Pirelli ARO WW II


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During the second world war Pirelli rebreathers were in use by both Italian and German forces. Many websites are dedicated to these war heroes. The photos from the Germans are from Michael Jung's book "Sabotage Unter Wasser". The book describes the effords of the German Kamfswimmer during WWII and there relation with the Italien Decima Mas. ISBN 3-8132-0818-4, 2004 Verlag E.S. Mittler & Sohn Gmbh Hamburg; Berlin; Bonn


Pirelli build two special units for the Decima Mas. A small Aro and the double bottle version modello 49/bis. The 49 can be recognised because the mask has two glass windows. After the war the 49/bis was modified to modello 50 and only had one window. There was a mini Aro too but very little information is available now.

If you have additional information or photo's about these units don't hesitate to sent it to me!
German Kampfswimmer in Belloni suit and Pirelli ARO (photo M. Jung)
German Kampfswimmer in Belloni suit and Pirelli ARO preparing (photo M. Jung)
Pirelli 49/bis (maiale pilot)
Pirelli 49/bis (maiale pilot)
Pirelli ARO
Pirelli 49/bis
Eugenio Wolk in Argentinia more here
Alejandro Mari send me additional information regarding Eugenio Wolk and the Gamma swimmers.
Article by Alejandro Sergio Marí
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 Pirelli brochure).
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 thoroughly accomplished).
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 62-81
"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 XX Secolo"
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
if you have answers to the questions from Alejandro please feel free to send it to me. I will forward the email to Alejandro. Please do not forget to refer to this page. (there are over 3000 pages now...)
A big thank you to Alejandro Sergio Marí for this fantastic material and addition!

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