If America was to survive the bloody deed of taking fortified beaches would have to be mastered. This would require the toughest of men to be trained to the most demanding of standards and that’s what we did.
Eight months after Pearl Harbor was attacked, the Amphibious Scouts and Raiders school was established to train an all volunteer force. These men would be taught to conduct beach reconnaissance and obstacle clearance as well as all of the other rugged skills needed to lead assault forces to and through fortified beaches.
Consider the mental and physical challenges one must endure to conduct beach reconnaissances and obstacle clearing in the middle of the night without any protection from the elements.
These demanding missions started from the water leaving the specialists cold and wet. The missions would go down under the cover of darkness so there’d be no sun to dry or warm them. And, since the focus was reconnaissance in nature the duration would be undetermined. With thousands of lives on the line stopping when hypothermic or tired wasn’t an option. They would have to endure until the mission was complete.
It is the ethos of “Endure until the mission is complete” that, to this day, requires only those who can consistently push their bodies to the limit. Day after day, night after night, week after week, month after month and year after year, they never quit.
To meet the need for such an elite force, men would be drawn from both the Army and Navy. They would be shipped off to the Amphibious Training Base in Little Creek, Virginia for training. Because of the dangerous and intense physical nature of the training, the men who attended could only be volunteers.
The types of men who took up such a duty were burly and athletic. The first group of trainees included Phil H. Bucklew, the “Father of Naval Special Warfare,” after whom the Naval Special Warfare Center building is named.
From the beginning, to save lives, they made the training as demanding as humanly possible. These men were prepared for the worst of war. Generations of “Frogmen” have worked to maintain the standards set by our forefathers and, despite pressures to produce more SEALs, these standards have never slacked.
The right tools for the right job – Some things never change
To this day many of the same explosive devices, tactics, techniques and procedures taught to the Scouts & Raiders are still taught and used. They’re fundamental and enduring. Here are a few of them.
Bangalores are connectable explosive “tubes” primarily used for clearing paths through obstacles such as wires, mines or even heavy brush. When you need a hole in something, these explosives were, and still are, one of the preferred methods of making one.
Satchel charges are used for a variety of things. In the context of clearing obstacles, SEALs dive these satchels 15 – 40 feet down to attach them to enemy emplaced obstacles. This is a common training technique employed during the third phase of BUD/S training. Despite all of the modern technology sometimes a man has to put on a pair of trunks, hold his breath, and dive deep to blow an obstacle out of the water.
Shape charges are used to punch a hole through and/or destroy just about anything. This picture is how I usually think of them. They’re designed with a “cone shape” to concentrate the blast into a small intense area.
Ready for War! The Special Service Units of the Scouts & Raiders
As the men completed training they were assigned to perspective Special Service Units to operate and excel in historically altering missions.
The first group of Scouts and Raiders was lead by Phil H. Bucklew. Prior to joining the Navy, Mr. Bucklew was a professional football player. He played for the Cleveland Rams until he founded and coached the Columbus Bullies. Mr. Bucklew remained their coach for two years and left to join the Navy when the U.S. entered World War II.
The first action this initial group of Scouts and Raiders saw was during Operation Torch. It was the first time British and Americans had jointly worked on an invasion plan together. As with many of the operations conducted in World War II the key would be successful amphibious landings; Mr. Bucklew and his men delivered.
Special Service Unit 2
A second group of Scouts and Raiders was formed to support a purpose different than amphibious landings. This group organized to collect intelligence as well as train and operate with indigenous people to conduct guerrilla style missions.
Originally this unit was composed of personnel from multiple services, but because of operational conflicts the unit was was redesignated as an all Navy organization and retitled the 7th Amphibious Scouts.
This newly formed unit would not only conduct beach reconnaissance and obstacle demolition, but would also be tasked with going ashore to maintain and relay communications and handle bloody casualties.
The 7th Amphibious Scouts conducted operations in the Pacific for the duration of World War II.
Special Service Unit 3 – Amphibious Roger
Amphibious Roger was a cover name for those personnel who were to be trained to support the Sino-American Cooperation Organization, or SACO.
SACO’s purpose was to train, equip, and direct guerrilla forces against the Japanese occupation of China.
Selected men were sent to the Scout and Raider school to be trained for this duty. These men formed the core of what would be a “guerrilla amphibious organization of Americans and Chinese”. This unique blend of warriors would operate from coastal waters, lakes and rivers leveraging small steamers and sampans (traditional Chinese wooden boats) to complete their mission.
These specialized units, nicknamed the “Rice Paddy Navy,” were tasked to locate and survey prospective landing beaches for a potential invasion of the Chinese mainland, report on Japanese ship movement, and provide weather reports to the fleet.
As we’ve journeyed through the evolutionary process that created the SEAL Teams, we can begin to identify a clear lineage that allows us to understand how these men of grit and valor were formed. But Navy SEALs aren’t only known for their incredible physical toughness. There is much more to this story.
To grasp their more complex, skilled and versatile side one must meet the spies and saboteurs who paved the way and significantly contributed to their evolutionary process.
Meet the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and their Operational Swimmers