Bruce Dunning Memoir
SUBMERSIBLE BASTARDS — UDT 2/4, Little Creek, 1947-50
By Bruce B. Dunning
I make no claim that this is a history of Underwater Demolition. It is, at best, a personal memoir, my recall of events as I experienced them while assigned to Underwater Demolition Team TWO at Little Creek, Virginia from April 1947 until June 1950. Midshipman School taught me that Navy officers should never keep journals or diaries and the lesson stuck. So, lacking all but a handful of old photographs and the “sea stories” exchanged with others over the years, I can draw only on what I remember.
Oh, I have plenty of memories; it is their organization — or disorganization — that is the problem. Events shift from place to place, from one submarine or APD to another; names and faces refuse to correlate; chronology won’t let itself be fixed either in reliable sequence or to dates on a calendar. This is probably true of a lot of autobiographical writing. Under the best of circumstances, memory becomes unreliable as we twist events, circumstances, and participants to fit what we want to believe. Add to that the porosity of time — more than fifty years in this case — and I am not sure of what is left of reliability. In the end, my criteria of reliability more often than not are: this is the way I remember it; it seems logical; it feels right.
So, why bother. I believe that the period between the end of World War II and the beginning of the Korean War was crucial to the development of what is now known as Navy Special Warfare because it was a period in which that development might well have halted. It was a period when the very life of UDT was threatened, when there were only some 2-300 UDT officers and men in the entire Navy, when many in the Navy questioned the need for unconventional characters running around in greens and sand shoes, when service in UDT imposed limits on career advancement, when material support was niggardly at best. There was no career path in Special Warfare then; the Bureau of Naval Personnel limited Regular Navy officers strictly to three years in UDT and enlisted men were handicapped in their advancement efforts by chances to gain shipboard experience in their rates. Perhaps an incident, which probably occurred in the fall of 1947 or early 1948, illustrates the tenor of the times for UDT. Rear Admiral Draper Kaufman, the “Father of UDT” paid a visit to Little Creek. Rip Talent and I accompanied the Admiral to the O-Club for a hamburger and beer that noon. During our lunch, Rip asked the Admiral what his career advice he had for UDT officers. The Admiral’s response was prompt and short: “Get out of UDT.” (The difficulties of the period are accurately and vividly described by Don B. Belcher in “Dedication I” of his book, Fifties Frogs, Journal of the Underwater Demolition Teams.) UDT officers and men from both the East and West Coast teams hung on, though, so that the legacy from the Naval Combat Demolition Units of World War II to present day SEALS remains unbroken.
The period is also important because it marked the submergence of UDT, the development of a capability to remain underwater for more than the span of a man’s breath, the capability to operate from submerged submarines. LCDR F.D. Fane, commanding the UDTs at Little Creek recognized that UDT had to go truly underwater, that the conventional beach reconnaissance/obstacle clearance missions of UDT had to be expanded if UDT was to survive. At Little Creek, what became known as the Submersible Operations Platoon (SUBOPS) came into being to pursue new techniques and tactics in underwater operations under Fane’s direction and leadership. Fane didn’t exercise his direction and leadership from behind a desk; he was there in the water with SUBOPS, usually going first. I was fortunate enough to be assigned to SUBOPS from its inception until I was ordered out of UDT. Consequently, the focus of this memoir is on SUBOPS and my experiences with the men of that unit. This focus, however, is not intended in any way to downgrade or detract from the accomplishments of all the other UDT officers and men, both on the East and West Coasts. While we “Submersible Bastards” were playing our games, the rest of the officers and men of UDTs 2 and 4 at Little Creek, of UDTs 1 and 3 at Coronado, California were working under the same difficult circumstances to keep alive in an unbroken tradition what has come to be known as Navy Special Warfare, exemplified today by the U.S. Navy SEALs.
In the spring of 1947, I made my escape from an old AP, on which I was the most junior officer, by volunteering for Underwater Demolition. In April of that year, I reported for duty to UDT2 at Little Creek, Virginia as an officer trainee in the first postwar UDT training class. I was a Lieutenant (junior grade) at the time. (That class and several subsequent training classes remained unnumbered, a source of considerable confusion at reunions in later years, as old UDT types argued about who came first among postwar replacements.) LTJG Allen Jones, Jr. and ENS Richardson reported for training at the same time along with about 40 enlisted personnel.
At the time I reported, LCDR F.D. Fane was Commanding Officer, UDT 2 and the senior UDT officer on the East Coast. (I don’t believe that COMUDTLANT had been formalized yet.) LTJG “Ski” Wryczinski, a former Yeoman, was Executive Officer of UDT 2. LT (or LTJG, I’m not sure) “Hal” Iverson commanded UDT 4. Among the other wartime officers in the two teams at that time were LTJGs Carson R. “Rip” Tallent, Bill Mason and H.L. “Gary” Garren, Jr. Gary Garren was deployed to the Antarctic with Team 4 at the time. It was Garren, as CO, who had brought the newly designated UDT2 from Coronado, California to Little Creek, Virginia. Garren and Iverson not only had to beg for office, warehouse and barracks space from the commander of the Little Creek Base but also establish the UDTs as independent commands on the base. When a UDT man was put on report by a Base MAA for being out of uniform (wearing greens instead of dungarees,) Garren had to convince the base commander that he, not the base commander had punishment jurisdiction over the UDT man. Fortunately, Garren was able to produce a letter from the Navy’s Judge Advocate General assigning punishment jurisdiction to the designated COs of UDTs. Shortly thereafter, F.D. Fane arrived to assume command of UDT2 and UDTs, Atlantic Fleet. Upon Garren’s return from the Antarctic and Ski Wryczinski’s departure to civilian life, Garren became Executive Officer of UDT 2.
Even before I met Garren, I was in awe of this wartime officer who was off swimming around in Antarctic waters. But as soon as he returned, we discovered that we had received our commission in the same midshipman training class at Plattsburg, N.Y. We soon became the closest of friends and remained so until his death in 2000,
If there was one officer who all of us trainees held in awe, it was Rip Tallent. He was the Training Officer for that first postwar class and he demonstrated to us from the outset that he wasn’t to be toyed with. But we all respected him as a fine officer and, when we weren’t doing pushups or sand running, a friend.
We trainees stood in awe of the senior enlisted men of the teams perhaps even more than of the officers. After all, it was the enlisted instructors who ramrodded us through most of our activities, who stood over us shouting at us to get moving, who harassed us constantly and laughed when we moaned and groaned. Still, however much we felt put upon, we could never forget that both the officers and enlisted men who were pushing us had earned their qualifications during wartime and had experienced in combat that they were trying to teach us in peacetime. Among the combat-tested men who were our instructors were MRC “Al” Foster, GMC John “Andy” Devine, YNC Jack Riggar, GM1 Sam Bailey, GM1 Robert Winters, EN1 John Koerber, BM2 Joe DiMartino, GM2 Hugh Peddy, GM3 “Benny” Sulinski; many others, of course, but memory fails.
If that training is for me, now, a blur of fatigue, fear, fun and exhilaration, three events stand out in memory:
– The Mile Swim (without fins) required to qualify for fins. Rip Tallent had us far out in Chesapeake Bay for about three hours, swimming against the current while successive schools of stinging sea-nettles drifted over and around us. I can still see Rip standing in the bow of an LCPR shouting, “SWIM,” when we complained about the sea nettles. As for the current, I don’t think we covered much more than a quarter of a mile over the ground in the entire three hours before Rip finally decided that we had swum the “equivalent of a mile.”
-Then, there was the day that ENS Richardson taped a 2lb. block of tetrytol against the web of a 90 lb. jetted-steel rail on Beach 7. Who could forget the look on Commander Fane’s face as he picked up the telephone to croon “Helooo” when the Base Duty Officer called to complain that an eight-inch piece of heavy shrapnel had just penetrated the roof of COMPHIBTRALANT’s quarters and ripped a chunk out of the mantelpiece over the admiral’s fireplace.
– One day toward the end of training, the class moved across the
Bay to Fisherman’s Island for field exercises. That night, Gary Garren and Hal Iverson decided that it would be a good idea for some of us to go back across the Bay to infiltrate the Amphibious Base on a reconnaissance exercise. We made it into the base undetected — no great feat in those days — and split up into pairs to cover assigned targets. BM3 Frank Kappesser and I spent a couple of hours lying in a tulip bed outside the OOD shack at the Main Gate, making notes on everything that went on and all that a sleepy security crew said. There is a story, quite often repeated at reunions, that a sentry came out to relieve himself on me while I remained motionless and undetected. I remember vaguely a sentry coming out and relieving himself in close proximity, but perhaps due to some phenomenon of psychological denial, don’t remember getting hit.
But the coup of that night was the pair (names unrecalled) who made their way into the quarters of COMPHIBTRALANT and is reputed to have chalked, “UDT was here” on the foot of the bed occupied by the admiral and his wife. COMPHIBTRALANT did have his problems with us.
It is, perhaps understandable that in the conventional Navy of that pre-USS COLE, pre-9/11 era, substantial segments of the Navy’s hierarchy considered UDT as undisciplined trouble-makers who had no legitimate function in future naval warfare but the Navy was to learn better.
With training completed in June, 1947 and UDT qualification in their records, the members of that first postwar training class settled down to become full-fledged members of UDTs 2 and 4. Al Jones and Richardson were assigned to UDT 4; I landed in UDT 2. We were soon to learn that, despite so many questions abut the Navy’s need for UDTs, incessant demands for our services would deny us many uninterrupted periods at Little Creek.
In the Fall of 1947, Bill Mason led a small detachment to Panama City, Florida to survey beaches in the vicinity of Tyndall Air Force Base in advance of a scheduled amphibious landing exercise there. I was sent along to be Mason’s Asst. O-in-C and to gain some experience. Somewhat in awe of having “Frogmen” in their midst, the base personnel treated us like royalty and miles of wide, almost deserted beaches made the deployment more pleasure than work. That is until, one Sunday morning; Mason and I ran into what apparently was the so-called “Red Tide.” By the next morning, both of us felt like we were near death from influenza. We turned into the Air Force Dispensary where the doctor diagnosed us as being hung over from too long at the O Club and issued us some APC pills. But the worst symptoms disappeared in a few hours although I looked as if I had a good case of measles and itched miserably for several more days. Despite that, we finished the survey work on time. That deployment yielded an unexpected opportunity for Mason and myself. On one of our last nights at Tyndall, a Saturday, Bill and I were having a few drinks at the O Club. An Air Force major in uniform was especially attentive to us. After he bought us several drinks, he revealed that he really was a reserve officer. After a couple more drinks, he further revealed that he was a recruiter for the Zionist Irgun and said that he was very interested in our demolition skills. While nothing very specific was said, the major implied that we could make a good deal of money with the Irgun. We, however, decided that we weren’t interested in any such adventure.
Soon after Mason’s detachment returned to Little Creek, UDT 2 embarked on an APD (probably USS CARPELLOTTI) for an amphibious demonstration at Miami Beach, followed by a large-scale amphibious exercise on the beaches we had surveyed. The landing exercises were followed by ship visits to New Orleans and Galveston with several days of liberty in each place. Life in UDT seemed pretty good to us recent trainees.
Sometime during that period, LCDR Fane directed me to take a small detachment of men from both teams to Naval Air Station, Jacksonville, Florida. We were to conduct a demonstration in the Air Station swimming pool during the All-Navy Swimming Meet being held there. Sam Bailey, Joe DiMartino and Benny Sulinski were among the men in the detachment. As often in such cases, we gathered together whatever gear we thought might be useful and would come up with a specific demonstration script once on site. Now, there was an old Jack Browne lung, which had been in the team warehouse since the teams moved east and wasn’t highly regarded. But, Fane had recently acquired a dozen or so Lambertsen Amphibious Respiratory Units (LARUs or Lambertsen Lungs) from an Army/Navy surplus store. The OSS Maritime Unit had used LARUs during WWII operations in SE Asia. UDT had been equipped with some LARUs during WW II but their use had apparently been limited to a few scanty indoctrination dives. In any event, no one at Little Creek knew much about the capabilities, limitations or proper use of the either the Jack Browne or the Lambertsen units. There was, however, under the impetus of Doug Fane’s thinking about the future of UDT, increasing interest in developing a true underwater capability for UDT. So, we included the Jack Browne and a Lambertsen unit in the gear for Jacksonville, thinking we might be able to use them in the Olympic-size swimming pool. Once in Jacksonville, I think it was Benny Sulinski who took the LARU down for a dive in the pool with, as I recall, the oxygen bottle filled with compressed air! Fortunately, Sulinski swam only one length of the pool before we decided that there was no drama in someone swimming underwater, almost unseen, so we dropped use of the lungs from consideration. We put together a pretty good show without the lungs and the audience loved it. Base authorities were less enthusiastic when they discovered that the explosive charges we used had cracked half of the pool’s underwater lights. Those charges were small: a non-electric blasting cap with about two inches of detonating cord attached. But after assembling the charges, Sam Bailey had some eight inches of detonating cord left over. So, to avoid carrying it back to Little Creek, he simply taped it to one of the charges. That almost brought the house down — literally.
