Jan 1

50th Anniversary of Navy SEAL Teams

Sunday, January 1, 2012 1:00 AM

January 1st, 1962

Commissioning of SEAL Teams ONE and TWO

January 1st, 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the commissioning of the first Navy SEAL teams. At the same time of the SEAL commissionings, the Navy also recommissioned Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) 22. The Navy’s renewed committment to these amphibious forces was commemorated in the February 1965 issue of Proceedings, in an article written by Lieutenant James J. Ritter, U. S. Naval Reserve. Although Ritter’s article focused mainly on the needs and challenges of UDTs, he also recognized the value and necessity of SEAL training, and the importance of both in the strategic and technological growth of the Navy during the Cold War.

A significant naval policy change occurred in January 1962 when the Navy recommissioned Underwater Demolition Team 22 and commissioned SEAL (SEaAirLand) Teams ONE and TWO. This reversed the process of reducing the Navy’s UDT and SEAL combat swimmer commands from a high of 30 commissioned teams in 1945, to a low of three commissioned teams from 1956 until 1962. 

The Department of Defense granted the Navy a rare ceiling increase—37 officers and 201 enlisted men—to commission these commands.

What had changed drastically enough to cause one small part of the amphibious force practically to be doubled at one time? Undoubtedly several factors contributed to this expansion. First, both the Atlantic and Pacific UDTs were generally overcommitted and definitely undermanned if they were to contribute significantly to the Navy’s amphibious capabilities with regard to brushfire wars. Second, there was a new awareness of the potential capabilities of combat swimmers because of recent technological advances. Finally, the continuing necessity to assist training similar teams in the navies of our lesser-developed allies apparently was recognized.

But the primary reason for the increase in combat swimmer commands is that, in addition to the traditional missions with the amphibious forces, UDT and SEAL teams are, as the late Admiral Claude Ricketts observed, “part of the foundation upon which the counter-insurgency program is being built.”

The May 1964 issue of BuPers’ Officer Personnel Newsletter stated, “Continued emphasis on the unconventional warfare of the Navy has resulted in the creation of two new organizations: Naval Operations Support Group, Atlantic and Pacific. [NavOpSuppGrus are comprised of UDTs, SEAL Teams, Beach Jumper Units and PT boats.] . . . The Naval Operations Support Groups are not oriented solely to Amphibious Operations and techniques, but plan for, train, and develop the means to conduct unconventional warfare in response to requirements from all Fleet Commanders.” The recommissioning of UDT 22 and the commissioning of SEAL Teams ONE and ‘TWO in 1962, then, were done when it became apparent that the Navy needed a greater unconventional warfare and counter­insurgency capability.

Although UDTs and the SEAL Teams are similar and many of the problems confronting UDTs also confront the SEAL Teams, this article will deal primarily with the Underwater Demolition Teams. To begin with, a knowledge of how UDT evolved is necessary. Early in 1943, the U. S. Navy not only lacked hydrographic information on enemy beaches from the three-fathom curve inshore, but it also had no knowledge of heavy fortifications which had been built by both the Germans and Japanese in and near the beaches suitable for amphibious operations. The necessity of breaching these fortifications resulted in the formation of Naval Combat Demolition Units—NCDUs. Their primary mission was to demolish any obstacle that would hazard landing craft. It was initially envisioned that this job could be done almost completely by working on the beach during low tide with covering naval gunfire support overhead. In practice, however, there was not sufficient time to complete the assigned tasks. Worse, the personnel were often exposed to devastating small arms fire from the beach defenses. After D-Day at Normandy, the NCDUs were reformed into larger Underwater Demolition Teams and transferred to the Pacific to assist in the island invasions against Japan.

The Pacific area often had small tidal ranges and shallow near-shore gradients. These factors necessitated the development of an underwater capability to clear lanes for the landing craft. This was accomplished by training personnel to skin dive (without any breathing apparatus) from the surface, locate any obstacles, and destroy them by placing explosives on them during successive dives. After the almost disastrous Tarawa invasion in November, 1943, most of the island invasions were preceded by UDT reconnaissance and demolitions.

