In Memory of David Michael Collins March 3, 1969 to March 12, 2014

“Ah man… this is bull shit,” Swamp Thing grumbled.

Swamp Thing continued to complain about the interruption as we followed the (SDV Advance Operator Training) Cadre member into the Team building to get the work from the lead instructor. We were all anxious to hear the rest of the story from Master Chief. Hopefully next time we wouldn’t have to endure the blazing late summer Virginia heat, but either way we wanted to hear the rest of the story.

Luckily we didn’t have to wait too long.

“So I hear one of you really did a number on the SDV the other day. Damn it’s cold in here,” Master Chief said as he walked into the dive locker. “You know there are better ways to get out of diving besides totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of government equipment.”

“Yeah? Like what? “Banjo asked as he worked on his MK 15 diving rig.

“I am gonna leave that up to you boys to figure out, but don’t let me ever catch you fakin’ it cause you don’t wanna dive, got it,” Master Chief said.

“Yes Master Chief,” we mumbled.

“Shit can someone turn up the heat I am gonna get frostbite,” Master Chief said.

“So to hell with faking an ear ache Master Chief you going to finish that story about the Italian frogs?” Swamp Thing asked.

“What story? Italians?” Master Chief said.

Swamp Thing’s head whipped around to look at Master Chief. Master Chief’s blank expression made the rest of laugh. Swamp Thing’s face flared like a camp fire with new fuel.

The training SDV was down hard. It would be out of commission for two or three days for sure. We watched the maintenance guys tear the front end down for an hour or so then boredom set in. We didn’t make ourselves scarce quickly enough though, the AOT training cadre found us standing around watching. They figure we could be doing something more productive.

The training cadre always had something for us to do, just in case some jackass wrecked the SDV. For every hour of diving there was at least two or three worth of maintenance to be done. Our MK-15 mixed-gas, re-breathers were sophisticated pieces of equipment which meant they were temperamental. Maintaining them was the best way to keep them from crapping out on you during a dive. Master Chief walked in at the beginning of our maintenance work.

“So where were we?” Master Chief asked.

“You said the Italian’s did suicide missions or some crazy shit like that,” Swamp Thing was quick to remind him.

Italian Frogmen adjusting their Panerai watches

Photo: Italian Frogmen adjusting their Panerai watches before dive ops.

“Never said they did suicide missions, you said that. I did say they left the pig on the target or in the target area. The Axis had a pretty substantial agent system. You know, like spies and partisans. So the Light Flotilla guys would plan to leave the pig, swim away from the target, surface and meet an agent who would get them back to Italy.

“Well I guess that’s better than suicide but it still had to be a dicey situation, getting linked up with the agent and all,” Glad Bag asked.

Nah man that would be cool, yah know sneaking up behind enemy lines giving some whacky bona fides to some dude and jumpin in the back of a lumber truck for a bumpy ride back to Italy,” Banjo said.

“Yeah but these dude were in Egypt man that’s on the opposite side of the Med from Italy,” Glad Bag said

“Will you guys shut up already and let Master Chief talk?” Swamp Thing barked.

“It was pretty sketchy considering half the agents were double agents or wouldn’t show up cause they got scared or captured at the last moment. In real operations it didn’t always work as well as it did in training scenarios. But, the advantage the Italians had in Alexandria was surprise.

The Allies, the Brits did not expect them. The port was laid out in a way that a waterborne attack was unlikely or down right impossible. The Allies were used to bombing raids by the Italian air force. They expected that or maybe some sort of land attack, but not a water attack.

The port of Alexandria was like a fortress. The harbor had one narrow opening that was covered with anti-swimmer/sub nets. Outside the harbor there were dozens of mines and detection devices. Inside the harbor there were more nets, a net was around each of the target ships. Think about it, it was wartime the ships crew and the harbor crew were on high alert. The ships themselves were armored up the rear. The Italian frogs knew they had to do something different to be successful.

Surprise is something we take for granted. We plan on it but I don’t think we really understand the full extend of the impact of a surprise attack. Or more importantly what it really means to be sneaky. You know that funny Ninja saying be the tree? That’s what level the Italians were working on when they hit Alexandria. They used the elements of surprise to the fullest extent possible you know? They became the water. That’s the only way they could do it.

“Alright, you don’t really believe that crap do…?” Banjo said.

“Sure, why not? Master Chief interrupted, “Look there’s an art to what we do. Good operators embrace the rules of combat, artists embrace the unknowns of combat as opportunities for success. Ok this may seem a little hooky but if you study combat successes and failures I think a lot of it boils down to the operator’s willingness to really take on his mission. Like a great actor immerses himself in his role. The Italians believed in success not because they figured they could surprise their opponent but because they knew they would. Big difference. Big difference because they were less concerned with the actions of their opponents than with their own. They knew there was a lot of unknowns, a lot of unknowns they could do nothing about,” Master Chief said.

“I don’t get it?” Banjo said.

“It means the Italians knew they were out numbered, out gunned, out everything I imagine. They knew the only thing they could do was to be as sneaky as shit I am guessing,” Glad Bag said.


Photo: Old school Frog

“Exactly, that’s why the attack on Alexandria is such a great example of a sneak attack, cause the Italian frogs had very little wiggle room for mistakes or missteps, yah know? They had to rely on something more than superior fire power or QRFs cause there weren’t any. They had to be damn sneaky, they had to surprise those targets like no ones ever been surprised before. And they did, that’s the cool part of it.

If you guys can embrace that type of dedication to the craft of being a sneaky fucking bastard then you will go far in this organization. Don’t make excuses for how you can’t do the mission, come up with solutions for how you can.

You guys will be pinned later today. Some of you will make a career of this Team guy crap some of you will do a few years and spend the rest of your life wondering why you didn’t stay in. But either way do your best to be down right invisible because I guarantee you, you guys will never have more guns or more guys that than the bad guys that’s just the side of the bell curve we’re on. But we have one big advantage we know how to be the tree, be the water better than most out their! So be the fucking tree!” Master Chief said.

“I gotta get outta here my toes are numb,”

SPECIAL NOTE: I owe considerable credit to Admiral William H. McRaven’s amazing book Spec Ops, Case Studies in Special Operations Warfare: Theory and Practice for helping  me remember many of the details Master Chief told us about the Italian Frogmen.