Maritime Special Forces 2: Combat Divers

March 2023

This is the second episode of a two-part mini-series on the history of maritime special forces. In this episode we explore the history of combat divers – an elite within an elite.

Combat divers must pass selection twice – firstly into their chosen elite military unit before passing a specialist combat diving qualification. Units are extremely small; they use specialist kit and vehicles; their work is dangerous and lonely; and their operations are cloaked in secrecy. Their history is rich and fascinating and runs from the Second World War to the present day, as so powerfully shown in the recent attack on the Russian Nordstream gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea. As their kit and equipment has constantly evolved, so has the nature of their work and their capabilities. To find out more Dr Sam Willis spoke with former Royal Marines Commando Michael G. Welham, a man with extensive military and commercial diving experience and author of the recent ‘Combat Divers: An illustrated history of special forces divers’. Sam and Mike discuss the Second World War roots of combat divers working in Grand Harbour, Malta to protect allied shipping; managing risk underwater;  navigation underwater; equipment and weapons; the use of marine mammals in underwater warfare; and a variety of operations that highlight the changing challenges of special forces divers over time including the actions of Soviet Spetsnaz divers in Swedish territorial waters during the Cold War.


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