LCDR Fane had recognized shortly after the end of World War II that the “Underwater” in Underwater Demolition Teams was a misnomer since virtually all operations were conducted on or very near the surface and, in the latter case, only for the duration of a man’s held breath. If UDT was to survive and progress, a true underwater capability had to be developed. Fane learned that Dr. Lambertsen was training Army personnel in the use of the LARU at Ft. Knox, Kentucky. Lambertsen had originally developed the LARU while a medical student at the University of Pennsylvania. Unable to interest the U.S. Navy in his apparatus in the early days of World War II, he had attracted the interest of OSS. He joined OSS himself and trained personnel of the OSS Maritime Unit in underwater operations as well as participating in such operations in Southeast Asia himself. In January 1948, Fane brought Lambertsen to Little Creek where he spent several days indoctrinating selected personnel in the use and maintenance of the LARU
This indoctrination was essential if UDT men were to start using the LARU. Without such training, use of a breathing apparatus such as the LARU would be extremely dangerous. The LARU was a closed-system, recirculating, oxygen-breathing apparatus. Pure oxygen, admitted to a breathing bag from a small, pressurized, supply bottle, passed through a hose and one-way valve to a full-face mask from which the swimmer inhaled oxygen. Exhaled breath passed through another one-way valve and hose to a canister mounted behind the swimmer’s neck and filled with Baralyme (soda-lime) which absorbed the carbon dioxide. After passing through the carbon dioxide absorption canister, theoretically clean oxygen was returned to the breathing bag. A valve controlling the flow of oxygen from the supply bottle allowed the swimmer to replenish the oxygen in his breathing bag as it became depleted. Theoretically, such a system was highly efficient. Because pure oxygen was provided (the air we breathe is only about 20% oxygen) and was stored in the supply bottle at an initial pressure of about 1,800 psi, an ample supply of oxygen could be carried in a relatively small bottle. Since the system was closed, the swimmer left behind no stream of bubbles by which he could be detected. But there were several dangers. If all air was not removed from the breathing bag at the outset, the swimmer could deplete his oxygen supply while still inflating his lungs with odorless, useless nitrogen and thereby succumb to anoxia. Further, even with a LARU in perfect condition and fresh soda lime in the canister, carbon dioxide absorption was less than 100%. As the Baralyme became exhausted or the canister leaked even slightly, carbon dioxide absorption was further degraded and the swimmer would breathe high levels of carbon dioxide causing headache, disorientation, ultimately death. Fortunately carbon dioxide intoxication is quite uncomfortable and the trained swimmer would recognize it at an early stage. Oxygen toxicity was a more insidious hazard. Pure oxygen breathed under greater than atmospheric pressure is toxic. Depending on the depth at which he is working, the amount of exertion, the presence of carbon dioxide traces, and his own inherent susceptibility, the swimmer on pure oxygen will sooner or later experience euphoria, muscle spasms, then a full-scale epileptiform convulsion, which renders him totally helpless and leads shortly to death. The progression of these symptoms after onset is very rapid; once onset is detected, unless the swimmer is experienced and lucky, his recognition of what is happening to him will come too late.
Fane had also recognized that most of the advantage of a true underwater capability would be lost if swimmers had to be transported to their target areas on surface ships or in submarines required to surface to launch their swimmers. Ideally, an underwater mission would be conducted entirely submerged: from port-to-target-to port. With this in mind, he had contacted Commander, Submarine Squadron TWO and laid the groundwork (awkward term in this context but, then, CO UDT 2 once received a letter from Army Engineers addressed to “Underground Demolition Team TWO”) for attempts to launch swimmers from submerged submarines utilizing the submarines’ escape trunks.
With such future operations in mind, Fane led a detachment of UDT officers and men to the U.S. Navy Submarine Base at new London, Connecticut. Among those making the trip in addition to Fane were Garren, Tallent, Mason, Jones, Foster, Devine, Kappesser and myself from UDT 2. Koerber, Sulinski and DiMartino Martino may have represented UDT 4 and others were certainly involved. Submarine Base personnel instructed and qualified the UDT officers and men in locking out of a submarine escape trunk as well as in free ascent (without breathing apparatuses) from the 100’ lock in the Submarine Escape Training Tower. Additionally, all the UDT men underwent oxygen toxicity susceptibility testing, breathing pure oxygen in a recompression chamber pressurized to the 60-foot level for up to 30 minutes. I introduced the UDT contingent to the spectacle of oxygen poisoning by promptly throwing a classic convulsion. Several others followed shortly thereafter. Legend has it that the sight of wildly thrashing, frothing UDT men being hauled out of the building on stretchers caused a number of submarine trainees waiting nearby for their turns at escape training to defect from submarine training.
This visit to New London by the UDT detachment accomplished far more than the training and experience that accrued to the UDT men. A solid relationship between UDT and Submarine Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet was established. This was important in more ways than one. If UDT was to expand its underwater capabilities on any meaningful basis, Fane had to attack very real problems: not only those of submerged transport but of getting equipment and learning to use it, of selecting personnel who were psychologically and physically suited for underwater operations, and of gaining Navy institutional support for efforts which were to many senior officers of the surface Navy beyond the conventional missions, missions which they often supported only reluctantly in the first place. The solutions to several of those problems converged rather neatly in the relationship with SUBLANT. The advantage of submarines as transport vehicle has already been mentioned. Moreover, submariners who traditionally held themselves relatively independent of the surface Navy were quicker to understand and support experimentation with new underwater techniques and tactics. Perhaps most importantly, submarine medical officers were not only quite familiar with such effects as oxygen toxicity, carbon dioxide intoxication and other diving hazards but the Submarine Medical Research Laboratory under Captain Willmon was already conducting active research into the etiology of oxygen toxicity utilizing the service of an expatriated German physiologist, Dr. Schaefer. For their part, the UDT men provided Dr. Willmon’s laboratory with a ready pool of research subjects, The UDT men also realized that free ascent training in the 100’ tower offered a unique opportunity for psychological and physical screening of candidates as well as for increasing self-confidence in underwater environments for those candidates found suitable for further training. At least one subsequent Replacement Training Class went to new London in its entirety for tower screening. One additional element in the UDT/SUBLANT relationship was to prove crucial in the next few years. Vice Admiral Fife, Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet was enthusiastic in his support of the UDT efforts and of UDT/SUBLANT cooperation.
With selected personnel trained in the use of the Lambertsen units and the New London exercises completed, the stage was set for actual UDT/submarine operations. In February 1948, UDTs 2 and 4 embarked in APDs for conventional reconnaissance and demolition operations at a beach on Vieques Island during the amphibious phase of Atlantic Fleet’s winter fleet exercises. (It was probably during this cycle of exercises that a small detachment of UDT men penetrated beach defenses a day or two before D-Day, “obtained” some USMC fatigue uniforms and a jeep and spent several days harassing the defending forces in the hinterland. One UDT man, posing as a Marine courier, presented U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant General Keller M. Rockey with a package containing a booby-trapped hand grenade which, if it had been real, would undoubtedly have killed the general and several of his staff. General Rockey, too, became a strong supporter of UDT. Among other things, at a subsequent reception in Port Au Prince, Haiti, the General startled several UDT officers by greeting each of them by name.)
Following participation in the fleet exercises, the officers and men who had been through the New London indoctrination rendezvoused at St. Thomas with the submarine, USS GROUPER commanded by CDR Charles F. Putnam. Dr. Lambertsen joined Fane, Garren, Jones, Foster, Devine, Bailey, Kappesser, Piotrowski, Petway and myself, among others, for operations from GROUPER in Pillsbury Sound between St. Thomas and St. Johns. The objective of the UDT/GROUPER operations at this time was to test the feasibility of launching and recovering UDT swimmers from a submerged submarine. On February 20, 1948, GROUPER bottomed in 54 feet of water to attempt to launch and recover swimmers via the escape trunk. Because of the bulkiness of the LARUs and the necessary presence of an escape trunk operator from the submarine’s crew, only two swimmers at a time could occupy the cramped, cylindrical escape trunk, Fane and Lambertsen were the first to exit the submarine and swim to the surface after which they swam back down and reentered the submarine. The other UDT men followed in pairs, with each pair making two exits and recoveries that day. The ability to operate from a bottomed submarine had been proved and soon became routine.
The next step was to test the capability of leaving and reentering a submerged, underway submarine. On February 22, 1948, Fane and Lambertsen again led the way, locking out of the underway GROUPER, then returning. Again, the other swimmers followed. Although the speed of the submarine was usually held to bare steerage — and depth control — way, about two knots, the speed of the submarine increased to six knots on at least one occasion when the diving officer began to lose depth control. Despite a battering from the six-knot, over-deck current, the swimmers were able to hang on although the effort created an immediate danger of exhaustion or, worse, oxygen poisoning. Still, these exercises proved the feasibility of delivering and retrieving combat swimmers by submerged submarines and gave the UDT swimmers a high degree of confidence in their ability to operate successfully from submarines.
Upon completion of the St. Thomas exercises with GROUPER, Fane and his officers and men knew that they were truly in the underwater business. It was apparent, however, that the limited availability of equipment as well as the need for selecting personnel carefully would require concentration of effort if the development of underwater operations were to proceed in a highly focused manner. While returning from those operations aboard an APD, I wrote a memorandum to COMUDTLANT proposing that a separate platoon be established and manned with personnel selected from both Teams 2 and 4 to specialize in future underwater development. I have no idea as to whether or not that memorandum influenced the decision — very likely, Fane had already planned such a step — but, shortly after return to Little Creek, COMUDTLANT formally established the Submersible Operations Platoon, or SUBOPS as it came to be known. I was fortunate to be assigned as Platoon Officer, with LTJG Al Jones as Assistant Platoon Officer. Among the enlisted personnel who made up the initial complement of SUBOPS or who were to join it shortly after with the selection of some men from the 2nd and 3rd replacement Training Classes of 1948 were MRC Al Foster, GMC Andy Devine, GM1 Sam Bailey, GM1 H.L. Piotrowski, DC1 Wilson Bane, BM3 Frank E. Kappesser, Frank Hale, GM3 J.J. Petway, BM2 Roy O Rollins, QM3 Ronald LeMay, GM2 Henry Spiegel, TM3 John P. O’Brien, GM2 Chester C. Stevens, BM3 Glen Baker, BM2 Joseph DiMartino, GM3 Benny Sulinski, QM3 James Cook, Thomas McAllister, BM3 George Phipps, BM2 William C. Hollingsworth, DC3 Harold L. Crowell, and “Robbie” Robinson. (George Phipps was killed in action in Vietnam years later. Thomas Mc Allister died in an accident during operations near St. Thomas. Joe DiMartino, later an early SEAL officer, was once dubbed one of “America’s Ten Most Dangerous Men” by TRUE Magazine. I believe that several of these men subsequently earned commissions and several were among the first SEALS.)
SUBOPS was established as an entity within UDTs 2 and 4. But there seemed to be a danger that its identity could easily be lost in the routine daily activities of the teams. There was also a need for work space as well as for separate and secure storage for the LARUs and supporting equipment such as bulk oxygen bottles, a compressor, a variety of tools and so on. Another consideration was classification security. By the very nature of their work, combat swimmers require secrecy. While there was a need to advertise UDTs accomplishments in going underwater in order to gain higher level support, it seemed advisable to most of the SUBOPS men that the general population, Navy and civilian, not be afforded free access to what we were doing. SUBOPS clearly needed a “home” of its own, separate from the regular UDT warehouses and offices at Little Creek.
It happened that there was an unused, concrete block brig surrounded by a barbed wire topped, eight-foot chain-link fence with a lockable gate immediately behind the UDT 2 and 4 warehouses. Although it was partly subdivided by steel-barred confinement cells, several of them filled with rusting bunk frames and rotting mattresses, the brig offered the advantages of a spacious office, a large room suitable for a workshop, toilet facilities and a number of empty cells useable for storage or small work spaces. The idea of taking over that old brig was broached and Fane began applying his persuasive powers to the Amphibious Base hierarchy. After continued urging and somewhat inflated claims as to the security classification of SUBOPS activities and equipment, Commander, NAVPHIBASE LCREEK granted permission for SUBOPS to occupy the brig provided that nothing be disturbed and that the building be available for return to the base within 24 hours. We moved into The Brig promptly and, within a couple of weeks had it cleaned out, painted and converted — permanently — to our own uses. All of the decaying detritus of earlier use were stuffed into a couple of the back cells and forgotten. WE put a heavy, secure lock on the gate and posted “RESTRICTED AREA — AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY” signs on all four sides of the fence. The fence and gate were especially valuable in protecting SUBOPS from kibitzing by non-UDT personnel of all ranks as well as casting a protective cloak of mystery over what we were doing. No doubt, certain empire-building proclivities were also satisfied. In any event, The Brig, as it became known, was to play a significant role in furthering UDT’s underwater aspirations for a number of years.
