the German garrison in Le Havre. A Naval artillery assault squad had set out cross-country to retake the battery and had been wiped out in a firefight with the British. MEK 60 now received orders to destroy the battery. After Prinzhorn had been frustrated by engine breakdown in an attempt to cross the Seine aboard an infantry assault boat, he obtained two Linsen speedboats from K-Verband. These were fitted with double noise-suppressors and could make eight knots at slow ahead.

On the night of 26 August 1944 the operation began. Aboard the Linsen were Prinzhorn, seven MEK men and a naval artillerist who knew the locality well. At 0050 the agreed light signals flashed out from Le Havre, and they paddled their rubber dinghies through a minefield to land. They came ashore too far west and had to negotiate the beach area on foot. By 0230 they were within 100 metres of the battery. The men slipped past the sentries and got into the bunkers. Hastily they set their explosives on the three heavy guns and in the magazine and fled. Four minutes later the charges exploded and the battery was destroyed.

At the end of August 1944 the German military resistance in France collapsed. Within a few days, fast Allied units had broken through northern France and into Belgium. Antwerp fell after a short battle and would not serve the British as a useful port for supplies. Although Antwerp lay well inland at the eastern end of the Scheldt, it was tidal and this influenced the port operations to a considerable extent. Besides an open harbour the city had a large network of docks. The Kruisschans Lock ensured that the water in the main harbour remained at a constant height. All ships arriving and departing had to pass through it.

MEK 60, now re-located in the Low Countries, was called upon again. Its task this time was to destroy the two principal locks – Kruisschans and Royers. Putting them out of commission would seriously disrupt Allied supply, reducing unloading capacity by five-sixths while it lasted.

After assessing the situation, it was clear that only an attack by frogmen held out any hope for success. The enemy had sealed off the last kilometre of the lock approaches with net barriers. The difficult currents in the Scheldt made it impossible for swimmers to do the whole journey there and back swimming. It was therefore decided to transport the frogmen to the lock entrance aboard Linsen boats. Both river banks were held by the enemy, but it was essential that the passage remained undetected. A dark, overcast night, or fog would be best. Moreover a foodtide was needed, the noise made by the engines pitted against the strong ebb would be too great. This would also ensure that the frogmen saboteurs would arrive at the lock gates at high water, enabling them to work below the walkway, beneath the feet of enemy sentries.

To blow up the 35-metre wide lock gate, K-Verband had developed a torpedo-mine. The necessary tonne of underwater explosive was to be carried in an elongated aluminium container the filling of which mostly ammonia gas – was calculated to ensure that the torpedo mine would float with 30 to 40 grams negative buoyancy just below the surface, where it would be easily manoeuvrable in calm water. Two men would swim towing the torpedo while the third steered it from astern. At the appropriate time the mine would be flooded by opening a pressure valve, sinking to the river bed: a button would start the timer running for the detonator.

The operation began on the night of 15 September 1944. The pilots of the two Linsen were Prinzhorn and Oblt Erich Dörpinghaus of K-Flotilla 216. With motors suppressed for noise the boats set off towing the torpedo mines. Visibility was barely 30 metres and both Linsen were soon lost to sight in the murk. The boats motored slowly upstream and separated in search of their individual locks. At the ten kilometre mark Dourpinghaus’ crew began peering through the gloom and thought they could make out the lock entrance.

While Dörpinghaus moored his Linse to a convenient post the three frogmen, Fieldwebel Karl Schmidt, Mechanikermaat Hans Greten and Maschinenmaat Rudi Ohrdorf slipped into the water and prepared the torpedo mine. With great effort they swam the last kilometre underwater towing their elongated charge. Suddenly Schmidt’s clothing snagged on a submerged object and tore. Now he had to wage a constant battle against buoyancy loss. The first major obstacles they overcame were a net barrier then a steel-mesh net: two more hindrances and they were at the quay wall. They moved along it until striking their heads against the lock gate, their objective.

They flooded the torpedo mine and accompanied its descent to the bottom, about 18 metres below. After activating the detonator they surfaced and swam off. Returning to the Linse Schmidt became so exhausted that he had to be towed by boat hook. Some 75 minutes later they were back with Dörpinghaus. Once the Linse set off a motor boat approached them suddenly from the fog. Dörpinghaus put the Linse to full ahead and quickly lost sight of the stranger. It was in fact Prinzhorn’s boat, his men not having succeeded in finding the Royers lock gate. At 0500 a tremendous explosion shook Antwerp harbour. The lock gate was wrecked and the passage of seagoing vessels had to be suspended for several weeks until the damage had been repaired.

