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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Introducing the Frogmen

Combat swimmers and combat divers have been a part of military operations for centuries. Swimmers aid themselves with breathing devices such as snorkels -hollow bone or grass in anitquity-, while divers make use of more advanced technology, such as rebreathers or scuba tanks. The difference between a rebreather and a scuba system is that the rebreather does not release any air, and instead filters our the CO2 and replenishes the oxygen in a closed circuit. The scuba system does release air and is therefore easier to detect. Modern frogmen date back to a couple years before WWII, when Italy formed the Decima Flottiglia MAS aka Xª MAS (i.e.Tenth Assult Boat Fleet). This was a commando type unit of seamen who would conduct raids using speed boats as well as manned torpedoes to infiltrate port facilities. A submarine or larger surface ship would bring the unit within operational range and offload the attackers and their vehicles. The speed boats would be aimed at the enemy ships and the crew would jump into the water shortly before impact. The manned torpedoes were used as transport to get next to the ships, where explosive charges could be attached. The swimming part came later, when trying to make the escape. If they did manage to escape, the return trip home usually involved a lengthy journey ove land. This were risky missions and in a large number of them, the divers were either captured or killed, with the missions succeeding about only half of the times. However, the disproportionate damage that they inflicted on the allied Navies justified the risks and the cost. Most of the Italian divers operated in the Mediterranean theater, although some of the speedboats were used by the Germans in the Sevastopol area. All other major participants in WWII followed the lead of the Italians and developed equivalent units during the course of the war. After Italy joined the allies, the Italian frogmen helped the British improve their Frogmen units, while the members of the Xª MAS  who remained with the Germans were used primarily on land operations. As far as underwater combat is concerned, until a decade or two ago, combat divers were mainly equipped with a knife and it was not really common to deploy other divers against incoming frogmen. Use of nets and other defensive measures were simpler and more effective to implement. Only recently have weapons been developed which are capable of firing short metal rods accurately and with enough range to make them practical to use underwater at a safe distance from the enemy. In terms of model figures there not too many, but enough to staff a small commando unit and carry out a few raids. Let's take a look. 

Atlantic Frogmen - Part I
A rather unique set by Atlantic. I am not sure what country they actually represent. Given the manufacturer there's a good chance that they are Italian. Since I don't have the manned torpedo which came with the set, I have placed all three of these frogmen on a raft getting ready to dive, however the two on the left are actually supposed to be riding on top of a torpedo. Hard to tell if these guys are wearing rebreathers or scuba gear. 

Atlantic Frogmen - Part II
The rest of the set are 4 divers with different tools and equipment used during their missions. What is quite interesting is that each of them is mounted on top of a base representing a variety of sea plants or corals. This allows them to 'float' as if they were really diving. A nice sculpting touch that allows the figures to be placed 'off the ground' when playing with them.

Atlantic Frogmen - Part III
So I managed to find the missing torpedo. And in doing so I also discovered that these figures were also made in this bright orange color. Not my favorite so it will be a great candidate to get painted. From pictures that I've seen, the torpedo seems to be a bit on the shorter side, compared to the real ones, but it is good enough to illustrate the point of how the divers 'rode' into their missions. Interstingly enough, this other set had the torpedo, but was missing the raft. I wonder if the sets came with either one or the other...

Lone Star Frogmen - Part I
A nice and interesting set from Lone Star. I don't know what country they represent exactly, and whether they are meant to be WWII or post war figures. As was the case with Lone Star, they were on the generous side in terms of the number of poses in the set. I don't know however if I got them all already.

Lone Star Frogmen - Part II
Unlke the Atlantic divers, these guys don't have any bases to keep them 'off the ground', so they must lie flat on their bellies on the sea floor when diving!

Lone Star Frogmen - Part III
As you might suspect from all the different colors, these actual figures are not originals. They are clones of relatively decent quality. Once they are painted it won't be that noticeable.

Lone Star Frogmen - Part IV
 I believe the original frogmen from Lone Star came with factory paint as did their other sets. Interestingly enough, the paint schem that I have seen shows them wearing only a bathing suit, instead of a full diving suit. If so, I guess these guys would have to be used in the Mediterranean only! I am planning on giving them a full body suit when I paint them...

