Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Frogmen

Popular term for members of underwater demolition teams (UDTs), which played an important role in World War II. Italy was at the forefront in training combat swimmers; the Italian 10th Light Flotilla was composed mostly of sailors who manned small surface and underwater craft with explosive warheads. Their mission was to sink Allied warships and merchant shipping, a role in which they enjoyed some success.

The United States also devoted attention to such activity, training and deploying frogmen in demolition and commando tactics. The first unofficial U.S. frogmen were organized in September 1942 as a detachment of sailors who received a week of training in underwater demolition tactics before being sent to North Africa as part of Operation torch. They destroyed nets blocking the entrance to the Sebou River in Morocco, allowing U.S. assault ships to enter the river and offload rangers to assault Vichy-held Port Lyautey Field.

This success led Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Ernest J. King to issue orders on 6 May 1943 for the formation of UDTs. The first Naval Combat Demolition Unit consisted of 13 volunteers who trained at the Naval Amphibious Unit at Solomon Island, Maryland. They were instructed in the destruction of underwater obstacles and use of explosive charges to make channels through sandbars.

These newly designated frogmen took part in the invasion of Sicily in July 1943. They destroyed roadblocks near the coast, used bangalore torpedoes to remove barbed wire along the beach, salvaged stranded boats, and cleared channels through sandbars. On completion of their mission, most of the frogmen were sent back to the United States to work as instructors following further training at the Naval Amphibious Training Base at Fort Pierce, Florida. In the European Theater, frogmen also participated in the invasion of Normandy, where they were tasked with the destruction of steel girders and heavy timbers on Omaha and Utah Beaches, clearing the way for the landing craft. Frogmen also played a key role in the Pacific Theater, participating in the many amphibious operations. The British also used frogmen in the war. In the United States, frogmen were the forerunners of the U.S. Navy SEAL ( sea, air, land) elite special-operations commando teams.

Gregory C. Wheal


Further Reading
Best, Herbert. The Webfoot Warrior. New York: John Day Company, 1962.; Fane, Francis D. The Naked Warrior. New York: Appleton-Century-Croft, 1956.; Gleeson, James. The Frogmen. London: Evans Brothers Limited, 1950.; Greene, Jack, and Alessandro Massignani. The Black Prince and the Sea Devils. Philadelphia, PA: Da Capo, 2004.; Kelly, Orr. Brave Men, Dark Waters: The Untold Story of the Navy SEALs. New York: Pocket Books, 1993.; Truscott, Lucian K., Jr. The Twilight of the U.S. Cavalry: Life in the Old Army, 1917–1942. Edited and with Preface by Lucian K. Truscott III and Foreword by Edward M. Coffman. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1989.
 

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