In September 1944 the Allies concentrated on capturing the Dutch towns of Arnhem and Nijmegen by means of strong airborne operations.2 This was to be the springboard for the Allied advance to the north and west into the heartland of Germany. Whereas at Nijmegen 82 US Airborne Division had taken intact the bridges over the Waal (the main tributary of the Rhine delta), the British 504th Parachute Regiment had run into stiff opposition at Arnhem, and only on the north bank of the Waal had they been able to establish a bridgehead. On the road to Arnhem they were in possession of an area about three kilometres deep, but south of Elst their progress had been stopped by SS panzer units.

In order to destroy the important bridges, men from MEK 60 (Oblt Prinzhorn) and MEK 65 (Oblt Richard) were to form a special operational team to included Linsen and frogmen. After a thorough evaluation both officers concurred that 3 tonnes of explosives would be required for each of the mighty bridge pillars. This would need to be brought up in two 1.5-tonne torpedo-mines, each loaded with 600 kg of the special dynamite Nebolith. The pillars were over 11 metres tall and almost four metres in diameter. They would have to be forced upwards out of the jambs in which they were embedded, and only two simultaneous, violent explosions on opposite sides of the pillars could provide the necessary turning movement.

Two torpedo mines had to be joined for each tow: at the destination they would be separated and a packet of explosives placed either side of a pillar. Three bridges, one railway and two road bridges, were to be attacked. Two frogmen were sent to reconnoitre the length of the approach. They reported that the current was too strong for swimming in the return direction and they had had to walk back. An Abwehr liaison officer now arrived on the scene. Hauptmann Hummel was also known by the name Helmers and had been active as a commando leader at Valdagno and Venice. He mounted a major reconnaissance with two assault boats from Jagdkommando Donau crewed by Lt Schreiber, Bootsmaat Heuse and two junior NCOs, Krämer and Kammhuber. The loud engine noises betrayed them, and in an exchange of fire Heuse was killed. The British were now alerted and set up a foodlight barrier. The bridges were illuminated, the sentries reinforced and searchlight beams roved the region.

It seems probable that Hauptmann Hummel was the Hauptmann Hellmer mentioned in Skorzeny’s memoirs who not only led the operations but swam a reconnaissance himself:

The bridgehead extended for about seven kilometres either side of the bridge. The left bank of the Waal was occupied completely by the British. One night Hauptmann Hellmer swam the required reconnaissance alone … fortified by good luck, he swam between river banks occupied both sides by the enemy, and then returned to his own men.

On the night of 29 September twelve frogmen entered the Waal about ten kilometres upstream from Nijmegen and began towing the torpedo mines towards the bridges. The first group consisted of the experienced Funkmaat Heinz Brettschneider (MEK 60, Orne bridges operation) and senior privates Olle, Jäger and Walschendorff. The team was almost at the railway bridge, their objective, when they discovered about 200 metres before it a pontoon bridge, complete but for the central section, which was in the process of erection across the breadth of the river. They passed by the sentries unnoticed, and between the pontoon bridge and the railway bridge Brettschneider gave the signal to separate the explosive packets. The lines fore and aft were cut, the only tie being the long line which had to go round the pillar. Once all was set the swimmers set out on the walk back to base. An hour later the mines exploded – but the bridge held.

The two other groups towing four mines towards the road bridges fared no better. These eight men were: Obermaat Orlowski, Bootsmann Ohrdorf, Bootsmann Weber, Fieldwebel Schmidt, Steuermannsmaat Kolbruch, Obergefreiter Dyck and Gefreiten Gebel and Halwelka. One group drifted into a jetty, drawing the immediate fire of a British sentry. The attempt to link up the mines between the bridge columns failed because of the strong current. One of the men managed to open a valve and so sink the mine which exploded an hour later, blowing a hole of 25 metres diameter in the bridge. Of the twelve frogmen in the three groups only Brettschneider and Jäger reached the German lines at Ochten. The other ten were taken prisoner by the Dutch Resistance who were covering the south bank of the Waal.4

