COMSUBIN (Comando Raggruppamento Subacquei ed Incursori Teseo Tesei) is the premier Italian combat frogmen force and one of the Italian special forces. In former times it was called Decima Flottiglia MAS (X MAS).
Italy was the first nation to use frogmen and human torpedoes. Great Britain and Germany soon followed. Italy’s frogman group originated in 1938 as the 1a Flottiglia Mezzi d’Assalto (1st Flotilla Assault Vehicles), which was reformed in 1940 as the Decima Flottiglia MAS (10th Flotilla Assault Vehicles, X-MAS).
It is a matter of pride that Italy’s Naval Special Forces pre-date both the U.S. Navy Underwater Demolition Teams, formed in 1943 and forerunners of the better-known SEALs, and the British Royal Marines Special Boat Service formed as an offshoot of the Special Air Service in 1941.
After World War II ended, the victors forbade Italy from maintaining special operations personnel. The Decima Flottiglia MAS was disbanded. But the training experience gathered during the war was not lost, but was preserved in units scattered across the new Marina Militare.
- 1954: Italy joined the North Atlantic Council and the United Nations. The Allied Powers relented. The Decima Flottiglia MAS was reformed, and had various names as the years passed.
- 1960: Its name was settled as Comando Raggruppamento Subacquei ed Incursori Teseo Tesei (Teseo Tesei Underwater and Raiding Grouping Command, COMSUBIN).
COMSUBIN is currently based in three detachments near the Gulf of La Spezia in the Liguria region of north-west Italy. In keeping with its traditions, the command has long been known for its acquisition and use of unconventional weapons and small arms, such as the Armalite AR-10.
Some nations including Italy have continued to make and keep human torpedoes after 1945.
Though technically referred to as a special operations force, COMSUBIN is somewhat different in that it considers itself a naval specialization. Perhaps the most storied task of COMSUBIN is the destruction of enemy naval assets, particularly by sea. However, COMSUBIN’s six principal components (described below) all perform markedly different tasks each as essential as the other.
The Operational Raider Group (Gruppo Operativo Incursori) is a unit of some 150-200 men and may be considered the force most closely associated with naval special operations by the popular imagination. The Raiders have four specific assignments that they are expected to complete; including:
- Attacks on naval and merchant ships while in port or in activity using a multitude of different weapons systems.
- Attacks on port and/or coastal civilian and military installations and infrastructure up to 40 km from the coast.
- Counter-terrorism operations especially on ships and dedicated to the liberation of hostages.
- Infiltration and long-term stays in hostile territory for reconnaissance and/or long-range naval targeting missions.
The Operational Divers Group (Gruppo Operativo Subacquei) has 200 or so personnel specialized in free-diving with air to 60 m, oxygen to 12 m, nitrox to 54 m, heliox to 150 m, and to 300 m with a mini-submarine or a special suit. Their task after World War II was de-mining most of Italy’s northern ports ravaged by years of war and full of magnetic mines and dangerous explosives and sunken ships. This they largely accomplished by 1949, letting Italy’s economy get back on track relatively quickly. After WWII, they have performed de-mining operations across the world, especially in the Persian Gulf, the former Yugoslavia, and Albania. A detachment of them operates off an Italian Navy minesweeper. Also, they specialize in rescuing navy personnel from stricken submarines.
The Special Naval Group (Gruppo Navale Speciale) supports and moves the Raiders and the Divers, with the aid of four specialist ships, the PROTEO, ANTEO, MARINO, and PEDRETTI.
- PROTEO and ANTEO are specialised in supporting Diver operations and in particular rescue of or from submarines in distress.
- PROTEO specialises in assisting diver operations to a depth of 150 m.
- ANTEO carries a mini-submarine for submarine-rescue operations to a depth of 600 m.
- MARINO and PEDRETTI are fast-speed ships dedicated to supporting Raider operations.
The Study Centre Group (Raggruppamento Centro Studi) keeps the entire unit up-to-date with the latest equipment and technological advances in specialist fields. It is divided into four major sections: Arms and Explosives, Materials and Raider Vehicles, Submarine Experimental Materials, and Submarine Human Physiology. All Italian Navy doctors specialize at the Submarine Human Physiology section (in Naval submarine pathology). The centre has a hyperbaric chamber often used for decompression therapy by civilians needing this treatment.
The School Group (Gruppo Scuole) is the Diver School and the Raider School and trains all raiders and divers, and trains non-COMSUBIN personnel in special tasks such as Diver Obstacle Demolition for San Marco Regiment members (the Italian Navy’s Marine Regiment), and divers for other Italian State bodies such as the Police and Firefighting forces.
The crucial Logistics Group (Gruppo Logistico) is responsible for maintenance operations of all kinds and for the health and well-being of all COMSUBIN members.
COMSUBIN is first and foremost a secret special operations unit. Its membership is a fairly well-guarded secret. Estimates put the number of active COMSUBIN men at around 700.
Raiders are composed of volunteer officers and non-commissioned officers with an average age of 29 who are capable of:-
- surface and under-water swimming
- use of naval units
- assault on stationary and moving naval units
- release from helicopters through various means
- movement during day and night in unknown and rocky terrain
- release from submarines while underwater and on surface
- use of automatic and commanded parachute
- use of arms, explosives and special weapons
- capability to reside in unknown hostile territory for long-term
- use of various land vehicles
After a member has qualified as a Raider, he may take up a number of specializations including:-
- free fall paratrooper
- mountain guide
- aerial photography analyst
- explosives de-activator
- launch director
- Military Mountain Troop Instructor
- Naval and Submarine Photographer
Former COMSUBIN Raiders may join other branches of the elite unit to continue serving the Navy or may join other parts of the military as instructors.
COMSUBIN Raiders have been deployed to these places:-
- Adriatic Sea, inspecting merchant navy ships due to UN embargo against the former Yugoslav republics.
- Albania, mostly to escort and patrol missions.
- Lebanon, mostly to escort and patrol missions.
- Persian Gulf, inspecting merchant navy ships due to UN embargo against Iran.
- Rwanda, evacuating Westerners from missionary outposts during the bitter civil war in Rwanda in 1994-95.
- Somalia, mostly to escort and patrol missions.
- Afghanistan, in support of ISAF.
- Iraq, in support of Antica Babilonia (the Italian contingent of Multinational force)
The Italian Government has not acknowledged their participation in deep-penetration sabotage missions