Underwater Demolition Teams made a substantial contribution to the Navy’s victory in the Pacific. But, upon the capitulation of Japan, most of the 30 teams in commission, or in the process of being formed, were decommissioned. Four teams were formed in 1946 from the World War II remnants and stationed at Coronado, California. UDT 2 and UDT 4 were then transferred to the Atlantic Fleet in June 1946, and stationed at Little Creek, Virginia. This left the Pacific Fleet with UDT 1 and UDT 3 in Coronado.

With the outbreak of hostilities in Korea, UDT was again called into combat and UDT 5 was commissioned in the Pacific.  In addition to the usual reconnaissance and demolition missions prior to amphibious landings, UDT made many surreptitious demolition raids against enemy bridges, dams, railway tunnels, and other installations. UDT men also proved invaluable as human minesweepers in the restricted Korean harbors. Both inland demolition raids and shallow water mine hunting are now part of UDTs’ capabilities.

In 1954, the teams were redesignated: UDTs 1, 3, and 5 became UDTs 11, 12 and 13; and UDTs 2 and 4 became UDTs 21 and 22. Shortly thereafter, UDT 13 was decommissioned, because of personnel shortage, and split between UDT 11 and UDT 12. UDT 22 was decommissioned in June 1956 for the same reason with the personnel being assigned to UDT 21. UDT 22 was recommissioned in January 1962, but enlisted personnel were not assigned until September 1962 due to the shortage of qualified personnel.

Today’s Underwater Demolition Teams are authorized 15 line officers and 101 enlisted men. All are volunteers who have successfully completed what has been called the most arduous training in the U. S. military. Because of the nature of its missions and the manner in which UDT missions are accomplished, a team is organized along two lines simultaneously.  Operationally, every officer and man is a qualified UDT swimmer and assigned to one of the four operating platoons or the headquarters platoon. Administratively, all officers and men are also assigned to one of the departments which provide necessary support to all the platoons.  The four operating platoons are capable of being deployed either independently, in combination, or as part of the entire team. When one or more platoons are deployed apart from the command, the senior line officer is designated the officer-in-charge. The headquarters platoon is also deployable, but as a general rule it would be split between the operating platoons if the team as a whole were to be deployed for combat operations.

Each operating platoon is ideally composed of at least two officers and 20 men, including one chief and one first class petty officer. Headquarters platoon is composed of the remaining officers who are department heads and at least one senior petty officer from each of the following departments; executive, operations, submersible operations, ordnance, supply, engineering, air operations, first lieutenant, and medical. The senior petty officers in each department provide the necessary basic and advanced training to the operating platoon personnel. These enlisted leaders also ensure continuity in department functions as department heads frequently change according to the officer’s development and the needs of the team.

The concept of employment of UDT personnel has changed greatly since the Korean War. From UDT’s inception until 1953, an entire team deployed in an APD, a destroyer escort converted into a high-speed transport, and operated as a team at all times. The reduction in UDTs, the decommissioning of APDs, and the increase in deployments and service commitments dictated the use of detachments instead of an entire team. There are now two platoons with the ready amphibious squadron in the Western Pacific and one platoon in both the Mediterranean and Caribbean. Therefore, in addition to each platoon being an integral part of the team, it must now also be capable of performing all UDT evolutions alone and operating for periods of up to six months on independent duty with an amphibious squadron.

Unfortunately, the composition and many tasks of a deployed amphibious squadron preclude extensive UDT operations and training. This means the deployed detachments often have limited and unrealistic combat training during the entire deployment simply because the ships in which they are embarked have many other tasks in addition to supporting UDT. The nature of deployments precludes anything other than occasional operations or training to maintain readiness at an acceptable level. This circumstance makes it imperative that extensive training be conducted by the operating platoons between deployments. In the 1940s and early 1950s when an entire team deployed en masse, headquarters platoon personnel provided the necessary support and knowledge to the operating platoons and continuity to the team as a whole. Today, the headquarters platoon also provides initial and refresher training to the operating platoons between deployments.