Some of the SUBOPS men were eager to increase their technical training in underwater operations by qualifying as deep-sea, “hard hat” divers. It was clearly to UDT’s advantage to have such expertise available within the teams. Accordingly, Chiefs Foster and Devine, both already qualified as Salvage Divers, were sent to First Class Diving School. Later, in August 1949, Kappesser and McAllister went to Second Class Diving School at Portsmouth, Virginia. Phipps and Hale followed them shortly after that. R.O. Rollins was already a Second Class Diver when he joined UDT. (After leaving the Navy, Hale made a second career in deep-sea diving, serving as a Diving Supervisor for several years during the construction of well platforms in the North Sea oil field.)
It was at about this time that UDTLANT lost two more of its most experienced officers. Hal Iverson and Bill Mason had already left. Now, Rip Tallent and Gary Garren were ordered to shipboard duty. This loss of experienced officers was to plague UDT for a number of years. At that time, there was no career path in special operations for officers of the Regular Navy. While Naval Reserve officers could remain in UDT for more extended periods, young, Regular Navy officers were permitted only three-year tours of duty in UDT. While the enlisted men were not subject to a specific duration of duty in UDT, they clearly suffered career disadvantages. Except when embarked on ships for transit, they had little chance to expand and hone their expertise in their respective occupational specialties. In preparing for fleet wide advancement examinations, the men had to rely on their own perseverance in studying and their initiative in taking advantage of scattered opportunities to gain experience aboard ship. It is a tribute to the quality of the men who volunteered for UDT that so many were successful in successive fleet wide examinations and achieved the highest levels in their respective rates.
Even back in the early days of SUBOPS, UDT men were thinking about expanded missions. LCDR Fane, of course, had already taken UDT truly underwater and established the viability of UDT/submarine operations.
In early 1947, Fane had proposed the development of a ship assault capability to the Amphibious Type Conference
Back in The Brig, we talked about what missions beyond conventional beach reconnaissance and obstacle clearance we might perform. At one point, LTJG Garren and I drafted a letter proposing that the evolving underwater capabilities be exploited for their application to such missions as ship assault, as well as hinterland penetration for reconnaissance and intelligence collection, sabotage and commando-style raids. We also discussed the potential of air delivery to supplement submarine transport. I have no idea of what happened to that letter except that it obviously didn’t get very far. Still, such ideas were not viewed with any enthusiasm by the mainstream Navy. Despite the valuable contributions of NCDUs, Scouts and Raiders and UDTs during World War II or the feats of British and Italian underwater operators, few in the Navy seemed to consider unconventional operations appropriate in the nuclear age. Reactions to a ship assault exercise at Argentia, Newfoundland, to be described shortly, confirmed to us the widespread disdain for such “games.”
Doug Fane, however, was persistent. He continued to evangelize the conventional Navy at all levels as to the need for expanded support for underwater operations as well as to scour the country for useful equipment. He located two crated British submersible boats in a west coast warehouse and had them shipped to Little Creek. Dubbed “Sleeping Beauties” by the British, these boats, with hulls of sheet steel, were each 12’8” in length, each with a single, open cockpit. A Sleeping Beauty was powered by an electric motor and an automobile-type storage battery located in a watertight compartment just forward of the cockpit. Two ballast tanks, one on each side of the operator’s legs, as well as a small trim tank in the bow of the boat provided depth and trim control. Kingston valves in the cockpit and an air-pressure system permitted flooding and blowing of the tanks. A rudder provided lateral control of the boat while diving planes, one on each side of the stern, allowed attitudinal control while running submerged. Instrumentation consisted of a wind-up clock, a magnetic compass and an air pressure gage. If I recall correctly, a Sleeping Beauty was capable of a maximum surface speed of 5 knots and maximum depth of 50 feet. The operator of an SB, sitting in the open cockpit, had of course to wear a breathing apparatus. The only protection he had from the sea was a heavy canvas skirt, secured around the coaming of the cockpit, which he could zip up around his neck. SUBOPS personnel promptly shortened “Sleeping Beauty” to “SB”, from which other UDT personnel derived SUBOPS’ alternate sobriquet: “Submersible Bastards.”
The SBs were painted a dull, wartime gray when we received them. The SUBOPS men promptly repainted them with Navy-issue “yellow striping” for safety reasons and hauled them down to the Little Creek beaches to try to figure out how to use them, with little success. Dr. Lambertsen again came to the rescue. He had operated SBs for OSS in Southeast Asia and quickly taught the SUBOPS men how to operate the boats. However, it was apparent that, after long storage, the boats were not in very good condition. The battery compartments leaked because of dried gaskets, electrical insulation was in poor condition and a number of screws and screw sockets were rusted or missing. There were no spare parts available and American substitutes could not be used because all the fittings were to British specifications. Fane arranged for Chiefs Devine and Foster and several more SUBOPS men along with me to take the SBs to New London where we were to overhaul the boats with the assistance of SUBLANT technicians. I think that the submariners at New London were both amused and fascinated by the idea of working on these “tin underwater canoes.” Again, SUBLANT cooperation was unstinting. The electric motors were overhauled in Submarine Base shops, New London provided tools and material so that the SUBOPS men, under Foster’s supervision, could drill and retap all screw fittings to American specifications. New batteries were obtained. Finding suitable material to make the battery compartments watertight proved to be a problem. One of the base shops came up with suitable neoprene gasket material and cut new gaskets to precise dimensions. The battery compartment of an SB was fitted with a small, cylindrical relief valve intended to relieve any buildup of battery gas. Its functioning required a rubber sleeve which would fit tightly enough to prevent any water from getting in and yet stretchable enough to permit battery gas to escape. That stumped us for a while until the Base Dispensary came up with rubber surgical tubing that worked perfectly. Finally, the Submarine Base made the Base Swimming Pool available for shallow water testing of the boats. To be completely watertight, the neoprene gaskets for the cover plate of the battery compartment required some sort of sealant. SUBOPS men tried everything from red and white lead to commercial roofing compound. Finally, an asphalt-based compound proved useable. By the time the problem was solved, however, the swimming pool was decorated rather liberally with red, white and black smears that the SUBOPS men worked on for hours but never eliminated entirely. If that swimming pool at new London still exists, perhaps some of those stains remain as a memorial to SUBLANT/UDT cooperation.
I have already alluded more than once to the lack of support perceived by UDT officers and men. Many of us, in fact, felt that UDT was hanging on to its existence by its fingernails. As is frequently the case for elite units within the military, UDT was viewed by a good number of Navy officers with suspicion and a certain amount of resentment, Some argued that, in the nuclear age when wars would be fought at long range with advanced weapons, UDT was an archaic holdover from World War II and should be eliminated. The large majority of those who ever thought about it were willing, of course, to tolerate UDT so long as UDT men behaved, didn’t become too presumptuous and didn’t pose any excessive drain on Navy resources. (Our licit drain on Navy resources certainly was minimal; our illicit drain was probably more substantial.) There were some senior officers — Admiral Fife, Admiral Barbey and General Rockey for example — who recognized the potential and supported efforts to move ahead. But it was often rough going for the UDT men on both coasts as they tried to carry out what they saw as their appropriate roles with extremely limited and often obsolete resources. LCDR Fane recognized clearly that, despite some legitimate requirements for classification security of UDT operations and developments, attracting the attention of influential elements of the Navy and convincing them of the need for properly trained and equipped underwater units were vital.
Thus, the stay of the SUBOPS detachment at New London to overhaul the SBs was interrupted by an order to proceed with one boat to the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island where Fane was to address the officer students. We drew a truck from the base Base Motor Pool, loaded one SB on its wheeled dolly onto the truck and shrouded it with canvas. Motivated more by theatrical interests than by any perceived threat to national security, I drew a sidearm from the Base Armory. Two of us — it may have been George Kudravitz who drove the truck — took off for Newport. We arrived just in time for Fane’s presentation before several hundred Navy officers among who were a good many future admirals. I just had time to strip down to swim trunks, put on a LARU and get pushed out onto the stage sitting in the cockpit of the SB. If the presentation impressed the assembled audience– and it clearly did — it was due to Fane’s rhetorical skill because I couldn’t do a thing except sit there, occasionally wiggling the rudder and diving planes at what I thought were appropriate times. The sidearm I carried did come in handy during our drive back to New London. Kudravitz got hung up in a traffic jam at a busy intersection. I was in uniform, had that side arm in a polished holster strapped around my waist and that heavily-shrouded shape on the flat bed lent an air of mystery to the truck. I stepped out into the intersection and stopped traffic in all four directions while Kudravitz drove on through, laughing his head off. Perhaps we did get a bit presumptuous at times.
In October 1948, Fane, a detachment from SUBOPS and a heavy load of equipment including one SB were flown to St. Thomas to rendezvous with USS QUILLBACK (SS424) commanded by LCDR C.R. Clark. Joining the UDT detachment were Dr. Chris Lambertsen, LCDR E.R. F. Johnson, USNR, A.C. “Al” Dyer (Johnson’s assistant and technician,) a Lieutenant Colonel from U.S. Army Engineers (name unrecalled,) William Fields (a civilian engineer from the Bureau of Ships,) and a Navy Chief Photographer’s Mate (name unrecalled.) In addition to Fane, the SUBOPS detachment consisted of Ensign George Atcheson (on TAD from the West Coast teams,) Chiefs Devine and Foster, Sam Bailey, Henry Piotrowski, Frank Kappesser, George Kudravitz, A.B. Henderson, J.J. Petway and myself.
E.R.F. Johnson was an experienced diver and a pioneer in the development of underwater photography, Cameras, both motion picture and still, designed and built by Johnson and Dyer were among the first to be used successfully to produce high-quality, underwater photographs. Intensely interested in what Fane and his SUBOPS crew were attempting, Johnson volunteered his and Dyer’s services at Johnson’s own expense. With their expertise and equipment, the operations from QUILLBACK could be documented with dramatic photography. Moreover, both Johnson and Dyer as well as Chris Lambertsen became, as far as the SUBOPS men were concerned, integral and highly respected members of their close-knit team. Although considerably older, Johnson could out swim most of us and Chris Lambertsen became and remained our mentor in the truest sense of that term.
A major objective of the operations with QUILLBACK was to develop techniques for operating small submersibles from a full-scale mother submarine. At the outset, Lambertsen had the opportunity for the first time to train and qualify SUBOPS SB operators in water of more than a few feet in depth, Under Lambertsen’s guidance, all of the SUBOPS men quickly became qualified SB operators. The next step was to experiment with taking the SB off the deck of the bottomed submarine and landing it again. This, too, was accomplished rather quickly. The logical extension of these operations, of infinitely greater tactical significance, was developing the capability of taking off from and landing on the deck of a submarine while it was underway submerged. The SUBOPS men had already learned to handle themselves on the deck of a submerged, underway submarine during the GROUPER operations. But, could the SB take off and land and could the SUBOPS deck crew handle the boat on deck?
A serious problem was that the parent submarine could not operate submerged at less than two knots and the SB’s maximum submerged speed was little more than that. Taking off should be easy: the SB operator could simply gain some buoyancy and let the submarine go out from under him. But there was little margin of speed to allow the operator to maneuver onto the deck while landing. Lambertsen came up with the idea of streaming a length of 21-thread line with a buoy at one end and the other end secured to the bull nose of the submarine. The idea was that the SB operator would intercept and latch onto the buoy being towed by the submarine, cut the motor so that the submarine towed the SB, gain negative buoyancy and settle on to the deck. It seemed a dicey sort of operation at first and Chris Lambertsen, because of his superior skill and experience in the SB, made the first attempts. E.R.F. Johnson and Fane were on deck to photograph the operation; Atcheson, Bailey and Piotrowski, all big and strong men, constituted the recovery crew who would help guide the SB onto the submarine’s deck and secure it there. As described by Johnson, quoted in Fane and Moore, op. cit., the over-deck current as well as choppy surface conditions whose effects could still be felt 30 or 40 feet underwater, made the recovery extremely difficult. The operation required exceptional skill and endurance on the part of the recovery crew. Still, Lambertsen proved that the launch of a Sleeping Beauty from the deck of a submerged, underway submarine as well as recovery of the SB was entirely feasible. I soon got my chance and had no great trouble executing the maneuvers. Soon, a number of the men had become quite adept at the maneuvers.
