Sid Note: If anyone knows Joe Flynn I would like to contact him
UNDERWATER DEMOLITION TEAM 14
AS TOLD BY THE MEN WHO LIVED IT
Urgent Demands For More Teams
Underwater Demolition Teams ushered in a whole new dimension to amphibious warfare. Invasion commanders could now rely on cleared beaches, information on underwater beach slope, soil samples and surf action. With the UDTs' success came urgent demands for more teams to be deployed in the Pacific to aid in our island hopping campaign. The problem was it took no less than 12 weeks minimum to train one team, then with approximately 40% attrition after "Hell Week" men from older teams had to be transfered in to bring to bring the newer one to fighting strength.
A Call For Volunteers
Just prior to the invasion of the Mariana Islands a call went out to the fleet for volunteers who would train at Maui, Hawaii. and be combat ready within six weeks. This if successful would cut the training in half. Up to this point teams consisted of volunteers from the SEABEES, Marines and Army. Admirals King and Turner wanted to try an all Navy team.
The First All Navy Team
Team 14, the first all Navy Team, was formed September 15, 1944. To the Satisfaction of these admirals King and Turner. It was combat ready November 1 ... Exactly 6 weeks. But after "Hell Week" Their ranks were depleted, necessitating reinforcement, The majority of which came from team Able. During their training period, Lt. J.A. Drenth was the C.O., while Lt. A. Cone was the X.O.. Upon completion, These gentleman were Replaced by Lt. A.B. Onderdonk from Team 7 as C.O. and Lt. Jg. C.E. Emery from Teams 1 and 7 as X.O.
Would The Experiment Work?
Would the experiment work? Could a team be trained in half the time without the traditional obstacle courses, etc. So expertly laid out at Ft. Pierce, Florida? By putting them through long drills of calisthenics , running, swiming and hand to hand combat training along with teaching them explosives... would this be sufficient?
Qualifications To Become A Frogman
It's been said that one big factor which contributed to their success was the qualifications established to join.
Be overseas for the last 12 months
Know how to swim
Have a clean conduct record
Must have participated in at least one major invasion
The above demands assured that the volunteer was a combat veteran who had been away from home long enough to be a little "Rock Happy", In other words...he just didn't give a damn.
Where They Came From
They came from Assault Boat Pools, land bases, Capital Fighting Ships, Troop Tranports...from just about every type of Navy Operation. Consensus today...is that they numbered 130 men. Just about every rate and rank was represented, and not all of then were fully aware of what Underwater Demolition really involved. Example...many thought they would swim at an invasion then return to their respective ship until needed for the next "push". But they stood ready to give their all.
Combat Ready In Six Weeks
Within six weeks they
had to be combat ready and little did they realize that within that time
frame they would find out just how much the human body could take when
it pushed to the limits... they would be forced to go beyond the point
of exhaustion. Only 50% would survive the ordeal and "win their fins".
Training Events Recalled
The following are a few outstanding events that most team members will recall while training at Maui.
Winning your fins by completing a one mile swim in an L shaped course in 45 minutes. Having those fins presented to you at assembly on the parade ground.
Swiming down 20 feet and
being able to do limited work... while holding your breath.
Hand to hand combat taught by the Marines... the art of deadly Judo.
The 3 1/2 mile morning walk up Mt. Haleakala where, upon completion, they were told that men double timed back and boys walked.
Learning the properties of different explosives.
Practicing setting charges on obstacles by using sacks of sand. Platoons were in competition from a time standpoint and since they filled their competitor's sacks all were heavier than the 20 pounds of sand that represented a sachel of explosive.
Warrant Officer Kelly lecturing on what sharks, snakes etc. were hostile to swimmers, after a scare by a very large Manta Ray.
And Listening to Bob Trafton as he stood atop that 45 foot tower saying to himself "as an officer , I guess I'm supposed to lead the way" ... then as he jumped you could hear his voice fading as he descended ... AweSSShhhiiittt!!!.
TEAM 14 GOES INTO ACTION
November 30, 1994, the team was ordered to Pearl Harbor and Camp Andrews. After a few days of R?R it imbarked on the USS BULL APD-78. Ten days later the ship headed to Ulithi , Via Eniwetok and Saipan . At Ulithi The team was afforded an opportunity to get in some much needed swim time. Taking calisthenics on the fantail of a rolling ship is helpful but there is no substitute for water workouts, as it prepared for the invasion of the Phillipines at Lingayen Gulf on the island of Luzon just north of the Capital City of Quezon.
