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A frogman is someone who is trained in scuba diving or swimming underwater in a tactical capacity that includes combat.[citation needed] Such personnel are also known by the more formal names of combat diver, combatant diver, or combat swimmer. The word frogman arose from Italian "uomo rana" around 1940 from the appearance of a diver in a shiny drysuit and large fins.[citation needed]

Combat swimming is often used to mean combat diving.[citation needed][clarification needed] Such actions are a historical form of "frogman" activity and an important feature of naval special operations.[citation needed]

The term frogman is occasionally used to refer to a civilian scuba diver. Some sport diving clubs include the word Frogmen in their names.[citation needed] The preferred term by scuba users is diver,[citation needed] but the frogman epithet persists in informal usage by non-divers, especially in the media and often referring to professional scuba divers, such as in a police diving role.[citation needed]

In the U.S. military and intelligence community, divers trained in scuba or CCUBA who deploy for tactical assault missions are called "combat divers".[citation needed] This term is used to refer to the Navy SEALs, operatives of the CIA's Special Activities Division, elements of Marine Recon, Army Ranger Regimental Reconnaissance Company members, Army Special Forces divers, Air Force Pararescue, Air Force Combat Controllers, U.S. Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue Swimmers, United States Naval Search and Rescue Swimmers, United States Air Force Special Operations Weather Technicians, and the Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) units. In Britain, police divers have often been called "police frogmen".[citation needed]

Some countries' tactical diver organizations include a translation of the word frogman in their official names, e.g., Denmark's Frømandskorpset; others call themselves "combat divers" or similar. Others call themselves by indefinite names such as "special group 13" and "special operations unit".[citation needed]

Many nations and some irregular armed groups deploy or have deployed combat frogmen.


Merriam-Webster defines a frogman as a person equipped for extended periods of underwater swimming, and particularly for military reconnaissance and demolition.[1]

The Oxford English Dictionary states: "A person who swims under water wearing a rubber suit, flippers, and an oxygen supply."[2][3]

The Encyclopaedia Britannica provides a narrower definition for Frogman, Naval personnel (which suggests the possibility of other meanings) as an unarmed member of a US Navy underwater demolition team which reconnoitred beach landing areas, observed enemy positions near the shore, and detected and cleared dangerous underwater obstructions.[4]

The Cambridge Dictionary defines a frogman as: "someone who swims or works underwater for a long time wearing breathing equipment, flippers, and usually a rubber suit".[5]

The Macmillan Dictionary definition is identical for British and American English as: "someone who does police or military work under water using special clothes and equipment".[6]

Collins English Dictionary gives "a swimmer equipped with a rubber suit, flippers, and breathing equipment for working underwater" as the British English definition, and "a person trained and equipped, as with a rubber suit and scuba apparatus, for underwater demolition, exploration, etc." as an American definition, citing Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th Edition. Copyright 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. They also indicate a trend of steadily decreasing usage from the mid 20th century to 2008, and the word may be obsolescent.[7]

The Dictionary of American Slang reports that colloquial meanings include a scuba diver, particularly a professional or military diver of WWII.[8]

Scope of operations

Tactical diving is a branch of professional diving carried out by armed forces and tactical units. They may be divided into:[citation needed]

These groups may overlap, and the same men may serve as assault divers and work divers, such as the Australian Clearance Diving Branch (RAN).

The range of operations performed by these operatives includes:[citation needed]

  • Amphibious assault: stealthy deployment of land or boarding forces. The vast majority of combat swimmer missions are simply to get "from here to there" and arrive suitably equipped and in sufficient physical condition to fight on arrival. The deployment of tactical forces using the arrival by water to assault land targets, oil platforms, or surface ship targets (as in boardings for seizure of evidence) is a major driver behind the equipping and training of combat swimmers. The purposes are many, but include feint and deception, counter-drug, law enforcement, counter-terrorism, and counter-proliferation missions.
  • Sabotage: This includes putting limpet mines on ships.
  • Clandestine surveying: Surveying a beach before a troop landing, or other forms of unauthorized underwater surveying in denied waters.
  • Clandestine underwater work, e.g.:
  • Investigating unidentified divers, or a sonar echo that may be unidentified divers. Diving sea-police work may be included here. See anti-frogman techniques.
  • Checking ships, boats, structures, and harbors for limpet mines and other sabotage; and ordinary routine maintenance in war conditions. If the inspection divers during this find attacking frogmen laying mines, this category may merge into the previous category.
  • Underwater mine clearance and bomb disposal.

