A Brief History of Frogmen, UDTs and Navy SEALs

Throughout human history, warfare has always been a brutal affair. From the dawn of the agricultural revolution all the way to our present digital age, tribes and nations have fought battles for geopolitical advantage across land, air—and sea.

Across the centuries, these armies have always sought the technical advantage, trying to out-innovate their opponents. And it’s through such a process of research and innovations that naval warfare was forever changed during World War II with the introduction of the frogmen, or Underwater Demolitions Teams (UDTs), as they’re also commonly known.  

The Second World War was dominated by both marine and land-based theatres of war, and as such, sea-based tactical units flourished during the war including demolition units, divers, raiders, scouts, swimmers and other aquatic companies. Due to the rising need for these types of soldiers and teams, in mid-August, 1942, the US Navy and Army began joint training at Amphibious Training Base, Little Creek, Virginia. Although the teams were initially trained for coastal assault, their duties quickly evolved to include sabotage, recon and infiltration. 

Early exploits of these teams included invasions of Normany, North Africa, and portions of the Italian campaign. However, despite preliminary successes, politics and inter-military affairs  caused controversy and all non-Navy members of the frogmen teams were reassigned before the conclusion of WWII. Once the Underwater Demolitions Teams had proven their merit and tactical importance in battle, Admiral Ernest J. King mandated the training of over 1,000 more men to join the aquatic forces’ special teams at Fort Pierce, Florida. 

Operationally, the earliest predecessors of today’s Navy SEALs were the Underwater Demolition Teams, who trained and served under the Office of Strategic Services. Outfitted in minimalist fins, masks and swimwear, these early soldiers/hatchetmen would use stealth infiltration to gain access to an enemy’s beach position, then proceed to blow up hardware and equipment and make coastal access/invasion more attainable. These clandestine operations were extremely common in both the Pacific and European theaters of WWII. However, after the conclusion of the war, the UDTs were sharply reduced. 

The UDTs, or “frogmen” were revived during the Korean War and took part in raids along the coast of Korea. These UDTs were instrumental in sabotaging railroad tunnels and bridges and also several large-scale military/de-mining operations during the Korean conflict. 

A few years later, under the order of President John F. Kennedy, the US military formed SEAL (Sea, Air, Land) teams ONE and TWO to advise and instruct soldiers during the conflict in Vietnam. From their outset, SEAL teams were tasked with secretive aquatic operations in rivers, lakes and oceans. 

In more recent conflicts, SEALs have played pivotal roles in Afghanistan and Iraq. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, SEALs were instrumental in over 75 active missions securing infrastructure, clearing waterways, raids and of course, capture/kill operations like the one that infamously took out 9-11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden in 2011.

Whether swimming across enemy lines, sabotaging equipment or taking out high-value threats, throughout their history, American frogmen, UDTs and SEALs alike have come to personify and epitomize valor, strength and elite performance in the 20th and 21st centuries.