WW2 - hand to hand underwater combat

#1
I've just been re-reading an authoritative and very well researched technical diving book (Deco for Divers - Mark Powell, for those who might be interested).

The book not only covers in considerable detail physiological aspects of deep diving, but also is full of interesting historical anecdotes. One such anecdote is that during WW2, British frogmen discovered that they could overcome Italian frogmen in underwater combat by dragging them deeper than about 10-15m, whereupon they would succumb to CNS poisoning due to excessive oxygen partial pressure from their pure oxygen rebreathers, convulse and drown. The British divers were using a Nitrox mixture so had lower oxygen partial pressure at the same depth.

Certainly in theory this could be true, but I had never previously heard of any examples of hand to hand underwater combat in WW2, and a quick internet search shows up nothing. Can anybody shed any light?
 
#2
I've just been re-reading an authoritative and very well researched technical diving book (Deco for Divers - Mark Powell, for those who might be interested).

The book not only covers in considerable detail physiological aspects of deep diving, but also is full of interesting historical anecdotes. One such anecdote is that during WW2, British frogmen discovered that they could overcome Italian frogmen in underwater combat by dragging them deeper than about 10-15m, whereupon they would succumb to CNS poisoning due to excessive oxygen partial pressure from their pure oxygen rebreathers, convulse and drown. The British divers were using a Nitrox mixture so had lower oxygen partial pressure at the same depth.

Certainly in theory this could be true, but I had never previously heard of any examples of hand to hand underwater combat in WW2, and a quick internet search shows up nothing. Can anybody shed any light?
On 100% O2, it becomes poisonous at 2.8bar pp, which is 66ft.
It causes CNS and death can and does occur, which is the reason that a treatment for a bend is restricted to 2.2 bar on 100% O2 which is 60ft.
 
#4
Anyone asked @ DeManBugs, he seems to be the font of all knowledge and wisdom on all things military, surprised he hasn't regaled us with his exploits of Dearing do in foriegn ports, and his exploits with "Them"
 
#5
I've just been re-reading an authoritative and very well researched technical diving book (Deco for Divers - Mark Powell, for those who might be interested).

The book not only covers in considerable detail physiological aspects of deep diving, but also is full of interesting historical anecdotes. One such anecdote is that during WW2, British frogmen discovered that they could overcome Italian frogmen in underwater combat by dragging them deeper than about 10-15m, whereupon they would succumb to CNS poisoning due to excessive oxygen partial pressure from their pure oxygen rebreathers, convulse and drown. The British divers were using a Nitrox mixture so had lower oxygen partial pressure at the same depth.

Certainly in theory this could be true, but I had never previously heard of any examples of hand to hand underwater combat in WW2, and a quick internet search shows up nothing. Can anybody shed any light?


Sounds like the author has swallowed some very tall stories.

Given the well-documented nature of WW2 diving, any such incident would have been emblazoned across the history books. The phrase "discovered that they could overcome Italian frogmen in underwater combat by..etc" implies that underwater combat was common enough for techniques to have been evolved.

IIRC by the time British/allied divers had developed decent "Scuba" kit, the Italian oppos were more or less out of the war anyway.

The normal method of dealing with suspected enemy divers was simply to drop grenades or depth charges over the side, which is how the Italian divers in Gib were dealt with.
 
#6
The Italians had little concept of oxygen toxicity during the Second World War and sometimes used pure oxygen in their diving sets down to 30m, thus exceeding the safe depth (10 metres or 1 Bar) by a considerable margin. The British used pure oxygen in DSEA (Davis Submerged Escape Apparatus) for a considerable time too but established rules to prevent succumbing to 'Oxygen Pete' which could occur if the partial pressure exceeded 2 Bar absolute (1 Bar on the surface plus 1 Bar at 10m water depth). Some divers were excluded from training if they were found to have a particular intolerance to oxygen at higher than atmospheric pressure during test dives in a compression chamber.

