Home History Combat Condoms and Rubber Fins: The Underwater Demolition Teams of WWII

Combat Condoms and Rubber Fins: The Underwater Demolition Teams of WWII

by Enochadmin

“On the price World Struggle II veterans are dying — a median of 234 a day — it’s estimated that each one of them can be deceased by 2036,” writes journalist Andrew Dubbins. That’s the reason, on August 15, 2020 — coincidentally the seventy fifth anniversary of the Japanese give up — Dubbins felt privileged to shake the hand of 93-year-old George Morgan, one of many first members of the Underwater Demolition Groups, the forerunner of the U.S. Navy SEALs. What started as a handshake spawned right into a friendship, and lastly a guide as a tribute to Morgan, one of many final surviving frogman of the warfare.

Dubbins just lately spoke to HistoryNet about his newest work, “Into Enemy Waters,” and why these unsung heroes of World Struggle II deserve their time within the solar.

How was your expertise assembly and interviewing 95-year-old George Morgan, one of many final surviving veterans of the UDTs?

Properly, it was such a privilege to get to satisfy him. I had listened to his oral historical past, which was recorded by the National World War II Museum, and I knew simply listening to that that he was only a actually deep, clever man — he broke into tears recalling among the tougher recollections of his fight expertise.

Going again to the concern, with the underwater demolition groups, you possibly can sort of glamorize it, you understand? They’re preventing underwater. You concentrate on James Bond or one thing, however whenever you’re speaking to actual guys who did this, it comes up again and again, the fear — being the primary swimming into these seashores. It nonetheless haunts him. He nonetheless will get nightmares and has a tough time recalling a few of these recollections. He instructed me, “I nonetheless fret about it, I keep in mind issues that I’ve been making an attempt to neglect for many years.”

George Morgan (U.S. Navy)

It was a extremely tough, tall job, particularly for a 17-year-old. The accountability he had … it was extremely technical work, and there’s a really small margin for error. He’s simply an unimaginable man and past simply the warfare, listening to tales about rising up within the Nice Melancholy, he witnessed a lot of historical past and true to the Best Era, he was so humble and self-effacing. He sort of virtually couldn’t imagine that I used to be that intrigued and asking about his household and rising up. He wouldn’t even think about himself a hero, however I do.  

For me as an historian, being within the presence of those veterans is barely awe-inspiring, even nerve-wracking at occasions. How vital was it so that you can search out and chronicle an untold story from World Struggle II?

You’re completely proper about feeling nervous. It’s a accountability to inform anyone’s story actually and to get it proper. And I felt the accountability, too, in that the demolition males of World Struggle II haven’t actually had their tales instructed in a giant approach as a result of they had been a top-secret unit.

Throughout World Struggle II, they missed out on the publicity that Marines received, for instance, on Iwo Jima. Once they got here residence, there was an article in The Saturday Night Put up referred to as “They Hit the Beach In Swim Trunks.” However that was one article. The warfare was over and other people had been shifting on. There have been a pair histories extra so within the context of the rise of the Navy SEALs, however the World Struggle II demolition males, I believe, nonetheless actually haven’t had their do. So, to reply your query, I felt that accountability to inform their story and to honor their heroism.

Are you able to communicate concerning the origins of the Navy Seals and the way it got here out of the UDTs? What did the coaching seem like again within the Nineteen Forties?

Fort Pierce, Florida, was sort of the unique coaching camp for these demolition males and the place Hell Week was born. The primary week of their coaching was swimming in tough ocean, operating on the mushy sand and wading by means of the mangrove swamps. This additionally included demolition workout routines to check in the event that they’d flinch and will deal with explosive. They referred to as it Hell Week even again then, which the Navy SEALs have now inherited.

George was so humorous. He stated, “Properly, you understand, they name it Hell Week, however these guys are a lot harder and raise weights. We had been a bunch of thin youngsters off the road. I’d by no means lifted a weight in my life.”

