Today's Naval Special Warfare operators can trace their origins to the Scouts and
Raiders, Naval Combat Demolition Units, Office of Strategic Services Operational
Swimmers, Underwater Demolition Teams, and Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons of World
War II. While none of those early organizations have survived to present, their
pioneering efforts in unconventional warfare are mirrored in the missions and professionalism
of the present Naval Special Warfare warriors.
To meet the need for a beach reconnaissance force, selected Army and Navy personnel
assembled at Amphibious Training Base, Little Creek, on 15 August 1942 to begin
Amphibious Scouts and Raiders (Joint) training. The Scouts and Raiders mission was
to identify and reconnoiter the objective beach, maintain a position on the designated
beach prior to a landing and guide the assault waves to the landing beach.
The first group included Phil H. Bucklew, the "Father of Naval Special Warfare,"
after whom the Naval Special Warfare Center building is named. Commissioned in October
1942, this group saw combat in November 1942 during OPERATION TORCH, the first allied
landings in Europe, on the North African coast. Scouts and Raiders also supported
landings in Sicily, Salerno, Anzio, Normandy, and southern France.
A second group of Scouts and Raiders, code-named Special Service Unit #1, was established
on July 7, 1943, as a joint and combined operations force. The first mission, in
September 1943, was at Finschafen on New Guinea. Later ops were at Gasmata, Arawe,
Cape Gloucester, and the East and South coast of New Britain, all without any loss
of personnel. Conflicts arose over operational matters, and all non-Navy personnel
were reassigned. The unit, renamed 7th Amphibious Scouts, received a new mission,
to go ashore with the assault boats, buoy channels, erect markers for the incoming
craft, handle casualties, take offshore soundings, blow up beach obstacles and maintain
voice communications linking the troops ashore, incoming boats and nearby ships.
The 7th Amphibious Scouts conducted operations in the Pacific for the duration of
the conflict, participating in more than 40 landings.
The third Scout and Raiders organization operated in China. Scouts and Raiders were
deployed to fight with the Sino-American Cooperation Organization, or SACO. To help
bolster the work of SACO, Admiral Ernest J. King ordered that 120 officers and 900
men be trained for "Amphibious Roger" at the Scout and Ranger school at Ft. Pierce,
FL. They formed the core of what was envisioned as a "guerrilla amphibious organization
of Americans and Chinese operating from coastal waters, lakes and rivers employing
small steamers and sampans." While most Amphibious Roger forces remained at Camp
Knox in Calcutta, three of the groups saw active service. They conducted a survey
of the Upper Yangtze River in the spring of 1945 and, disguised as coolies, conducted
a detailed three-month survey of the Chinese coast from Shanghai to Kitchioh Wan,
near Hong Kong
In September of 1942, 17 Navy salvage personnel arrived at ATB Little Creek, VA
for a one-week concentrated course on demolitions, explosive cable cutting and commando
raiding techniques. On 10 November 1942, this first combat demolition unit succeeded
in cutting a cable and net barrier across the Wadi Sebou River during Operation
TORCH in North Africa. Their actions enabled the USS DALLAS (DD 199) to traverse
the river and insert U.S. Rangers who captured the Port Lyautey airdrome.
Plans for a massive cross-channel invasion of Europe had begun and intelligence
indicated that the Germans were placing extensive underwater obstacles on the beaches
at Normandy. On 7 May 1943, LCDR Draper L. Kauffman, "The Father of Naval Combat
Demolition," was directed to set up a school and train people to eliminate obstacles
on an enemy-held beach prior to an invasion.
On 6 June 1943, LCDR Kaufmann established Naval Combat Demolition Unit training
at Ft. Pierce. By April 1944, a total of 34 NCDUs were deployed to England in preparation
for Operation OVERLORD, the amphibious landing at Normandy.
On 6 June 1944, in the face of great adversity, the NCDUs at Omaha Beach managed
to blow eight complete gaps and two partial gaps in the German defenses. The NCDUs
suffered 31 killed and 60 wounded, a casualty rate of 52%. Meanwhile, the NCDUs
at Utah Beach met less intense enemy fire. They cleared 700 yards of beach in two
hours, another 900 yards by the afternoon. Casualties at Utah Beach were significantly
lighter with 6 killed and 11 wounded. During Operation OVERLORD, not a single demolitioneer
was lost to improper handling of explosives.
In August 1944, NCDUs from Utah Beach participated in the landings in southern France,
the last amphibious operation in the European Theater of Operations.
NCDUs also operated in the Pacific theater. NCDU 2, under LTjg Frank Kaine, after
whom the Naval Special Warfare Command building is named, and NCDU 3 under LTjg
Lloyd Anderson, formed the nucleus of six NCDUs that served with the Seventh Amphibious
Force tasked with clearing boat channels after the landings from Biak to Borneo.
Some of the earliest World War II predecessors of the SEALs were the Operational
Swimmers of the Office of Strategic Services, or OSS. Many current SEAL missions
were first assigned to them.
