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

Author: Eric Sof

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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.


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.


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.


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)


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


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)


  • Extrema Ratio GOI. SERE.


Sub-machine guns

Assault rifles


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)
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