UNDERSEA SPIES (Feb, 1946)

UNDERSEA SPIES

BY JAMES NEVIN MILLER

BACK in December, 1944, Lieut. Earl E. Cook of Seattle, won the Navy Cross for a unique achievement. First, in a successful effort to locate three enemy depth bombs known to be in immediate danger of detonation, he dove deep inside a patrol bomber sunk in a vital channel off Oahu, Hawaii. Then for three never-to-be-forgotten days he directed a six-man team of divers which finally recovered the death-dealing weapons.

This daring young officer was one of a group of “undersea spies” who undertook the most dangerous and difficult assignments of the war. Trained with painstaking care in a unique type of Intelligence work, most of them were members of the Navy’s underwater demolition teams.

Unarmed, dressed only in swimming trunks, members of these teams swam to action, braving enemy fire and sharks, to clear with explosives any natural or man-made obstacle from the beaches chosen as objectives of our amphibious landings.

These “spies in trunks” in many instances were provided with revolutionary equipment that furnished underwater photographic eyes for their special brand of sub-sea Intelligence. Incidentally, this new equipment is expected to have important applications in peacetime salvage. Right after Pearl Harbor, faced by the problem of determining accurately the amount of damage to American warships crippled or destroyed by the Jap sneak attack, the Navy found existing underwater photographic equipment and techniques impractical in the extreme depths and dirty water in which they were forced to work. Sketches made by divers from personal exploration took precious time and lacked the extreme accuracy and detail required for salvage work. So it happened that the en- gineers of Photo Utilities, Inc., in cooperation with the Navy, developed an electrically-operated multiple exposure camera capable of withstanding pressures at depths up to 225 feet. In this connection they used the automatic motor and film transport mechanism manufactured by Graflex, Inc., the 90 mm. wide-angle Graflex Optar lens in the Graflex synchronized shutter originally designed for Speed Graphic press cameras, and a special aluminum pressure case with pressure type controls for lens diaphragm and shutter. The camera, using only standard film, filters and flashbulbs, can be operated from the surface by remote control, yet it is compact enough to be carried and operated by a single diver.

Because of the extreme murkiness of choppy waters and great depths, most undersea photographic work requires from one to four standard size flashbulbs. Special waterproof socket reflectors developed by the Mines Equipment Co., prevent the danger of short circuits and make it possible to change bulbs under water. In crystal-clear areas of the Pacific however, standard snapshot exposures are possible at depths as great as 100 feet.

Extreme depth of field and focusing from two feet to infinity are possible with a helical mount which moves the film toward and away from the lens instead of the opposite standard procedure.

A dome-shaped aluminum pressure case protects the camera from damage by water or pressure. For the first time in undersea equipment, the curved protecting glass over the lens forms an integral part of the optical system, providing critical definition under all conditions. Special waterproof compartments within the camera prevent total damage in case of accident to one or more sections.

Getting back to the exploits of the “underwater spies”: exactly how they were able to invade enemy beachheads to pave the way for landings in force probably never will be told in its entirety. This much, however, may now be revealed: They were the first ashore and al- ways faced the risk of heavy casualties. In fact, their losses in Normandy were as high as 40 per cent.

Yet their work was vital to the success of our landing operations. They cleared enemy beaches of obstructions. They blasted ways through reefs so landing ships might enter. Their sacrifices helped to keep down the casualties among the soldiers who arrived on the succession of D-Days in the Pacific, invariably days after the sub-sea Intelligence experts had done their work.

The first training school for underwater demolition teams was organized by Commander Draper L. Kauffman of Bethesda, Md. He and his daring associates went through a big part of the Pacific war. * “Every time our men went in,” he said, “they expected to suffer heavy casualties. After one or two operations we felt certain that the Jap would take steps to prevent our accomplishing future jobs other than by simply shooting at us. We expected to be blown sky high by mines waiting for our swimmers and to find other traps specifically designed to stop us when the teams left their boats and swam in to carry out reconnaissance and demolition of obstructions. These the Jap failed to do and contented himself with plastering us with cannon, rifle and machine gun fire. We didn’t want to emphasize his mistakes.”