This action did not close the Nijmegen chapter. On 15 and 16 October 1944 two Marder one-man torpedoes and two Linsen set out with six torpedo-mines in tow. This force turned back nine kilometres short of the road bridge on account of technical problems. A second attempt with two operational and one reserve Linse on the night of 24 October was also called off after the mines sank one kilometre into the tow and exploded harmlessly five hours later. Subsequently paratroop-engineers made a bold attempt to destroy the road and pontoon bridges. The idea was to use mines to blow a channel through the Waal net barriers after which a float loaded with explosives would be moored to the bridge to blow a hole in the roadway overhead. The attack began on 20 November. Thirty-six mines were set adrift in the water between 1815 and 2000. Echo measuring devices would confirm the explosions in the net and the cable tension. The first operation failed because of a storm, and was repeated with eleven mines. At 0530 the float followed through and at 0657 an explosion occurred. Luftwaffe air reconnaissance photographs showed that a torpedo net had disappeared while large sections of the second and third barriers were no longer visible. The road bridge, though damaged, held however.

The MEKs – Marineeinsatzkommandos– German Naval Sabotage Units II

A Linse unit before an operation.

Earlier, on 15 November 1944, MEKs 60 and 65 had launched an attack on the Moerdijk Bridge between Dordrecht and Breda. Nothing is known regarding this operation or its outcome. Otto Skorzeny5 described another frogman operation on the Rhine which did not proceed beyond the planning stage:

After the Invasion succeeded, the concern was expressed at the highest levels of Government that the Allies despised Switzerland’s neutrality and might invade Germany from Swiss territory. This idea emerged when the German western front came to a standstill in September 1944. At that time the front ran more or less along the Reich border. On orders from Führer HQ I had to begin preparations for such a contingency within a few days. My frogmen were to be held at readiness on the Upper Rhine in order to destroy the Rhine bridges at Basle the moment Allied troops set foot in Switzerland. This purely defensive measure would help the German leadership gain time to erect a front line opposite Switzerland and parry a future attack from this neutral territory. It was a region which had never been occupied heavily by German troops. A few weeks later the whole scheme was cancelled and the men recalled when it became clear that under no circumstances would the Allies embark on the feared adventure through Switzerland.

On the night of 12 January 1945, MEK 60 put 240 mines into the water at Emmerich, it being hoped that these would do the trick and destroy the bridges at Nijmegen. The mines were to be towed by 17 Biber midget submarines, the periscopes of which would be camoufaged as drifting moorhen-nests. Each Biber had to tow 272 kgs of explosives which would be cast off below the bridges. The mines were fitted with light-sensitive cells and as soon as the charges were overshadowed by the bridge, the change of light intensity would set off the detonators. The operation was planned by KptzS Troschke. Herr Bartels, master of the ferry Lena, which shuttled between Emmerich and Warbeyer, towed the Biber out of the harbour every day for their practice runs.

Kptlt Noack, a senior midshipman, a leading seaman and Obergefreiter Josef van Heek sailed the first mission each submerged with eight mines in tow. They failed to reach the bridges. Next evening, Noack, again leading a team of four Biber, made a second unsuccessful attempt. On the third occasion eight Biber got to within a kilometre of the nearest Nijmegen bridge but tangled in the net barriers. Seven Biber stuck fast on the river bed, two of the boats had to be destroyed. Eight of the pilots in the operations froze to death in the ice-cold water. The road bridges at Nijmegen remained standing to the end.

In March 1945 the situation in the West was unpredictable because the front was so fluid. On 9 March K-Verband Command informed OKW that for the purpose of defending the Rhine crossings in the Wesel-Arnhem area, two Linse-groups with 24 remote-controlled boats and 100 spherical drifting mines together with an MEK of 80 men was at readiness to destroy the Rhine bridge pillars at Lohmannsheide. For the railway bridge at Remagen, 11 frogmen with 700 kg mines were at their disposal. The Command itself had been hit by fighter-bombers but was still operational. Around 17 March, Lt Wirth’s squad of frogmen, who had made their way from Venice with two or three Italian remote-controlled SSB torpedoes, arrived.