Ideal Manned-Torpedo Launcher with Divers - Part I
I just found this set while looking for some diver figures. It represents a boat carried a manned torpedo and a diving team. It was supposedly manufactured by Ideal, although I have yet to verify the claim. Still it is a nice little set to give the other divers figures in my army a bit of support. In terms of the nationality that is represented, it is not clear to me, although we could probably designate them as Italians as they were the most active in WWII in this type of operations. 

Ideal Manned-Torpedo Launcher with Divers - Part II
This is the skipper. Note tha the figures have a hole in the base which allows them to be attached to the boat. This is a nice feature if you actually deploy your boat in real water, which will keep the figures from falling over. 

Ideal Manned-Torpedo Launcher with Divers - Part III
One of the divers about to jump in. 

Ideal Manned-Torpedo Launcher with Divers - Part IV
The other diver taking in the view.

Ideal Manned-Torpedo Launcher with Divers - Part V
This is the only figure which is actually diving. I made him 'hold on' to the side of the boat to get a better angle for the shot. 

Ideal Manned-Torpedo Launcher with Divers - Part VI
The manned torpedo deployed in the water, with its diver riding it into action. The lever on the front of the torpedo is actually a crank which turns and twists a rubberband which makes the propeller turn when it is released. Nice mechanism, which again shows that this set was really meant to be deployed in water. 

Ideal Manned-Torpedo Launcher with Divers - Part VII
Manned-torpedo rider from the back.

Ideal Manned-Torpedo Launcher with Divers - Part VIII
This shot shows the ramp from which the manned-torpedo can be launched. 

Unknown Frogmen - Part I
Here are a few more diver poses. I don't really know who made them. They are from a set made in China, clearly clones of some other earlier figures, and they probably represent more modern divers, given their equipment. The man in the left for instance is holding and underwater camera. 

Unknown Frogmen - Part II
I like these two posese because unlike most of the other diver figures that I have found, these guys are not moving horizontally, but rather floating in an upright position as one would do when observing the surroundings or when getting ready for some underwater hand to hand combat.

Unknown Frogmen - Part III
The two poses on the left seem to be copies of two guys already listed in the LoneStar section. The man on the right must be from that same set, as his diving gear looks just the same. This BTW, makes me wonder if I have all the figures listed under the Lone Star section properly identified, as I just realized that the tanks on some of those figures are smaller...

Britians Deetail British manned torpedo- Part I
This is an interesting find. Not sure if it is post WWII or not. The Italian military developed and used manned torpedoes similar to this one during WWII. There were usually employed on Special Operations missions against enemy port facilities. 

Britians Deetail British manned torpedo - Part II
Here is a view from the other side. Going on these missions was very dangerous. Getting into an enemy port and close to enemy ships undetected was difficult enough. Getting our and making it back to friendly territory was even more challenging. 

 Timpo manned torpedo
Not sure what nationality they represent. These type of vehicles were mainly used by the Italians during WWII, but it's possible that they also represent British divers, after all, Timpo was a British firm. A decent set. The torpedo is made of a pretty light plastic, and it is hollow, which makes it feel even lighter. The oxigen tanks are removable, but the rest of the figures is one piece. The colors are not painted, but is the plastic's original color, which suggests that this was an item made in their later years. 

Click here to see other Lone Star figures
Click here to see other Atlantic figures


  1. A couple of the French figures are based on the Airfix 1/72 WW1 French Infantry set!

    1. I have a feeling you meant to post this comment on another article?

  2. WOW, nice stuff! Please check out our Vintage Scuba Forum:

    I really like how realistic some of the gear is. I making a link to these guys on the site...

  3. Since they have scuba gear, double hose regs. and twin tanks, that would make them 1950's: Emile Gagnan and Jacques Cousteau patented the CG45 regulator in 1946: VERY fun stuff all the same!

    1. Thanks a lot for sharing that very interesting and useful bit of data. I must admit however that I may continue to pretend that they are WWII guys! :-)

  4. Please look at these images, as they are actually WWII Italian rebreathers in toy-form:

  5. The Ideal Frogmen have the oldest gear, BTW! Their masks are perfectly round, that's what type people used back then. Does this mask look familiar:

    Yep, that's what your Atlantic frogmen are using...

    Also, where did you get your divers, are they still available--I hope? Okay, I think I'm done being a pedantic-scuba-nerd on you : ) I just love old toys and scuba; did you check out the rest of my gear some of it's almost 60-years old and it all works!

    1. Looks like you really know about scuba gear! I actually appreciate these type of comments as they enrich the posts and make them more interesting to the other readers. I think I bought all of these divers on eBay.