The Dreaded Kamikaze Planes
On January 7, 1945 The USS BULL and Team 14 steamed into Lingayen Gulf and received a big ..."WELCOME TO THE DEVINE WIND"...The dreaded Kamikaze planes. Platoons 2 and 4 reconnoitered White Beach near the town of San Fabian. Since Underwater Demolition Teams were relatively new only rifle and machine gun fire was encountered . All swimmers returned, having found no obstacles. Still they provided important information about the beach, it's underwater grade and surf surge. On D-day selected members led the first wave of landing craft into the proper beach.
A Pacific Paradise
With the team's mission completed, the BULL was assigned to screening duty where it encountered many air raids. On January 12th she set sail back to Ulithi where the team got in a little rest, a few good beer parties and some much needed swimming in preparation for the invasion of Iwo Jima.
On February 16th, the team had it's first glimpse of the foreboding specter that was Iwo Jima . To the men it appeared as only a few miles of ash, with Mt. Suribachi staring down, defiantly challenging any one to touch its beaches. The BULL attempted to steam in close enough for the team to spot yellow 1 and 2 beaches, but the shore batteries quickly responded, forcing her to keep a safe distance.
On the morning of February 7th (1) platoons 1 and 3 took to their LCPR.s ready to reconnoiter their respective beaches. The plan was for the capital ships to lay down heavy fire on the beaches, then have 3 LCI(G)s launch rockets at 1500 yards, move into 1000 yards, form a line and continue to fire as the LCPRs sped in to 500 yards to drop swimmers. Unfortunately, the 3 LCI(G)s were promptly blasted out of commission.
Intense Enemy Fire
The fire from the beach was so intense that swimmers were dropped at 1500 and 1000 yards. The water was cold and an unexpected 2 knot current was flowing around Mt. Suribachi forcing the swimmers to expend additional energy.
The Japanese Are Aware of UDT.
By now the Japanese were aware of UDT and at Iwo Jima were ready with pattern mortar fire. This is devastating to swimmers, but they endured, completed their mission and returned with the vital information the Marines required.
Difficult To Offload Troops
One very inportant factor emarged... while no obstacles were encountered, the underwater beach grade sheared off so severely that this, coupled with a tide surge of 3 feet would make it difficult for landing craft coxswains to keep their boats steady while off loading troops and supplies. This was to eventually become one of the most deadly and difficult problems of the unvasion.
Killed In Action
All swimmers returned with two suffering minor wounds, this in spite of heavy rifle, machine gun and mortar fire. One officer, L.C. Yates Lt. Jg. was killed on board LCI(G)-449. Mr. Yates was to observe and assist in controlling the teams operation, but his ship took a direct hit on the bridge where he stood.
That afternoon platoons 1 and 2 reconnoitered "White Beach" 1 and 2 on the western shore. All returned safely having encountered rifle and machine gun fire.
On February 18 at 2120 a Kamikazi crashed into the BLESSMAN APD-48 which carried UDT-15. Exploding in the starboard mess hall, it took a heavy toll in casualties and death. Lt. "Bruce" Onderdonk, the commanding officer of Team 14 was on board at the time and fortunately had just left the mess hall when the plane hit.
First Waves Guided In By UDT
On the 19th two officers and four enlisted men reported to PC-578 ready to guide in the first eight waves of assault landing craft to hit yellow 1 and 2... also Blue Beach 1 which had been assigned to Team 15 originally.
Landing Craft Towed Off Beach
From February 20 to 28, team 14 worked with the beachmaster towing disabled landing craft and pontoon barges out to six fathoms of water and sinking them. This was probably their most vital and difficult task. The disabled boats, because of the shear underwater beach grade immediately broached, so much so that the beaches were blocked, stopping vital supplies and reinforcements from comming in and the wounded taken out. At first, blasting was tried, but this wounded people on the beach. Then they successfully tried towing them off. This alleviated the "bottleneck" allowing the traffic to flow again.
On March 1, the team was ordered to Ulithi on Ansor where it received 5 days R ? R before it began preparations for the unvasion of Okinawa .
