On this day in 1962 is the official date of the beginning of the United States Navy’s Sea, Air and Land Teams (SEAL) as President John Kennedy established the Navy’s Unconventional Warfare unit. SEAL teams are designed to conduct direct action missions from any environment.
Although the official date for the SEAL Teams is in 1962, they were actually tied to units in World War II that they owe their lineage to. Less than a year after Pearl Harbor, the Navy recognized the need for dedicated beach reconnaissance. The Amphibious Scout and Raider School was established at Little Creek, Virginia and contained both Navy and Army personnel. This first group of special operators also contained Phil Bucklew, who is considered the father of all Navy Special Operations.
And while most people think of the work that the Navy’s beach clearing operations in the Pacific, they also conducted operations in every major amphibious landing in the European theater. They were instrumental in leading the way for amphibious forces in North Africa, Sicily, Salerno, Anzio, Normandy on D-Day, and the landings in Southern France.
The Navy also developed Navy Combat Demolition Units (NCDU) which would blow gaps in beach defenses for amphibious forces to breach during invasions. NCDUs suffered a large number of casualties during D-Day. While in the Pacific they created Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT). The UDTs rewrote the manuals of the NCDUs and wore just swimming trunks (UDT shorts), fins, masks, and a combat knife. They, contrary to orders would get out of their boats to conduct their missions and thus became known as the “naked warriors.”
UDT swimmers conducted operations at Eniwetok, Saipan, Kwajalein, Tinian, Guam, Angaur, Ulithi, Peleliu, Leyte, Lingayen Gulf, Zambales, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Labuan, and Brunei Bay. During the Korean War UDTs would perform operations all long the Korean coastlines and they targeted bridges, mines, and scouted out the landings at Inchon.
It should be noted that OSS (Office of Strategic Services) had its own Maritime Unit. And many of the missions we think of SEALs today were actually conducted by the special operations unit then. The OSS Maritime Unit conducted operations using newly improved fins, masks, SCUBA (self-contained, underwater breathing apparatus), the use of Swimmer Delivery Vehicles and conducted the first submarine lockout.
As the war in Vietnam was still in its infancy stage for the Americans, President Kennedy recognized what kind of a war it would eventually become. He helped get the U.S. Army Special Forces the recognition it needed to expand the Army’s Unconventional Warfare capabilities. He foresaw the same need for the U.S. Navy. While making the speech about putting a man on the moon, he spoke about spending $100 million dollars to strengthen the U.S. UW capability. However, while he was the one signing the SEAL Teams into existence, the Navy had already been working on expanding the role of UDTs for several years.
SEAL Teams One and Two deployed to Vietnam to operate in the deltas and thousands of rivers and canals in the country to try to effectively disrupt the enemy’s lines of communication.
SEALs advised and trained Vietnamese forces, such as the LDNN (Vietnamese SEALs) and conducted their own brand of UW. These Navy commandos also perfected the art of nighttime Direct Action missions such as ambushes and raids to capture prisoners of high intelligence value. These are considered the bread-and-butter of the SEAL forces today.
During the war, the intelligence gathering for the troops was generally poor, it was then that SEALs and Green Berets would begin gathering their own intelligence. It was then that the value of the intel gathered by these Special Operators rose up quickly. Both Army and Navy Special Operators would serve together along with CIA personnel in the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam Studies and Observation Group (MACVSOG).
These men while representing less than 1 percent of the ground forces in Vietnam, produced about 75 percent of all the usable intelligence for the troops in the country.
After Vietnam, the SEAL Teams would expand during the buildup of Special Operations forces in the 1980s. SEALs would serve in the battles in Grenada, Panama, the first Persian Gulf war with Iran, Somalia, Afghanistan after 9/11, Iraq and in Syria. They’ve also been involved in more low-visibility operations in the Philippines, in the Horn of Africa and countless other third-world countries where Special Operations Troops generally work in the shadows.
But two of the missions that SEALs have conducted have become mainstream news items. One was conducted in April of 2009 when Somali pirates took over the U.S. ship the Maersk Alabama. The pirates had taken the Captain of the Alabama, Richard Phillips hostage and they were in a lifeboat being towed behind the USS Bainbridge. SEALs from DEVGRU were alerted and transported to the Navy ships in the Area. Then, in a tremendous feat of marksmanship while on the open seas, DEVGRU snipers took out the pirates, each with a headshot.
During the early morning hours of May 1, 2011, in the country of Pakistan that is where SEALs of DEVGRU (Naval Special Warfare Development Group) were alerted after CIA intelligence pinpointed the location of Osama bin Laden.
In a combined operation with CIA assets on the ground in Abbottabad, Pakistan about 35 miles from Islamabad, Pakistan, DEVGRU SEALs infiltrated into the target area using specially designed “stealth” Blackhawk helicopters landed in the compound that bin Laden had been hiding in, with members of his family. They quickly moved thru the facility and killed bin Laden and brought out his body and several of his computers in a tremendous intelligence coup.
Since the initial Iraq War in Desert Storm and thru the on-going Global War on Terror (GWOT), over 80 SEALs have given their lives in the service of our country. Today, there are 10 SEAL Teams and a SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team deployed everywhere around the globe.
Photos: US Navy