The history of the Kleinkampfverbände has always interested me and this is my first book that doesn’t deal specifically with the U-boat service. For years I studied the Waffen SS and all aspects of the Wehrmacht and the overlap between the services often lead on to German special operations, such as the history of the Brandenburgers and Otto Skorzeny’s SS Jägdverbande. Of course, Skorzeny himself was an interesting character and he plays his part in the development of the Kriegsmarine’s small battle units.
As the Third Reich headed for its inevitable destruction, German ingenuity in the naval field turned to unconventional weapons midget submarines, radio-controlled explosive boats, and various forms of underwater sabotage. Inspired by Italian, and later British successes with human torpedoes and X-Craft, the Germans set up an organisation called Kleinkampfverbände ( Small Battle Units ). Utilising an unusual range of devices, some barely beyond the experimental stage, this formation was unique in drawing its personnel from the Navy, regular Army and Waffen SS. Originally envisaged as an all-volunteer elite unit of special forces, it was increasingly diluted by draftees and even military defaulters posted to the Kleinkampfverbände as punishment. Nevertheless, there was no collapse of morale, even as conditions in both the Mediterranean and northern European theatres became increasingly adverse. By the end, facing overwhelming odds, even their senior commanders regarded some of the attacks as little better than suicide missions. Judged by their effect on the Allied advance, their successes were slight, but the indomitable bravery of those involved makes riveting reading. Pieced together from fragmentary sources, it is a largely untold story, chronicling some of the most desperate operations of the war.
Somewhat ironically the Kleinkampfverbände were badly let down by a complete lack of vision on behalf of a fairly rigid navy. While enough planners within other navies – particularly the British and Italian – embraced the idea of special units to make them a viable addition to their service, the Kriegsmarine’s high command failed to do so. Had they seized the opportunity to follow the independent minds that created the Kleinkampfverbände, the results of their daring in combat may well have been significantly greater. These were not suicide weapons – though ultimately many of their missions were indeed virtually suicidal.
Originally published by Chatham Publishing, London, 2006.
Available from Amazon and most book outlets.
“There’s heaps of detail, so any student of the Kleinkampfverbände will rate this as an essential addition to their library.”
Bernd Biege, Wargames Illustrated
Lawrence Paterson has amassed an amazing amount of detailed information about the numbers of these craft built, the different types, the men who drove them, and how they were used. He has presented the facts in a very readable way telling the story of brave and maybe foolhardy men engaged in an ultimately unsuccessful fight.
There is little that wargamers can find here for games but the tales of heroism and small battle unit actions may create some inspiration and are interesting in their own right. The book is a detailed account which, to my mind, shows the futility of trying to counter conventional forces with small asymmetric Special Forces with high morale but questionable training and equiptment: hence the title! The book is recommended to those with an interest in Special Forces, their creation, planning, equiptment and operations but the reader will need to make up his own mind as to whether they are useful or repaid the resources expended on them. It is recommended to the expert and the general reader alike.
Miniature Wargames, October 2018 – reviewed by Martin Pike
Will be republished as a paperback by Frontline Publishing in March 2018.
Interesting string of stills here from Die Deutsche Wochenschau (31 December 1944) following Gerhold and fellow Neger pilots that visted the Berlin Marine Hitler Jugend late in 1944. No doubt a handy recruiting drive for idealistic volunteers.
Plus the book has one of my favourite covers. I’ve never seen the painting by Brian Entwistle without the writing on it…so I hope he’ll forgive my messing around with this small part of it.