While the initial launches and recoveries were made on the foredeck of the submarine we must have at some point moved SB operations to the afterdeck of the submarine. I’m sure that most of my launches and recoveries were made aft of the submarine’s sail. One end of a towline was secured to the after side of the submarine’s conning tower with the buoyed loop at the other end. As it turned out by trial and error, the best tactic was for the SB to approach on the surface but partially trimmed down (i.e., with its deck awash) on a course roughly perpendicular to that of the submarine from a point off the bow of the submarine. The SB operator had to judge his course and speed to reach a position over the submarine’s deck just aft of the conning tower as it passed. The SB operator would reach out, pass a short length of line secured to the bow of the SB through the bight of the towline, cut the motor so that the SB was then being towed by the submarine, then flood the ballast tanks to gain negative buoyancy and settle down into the hands of the waiting SUBOPS recovery crew. Initially, there was a minor problem for the operator in getting a purchase on the bight at the streamed end of the towline. One of the Chiefs quickly came up with the idea of fabricating a steel hook, perhaps a foot long, from a piece of reinforcing rod. With this secured to the short length of line secured to the bow of the SB, the operator could easily reach out to snare the bight of the towline. That worked like a charm.
Johnson and Dyer of course, recorded all of this on film. But Johnson wasn’t satisfied with simply filming these operations from a standoff position. He soon conceived the idea of mounting his motion picture camera on the SB. Foster, Devine and Dyer devised a suitable mount for the large, waterproof “blimp” which encased Johnson’s 16 mm movie camera. The mount was placed between the forward edge of the cockpit and the after edge of the battery compartment. Normally, to run submerged with proper control of the boat’s longitudinal attitude, the SB operator had to let water into the trim tank in the bow of the boat. Fortuitously, the weight of Johnson’s camera blimp, placed where it was, almost exactly compensated for the weight of the water normally admitted to the trim tank to trim the boat. Of course, you had to aim the boat to aim the movie camera but the pilot could start and stop the camera simply by reaching up a few inches to activate a trigger on the side of the camera blimp. Another of Johnson’s cameras was a 35 mm. still camera encased in a cubical, waterproof case about 8”x8”x8”, with a pistol grip fitted to the bottom. It was awkward for the pilot to carry this camera in his lap in the cramped cockpit so the men cut a square hole and constructed a well just aft of the cockpit of one of the boats. With the still camera stowed in the well with the grip sticking up, the pilot had only to reach over his shoulder to pull the camera out.
The SB operators were soon taking still and motion pictures of anything and everything: the parent submarine, coral heads, schools of fish, and barracuda (which seemed fascinated by the bright yellow shape and would swim alongside the SB eyeing it suspiciously with their huge eyes). I recall filming footage of the slowly turning screws of QUILLBACK from directly astern as well as footage of the submarine’s JT sound head tracking the SB. What I am sure was footage obtained by SUBOPS men with Johnson’s camera showed up in several Hollywood movies in later years, presumably obtained by Hollywood directors from the U.S. Navy Photographic Center at Anacostia, D.C. The SB operators also like to dive-bomb the submarine’s sonar heads. I once incurred the wrath of a QUILLBACK Sonarman by slapping the steel hull of the SB with a wrench just as I guided the SB close to the JT sonar head.
The limited capacity of a submarine’s escape trunk became a source of concern as future tactical operations were considered. It took a number of minutes to put each pair of swimmers out and recycle the trunk for the next pair. Launching even the number of men required to handle the SB on deck could easily consume half an hour. In an attempt to find a faster way of getting swimmers in and out of a submarine, Fane and Kappeser made a daring and almost fatal attempt to test the feasibility of exiting and reentering through the submarine’s forward torpedo tubes. As it turned out, the coarseness of the tubes’ pressure controls caused sharp fluctuations of the pressure inside the tube with the result that the swimmer’s face masks were lifted off their faces. Fane did succeed in reentering the submarine through a torpedo tube but it was a close call. Johnson, who was filming this evolution, described it in detail. His description is quoted in Fane and Moore, op.cit. Fortunately, both Fane and Kappesser emerged from this experiment without serious damage, if somewhat shaken.
Other hazards were ever present during all of these operations. The swimmers always had to be alert for any signs of impending oxygen toxicity; the characteristically rapid onset of oxygen toxicity symptoms, already mentioned, made timely detection a tricky matter. Fane, Johnson, Kappesser and I all experienced possible oxygen toxicity, CO2 intoxication or both at one time or another during operations with QUILLBACK. Ironically, Kappesser was involved in three of these incidents. When Johnson experienced symptoms, Kappesser who was swimming with Johnson as his “swim-buddy” saw him to the surface safely and without acute symptoms. Fane and Kappesser himself also experienced symptoms at one time or another. One day while we were operating in the open sea far from QUILLBACK with a borrowed U.S. Army J-Boat as a safety boat, Kappesser and I were swimming together at probably 40-50 feet depth.  Everything was going well when I suddenly felt a slight twitch in the muscles of my right calf. For reasons I have never understood, aside from the characteristic feeling of well-being, the first symptom I had experienced earlier when going into a full-scale, convulsive seizure, was that same twitching. As soon as I felt it that day, I immediately jerked on our “buddy line,” pointed toward the surface, ripped off my face mask, inflated my breathing bag and shot toward the surface with Kappesser close alongside. Luckily — really luckily — the symptoms didn’t progress but LCDR Johnson who was in the J-Boat told me later that I was very flushed and that I babbled unstoppably for the next fifteen or so minutes. Thanks to Kappesser and previous experience that allowed me to recognize the first symptoms, I avoided a dangerous oxygen toxicity incident.
Less serious if promptly treated but still capable of disabling a swimmer temporarily were easily infected coral cuts and very painful, multiple punctures by sea-urchin spines, sustained frequently during shallow water operations. (Some of us, while based at St. Thomas had learned from local fishermen that urine is the best treatment for sea urchin wounds. With 21 spines in the instep of my foot one time, the pain was sufficient for me to test the treatment. It works.) Ear infections also were relatively common. When he was present, Dr. Lambertsen lined us up every morning and swabbed our ears out with preventive medication.
By the time these operations in the waters off the American Virgin Islands took place, the U.S. Army Chemical Warfare Service had taken over the abandoned U.S. Navy Base. Army/Navy relations probably have never been better than they were at St. Thomas. When we weren’t working with a submarine and SUBOPS men were at St. Thomas, often for several months at a time, the Army post housed us, subsisted us and gave us material support as if we were part of the Army contingent. During one extended stay, annoyed by the prices of bar drinks in Charlotte Amalie, the SUBOPS men chipped in to buy a keg of rum. They kept the keg in the Military Police post at the entrance to the base and drew their nightly requirements on their way out of the base. The Army made the sturdy, wooden J-Boat (somewhat similar to an old-style, Navy, 50-foot Liberty Boat) available whenever needed. The J-Boat did yeoman service plucking SUBOPS swimmers from the water when they needed assistance. Al Jones and I were at the St. Thomas Army base with a dozen or so men at the time USS MISSOURI went aground in Hampton Roads. One evening, Al and I received an order from the Post Commander to appear in uniform at the Army’s morning parade. Puzzled, wondering if we were going to be drummed off the post, we duly appeared the next morning. Then with the Army personnel lined up in front of us at attention, the Post Commander announced that the two visiting Navy officers were present because the Post Chaplain would offer a prayer for the U.S.S. MISSOURI and the U.S. Navy. The Army people thought that a hilarious joke.
SUBOPS returned to Little Creek with a clear sense of accomplishment and E.R.F. Johnson’s film to document what they had achieved. They were ready to do some showing off. It may have been during this time that Fane somehow arranged to get Commander, Amphibious Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet to visit The Brig for an inspection of SUBOPS and a briefing on its operations and future plans. The SUBOPS men worked around the clock to prepare The Brig and themselves for COMPHIBLANT’s visit. The Admiral arrived on the appointed day, inspected SUBOPS Platoon and The Brig, witnessed dry demonstrations of the Lambertsen Lung and Sleeping Beauties, then viewed films of the operations in Pillsbury Sound. The oral briefing on future plans emphasized submarine-delivered beach penetrations as well as ship-assault missions. The Admiral’s response was noncommittal. He complimented the men on their appearance and bearing but said little else and made no comment on what UDT had in mind for the future. Still, we felt that the affair had gone off well and we anticipated increased support, both material and psychological, in the future. We were stunned when a letter was transmitted through the chain of command several weeks later directing COMUDTLANT to confine future operations to conventional reconnaissance and beach clearance missions.
Fane was, however, not to be deterred. Development of the underwater capability would continue by the best means available. The directive did mean that we would place greater reliance on activities at New London and cooperation with COMSUBLANT, while SUBOPS would have to retreat behind its locked fence to maintain a low profile while at Little Creek.
A clear opportunity to exploit SUBOPS capabilities in conjunction with SUBLANT soon came. In late 1948, Atlantic Fleet cold weather exercises were announced. The fleet-wide exercises in the North Atlantic would include an amphibious “invasion” of the U.S. Navy Base at Argentia, Newfoundland. COMSUBLANT, Vice Admiral Fife, was to command the defensive forces at Argentia and he wanted UDT participation in a defensive role. At the same time, COMPHIBLANT expected UDT to carry out offensive operations, which were at least reasonably within the parameters of the conventional UDT mission. The result was that SUBOPS was thrown into a dual role, playing both sides of the coin. While most of UDTLANT, Teams 2 and 4 embarked in surface ships for normal UDT operations on D-Day, a detachment of SUBOPS under Fane’s direct command went to New London to embark in USS GROUPER commanded, I believe, by CDR Miles Refo, for transit to and operations at Argentia. The detachment was small because of the limited space aboard the old diesel boat. The addition of a dozen or so men to the complement of an already crowded submarine didn’t make for the most comfortable conditions. Sleeping on torpedo skids or “hot-sacking” with the always-cooperative submariners was the rule. We passengers also had to qualify in the used of the submarine’s compressed air operated head (toilet.) Fane, unfortunately, failed on his first attempt to master this technique. In addition to Fane, Foster, Bailey, Piotrowski, Rollins, Hale, Phipps, Baker, myself and probably five others made up the UDT group in GROUPER.
Arriving at Argentia ahead of the attacking amphibious force on D-2 night, we operated first in an offensive role. Leaving the surfaced GROUPER under cover of darkness, we landed on a small pocket beach, camouflaged our rubber boats and fanned out to conduct hinterland reconnaissance and harass defending forces. At open point, Hale and I broke into the office of the U.S. Naval Air Station’s Base Motor Pool and liberated some records, including a map of the U.S. Navy Base. Usable intelligence? Perhaps not but the defenders would at least know that UDT had been there. Others scouted defensive positions. We raiders had just reassembled at a rendezvous point when we heard a jeep approaching. We scrambled for cover and then, as the jeep with two Marines in it arrived, ambushed it. When the startled Marine in the passenger seat of the jeep fumbled for his .45 cal. pistol, I drew my combat knife. I was 99 percent certain that the Marine’s pistol was unloaded but wanted to discourage the fellow just in case. I had no intention of using my knife although it would have been relatively easy to get him before he could get his sidearm untangled. I figured that we were both play acting. LCDR Fane, however, apparently assumed that I had been overwhelmed by adrenaline. He hurled himself across the hood of the jeep, knocked me aside, shouting at me to drop the knife. The affair ended amicably, though, when we explained to the Marines that they had been captured by a UDT raiding party. The two Marines thought that was great fun and promptly defected to our side. The entire UDT crew piled aboard the jeep to ride half-a-mile or so to a small, isolated pier where we talked a Navy boat into taking us back to recover our rubber boats, then carry us and the boats back to GROUPER.
GROUPER and our embarked SUBOPS crew shifted allegiances to join Argentia’s defenders the next night, D-1 night. We had been directed by Admiral Fife to interdict the amphibious force attacking Argentia by conducting swimmer assaults to disable ships essential to the amphibious landing. GROUPER had withdrawn from the bay at Argentia after the D-2 offensive raid. After standing out to sea for some distance, GROUPER reversed and headed back toward Argentia, submerged this time. Commander Refo performed an incredible feat by guiding GROUPER over the rocky bottom of Argentia Bay deep into the amphibious objective area, within striking distance of the amphibious ships at anchor there.
This time, we locked out of the bottomed submarine to make free ascents to the surface, releasing inflatable boats on the way. Two objectives had been selected for the ship assault mission. Fane would lead some of the men to assault USS FREMONT, flagship of the Amphibious Assault Group. I believe that Fane and his crew intended to test a lightweight inflatable boat but shifted to a standard 7-man rubber boat when the lightweight boat was accidentally punctured. I don’t know all of the details of that part of the operation; the group I was with was going in a different direction and we had our own concerns to think about. In any event, after attacking FREMONT, Fane and his crew were to return to GROUPER, swimming down to lock in. The second objective was an AKA (possibly USS OKANOGAN), which carried the Navy Beachmaster unit and the Marine Shore Party and their heavy equipment. These units were critical to the establishment of a beachhead. A 7-man rubber boat coxswained by BM2 R.O. Rollins was to carry Chief Foster and me to a point roughly a half-a–mile from the AKA from where we would swim to make our attack. After dropping us off, Rollins and his crew were under orders to proceed to the next ship in the anchorage, there to surrender on board for safety reasons. After completing our attack, Foster and I were to swim about a half-mile to shore.
