DGSE_SDVs

French Secret Intelligence Agency's unknown minisubs
DGSE SDV - Covert Shores
Flag The World’s national intelligence agencies rarely reveal their submarines. France’s DGSE (Direction générale de la sécurité extérieure - English: General Directorate for External Security), equivalent of the CIA and MI6, is unusual in having its own pool of combat swimmers (Nageur de combat). As well as having access to French Special Forces’ Swimmer Delivery Vehicles (SDVs) they have been equipped with their own unique lineage of SDVs.
DGSE SDV - Covert Shores


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DGSE’s close relationship with Commando Hubert (equivalent of SEALs and SBS) and other French Special Forces is well documented, particularly in French language texts. It is known that DGSE’s Direct Action (known as SA, a legacy term meaning Service Action) unit use the Vostock-NG two/three man PSM (Propulseur Sous-Marins, the French term for Swimmer Delivery Vehicle). However the SDVs in this article are almost unknown.

They entered the public arena in 2016 when vintage photographs of an unidentified French SDV were advertised on collectables trading site Delcampe. The pictures have since been taken down (presumably as they were sold rather than any censoring) but here are low resolution copies:
DGSE SDV - Covert Shores

Then in November 2016 DGSE contributed another unknown SDV to a temporary exhibition at the Musée de l'Armée in Paris. The exhibit does not appear to have had a detailed explanation.
DGSE SDV - Covert Shores

My research has led me to believe that these are two closely related designs, developed specifically for DGSE Service Action, most likely by GERS (Groupe d’Études et de Recherches Sous-marines). A large number of experimental types were tested including several which have yet to be revealed. The family is distinct from the Vostock lineage, and from the Rebikoff and Havas families from around the same time period. At the time DGSE’s Service Action divers were trained at the Centre d'instruction des nageurs de combat (CINC) at the Naval Air Station at d'Aspretto on Corsica. The unit has since moved to Centre parachutiste d'entraînement aux opérations maritimes (CPEOM) in an in fortress at Quélern, Brittany.

One distinctive feature which connects the two designs is the use of the motor and propeller from a GERS Propulseur. Developed under the leadership of famous French ocean explorer and pioneer Jacques Cousteau, this was a single man diver tug (sometimes shown towing a second diver but not operationally realistic for military use). It was promoted for civilian use and was adopted by the French armed forces as the TSM (Tracteur Sous-Marins):
DGSE SDV - Covert Shores
DGSE SDV - Covert Shores
DGSE SDV - Covert Shores

Other than the use of a TSM, the two designs do not have a lot in common. The smaller one, which I judge to be the earlier example, has very large forward hydroplanes and large triangular aft planes. It is unclear if the aft surfaces move. Additionally the crew compartment is extremely streamlines with the rear passenger squeezed into the aft fuselage with only a roof-light hatch. We know from one of the photographs that the passenger sat facing forwards.
DGSE SDV - Covert Shores

The second design is somewhat more conventional with more modest control surfaces. It is unclear whether it had forward hydroplanes although there are holes on the sides of the bows which are possibly where they could be inserted (it is normal for hydroplanes to be removable for storage).

Intriguingly one photo provided by the Musée de l'Armée shows three fairings running along the lower hull just above the keel. The angle and position of these suggests that they are attachment points for some cylindrical object, possibly storage containers, mines or even a torpedo. More prosaically, they may relate to docking with a host platform such as a submarine or merchant vessel.
DGSE SDV - Covert Shores


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