As each platoon can be deployed independently, it must have personnel capable of operating and maintaining the myriad types of equipment used in the performance of UDT missions. When the operating platoons are on board the parent command, their personnel are also assigned to departments for training in the individual skills which they will require when deployed. Thus, on-the-job and in-rate training are accomplished in addition to the platoon training. Peacetime operations under Cold War strains and constant readiness conditions have proven the soundness of the basic UDT organization.

Along with the mission of hydrographic reconnaissance and collection of hydrographic intelligence of enemy-held beaches and offshore waters, UDT is responsible for the demolition of man-made or natural obstacles to clear the way for an amphibious landing. Underwater Demolition Teams also can perform inland demolition raids, assist in clearance of shallow-water mine fields, and carry out underwater sneak attacks.

The secondary capabilities of UDT are becoming primary missions in this day of limited/cold wars. It is these capabilities of UDT which are extremely effective and useful extensions of the doctrine of sea power. Sea power takes cognizance of the fact that short of total war, the water covered areas of the world beyond the three-mile territorial mark are available to the navies of all nations. Prior to declaration of war, the only way to cross this three-mile strip of water without causing an international incident is by covert means; UDT has the capability to transit this water strip in an extremely covert and dependable manner. Whether the mission be aggressive (such as an attack on maritime shipping and facilities, naval ships, or naval/military/industrial installations) or passive, as in the gathering of information, UDT is a small, but vital and potent segment of sea power.

The performance of these missions and underwater services requires a huge amount of specialized equipment and a great variety of skills. All UDT personnel must be qualified UDT swimmers maintaining their proficiency on a six-month basis. Most UDT personnel are qualified in open, closed, and semi-closed, self-contained underwater breathing apparatus—SCUBA. They must be familiar with at least three separate and different types of SCUBA, and be able to perform all types of submersible operations including working from submarines. Most UDT personnel have further volunteered to go through airborne training and maintain their proficiency by parachute jumping at least once every three months. With the recent acquisition of operational Swimmer Propulsion Units, all UDT swimmers will become qualified SPU operators and personnel in each platoon will be trained to maintain the SPUs. All hands receive small arms training so they can defend themselves if the occasion arises, as it frequently did during the Korean War. The final and most important qualification that all hands must meet is in the use of all UDT demolitions and demolition devices.

Integral transportation is provided by swimmer reconnaissance landing craft (LCSR), powered by twin gas turbine engines, diesel­powered MK IV LCPLs, or rubber inflatable boat, small (IBS) either paddled or driven by silent outboard motors. All the equipment which is required to perform assigned missions is authorized by the recently expanded UDT Allowance List and is in the custody of the command. Due to the sheer volume and variety, deploying platoons take only the equipment needed to accomplish assigned or anticipated missions. Getting the right equipment in the right place while maintaining proper responsibility is a difficult job. This is minor, however, compared to the problem of keeping everyone qualified in their rating and in all the professional aspects of UDT. Maintaining qualification in all the skills necessary to perform UDT missions is a constant challenge, but it allows maximum flexibility and is one of the reasons why UDT gets outstanding utilization of each officer and man.

 UDT is in a state of change. Recent developments include more advanced SCUBA gear, improved underwater communications and search electronic equipment, better and more dependable swimmer propulsion units, and the high-speed gas turbine small craft specifically designed to support UDT operations. The Fulton Skyhook Aerial Recovery System presently being tested will complement UDT’s aerial capability. It will allow men from a team to be recovered simultaneously from ground or water by fixed-wing aircraft making a single pass over them.

With similar breakthroughs being made in demolitions and weapons along with basic advancements of other equipment, UDT is becoming far more mobile and flexible, thereby increasing operational capabilities. Detachments of varying sizes to accomplish specific missions can be delivered and recovered by any combination of ships, submarines, or air­craft. These transit vehicles would be used in conjunction with the surface, subsurface, and aerial delivery and recovery modes which are developed, or being developed, by the Bureau of Ships and the Bureau of Naval Weapons for the Swimmer Underwater Reconnaissance and Clearance System.

These rapid developments are coming about in part because of the increased interest, and attention of the technical bureaus. In the past, UDT equipment and techniques were developed in a haphazard manner. Frequently one component of a swimmer’s equipment system would be developed or advanced, but full benefit of this new component could not be realized because other vital components of the system were outmoded or undeveloped.