All of the UDT men wore heavy diving underwear and bulky, rear-entry, dry-suits for protection against the cold. (The mono-cellular material of which modern wetsuits are made had not yet become available; the World War II relics worn at Argentia were the only things that UDT had at the time.) The assault swimmers each carried “Day and Night” flares in lieu of limpet mines. Limpets, either real or simulated, were not available and we had not had time to improvise reasonable dummies. If we reached our objectives without detection, we were to pull the “Night “ end s of our flares, igniting brilliant red pyrotechnics to simulate the explosions of limpet mines against the ships’ sides.
The exit from the submarine was, except for the trouble with the inflatable boat, uneventful and both groups started paddling toward their targets in choppy, frigid water. Fane and his group reached FREMONT undetected, popped their flares and, according to the umpire rules, put FREMONT out of action along with the commanders and staffs of the Amphibious Attack Group and the Marine Landing Force. Rollins crew dropped Foster and me in the water as planned and we began what seemed a very long swim to our target. Both of us had to fight the chop, which, although not severe, was a tiring annoyance. Both of us began to feel dampness from condensation or minor leakage creep up the legs of our underwear. Such dampness inside a dry-suit, which offers little insulation against outside water temperature, can quickly cause dangerous chilling. Nonetheless, we made it to our target and were surprised to find no sign of security on deck. From what we could see, bobbing in the water at the side of the ship’s hull, the AKA might as well have been unmanned. As I recall, we worked our way along the hull until we thought we were adjacent to the ship’s engineering spaces in the vicinity of the salt-water intakes. We each pulled a flare there, two or three yards apart. Foster then worked forward while I worked my way further aft and we each pulled a second flare. At that point, we should have withdrawn and headed for the beach. However, after talking it over briefly with Foster, I decided that it would be best for us to go aboard the ship. Both of us were tired, becoming chilled and our “dry” suits were definitely leaking slowly. It was several minutes before a couple of astonished faces peered over the ship’s rail approximately amidships. I yelled up at the faces, “This ship has been hit by four limpet mines and is sinking. Tell your Captain.” “WHAT?” “This AKA is out of action. Tell your Captain.” After a moment of stunned silence, one face disappeared. More faces now appeared over the rail and we called for a ladder. It took several minutes for the men on deck to get organized but a ladder was eventually lowered and we clambered on board. I repeated to the Officer of the Deck that UDT assault swimmers had attacked the ship successfully and that, under the umpire rules, the ship was out of action for twenty-four hours and I advised the OOD to inform the Commanding Officer. Foster found a bunk in the Chief’s Quarters and I stretched out in my diving underwear on a Wardroom transom. Finding two underwear-clad strangers in their midst caused some consternation and no little curiosity the next morning. I had the dubious honor of making a courtesy call on a disgruntled Captain while clad in still damp, baggy, long underwear. I have always regretted my decision to board the ship rather than swimming ashore. Under actual combat conditions, there would of course have been no question of not getting away from the ship. Even though we were in a training situation in which safety was paramount. There is no doubt that boarding the “sunken” ship to spend the night robbed our exploit of some of its impact. I have always thought and still think that we would have made it ashore. Still, there was a very real danger of exhaustion or cramping overtaking one or both of us. So, despite my regrets, I think my decision was a wise one.
As it turned out, the Argentia story didn’t end with the “disabling” of FREMONT and the AKA. Rollins and his crew proceeded to the next ship in the anchorage as instructed only to find no security on deck and a landing net hanging conveniently over the side. Rollins couldn’t let that opportunity pass and decided to take matters into his own hands. He and his crew climbed the landing net and searched the deck stealthily until they found a sleepy OOD and deck watch huddled over coffee cups. Rollins promptly informed the OOD that the ship had been captured. After placing one of his men as a guard on the deck watch, Rollins sent the rest of his men to secure anyone they encountered who might interfere. Rollins then ordered the OOD to take him to the Captain. A sleepy U.S. Navy captain was soon thereafter informed by a Boatswain’s Mate, Second Class that his ship had been captured and was held in enemy hands.
Unrealistic though some aspects of these events might have been, it was indisputable that a submarine had been able to penetrate an amphibious anchorage undetected and that assault swimmers from that submarine had been able to reach and attack ships, which were unprepared and completely vulnerable. I have no doubt that had this been a real situation and had we been carrying real limpet mines, we could have placed them for delayed detonation causing severe damage to or the sinking of two ships essential to the amphibious assault while a third ship was captured or, at least, would have suffered the killing of its captain and some of its crew. As it was, umpire rules required that these ships be put out of action for 24 hours. That would have made continuation of the amphibious exercise impossible. The umpire rules were suspended.
I don’t know what official evaluation was placed on this exercise by higher levels of the Navy hierarchy. However, the unofficial feedback we got from several fleet officers was quite derisive: we would never have attempted such an operation under actual combat conditions and we had only been playing unrealistic games. Still, perhaps the matter was taken seriously in some quarters because, some time after Argentia, “defense against swimmer assault” was added to the list of annual exercises which Amphibious Force, Atlantic ships were required to conduct. More directly pleasing to us was Admiral Fife’s expression of delight with the success of our operation.
The Admiral’s approval affected several of us in a very practical way shortly after the Argentia phase of the Fleet Exercise ended. The Club Officer of the Argentia Officers’ Club ordered several of us UDT officers out of the Club one night because we were out of uniform (wearing rumpled, stained greens and sand shoes.) Although he was a nondrinker himself, Admiral Fife was in another room of the Club. Hearing of the incident, he immediately sent a staff officer to inform the Club Officer that we were to be allowed to remain in the Club as his guests and were not to be harassed.
In the meantime, SUBLANT personnel and the shops at New London had been at work on their own to improve their capability to support SUBOPS. It had become clear to both SUBLANT and COMUDTLANT that any tactically useful transport of a Sleeping Beauty would require some means of housing it on the parent submarine. Most critical was the fact that the SB’s maximum test depth was only 50 feet. Limiting the parent submarine to 50 feet during any but experimental or elementary training operations would be out of the question. New London solved the problem by converting a salvaged boiler casing fitted with a hinged, water-tight door and appropriate flood and vent valves, The casing was then mounted on the after gun-ring (foundation) of a fleet boat (USS THREADFIN, I believe.). Thus equipped with a SB “hangar” on its afterdeck, the submarine could operate anywhere within its own depth limitations while transporting the SB. 
In early 1949, the SUBOPS men were again off to St. Thomas to conduct training swims and improve their skills with the SB until the arrival of USS THREADFIN at which time, the submarine would embark them and an SB for participation in the annual Spring amphibious exercises at Vieques Island, P.R. By this time, the SUBOPS men were accepted as old hands on the Army post located on the old Navy base just outside of Charlotte Amalie. Our work consisted mostly of swims near St. Thomas or off Caneel Bay at St. Johns to improve our endurance as well as to insure that all of our equipment was in shape for the coming fleet exercises. The latter effort was thrown in doubt one day when we had been working with the SB in Lindbergh Bay, a half-mile or so from the Army post. Finished with our work for the day, I instructed Rollins to pilot the SB on the surface back to our base. Rollins was off the point of land, which separated Lindbergh Bay from the piers at our base, running on the surface, when he experienced a battery explosion, which blew off the watertight cover of the battery compartment. The SB immediately flooded and began to sink. When the explosion occurred, Rollins had the canvas splash cover zipped up tightly around his neck. To his horror, he found the zipper jammed. Trapped in the now submerged SB, Rollins coolly cut his way out with his combat knife.
In the meantime, the rest of us had returned to the piers in the J-Boat. When Rollins failed to appear within the several minutes it should have taken him to round the point of land into our view, we immediately took the J-Boat out to find him. We found him standing on an almost exposed coral head, not in the best of moods. But unharmed– physically. The men soon located the SB lying on the bottom with the battery compartment cover nearby. We spent the rest of the day raising the SB and hauling it back to the piers.
LCDR Fane arrived at St. Thomas the following day on a previously scheduled visit. Needless to say, I was again — deservedly — in deep trouble for allowing a man to pilot the SB unescorted, even in a fully-surfaced condition. Rollins was safe and unhurt but the long-planned use of the SB during the amphibious exercises was now in serious doubt. I received orders to have the SB ready for Vieques — or else. The men went right to work on the boat, however, and once again demonstrated their skill and versatility. There was no structural damage to the boat except that the screws, which held down the battery compartment cover, had been ripped out of their sockets, destroying the threads of both screws and screw-seats. The battery was, of course destroyed. The men redrilled and retapped the screw seats to a larger size, fabricated a new gasket and a new battery was obtained.
We didn’t know what triggered the explosion but it was clear that a dangerous concentration of hydrogen had accumulated in the compartment; the pressure vent on the top of the compartment cover obviously had not been adequate to prevent the build-up of an explosive concentration of battery gas. Something had to be done to prevent a reoccurrence. Chief Foster devised a CO2 purging system utilizing a small bottle of compressed CO2 connected to the battery compartment by copper tubing, with a valve to allow the SB pilot to release a shot of CO2 into the compartment periodically. By dint of long hours spent, the repairs were completed within a couple of days. But with all of their skill, dedication and hard work, the men could not have completed these repairs without the assistance of the Army personnel on the St. Thomas Army Post. Army men pitched in with materials, tools and advice as if the repair job was one of their own projects.
With fleet exercises underway and the amphibious phase approaching, THREADFIN got underway from St. Thomas, with the SUBOPS crew and SB embarked, to put out to sea from where it would make a submerged approach to the amphibious objective area off the Vieques beaches. LCDR Fane, E.R.F. Johnson, Al Dyer and an Army Reserve officer, a friend of Fane’s, were also on board. Johnson suggested to Fane that he could attach an external flash gun to the previously described still camera, load the camera with infra-red film and provide an SB pilot with two or three infra-red flash bulbs to permit clandestine, night photography of the beach defenses. Such photography provided to the approaching amphibious force in addition to the coded beach reconnaissance messages normally transmitted by radio would enhance SUBOPS’s and UDT’s reputations considerably. Fane decided to send me into RED Beach in the SB to obtain infrared photography of the beach defenses. It was probably on D-2 night that the submarine made a long, submerged approach to the objective area, an approach made eerie in its final stages as the submarine scrapped over sandbars. About two miles off RED Beach, scraping bottom at periscope depth, the skipper bottomed the boat. Two pairs of swimmers locked out to unload the SB from its hangar. Then I locked out with a safety partner and manned the SB.
After surfacing the Sleeping Beauty, I blew it dry and headed for RED Beach fully surfaced. Navigation wasn’t difficult on the initial run in. The submarine’s Navigator had given me a vector to RED Beach and I had my magnetic compass and the silhouette of Vieques Island stood out clearly so that I could pick out the approximate location of the beach. Only a slight swell was running and I didn’t have to use my LARU on the initial part of the run in. About 400 yards seaward of the shallow bay on which RED Beach lay, I purged my LARU of air, put it on and went onto oxygen. Then, I trimmed down the SB to run with the deck awash; I was prepared to submerge quickly if I sighted any patrol craft but none were evident. There was a small islet in the middle of the RED Beach about 200 yards off the center of the beach. I decided to run in under the cover of that islet before submerging, skirt the island, and then run fully submerged into the beach. Once submerged, running at a depth of about ten feet, I had to rely in my magnetic compass. I porpoised to the surface once for a quick look but saw no surface craft and I seemed to be on course for a point about half way between the center and right flank of the landing beach. With perhaps 50 yards to go, I cut my speed to SLOW and crept in until I bottomed the boat in about eight feet of water. I was then about ten yards from the waterline. I left the SB, removed the camera from its well and screwed in one of my three infrared bulbs. I began swimming, then crawling cautiously along the bottom toward the beach. I knew that I was well covered with water but was concerned about causing some surface disturbance or stirring up enough sand to be detected from the beach. Finally, in less than two feet of water, I slowly raised my head until my eyes were just clear of the surface — and found myself staring at a Marine sentry leaning against a concrete tetrahedron about five yards away. I pulled back under and backed off a yard or two to get a little more water over myself, and then put my head out again. The sentry was still there, maybe asleep, maybe dreaming about his girl friend, but apparently unaware of my presence.