In open daylight jobs destroyers and converted destroyers, cruisers and even battleships, along with bombing and strafing planes, kept the enemy at bay while our underwater experts worked around reefs and along the beaches.

The value of the sub-sea spies was twofold. They obtained information as to whether mines and obstacles lay in the way of a planned landing operation, and they eliminated obstructions wherever necessary.

Their attire was simple—swimming trunks, light swimming shoes sometimes fitted with a fin to speed up swimming, and large goggles for working under water. Their tools, besides the sub-sea camera, were explosives and fuses and gear for securing them into position.

Their mother ships were converted destroyers which carried smaller landing craft for transporting personnel when close to the reefs. From here on in, small rubber boats and swimming were the only means of transportation.

Underwater spying had to be rapid and sure. Often on exposed reefs where a man was too clearly a target, the demolition men had to work for short periods when tides partially or fully covered the reefs. Early in the work our officers and men learned that it was very difficult for the enemy to hit a human head bobbing in the water. Normally the demolition men laid their high explosives, connected by cords of instantaneous explosive material, around a large group of obstacles to be blown out. When the safety fuse was touched off, the whole area of obstacles went up together. Synchronized watches and radio contact were used among the platoons or groups of men to assure that explosives were not touched off prematurely. On pre-arranged signal, all swimmers would get out of the area of danger as fast as they could to their rubber boats, thence to landing craft to escape the deluge of flying coral, concrete, steel and broken timbers.

They not only blew up these obstructions but often cut channels through the reefs so that the larger landing craft could bring men and tanks to the chosen beaches. Time after time secret reconnaissance was required at selected landing beaches without leaving a trace that the beaches had been visited.

18 comments
  1. fred says: May 26, 20091:49 am

    Is this how the Navy Seals started? and the $1.95 arc welder is cool.

  2. -DOUG- says: May 26, 20092:58 am

    Well, sort of. Underwater Demolitions Teams were a product of World War II and were still around when John F. Kennedy became President and ordered the creation of the Special Forces. The reluctant navy started out by using the UDT frogmen, then saw the value of the SEALS in Vietnam.

  3. Firebrand38 says: May 26, 20092:12 pm

    Not exactly, but close:

    http://www.thesealteams…

    http://www.navysealmuse…

    By the way, Army Special Forces were “created” back in 1952 and NOT by Kennedy. JFK just backed an expansion and formally authorized wear of the Green Beret.

  4. Toronto says: May 26, 20095:02 pm

    I though that was Barry Sadler, not Kennedy.

  5. Firebrand38 says: May 26, 20099:48 pm

    Yeah, Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler did all that rather than the President. And thanks for playing.

  6. Doug Sterner says: June 9, 20092:02 pm
  7. Doug Sterner says: June 9, 20097:08 pm

    Thanks. Unfortunately, the following are the only “Cook” or “Cooke” individuals I show for the Navy Cross:
    Cook, George Carlton
    Cook, Lawrence Blanchard
    Cook, Morrill I., Jr.
    Cook, Orville Melvin
    Cook, Paul Peniston
    Cook, Raymond B
    NONE were divers. As you noted, magazines do make mistakes. There was no one with the surname “Earle” in the NX database as well. I will keep digging on the long-shot possibility however, as no hero should be forgotten.

  8. -DOUG- says: June 10, 200912:29 am

    Well, as I said, there is an Earl Cook with a Silver Star, and that might be what they got wrong. And there’s no last name of Cork? I read where a whole family of Cork found their last name changed to Cook by I guess the county they lived in, because that is what some bureaucrat put them down as in the early 20th century.