The present method of developing a complete system, and then ensuring that all the necessary equipment is available, is far superior to the old method of developing items as the need arose. Both BuShips and BuWeps have proposed weapon systems for UDT which are being developed with constant revision to keep them current. The near future seems to hold an operational underwater capability for UDT which will allow extensive submergence, permit personnel to move and communicate over long distances and thereby enhance the collection of valid intelligence.

Although the material aspects of UDT are looking much brighter, the personnel situation, particularly with regard to officers, has not improved greatly. The officer problem is twofold. First, there is a lack of officer volunteers with 12-18 months’ sea duty. This means that BuPers has to order newly commissioned officers into UDT Replacement Training. Second, many of the junior officers who have served with UDT since the Korean War have been Naval Reserve officers, released to inactive duty upon completion of their obligated time. The problem involved in sending officers to UDT with little or no sea duty is that they develop more slowly than those men exposed to the full time supervision one gets at sea. This lack of previous sea duty has occasionally allowed the individual to foster a feeling of being strictly a UDT officer instead of being a naval officer with a UDT specialty.

The second aspect of the problem has actually done more to retard the professional advancement of UDT than anything else. There is a serious shortage of experienced, qualified UDT officers to fill demanding billets in the teams and on the staffs. This has occurred because the few Regular UDT officers are allowed only 18 months with the teams prior to rotation, and, secondly, many Reserve officers remain on active duty with the teams for less than two years. The Navy presently depends upon a constant flow of Reserve officers to fill most of the billets in the teams. This is a result of the shortage of Regular officers and the release from active duty of the Reserve officers. Continuity within the teams and the availability of officers with extensive UDT backgrounds are both essential to advance UDT professionally and to avoid needless repetitive training.

This shortage of experienced UDT officers could be improved by encouraging Regular junior officers to volunteer and serve in UDT as part of an optimum career pattern; by requiring a minimum of 18 months’ sea duty before officers are eligible for UDT Replacement Training; and by requiring Reserve officers to have a minimum of two years obligated service upon completion of replacement training instead of the present one year. The two years’ obligated duty after completion of at least 18 months’ sea duty and six months’ UDT Replacement Training would probably increase augmentation requests. In time, this would also help alleviate the shortage of officers qualified for senior UDT billets.

The Bureau of Naval Personnel considers UDT as a tour of sea duty for promotion, but shore duty for rotation purposes. When an officer reports to UDT directly from OCS or NROTC, even if he is frequently deployed with UDT detachments, he has not received the equivalent training of his shipboard contemporary. If all junior officers had a tour of sea duty prior to UDT, BuPers would be wise to consider the two years with UDT as sea duty for both rotation and promotion purposes. This would encourage Regular officers to take a tour in UDT and Reserve officers to consider augmentation seriously.

One course of action which assuredly would put UDT on a professional scale would be to designate it a career specialty for unrestricted line officers, much as submarine duty is for properly qualified line officers. The UDT/SEAL specialty would involve only a relatively small number of officers, but would ensure that the Navy had senior officers with the UDT/SEAL background to fill the increasing number of UDT/SEAL/Special Operations billets (Officer Personnel Newsletter, May 1964). In 1962, Admiral Ricketts, then Vice Chief of Naval Operations, proposed a UDT/SEAL career pattern while he was discussing officer personnel for the Navy’s unconventional warfare and counterinsurgency program.

Duty in the SEAL/UDT program will not necessarily preclude an officer from developing the necessary shipboard skills. In the past numerous UDT officers have qualified as OOD underway while deployed with the Amphibious Forces. It has been Fleet policy to encourage such qualification whenever possible. A rotational policy from initial commissioning through the second year in the grade of lieutenant commander could include two shipboard, two SEAL/UDT and two shore duty (with SEAL/ UDT option) tours and provide the officer concerned with a sufficiently broad shipboard background.

