Hitler’s Secret Commandos: Operations of the K-Verband

19 May 23


(Pen and Sword – £26.49)

ISBN 9781844157839

188 pages

If you want to read a German perspective regarding the later part of the Second World War, this book will make a lovely starting point. The maritime escapades of the thousands of incredibly brave, fanatically patriotic, but ultimately foolhardy volunteers of Germany’s K-Verband make for compelling reading. First published in German in 2008, Helmut Blocksdorf has compiled a very detailed narrative of the history, equipment, key personnel and operations of this elite corps of warriors.

The K-Verband was formally constituted on the anniversary of Hitler’s birthday, 20 April 1944. Through the manning and employment of small undersea torpedo craft, it was intended to overcome the Royal Navy’s bottling up of the major combatants of the Kreigsmarine, concurrently forming a naval assault corps modelled on the Royal Marine Commandos. Volunteers trained to exceptionally exacting standards to enable them to pilot the vividly described converted torpedoes, or to take tiny and improperly trialled midget submarines (some of which had a pressure-hull thickness of just 3mm of sheet steel) on attack missions lasting up to 60 hours. Indeed, the author’s noting in the early part of the book that the Commanding Admiral’s staff had an officer dedicated to “Welfare and Wills” becomes increasingly apt as the casualty list of operational failures grows rapidly.

Full of tales, anecdotes, and technical characteristics, the level of detail is exemplified by the description in Chapter 3 of the pharmacological ‘medication’ given to operatives prior to some their longer endurance missions: 5mg of Eukodal, 3mg of Pervitin, and 5mg of Cocaine-5, crafted into one easy-swallow pill called ‘D IX’ – he makes this euphoric combination also sound like the perfect pick-me-up when a middle-watch Action Stations is unexpectedly piped on your steamer.

Another trait of the book is the descriptions of late-war innovation embraced by the Germans: “After the military decision-takers had for years continued to misunderstand or dismiss perfectly viable projects with scepticism, they now [in late 1944, after D-Day] went ahead with any crazy idea which happened to catch their fancy”. Anyone involved in the current Navy-X blooming of weird, wonderful and potentially battle-winning reincarnations of Mr Heath-Robinson would do well to study some of the concepts, evolutionary chronologies, and intermittent successes charted by Blocksdorf.

As your reviewer, I do have to highlight that being a translation introduces to the text a few quirks of English. I found that reading some of the sentences with a hint of a German accent not only added to the perceived authenticity of what I was reading, it also (on quite a few occasions) helped the textual flow.

Overall, this is a fascinating book that introduces the reader to historical perspectives with a German spin that can be somewhat lacking from those whose study is confined to Allied texts. Definitely one for any WWII buff’s reading pile, and certainly a captive read for those entranced by the breadth of casualty-agnostic human warfighting ingenuity.