The first German frogman commando unit was formed under the direction of Alfred von Wurzian during World War II, an Olympic swimmer originally from Austria. Wurzian was initially an artilleryman. He had to overcome a lot of hurdles to form this specialized unit as many brass types could not buy into the concept of such a specialized unit. The unit's name was Küstenjäger-Abteilung "Brandenburg".
The first Kampfschwimmer training course was conducted in late 1943 by the military intelligence office in Hamburg. The resulting unit was a pure Kampfschwimmer unit with the official designation Marineeinsatzkommando (Maritime Task Force) or MEK. The first thirty trainees were volunteers including experienced and highly qualified soldiers the the Brandenburger’s coastal ranger division. The MEK was divided into two companies designated “Marco” and “Marei”. The primary mission consisted of attaching mines to ships, bridges and locks.
With formation of the K-Units (the designation became official on 20 April 1944) the MEK units were consolidated and transferred from military intelligence to the navy, which assumed control over all maritime special missions. Rear Admiral Helmuth Heye was appointed commander of the naval special operations command. Admiral Heye had served as a submarine officer during WW I, and commanded the armored cruiser ADMIRAL HIPPER when WW II broke out. After the war he would contribute to the Himmerod Memorandum (which would serve as the basis for Germany’s postwar rearmament), and later serve (1961-1964) as defense ombudsman for the German parliament.
The first Kampfschwimmer training under auspices of the navy did not take place until 1944. Olympic athletes and other record-breaking sportsmen were among the first trainees. Prior to being assigned to Kampfschwimmer training these sailors had been conducting athletic training in Kiel; their public workouts were intended as a recruiting tool for the navy. The first Kampfschwimmer training took place in the small town of Valdagno in Italy’s Appenine mountains. It boasted a modern pool and Olympic quality athletic facilities. These facilities were also used by the Italian naval commandos (Decima MAS or 10th Fast Boat Flotilla). Following initial training at Valdagno the sailors transferred to the island of Alga in Venice lagoon for advanced training.
Training was closely patterned on that of the British commandos who operated behind enemy lines. Comprehensive, high-quality training was achieved by seconding frontline-seasoned infantry and combat engineers as instructors. A premium was placed on athletic conditioning, and every trainee had to master hand-to-hand combat, writes Cajus Becker in his book Einzelkämpfer auf See (“Solo Warriors at Sea”). The primary offensive arm were the so-called “exploding fish”, tubes filled with 7.5 kilos of explosives. They were equipped with time-delayed or remote-controlled fuzes. Other equipment included Dräger dive tanks, rubber suits, dive watches, compass, fins or lead shoes. The first 30 graduates were ready for duty by June 1944.
About the Badge
The Kampfabzeichen der Kleinkampfmittel Qualification Badge came in 7 grades, the first four of which were sleeve insignia, embroidered in wool and worn on the sleeve of the Tunic. This example is a hand-embroidered variant, beleived to have been made by Thiele & Stienert. It features heavy golden-yellow thread on a cardboard 'unterlage' embroidered on dark blue wool. Shows minor wear and oxidation. Rare! Exc.
The Wehrmacht Lexikon's description of the various grades of the 'Kleinkampfverbände der Kriegsmarine' Badge
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