    And yeah, I keep thinking about that $1.95 arc welder. “Plugs into a light socket.” Whatever happened to that? Did it put welding in the hands of maybe a few people it’s best kept OUT of the hands of? I’ll take one of the $9.95 engines, too. To think BOTH will be made in America by more or less skilled individuals out of the PROPER materials. Oh, the things they could once run out and buy. You could even get books on making furniture out of composites as a ‘Home Industry Opportunity.’

  9. Doug Sterner says: June 10, 200912:36 am

    The Earl Cook who got the Silver Star was a Marine with the 6th Marine Division…awarded for actions at Okinawa on June 17, 1945.

  10. -DOUG- says: June 14, 20091:37 pm

    (It just won’t post yesterday. Let’s try again.) So you don’t miss our expert at work:

    http://www.cnn.com/2009…

    Which brings up another possiblity for the enigmatic Mr. Cook; he might have been a travelling mendacite, speaking publicly and granting interviews. I remember some years back one of the network news shows went to a Memorial Day event to interview the Medal of Honor winner that was a sort of Grand Marshall—and then they did their homework. The guy carried a counterfeit medal to show people and as in the story at the link, ‘Put on a production.’

    I’m surprised a political campaign didn’t vette this Strandlof. But not all news outlets do any fact checking, especially not Fox, who said in court they didn’t think it mattered if it was true or not just because they call it “News.” As Mr. Sterner points out, the real point is credibility. Just as it’s tough for the Green Berets to have their big spokesman turn mercenary, and get killed in an embarassing manner because of it.

    Meanwhile, the mystery of Earl Cook deepens.

    (Hopefully the system will work this time.)

  11. Firebrand38 says: June 14, 20096:06 pm

    Yeah, Barry Sadler was never a “big spokesman”, just someone in the news after his song came out. He was mostly a novelist in his later days without a lot of mercenary work.

    And getting shot in the head in a taxi in Guatemala in 1989 really wasn’t all that embarrassing to anyone I knew at the time.

  12. Dave says: November 6, 200910:21 pm

    Earl E. Cook was my uncle and he just passed away on Oct 20 at the age of 93. He told us many times about the depth charges that were disarmed on the sunken aircraft (A PBY?) although he made it sound like there were 4 of them, not 3 as the article noted. He did receive a medal from the Navy and I’ve seen it twice, but I don’t recall just what it was, either Silver Star or the Navy Cross. The interesting story about this whole episode is that he sounded very matter of fact about it… “It was just my job and I did it” was pretty much his standard response.

    He also was badly injured in Feb 1945 while aboard the USS Gamble was hit by two 250lb bombs in the middle of the night while off the coast of Iwo Jima, in support of the invasion, see http://en.wikipedia.org….

    Since he was bunking in a room next to one of the boiler rooms, the explosions fractured the bulkhead that separated him from the boiler room and the escaping steam burned him badly over about 40% of his body and he was picked up unconscious from the water shortly afterward. This put him in a hospital for quite a long time. He suffered pain from the scars for many years.

    My Uncle was a great man and I’m very proud to have known him. Also it’s interesting that a quick search on Yahoo turned this article up in less than 5 minutes.

  13. -DOUG- says: November 7, 20095:14 am

    All manner of responses I’d thought I’d posted but I guess the system wonked, like how I’d read plenty about Barry Sadler being synonymous with the Green Berets, and “Green Berating” the Beach Boys, etc. And the big bad mercenary lets someone walk right up and put a gun to his head while on assignment because he’s drunk in public. At a time while people would STILL think Green Berets at the mention of his name, yeah, embarassing. (What’s it take to embarass these friends of Firebrand?) Makes me glad I’m not involved in his sort of nonsense.

    And if you want to count things prior to Kennedy, there were all manner of “Special” named units in WWII. Some even wore green berets. What we NOW consider to be the “Special Forces” were established by Kennedy: “Special” used to refer to singular assignments, like organizing the local primitives to fight the Japanese with knifes while the U.S. military was still unable to get there. (Some actually were quite successful.) Kennedy made it developmentally elite.

