Combat Divers from WW2 to the Ukraine War

Episode 17,   Mar 09, 2023, 08:40 PM

Michael G. Welham is our guest, talking to host Iain Ballantyne about the mysterious world of undersea warriors known as ‘combat divers’.

Michael has been involved with diving, both military and civilian, for some 40 years. He was a Royal Marines Commando, with skills in diving, canoeing, and parachuting. Mike was also a member of 21 Special Air Service Regiment and of 95 Commando Naval Gunfire Support Royal Artillery, both British elite Reserve units. 

To start things off, Iain asks Mike to provide a definition of a combat diver. Who can be described as such? What is it that attracts a certain kind of person to what is a highly demanding and very dangerous job, even within the risk-taking world of Special Forces?

The origins of combat diving - WW2’s Italian and British ‘frogmen’ - are discussed, including the legendary Lieutenant Commander Lionel ‘Buster’ Crabb and also the exploits of the Royal Marine Boom Patrol Detachment, the famed ‘Cockleshell Heroes’.

The often overlooked role of Royal Marine specialists and other Allied frogmen in enabling troops to get ashore in Normandy on D-Day 6 June are mentioned, as are the origins of the famous US Navy SEALS during WW2 and their evolution in the Vietnam War. 

The activities of Russian combat divers and submersibles in Scandinavian waters during the Cold War - along with recent suspected intrusions into Swedish and Norwegian waters - are discussed, along with last year’s Nord Stream gas pipeline sabotage act.

Bringing things right up to date is some expert analysis by Mike of the possible role of Ukrainian combat divers in the sinking of the Russian Navy landing ship RFS Saratov, in the occupied port of Berdyansk, on the Sea of Azov. 

He also provides insights into the role of Ukrainian combat divers, including their use of Swimmer Delivery Vehicles during the fight for Zmiinyi Island (Snake Island) in the northwest Black Sea. Mike reveals how, during a daring operation across the River Dnieper, they also saved the lives of hundreds of civilians by enabling their escape from Russian oppression.

•‘Combat Divers’ by Michael G. Welham, is published by Osprey, at £35.00 hardback. In addition to Mike’s expert analysis it is packed with photos and other illustrations. It is available from online retailers and via book shops.

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• Iain Ballantyne is the Editor of Warships IFR magazine. He is also the author of the books ‘Hunter Killers’, ‘The Deadly Trade’ and ‘Bismarck: 24 Hours to Doom’. For more details on Iain and his books visit his web sites and
Follow him on Twitter @IBallantyn