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PART ONE: BACKGROUND
This article provides an overview of the German Navy’s Special Forces Command, Kommando Spezialkräfte der Marine (KSM), which is home to the Navy’s Frogmen (aka Combat Swimmers) or Kampfschwimmers.
“During the course of the three-year training period, around 70 percent of applicants fail to make the grade. That’s actually an improvement on previous levels, which saw a washout rate of around 90 to 95 percent.” (Newdick, 2015).
Although technically established in April 2014, “The first West German military frogmen trained in southern France back in 1959. Which means the combat swimmers lay claim to being the longest serving special forces unit within the post-war German military, on land and at sea.” (Newdick, 2015). With this in mind, KSM is a new organisation with old roots.
Prior to a reorganisation of the German Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) between 2011 and 2015, the KSM was part of the German Navy’s Specialised Operational Forces (Spezialisierten Einsatzkräften der Marine; SEKM or SEK-M) along with mine clearance divers and ship boarding soldiers. The reorganisation created new independent units:
- Combat swimmers to KSM; and
- Mine clearance divers and ship boarding soldiers to the Sea Battalion.
The reorganisation also meant KSM was responsible for its own training, logistics and operations.
The KSM also maintains close ties with a number of western counterparts such as the US Navy SEALs and the French Navy’s Commando Hubert. In a partnership that has lasted forty years, it is typical for a US Navy SEAL to embed with the KSM, and vice versa.
Part One of this article looks at women and the KSM, then discusses the difference between tier 1 and tier 2 Special Forces (SF) and highlights the methods of entry. It then outlines the roles and tasks of the KSM before finally providing a brief history on its origins.
Part Two looks at the organisation of KSM, including military oversight. Part Two outlines the role of the Commander KSM, before moving on to outline the various units within KSM.
Finally, Part Three provides some useful links and identifies other articles the reader may find useful.
I apologise if any of the translations are incorrect/imprecise.
The aim of this article is to provide an overview of the German Navy’s Special Forces Command, Kommando Spezialkräfte der Marine (KSM).
1.2 Women and the Kommando Spezialkräfte der Marine
“The German military opened all units to women in 2001, and the KSK has also committed to recruit female elite soldiers, but so far only one woman has applied, and she failed the requirements.” (The Local, 2008).
As of 2016, no women have graduated from the KSM selection and training process.
1.3 Tier 1 and Tier 2 Special Forces
The Kommando Spezialkräfte der Marine has a mixture of Tier 1 and Tier 2 units. A ‘Tier 1’ SF unit is usually tasked with direct action. Other special operations forces (SOF) are referred to as ‘Tier 2’ units as they, usually, fulfil a supporting role for the Tier 1 units.
1.4 Method of Entry
Individuals can join the Kommando Spezialkräfte der Marine through one method:
- As an in-service transfer, from any branch of military service (Operators, Supporters and Enablers).
An outline of the Kommando Spezialkräfte der Marine selection and training process can be found here.
1.5 Roles and Tasks
The role of the Kommando Spezialkräfte der Marine is to provide ready and relevant forces to conduct special operations across the operational continuum in a joint, combined or interagency environment.
KSM facilities this overarching role through a number of potential tasks and, as such, KSM assets undertake a number of tasks, with a degree of interaction and interoperability:
- Reconnaissance of port facilities, beaches and hinterland;
- Direct action: which can involve freeing hostages or seizing material or equipment;
- Protection of naval vessels and equipment at home and abroad;
- Training foreign military and police units; and
The overarching mission of the Kommando Spezialkräfte der Marine is the protection of the German nation, in particular the protection of German naval vessels.
1.6 Brief History
Although the KSM was established in April 2014, the German Navy’s Kampfschwimmers can trace their roots to their West German forebears who first trained in Southern France in 1959. Below is an outline of notable events:
- 1943: “The first Kampfschwimmer training course was conducted in late 1943 by the military intelligence office in Hamburg.” (kampfschwimmer.de, 2013).
- 1944: The first Kampfschwimmer training under auspices of the German Navy.
- 1956: The Federal Republic of Germany establishes the West German Navy (Bundesmarine) on 02 January 1956.
- 1959: Two personnel of the new Kampfschwimmer unit attend a six-month training programme at the French naval commando school in St. Mandrier in the south of France from January to July 1959.
- 1959: First post-war Kampfschwimmer training course begins on 01 July 1959 with 13 trainees.
- 1959: First Kampfschwimmer platoon activated and assigned to the Seebataillon in Sengwarden, with detachments at Eckernförde and Borkum.