The situation seemed perfect to me. I pulled the camera just above the surface of the water and fired one shot of barbed wire and jetted steel rails near the center of the beach, wound the film, replaced the infrared bulb and took another shot, angled along the length of the beach. Then, unable to resist any longer, I went under again to creep directly toward the sentry until I was in water shallow enough that my head and butt were exposed. There, I fired the last of my infrared bulbs, taking a picture of the sentry from no more than four yards away. It was hard for me to imagine that the sentry couldn’t see me or something of the infrared flash, but the sentry didn’t react and, as I backed into deeper water, I figured I had got away with it. However, by the time I relocated the SB, restowed the camera and got into the cockpit, I knew that my efforts had taken a toll. Whether from chill, although the water was fairly warm, excess adrenaline, or something worse, I was shivering vigorously. Still, I didn’t believe that I was encountering any serious physical problem. Clearly, though, it was time to withdraw. I told myself to calm down and reached down to crack the air valves to bleed a little water out of the ballast tanks to lift the SB just clear of the bottom before getting underway.
Suddenly, something clapped me on the shoulder; then something else covered the glass of my facemask. It scared the hell out of me and I instinctively went for my combat knife. Fortunately I couldn’t get the knife out easily in the cramped cockpit and before I could, a swimmer appeared in front of me and reached over to push the “assailant” away from me. The swimmer pulled off his facemask and stuck his face in mine but I had already recognized the friendly face of Al Foster. In the meantime, Foster pulled the Army Reserve major none to gently away from the area. I gave Foster a thumb up as the pair disappeared in the cloudy water. As it turned out, after I left the submarine, Fane had directed a rubber-boat crew under Chief Foster to conduct a surface reconnaissance of RED beach. He authorized the major to accompany the UDT crew as an observer. The good major not only risked blowing the operation but also, in the instant before an alert Foster calmed the situation, risked getting himself knifed.
Somewhat calmed down, I ran out from RED Beach at a depth of about ten feet until I thought I was clear and then blew the ballast tanks until I was running awash. With no beach silhouette to rely on and nothing but the tip of a submarine periscope as a target, I had to rely entirely on the magnetic compass and clock for navigation. It had taken me about an hour to run into the beach so I figured that I would run to seaward for an hour, keeping the best magnetic course I could, then run parallel to the beach searching for the submarine.
Once well clear of the approach to the bay on which RED Beach was located, I blew the tanks and surfaced fully. But the seas were beginning to develop a noticeable chop, which was creating quite a bit of spray so I stayed on oxygen for a while. It wasn’t long, though, before I started to get a headache and realized that I was no longer thinking very clearly. I thought that the Baralyme canister of my LARU must be leaking and that I was experiencing the first stages of CO2 intoxication. At that point, running fully surfaced, I closed my oxygen supply valve and removed my facemask. I wanted to save what was left of the capability of the LARU to get me back into the submarine. I was taking a lot of spray in the face by this time, it was very dark, I wasn’t keeping a very steady course in the chop and I wasn’t at all sure of where I was or where the submarine was. Once, I considered turning around and running back in on the surface to beach the boat. There was no way I could miss Vieques Island. But that would have negated everything so I kept going. By the time an hour and a half had elapsed, I was getting very worried.
Then, out of the darkness, I heard, very faintly, a long drawn-out “Brigadoon” At first, I thought I was hallucinating, done for. But I turned toward the sound and, a minute or so later, heard it again a bit louder. I steered directly for the sound then and, a couple of minutes later saw a dark, bulky silhouette. Suddenly, there was Chief “Andy” Devine hanging to the submarine’s extended periscope calling out at the top of his voice. I think it was luck more than anything else but I had missed the submarine by only a hundred yards or so. There was no question though, that had Andy Devine not made himself into a human homing beacon, I would have gone right on past, out to sea — or would have exhausted myself searching fruitlessly for a slender periscope in a very large Caribbean Sea. A recovery crew soon popped to the surface and, too far gone to trust myself to take the SB down, I asked Kappesser to take the boat down on deck. I immediately put my face piece on, went back on oxygen and went on down to be locked in.
Back in the submarine, I sat in the wardroom babbling excitedly, or so they told me later. I felt exhausted but, at the same time, exhilarated. I guess I knew that I was rattling on like an idiot but I simply couldn’t shut up. For one thing, I was waiting anxiously for Al Dyer to develop the film. There was nothing I wanted more than to see the picture I had taken of the Marine sentry in the middle of a dark night from a distance of a few yards without being detected. Finally, Johnson appeared in the hatch of the tiny wardroom with a glum expression on his face; Dyer was standing behind him. As gently as possible, Johnson told me that the film had come up blank. “My God,” I thought, “what did I do wrong? “ In that first moment, I felt that I had blown the whole operation. Johnson, though, quickly told me that it wasn’t my fault, that there was no way I could have known and nothing I could have done. When the developed film came up blank, they checked the camera and found that the flash was a fraction of a second out of synch with the camera’s shutter. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, just Murphy’s Law at work. Despite later reports to higher authorities that night photography of the beach had been obtained, there weren’t any pictures. For me, it was a bitter disappointment and I know that Johnson and Dyer felt just as bad. Still, we had added another notch to justification for submersible operations. We had pulled off the operation, the men on the launch and recovery crews, the THREADFIN’s skipper and his crew and, of course, Andy Devine. We had proved that we could do what we set out to do and, in the end, were stymied only by a technological glitch. Murphy’s Law.
There were a good many new faces back at Little Creek by this time. Except for LCDR Fane, the wartime officers had all left. LTJGs Bill Huckenpoehler and Jim Paulick, Naval Academy alumni, had graduated with Replacement Training Class 3. LTJGs Arsenault and Howard had arrived from the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit at Indian Head, Maryland. They were the only non-volunteer officers to enter UDT at that time but the addition of explosive ordnance disposal skills was clearly to UDT’s advantage. LTJGs Boule, Moore, Clark, Smith and Huddleston qualified during 1949 or 1950. LTJG “Mac” McStay completed training despite a good ten years in age on most trainees. He was a former Chief Warrant Gunner and an acknowledged expert on explosives. Mac taught us such niceties as using explosives of different firing rates in the same array of charges to achieve maximum effectiveness in such tasks as ramping sand scarps, foreshadowing the sophisticated techniques now used to demolish large buildings.
One of the training classes had enough officers to constitute an all-officer rubber boat crew for the “Around the World “ course during Hell Week. Clark, Smith and Boule were part of that officer crew. Al Jones and I, as Training Officers for that class, rode the trainees unmercifully during that night exercise, tracking them all the way, jumping them from ambush whenever someone cursed an obstacle or tried to light a cigarette. The officer crew almost had it made that night when I caught them portaging their boat along a paved stretch of road on a shortcut back to Beach 7. I ordered them to go to Beach 7 and start over. They finished their second time over the course sometime the next afternoon. I don’t think those guys have ever forgiven me but I must say that they really earned their subsequent qualification.
SUBOPS itself remained fairly stable. All selected volunteers, most of the men stayed with UDT and SUBOPS although, as previously noted, some were absent for periods of special training and, as some men left for other duties or to leave the Navy, selected replacements from later training classes joined SUBOPS. New faces from outside UDT also “joined” SUBOPS from time to time. Army Warrant Officer Williams, a reconnaissance expert and skilled photographer was detailed to six months’ temporary duty with UDT and was assigned to SUBOPS during that period as Assistant Platoon Officer. Fane was able to bring in Count Roberto Frassetto, a former Italian Navy officer who had participated in swimmer and small submersible assaults on British warships in the Mediterranean Sea during World War II, to Little Creek. He spent several weeks with SUBOPS, giving us the benefit of his experience. Frassetto returned to Little Creek several times during the next few years.
Another visit to UDT and SUBOPS at Little Creek was to have a profound effect, not only on UDT, but also on American society and its recreational customs. While SUBOPS was doing its work at Little Creek, New London and in the Caribbean, a French Navy officer, Commandant Jacques Yves Cousteau (not as famous then as he came to be in later years,) had been pursuing vigorously the development of underwater swimmer capabilities for the French Navy. Cousteau was concentrating his effort on use of an open-system, non-recirculating breathing apparatus in which compressed air is fed to the diver through a three stage pressure valve, then exhausted to the sea as the diver exhales. Such an apparatus had the advantage of virtually eliminating the danger of oxygen toxicity although the diver did remain vulnerable to other common diving hazards. Fane had heard about Cousteau’s work. He made contact with Cousteau, and then met with him when Cousteau visited New York. As a result, in the spring of 1949, Emile Gagnon arrived at Little Creek with a one-bottle Cousteau unit. Gagnon was an engineer employed by Cousteau and the key designer of the air pressure regulator, which was the heart of the Cousteau lung. Gagnon spent several days with the SUBOPS men, teaching them how to use and maintain the Cousteau equipment.
Shortly after Gagnon’s visit, SUBOPS again deployed to New London. There, Fane made the first dive ever in the United States with the Cousteau-designed breathing apparatus. SUBOPS men followed Fane in diving the gear in the 100’ tower. Not long after that, Cousteau licensed the manufacture of his equipment in the United States where it was first put on the open market under the trade name, Aqua-Lung. SUBOPS quickly acquired a number of two-bottle Aqua-Lungs.
Although the Cousteau system open system offered obvious advantages for SUBOPS work, particularly the ability to dive deeper without worrying about oxygen toxicity, we weren’t ready to give up on closed, recirculating oxygen systems. I, for one, was concerned with the loss of concealment caused by the stream of bubbles emitted by an open-system apparatus. Others objected to the mouthpiece, which replaced the face-covering mask of the LARU and the loss of voice communication between swimmers. Hale and Rollins, who often swam together, learned Basic Sign Language so that they could communicate by hand while using Aqua-Lungs. Although the two bottle Aqua-Lungs obtained by UDT provided ample dive time, they were much bulkier than the LARU, making exits from submarine escape trunks even more problematical. The Aqua-Lungs also created a pesky logistics problem for SUBOPS. Pure oxygen of breathing quality for the LARUs had been readily available from the Navy supply system, the same oxygen used by aviators. We needed much larger volumes of compressed air for the Aqua-Lungs. Ironically, compressed air which one would think more easily available than pure oxygen wasn’t available, not in breathing quality. When it was available in large tanks, it was often contaminated with oil and other impurities. We got a commercial compressor but, like most commercial compressors, it didn’t provide oil-free air. As they did so many times in those years, the SUBOPS crew went work to jury rig a filter system using old oxygen bottles filled with diatomaceous earth. However, the homemade filter system never worked very well. Finally a very expensive commercial compressor designed to provide breathable compressed air was obtained.
Despite the advent of Aqua-Lungs, research into the physiology of oxygen toxicity was continuing at New London so the visits to the Submarine Base continued. On one of these visits, Fane and several of the most experienced SUBOPS men undertook a grueling series of experiments in the large compression chamber at the foot of the 100’ tower. The purpose of these experiments was twofold: first, to test the swimmer’s endurance on pure oxygen at increasing increments of pressure; second, to try to get blood samples from swimmers who were just at the threshold of acute oxygen toxicity so that the German physiologist, Dr. Schaefer, could conduct blood analyses. The pressure chamber was filled with about three feet of water. Air pressure in the chamber was then increased until it equaled the hydrostatic pressure of seawater at the desired depth. With appropriate air pressure in the chamber, swimming in three feet of water was physiologically the same as swimming at 10 feet, 20 feet, whatever the selected test depth. The swimmers, wearing LARUs and breathing pure oxygen, were to swim laps around the tank continuously until they began to experience adverse symptoms or until the test at that depth was halted. This became a very boring and, as the air and water in the tank warmed under increased pressure, tiring procedure. There is nothing like swimming around in tight, little ovals (the chamber was probably about 10’ x20’) for several hours on end. The test started at a simulated depth of ten feet and increased in ten-foot increments. In addition to the chamber operators from the tower staff, UDT’s medic, HMC Drane, was at one corner of the tank observing each swimmer as he passed, trying to detect any sign of a possible problem. Nothing happened until we had been working for some time at, I believe, the 40’ level. Once again, I was the first to go.
My experience provided an excellent example of the insidiousness of oxygen toxicity. Dr. Schaefer had talked to the swimmers time and again about euphoria being one of the very first symptoms of oxygen toxicity. I was rounding the corner at Chief Drane’s end of the tank, feeling very strong. I saw Drane stick his head under water to check me out and I gave Drane a thumb up. Then, I realized that I had been laughing as I signaled Drane and, an instant later, I felt the characteristic twitching of a muscle in the calf of my right leg. I knew instantly that I was just at the threshold of acute toxicity. I can still remember that I felt very good, even sort of proud, because I was certain that I was right on the threshold but wasn’t going out. Doc Schaeffer was going to love my blood. I immediately stood up, closed my supply valve, ripped off my face mask and took a deep breath of ambient air, still thinking that I was fine. Then I felt myself tipping over backwards and starting to floating up into the air.