Typically, a frogman with closed circuit oxygen rebreathing equipment will stay within a depth limit of 20 feet (6.1 m) with limited deeper excursions to a maximum of 50 feet (15 m) because of the risk of seizure due to acute oxygen toxicity.[9] The use of nitrox or mixed gas rebreathers can extend this depth range considerably, but this may be beyond the scope of operations, depending on the unit.

Mission descriptions

The U.S. and U.K. forces use these official definitions for mission descriptors:[citation needed]

Keeping out of sight (e.g., underwater) when approaching the target.
Carrying out an action of which the enemy may become aware, but whose perpetrator cannot easily be discovered or apprehended. Covert action often involves military force which cannot be hidden once it has happened. Stealth on approach, and frequently on departure, may be used.
It is intended that the enemy does not find out then or afterwards that the action has happened. Installing eavesdropping devices is the best example. Approach, installing the devices, and departure are all to be kept from the knowledge of the enemy. If the operation or its purpose is exposed, then the actor will usually make sure that the action at least remains "covert", or unattributable: e.g., "... the secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions".

Defending against frogmen

Anti-frogman techniques are security methods developed to protect watercraft, ports and installations, and other sensitive resources both in or nearby vulnerable waterways from potential threats or intrusions by frogmen.


Frogmen on clandestine operations use rebreathers, as the bubbles released by open-circuit scuba would reveal them to surface lookouts and make a noise which hydrophones could easily detect.


A 1945 British navy frogman with complete gear, including the Davis apparatus, a rebreather originally conceived in 1910 by Robert Davis as an emergency submarine escape set.

In ancient Roman and Greek times, etc., there were instances of men swimming or diving for combat, sometimes using a hollow plant stem or a long bone as a snorkel. Diving with snorkel is mentioned by Aristotle (4th century BC).[10] The earliest descriptions of frogmen in war are found in Thukydides' History of the Peloponnesian War. The first instance was in 425 BC, when the Athenian fleet besieged the Spartans on the small island of Sphacteria. The Spartans managed to get supplies from the mainland by underwater swimmers towing submerged sacks with supplies. In another incident of the same war, in 415 BC, the Athenians used combat divers in the port of Syracuse, Sicily. The Syracuseans had planted vertical wooden poles in the bottom around their port, to prevent the Athenian triremes from entering. The poles were submerged, not visible above the sea level. The Athenians used various means to cut these obstacles, including divers with saws.[11] It is believed that the underwater sawing required snorkels for breathing and diving weights to keep the divers stable.[12]

The Hungarian Chronicon Pictum claims that Henry III's 1052 invasion of Hungary was defeated by a skillful diver who sabotaged Henry's supply fleet. The unexpected sinking of the ships is confirmed by German chronicles.[citation needed]

Italy started World War II with a commando frogman force already trained. Britain, Germany, the United States, and the Soviet Union started commando frogman forces during World War II.[citation needed]

First frogmen

The word frogman appeared first in the stage name The Fearless Frogman of Paul Boyton, who since the 1870s broke records in long distance swimming to demonstrate a new invented rubber immersion suit, which inflated hood had a frog-like shape. As a stunt show hero in that suit he played a military diver (attaching mines to ships etc.) long before such divers existed.[citation needed]

The first modern frogmen were the World War II Italian commando frogmen, of Decima Flottiglia MAS (now "ComSubIn": Comando Raggruppamento Subacquei e Incursori Teseo Tesei) which formed in 1938 and was first in action in 1940. Originally these divers were called "Uomini Gamma" because they were members of the top secret special unit called "Gruppo Gamma", which originated from the kind of Pirelli rubber skin-suit[13] nicknamed muta gamma used by these divers. Later they were nicknamed "Uomini Rana", Italian for "frog men", because of an underwater swimming frog kick style, similar to that of frogs, or because their fins looked like frog's feet.[14][verification needed][need quotation to verify]

This special corps used an early oxygen rebreather scuba set, the Auto Respiratore ad Ossigeno (A.R.O), a development of the Dräger oxygen self-contained breathing apparatus designed for the mining industry and of the Davis Submerged Escape Apparatus made by Siebe, Gorman & Co and by Bergomi,[15][verification needed] designed for escaping from sunken submarines. This was used from about 1920 for spearfishing by Italian sport divers, modified and adapted by the Italian navy engineers for safe underwater use and built by Pirelli and SALVAS from about 1933, and so became a precursor of the modern diving rebreather.[16][verification needed][17][18][19]

