In the early December of 1943, Turner received Admiral Nimitz's approval for a plan to convert already trained Naval Combat Demolition Units into Underwater Demolition Teams. Each of these new teams would consist of (15) 6 man NCDU crews, making the Teams about 90 men and officers each. Whether this formula or ratio was Turner's idea or not has not been confirmed, but his directive through top Navy brass was clear. The new Teams were called Naval Underwater Demolition Teams.
As 1944 approached, the
Turner's directive initiated two fast
moving projects. First and most important in terms of time was the formation of
two Underwater Demolition Teams trained for action before the middle of
The two new Teams for the Marshall Island operation was going to be the problem because of the short time allowed for their development and training. Even if the brass could move enough trained Naval Combat Demolition Units together in the Pacific in the time allowed, there still must be some time to train in their new 90 man formation.
By early December there was a nucleus of
men training at Waimanalo,
A listing of officers is not available
for the Team One roster, but several officers have been identified from other
sources as being on Team One's staff. Commander E. D. Brewster (CEC) was made
commanding officer of the Team. Ensign Lew Luehrs served as a platoon officer.
Luehrs would have one of the longest distinguished records in Underwater
Demolition. He was one of the first men to swim a reconnaissance mission when
he swam into the beach at
Team Two organized with nearly half of
the men being Marine and Army personnel. Lieutenant Tom Crist, a Seabee just in
In the brief month that these two teams
were formed and trained together, it was hoped that they would be prepared to
meet the challenge ahead - whatever that would be. The schedule for the
Team Two left
Team One left the
It was planned to use two new weapons in
The other weapon was the "drone boats". The idea of the drone boats was hatched by someone at Waimanalo. Tom Crist, who furnished much of the information about Teams One and Two for this book, and who now (1993) is about 80 years old, living in Dallas, Texas, trained and experimented with the drone boats before their use at Kwajelein and Roi-Namur. The drone boats were high technology 1943 style, but simply put, they were unmanned boats controlled by radio signals. The drone boats were tested under non-combat conditions, used at both Kwajelein and Roi-Namur, and were considered to have failed in all three instances. The drone boats were ordinary wooden landing craft with special radio controlled equipment for guidance and acceleration. They were loaded with three tons of explosives. Some research listed the explosive as 60% dynamite and another listed it as tetrytol. Of course, dynamite would be illogical because a Japanese sniper could detonate the dynamite with a single rifle bullet, either by chance or by intention. The boats were intended to blast holes or channels through coral reefs without endangering the lives of demolition men required to place the explosive from rubber boats. Any good demolition man should have been skeptical, because explosives will move into the least resistance. Three tons of explosives in a floating boat would lose most of its force moving upward through the air, and furthermore the downward energy would be reduced quickly between the water and the coral.
The Kwajelein operation began in the
early morning hours of
At that point, swimmers led by Ensign Lew
Luehrs, left the LCVPs and swam shoreward over the reef. They covered the
entire reef to the surf line checking for the water depth and searching for
mines and possible underwater obstacles. They found the beach was clear of mines
and manmade obstacles, but found large coral head growths closer to the surf.
At low tide a repeat of the disaster at
Lew Luehrs lives in
On another Kwajelein beach the drone boats were tried for the first time on an enemy beach. They never got to the beach and their explosive cargo was never ignited. The operation was canceled because of technical failures.
Although Team One had no pre-assault demolition operations, after the landings they blasted channels through coral reefs to allow heavy supplies to be transported to shore. They also blasted beach obstacles in a beach clearing operation.
Meanwhile, about 40 miles northwest of Kwajelein the island of Roi-Namur was being attacked by Admiral Conolly's Task Force 53 with Underwater Demolition Team Two assigned to reconnoiter the beaches.
The reconnaissance mission at Roi-Namur
was accomplished in the good old
It was decided that Team Two would try their drone boats before "H-hour" even though the beaches had been declared clear. It would be a good test run under fire and the exploding drones might cause confusion for the Japanese forces. So, under heavy fire, Lieutenant Tom Crist, the Team Operations Officer in charge of the drones, sent the boats into the smoke shrouded beach. When the drones were very near the beach Crist gave the old Demo "Fire in the Hole" cry. But all were misfires, and the drones seemed out of control. One boat traveled a circular path a short distance from the beach. Radio signals would not control the boats or fire the charges, and Crist had to send men in on other landing craft to board and bring the drones under control.
The drone boats were all under manual control before the first wave of Marines went ashore. What caused the drones to cease responding to radio signals was never known, but it was believed that in the choppy water over the reef the electrical connections had shorted. Three tries and three failures resulted in ending the testing and using drone boats.
Team Two did some post-assault demolition work blasting landing ramps in the coral ledges at the beach line. There was also some assault work with the Marines in blasting heavily fortified blockhouses.
Teams One and Two had made UDT history
with many "firsts" at Kwajelein and Roi-Namur. The Army at Kwajelein
and the Marines at Roi-Namur had also had successful "firsts", and
the disaster of
By the end of the first week in February,
the two eastern strongholds were in
The water was very clear as the amtracks approached the outer limits of the coral reef leading to the intended invasion beaches. As the amtracks moved slowly shoreward coral heads began appearing under the water. The Japanese began firing at the amtracks and the fleet's bombardment force increases their fire. The radiomen in the amtracks were unable to spot only a general location for the source of enemy fire, so the fleet used a "blanket fire" method in attempting to cover the amtracks and their UDT and Marine scouts.
Where the water over the coral heads became shallow enough to indicate a threat to landing craft, it was decided to mark their location with buoys. The buoys would locate the coral heads for a night underwater demolition operation if necessary. Lew Luehrs led Team One swimmers from the moving amtracks sounding the depth to the coral heads and buoying those that were determined needed removing. A quarter mile wide area of reef was reconnoitered from the deep water to the surf line with all coral heads which seemed hazardous plainly marked with buoys. After the completion of the coral head locations, Luehrs and his swimmers placed different colored side buoys along the quarter mile width of the beach approach area.
It was determined after the full report of the mission was finalized that the coral heads would not be a hazard to LCVPs with the tide level expected during the invasion hours, and a night demolition operation was not required.
The following morning another tradition of Underwater Demolition began. The UDT reconnaissance swimmers led the first wave of landing craft into the beach. Lew Luehrs in command of the wave guide boat noticed that many of the landing craft was moving out of the area marked by buoys. He moved his craft close to the wayward craft and forced them back into the channel area. Luehrs was warranted a Silver Star Medal for his performance that morning, and this was just the beginning of his distinguished service in UDT.
Eniwetok was soon secured by Marines, and
There are many atolls in the
For Teams One and Two their war was over,
they were decommissioned. But the war was not over for the men who served with
them for they would go into other teams and into the Naval Underwater
Demolition Base at
(from THE MEN FROM
See Page 1, UDT Team One and UDT Team TWO for additional history for those Teams.
TEAM ROSTERS - To protect the integrity of the Teams and the privacy of individual frogmen, Team rosters are not made public. If you or your relative was a member of UDT Team Three and you would like further information, we suggest you contact the UDT-SEAL Museum.