British Combined Operations veteran LCDR Wooley, of the Royal Navy, was placed in
charge of the OSS Maritime Unit in June 1943.
Their training started in November 1943 at Camp Pendleton, moved to Catalina Island
in January 1944, and finally moved to the warmer waters in the Bahamas in March
1944. Within the U.S. military, they pioneered flexible swim fins and facemasks,
closed-circuit diving equipment, the use of swimmer submersibles, and combat swimming
and limpet mine attacks.
In May 1944, GEN Donovan, the head of the OSS, divided the unit into groups. He
loaned Group 1, under LT Choate, to ADM Nimitz, as a way to introduce the OSS into
the Pacific Theater. They became part of UDT-10 in July 1944. Five OSS men participated
in the very first UDT submarine operation with the USS BURRFISH in the Caroline
Islands in August 1944.
Admiral Chester Nimitz's "Granite Plan" for central Pacific operations required
an efficient amphibious force. Many of the targeted islands were coral atolls with
reefs that acted as natural obstacles to landings. During early November 1943, SeaBees
engaged in experimental underwater blasting work were assembled at Waipio Amphibious
Operating Base on Oahu to begin training in underwater demolition.
On 23 November 1943, the U. S. Marine landing on Tarawa Atoll emphasized the need
for hydrographic reconnaissance and underwater demolition of obstacles prior to
any amphibious landing.
After Tarawa, 30 officers and 150 enlisted men were moved to Waimanalo Amphibious
Training Base to form the nucleus of a demolition training program. This group became
Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT) ONE and TWO.
The UDTs saw their first combat on 31 January 1944, during Operation FLINTLOCK in
the Marshall Islands. FLINTLOCK became the real catalyst for the UDT training program
in the Pacific Theater. In February 1944, the Naval Combat Demolition Training and
Experimental Base was established at Kihei, Maui, next to the Amphibious Base at
Eventually, 34 UDT teams were established. Wearing swim suits, fins, and facemasks
on combat operations, these "Naked Warriors" saw action across the Pacific in every
major amphibious landing including: Eniwetok, Saipan, Guam, Tinian, Angaur, Ulithi,
Pelilui, Leyte, Lingayen Gulf, Zambales, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Labuan, Brunei Bay,
and on 4 July 1945 at Balikpapan on Borneo which was the last UDT demolition operation
of the war.
The rapid demobilization at the conclusion of the war reduced the number of active
duty UDTs to two on each coast with a complement of 7 officers and 45 enlisted men
The Korean War began on 25 June 1950, when the North Korean army invaded South Korea.
Beginning with a detachment of 11 personnel from UDT 3, UDT participation expanded
to three teams with a combined strength of 300 men.
As part of the Special Operations Group, or SOG, UDTs successfully conducted demolition
raids on railroad tunnels and bridges along the Korean coast.
On 15 September 1950, UDTs supported Operation CHROMITE, the amphibious landing
at Inchon. UDT 1 and 3 provided personnel who went in ahead of the landing craft,
scouting mud flats, marking low points in the channel, clearing fouled propellers,
and searching for mines. Four UDT personnel acted as wave-guides for the Marine
In October 1950, UDTs supported mine-clearing operations in Wonsan Harbor where
frogmen would locate and mark mines for minesweepers. On 12 October 1950, two U.S.
minesweepers hit mines and sank. UDTs rescued 25 sailors. The next day, William
Giannotti conducted the first U.S. combat operation using an "aqualung" when he
dove on the USS PLEDGE.
For the remainder of the war, UDTs conducted beach and river reconnaissance, infiltrated
guerrillas behind the lines from sea, continued mine sweeping operations, and participated
in Operation FISHNET, which severely damaged the North Korean's fishing capability.
Responding to President Kennedy's desire for the Services to develop an Unconventional
Warfare (UW) capability, the U.S. Navy established SEAL Teams ONE and TWO in January
of 1962. Formed entirely with personnel from Underwater Demolition Teams, the SEALs
mission was to conduct counter guerilla warfare and clandestine operations in maritime
and riverine environments.
SEAL involvement in Vietnam began immediately and was advisory in nature. SEAL advisors
instructed the Vietnamese in clandestine maritime operations. SEALs also began a
UDT style training course for the Biet Hai Commandos, the Junk Force Commando platoons,
In February 1966, a small SEAL Team ONE detachment arrived in Vietnam to conduct
direct-action missions. Operating out of Nha Be, in the Rung Sat Special Zone, this
detachment signaled the beginning of a SEAL presence that would eventually include
8 SEAL platoons in country on a continuing basis. Additionally, SEALs served as
advisors for Provincial Reconnaissance Units and the Lien Doc Nguoi Nhia, or LDNN,
the Vietnamese SEALs. The last SEAL platoon departed Vietnam on 7 December 1971.
The last SEAL advisor left Vietnam in March 1973.