- 1964: Kampfschwimmer platoon elevated to the status of an independent company on 01 April
- 1964, divided into a command element and three Kampfschwimmer platoons (one heavy platoon, one light platoon and one specialising in beach reconnaissance).
- 1973: The first US Navy SEALs visit Eckernförde.
- 1974: The Kampfschwimmer Company moves into a new building, and adds a training platoon while the command section adds a physician and a parachute rigger.
- 1975: A Personnel Exchange Programme with SEAL Team 2 is initiated, which is still in effect today.
- 1988: The Maritime Battalion (Seebataillon) is established on 16 December 1988 (the original Seebataillon had been disbanded in the 1960s).
- 1991: The Kampfschwimmer Company loses its independence when the Seebattaillon is disbanded on 02 October 1991. The (downsized) Kampfschwimmer Company becomes a subordinate unit of the Armed Diver Group (Waffentauchergruppe), which included a HQ platoon, Mine Clearance Diver Company, Mine Clearance Vessels and a newly formed training company (composed of the Kampfschwimmer training platoon, the underwater mine clearance training platoon and an Explosive Ordnance Disposal/Improvised Explosive Device Disposal (EOD/IEDD) platoon.
- 1994: The Kampfschwimmer conduct their first ever boarding operation (later taken over by dedicated boarding soldiers).
- 1997 (Wikipedia) or 2003 (www.kampfschwimmer.de): The Waffentauchergruppe is dissolved on 03 July 2003 and replaced by the Specialised Operational Forces of the Navy (Spezialisierte EinsatzKräfte der Marine (SEK-M). SEK-M incorporates: HQ staff and logistics elements; the Kampfschwimmer Company; the Mine Clearance Company; the Boarding Company; and the training element for naval commandos.
- 2014: SEK-M reorganised as two new units, the Sea Battalion and Kommando Spezialkräfte der Marine (KSM).
PART TWO: ORGANISATION OF THE KOMMANDO SPEZIALKRÄFTE DER MARINE
The KSM was established in April 2014 to better organise the Germany Navy’s SF and SOF under two new organisations, although still within one unified command.
Although the Bundeswehr has a Special Operations Command, in contrast to the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, the Bundeswehr organises its SF/SOF as a component of the German Navy rather than as a ‘fourth branch of military service’.
The KSM is a brigade-level formation of Flotilla 1 and has a number of supporting components/units, each described in this section. The KSM has approximately 130 personnel (Newdick, 2015).
2.1 Navy Command
The Navy Command (Marinekommando), headquartered in Rostock, is the highest formation in the German Navy. The Navy Command is led by the Chief of Staff of the Navy, a Vice Admiral (OF-8).
Flotilla 1 is a subordinate formation of Navy Command.
2.2 Flotilla 1
Established on 29 June 2006, Flotilla 1 (Einsatzflottille 1) is commanded by a Rear Admiral (Flottillenadmiral) (OF-7) and headquartered in Kiel.
The KSM is a subordinate unit of Flotilla 1.
2.3 Commander Kommando Spezialkräfte der Marine
The Commander Kommando Spezialkräfte der Marine, a Frigate Captain (Fregattenkapitän) (OF-5), is the title of the professional head of the German Navy’s Special Forces Command (Newdick, 2015).
A Fregattenkapitän is somewhere between a Commander (OF-4) and Captain (OF-5), and could be described as a junior Captain (German Navy, 2016).
2.4 Units of the Kommando Spezialkräfte der Marine
KSM is organised into a HQ element, operational forces and support forces:
- Headquarters KSM (Stab KSM);
- Frogmen Company (Kampfschwimmerkompanie);
- Training Group (Die Gruppe Ausbildung des Kommando Spezialkräfte der Marine);
- Special Operations Boat Team (SBT);
- Special Operations Medical Support Team (SOMST);
- Aviation Group; and
- Repair Group.
2.5 Headquarters KSM
Headquarters KSM is located at the naval base (Marinestützpunkt) in Eckernförde, close to Kiel (Schleswig-Holstein), the traditional home of the German Navy’s Baltic fleet.
The staff of the headquarters KSM supports the Commander Kommando Spezialkräfte der Marine in the following areas:
- General management;
- Personnel management;
- Operational area;
- Information technology (IT); and
2.6 Frogmen Company
The Combat Swimmer Company or Frogmen Company (Kampfschwimmerkompanie) provides the KSM with its Tier 1 (e.g. direct action) capabilities.
As I understand it, the Kampfschwimmerkompanie is organised as follows:
- Operations Team I (Einsatzteam I);
- Intervention Team II (Einsatzteam II);
- Intervention Team III (Einsatzteam III);
- Country (Einsatzgruppe Land);
- Air (Einsatzgruppe Luft); and
- Lake (Einsatzgruppe See).