For this new way of underwater diving, the Italian frogmen trained in La Spezia, Liguria, using the newly available Genoese free diving spearfishing equipment; diving mask, snorkel, swimfins, and rubber dry suit, the first specially made diving watch (the luminescent Panerai), and the new A.R.O. scuba unit.[20] This was a revolutionary alternative way to dive, and the start of the transition from the usual heavy underwater diving equipment of the hard hat divers which had been in general use since the 18th century, to self-contained divers, free of being tethered by an air line and rope connection.[citation needed]

Wartime operations

After Italy declared war, the Decima Flottiglia MAS (Xª MAS) attempted several attacks on British naval bases in the Mediterranean between June 1940 and July 1941, but none was successful, because of equipment failure or early detection by British forces. On September 10, 1941, eight Xª MAS frogmen were inserted by submarine close to the British harbour at Gibraltar, where using human torpedoes to penetrate the defences, sank three merchant ships with limpet mines before escaping through neutral Spain. An even more successful attack, the Raid on Alexandria, was mounted on 19 December on the harbour at Alexandria, again using human torpedoes. The raid resulted in disabling the battleships HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Valiant together with a destroyer and an oil tanker, but all six frogmen were captured.[21]

The British Royal Navy had captured an Italian human torpedo during a failed attack on Malta; they developed a copy called the Chariot and formed a unit called the Experimental Submarine Flotilla, which later merged with the Special Boat Service. A number of Chariot operations were attempted, most notably Operation Title in October 1942, an attack on the German battleship Tirpitz, which had to be abandoned when a storm hit the fishing boat which was towing the Chariots into position.[22] The last and most successful British operation resulted in sinking two liners in Phuket harbour in Thailand in October 1944.[23] Royal Navy divers did not use fins until December 1942.[citation needed]

Wartime developments

In 1933 Italian companies were already producing underwater oxygen rebreathers, but the first scuba diving set is generally recognised inside the USA as being invented in 1939[citation needed] by Christian Lambertsen, who dubbed it the Lambertsen Amphibious Respirator Unit (LARU).[24] and patented it in 1940.[25] He later renamed it the Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus, which, contracted to SCUBA, eventually became the generic term for both open circuit and rebreather autonomous underwater breathing equipment.

Lambertson demonstrated it to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) (after already being rejected by the U.S. Navy) in a pool at a hotel in Washington D.C.[26] OSS not only bought into the concept, they hired Dr. Lambertsen to lead the program and build-up the dive element of their maritime unit.[26] The OSS was the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency and the maritime element still exists inside their Special Activities Division.[27]

John Spence, an enlisted member of the U.S. Navy, was the first man selected to join the OSS group.[28] In an interview with historian Erick Simmel, Spence claimed that the name "frogman" was coined while he was training in a green waterproof suit, "Someone saw me surfacing one day and yelled out, 'Hey, frogman!' The name stuck for all of us."[28]

Postwar operations

The Shayetet 13 commandos of the Israeli Navy have carried out a number of underwater raids on harbors. They were initially trained by veterans of Xª MAS and used Italian equipment.[29] As part of Operation Raviv in 1969, eight frogmen used two human torpedoes to enter Ras Sadat naval base near Suez, where they destroyed two motor torpedo boats with mines.[30]

During the 1982 Falklands War, the Argentinian Naval Intelligence Service planned an attack on British warships at Gibraltar. Code named Operation Algeciras, three frogmen, recruited from a former anti-government insurgent group, were to plant mines on the ships' hulls. The operation was abandoned when the divers were arrested by Spanish police and deported.[31]

In 1985, the French nuclear weapons tests at Moruroa in the Pacific Ocean was being contested by environmental protesters led by the Greenpeace campaign ship, Rainbow Warrior. The Action Division of the French Directorate-General for External Security devised a plan to sink the Rainbow Warrior while it was berthed in harbor at Auckland in New Zealand. Two divers from the Division posed as tourists and attached two limpet mines to the ship's hull; the resulting explosion sank the ship and killed a Netherlands citizen on board. Two agents from the team, but not the divers, were arrested by the New Zealand Police and later convicted of manslaughter. The French government finally admitted responsibility two months later.[32]

