The History of Underwater Demolition Team # 14
As told by the men who lived it.
The Great Experiment
Underwater Demolition Teams ushered in a whole new dimension to amphibious warfare. As the war expanded in the Pacific and because of the success of the Underwater Teams, there was an urgent demand for more teams to be deployed in the Pacific to aid in the island hopping campaign. Commanders could now rely on cleared beaches, underwater beach slope, soil samples and surf action.
The problem was, it took no less than 12 weeks minimum to train a team. With approximately 40% attrition after "HELL WEEK," men from older teams had to be transferred in to bring newer teams up to fighting strength.
Just prior to the invasion of the Marianas Islands, a call went out to the fleet for volunteers who would train on Maui, Hawaii and be ready in just 6 weeks. If successful, this would cut the training in half. Up to this point teams consisted of volunteers from the Sea Bees, Marines and Army. Admiralís King and Turner wanted to try an all Navy team.
Would this experiment work??? Could teams be trained in half the time without the traditional obstacle courses, etc., so expertly laid out at Ft. Pierce, Florida??? By putting the men through long drills of calisthenics, running, swimming and hand to hand combat training, along with teaching them the properties of different explosives, would this be sufficient???
The qualifications to join were:
Be in good physical condition.
Be overseas for at least 12 months.
Know how to swim.
Have a clean conduct record.
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 didnít give a damn.
They came from Assault Boat Pools, Capital Fighting Ships, Land Bases, from just about every type Navy Operation and numbered about 130 men. Just about every rate and rank was represented. Not all of them were fully aware what U.D.T. really involved, but they stood ready to give their all.
In six weeks they had to be combat ready. Little did they realize that within that time frame they would find out just how much a human body could take and when pushed to the limits, they would be forced to go beyond the point of exhaustion. Only 50% would survive the ordeal.
The following are a few outstanding events that most will recall while training on Maui:
Learn to master underwater recovery strokes and still maintain speed without fins.
Winning your fins by completing a one-mile swim in an L shape course in 45 minutes, then having those fins presented to you at assembly on the parade ground.
Swimming down 20 feet and being able to do limited work, while holding your breath.
"Dropping" swimmers at a high speed by jumping off the boat fantail directly into the water. This would have exposed the men to enemy gunfire unnecessarily, plus it made one twist every which way from the backwash. This was before insertion from the rubber boat was discovered.
Hand to hand combat, as taught by the Marines.
The 3 1/2 mile morning walk up Mt. Haleakala where, upon completion, they were told that the men doubled timed back and the 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 each otherís sacks, all were heavier than the 20 pounds of T&T.
Warrant Officer Kelly lecturing on what sharks, snakes etc. were hostile to swimmers, after a scare by a large manta ray.
Listening to Bob Trafton, as he stood atop a 45 foot tower saying to himself, "as an officer, I guess Iím suppose to lead the way" and as he jumped you could hear his voice fading as he descended, "AWE Ssshhiiittt!!!!
But they survived it, about half of them and were combat ready in the six weeks allotted.
Team # 14, the first "All Navy Team", the first to be trained in six weeks, half the normal time of twelve weeks, the first and as far as can be determined the only team to receive all itís training on Maui, was successful. The Great Experiment worked and team #14 was ready for Combat.
Team # 14 served credible in three major invasions. Lingayen Gulf , Luzon, 1-7-45, Iwo Jima, 2-17-45 and Kerama Retto, Okinawa, 3-29-45.
The USS Bull (APD 78) was our home for the three invasions. At first there was some apprehension between the ships crew and the team. The crew could not understand why a group of guys would jump off a perfectly good ship to take a swim in the shark- infested water. Most thought we were a little crazy and maybe we were, but we felt safe in the water and it kept us in condition.
Our combat uniform consisted of a face-mask, fins, swimming trunks and a knife. Some of the crew thought some of us might go berserk one night and use our knife on them. However, we soon came to respect each other. At one point during our swim in the invasion of the Lingayen Gulf, a destroyer could not get in close enough to render cover, because of itís draught, Commander Onderdonk radioed the Bull, our APD and she steamed right in all guns blazing. In fact they had to hose the barrels to cool them down.
We made many good friends on the Bull and to this day we enjoy each otherís company and exchange war stories during our once a year joint reunion.
The mission of UDT # 14 was four fold:
Conduct swimming reconnaissance of assigned beaches and to report all information as required.
By night and/ or by day, prior to "D" Day, to clear the landing beaches of all mines and obstacles discovered in the reconnaissance.
Provide personnel to lead the landing wave to correct beaches on "D" Day.
To stand by on "D Day and thereafter until released by the Beach Master for additional reconnaissance and demolition work exigent to landing and unloading of troops and supplies.
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 after itís first two battles 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 splendid rehearsal at Mc Gregorís Point, I secretly knew that I was in Command of the finest trained team in the Pacific." This is from a gentleman who had three previous invasions with team 7.
Team # 14 garnered 11 Silver Star Medals; 81 Bronze Star Medals with the Combat V Attachment; Commendations from the Secretary of the Navy; Commander Amphibious Group 2; Commander Amphibious Force; Commander of UDT # 14, the Philippine Liberation Medal and the Philippine Presidential Unit Citation Badge.
Fortunately, they received only Three Purple Heart Medals, one posthumously.
With out a doubt, Iwo Jima was the teamís toughest assignment, particularly clearing the beaches after "D" Day, constantly exposing them-selves to enemy fire they persevered to the end.
Underwater Demolition Team # 14, the first to be recruited from the fleet, "The Great Experiment" WAS SUCCESSFUL and is proud to have been a part of the forerunners of the SEALS, recognized today as the "ELITE" of the "ELITE" in Special Warfare Forces.
Submitted on behalf of Underwater Demolition Team # 14 by Shirley Goodwyne, Widow of James F. Goodwyne BMI DV------UDT # 14------US Navy Ret.