COMSUBIN: Italian counterpart of the British SBS and the US Navy SEALs

The Italian Navy’s Commando Raggruppamento Subacqui ed Incurisori, also known as COMSUBIN, is a 200-man elite unit with a great history dating back to WWI

Eric Sof

GOI operators from COMSUBIN during the breacher training
GOI operators from COMSUBIN during the breacher training (Photo: XY)

The Italian Navy’s Commando Raggruppamento Subacqui ed Incurisori, also known as COMSUBIN, is a 200-man elite unit with a great history dating back to WWI and WWII. They are considered counterparts for the US Navy SEALs and British SBS.

History

The Italians were the first to invent the concept of human torpedoes and military combat divers, and its Naval Assault Divisions are considered the precursors to modern naval special forces. Their record can be traced back to World War I and the operation against the Austrian-Hungarian battleship Viribus Unitis in Pola Harbour in 1918.

Other famous operations include Trieste, Suda Bay, Alexandria, Gibraltar, and Malta. 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).

COMSUBIN operator with Beretta M12 during the 1970s
COMSUBIN operator with Beretta M12 during the 1970s (Photo: XY)

It is a matter of pride that Italy’s naval special forces pre-date the US Navy’s Underwater Demolition Teams, formed in 1943 and forerunners of the SEALs and the British Royal Marines’ Special Boat Service, formed as an offshoot of the Special Air Service in 1941.

Mission

COMSUBIN’s missions are similar to those of their counterparts in the US. They are tasked with clearing mines, explosive and underwater obstacles, conducting reconnaissance on friendly or foreign territory, clearing beaches for amphibious landings, and commando raids on enemy naval installations.

Organization

COMSUBIN is organized into two main and two support sections. The first two sections are the Operational Raiders Group and Operational Divers Group. Two supporting elements are the Specials Naval Group and the Schools Group.

Operational Raiders Group (GOI)

The Operational Raiders Group (Gruppo Operativo Incursori – GOI) is a specialized unit within COMSUBIN, the elite unit of the Italian Navy. The Raiders are trained in special maritime operations. They have four primary areas of focus: attacking ships while in port or at sea, attacking port or coastal installations and infrastructure, conducting counter-terrorism operations, and infiltrating and conducting long-term reconnaissance in hostile territory.

The Raiders are primarily drawn from the Navy’s San Marco Marine Brigade ranks and wear a green beret. To join the Raiders, one must complete an additional 42-week training program on top of the regular COMSUBIN training.

Operational Divers Group (GOS)

‘The Operational Divers Group (Gruppo Operativo Subacquei – GOS) is a specialized unit within COMSUBIN, the elite unit of the Italian Navy. The GOS specializes in scuba diving using various gas mixtures, including air to 60 m, oxygen to 12 m, nitrox to 54 m, heliox to 150 m, and 300 m with a mini-submarine or a special suit. After World War II, the GOS de-mined Italy’s northern ports, ravaged by war and filled with magnetic mines and ammunition onboard sunken ships.

They completed this task by 1949, allowing Italy’s economy to recover relatively quickly. Since then, the GOS has performed de-mining and unexploded ordnance disposal operations worldwide, particularly in the Persian Gulf, the former Yugoslavia, and Albania.

Diver detachment operates from the NNavy’s minesweepers and specializes in rescuing personnel from stricken ships and submarines and assisting in maritime rescue operations. Divers wear a medium blue beret.

Special Naval Group

The Special Naval Group (Gruppo Navale Speciale – COMGRUPNAVIN) supports and moves the raiders and the divers with the aid of five ships:

  • Marino-class diving support vessels: “Mario Marino” and “Alcide Pedretti”
  • Cabrini-class high-speed patrol boats: “Angelo Cabrini” and “Tullio Tedeschi”
  • Submarine rescue ship “Anteo” with an SRV-300 deep-submergence rescue vehicle

Schools Group

The Schools Group (Gruppo Scuole) consists of the Divers School, Raiders School, and Underwater and Hyperbaric Medicine School.