Lt Schreiber led the operation, seven frogmen took part. The swimmers had to cover almost 17 kilometres of the Rhine in a temperature of only 7°C. They succeeded in damaging the Ludendorff Bridge so severely that it remained impassable for some time. The operation claimed four dead, two of whom died from hypothermia, and the others were made prisoner. Otto Skorzeny wrote:6

On 7 March 1945 a catastrophe occurred on the Western Front. The bridge over the Rhine at Remagen fell intact into the hands of the Americans. One evening I was ordered to Führer HQ at the Reich Chancellery. Generaloberst Jodl gave me orders to send my frogmen to destroy the Rhine bridge at Remagen immediately … the water temperature of the Rhine at this time was only 6 to 8°C and the American bridgehead already extended almost 10 kilometres upstream. I therefore stated that I saw only a small chance of success. I would bring my best men to the locality and leave it to them to decide if we should take the risk. Untersturmführer Schreiber was leader of Jagdkommando Donau. He decided to go ahead with this almost hopeless endeavour. It was a few days before we brought the essential torpedo mines from the North Sea coast to the Rhine … when everything was ready, the bridgehead upstream was already 16 kilometres broad. The men swam off into the night: many of them went shivering with the cold. The Americans raked the water surface with searchlights. Soon the group came under fire from the river banks, and some were wounded. The disappointment of the frogmen must have been enormous when, not far short of the objective, they came up to several pontoon bridges which the US Army had erected. Despite that they brought up the explosive charges. Whether despite the cold they were still able to move their fingers only the survivors know, and they are not talking. Half-dead they hauled themselves to the river bank – and into captivity.

On 11 March 1945 FKpt Bartels took over command at Lower Rhine HQ Lederstrumpf. A second unit under Kptlt Uhde code-named Panther was responsible for the Rhine-Moselle triangle. Oblt Dörpinghaus’ unit received the codename Puma. To destroy the Rhine crossings in the Sauerland an additional frogman platoon (one officer, 15 men) and three Linsen groups from K-Flotilla 218 with 36 boats had been made available.

On 26 March 1945 Army Group H reported that K-operations had no point having regard to the way in which the situation was developing in the West. Sonderkommando Puma was transferred to Aschaffenburg: Dönitz agreed that K-Flotilla 218 should be moved from Lederstrumpf to reinforce the defence of the River Ems as far as Groningen. At the request of 12 Army, on 20 April 1945 two Lederstrumpf groups were transferred to Magdeburg. The frogmen were to operate against the Elbe bridges at Barby using drifting mines and special explosives. Nothing further is known.

With regard to MEK 40 which operated in the West, the only information available is as follows: MEK 40 was 150-strong, trained at Gelbkoppel and had been formed for a special assignment at Mommark on the Danish island of Alsen. From August 1944 to March 1945 it was led by Kptlt Buschkäumper, and from then until the war’s end by Oblt Schulz. At the beginning of November 1944, MEK 40 was in the Scheldt area. From 8 to 12 December it perfomed espionage missions and during reconnaissance on the Drimmen peninsula, Holland Diep, north of Breda, took out a sentry and machine-gun nest. On the night of 22 January 1945, MEK 40 worked with Army units. With artillery support its saboteurs blew up a water tower and brought in prisoners after an operation at Anna Jakoba Polder east of Schouwen Island.

Operations in Hungary

By the end of 1944, Soviet troops in Hungary had reached the Danube. To prevent them crossing the river, Army Group South requested K-Verband for their support to destroy important bridges. As a result, the Kriegsmarine ordered K-Einsatzstab Adria to prepare the necessary explosive materials, and to plan and execute the operation. They were also to investigate the possibilities of operations by MEKs in the Apatin-Batina region.

On 1 December 1944, 1 and 3 Groups, MEK 71, reported to Army Group South in Hungary. At Paks, about 100 kilometres south of Buda, the MEK made its first reconnaissance sorties and set mines adrift in the Danube. On 2 December the Army Group made an urgent request for an operational unit with twelve Linsen. They were to go immediately to Gran on the Danube and report to Brükostaffelstab 939. The military situtation in that area then changed unfavourably with such abruptness that the Wehrmacht plan to operate the unit was cancelled.

Separate from these developments, on 10 December 1944 Sonderkommando Glatze led by Kptlt Friedrich Benthin, a Linse group for use on Lake Balaton, was set up. An Oblt commanded the Group, Lt Gerhard Weidlich commanded the remote-control team. The title of the operation is not known. Commando operations were given cover-names which – for security reasons – were often changed in the preparation phase. As a rule in the MEKs they were never written down and were known only to those immediately involved. Sonderkommando Glatze was ready to leave from Plön on 15 December 1944.

