Blasting Their Way To Victory: U.S. Navy Underwater Demolition Teams Were Pivotal In The American Victory Over Japan In WWII


Adapting to the changing landscape of war was one way for the American and Allied forces to get ahead in World War II. One of the biggest obstacles was locating obstructions and enemy defenses that troops may face as they approach islands and beaches.

Changing Landscape

One of the solutions was using frogmen and recon swimmers. These teams were made of sailors and Marines, only equipped with snorkels and fins. They swam into dangerous water monitored by enemy forces—most of the time taking enemy fire while they swam along.

Another crucial team was the Underwater Demolition Teams. The UDT was used throughout Europe and was crucial at Normandy.

After the landings at Tarawa went awry in 1943, U.S. Navy commanders knew they needed more reliable intelligence in the Pacific. Draper Kauffman was determined to make a difference in the war.

Even though he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, he did not get a commission because he had poor eyesight. In 1940, he worked in France as an ambulance driver and was captured by the Germans.

Once released, he gained a commission with the Royal Navy Reserve. Before Pearl Harbor, he returned to the U.S. for one purpose, to develop the tactics and framework for the UDT.

Developing The UDTs

In July 1943, Fort Pierce was designated for training, and Kauffman was able to secure volunteers from the Seabees and U.S. Navy Reserve. The volunteers trained in six-man teams. Training included classes, swimming, explosives, lectures, and small craft handling.

The Battle of Saipan was the first time a large-scale operation used the UDTs. The UDT teams were tasked with gauging the depth of the reefs around the island, finding any obstacles, and making safe paths for tanks to reach the shore without getting into deep water.

The UDT teams used buoys and fishing lines to mark a grid to help the landing forces. Even though it was difficult and dangerous, the UDT teams were successful.

In March and April 1945, around 1,000 UDT members did the same for troops heading to Okinawa. Out of the 34 UDTs, 21 saw combat by the end of WWII.

However, the war’s end was not the end of the UDTs. UDT 21 was used to accept the surrender of a Japanese unit and in the Korean and Vietnam war. They are now known as the U.S. Navy SEALS.




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