Selection and training

The 200-man-strong COMSUBIN is an all-volunteer unit, mostly made up of volunteers from the Italian Marine battalion San Marco. To enter the unit, one must complete a 10-month training program that includes ranger, parachute, hand-to-hand, demolition, and weapons training. Those who want to join the Raiders group must also complete an additional 42-week course.

COMSUBIN operators during training on the submarine
COMSUBIN operators during training on the submarine (Photo: XY)

Operations

The COMSUBIN has been involved in counter-terrorism operations, with rumors of this surfacing in 1978 and 1979. So far, COMSUBIN has been deployed to these places:

  • Adriatic Sea, inspecting merchant navy ships due to the 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 the 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)
  • Libya

Equipment

COMSUBIN operators use a range of gear and equipment suited to their underwater operations. This includes specialized diving equipment such as wetsuits, fins, scuba tanks, weapons, and other tactical equipment. They also have boats and other vehicles to transport themselves and their gear at their disposal.

COMSUBIN operator in 2019
COMSUBIN operator in 2019 (Photo: XY)

Knife

  • Extrema Ratio GOI. SERE.

Handguns

Sub-machine guns

Assault rifles

Shotguns

Sniper rifles

  • Accuracy International AWP (7.62×51mm)
  • Heckler & Koch MSG-90 (7.62×51mm)
  • Knight’s Armament Company SR-25 (7.62×51mm)
  • Accuracy International AXMX (8.6×70mm)
  • Sako TRG-42 (8.6×70mm)
  • Accuracy International AX50 (12.7×99mm)
  • Barrett M107 (12.7×99mm)

Grenade launchers

Machine guns and AGLs

Rocket launchers

  • M72A5 (66mm)
  • C90-CR (M3) (90mm)
  • Spike-SR (170mm)

Eric Sof

Eric Sof holds a master's degree in Political Science, specializing in International Peacekeeping Studies. He has over a decade of experience as a former member of an elite counterterrorism unit. Additionally, he is a firearms instructor and currently serves as a member of the SWAT unit.

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2 thoughts on “COMSUBIN: Italian counterpart of the British SBS and the US Navy SEALs”

  1. With the end of the Second World War in Italy, the veterans of the X MAS, in this case the men of the NP – parachute swimmers, were asked by the American forces to help them against the Japanese forces on Pacific warfare front.
    The NPs refused, because when defeated, despite the daring shown by the British and US forces, they didn’t want to go over to the winning side, believing they didn’t want to go over as the armed forces of the King of Italy did.
    In the seventies, exponents of the X Flottiglia MAS, Buttazzoni and Capriotti, structured for the IDF the nascent special forces naval department of the Israeli Navy, Sayeret 13, which was inspired by the exploits of the X MAS.
    “Memento Audere Semper”, was the motto coined by the Italian poet, Gabriele D’Annunzio, to tell in three Latin words, the daring and courage, of the men of the X Flottiglia MAS.
    RiP to all of them

  2. I forgot to add: Tito’s Yugoslav partisans together with the Italian communist partisans, wanted to expand the Yugoslav territory by annexing Venezia Giulia.
    Thanks to the “X MAS” and the sacrifice of many brave men, the north-eastern region of Venezia Giulia remained part of Italy. They fought so that the region was not even part of Austria as the so-called German allies wanted. Finally, in Trieste they received military honors, parading in front of the British forces. They were only volunteers, they weren’t fascists, because the “X” was an apolitical military formation, as their commander had wanted it, for this reason he had many enemies in the republican fascist government, which had started a defamatory propaganda; they hated the autonomy of the “X” and did not accept that it was disinterested in what remained of fascism, now on its way to irreversible decline. They, the “X”, fought only for Italy, even facing the Germans who used it as conquered land, subjecting it to their despicable interests. They defended FIAT and other industries such as Marzotto, so that they did not become German. They didn’t want to fight against other Italians even if the civil war wanted to engulf them. The Commander had also planned an attack on the port of NYC, using an oceanic submarine that would carry the men of the “X”. The Germans boycotted this initiative because it would have given too much importance and prestige to the “X MAS”.

    There are several books written by valiant veterans of the “X” that tell in detail these and many other exciting stories, true and lived, like Sergio Nesi, Guido Bonvicini, Luigi Romersa and many other authors

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