I’ve been taking a look back into the past lately in an attempt to better understand the roots of the Navy’s Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT). UDT history is something that’s only covered very briefly in SEAL training, surprisingly enough.

One name that I couldn’t avoid bumping into while digging through the archives was Draper Kauffman. You see, Draper is an example of the fighting spirit housed in any man who pursues his life’s goals without taking “No” for an answer. Draper’s father was a Navy Admiral, but it didn’t do him much good to have that connection when the Navy denied his commission after graduating from the Naval Academy in 1933 due to poor eye-sight. This is where I’ll try hard not to make a long story longer.

After being forced out of the Navy, Draper became a crew member on a New York-based steamship, and soon found himself overseas in Germany, just as Hitler was forging the country into what the world would soon see in the 1940s. When Germany declared war on the rest of Europe, Draper volunteered in France as an ambulance driver, was captured briefly and held by the Germans at Luneville. He was set free as Germany was not at war with America, and went on to serve as an officer in the British Navy, where he became experienced in demolitions as a bomb disposal officer for the British.

The U.S. Navy would later recruit him back into their ranks, as he had proven himself as a man of action within the British officer ranks and an expert at bomb disposal.  The long road to a U.S. Navy commission was finally over, but his Navy journey was just about to get started.

On June 12th, 1942 Draper found himself on a beach in Ft. Pierce, Florida where he had assembled a small cadre that would go on to establishe the Underwater Demolition school in 1943.

“They had an eight-week training course. With the idea of weeding out anybody who was not tough enough for the tremendous endurance that Kauffman envisioned would be required for the underwater demolition work, he asked the Scouts and Raiders to condense their eight-week physical training course into one week for his trainees. The new students in the underwater demolition school were all to go through the week-long physical conditioning course, and shortly before they arrived the demolition school’s commander realized that he could not put them through such a grueling initiation without participating in it himself.” -Elizabeth Kauffman Bush, from America’s First Frogman.

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And Hell Week was born.
UDT-WWII-SOFREP

Snap Shot of The US Navy’s Progression to the Modern Day SEAL Teams

  • 1935-43: Early Developments between the US Army and Navy to establishment of the Scouts & Raiders and the Naval Combat Demolition Units (NCDUs) near Norfolk Virginia.
  • June 12th, 1943: Draper Kauffman established his cadre and would go on to found the first Under Water Demolition Teams (UDT) for the U.S. Navy at Ft. Pierce, Florida. The OSS would also create swim and dive teams, and operate in with some of the first SDVs (Swimmer Delivery Vehicles). Gives you an idea of what kind of missions current SDV (SEAL Delivery Vehicle) Teams conduct.
  • January 1962: Under authority of President Kennedy, the first SEAL Teams were established. SEAL Team 1 in Coronado CA, and SEAL Team 2 in Little Creek, Virginia.

While there are undoubtedly others who played a part in the establishment of the modern-day SEAL Teams, it is obvious to me that Draper was the man behind the creation of UDT, and its success.

Part two will look at Draper’s band of UDT and what they accomplished in WWII.