How do you train for one of the most dangerous jobs in the world and what is 'hell week'? 

Former Royal Marines commando Michael Welham, of Costessey, near Norwich, was a military diver, and has spent more than 30 years researching special forces divers around the world. 

These are the 'elite within an elite’ who have first been selected for a military unit, then recruited and trained as combat divers. 

Their tasks include clearing underwater mines, carrying out underwater demolition and attacks on ships, and arriving unseen and unheard for coastal reconnaissance or sabotage missions.  

Michael had wanted to be a military diver since childhood. 

His father took him to a Royal Navy open day where he saw a diving demonstration, including a mock attack on a model ship in a swimming pool. “The mine attached, the diver swum away before the ship blew up. There were no bubbles from the diver and outside of the clear water of the pool there would be no indication that a diver was present. From that day that is what I wanted to do,” said Michael. 

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He joined the Royal Marines in the 60s and trained in combat canoeing and parachuting as well as diving.  He also worked for the SAS and Commando Naval Gunfire Support. After leaving full-time service he joined specialist reserve units as well as working as a diver and dive supervisor in the offshore oil and gas industry around the world. 

Michael then began researching the history of military diving, realising that previous books had focused on the Second World War. His first book, Combat Frogmen, was published in 1989 and he went on to write Frogman Spy about the mysterious disappearance of Royal Navy diver Lionel ‘Buster’ Crabb, sent by MI6 to spy on a Soviet cruiser in Portsmouth Harbour which had brought Soviet head of state Nikita Khrushchev to Britain. Crabb disappeared during the mission to obtain information on the Russian ship. A headless, handless corpse was discovered and buried with his name on the headstone, but controversy raged over whether it was the missing spy diver.  

Michael's latest book, Combat Divers: An illustrated history of special forces divers, features combat units around the world, including British, Ukrainian, Russian, German, Australian and Filipino military divers, over a timescale from the Second World War through the Cold War and, coming right up to date, revealing how Ukrainian divers train with US divers. 

Eastern Daily Press:

Eastern Daily Press:

“With developing world events some countries pulled out,” he said. “If you have a highly trained elite military force able to operate unseen and unheard, generating devastating consequences for the opponent, keeping your information close is paramount.” 

He said he is always careful not to give away confidential information but revealed: “Ukrainian special forces combat divers, while remaining a closed subject, do share little snippets of operations.  

“They are beyond a formidable force and are fighting for their homeland and their very existence. If they lose the war who is next?” 

As well as drawing on his own extensive diving experience he includes first-hand accounts from his peers and features the pioneering roles of the first female combat divers. 

Many combat dive units around the world model their training on the US Navy SEALS (Sea, Air, and Land Teams) where the regime includes ‘hell week’ with recruits carrying out missions, raids, endurance races in sand, surf and mud with minimum sleep.  

Michael said the most difficult part of combat dive training was starting it – and the best was finishing. “It is mind over matter,” he said.  

He began writing about combat divers as a way of bringing their highly-skilled hidden work some recognition as they can seem overshadowed by other military units and he enjoys linking up with military divers around the world to research projects. 

Combat Divers: An illustrated history of special forces divers, by Michael G Welham is published by Osprey Publishing.