Trainees launch a seven-man rubber boats throughout night time maneuvers of the graduating class, on the Amphibious Coaching Base, Fort Pierce, Florida, Might 1944. (Naval Historical past and Heritage Command)

It’s all of the extra spectacular that they weren’t these hardened warriors. They had been simply youngsters who’d grown up through the Nice Melancholy. The coaching was so experimental, it was all new.

The demolition models borrowed some techniques from the Military engineers, after which that developed into the UDTs after the invasion of Europe. Pioneering fight swimming had virtually virtually by no means been completed in historical past. In order that they had been utilizing fishing reels to measure the ocean depth and portray traces on their our bodies for measuring the water depth within the shallows. Simply loopy, experimental techniques.

They actually wanted plenty of ingenuity. And I at all times I believe it’s neat that they’re all popping out of the Nice Melancholy. So, like Mr. Morgan, they knew find out how to sort of make issues work. They may suppose on their toes. It was actually the proper era of males to be pioneering this unit.

One anecdote that stands proud to me is that they had been utilizing condoms to waterproof the fuses. They only grabbed a bunch of condoms from the provision base. It’s simply weird. None of this had been completed earlier than.

An underwater demolition swimmer checks his swim fins and face masks, throughout UDT operations at Balikpapan, July 1945. (Naval Historical past and Heritage Command)

They developed a status as being a little bit bit roguish inside the Navy — a little bit rebellious by rising lengthy beards, carrying swim trunks all day standing on the deck shirtless, versus the Navy’s being very buttoned-up.

I’ve an incident my guide the place [UDT members] stroll by [Gen. Douglas] MacArthur touchdown within the Philippines and do not know who the man is, saying, “We’ve been right here for every week. Who is that this man?” Like, “Welcome. Be a part of us.” In order that they have that perspective, though once I talked to George about that he stated he didn’t really feel that in any respect. He they had been respectful of their officers, so I strive to not make an excessive amount of of that. Nevertheless it undoubtedly led to that tradition and the Navy SEALs and that ethos — you understand, they’re the top-trained males within the Navy they usually’ve been by means of hell, so that they have that elite swagger to some respect.

I’ve been lucky to have some Navy SEALs learn my guide, they usually’d say, “We nonetheless apply plenty of this,” and “We nonetheless use that swimming method.” They name themselves the groups in honor of the UDT, and whereas the Navy SEALs drew from plenty of totally different locations, not simply the UDTs, there’s undoubtedly a by means of line to the UDTs

Was there any sort of friction between the Marines and Navy? Interservice rivalry?

No, no rivalry. The truth is, the Marines who joined the UDTs had been provided excessive pay and, so the story goes, Draper Kauffman [father of the UDTs] introduced in a pair groups and stated, “You recognize, I’m leaving this as much as you.” And so they stated, “We don’t need the intense pay. We don’t need it except the Marines get it.” That they had seen the Marines in motion on Iwo Jima they usually thought, “They’re risking as a lot or much more than us.” After that the Marines simply beloved the UDTs.

Into Enemy Waters

by Andrew Dubbins, Diversion Books, August 23, 2022

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Was there a specific second in George Morgan’s account that caught out to you?

Oh, yeah. [George] was speaking about Okinawa and clearing the sharpened stakes that had been lodged into the coral reef. And he stated, “We used far more demolition than we wanted to,” which was a standard factor among the many UDT — they weren’t specialists in demolition. That they had some coaching, however they at all times overdid it, as a result of they didn’t wish to have to come back again.

He recalled that the explosion was big. I assumed, “Oh, after seeing that explosion did you clap and cheer and excessive 5 as you sped residence within the touchdown craft?”

“Properly, I flinched. I used to be startled,” he responded.

It was my glamorized view of all of it, however for a young person, a 17-year-old, it’s terrifying. So simply these little surprises between your preconception of an occasion and anyone who really lived by means of it.

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