Another policy change which would be beneficial to both the Navy and UDT would be a special program for UDT/SEAL Reserve officers, much like the TAR program or a Reserve special duty category. The UDT/SEAL Reserve officers selected for this program, while eligible for other billets, would spend a predominant part of their careers in UDT/SEAL/Special Operations billets. This program would obviously not include senior rank billets, but it would attract many fine UDT/SEAL Reserve officers who do not want to augment into the regular Navy. The career pattern of many UDT qualified Reserve officers has been either to go out upon completion of their obligated time, or to extend until forced out because of lack of the diversified experience necessary for promotion.

Concurrent fitness reports received on officers deployed as UDT detachment officers­-in-charge frequently indicate that they are potentially outstanding and rank high among their contemporaries. Rear Admiral Draper L. Kauffman, U. S. Navy, stated at the graduation of a 1963 UDT Replacement Training class that successful UDT officers have all the requisites to be successful, well-rounded naval officers. Admiral Kauffman is the acknowledged father of UDT and the senior UDT­qualified officer on active duty. Other UDT qualified officers have attained the senior ranks of captain and commander.

The enlisted personnel problem is grave and only slightly less pressing than the officer situation. There is a serious shortage of qualified enlisted personnel, and not enough men are volunteering for UDT Replacement Training. This situation is improving, but only slowly; it would be critical should a mobilization occur.

Once a man is career motivated, he can remain with UDT as long as there is a billet for him. In 1963, BuPers investigated the idea of creating a UDT rating. Because of the need for many skills within the team and each platoon, it was decided that any dubious advantages which this might have in retention of personnel in the Navy would be offset by the additional problems created by the lack of skilled personnel. The idea was dropped when it was found that UDT personnel advanced faster than their contemporaries in the Fleet.

The enlisted personnel problem can be broken down into five areas: scarcity of technically trained personnel to operate and maintain specialized diving equipment, swimmer propulsion units, landing craft (both LCSRs and LCPLs) and associated electronics equipment; insufficient enlisted manpower authorization for assigned missions and tasks; insufficient input of new personnel; lack of experienced petty officers and career junior petty officers to replace senior petty officers who are selected for the warrant/LDO program or who are nearing retirement; and lastly, lack of UDT qualified personnel in the Fleet who could be reassigned to UDT in event of mobilization.

One proposal to solve the shortage is to assign non-UDT qualified supporting personnel to the teams. This has certain merits, but it also has many disadvantages which make it unsuitable. A far better solution would be to increase the number of enlisted combat swimmers authorized a team from 101 to 120 UDT swimmers. This expansion would allow each command to send more motivated personnel to formal Navy training schools and thereby satisfy its own requirements for men with technical skills.  It would broaden the education and vocational opportunities UDT could offer its personnel and undoubtedly improve the retention rate. It would also give the man the necessary background for advancement and prepare him for a tour of shore duty in his rate when eligible.

This “in house” training is presently being done on a limited scale in UDT 22 with gratifying results. It allows more effective use of each man both as a UDT swimmer and as a rated man with a special skill required by UDT operations. A UDT detachment of 20 UDT swimmers and five unqualified personnel assigned to maintain and/or operate boats or SPUs would only be able to put 20 men in the water regardless of the urgency. Whereas, if the five extra men were UDT qualified, they could also be committed to an operation if absolutely necessary.

Utilization of qualified UDT personnel strictly in the operational phases of UDT is challenging and satisfying only to a certain point. Once the men have mastered the basic skills, the day-in and day-out UDT operations become monotonous unless they are simultaneously challenged in other fields, such as their rating or new aspects of UDT operations. UDT’s retention rate of first cruise men is far greater for those who are rated than for those who are not.

The proposed increase of enlisted manpower authorization, greater utilization of available formal rate training through Temporary Duty Under Instruction (TEMDUINST) orders, and an increased input into UDT training would not only provide UDT with more technicians, and encourage more UDT personnel to rotate ashore, but would also improve the retention rate of junior enlisted personnel. The rotation ashore would have the pump-primer effect of creating a vacancy which would have to be filled. At the same time one more man in the Fleet would be available for UDT duty if it became necessary to increase quickly the number of teams.