The UDTs again saw combat in Vietnam while supporting the Amphibious Ready Groups.
When attached to the riverine groups the UDTs conducted operations with river patrol
boats and, in many cases, patrolled into the hinterland as well as along the riverbanks
and beaches in order to destroy obstacles and bunkers. Additionally, UDT personnel
acted as advisors.
On May 1, 1983, all UDTs were redesignated as SEAL Teams or Swimmer Delivery Vehicle
Teams (SDVT). SDVTs have since been redesignated SEAL Delivery Vehicle Teams.
Special Boat Units can also trace their history back to WWII. The Patrol Coastal
and Patrol Boat Torpedo are the ancestors of today's PC and MKV. Motor Torpedo Boat
Squadron THREE rescued General MacArthur (and later the Filipino President) from
the Philippines after the Japanese invasion and then participated in guerrilla actions
until American resistance ended with the fall of Corregidor. PT Boats subsequently
participated in most of the campaigns in the Southwest Pacific by conducting and
supporting joint/combined reconnaissance, blockade, sabotage, and raiding missions
as well as attacking Japanese shore facilities, shipping, and combatants. PT Boats
were used in the European Theater beginning in April 1944 to support the OSS in
the insertions of espionage and French Resistance personnel and for amphibious landing
deception. While there is no direct line between organizations, NSW embracement
is predicated on the similarity in craft and mission.
The development of a robust riverine warfare capability during the Vietnam War produced
the forerunner of the modern Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewman. Mobile Support
Teams provided combat craft support for SEAL operations, as did Patrol Boat, Riverine
(PBR) and Swift Boat sailors. In February 1964, Boat Support Unit ONE was established
under Naval Operations Support Group, Pacific to operate the newly reinstated Patrol
Torpedo Fast (PTF) program and to operate high-speed craft in support of NSW forces.
In late 1964 the first PTFs arrived in Danang, Vietnam. In 1965, Boat Support Squadron
ONE began training Patrol Craft Fast crews for Vietnamese coastal patrol and interdiction
operations. As the Vietnam mission expanded into the riverine environment, additional
craft, tactics, and training evolved for riverine patrol and SEAL support.
SEAL Delivery Vehicle Teams historical roots began during WWII, however with Italian
and British combat swimmers and wet submersibles. Naval Special Warfare entered
the submersible field in the 1960's when the Coastal Systems Center developed the
Mark 7, a free-flooding SDV of the type used today, and the first SDV to be used
in the fleet. The Mark 8 and 9 followed in the late 1970's. Today's Mark 8 Mod 1
and the soon to be accepted for fleet use Advanced SEAL Delivery System (ASDS),
a dry submersible, provide NSW with an unprecedented capability that combines the
attributes of clandestine underwater mobility and the combat swimmer.
Post-Vietnam War operations that NSW forces have participated in include URGENT
FURY (Grenada 1983); EARNEST WILL (Persian Gulf 1987-1990); JUST CAUSE (Panama 1989-1990)
and DESERT SHIELD/DESERT STORM (Middle East/Persian Gulf 1990-1991). Additionally,
NSW conducted missions in Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Liberia.
In response to the attacks on America Sept. 11, 2001, Naval Special Warfare forces
put operators on the ground in Afghanistan in October. The first military flag officer
to set foot in Afghanistan was a Navy SEAL in charge of all special operations for
Central Command. Additionally, a Navy SEAL captain commanded Combined Joint Special
Operations Task Force (CJSOTF) South. Commonly referred to as Task Force K-BAR,
the task force included U.S. Navy, Army, Air Force and Coalition SOF forces. During
Operation Enduring Freedom, NSW forces carried out more than 75 special reconnaissance
and direct action missions, destroying more than 500,000 pounds of explosives and
weapons; positively identifying enemy personnel and conducting Leadership Interdiction
Operations in the search for terrorists trying to escape by sea-going vessels.
Naval Special Warfare has played a significant role in Operation Iraqi Freedom,
employing the largest number of SEALs and SWCC in its history. NSW forces were instrumental
in numerous special reconnaissance and direct action missions including the securing
of the southern oil infrastructures of the Al Faw peninsula and the off-shore gas
and oil terminals; the clearing of the Khawr Abd Allah and Khawr Az Zubayr waterways
that enabled humanitarian aid to be delivered to the vital port city of Umm Qasr;
reconnaissance of the Shat Al Arab waterway; capture of high value targets, raids
on suspected chemical, biological and radiological sites; and the first POW rescue
since WWII. Additionally, NSW is also fighting the war on terrorism in other global
hot spots including the Philippines and the Horn of Africa.
NSW is committed to combating the global terrorist threats. In addition to being
experts in special reconnaissance and direct action missions, the skill sets needed
to combat terrorism; NSW is postured to fight a dispersed enemy on their turf. NSW
forces can operate from forward-deployed Navy ships, submarines and aviation mobility
platforms as well as overseas bases and its own overseas units.