Special thanks to Ingo Mathe and our friends at Spartan.at for sharing this article with us. -Jack
By Ingo Mathe, German Lieutenant (SEAL) Ret.
Effective 1 April 2014 the German naval unit designated as the Specialized Operational Forces of the Navy (Spezialisierte Einsatzkräfte Marine – SEKM) was deactivated. Since its inception over ten years ago – on 30 July 2003 – the SEKM had experienced one of the highest ops tempos of any German military unit, with squads, teams and sometimes larger formations constantly deployed. One of the integral elements of the unit were the German Naval Special Operations Forces known as the Kampfschwimmerkompanie or “Combat Swimmers” Company. But the incorporation of the Kampfschwimmer SOF into the SEKM, which also included specialized but operationally “conventional” forces, conflicted with a directive passed in 2004 which calls for strict separation between operational control of conventional forces and SOF.
The recent formation of the Naval Special Operations Command (Kommando Spezialkräfte – Marine or KSM) finally accommodates that directive and returns to the original concept of independent Special Operations Forces. So this concept is not new.
The Kampfschwimmer Company originally stood up on 1 April 1964. The Kampfschwimmer were authorized to conduct independent operations and for that reason were placed under direct operational control of the Fleet Command. Their autonomy was ensured by providing: integrated command and staff, logistics and communications elements; a diving gear and boat depot; an embedded surgeon and medical group; a jumpmaster; and control over their own training platoon. This organizational solution made the Kampfschwimmer Company responsible for its own operational control, its own support, and training its own recruits. During the 1970s new facilities were constructed in the Kampfschwimmers base at Kaserne Nord in the town of Eckernförde. These included a diving hall and administrative offices, and provided the Company with the requisite stanological training resources.
This independence ended on 16 December 1988. The Kampfschwimmer Company and the German Navy’s Beachmaster Company (which had actually incorporated the original Kampfschwimmer Platoon from 1959-1964) were both assigned to the newly created Maritime Battalion (Seebataillon). The Maritime Battalion was in turn dissolved on 2 October 1991 during the course of comprehensive armed forces restructuring. The Armed Diving Group (Waffentauchergruppe) was created in its stead. This unit was subordinated to the Mine Warfare Flotilla. On 3 July 2003 the Armed Diving Group was in turn dissolved and replaced by the SEKM. The SEK-M became the central repository of capabilities which are unique not only within the fleet but withing the German armed forces overall, and which are of critical importance for fleet operations and for the armed forces as a whole. It incorporated numerous fleet capabilities:; the Kampfschwimmer Company including command staff and logistics elements; the Minentaucher or Mine Clearance Company; the Boarding Company; company-strength personnel forces for specialized naval operations; the training element for naval commandos, mine clearance personnel, and frigate-based boarding personnel.
While all of these units were distinguished by a high degree of specialization, only the Kampfschwimmer were Special Operations Forces. This comingling of conventional and SOF units under one operational command created problems, e.g. difficulty maintaining operational secrecy and complicated procurement procedures. In recognition of these problems, the German armed forces in Spring of 2004 initiated a reform of their operational and strategic command structure. Both the political and the military leadership mandated a return to strict separation of operational command of conventional forces and SOF. This was the beginning of the end for the SEKM. On 1 April 2014 – concurrent with its original creation – the Kampfschwimmer company was formally placed under the aegis of the Naval Special Operations Command (the KSM), thereby becoming operationally independent once again.
So what remains, and what is new?
The KSM’s commanding officer is a rated Kampfschwimmer. The command ist built upon three pillars.
Pillar one is the Kampfschwimmer Company (Kampfschwimmerkompanie, abreviated KpfSchwKp) which formes the core of the new command. The company includes the Kampfschwimmer Operations Teams (Kampfschwimmereinsatzteams or KSET) and the Special Boat Element formally referred to as the Maritime Operations Group (Einsatzgruppe See). Leadership is provided by the Company Commander and by the Team leaders.