    The thing I’d like to know more about is the original 1952 Green Beret mission of “Psychological Warfare.” This CAN’T have been like ‘Men who Stare at goats.’ (Can it?) That would mean quite a change in mission.

    Anyway, Dave, assumming you read the site again, try to find out for sure about your Uncle’s metals, and let us know. Mr. Sterner is a recognized figure for documenting this, so help him out. If the local newspaper got hold of the full story, they’d have published quite an obituary.

    [email protected]

    http://www.homeofheroes…

  14. Firebrand38 says: November 7, 200910:29 am

    -DOUG-: Doug, I retired from Army Special Forces in 1994, please don’t lecture me on its history. And pointing out that units like British Commandos wore Green Berets doesn’t help make your point.

    There were “special” units in WW2? Well, Duh! Guys like the 1st Special Service Force weren’t organizing natives to fight (knives indeed) but rather that was done by members of the Office of Strategic Services NOT the Office of Special Services. http://www.history.army… Special Services who by the way entertained the troops. http://select.nytimes.c…

    Here is a Life magazine article on Special Forces from 1956 http://books.google.com… the same year that then-Senator Kennedy unsuccessfully bid for Vice-President. Check out the guys on page 44 wearing their unauthorized green berets while in front of Flint Kaserne (where I used to be stationed).

    And I don’t understand this need that you have to beat up on Barry Sadler based on rumors without hard evidence. It’s alleged that he was training contras. He was more current with being a novelist than anything else. In fact the only reason we’re talking about Barry Sadler is because a previous poster thought that he as a Staff Sergeant in the Army had somehow “created” Army Special Forces. Enough!

    So, to quote the Firesign Theater, “Everything you know is wrong”.

  15. Toronto says: November 7, 20096:41 pm

    Sometimes humor doesn’t come through well online. My original Sadler quip was just that.

  16. Julie Beck says: February 22, 201012:18 am

    I’m researching my father in law- Rollo Beck , who was a Coast Guard guy, who we just learned from the web search this weekend was in the OSS in Group I, who was moved to the Navy under, UDT 10. I have his Honorable Discharge and a photo of him in a very small swim suit in the Bahama’s with the “Duke of Winsor” and a whole lot of swimmers (By the way his Honorable Discharge says he was at Headquarter’s during this time and there is no mention of the Bahama’s?????) Rollo I know won a Bronze Star ( we don’t know why) and his Honorable Discharge list him as UDT 10. He went to Wilmington Station in North Carolina, Catalina Island, CA, Manhattan Beach, Training Station, NCDT & EB for the Navy???????? and Ft. Pierce. In the late 90′s I know he went to a event where he was made a honorary Navy Seal. I’m embarrased to say we didn’t get the significance of this event at the time.

    He very rarely talked about his war service, we are now shocked to learn that he was part of the “Guardian Spies”. I would love any information about what duty stations and what UDT 10 in the Pacific actually did in the war.

    A interesting note on history that didn’t make it in the books. He did tell us that he remember’s General Douglas MacArthur’s water landing “Famous Return” in the Phillipines. He told the family he was standing by and saw MacArthur and the “press corp” stage the landing three time’s before the Press got their shots. (I mean no disrespect to those MacArthur fans out there).

    I love this site, and think it is important that this history is not forgotten.