Images of frogmen and operational transport and delivery systems

The frogman in popular culture


The 1951 movie The Frogmen used three-cylinder aqualungs, as shown on the DVD cover. At the time DESCO were making three-cylinder constant flow breathing sets that lacked the demand valve of the aqualung,[citation needed] but they were rarely deployed in the war, and the preferred system in the US armed forces was the rebreather developed by Dr. Christian J. Lambertsen.[33]

The 1958 film The Silent Enemy with Laurence Harvey as Lionel "Buster" Crabb, describes his exploits during World War II. It was made following the publicity created by Crabb's mysterious disappearance and likely death during a Cold War incident a year earlier.[citation needed]

The 1955 film Above Us the Waves, based on the 1953 book of the same title, includes a reenactment of Operation Title, the attempted attack by British frogmen on the Tirpitz in 1942. The film is notable for the efforts made to be historically accurate.[34]

The 1965 James Bond film Thunderball depicts an extended underwater battle, featuring frogmen.[35]

In the 1966 sci-fi film Fantastic Voyage and its accompanying novelization by Issac Asimov, the character of former navy veteran and now government agent Charles Grant is referenced as a communications expert and experienced frogman.[36]

The film Submarine X-1, made in 1969, loosely based on the real Operation Source, gets British World War II frogman's equipment very wrong and anachronistic. The breathing sets shown were open-circuit and were merely a very fat cylinder across the belly, with a black single-hose second-stage regulator such as was not invented until the 1960s. Also shown were ordinary recreational scuba weight belts and diving half masks with elliptical windows. The frogmen in the real war operation mostly used Sladen suits and an early model of Siebe Gorman rebreather with a backpack weight pouch containing lead balls releasable by pulling a release cord.[citation needed]

The 1972 movie Tintin and the Lake of Sharks featured some frogmen among Mr Rastapopolus's conspiracy.[citation needed]

Derivative word usages

Some scuba diving clubs have an entry class called "Tadpoles" for younger children who want to start scuba diving.[citation needed]

Errors about frogmen found in public media

Wrong use of the word "frogman"

A new English translation of the book Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea uses the word "frogman" uniformly and wrongly to mean a diver in standard diving dress or similar, to translate scaphandrier.[citation needed]

Supposed ancient scuba divers/frogmen

Some authors[who?] seeing ancient Assyrian stone carvings of men crossing a river, each using a goatskin float (with a tube to inflate it by mouth), wrote wrongly that the float was a crude underwater breathing set.[citation needed]

Mistakes in fiction

Many comics have depicted combat frogmen and other covert divers using two-cylinder twin-hose open-circuit aqualungs. All real covert frogmen use rebreathers because the stream of bubbles from an open-circuit set would give away the diver's position.[citation needed]

Many aqualungs have been anachronistically depicted in comics in stories set during World War II, when in reality at that time period aqualungs were unknown outside Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his close associates in Toulon in south France. Some aqualungs were smuggled out of occupied France during the war (these may have been Commeinhes regulators),[citation needed] but the aqualung for the most part was not a player in combat in World War II.

The movie The Frogmen also made this mistake, using three-cylindered aqualungs, including on its movie poster. DESCO were making three-cylinder constant flow sets that lacked the demand valve of the aqualung, but they were rarely used in the war,[citation needed] and the preferred system was the rebreather developed by Dr. Christian J. Lambertsen.

Ian Edward Fraser V.C. in 1957 wrote a book Frogman V.C. about his experiences. Whoever designed its dust cover depicted on it a frogman placing a limpet mine on a ship, wearing a breathing set with twin over-the-shoulder wide breathing tubes emitting bubbles from behind his neck, presumably drawn after an old-type aqua-lung.[citation needed]

Drawing and artwork

There have been thousands of drawings[citation needed][original research?] (mostly in comics, some elsewhere) of combat frogmen and other scuba divers with two-cylinder twin-hose aqualungs shown wrongly with one wide breathing tube coming straight out of each cylinder top with no regulator,[37] far more than of twin-hose aqualungs drawn correctly with a regulator, or of combat frogmen with rebreathers.

See also


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    "Just then as divers are sometimes provided with instruments for respiration, through which they can draw air from above the water, and thus may remain for a long time under the sea, so also have elephants been furnished by nature with their lengthened nostril, and, whenever they have to traverse the water, they lift this up above the surface and breathe through it."
  11. Thukydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, edition Ambrosio Firmin Didot, Paris, 1842, book 4, 26, and b. 7, 25. In Greek and Latin.
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  37. This image of a comic page has an example of this error.

Further reading

External links