The BULL arrived at Kerama Retto on March 26th. On the 29th the team executed a feint reconnaissance on the southeast coast to make the Japanese think this would be the main invasion point. This was the only time that we employed over arm swim strokes and called and waved to one another, all designed to attract attention. Needless to say, it proved nerve racking after having endured the horror of Iwo Jima 30 day prior.
The following morning the team exploded large hose charges to similate obstacle clearance. IT WORKED!!! On April 1st when the main invasion force hit the western beaches it was 2 days before it encountered enemy resistance.
Team 14's work completed, the BULL was assigned to picket duty. The Kamikazes took a tremendous toll of allied ships, so much so that it's been said that had they employed them from the beginning, the outcome of the war would have been far different.
It's task completed, Team 14 transferred to the USS WAYNE, a troop transport, headed for Hawaii. The WAYNE was crowded with Navy personnel whose ships had been sunk. As such they were not assigned any tasks to perform and so Team 14 attended the wounded, cleaned the ship, emptied it's stinking rotten meat reefers and handled the mess hall duties. But... what the hell...they were headed stateside and leave!!
To San Francisco
After a brief stay on Maui the team boarded the USS COUTTLE bound for San Francisco and a 30 day leave. Returning to San Francisco after the leave the team was reassembled and transported back to Maui where they were assigned to the training staff. Lt. W.F. Hawks formerly of teams 2 and 3 was assigned as their new C.O. Their combat commander A.B. Onderdonk requested and received reassignment to the SEABEES. Lt.Jg C.E. Emery the X.O. was transfered to the Office of Chief of Naval Operations in Washington, D.C.
Maui Base Decommissioned
When the war ended, Team 14 decommissioned the Maui Base . On October 20th, 1945 it was ordered to Oceanside, California, where it was decommissioned.
And so in just 12 brief months it was over for the experimental team that some said would never make it. Not only did they "make it" but as their Commander A.B. Onderdonk wrote on March 7th, 1945...and this is a quote, "It is fitting that I send my Well Done"...The highest praise in the Navy. I will admit that it was with some misgivings when I became attached to a new team, but after your splended rehearsal at McGregor's Point, I secretly knew that I was in command of the finest trained team in the Pacific. Now that we have dodged the same enemy shells, having weathered two operations (Lyngayen Gulf and Iwo Jima)...It is no secret that you are the FINEST TEAM IN THE PACIFIC". This was from a gentleman who had participated in 3 previous invasions with Team 7.
Team 14 garnered 11 Silver Star medals, 81 Bronze Star Medals with the combat V attachment; The Navy Unit Commendation, The Presidental Unit Citation (for operation with the First Marine Division at Okinawa Shima, Ryukyu Islands), Commendation from Commander Amphibious Group 2, Commendation from Commander Amphious Force; Commendation from Commander UDT-14 Fortunately they received only 3 Purple Hearts, one posthumously.
IWO JIMA...Toughest Assignment.
Without a doubt, Iwo Jima was the teams toughest assignment, particularly clearing the beaches after D-Day, constantly exposing themselves to enemy fire, they persevered to the end. Iwo matched 75,000 marines against 22,000 Japanese. Both fought valiantly. The U.S. suffered 25,000 casualties while only 1,083 survived. Of a total of 353 Medals of Honor awarded during World War II, 27 were awarded for action at Iwo Jima, 13 posthumously. Had the Underwater Demolition Teams not been there, the carnage would have been horrendous.
Forerunners of the SEALs.
The dreaded Kamiraze planes. Assured of earthly honor forever and a place in Heaven, young Japanese pilots were trained just well enough to dive their airplanes, loaded with bombs, into allied ships. Along with spreading fear, They wreaked havoc and destruction on the invading support ships.
|Hose Charges, A
Explosive device that resembles a fire hose. Sections could be joined together
to form one long charge.
Maui, one of eight major islands in the state of Hawaii. The site of the "Naval Combat Demolition Training and Experimental Base" was what is now Kama'ole Beach Park #1 in the city of Kihei. If you go there today you will find a monument to all UDT Teams donated to the County of Maui by UDT 14. It is inscribed with a history of UDT and a plaque with the names of all members of UDT-14. It was Erected September, 1997
|Mount Suribachi an extinct volcano on the island of Iwo Jima (above)|
|Sid Notes (1) The date as shown, February 7, may actually be the 17th. It was copied 'as is' from Joe Flynn's write-up.|