It is ironic that UDT, which enjoys the reputation of being one of the Navy’s elite outfits, has a chronic shortage of career­motivated officers and enlisted personnel. This shortage exists despite the fact that UDT personnel receive either special pay for diving or double hazardous duty pay for demolition work and parachute jumping. Obviously, the many advantages of serving with UDT do not offset the disadvantages for many men in the Fleet who are quite capable of serving. However, the Navy definitely needs more combat swimmers to keep UDT and the SEAL teams operational.

The problem of personnel shortages has been discussed earlier along with various proposals to rectify the situation. In addition to the above mentioned proposals it has been officially recommended that the recognition and prestige of serving with UDT be increased by authorizing a breast insignia for combat swimmers. The Naval Uniform Board, however, rejected this request. Enlisted UDT personnel rate only a sleeve marking to indicate their specialty, and UDT officers wear no distinguishing device. The insignia recommendation was predicated on the belief that the increased recognition and prestige would help alleviate the officer and enlisted personnel shortages. And, more important, combat swimmers deserve a distinguishing breast insignia of their own.

Paradoxically, any Navy man, including a midshipman, can qualify for a breast insignia simply by completing the three-week U. S. Army Airborne School. Upon making five more parachute jumps, he is authorized to wear the gold Navy-Marine Corps Parachute Insignia. UDT personnel, who are multi-skilled experts in a naval specialty of which parachute jumping is but a small part, rate the parachute breast insignia which indicates only a minor part of their naval qualification. It would be far more appropriate to have a UDT/SEAL breast insignia which would be worn in lieu of the Navy-Marine Corps Parachute Insignia. It must be reemphasized that a UDT/SEAL breast insignia would definitely increase the incentives to serve with UDT, much in the manner that wings and dolphins are a highly prized goal for prospective aviators and submariners, or the newly authorized “supply dolphins” are incentive for supply officers to serve in submarines.

Nowhere else in the Navy is a man more on his own than when swimming closed or semi­closed SCUBA long distances at night. He lacks communications and has only minimal safety equipment. The success of the mission depends upon his determination and his ability to control his emotions at all times. UDT wartime or Cold War missions take courage and determination which are not backed up by the presence of shipmates or supporting equipment. The peculiar combination of physical stamina and psychological control which UDT men possess is unmatched anywhere in the U. S. military.

Vice Admiral Alfred G. Ward, U. S. Navy, made the following statement when he was Commander Amphibious Force, U. S. Atlantic Fleet.

The [UDT men] are average men; however, they have transcended this classification through training that has stretched their point of endurance to unlimited heights. Military strategists place them in the category of lethal weapons. They are alert, quick-thinking, well-­trained athletes, as well as dedicated servicemen.

The UDT Replacement Training is conducted by the Naval Amphibious Schools with the goal of providing qualified replacements to the Underwater Demolition teams. Both the East and West Coast courses have outstanding features and are basically sound. In recent years, however, attempts to lower the attrition rate have resulted in the total number of physical training hours being drastically reduced and in psychological stresses being all but eliminated. These drastic measures have not appreciably changed the attrition rate. And, this policy fails to comprehend that the basic purpose of UDT Replacement Training is gradually to extend each man’s physical capabilities and mental endurance until he is extremely confident of his own ability to perform UDT tasks which hitherto he thought impossible. This self-confidence is the essential quality each man must possess prior to reporting to the teams. The man who quits under controlled peacetime training conditions will assuredly quit under combat conditions and endanger both his buddy and the entire mission.

Vice Admiral John S. McCain, Jr., U. S. Navy, the present Commander Amphibious Force, U. S. Atlantic Fleet, recently made the following statement which highlights the UDT/SEAL personnel requirements.

The great esteem and admiration accorded to those volunteers who qualify for UDT and SEAL Team service has earned for them the hallmark of belonging to an elite organization. It is readily understood that the arduous training, coupled with the extremely hazardous missions of UDT and SEAL Teams [have to be] accepted as necessary to the successful culmination of their respective missions. Fully realizing that the ever present hazards involved in carrying out the UDT and SEAL Team missions have required each officer and man to adjust to a risk environment, we must never relax, become careless or otherwise sacrifice safety in the pursuit of increased readiness.

Highly motivated well trained officers and men are absolutely essential for successful UDT and SEAL missions.