Pillar two is the Staff Element. It is organized along the standard staff sections S1, S2/6, S3, and S4, but also includes and Operational Evaluation and Development branch and a Medical Group with physicians specializing in dive medicine as well as combat medics. The support branch is also subordinate to the Staff Element, and includes a parachute depot and a jumpmaster squad (Airborne Operations Group), a dive gear depot, and a vehicle maintenance squad. The S1 staff section had additional responsibility for the Kampfschwimmer recruiting squad.
The third pillar is the newly formed Principles, Procedures, Tactics and Training Group (Gruppe Grundlagen, Verfahren, Taktik und Ausbildung or GVTA). This group is responsible for standardization within the training program, the operational teams, and the boat and aviation groups. The GVTA also coordinates harmonization training with other units such as the German Army Special Operations Command (Kommando Spezialkräfte – KSK), naval aviation, or the German Air Force’s SOF Air, as well as with the surface units of the German Navy. Finally, it also conducts ongoing development and improvement of operational tactics and methods as well as integration of new but proven equipment.
The Medical Group, also known as the Special Operation Medical Support Team (SOMST) is a fully qualified emergency medical team consisting of physicians, corpsmen and combat medics. Together with the Kampfschwimmer Team medics, SOMST ensures ROLE 1 emergency care stellt zusammen mit dem Team MEDIC supports Kampfschwimmer operational autonomy by providing MEDEVAC under difficult conditions. SOMST is capable of operating in all climatic zones. SOMST also supports training and qualification-retention of Kampfschwimmer Combat First Responders and combat medics. Overall, the Medical Group guarantees medical support during exercises and training as well as during real-world operations.
Special Boat Element
Since 2003 the Special Boat Element (Einsatzgruppe See or EinsGrpSee) has provided the Kampfschwimmer Company with organic seaborne transportation assets. Operational experience acquired since 1959 led to the decision to form the organic boat team. Members are recruited from selected petty officers serving as boatswain’s mates and in engineering. . Command and lead positions are filled by Kampfschwimmer officers and senior NCOs. Waterjet-powered Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIB) are the vessel of choice because of their shallow draught, high speed, firepower and maneuverability. These personnel are capable of supporting Kampfschwimmer operation by day and night, in all climate zones. If seaward egress is cut off they are capable of marching or fighting their way overland together with the Kampschwimmer operations team.
It is important to note: “special” refers to the boat crews, not the boats. The EinsGrpSee enables the Kampfschwimmer ops teams to quickly penetrate enemy controlled territory (operations in depth), be it in coastal waters, deltas or deep inland via rivers. These so-called Riverine operations deep behind enemy lines are a major special operations mission area, and can only be conducted by SOF. On the open sea the boats can support various missions – e.g. Visit Board Search and Seizure (VBSS) Operations to retake a vessel or oil platform held by armed or militant opponents – and constitute an element of national maritime readiness for developing crises.
Airborne Operations Group
The Airborne Operations Group (Einsatzgruppe Luft – EinsGrpLuft) provides the Kampfschwimmer teams with vertical operations capability ranging from Fast Rope and Repelling systems to automatic and manual opening parachute systems. The recruiting base for this element are specially selected Kampfschwimmer NCOs with jumpmaster training, as well as other seamen with parachute expertise. The Airborne Operations Group manages, tests and maintains the Kampfschwimmer Company’s vertical insertion equipment; in addition to jumpmaster qualifications the personnel are also trained at the parachute test and maintenance schools of the German Army and Air Force. Support is provided both on base and in the field during operations. Each individual jumper is supported before and during the jump; additional support is provided from the air after the jump. In addition to supporting Kampfschwimmer operations the Airborne Operations Group also supports the fleet by conducting unconventional airborne delivery, e.g. airborne insertion of boats or parachute delivery of spare parts to ships at sea.
A reinforced S2 (military intelligence) staff section is attached to the command staff to conduct situational analysis, targeting, intelligence gathering and reconnaissance.
By activating the Naval Special Operations Command KSM the Navy has fulfilled its obligation to conduct prepare for contingencies that might require military action from the sea.
Through its component elements – the Kampfschwimmer Company with its organic forces and direct tactical support units (Medical Group, Airborne Operations Group, and the GVTA) – the Naval Special Operations Command provides a clear contribution to Germany’s operational capabilities, especially in light of current regional and world developments and the evolving threat spectrum.