Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT) were a precursor to the current United States Navy SEALs. The UDT's conducted beach and hydro-reconnaissance, explosive cable and net cutting; explosive destruction of underwater obstacles to enable major amphibious landings; limpet mine attacks, submarine operations, and the locating and marking of mines for minesweepers. They also conducted river surveys and foreign military training. While doing this, the SEALs’ predecessors pioneered combat swimming, closed-circuit diving, underwater demolitions, and mini-submarine (dry and wet submersible) operations.
The U.S. Navy decided that to do the job right required sending in their own. They needed brave men to reconnoiter the landing beaches, take note of obstacles and defenses and ultimately guide the landing forces in. Later, during the war, the Army Engineers passed down demolition jobs to the U.S. Navy. They were to clear any obstacles and/or defenses in the near shore area. Beginning a tradition that continues today, these brave men contributed immensely to the war effort.
The Amphibious Scout and Raider School was established in 1942 by joint-Army and Navy at Fort Pierce, Florida. It was intended to train explosive ordnance disposal personnel and experienced combat swimmers from the Army and Marine Corps becoming the Naval Combat Demolition Unit, or NCDU.. They were trained by then-Lieutenant Commander Phil H. Bucklew and then later, then-Lieutenant Draper L. Kauffman. The NCDU was first employed in Operation Torch during the invasion of North Africa in 1942. This unit became the 'first group' specialized in amphibious raids and tactics in the United States Navy.
By 1943, Kaufman has expanded the Amphibious Scout and Raider School into a syllabus in a more of a Navy-oriented school for underwater demolition. Following the near-disaster of the landing force on Tarawa in November, 1943 due to the obstacles in the surf, then-Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner directed the formation of nine Underwater Demolition Teams mostly comprised of navy personnel from the Naval Construction Battalions (Seabees). Further, then-Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner has also implemented the establishment of the Navy Experimental and Tactical Demolition Station on Waimanalo, Oahu later moving to Kamaole, Maui in the Hawaiian Islands. These volunteers were organized into special teams and were tasked with reconnoitering and clearing beach obstacles for troops going ashore during amphibious landings, and evolved into Combat Swimmer Reconnaissance Units, becoming the Navy UDTs.
Then-Admiral King picked Reserve Officer, then-Lieutenant Draper L. Kauffman to lead UDT training, which began at Fort Pierce near the Scouts and Raiders. Most of Kauffman's volunteers came from the Navy's Construction Battalions, Marines and Army Combat Engineers. Training commenced with one grueling week designed to eliminate the men from the boys. Some said that the men had sense enough to quit, and left the boys. It was and is still considered "HELL WEEK".
The training made the use of rubber boats and surprisingly little swimming. The assumptions were that the men would paddle in and work in shallow water leaving the deep-water demolitions to the Army. The Marine Reconnaissance units would conduct the hydrography from shallow water to inland while the accompanying UDT would conduct the demolition and hydrography from near-deep water the shallow. The UDT teams were organized with approximately sixteen officers and eighty men. A single Marine and a single Army officer were liaison within each team. It came apparent that a UDT assigned to a particular beach as the Marine counterparts to ride along the same high speed transport ships, or APDs.
At this point, the men were required to wear Navy fatigues with shoes and helmets. They were ordered to be lifelined to their boats and stay out of the water as much as possible. Kauffman's experience was at disarming explosives; now he and his teams were learning to use them offensively. One innovation was to use 2.5-pound packs of tetryl placed into rubber tubes, thus making 20 pound lengths of explosive tubing that could be manipulated around obstacles for demolition.
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel had implemented the intricate defenses found on the French coastline. These creatively included steel posts driven into the sand and topped with explosives. Large 3-ton steel barricades called Belgian Gates were placed well into the surf zone. Additionally, he strategically placed reinforced mortar and machine gun nests. The Scouts and Raiders spent weeks gathering information during nightly surveillance missions up and down the French coast. Replicas of the Belgian gates were constructed on the South Coast of England for the UDT to practice demolitions on. The strategy of the UDT was to knock the gates flat, not to shred and spread them along the beaches, thereby creating more of an obstacle for the advancing troops.
Men armed with naval offshore artillery, which included bombs and shells, led the initial attack on the two American landing beaches of Omaha & Utah. Then a first wave of tanks and troop carriers were to land and clear any remaining German bunkers and snipers. The Demolitions Gap-Assault teams would come in with the second wave and work at low tide to clear the obstacles.
As happens often during the fog of war, the Allied aircraft ended up dropping their bombs too far inland. Navy artillery then sent the majority of their shells far over the German positions - wreaking havoc on the French farmlands but leaving the well-positioned German guns in perfect operating condition. These guns sent withering ground fire against the approaching Allied forces. The tides also ended up pushing many of the demolition crews well ahead of the first wave. They found themselves the first to land on the beaches. Many of the teams were killed by machine gun and mortar fire before reaching the beach. Other team members under enemy fire managed to set charges on the obstacles and blow them. At one point, soldiers were taking cover behind the obstacles, which were emplaced with demolitions charged with timers. The GIs quickly made their way onto the beaches to avoid becoming a friendly casualty of war. The mission was to open sixteen 50-foot wide corridors for the landing. By nightfall only thirteen were open, and these beaches exacted a heavy toll on the Navy Gap-Assault teams.