The worth of UDT personnel is not measured in high or low attrition rates, but rather in each man’s desire and determination. These are generally a measure of the leadership to which he has been subjected. Physically, any officer or man who has passed the Navy physical examination is capable of performing all the required tasks. In terms of desire and determination, however, only a small percentage of these prospective team members will develop the special self-confidence necessary for UDT. Any attempt to change the attrition rate in UDT Replacement Training, other than by selection or raising the quality of leadership, is false economy and would be unacceptable.

The shortcomings of UDT Replacement Training can be overcome if the following steps are taken: reinstitution of an arduous and tough training program designed to simulate combat conditions; acceptance of the attrition rate as simply a measure of the personnel who did not have sufficient desire and determination to qualify for duty with UDT; the returning of all personnel who voluntarily quit to their previous duty stations, which would stop personnel from volunteering with the intention of quitting and going to a new duty station; and finally, Replacement Training should be made as responsive as possible to the needs of the teams.

The Atlantic and Pacific UDTs were organized as Underwater Demolition Units until December of 1963. Command of a UDU was an additional duty of the senior UDT commanding officer (lieutenant commander billet) on each coast. ComUDU’s reporting senior was the respective Commander Amphibious Force. As of 1 December, both UDU ONE and UDU TWO were disestablished and succeeded by the Naval Operations Support Groups, Pacific and Atlantic Fleets. Commander Naval Operations Support Group, Pacific or Atlantic is a primary billet for a captain, with a commander as chief staff officer. This organization is designed to take some of the administrative burdens from the teams and coordinate all unconventional warfare and counter-insurgency efforts within the respective amphibious forces.

The upgrading of the operational commander of UDT is in keeping with the emphasis put upon unconventional warfare and counter-insurgency efforts in the Navy. UDT has long been in need of a full-time staff divorced from the actual operations. The assignment of captains to the ComNavOpSuppGru billets means the subordinate commands will be the primary responsibility of a naval officer who ranks in seniority with amphibious squadron commanders. The new organization is already paying dividends to UDT and the Navy. Additionally, the teams are getting better operational and administrative support. This complements the greatly improved material support received from the technical bureaus.

Up to this point only UDT per se and the administrative problems which affect UDT have been discussed. As so often happens, the day-to-day matters are so pressing that vital long-range planning receives little or no at­tention. Although UDT has never been in a better position concerning equipment with which to do the job, and is receiving more attention up the chain of command, the tactical doctrine for the employment of UDT is woefully outdated and often simply mirrors past methods. There is also a great diversity of opinion regarding precisely what UDT’s missions are today and the manner in which they should be accomplished.

The assigned missions need to be reviewed and new priorities assigned in accordance with actual operational plans. The technical bureaus and staff planners are making plans on premises which have not been thoroughly investigated or proven feasible in actual operations. This is happening because UDT lacks the foundation of precise mission definition upon which to plan for tomorrow.

 Steps should be taken to review UDT’s missions and the manner in which they fit into the amphibious and unconventional warfare/counter-insurgency programs. Then NWIP 22-4 (Underwater Demolitions Teams in Amphibious Operations) should be revised to reflect the latest and best thinking, and policies should be implemented which will result in the greatest capabilities and operational readiness.

Another aspect of NWIP 22-4 which needs expansion and clarification is the descriptions of UDT’s capabilities and limitations—particularly as it treats physical endurance, obstacle demolition, and SCUBA diving. With staffs relying upon NWIP 22-4 to plan and conduct the UDT phases of amphibious operations, it is imperative that capabilities and limitations be clearly documented to ensure the success of the operation. Staffs frequently overcommit UDT detachments while overlooking realistic capabilities.  One widely held misconception is that UDT can significantly change bottom gradients and remove natural near-shore features such as sand bars and coral reefs. Jobs of this magnitude require much time even when using dredges and deep sea divers. SCUBA diving’s prime asset is mobility, which is achieved by sacrificing the ability to do hard work for long periods. UDT can demolish natural and man-made obstacles, but not significantly change natural features.