On 12 December Einsatzstab Haun informed SKL that the Army would welcome a Linse presence on Lake Balaton but only for its disruptive effect: the boats would find no worthwhile targets for their explosive cargo and were too light to mount artillery. Admiral Heye requested a decision from the Commander-in-Chief as to whether he should send his valuable Linsen under these circumstances. Dönitz decided in favour, but Lake Balaton then froze over, and the operation was called off.

A report dated 20 January 1945 states that a group from Sonderkommando Glatze was sent to Dunaföldvar, 100 kilometres south of Budapest, to destroy a bridge in the sector controlled by 4 SS-Panzerkorps. After the Army had demolished a bridge in the vicinity, the Russians had put up an improvised crossing which was now required to be blown up by Linsen. What came of this intention is not recorded.

In February 1944 a Linse group was sent to Zagreb in Croatia to destroy a Soviet pontoon bridge about 30 to 40 kilometres south of the city. The attempt failed because boats and crews were diverted for other purposes. More successful was an operation in Hungary in which two Danube bridges were blown at Budapest, while on 29 March 1945 the Wehrmacht communique reported the sinking of four river-ships by Linsen at Neusatz on the Danube.

Operations in Southern France, Italy and the Adriatic

In the sectors of Wehrmacht C-in-C South and Admiralty Staff South the principal naval sabotage units operational were MEKs 20, 71 and 90. These were directed by the operational staff of KptzS Werner Hartmann whose HQ was at Levicio, about 100 kilometres north-west of Padua. On 7 October 1944 the boundaries of jurisdiction and German Naval Command Italy were changed, and KKpt Haun with Staff HQ at Opicina, a suburb of Trieste, became responsible for K-Verband in the Adriatic.

Despite Italy’s capitulation in 1943, elements of the X-MAS Flotilla fought on the German side to the war’s end. After Prince Borghese had relinquished command of the Decima, in 1944 his flotilla splintered into several independent groups, some of which sided with the partisans. K-Verband Command brought those remaining loyal to Germany into a special fighting unit under its K-Verband control. Because it had distinguished itself in anti-partisan warfare, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler wanted to equip the unit with radio and integrate it into the German network, but Naval Command Italy and Dönitz were both opposed to the idea.

K-Verband units in the Adriatic operated mainly from Pola against the British, New Zealanders and Tito-partisans occupying the Dalmatian islands. These were almost exclusively sabotage raids, either made independently or under the protection of German S-boats. About MEK 20, which originated from the Abwehr, very little is known. In the summer of 1944 it was at Cavallo in Italy, and in September at Sibenick and Split in Yugoslavia. Subsequently it was withdrawn from the Dalmatian islands. MEK 90 under Kptlt Jütz fought at Dubrovnic in Yugoslavia in September 1944 and escaped from the encirclement of the city. On 27 October it arrived at Metkovic with four dead, two wounded and no vehicles. Subsequently the unit left Trieste and made its way back via Zagreb and Vienna to Lübeck Steinkoppel.

MEK 71 was en route from Germany to Italy when it received orders to engage the Maquis in southern France. On 9–10 August 1944 MEK 71 captured two large French Resistance camps near Aix without loss to itself and made safe large quantities of materials. The unit then proceeded as planned to La Spezia, the most important naval base. After the Badoglio capitulation, the Italian Navy had scuttled there the submarines UIT-15 (ex-Sparide), UIT-16 (ex-Murena), UIT-20 (ex-Grongo) and some Type CB midget submarines. MEK considered that the boats could be raised and towed to Genoa. On 4 and 6 September all were destroyed in an RAF air raid. Whether CB midget submarines were ever used by the German side is not known.

On 1 October, MEK 71 was ordered to transfer to the Adriatic 75 men with full equipment and five Linsen for operations against the Dalmatian islands. Early in October 1944 groups of eight to ten men exercised at Monfalcone in the Adriatic. On 20 October MEK 71 moved up to Trieste, and on 24 October the Abwehr’s 5 Marinekommando from Lehrkommando 700 frogman unit at Venice arrived at Haun’s operations HQ Opicina to scout the islands of Clib, Silba and Premnuda to prepare reports for possible MEK operations. Fishing boats and canoes were to be used.

