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.
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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.