Of the 175 UDT men on Omaha beach, 31 were killed and 60 wounded. Their teammates on Utah Beach fared far better because the beach was considerably less fortified. Four were killed and eleven wounded, when an artillery shell landed among one of the teams working to clear the beach. Weeks before the invasion, all available Underwater Demolition men were sent from Fort Pierce to England. The largest loss occurred at the landing on Omaha beach, Normandy. Within months of the war's end, the UDT teams were dispersed. This ended a trying but evolutionary time in the history of Naval Special Warfare.
The Fifth Amphibious Force set up training at Waimanalo, on the coast of Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands. Attending were men from Fort Pierce as well as men from the Army and Marines. Represented were the Scouts and Raiders as well as the Naval Combat Demolitions Teams. They hastily trained for the attack on Kwajalein on 31 January 1944. This was a major turning point for the tactics of the UDT. The plan was to send in night reconnaissance teams such as the Scouts and Raiders were accustomed to. Then Admiral Turner, worried about the presence of obstacles emplaced by the Japanese, ordered two daylight reconnaissance operations.
The missions were to follow the standard procedure. Team one was to go in a rubber boat in full fatigues, boots, life jackets and metal helmets. The coral reef kept their craft too far from shore to be certain of the beach conditions. Ensign Lewis F. Luehrs and Chief Petty Officer Bill Acheson made a decision that changed the shape of Naval Special Warfare forever. Removing all but their underwear, they swam undeterred across the reef. They returned with sketches of the beach gun embankment locations, along with information about a log wall built to deter landings and other vital intelligence. Naval Combat Swimming had now entered onto the Mission Essential Task List of the UDT.
After Kwajalein, the UDT created the Naval Combat Demolition Training and Experimental Base on Maui. Operations began in April 1944. Most of the procedures from Fort Pierce had been modified, with importance placed upon developing strong swimmers. Extensive training was conducted in the water without lifelines, using facemasks and wearing swim trunks and shoes in the water. This new model gave us the image that stands today of the WWII UDT "Other Naked Warrior". The landings continued and at Iwo Jima the surveying teams fared favorably. The largest casualties of the UDT occurred not in the water, but aboard the destroyer USS Blessman when a Japanese bomber hit it. When the bomb exploded in the mess hall, fifteen men on the UDT Team were killed. Twenty-three others were injured. This was by far the most tragic loss of life suffered by the UDT in the Pacific theater.
Up until now all the islands worked upon were in southern waters. Soon the forces moved North toward Japan. Having no thermal protection, the UDT men were at risk of hypothermia and severe cramps. This problem was extreme during the surveying of Okinawa. The largest UDT deployment in the war employed veteran Team's Seven, Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen and newly trained teams Eleven, Sixteen, Seventeen, and Eighteen. Close to a thousand UDT forces worked in concert on operations both real and deceptive to create the illusion of landing in other locations. Pointed poles set into the coral reef of the beach protected the landing beaches on Okinawa. Team's Eleven and Sixteen were sent in to blast the poles. After all the charges were set, the men swam to clear the area and the following explosion took out all of Team Eleven's and half of team Sixteen's targets. Team Sixteen broke from the operation due to the death of one of their men; hence, their mission was considered a failure and a disgrace. Team Eleven was sent back the following day to finish the job and then remained to guide the forces to the beach. The UDT continued to prepare for the invasion of Japan. After the atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the war quickly ended. The need for an invasion of Japan was averted and the UDT's role in the South Pacific came to an end.
Post World War II saw a major decline in the UDT. The remaining officers and enlisted men were dedicated, hard workingmen. Before the start of the Korean conflict, the UDT were testing uses of the Underwater Breathing Apparatus (UBA) and developing weapons skills and commando operations on land in coastal regions.
They also started experiments with insertion/extraction by helicopter, jumping from a moving helicopter into the water or rappelling like mountain climbers to the ground. Experimentation developed a system for emergency extraction by plane called "Skyhook." Skyhook utilized a large helium balloon and cable rig with harness. A special grabbing device on the nose of a C-130 enabled a pilot to snatch the cable tethered to the balloon and lift a person off the ground. Once airborne, the crew would winch the cable in and retrieve the personnel though the back of the aircraft. This technique was discontinued for training purposes after the death of a SEAL in Coronado on a training lift. The teams still utilize the Fulton Skyhook for equipment extraction and retain the capability for war if an extreme situation requires it.
The Korean War was a period of transition for the men of the UDT. They tested their previous limits and defined new parameters for their special style of warfare. These new techniques and expanded horizons positioned the UDT well to assume an even broader role as the storms of war began brewing to the South in the Vietnamese Peninsula.