The Underwater Demolition Teams in commission are overcommitted operationally. This results in insufficient time and effort being devoted to advancing and perfecting UDT techniques and honing the operating platoons to razor-edge sharpness between deployments. The teams are being used more and more to provide services to the Fleet which do not accomplish any worthwhile UDT training.

UDT is also operating under unrealistic conditions today in that the main body of the team is based ashore, only occasionally goes to sea, and then usually just for transportation. UDT’s present and probable future missions all could require the team or a large detachment to operate from a ship for an extensive period. Shipboard operation is radically different from shore based operations. Yet, UDT has not operated from a ship as a team since 1953. The following factors have influenced this unrealistic situation: the diminished number of UDT’s; the increase of commitments and services; the diminishing number of ships in commission suitable to carry a team; and the vast increase in equipment used by UDT due to the increased submerged capability.

After a thorough re-evaluation of UDT’s missions, ships should be designated solely for the assigned UDT missions and so configured. During World War II and the Korean War, one team was assigned to each APD. It is now physically impossible to put an entire team, associated equipment, and boats on board an APD and still be able to operate for extended periods. However, two APD’s could provide berthing and working space for an afloat UDT. Both APD’s could operate together or separately, and each would have a considerable UDT capability. During this afloat period, the UDT would be completely supported on board, which would prove or disprove the feasibility of every phase of the operation, indicating where changes have to be made. This would be much like a carrier aircraft squadron going afloat and shaking out all the kinks.

A possible method of realistically accomplishing this afloat period would be to have three teams on each coast, each of which would rotate approximately every six months. One team would be afloat conducting intensive UDT operations and training while participating in independent and fleet exercises with an amphibious squadron or group. One of the teams ashore would handle all operational commitments such as deployments of platoons. The other team ashore would be conducting normal UDT operations and training. Such a plan would necessitate the commissioning of another team on both coasts. However, if the status quo prevails, with UDT being heavily overcommitted, it is difficult to see how full advantage can be taken of the technological advances in the underwater field .

The growing recognition of sea power as a major deterrent force for both total and limited wars dictates that all its parts be constantly re-examined and kept at maximum strength. Although UDT is but a small part of sea power, its capabilities are vital and technological advances presage greatly increased offensive capabilities. The best officers, petty officers, and men the Navy has to offer along with the best leadership, guidance and direction available will be necessary in order to fulfill this latent potential. After 20 years of maturing, UDT has become a naval specialty which contributes significantly to the Navy’s offensive might.

 
 
 
  • Jim Valle

    This is a very detailed and dramatic history of UDT forces and their contribution to the United States Navy. Reflecting on the problems enumerated by the author I found myself wondering if a lot of it stems from overequipping and overtraining these gallant men. How much of that physical rigor and elaborate technology is really necessary? Consider this: During the Viet Nam war North Viet Nam/Viet Cong “sappers” were able to blast holes in at least three 10,000 ton American merchant ships, the aircraft transport Card, and the freighters Green Bay and Baton Rouge Victory. Their UDT men did this with pre-positioned mines or limpet bombs attatched to the ship’s hulls. Probably these men had little more than swim fins, face masks and snorkles to work with and who imagines that they underwent years of exacting training and conditioning before embarking on these missions? Nevertheless they scored perhaps the most impressive UDT successes since the mining of the Tripitz! Our national tendency is to set up a program and then ad layer after layer of complexity and exactitude until the whole structure becomes virtually unsustainable in both human and material terms. Maybe it’s time for a rethink?

  • Deborah

    It is unfortunate to look at the records of the Viet Nam era UDT Veteran. Specifics are left out (SPECSCHOOL) but does not explain the training. “Shore Duty” with no mention of UDT anywhere in the paperwork. The DD214, school and training record did not mention Coronado or Little Creek, VA. Further it went on to describe Veteran as Yeoman 2nd class managing 32 officers and enlisted men in a middle management role. All evaluations were of the very highest caliber with lengthly explanations of efficiency, high moral character etc but no mention of his UDT duties or whereabouts. It is invalidating to all these men and the supreme work they do. It also makes them ineligible for any compensation for illness or injury. Lobbying needs to be done so the records are recognized as UDT records. Like Agent Orange and other risks a frame of reference for their service during this era needs to be established ASAP.