Leader of operations was Oblt Ross, the Group was headed by Fieldwebel Mitschke. His first objectives were Komica Bay and Lissa on 17 October. A boat from 24 S-boat Flotilla was to carry the group from Pola to Sibenik from where on the second night they would attack the harbour. The men would enter in folding boats and attach explosives to destroyers, MTBs and freighters. They were to be brought out by S-boats, if this was not possible they were to paddle to Cape Plocca. The operation was called off because of winter storm Bora.

On 27 October Oblt Wolter arrived at Trieste with MEK 71. On the way he had tangled with partisans and had nine wounded plus two damaged Linsen. A section of his force left at once for Lussin, and Group Mitschke came under Wolter’s command. On 31 October Mitschke began scouting with a platoon of five. On the night of 20 November at Sibenik he found no large ships or military targets of importance. After blowing up the Gruzzo light tower he returned to base.

On 9 January 1945 naval saboteurs of MEK 71 were taken by S-boats to the Dalmatian and east Italian coast. At Zadar they sank two freighters and on the Italian Adriatic coast demolished three bridges.7

At the beginning of December 1944 Kptlt Frenzel, a former U-boat commander, was appointed head of MEK Adriatic. Group commander Oblt Hering,8 a German born in Italy, had 48 men at his disposal. On the night of 16 December MEK men blew up a lighthouse and harbour installations on the island of Metada. Between 8 and 10 January 1945 the men of Kommando Hering attacked bridges and roads in the Tenna estuary area on the Italian coast south of Ancona. S-33, S-58, S-60 and S-61 of 1 S-boat Division transported the men there.

The first group, Lt Kruse and Bootsmaat Sterzer, went ashore at Tenna from folding boats. They had orders to create havoc in the MTB base and blow up the bridge at the entrance to the Fermo ammunition factory. The other assault groups, each of four men, were to demolish the railway/road bridge over the Tenna and so halt Allied shipping along the Adriatic coast.

The second group (Obermaat Gericke) reached the railway bridge and goods yard at Porto San Elpidio. Oblt Hering and a midshipman, Stille, set the charges inside a bridge room. At 0245 all men were aboard S-boats for the return less two taken prisoner near Tolentino. Violent explosions were heard from the bridges, and an ammunition train erupted.

In another attack, 18 paired charges caused nine explosions on the base at Isto Island. Two tonnes of provisions were seized, a British officer and 20 men occupying the island were taken off by British MGB. In another raid at Zara, two coasters in the harbour were reported blown up. At Ruc Como, about 40 kilometres north-east of Milan, Sonderkommando Zander under Kptlt Nikolaus von Martiny was active, but active in what is unknown.

Operations on the Eastern Front

From November 1944 when the Red Army was already in East Prussia, naval sabotage units were used on the Eastern Front with increasing frequency. The swift Soviet advance was aided by numerous bridges and other facilities over and near inland waterways. These now became the target of K-Verband saboteurs. The MEKs could not halt the Soviets, but they could at least seriously disrupt their lines of supply. Frogmen and Linsen had been on the Eastern Front previously, at the Baranov bridgehead, on the Peipus and in the Baltic.

A few weeks before the capitulation, in March 1945 K-Verband Command fitted out a schooner as a Q-ship for Russian submarines operating between Windau and Memel and the tongue of land known as the Kurische Nehrung. For this purpose the schooner had explosives aboard with which the attacks were to be made. This interesting operation, Steinbock, was not proceeded with.

In early December 1944, Army Group A requested from SKL naval K-forces to destroy the bridges over the Vistula. The major Soviet breakout from the three Vistula bridgeheads was impending, speed was of the essence. K-Verband Command formed six operational groups with a total of 84 Linsen for Operation Lucie, but on 17 December when the Vistula froze over in a sudden cold snap, the planned operations became doubtful, and when the thickness of the ice was found to have increased on the 21st of the month Sondergruppe Lucie was stood down, the 84 Linsen were moved back to Fedderwardsiel and then onwards to help out in the west.

On 12 March 1945 MEK 85, formed in January that year under Oblt Wadenpfuhl with 90 men, was fully motorized and sent to Swinemünde to operate in the lower reaches of the Oder and Oderhaff. Suitable craft such as cutters, motor boats and canoes were pressed into service. In charge of the operation was Kptlt Meissner.