It is possible that Lt (later Lt Cdr) Bill Bailey CBE DSC GM* RNVR, OIC of the UWWP (Underwater Working Party) in Gibraltar, inadvertently cut the leg of Decima Mas frogman, Petty Officer Bruno di Lorenzi (or Lorenzo) with his Fairbairn-Sykes commando dagger in the murk during an Italian attack on SS Ravensport on 15 Sep 1942. It was actually Bailey who was responsible for most of the achievements later attributed to Lt (later Cdr) Lionel 'Buster' Crabb OBE GM RNVR, as portrayed by Laurence Harvey in the 1958 film The Silent Enemy. Harvey's stunt double for the somewhat dramaticised scenes was Lt Phil White RN (later Cdr Philip Balink-White MBE RN) who left the RN as Superintendent of Diving in 1970.

Underwater knife fight from The Silent Enemy.jpg


Bailey's knife and medals are exhibited in the Diving Museum at No.2 Battery in Stokes Bay near Gosport in Hampshire.

UWWP Display at HDS Diving Museum (1).jpg
UWWP Display at HDS Diving Museum (2).jpg
UWWP Display at HDS Diving Museum (3).jpg


Read the full analysis in Operation Tadpole by Dr John Bevan, Chairman of the Historical Diving Society and founder of the museum.
 
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#7
Sounds like the author has swallowed some very tall stories.

Given the well-documented nature of WW2 diving, any such incident would have been emblazoned across the history books. The phrase "discovered that they could overcome Italian frogmen in underwater combat by..etc" implies that underwater combat was common enough for techniques to have been evolved.
I was wondering, and initially thought it could be just a piece of advice to be briefed out to people "if you ever find yourself in this situation, try X". Abi9t like the work on the Japanese type 95 when British took the time to trail jamming the turret with a knife.

There again I've been around long enough to still be amazed by some of hte stuff people tried and got up to in the war.
 
#8
I was wondering, and initially thought it could be just a piece of advice to be briefed out to people "if you ever find yourself in this situation, try X". Abi9t like the work on the Japanese type 95 when British took the time to trail jamming the turret with a knife.

There again I've been around long enough to still be amazed by some of hte stuff people tried and got up to in the war.
It's amazing how easily something "trialed" or "hypothesised" can rapidly become "discovered" by a bit of sloppy writing, then get repeated and become apparent fact...
 
#9
It's amazing how easily something "trialed" or "hypothesised" can rapidly become "discovered" by a bit of sloppy writing, then get repeated and become apparent fact...
Hey, I work hard at sloppy butchering English and History! You make one little mistake about bolt on armour for a conqueror and you never hear the last of it.
:safe:

Off topic:
That said I am worried about what's going to happen in October when the book comes out with the newly discovered Japanese tanks. I've tried to be careful in what I write, but I fear I might not have been careful enough. Based upon experience of how people react its going to be like I said the Japanese had these tanks lined up and ready to invade Burma.
 
#10
Hey, I work hard at sloppy butchering English and History! You make one little mistake about bolt on armour for a conqueror and you never hear the last of it.
:safe:

Off topic:
That said I am worried about what's going to happen in October when the book comes out with the newly discovered Japanese tanks. I've tried to be careful in what I write, but I fear I might not have been careful enough. Based upon experience of how people react its going to be like I said the Japanese had these tanks lined up and ready to invade Burma.
Oh, it's just like with my YouTube videos. The number of comments that try to take me to task for something someone believes I said but didn't say rather than what I actually said are quite astounding.
 
#11
Oh, it's just like with my YouTube videos. The number of comments that try to take me to task for something someone believes I said but didn't say rather than what I actually said are quite astounding.
Yeah I know. Ok in the case of the bolt on armour that was a **** up on my behalf because I didn't look at a pretty picture.
 
#12
On 100% O2, it becomes poisonous at 2.8bar pp, which is 66ft.
It causes CNS and death can and does occur, which is the reason that a treatment for a bend is restricted to 2.2 bar on 100% O2 which is 60ft.
There is no hard and fast rule about the pp that will cause the onset of convulsions - people can have no symptoms one day at absurdly high pp, then a few days later on another trial convulse on much lower pp. Hence different diving organisations set different rules. Most civvy diving is limited to 1.4, and 1.6 for deco stops where the diver is less active. I know the USN limit is 2.0. However, interesting that you quote a figure of 2.8 - who uses that? It seems quite high.
 

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