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Shayetet 13, Israeli Naval Commandos

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Shayetet 13, Israeli Naval Commandos

>Within the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) Navy exists an elite unite of commandos known as the Bat Men. Their official name is Shayetet 13, or Flotilla 13, and they are responsible for the IDF Navy's Special Warfare capabilities. Flotilla 13 can trace it's roots back to the birth of the Israeli nation, and in their service they have managed to carve an international reputation as one of the best, if not most experienced, naval special warfare units in the world.

Israel's Naval Commandos under go a rigorous selection phase like most other elite units. In the case of the Naval Commandos, however, the initial selection phase stresses psychological toughness and tests hopefulls in their ability to take and operate under stress and fear. There is not a big push to weed out those unfit for the unit quickly, the training process is long and hard, with plenty of time for those who don't quite match up to move on to other units. In all, a potential Shayetet 13 operator will have to undergo almost a year and 8 months or training before he can pin on the coveted crest of the unit.

After the selection phase, trainee's attend the IDF's Bislach (infantry school) for two-and-a-half months of advanced infantry training. Following completion of this school, they next are sent to a 3 week HALO HAHO school to learn the foundation of parachute ops. Following this school the trainees are asigned to Atlit Naval Base to complete their training, receiving their underwater and counter-terrorism training at this point.

The Naval Commandos have a wide range of weapons to choose from, ranging from small arms to fast attack boats. The basic weapon carried is the American M-4/M4A1/M203 assault rifle. Members are also expected to be proficient with the AK-47 as these are the main rifles of their adversaries. If heavier power is needed the Negev 5.56 light machine gun is provided. For underwater sabotage missions, each diver can carry a limpet mine to attach to the hull of enemy watercraft or docks. The commandos ride to locations in zodiac inflatibles or the larger, faster Snunit fast attack craft.

From the beginning, the Israeli military has been a different breed. Lacking the funds and raw manpower to fight pitched battles with large standing armies, the Israeli military has been forced to use tactics and cunning to fight numerically (and often technologically) superior opponents. Shayet 13 members reflect this; many of their missions took place with newly created equipment or weapons.

The Israeli State was created in May of 1948 after Britain gave up its efforts to maintain the Palestinian region as a British Colony. However, the roots of the nation and its armed forces date back to the early 1930's when Adolf Hitler's government began to actively persecute German Jews. They began fleeing the country, some to America, and some to Palestine in the south. In an effort to placate angry Palestinians the ruling British government came up with the "White Paper," a cap on Jewish immigration into the area. Rather than doom their fellow Jews to Hitler's government the Palestinian Jews began to smuggle them into the country past British Blockades.

At first the British government fought the smuggling operation, but with the outbreak of WWII attention and manpower shifted elsewhere and then later came a need for additional forces. The Royal Navy considered the Israeli's to be thieves and pirates and would not have anything to do with them, but the newly created SOE recognized their talent and began to recruit and train Jewish blockade runners. Eventually, a 40-man unit of Jewish combat demolitions divers was created under English leadership.

Eager to expand their operations and gain skills they could use later on, the Haganah (the Jewish underground army that existed to help create the State of Israel) created the Pal'Mach, or "Strike Companies" in May of 1941. Their successful operations caused the need for them to grow and the forces expanded to include a small air force and Pal'yam, or Sea companies.

In the beginning the Pal'yam was a group of commandos; the Israelis had no surface ships to speak of. The members had no funding, so they had to be resourceful to get equipment. For example, to prevent the cold Mediterranean sea waters from quickly incapacitating then, swimmers wore sweaters and pants soaked in grease and chicken fat to act as insulation. Later swimmers would cover themselves in thick grease to ward off the chill; an partially effective technique that was much harder to take off than put on!

By 1943 the tide of the war was turning and the British lost interest in help from the Haganah leadership and soldiers. Recognizing that with the end of the war, Britain would turn its attentions to the Palestine region again the Haganah kept their forces alive and continued training them for an eventual conflict. By the end of WWII over 6 million Jews had been killed in Nazi Germany and the survivors needed a new place to settle. More interesting in keeping their empire than helping the survivors, Great Britain denied entry to Palestine for Jewish survivors.

Realizing that the British weren't going to help them, the Palestine Jews began a large smuggling operation designed to take the survivors around legal channels. The British took exception to this and started a massive blockade. Israeli ships were stopped and boarded, with their crew and any passengers being sent to internment camps in Cyprus. The conditions in the camps were horrible, and in anger the Haganah ordered the Pal'Mach to take action.

In a raid planned by Yitzhak Sadeh, the founder of the Pal'mach, two swimmers entered the water at Jaffa Harbor, south of Tel Aviv. Finding a blind spot in the English sentries and spotlights, the two swimmers affixed home-made mines to the hulls of two British patrol boats. They safely exited the water and reported their success to their supervisors. The next morning a radio report confirmed that two patrol boats had been destroyed the night before. Pleased with the success of the raid, a small unit of soldiers in the Pal'Mach was formed and began training to operate as water-borne guerrillas, sabotaging English ships and supplies behind their lines.

Increased tensions between the Fledgling state and the British brought more ships and an increased resolve on the part of the British to stop the smuggling of refuges. The strengthening of the blockade worked and by summer of 1946 nearly 20,000 refuges were interned in Cyprus. The Haganah realized that to take pressure off the small fleet of smuggling vessels they would need to decrease the number of British ships operating in the immediate vicinity. The best way to do that was to make them keep more ships at their bases, and fear of attacks on their bases would cause the British to keep more forces there to guard against raids.

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Seeking to open a small area in the blockade, the Haganah had ordered a series of Raids on one night in June of 1946. In retaliation for the 13 bridges blown up on that night, the British Naval and Security forces rounded up nearly all of the Haganah's senior leadership and underground units. One of the few that remained intact and undiscovered was the small group of naval commandos.

Seeking to undermine British confidence, the unit targeted an ex-US Navy Liberty ship that was being used to move refuges to Cyprus. The first attack, on the night of 21 August, 1946 went well but ultimately failed. The commandos, dressed as arabic fishermen, had managed to slip past the British sentries and plant an old WWII limpet mine against the hull of the freighter and get back out again undetected. However, the fuse on the limpet mine was bad and did not detonate, so the Israelis decided to do it again the next night--this time with a locally made mine.

This raid started out much the same as the previous night, even though there was increased security. However, by pure luck a vomiting British sailor spotted (literally) one of the two commandos when he surfaced for a lungfull of air. Realizing they had been compromised, the Israeli divers quickly finished fixing the mine to the hull and swam to their motorized dingy. They were chased across the harbor by British launches and finally ditched the shot-up boat and swam silently to shore, unseen by the British crews. Four hours after the mine had been mounted on the hull it exploded, sending the Empire Rival to the bottom of the harbor. The israelis would continue to mount such raids until the end of the conflict.

The early comandos also scouted harbors and provided intelligence for other Israeli units. Members posed as dock workers and gathered intel on the British fleet and their stocks. While the work was not as "glamorous" as swimming through frigid waters to attach mines to barnacle-encrusted hulls, it was just as vital to the effort against the British Navy.

As with other special forces units, the training and selection is arduous, but Shayetet 13's training phase is considered to be the most difficult in the entire IDF.