My experience might have demonstrated another aspect of oxygen toxicity. Oxygen toxicity was thought to be intimately related to CO2 levels; it was thought that increased levels of CO2 lowered the threshold of oxygen toxicity, Although I probably would have convulsed anyway — once you detect symptoms, you are usually gone — I didn’t go fully out until I removed my face mask and took that first full breath of ambient air. It turned out that the air in the chamber hadn’t been recirculated for some minutes and there very likely was a relatively high concentration of CO2 in the chamber. It is possible that I might have been a good subject for Dr. Schaefer until that first breath of CO2 laced air kicked me over into a full-scale epileptiform convulsion.
I knew nothing else until I woke up momentarily in the lobby of the Base Dispensary where some idiot was tickling the sole of my foot and asking me stupid questions: what was my name, where was I, what month and day of the week was it? I apparently answered all of his questions correctly until he asked me what year it was. I told him, “1789” and the next things I knew was when I woke up in a Dispensary bed several hours later feeling as if I had just finished 60 minutes of football with the Chicago Bears. I also began to feel quite depressed because I figured that my days in UDT were over. Fane would never put up with an officer so weak as to have suffered epileptiform seizures on two occasions. About then, I heard incoherent noises from the bed next to mine. My sense of depression passed when I rolled over to look and saw Fane lying there, muttering, “Where am I?” I was released from the Dispensary the next morning, with a permanent entry in my Medical Record that read, “LTJG Bruce Dunning was released from the Dispensary, U.S. Navy Submarine Base, New London this date with a minimum of mental confusion.”
Following these deep tests, it was decided that we should run some simple endurance tests in shallow water. This time, the swimmers were to swim laps in the Base Swimming Pool, wearing LARUs, of course. This was simply a control test to determine if oxygen toxicity could be induced at shallow depths by fatigue alone, or if depth and its accompanying pressure was the crucial factor. With the convulsive experience in mind, Fane made sure that each swimmer was willing to participate. Although I doubt that any of us were excited by the prospect of swimming endless laps in a swimming pool all of the SUBOPS men agreed. One officer and two or three enlisted men who were not regularly assigned to SUBOPS opted out. In any event, we swam for probably a couple of hours with no one experiencing any symptoms. The only results were a bunch of tired swimmers. While this exercise didn’t prove anything, it supported the hypothesis that pressure was the villain in oxygen toxicity.
I think that both the work on oxygen with the old LARUs and the advent of Aqua-Lungs have had curiously intertwined effects which we didn’t recognize in those days. Much of the equipment that present-day SEALS, for example, have available simply hadn’t been developed. Except for UDT and a few pioneers such as E.R.F. Johnson and Dr. Lambertsen, skin diving in those days consisted mostly of a few people equipped with swim fins, face masks and “snorkels” which had been brought to the public’s attention when UDTs wartime exploits began to be publicized. Cousteau’s development and the Aqua-Lung changed all that, starting the skin-diving rage and a subsequent increase in research and development of underwater equipment. I suspect that the rapid increase in the public’s interest in the underwater environment also stimulated the Navy’s growing interest in exploiting that environment with combat swimmers. In any event, new equipment, which combined the relative safety advantages of the Aqua-Lungs with the concealment advantages of closed systems, was soon to appear. However, I may be speaking out of turn: the mixed-gas systems now available to SEALS appeared after my time in UDT and I have only the vaguest knowledge of them. But I would like to think that the work that we did back in the late 40’s, with both types of breathing apparatuses, contributed not only to the development of modern equipment for combat swimmers but also to the recreational revolution which made “SCUBA-diving” available to almost anyone.
UDT at Little Creek was in almost constant demand for demonstrations, sometimes carrying out their usual reconnaissance and demolition missions during amphibious landings conducted for the public, sometimes providing both static displays and dynamic demonstrations at special events. These demonstrations were so popular that, at one point, the Secretary of the Navy personally “requested” that UDT provide both a static display and a dynamic demonstration during all-Service demonstrations at the Ordnance Manufacturers’ Association Convention at Selfridge Air Force Base near Detroit. The Secretary’s request specified that we should include the use of explosives. Needless to say, UDT complied. But with only three days warning, the UDT detachment had to hustle to get to Detroit with both a static display and explosives for a dynamic, beach-clearance demonstration. The request from SECNAV came on a Sunday by a telephone call from the Secretary’s Military Assistant. I happened to be the UDT Duty Officer that morning and had to get things rolling so that a good part of the detachment lined up for the show came from SUBOPS. Sam Bailey and George Kudravitz took off early on Monday with explosives loaded in a truck pried out of Little Creek’s Base Motor Pool. We tapped “Dusty” Rhodes to go along as coxswain of whatever kind of boat we could borrow from the Air Force at Selfridge. Sam Bailey, Foster and Devine got the rest of the crew moving putting together whatever material they thought might be useful in a static display as well as fabricating dummy obstacles out of Celotex. The rest of us flew to Detroit just in time to get set up for the show. The static display in an Air Force hangar attracted considerable interest but the payoff came with a dynamic demonstration of a beach clearance mission on Lake St. Clair before a crowd of several thousand people. Actually, our show was pretty routine: cast of swimmers from an Air Force rescue skimmer, placement of charges on dummy obstacles, recovery of swimmers, then a second boat run to snatch the fuse puller from the water seconds before the scheduled detonation. (The charges actually were fired electrically by Foster and Devine, hidden under the grandstand.) But the “fuse puller” that day was GM2 Hugh Peddy who, I emphasized in my commentary, was born and raised in Hamtramck. The crowd loved it. Because of Peddy, the next day’s press coverage of the day’s demonstration was dominated by UDT’s part, much to the chagrin of the Air Force.
There was a continuing effort to think up new and more dramatic ways to demonstrate UDT capabilities. Desire to spice up static displays and SUBOPS’ search for a way to display their capabilities led to a new SUBOPS project. Some of the SUBOPS men had served as underwater observers while landing craft were run at full speed into beach obstacles as part of joint Army-Navy tests of beach obstacle designs. Commanding Officer, Construction Battalion 2, based at Little Creek was the Navy coordinator of these tests. The CB commander had taken advantage of SUBOPS’ performance during these tests to stress on his Army and Marine Corps counterparts the versatility of the Navy. He owed SUBOPS one. So, the CBs delivered one of their modular pontoon sections to The Brig. This was a heavy-steel cube, approximately 7’x7’x7’. SUBOPS men, with John Dolan as lead welder, first cut out the top of the cube, then cut a large window, about 6’x6’ in one side. Using materials begged from various sources, they devised a frame and gasket system to hold a 1/2” tempered glass window over the opening so that the assembly was watertight. Unfortunately, the glass had to be purchased with team funds and it didn’t come cheap. Even more unfortunately, the glass window cracked the first time we tried to tighten down the frame. The project almost came a cropper at that point. But someone got the idea of using Plexiglass. A sheet of very heavy Plexiglass was obtained by some unreported means. With the Plexiglass in place, the men started to fill the tank with water. It was a dicey half-hour or so while the tank filled because, if the Plexiglass were to break, that much water would come out with explosive force. The Plexiglass held. From then on the tank was used in displays for a good many years. Swimmers wearing lungs cavorted in the tank, waved to spectators, showed off in all sorts of ways. A bunch of hams. One of the favorite ploys was to put two men into the tank for a game of checkers using a checkerboard of steel plate, with painted washers as checkers.
But the demand for UDT participation in demonstrations was to lead to a major tragedy. During a good many demonstration amphibious landings, UDT was required to simulate the explosions on the beach of gunfire from Navy ships offshore as well as bombs and machine-gun fire from supporting aircraft. UDT men became quite proficient at using controlled explosives Hollywood-style to simulate naval gunfire and air bombardment preparation of landing beaches. But higher authorities always wanted more realistic simulations. One of the demands was for simulated anti-aircraft fire, supposedly from defending forces on the beach. The 4th-of-July type Roman candles the UDT men usually used weren’t very convincing. Mac McStay came up with the idea of using a Ship’s Emergency Identification Signal (SEIS) and modified SEIS projectiles to simulate the airbursts of anti-aircraft fire.
SEIS projectiles were aluminum canisters containing a small propelling charge, a bursting charge and a pyrotechnic element attached to a parachute. On being dropped into the mortar-like SEIS tube, the projectile was propelled about 150 feet into the air at which point the canister was burst, the parachute deployed and the brightly-burning pyrotechnic element floated down. McStay taped a M3A3 hand-grenade detonator into the detonator well of a 1/2-pound block of TNT, replaced the pyrotechnic element of the SEIS projectile with the primed TNT block and attached the parachute to the TNT block. To fire a charge, the pin was first pulled from the hand-grenade detonator. But with the actuating lever of the grenade detonator held tightly within the SEIS canister, the TNT theoretically could not detonate until the projectile was dropped into the mortar tube and propelled into the air, at which point the bursting charge would fire. Bursting of the canister released the actuating handle of the grenade, initiating the three-second delay of the M3A3 detonator. The TNT block would then float down on the parachute until it detonated at an altitude of about 90 feet. Test shots at Little Creek apparently worked perfectly.
In late August of 1949, UDT 2 deployed on an LST to participate in a demonstration landing at Atlantic City, New Jersey while the Miss America contest was being held there. UDT’s part in the Atlantic City demonstration was fairly routine: cast and recovery of reconnaissance swimmers, destruction of dummy obstacles and use of controlled explosives on the beach to simulate both friendly naval gunfire and enemy fire. SUBOPS was ashore throughout D-1 afternoon and night, setting up the beach. It would have been a boring operation were it not for Miss America activities and the presence of numerous sightseers on the Boardwalk. Frank Hale recalled standing on the Boardwalk watching a Miss America photo-op session when a little old lady walked up to him and said, “If someone hit you on the head with an ax, little, hairy things would come flying out.” Then she walked off. It takes all kinds. Bored, cold and hungry after a night spent on the beach with only a catnap under the Boardwalk and a little resentful of all those people sleeping comfortably in luxury hotels, I held 6:00 a.m. reveille by firing a two-pound block of tetrytol. It got the public’s attention.
After the Atlantic City demonstration, the amphibious task group proceeded on to Boston where a battalion-sized amphibious landing was scheduled to be held on Carson’s Beach, a large public beach and park in South Boston. The landing was to be a feature of a convention of the Marine Corps League and interest from the highest levels of the Marine Corps and Navy was strong. McStay decided to use his “anti-aircraft” mortar there. Additionally, a large and complex field of controlled explosives was planned. The day before landing was devoted to laying in the controlled-explosive fields. Several SUBOPS men were working with McStay on the beach. Most of the rest of us from SUBOPS were responsible for about half of the park inland from Carson’s Beach itself while other men from UDT 2 were working the other half of the hinterland. The whole operation got off to a bad start on D-1 Day when the Boston Police suddenly and without warning withdrew their security perimeter around the park at mid afternoon and the area was immediately overrun with homebound school children. Before we could get the situation in hand, a dozen or so 1/2-pound blocks of TNT were stolen. The blocks were unprimed and, by themselves relatively harmless. Nonetheless, the possession of explosives by any number of unidentified persons caused Navy and Boston authorities grave concern. The public was not yet aware of this development. Then, shortly after the demonstration landing started on the following day, one of McStay’s anti-aircraft charges exploded in the mortar tube. Exactly what went wrong in the tube of the mortar has never been fully explained, but the shattered mortar threw shrapnel directly into a crowd of Navy personnel and press representatives at the center of the beach. McStay had apparently spotted something wrong and tried to throw himself across the mortar but a piece of shrapnel struck Morris Fineberg, a highly-respected Boston news photographer, in the head killing him instantly. One other bystander, a Navy officer, received a non-life-threatening flesh wound. Mac McStay himself received severe shrapnel wounds in the abdominal area. UDT’s HMC Drane was at Mc Stay’s side immediately but despite all of his efforts, McStay’s condition was grave when he reached a hospital a few minutes later. LTJG McStay died of his wounds a few days later. It is likely that McStay’s effort to cover the mortar prevented many more casualties.
Those of us on controlled-explosives detail inland from the beach got a clue that something had happened when we heard Fane’s voice come over the public address system. Fane prevented possible public panic when he grabbed the microphone away from the hysterical assigned narrator and, ad-libbing, continued the narration of the show’s events. That something serious had happened was confirmed to us in our fire-control point when a UDT man from the beach passed at a dead run on his way to summon an ambulance parked at the perimeter of the park and shouted to us that the mortar had exploded.
The tragedy inflamed public opinion, made worse when news of the missing explosives became known. Then, the affair became embroiled in Boston politics at a time when Mayor Curley was fighting to retain office in what was to mark the end of his political career. The affair received front-page coverage in the news media, of course, and the media were assiduous in covering related developments for some time. However, I was impressed by the fairness of reporters when, on several occasions, they asked me for explanations of apparently contradictory statements before they rushed stories into print.