2.7 Training Group
The KSM Training Group (Die Gruppe Ausbildung des Kommando Spezialkräfte der Marine) is responsible for initial Frogmen training (Kampfschwimmer-Ausbildung) and ongoing training of SF and SOF personnel.
I believe the Training Group’s title can also be translated as Ausbildungsinspektion (needs verification).
2.8 Special Operations Boat Team
The Special Operations Boat Team (SBT) provides support for the Kampfschwimmers through the use of specialised craft, in which they can travel quickly and covertly penetrate enemy controlled territory.
As well as special boat training, SBT personnel also receive survival training.
2.9 Special Operations Medical Support Team
The Special Operations Medical Support Team (SOMST) provides support for the Kampfschwimmers through specialised emergency care.
The SOMST is a unique medical team within the German Navy consisting of specially selected medical professionals who receiving training in emergency care treatment. SOMST personnel also receive basic skills training to enable them to integrate better with their SF colleagues during operations.
2.10 Aviation Group
The Aviation Group ensures the ‘vertical movement’ of Kampfschwimmers and supporting troops.
The group is responsible for technical material and aviation equipment.
2.11 Repair Group
The Repair Group of KSM is divided into motor vehicles and special equipment. The group is able to maintain all water and land vehicles, from kayaking, quads, snowmobiles, inflatables, to armoured vehicles.
PART THREE: MISCELLANEOUS
3.0 TV Documentaries
Combat Swimmers – The Secret German Navy Division by Günther Hemel, first aired in May 2016. The documentary follows 120 aspiring candidates undergoing the gruelling screening test for the German Navy’s Special Forces Command (Kommando Spezialkräfte der Marine). Of the 120 applicants who started only 7 passed.
3.1 Useful Publications
- Elite Attack Forces. German Elite Forces: 5th Mountain (Gebirgsjager) Division and the Brandenburgers (Special Forces) by Mike Sharpe and Ian Westwell, first published in 2008 by Compendium Publishing.
- German Special Forces of World War II (part of Osprey’s Elite series) by Gordon Williamson, first published in 2009 by Osprey Publishing Ltd.
- Kommando Spezialkräfte 3 – Division Spezielle Operationen (German Edition) by Heinz Duthel, first published in 2015 by Books on Demand.
- Kommando Spezial-Kräfte by Reinhard Scholzen, first published in 2009 by Motor Book.
- GSG 9 by Reinhard Scholzen and Kerstin Froese, first published in 2001 by Motorbycuhverlag.
- Werner, L. (2013) Adaptive Reorganization of German Special Operations Forces. Master’s Thesis. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA620506. [Accessed: 25 July, 2016].
- (Lieutenant) (ret.) Ulrich Wolfgang Sassen’s lecture titled: Kampfschwimmereinsätze in der Vergangenheit – Erfolge in der Zukunft (Naval Commando Missions of the Past – Success in the Future).
- Thorsten Mathesius article “Die Kampfschwimmer – Zeitgerechte Antwort auf neue Herausforderungen” (“The Kampfschwimmer – A Timely Response to new Challenges”) in Marine Forum 11-1992.
3.2 Useful Links
- Bundeswehr Commando Course (Einzelkämpferlehrgang):
- Special Forces Untold Stories: German GSG-9 (2002).
- Official KSK Website:
- Federal Ministry of Defence:
- German Armed Forces (Bundeswehr):
German Navy (2016) Ranks of the German Navy. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.marine.de/portal/a/marine/!ut/p/c4/04_SB8K8xLLM9MSSzPy8xBz9CP3I5EyrpHK93MQivdLUpNSi0rxivZTM1JTU0hIwI6-4JL0oMSVVvyDbUREA1hfIIw!!/. [Accessed: 30 July, 2016].
Kampfschwimmer.de (2013) German Naval Commandos in World War II. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.kampfschwimmer.de/kampfschwimmer-im-2-weltkrieg/?lang=en. [Accessed: 31 July, 2016].
Newdick, T. (2015) German Combat Divers Are Busy on Land and Underwater: The Kommando Spezialkräfte Marine is one of Berlin’s most Elite Units. Available from World Wide Web: https://warisboring.com/german-combat-divers-are-busy-on-land-and-underwater-7c6cd8ad56ef#.whv315vj0. [Accessed: 30 July, 2016].
The Local (2008) German Special Forces Offer Cash to Recruits. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.thelocal.de/20080629/12773. [Accessed: 18 July, 2016].