  17. Firebrand38 says: February 22, 201012:47 am

    Julie Beck: None taken because it wasn’t staged http://news.google.com/… (I’m not a MacArthur fan in any event)

    That said, here is an account of what UDT 10 did from the website http://www.specwarnet.n… :
    UDT-10 and the USS Burfish SS-312 performed reconnaissance on the Islands of Peleliu and Yap in August of 1944. This was the first time Navy special forces deployed from a submarine. Indecision on the part of Navy high command created a need for more information on the two islands in order to determine which of the two was more suitable for invasion. Peleliu was scouted successfully on August 9. On the 16th, Yap was scouted, also successfully. On the 18th Gagil Tomil was scouted and a barrier reef was immediately found. Leaving the boat and one member behind, four members swam ahead, although one later returned, unable to handle the strong currents sweepingg the reef. The three remaining members were never seen alive again, and intercepted communications later indicated they had been captured by the Japanese troops manning the island. No record of them was ever found and it is thought they were put on a boat back to Japan that was subsequently torpedoed by an unknowing American submarine. Due to the information this team gathered, the island of Yap was deemed too costly and was bypassed; without reinforcements the Japanese garrison on the island withered until the end of the war.

    The invasion at Luzon in the Philippines was another large operation, with UDT’s 5, 8, 9, 10, 14, and 15 participating.

    Activated: June, 1944
    Deactivated: February, 1946
    History:

    Members of UDT-10 participated in the only submarine operation by UDT in WWII. While deployed on SS-312 USS Burfish five members of UDT-10 scouted the waters and shores around Peleiu’s southeastern tip on 9 August, 1944. On 18 August they performed a reconnaissance of Gagil Tomil’s northeast coast and found a barrier reef. Two members of UDT-10 and one from the Underwater Demolition Training and Experimental Base were captured and executed after being tortured.

    While attached to USS Rathburn APD-25, UDT-10 scouted approaches to Angaur beaches September 14th & 15th. East beaches scouted the 14th were found to be clear of obstacles and lightly defended but subjected to heavy currents. North beaches the next day were clear of obstacles and defense and no further action was required of them. Following this Rathburn headed for Ulithi, where they were tasked with clearing and marking five beaches for assault within three days. UDT-10 reconnoitered the Falalop and Asor beaches beginning September 21st and the following three the next day. No obstacles or enemy forces were found. Afterwards members assisted the Beachmaster with landing operations. Ulithi became a main US Naval base for the remainder of the war, being a ring of small islands forming a protected anchorate neary 180 square miles in size and having the capacity to hold up to 1,000 large ships at once.

    UDT-10 assaulted “Red Beach” at San Pedro Bay between Palo and San Ricardo during the landings in Leyte Gulf on October 19th, 1944. On January 7th, 1945 UDT-10 scouted Blue Beach in Lingayen Gulf and destroyed natural and manmade obstacles with demolitions. Performed a nighttime reconnaissance mission without incident two weeks later on January 26th. Landed at San Nareiso on Luzon on the 29th of January and found no opposition. Created a forward training base for UDT’s on Guam in Feburary of 1945, then rotated to the Maui base in May. Sent back to the US in June and all team personnel given leave until July 1, at which time the unit reformed at Fort Pierce. Shortly thereafter the war ended and UDT-10 stayed on to help disestablish Fort Pierce until it was deactivated in February of 1946.

    Also check here http://navysealmuseum.c…

    British Combined Operations veteran LCDR Wooley, of the Royal Navy, was placed in charge of the OSS Maritime Unit in June 1943.
    Their training started in November 1943 at Camp Pendleton, moved to Catalina Island in January 1944, and finally moved to the warmer waters in the Bahamas in March 1944. Within the U.S. military, they pioneered flexible swim fins and facemasks, closed-circuit diving equipment, the use of swimmer submersibles, and combat swimming and limpet mine attacks.

    In May 1944, GEN Donovan, the head of the OSS, divided the unit into groups. He loaned Group 1, under LT Choate, to ADM Nimitz, as a way to introduce the OSS into the Pacific Theater. They became part of UDT-10 in July 1944. Five OSS men participated in the very first UDT submarine operation with the USS BURRFISH in the Caroline Islands in August 1944.

  18. janson mincey says: May 4, 20119:57 pm

    hey trying to find information on my grandfather..enlisted in 1946 and have a certificate saying he was from udt team 4? name is starling walter west

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