After reading the book Into Enemy Waters by Andrew Dubbins I became obsessed with how the underwater demolition teams of WWII became the Navy SEALs. So picture this:
Imagine storming the beaches of Iwo Jima during WWII with nothing but: fins, a snorkel, a bathing suit, a bag of explosives
Let me tell you about the extraordinary & insane training of the 900+ men of the Underwater Demolition Teams who became the Navy SEALs:
The first thing you need to know about the Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT) in WWII is that nobody had ever done what they were doing.
They were first.
No manual existed to train 18-year-olds how to swim, dive and set explosives
So the military made one up. Specifically…
Kauffman would eventually rise to Rear Admiral in the Navy…
But before that, when he was only in his 30s
He organized the Navy’s 1st Combat Demolition Units.
And for that, he needed men…
Kauffman had experience as a bomb/mine disposal officer with the British Royal Navy.
He knew explosives. That was part one.
Part two was finding men he could train to become explosive experts…
But who were also:
- elite swimmers
- tough as hell…
So Kauffman began recruiting and poaching men from other units.
The men would have to:
- diffuse bombs
- explode bombs
- under fire
- under water
- having swum for hours
- physically & mentally exhausted
He needed studs…
Any kid who enlisted who had swimming experience was a candidate:
Swim team members
Hell if you had a backyard pool you could try out…
The program he devised to make the UDT squad was torture…
In fact, it was this weeklong program that would eventually become infamous among SEALs as Hell Week.
The entire purpose of the week was to weed out the weak.
He wanted a high attrition rate.
Wanted men to quit.
So he worked with other elite unites to devise this plan:
One week. Minimal sleep. Minimal food.
Every day began with a long ocean swim.
1 mile. 2 miles. In the roughest ocean they could find…
After that: 10-mile runs in the soft sand.
Then an obstacle course.
Then raft training.
Then a night swim wearing heavy packs…
If you survived that, congratulations, you got to continue training just as hard for actual missions…
Draper had a 40% attrition rate in week one.
It was exactly what he wanted, saying:
“The esprit de corps of those who remained was enormous.”
The men who became part of the UDT team would storm Omaha Beach.
They were first on the sand in the Pacific theater of the war.
They would paint their bodies blue to match the ocean.
They could hold their breath for 3 to 5 minutes…
They trained with free divers…
They even painted markers on their bodies so ship captains could gauge water depth…
They planted high powered explosives in the surf under machine gun fire in bathing suits.
So that the rest of the fleet come come ashore…
They were the first SEALs.
This is just a glimpse of what I learned reading “Into Enemy Waters” by Andrew Dubbins
It was an excellent read on the birth of the UDT swimmers.
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