France navy special forces

(Commando D’Action Sous Marine)
Commando Hubert 

Commando Hubert is a combat swimmer unit assigned to the French Navy’s COFUSCO. The unit is tasked with conducting maritime special operations in support of the French Navy and intelligence services, primarily the DGSE (the French foreign intelligence directorate).
The unit was initially raised during WWII as a commando-trained naval infantry unit. When first organized, Commando Hubert specialized in conducting amphibious operations, raids, and other direct-action missions. In 1953 the unit was converted to its current combat swimmer role. At that time the unit was stationed in Algeria and was conducting combat operations against communist rebels fighting for independence from France. The unit moved its base of operations from Algeria to its current home at Toulon during the late Fifties.

The unit has been heavily involved in providing support to French units in their various interventions in Africa. They have also provided support to UN peace keeping operations. During the evacuation of the PLO from Beirut, Lebanon Commando Hubert divers were used to clear explosives from the hull of the ship transporting PLO chairman Yasar Arafat and to search the harbor for explosives.

Commnado Hubert has also been involved in supporting French nuclear tests in the South Pacific. Along with men of the assault commandos, they have conducted numerous ship boardings and maritime interdictions. As part of their ongoing support for these nuclear tests, they are believed to have been order by the DGSE to plant explosives on the ship Rainbow Warrior, which result in the death of an antinuclear protester.

Commando Hubert divers have also been extremely active in testing the security of French naval facilities by conducting simulated raids on ships, submarines, and nuclear storage facilities.

Prospective unit members are selected from personnel currently serving in French Marine Commando units. They undergo training at the French Navy’s dive school located at Saint-Mandrier, near Toulon. The school runs 17 separate courses for armed forces personnel. Perspective Commando Hubert members attend the schools combat diver course.

The first phase of combat diver training consists of attaining the basic diver qualification. This phase of the training is open to all French naval personnel. The second phase of training is an advanced diving course and is restricted to combat divers and ordnance clearance (EOD) personnel.

The combat diver course is open to male service personnel between 21-27 years old. As a prerequisite to entering training the candidate must also hold the basic diver and commando qualification. Naval personnel wishing to attend must have served four years in the Navy with at least 6 months in a marine commando unit, he must also receive a recommendation from his commander.

Each November a list of 24 candidates is submitted to a selection board. After reviewing the candidates service record, 9-12 men are selected to attend the course. The course last 27 weeks and is broken down into 3 phases.

The first phase of training lasts 11 weeks. The first four weeks are devoted to learning basic diving skills and oxygen diving. During the fifth week students learn basic demolition skills. Over the next three weeks students are instructed in the use of rebreathers, under water navigation, and water borne insertions and the basics of small boat handling. The last three weeks of phase one consist of underwater navigation exercises.

Phase two also lasts 11 weeks, and is subdivided into four phases. The first portion of phase two lasts six weeks and includes instruction on conducting sabotage attacks on shipping, small boat handling, the use of the Klepper two-man kayak, and water navaigation. The last two weeks of this phase consist of training exercises. During the exercises the students must successfully penetrate the harbor defenses at Toulon and place a simulated charge on a ship and escape without being detected. To increase the difficulty of the task, the ship’s crew and harbor security forces are forward of the impending attack. The second exercise consists of a simulated raid on the Isle of Porquerolles. The raid exercise lasts for one week. To complete this phase the students must pass one final exercise that combines all of the skills they have been taught so far; the exercise is conducted in the Atlantic Ocean along the Brest coastline.

The final phase of instruction lasts five weeks and is focused on underwater demolition, obstacle clearance, parachute operations (primarily water jumps with and without equipment), and underwater engineering. Upon completion of this phase the new divers are awarded the Combat Diver Qualification Badge, which consists of two sea horses imposed over an anchor and wings.

Upon completing the course the new diver is assigned to Commando Hubert for an initial three year period. During this period the divers are expected to attend the advanced combat diver course (a six-month course), master parachutist, and eventually the Jump Master course. After the initial three-year period with the unit, the diver can opt to extend his tour for three more years, become an instructor at the dive school, or attend additional training.

Currently Commando Hubert is composed of 80 men divided into two companies. The first company consists of 50 men and is subdivided into four sections designated A, B, C, and D.

A section is the command and support section. It contains the unit HQ, and the units Hurricane RIBs.

B section is the maritime counter terrorism (CT) section. The unit specializes in conducting underwater approaches to terrorist targets. They conduct joint operations with the Navy’s GCMC and GIGN’s diver section. In the event an assault was ordered on a target at sea, B section divers would act as guides for the GIGN team.

C section is the SDV section. The divers of this section receive additional training in the use of SDV’s and their maintenance.

D section contains the units snipers and heavy weapons experts. The section is responsible for performing beach reconnaissance, shipping attacks, underwater demolition operations, providing heavy fire support, and testing new equipment for use by the unit. All members of D section are both HAHO and HALO qualified.

There are currently plans on the board to form an E section. E section will consist of the units Hurricane RIBs, small boats, and support personnel drawn form the 2nd company.

The 2nd company is a support unit made up of 30 men. Men are assigned to one of the company’s teams which specialize in communications, SDV maintenance, logistics, or small boat operation and repair.

The unit also has a French naval vessel, the Poseidon, set aside for its exclusive use. The ship acts as a floating base of operations and as a insertion vehicle for both divers and SDVs.

Commando Hubert has a variety of weapons available for its use, including assault rifles of various caliber and manufacture, 9mm auto loading pistols and .357magnum revolvers, 7.62mm and .50 cal. heavy sniping rifles, 40mm grenade launchers, light mortars, and assorted hand grenades depending on their mission.

The units Hurricane RIBs are manufactured by Zodiac and are capable of transporting ten troops at speeds up to 50 MPH.

Unit members are allowed a large amount of discretion in their selection of personnel equipment. Hard body armor and kevlar or spectra helmets are worn during CT operations. For other missions the unit prefers the light plastic Protec helmets favored by many elite units.

By Dominique Sumner
*Note* Most of the above information was obtained from “French Special Forces” and RAIDS magazine # 52 (English language edition), both by Eric Micheletti.

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