Perhaps the following information about Pirelli gear for WWII Gammas
& Kampfschwimmers (otherwise open to addition or
correction) could be of some use:
But first, a disclaimer -
I'm perfectly aware that authors like Berrafato, Panzarrasa or even
Viganó could be easily listed as "revisionist" or "profascistic". If I
quote them it's only on purely technical matters. I do not support their
political or ideological statements.
There is no doubt the Decima was very close to the Waffen-SS in both
ideology and behaviour. They dealt a lot - and usually in an utmost
brutal fashion - with Communist partigiani and Titoist guerrillas and
its real or just alleged supporters. All its members (and that surely
included Wolk) were hardcore Commie-haters, and there also was a lot of
anti-Jewish rhetoric on the editorials from "L'Orizonte". On the other
hand, it's also true that guys from the Boccia Brigade and organizations
alike weren't Sisters of Mercy, either. In '45, shortly before
surrendering to Cmdr. Crabb at Venice, Wolk and some of his 'gamma' had
miraculously escaped from their Boccia captors and specially from the
Trevisso Massacre. At Istria, he had also rescued - with a lot of ammo
spent by one and another side - 'Mamma' Giovanna Visintini and her
daughter-in-law from the Titoist.
Wolk himself was actually born Evgeny Wolkoff at Ukraine just before
1917, and had spent his childhood and teens over France, Switzerland and
Northern Italy before to enter the Naval Academy at La Spezia. His
further contacts with Spanish Republicans at Barcelona (in '36/'37)
didn't bettered his bias against Bolshevists, Anarchist and progressive,
tree-hugging, whale-loving, pro-choice, antimilitarist and
multiculturalist liberals like myself (I'm also for electric cars and
gay marriage and against clitoris mutilation and Guantanamo prison).
That being stated for my own legal and social safety in this politically
correct age. Yes, I'm a bit of a paranoic....
Now, on the point -
According to Wolk's own records - as given by his widow to Marino Viganó
- the Belloni suit was an one-piece, loose-fitting rubber garment with a
"funnel" in the front torso. It was hence very similar to the Sladen,
though the accordion-and-clip system to close and seal it sounds more
alike to the Desco (which was back-funneled). The two-piece,
close-fitting dry 'gamma' suit also issued to K-men should have been
Eugenio Wolk's brainchild, and the inmediate forerunner to its 1946,
1948 and 1951 patents. Both one and another type were worn over woolen
underwear, and often protected against tearing and scratching by a
common mechanic's jumpsuit.
At C.D. Bekker's "K-Men" there is a picture of Kampfschwimmer Herbert
Klein referring to "the German type swimsuit", but I'm afraid this is a
mistake. Otherwise, at page 67 it is depicted the suiting-up procedure,
including the trick to pull a little the rubber collar to "purge" the
air trapped into the suit (just like in the "instructions for use" from
Insofar as it was told by Wolk, Lt.Cmdr. Belloni's original 1940/41
project was that of a "sommozzatore marciante" (marching diver) wearing
lead-soled shoes, 30 more pounds of lead in a belt and a drum shaped 100
pound TNT demolition charge on the back. Wolk labelled Belloni as
somehow "Verne inspired"; a sub sails into an enemy harbour, lays on the
bottom, open her hatch and a squad of brave "submarine infantrymen"
sallies forth to attack the anchored targets. When he arrived to La
Spezia in 1941, basic training consisted mostly on steady step marching
for several miles along and across the harbour. For anybody but Belloni
himself, that didn't work.
Wolk's proposal (discussed with Prince Borghese) was to reduce weight,
streamline the suit and issue the diver with fins. At first, Belloni
(certainly not an "aquatic" man) called Wolk an irresponsible criminal,
for he couldn't accept a man could defy the dangers of the depth without
a full suit of armour. In order to appease his scrupules and doubts,
Wolk introduced a little sort of individual raft or surfboard ("zattera")
to help the swimmer to cover the first miles of his way in the surface;
but actual experience soon probed this wasn't necessary at all. The new
concept was called "guastatori" (sappers, pioneers or combat engineers)
or just "gamma" (for "g").
Appealingly, fins were designed by Wolk, though he made no mention of
Corlieu either Churchill types. The first were based on a common canvas
sporting shoe from which they inherited a lacing system to fit them,
which should become a feature of following Ialian and German patterns
used during the war. Over there there is a version about Crabb having
got his first two pairs of fins from the bodies of the two Italian
frogmen KIA at Gibraltar - the trouble is, those Italians were a maiale
crew and didn't wear fins.
Once befriended with Belloni, Wolk was suggested by the old man to
patent his fins and suit, and the still proud and idealistically young
Officer replied, "I only serve my Navy". But after the War, he was no
longer so naive.
Gammas were issued with the lightweight version of the Pirelli
rebreather, featuring mouthpiece but not mask. Any sort of mask or
googles were rejected, in order to avoid the chance of a tale-telling
shine when the diver came to the surface to peep around. Instead, a
common M 33 steel helmet was taken into consideration, along with a
"cargo net" surpassing its fringe like a veil, covering the gamma's face
an making him look like a jellyfish or anything else. Wolk sought to
make his men real amphibian assault troops, able to fight on land as
well as in the water, and by 1942 he planned and performed an exercise
which encompassed to storm into HQ building and seize it (which was
In 1943, at Berlin, Wolk was present at the Olympia swimming-pool where
and when Alfred von Wurzian and Richard Reimann offered their exhibition
before the German High Command (or the Heer, as well as Kriegsmarine
wasn't interested on crazy ideas - not yet). He persuaded the two men
and other volunteers they could recruit to go to Italy to receive gamma
training. Of course, von Wurzian - a former member of Hans Hass'
expedition to the Aegean - was already familiarized with Fernez googles,
Corlieu fins and lightweight rebreathers. In general terms, this first
batch of German trainees were chosen among top-notch swimmers (some of
them of Olympic level) and a first they went O.K. - until they meet with
hardware like suits and limpets and skills like Jiu-Jitsu or knife
fighting. Then things came harder and more unpleasant.
Another derivative of the basic Gamma was the N.P. ("nuotatore
paracadutista", swimming paratrooper) foreseen for a proyected and later
cancelled invasion of Malta. Wolk should resurrect the idea ("zattera"
included) by 1960 in Argentina.
Some questions in general:
*In one of the Pirelli ARO pictures there also are shown an appealingly
Churchill fin (or something much alike a Churchill) and a sort of
"paddle". Are any of them original WWII Italian fins?
*There was any real difference between the G 50 and the LS 901, or were
they - as I suspect - just the military and commercial designations for
the same Pirelli product?
*Another version I'd like to confirm or deny - Is it true that first
Israeli frogmen were also trained by former Decima 'gammas'?
Alejandro Sergio Marí
*C.D. Bekker, "K-Men: The History Of The German Frogmen And Midget
Submarines" (William Kimber, Editor, London, 1955) Chapter V, pages
"Frogman Herbert Klein wearing the German type swimsuit with flippers
and small diving gear. After the war he was European champion in the 200
metre breast stroke."
*Marino Viganó, "Guerra Segreta Sotto I Mare", published at "Storia Del
Part 1: issue #6, October 1995, pages 8-17
Part 2: issue #7, November 1995, pages 23-36
Part 3: issue #9, December 1995, pages 35-40