I was reminded yesterday when editing a story about a World War II veteran who saw action at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, that some journalists (reporters and editors) will use modern or incorrect terms terms to describe something that occurred during World War II.
The story stated the veteran was part of a UDT unit and was a frogman at the Normandy beaches. The cutline under one of the photos read “a SEAL team invading Normandy.”
There were no UDT units, and certainly no SEAL teams at Normandy.
In this case, it was a story about a sailor who trained at the Amphibious Training Base, Fort Pierce (Fla.) to be part of a Naval Combat Demolition Unit. These units preceded the famous Underwater Demolition Teams and their frogmen, as they were later to become known.
(As a side note: Naval Amphibious Base, Fort Pierce also was a training base for Seabees and Army Rangers).
The first NCDU personnel began training in June 1943. The men came from the Construction Battalions (Seabees), the Bomb Disposal School and the Mine Disposal School because they would already be familiar with explosives and basic demolitions.
The first NCDUs were shipped to England in September 1943 and would later be joined by more NCDUs in time for the invasion of the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944. They did not wear frogmen gear as some people think.
“We wore cut-off dungarees, swimming flippers, a face mask and a helmet,” WWII veteran Norval Nelson said. They were dropped off at the beaches with their demolition bags by LCMs or LCVPs. Follow-up NCDUs arrived in LSTs.
According to the Naval Historical Center, because the men were to operate from boats and not as swimmers the term frogman was not used until later in the war and only in the Pacific. The early Combat Demolitions units called themselves “Demolitioneers” because their primary focus was demolishing obstacles and were often known as “Demos” to sailors in the fleet.
At Normandy, The initial NCDUs were augmented with five Army engineers and three regular Navy seamen, none of these men had gone through the NCDU training.
It was not until after November 1943 when the Underwater Demolition Team One and Two were formed and trained at Waimanalo, Hawaii. Among the instructors and trainees, there were graduates of the Fort Pierce schools (Scouts and Raiders, and NCDU men), Marines, and soldiers. Under the direction of Marine Amphibious Reconnaissance Company, they hastily trained for the attack on Kwajalein on Jan. 31, 1944.
While the European Theater NCDUs comprised of six-man teams, the Pacific UDT units consisted of 16 officers and 80 men. It wasn’t until after the UDT personnel attempt to map Kwajalein atoll that UDT tactics changed.
The UDTs stayed on small boats for the most part trying to map the beaches. But at Kwajalein, they got stuck on the coral reefs and were only partially successful at completing their mission. Thus, combat swimming was introduced.
Again, from the Navy’s Historical Center, most of the procedures learned at Fort Pierce were modified, with importance placed upon developing strong swimmers. Extensive training was conducted in the water without lifelines, using facemasks, and wearing only swim trunks and fins. This new model created the image that stands today of the UDT as the “Naked Warriors.”
After the invasion of Normandy and southern France on Aug. 15, 1944, the NCDUs were integrated into the Pacific’s UDTs with some of the members becoming instructors.
The UDTs were disbanded in May 1983 and reformed into SEAL teams that have been operational since January 1962.
So, when writing a story you need to understand:
- There was no UDT prior to November 1943
- There were no UDTs in the European Theater of Operations
- NCDUs were used in the European Theater of Operations
- NCDU members were called Demolitioneers
- After August 1944, NCDU members were transferred to the Pacific and integrated into the the UDTs already formed
- UDT One and Two consisted mostly of Seabees and were used for the first time at Kwajalein atoll
- After problems at Kawajalein, UDT personnel began swimming to their objective, hence the new name, “frogman.”
- SEALs were formed January 1962
- SEALs and UDTs coexisted as separate units until 1983 when UDTs were disbanded and formed or integrated into SEAL teams.