A deeply saddened UDT2 returned to Little Creek from Boston, less several officers and a number of men who remained in Boston during a long and ultimately inconclusive Court of Inquiry convened by Commander, First Naval District. After the inquiry, a detail from SUBOPS remained in Boston for several more weeks searching Carson’s Beach and the park, even covering the bottom of Boston Harbor with a Naval Shipyard designed “plow” towed by a yard tug. All that plow achieved was to stop the tug dead in its tracks as the plow buried itself in the bottom muck. The men patrolling the beach did recover one water shot, a 2 lb. block of tetrytol that floated ashore. That was the only primed charge missing during the operation. It was in the hands of a SUBOPS man within a minute of being found by a boy. As I recall, few if any of the unprimed TNT blocks missing from the Park on D-1 afternoon were ever recovered.
Back in Little Creek, UDT and its SUBOPS element tried to put Boston behind them and get on with their work. The first opportunity to give Aqua-Lungs a rigorous, operational test came in December 1949 when CINCLANTFLT asked UDT to attempt to clear a wreck lying in 60 feet of water in Chesapeake Bay. Conventional divers had been unable to make much progress in removing the menace to navigation because of swift tidal currents, which limited their dives to short periods of slack tide. Fane led a detail of SUBOPS men on Aqua-Lung dives to the wreck to place explosive charges while the ubiquitous Fen Johnson photographed the proceedings. Working under extremely severe conditions for a number of days, Fane and his crew were able to demolish the wreck. Fane, Johnson, Devine, Foster, Bailey, Piotrowski, Petway and Kappesser received Letters of Commendation from CINCLANTFLT for their work. The knowledge of the men who had gone to deep-sea diving school was especially valuable during this operation since they were well trained in the limits of diving stay-time as well as in the use of decompression tables, absolute necessities in sustained air dives with the Aqua-Lung. I played no part in this operation.
In early 1950, it was off to St. Thomas again for SUBOPS. The deployment was marked at the outset by a typical hassle with “conventional forces.” The SUBOPS detachment, along with a large amount of equipment and half-a-ton of explosives was transported from Norfolk to Roosevelt Roads, P.R. in an AKA which also carried a large contingent of Marine service troops. From there, a LCU was to take SUBOPS and the gear to St. Thomas. On arrival at Rosie Roads, I found the LCU beached on a ramp several hundred yards from the AKA’s berth. That night, I contacted the Marine captain who was CO of a transportation company and got his promise to provide a 6×6 truck to transfer the explosives and gear from shipside to the LCU on the following morning. As soon as the explosives and gear were offloaded from the AKA, the UDT men started loading the truck provided by the Marine captain. The truck was about half loaded when an irate Marine colonel appeared on the scene screaming that we had no authority to “commandeer” a Marine vehicle. I tried to explain that I had requested and received permission to use the truck for one trip and turned to the CO of the Transportation Company for confirmation. That sterling officer promptly denied that he had ever given such permission and denied ever talking to me. Threatened with court-martial and ordered by the still raging colonel to unload the truck, the men started doing so, piling it on the pier and covering it with a tarpaulin. More for appearance’s sake than urgent need, the men started wetting down the tarp with buckets of water. Hauling all that material to the LCU on foot would have taken days. So I went aboard the AKA, found the Executive Officer, told him there was half-a-ton of explosives sitting on the pier next to the ship’s side in imminent danger of “cooking off” (a gross exaggeration) and that transportation was urgently needed. The Exec found his Captain who immediately rushed to the pier to find the Marine colonel. After lengthy negotiations, the still incensed colonel relented, but only after making it clear to me that any recurrence of the affair would mark the end of my career and extracting a promise that the truck would be returned in 15 minutes. Of course, it took over an hour to load the truck, move it to the LCU and unload it. Either the colonel forgot about the time or couldn’t find us and we were soon off on a slow, pleasant cruise to St. Thomas. I must add that the case of the purloined truck was an aberration: UDT and Marines, especially Marine reconnaissance units, often worked together and enjoyed considerable mutual respect.
It was probably during this deployment that Al Jones and I were ordered to use explosives to turn a rocky shoreline into a sandy beach. A former Navy hospital at the edge of a small bay near Charlotte Amalie had been turned into a hotel. The hotel owner didn’t have a nice sand beach for his guests and he wanted one. Fane negotiated a deal to exchange our transformation of the beach for a steak dinner for the UDT men. We worked for a couple of days but succeeded only in making slightly smaller chunks of coral out of very large reefs — no sand. (I learned there that “mud-capping” doesn’t work with sand.) Fane came by to inspect our progress and, seeing none, directed us to use larger charges. The operation ended when, under the influence of increasingly large charges, a crack appeared in the concrete-block front of the hotel from eave to foundation. Fane must have been persuasive, though, because we got our steak dinner anyway.
With fleet exercises commencing, the SUBOPS crew again embarked in a submarine at the St. Thomas pier and headed for Vieques to conduct reconnaissance on Red Beach. I believe that it was during this operation that a 7-man rubber boat lashed on the afterdeck of the submarine broke loose as the submarine approached the objective area at periscope depth. The skipper, using his periscope, suddenly saw a rubber boat flapping around in the current. Both Fane and the submarine’s skipper were understandably incensed at this example of sloppy seamanship. The submarine surfaced so that a crew could go on deck to secure the boat. Moderately rough seas were running and fairly large waves smashed over the deck of the nearly awash submarine. The crew trying to corral the boat took quite a beating. Hale was battered when he got caught between the lurching boat and the after part of the conning tower. I had gone forward of the conning tower to retrieve something and was slammed into an ammunition locker, jamming my leg between the handle on the hatch and the hatch itself. When the boat was secured and we returned below, I found a 3/4”, bone deep split in the flesh of my shin. Joe DiMartino and I had been scheduled to make a two-mile swim later that night to the small islet off the center of Red Beach, there to remain throughout the next day, observing and photographing the beach. On the next night, we were to swim back out to sea to be picked up by the submarine. I wasn’t wildly enthusiastic about the prospect of two long night-swims and even less enthusiastic about spending a full day sitting under a hot sun on top of a treeless, guano-caked rock. Besides, we had no good way of waterproofing the 35 mm camera we were to use; we didn’t have one of Johnson’s waterproofed cameras. I don’t really know but I think Di Martino was just about as unenthusiastic as I was. In any event, I chickened out and used my “wound” to get Fane to cancel our mission.
Not long after SUBOPS returned to Little Creek, LCDR F.D. Fane was transferred to the West Coast teams where he continued his pioneering work in underwater operations. Most of the SUBOPS men were busy training yet another Replacement Training Class when CDR Raymond A. Hundevadt, USN (now deceased) arrived to take over as COMUDTLANT and CO, UDT 4. At about the same time, LCDR L.L. Hoyt, USN, a recent RTC graduate, assumed command of UDT 2
As the summer of 1950 approached, so did big changes for UDT and SUBOPS. With the burgeoning of popularity of the Aqua-Lung, public interest increased Navy interest in underwater operations and, along with that interest, increased willingness to support research and development aimed at improving the capabilities and expanding the missions of the Navy’s combat swimmers. The British Royal Navy’s X-7, the submersible which had sunk the German pocket battleship TIRPITZ, was scheduled to visit Little Creek for combined operations with SUBOPS. And, although the UDT men had no foreknowledge of it, the Korean War would start in June. Ultimately, Fane and a good many UDT men would see combat action in Korea where they chalked up a remarkable record of achievements.
About a week after the North Koreans invaded South Korea, I received orders to report to USS NEWPORT NEWS (CA 148) for duty. At that time, most of us in SUBOPS were sure that we would be on our way to the Pacific within days and we were busy getting equipment into top shape. If this was to be the case, I wanted to be with them. I called the LTJG Detailer at BuPers to beg him for a year’s extension of my tour of duty in UDT, to no avail.
LTJG Philip Clark relieved me as SUBOPS Platoon Officer. Subsequently, after Phil Clark left for duty in Washington, Lieutenants William Huckenpoehler (now deceased), A.A. Moore, and Robert Fay (killed in action in Vietnam in 1966), among others, served as SUBOPS officers.
There were things happening at the upper reaches of the Navy’s hierarchy in Washington of which BuPers apparently wasn’t aware. NEWPORT NEWS was good duty and a very valuable experience for me. But in early 1951 I was plucked off after three or four months and sent to Ft. Benning, Georgia for a four-month, joint-Services training course including, among other things, qualification in the Army’s Basic Airborne Course. Al Jones, Bill Thede from a West Coast Team, and several others followed me through that course. Qualification as parachutists wasn’t as yet part of UDT’s training or mission, but we were selected for the training at Fort Benning precisely because we had been UDT officers. BuPers got their hooks into me again, however, when I returned to Washington and BuPers for reassignment after I left Ft. Benning, I found myself facing the same Detailer who had refused to extend me in UDT. When he discovered, apparently for the first time, that I had been jumping out of airplanes instead of standing watches on the bridge of a combatant ship, he went ballistic and ordered me straight back to USS NEWPORT NEWS. However, thanks to a contact I had made at Ft. Benning, I was again plucked off the NEWS after several months, to report for duty elsewhere. Even so, I didn’t make it to Korea until I did an interesting four-month tour there in 1953.
This is what I now remember. I know that I have left much out which should be included and have undoubtedly got the facts wrong more than once. I know that I have failed to give credit where credit is due. I apologize to those I have unintentionally short-changed. This story is simply one version of what really happened. I offer it in the hope that it will stimulate others to correct my errors, fill the gaps I have left, add their recollections to an important period in the history of combat swimming and Navy Special Warfare.
The one thing that I do know beyond any doubt is that being associated with the men of UDT during those years, most especially being associated with the superb men of SUBOPS who took UDT underwater and, I truly believe, laid the groundwork for the future development of Navy Special Warfare, was one of the greatest privileges of my life. (May 29, 2003, Fairfax, Virginia)
In describing these early swimmer/submarine operations, I have bolstered and corrected my memory by reference to the well-documented account in John B. Dwyer, Commandos From The Sea, Boulder Colorado: Paladin Press, 1998, pp. 116-124. See also, Francis Douglas Fane and Don Moore, Naked Warriors, New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1956, pp.277-302 for a vivid and more detailed description of early UDT/submarine operations in the Caribbean. There is some conflict between sources regarding command of USS GROUPER during these February, 1948 operations. My memory as well as Commander Fane’s book cites Commander Miles Refo as CO, GROUPER. Dwyer, relying on GROUPER’s patrol reports for the period, cites Commander Putnam as CO, GROUPER.
At this time, there was no shelter for the SB on the deck of its parent submarine. The SB, when on deck, was secured in its wheeled dolly, which, in turn, was lashed to the deck of the submarine.
A maximum allowable depth of 35’ was later established for closed-system oxygen breathing apparatuses.
Present day SEALS will probably be amused to know that back then, UDT men were not issued firearms as a general rule. Our standard weapon was a K-bar combat knife.
According to Frank Hale, the hangar continued in use during post-SB years for storage of deflated and rolled-up rubber boats during transit. Hale and Phipps were on the deck of a submerged submarine one night to take the inflatables out of the hangar. The boats were jammed inside because of the residual buoyancy of trapped air. After a struggle, they got the first boat free only to have it pop toward the surface to the limit of its tether. Phipps, who had been pulling at that first boat got a wild ride to the surface, He allowed that his wild ride had been fun and told Hale, “Let’s do it again.
One morning in The Brig when I was mouthing off with some specious profundities, QM3 Barney Weathers announced, “Thank you Finian J. Brigadoon.” referring, of course, to “The World’s Smartest Man” character in the “L’il Abner” comic strip Weathers put neatly in my place and tagged me with a nickname which still persists in certain quarters.
The Amphibious Base at Little Creek had not yet been paved over. The all-night rubber boat exercise called “Around the World” took the trainees over rock jetties, through marshy areas where the trainees had to find there way through a tangle of open channels, most of which led nowhere, through the swamp into which the base’s waste disposal plant discharged, along narrow drainage ditches clogged with rocks and stumps. It was a tough exercise.
In those days, the quarterly operating allotment of each Underwater Demolition Team was $400. That was intended to cover all of the ordinary material and supply expenses of the team. Over expenditure could result in severe sanctions against the commanding officer. UDT men, in these circumstances became adept at begging, stealing, borrowing and improvising. For something like Aqua-Lungs an expensive compressor, funds had to be obtained from higher commands: from COMPHIBLANT or BuSHIPS, for example. Higher commands weren’t always enthusiastic about funding the wish lists of unorthodox units such as SUBOPS. It fell to LCDR Fane to find and justify funding sources for special items. At our level in SUBOPS, we didn’t always know how he did it, but he was very successful.
 We were always amused by the Herr Doktor’s rich, rolling, Germanic pronunciation of what we called “youFORia” — he pronounced it, “oyphorEEa.”