President John F. Kennedy, aware of the situations in Southeast Asia, recognized the need for unconventional warfare and utilized special operations forces as a measure against guerrilla activity. In a speech to Congress in May 1961, Kennedy shared his deep respect of the Green Berets. He announced the government's plan to put a man on the moon, and, in the same speech, allocated over one hundred million dollars toward the strengthening of unconventional forces in order to expand the strength of the conventional forces.
The first two teams were on opposite coasts: Team Two in Little Creek, Virginia and Team One in Coronado, California. The men of the newly formed SEAL Teams were educated in such unconventional areas as hand-to-hand combat, high altitude parachuting, safe-cracking, demolitions and languages. Among the varied tools and weapons required by the teams was the AR-15 assault rifle, a new design that evolved into today's M16. The SEALs attended UDT Replacement training and they spent some time cutting their teeth at a UDT Team. Upon making it to a SEAL Team, they would undergo a three-month SEAL Basic Indoctrination (SBI) training class at Camp Kerry in the Cuyamaca Mountains. After SBI training class, they would enter a platoon and train in platoon tactics (especially for the conflict in Vietnam).
The Pacific Command recognized Vietnam as a potential hot spot for conventional forces. In the beginning of 1962, the UDT started hydrographic surveys and Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) was formed. In March 1962, SEALs were deployed to Vietnam for the purpose of training South Vietnamese commandos in the same methods they were trained themselves.
The Central Intelligence Agency began SEAL covert operations in early 1963. At the outset of the war, operations consisted of ambushing supply movements and locating and capturing North Vietnamese officers. Due to poor intelligence information, these operations were not very successful. When the SEALs were given the resources to develop their own intelligence, the information became much more timely and reliable. The SEALs and special operations in general started showing an immense success rate, earning their members a great number of citations.
The SEALs were initially deployed in and around Da Nang, training the South in combat diving, demolitions and guerrilla/anti-guerrilla tactics. As the war continued, the SEALs found themselves positioned in the Rung Sat Special Zone where they were to disrupt the enemy supply and troop movements, and into the Mekong Delta to fulfill riverine (fighting on the inland waterways) operations. The brown water of the Delta provided the foundation for the development of SEAL riverine operations. The SEALs adapted quickly and with deadly results. The braces, inlets and estuaries intermingled and left a broad area for both the North and South to operate. The SEALs and Brown Water Navy Boat Crews made it their job to win this part of the war, impeding as much as possible the movement of troops and supplies coming from the North.
The SEAL teams experienced this war like no others. Combat with the Viet Cong was very close and personal. Unlike the conventional warfare methods of firing artillery into a coordinate location, or dropping bombs from thirty thousand feet, the SEALs operated within inches of their targets. SEALs had to kill at short range and respond without hesitation or be killed. Into the late 1960s, the SEALs made great headway with this new style of warfare. Theirs were the most effective anti-guerrilla and guerrilla actions in the war.
However, back in the States the politics of war were working against the administration. The anti-war protest became much louder by the end of the sixties. The American public began to question this war that was claiming so many of their young men. The anxiety and anger caused by the war began to take its toll and violence erupted at home.
SEALs continued to make forays into North Vietnam and Laos, and unofficially into Cambodia, controlled by the Studies and Observations Group. The SEALs from Team 2 started a unique deployment of SEAL team members working alone with South Vietnamese Commandos. In 1967, a SEAL unit named Detachment Bravo (Det B) was formed to operate these mixed US/ARVN units, which were called South Vietnamese Provincial Reconnaissance Units (PRU).
In the beginning of 1968, the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong orchestrated a major offensive against South Vietnam. Virtually every major city felt the effects of the "Tet Offensive." The North hoped it would prove to be America's Dien Bien Phu. They wanted to break the American public's desire to continue the war. As propaganda the Tet Offensive was successful: America was weary of a war that could not be won, for principles no one was sure of. However, North Vietnam suffered tremendous casualties, and from a purely military standpoint the Tet Offensive was a major disaster to the Communists.
By 1970, the US decided to remove itself from the conflict. President Richard Nixon initiated a Plan of Vietnamization, which would return the responsibility of defense back to the South Vietnamese. Conventional forces were being withdrawn, however, operations of the SEALs continued. The SEALs had developed a new base at the tip of the Ca Mau Peninsula and created a floating firebase, now known as Seafloat, by welding together fourteen barges. Accessible from sea, it also provided a landing area for helos.
On 6 June 1972, Lt. Melvin S. Dry was killed when entering the water after jumping from a helicopter at least 35-feet above the surface. Part of an aborted SDV operation to retrieve Prisoners of War, Lt. Dry was the last Navy SEAL killed in the Vietnam conflict. See the book review section for some great books detailing the hair-raising exploits of the SEALs in Vietnam.
Rep. Rooney Introduces Bill Concerning Recognization of Memorial at Navy Udt-Seal Museum in Fort Pierce, Florida
Apr 05, 2011; WASHINGTON, April 5 -- Rep. Thomas J. Rooney, R-Florida has introduced the bill (H. R.1245), legislation that would "recognize...