Decima Flottiglia Mas – The Best Commandos of the Second World War
Reviewed by Dom Sore
Decima Flottiglia Mas makes a bold claim that Decima Flottiglia Mas were the best commandos of the Second World War. Decima Mas were an elite unit of the Italian Navy; only the best and strongest swimmers were taken on, and they specialised in destroying shipping. Utilising midget submarines, manned torpedoes, and boats laden with explosives, their tasks were dangerous and nearly always carried out at night. This is a short book, at 190 pages, with extensive notes and four appendices, and it includes a nice selection of photographs.
The book provides a wealth of detail around the lead-up to the formation of Decima Mas, and the majority of the attacks they carried out in their time of operation up to the signing of the armistice in 1943. Zapotoczny’s research is thorough and little nuggets of information have been teased out to improve our knowledge. There is some excellent information around the attacks on Alexandria and Gibraltar – real “Boys Own” stories! The four appendices contain a wealth of information, including ships damaged or sunk by Decima Mas, the ships that provided support, the boats built for Decima Mas, and brief biographies of some of the more well-known members of the unit.
It is such a shame that for all the information there is only 129 pages of the main book, and Decima Mas as an actual formation does not appear until page 70. The author has also dodged the history of Decima Mas after the armistice, both as part of the pro-German RSI and as a co-belligerent force – those parts of the history are relegated to a couple of pages at the end. Many of the passages are taken directly from other sources, quoted and referenced, but copied wholesale. For example, the chapter on a planned New York attack is almost entirely taken from another source. This also stretches to the mini-biography section where they appear to be direct translations, which have not been given more than a cursory check.
For all its faults, the book is still an interesting one, full of operational details that will appeal to the gamer. Anyone interested in commando-style attacks will get a lot of mileage from this book. Does Zaptoczny make the case for the them being the best commandos? Almost, I think; it will always be a talking point but Decima Mas have a strong case. As for the gamer, the aforementioned attack on New York is an interesting “what if?” Then the main attack on Alexandria and the many attacks on Gibraltar would make excellent solo or umpired games. A modicum of blind movement needs to be used to get the most out of those scenarios but would provide a rewarding experience. An almost excellent book that is recommended if the unit or fighting style interest you.