Besides MEK 85, Sonderkommando Rübezahl and Kampfschwimmergruppe Ost were stationed along the Oder. The latter frogman unit had been with Lehrkommando 700 at Venice in the previous autumn and transferred to List on Sylt, moving to the Eastern front in February 1945 via Berlin at the request of the OKW and Reichsführer-SS. In February the 16-strong platoon led by Lt Fred Keller transferred to the Oder river near Fürstenberg. In the first operation on the 25th of the month the group towed two torpedo-mines to the Soviet supply bridge for the Vogelsang bridgehead near the small village about two kilometres north-east of modern Eisenhüttenstadt. The attempt failed because the strong current forced the torpedoes against the river bank. On 13 March 1945 the bridge was destroyed by two Linsen.

On 1 March 1945 Admiral Heye reported that explosive charges placed around the pillars of the Oder bridge at Aurith had failed to detonate. It was hoped that a back-up detonator on a 24-hour timer would work. The frogman team returned. The same day the attempt to demolish an Oder bridge at Küstrin also failed when the explosive charge, a so-called ‘tree trunk packet’ drifted away from the bridge and exploded at the bankside.9

On 5 March, OKW informed Admiral Heye that Hitler had given Luftwaffe Oberstleutnant Baumbacher orders to lead the attack on all Soviet crossing points over the Oder and Neisse rivers. All Wehrmacht arms of service were to place at his disposal all appropriate means to execute his assignment. It is assumed that he was to coordinate the Luftwaffe attacks.

On 7 March Sondergruppe Rübezahl attacked two Oder bridges. The bridge at Kalenzig was destroyed over fifty metres of its length, the ground supports and lower structure of the bridge at Rebus were ruined over thirty metres of its length so that the bridge was rendered unusable.

On the night of 13 March Linsen attacked the Oder bridge at Zellin. In order to cover the engine noise, four Ju 88s circled the operational zone. The air reconnaissance photographs taken later that day showed that the bridge had been demolished over 270 metres of its length. The Soviets then rebuilt it, together with a pontoon bridge. On 16 April Luftwaffe suicide pilots attacked the crossings at Zellin. Fähnrich Beichl dived his Fw 190 filled with high explosive and carrying a 500 kg bomb into the bridge and destroyed it. The 40-strong Luftwaffe Sondergruppe destroyed in all seventeen Oder bridges between 16 and 17 April 1945.10

In the latter part of April 1945 the Soviet armies broke out of the Oder bridgeheads. On the evening of 24 April, Lt Keller reconnoitred the small island of Dievenow near Wollin which was still in German hands. After discussions with the island commandant the frogmen entered the water and drifted with their torpedo mines to the bridge linking the island to the Soviet-occupied mainland. Ashore they primed their charges. At 0417 hrs on 25 April 1945 the bridge was no more.

That same 24 April, Lt Albert Lindner (Lehrkommando 700 and the Orne bridges attack) led his naval saboteurs and three frogmen to destroy the pontoon bridges at Nipperwiese and Fiddichow. Two men were to blow up four pontoons from under the bridge. For this purpose they were equipped with small 7.5 kg explosive packs called Sprengfische. They set out from the infantry trenches at Oderdamm, southeast of Schwedt. The frogmen were discovered by a sentry, a Russian grenade hit one of the Sprengfische which exploded at once leaving several dead and wounded. The operation was repeated the following evening and succeeded. At 0500 explosive charges ripped the pontoon bridge apart, but the four frogmen involved finished up as Soviet prisoners of war.

The last frogman operation on the Eastern Front was at Stettin. On the night of 25 April 1945 the last German troops evacuated the city. Only a section of the harbour remained in German hands. The Soviets held the high ground at Altdamm, on the far bank of the eastern arm of the Oder, and were firing into the city. They had infltrated the harbour at a number of places. While setting a torpedo mine on a bridge pillar, Bootsmaat Künnicke was fired upon by a sentry. The mine drifted away and was lost. As it was already dawn, Künnicke hid in a barn and rejoined his unit next day. Two other frogmen who were Stettiners laid low in a swampy meadow between the east and west arms of the Oder while the Red Army rolled past them. The hiding place was on the bank of the Möllnfahrt, the Stettin regatta course. The pair had obtained for themselves a fine motor boat, Aristides, in which they were proposing to transport their torpedo mines. In their hiding place on 8 May they heard explosions and shooting. On 11 May, after selecting an Oder bridge as their target, they met a German civilian who gave them the news that the war was over. The two frogmen hid their equipment and obtained civilian clothing, then joined local people clearing the streets of rubble. Unfortunately they did not escape the attention of the Russians, and a long and arduous captivity followed.