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The Frogmen of World War II: An Oral History of the U.S. Navy's Underwater Demolition Teams Mass Market Paperback – January 1, 2005

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket Star; First Paperback Edition edition (January 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743482166
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743482165
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #982,315 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Chet Cunningham served in the army in postwar Japan and saw combat in the Korean War. He has written hundreds of westerns and military novels, and more than a dozen military nonfiction titles including the Military Book Club Selection Hell Wouldn't Stop. He has lived in San Diego, California, with his wife, Rose Marie, for more than 40 years.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One: Naval Special Services Unit No. 1: The First Frogmen

Before the Navy SEALs, there were the Underwater Demolition Teams. Before them came the Scouts & Raiders, and before them were the Navy Combat Demolition Units. But there was another group even before the NCDUs. It was called the Naval Special Services Unit No. 1, also known as the Amphibious Scouts.

A lot of military historians know little about Special Services Unit No. 1 because it was a top-secret group in the U.S. Navy created for a special purpose. Pat and Hank Staudt have done a heroic job of researching the beginnings of the group and much of that work is included here.

Pat and Hank Staudt

Coast watchers in the Pacific Theater had provided much information since their formation on September 8, 1939, but the need in 1942 exceeded their personnel. Most of the first watchers were planters, teachers, missionaries, and prospectors who lived in the affected areas. Soon the need for more extensive reliable intelligence prompted a plan for the formation of a new group. In March 1942 the Allied Intelligence Bureau took over the duties of the coast watchers and renamed them Ferdinand.

The Ferdinands worked in the Solomons and New Britain and were given service ranks for compensation and to protect them from charges of spying if captured. The Ferdinands continued to transmit information by radio through 1942.

Amphibious landing schools and training had begun in the Pacific. In February 1943 the amphibious training command was started in Newcastle, Australia. In April 1943 the First Marine Division began amphibious reconnaissance training in Australia. In May of 1943 Standard Landing Craft Units Nos. 4 and 5 were trained at the amphibious base in San Diego.

But there was still a need for precise and accurate intelligence about landing sites. This meant there was a need for forming a unique, highly skilled, and cohesive force unlike any the military had ever seen before.

The duties these men would be required to perform would be hazardous in the extreme. They required the abilities of men of very differing background, training, and experience to subordinate individual identities and work successfully in unison and covertly to achieve crucial goals.

This group was needed because of the failure of aerial photos and no onsite recon to produce precise intelligence about landing sites.

The Navy brass at last decided: "It follows that amphibious intelligence as complete and accurate knowledge of all sea, land and air factors whether natural or artificial affecting an amphibious landing is required."

Mid-June of 1943 saw whirlwind activity initiated in gathering volunteers from the 7th Amphibious Area. Volunteers were sought with many and varied skills. Included were knowledge of the geography, native customs, and language of the theater; recon experience; small-craft handling; hydrographic knowledge; and the ability to evaluate beach suitability for amphibious craft.

Volunteers came from the landing-craft units at Nelson Bay, Australia. They included Ensigns Alva E. Gipe, Rudolph A. Horak, and Donald E. Root. Also volunteering were BM 2/C Richard Bardy, Jack Brandau, Cox'n Calvin W. Byrd, MB 2/C Paul L. Dougherty, PMH 1/C Milton J. Kolb, MM/lC Bill Luger, Wayne Pettis, RM 2/C Taylor, BM 2/C Robert Thomas, RM 2/C R. Toman, M 2/C Rosaire Trudeau, and MB 1/C Joshua Weintraub.

From ATB Toorbul came Ensigns Henry Staudt, Franklin Meredith, and John C. Goodridge; also, Navy Combat Demolition Unit officers Lt. (jg) Lloyd Anders, Lt. (jg) Hamilton, and "Beach Jumper" Mathews.

There were also contingents from the Marines, from the Army, and from Australia's 9th Army Division.

On July 7, 1943, the commanding officer of the Amphibious 7th Fleet ordered that "there be established a school for Amphibious Scouts in the vicinity of Cairns and that they were to be called SPECIAL SERVICE UNIT 1."

By July 18, 1943, the majority of the group were at Cairns Base and began training in physical education, martial arts, panoramic sketching to identify precise locations, as well as rubber-raft work. There also was jungle survival training, pidgin English, and recognition of underwater coral formations and sea creatures.

About August 28, Special Services Unit No. 1 moved to a new base at Fergusson Island off in the D'Entrecasteaux Islands, New Guinea. More men joined the teams there, including Lt. Bernard C. Wildgen, USNRMC Ensign David De Windt, and Ensign Morris B. Tichener.

Coxswain Calvin Byrd (deceased)

Corinth, Mississippi

In November 1942, I was assigned to Unit No. 5 of the Amphibious Landing Forces at the destroyer base in San Diego, where we practiced landing daily in the surf at the Silver Strand near Coronado. We used personnel craft.

This training continued there and at Camp Pendleton near Oceanside until April 30, 1943. On May 1, Unit No. 5 was sent to Treasure Island Naval Base, San Francisco, for transport to the Southeast Pacific Command.

Before leaving San Diego, we were ordered to go to the U.S. Marine base there and pick up the following supplies: a 1903 rifle, high-top Marine shoes, khaki pants and shirts, socks, and a camouflage poncho. We had to carry all that plus our regular seabag. By the time the two hundred of us were ready to board the ship, Bosn's Mate First Class Griggs walked around calling out: "Do not forget to bring your poncho." That was funny, because many of us guys had already forgotten our ponchos somewhere. I never saw anyone wearing one.

The USS Mizar took us directly to Sydney, Australia. From there we moved to the Newcastle area. The main purpose there was to train troops in beach landings.

While I was there, Commander Coultas came to ask for volunteers for a new unit named Special Service Unit No. 1. I was interviewed for this service and volunteered sometime around June 30, 1943.

Unfortunate events occurred in the Solomon Islands and other areas during amphibious landings, due to lack of intelligence regarding excessive coral off the beaches and the existence of swampy land behind the beaches. Lives were lost and equipment lost due to these unknown hazards. It would be our job to gather this type of intelligence.

About forty men were selected for Unit No. 1: eight or ten Australians, two or three Marine Corps officers, two or three U.S. Army officers, and the balance being Navy officers and enlisted men. We all were transferred to Cairns, Australia.

At Cairns the base for Unit No. l was set up across the inlet from the town of Cairns and a little east toward the ocean. Training consisted of martial arts taught by one of the Aussie officers, methods of drawing or sketching landscapes in order to identify locations, and survival on food provided by jungle plants and animals. We also learned basic words of pidgin English taught by Aborigines in case we needed to talk with New Guinea natives. We made trips to the Great Barrier Reef to observe coral formations and the tropical sea creatures. We did a lot of physical exercises and swimming.

From there we went to Fergusson Island. It had been a PT boat base abandoned only a few days before we moved in. The U.S. Army had a base on Goodenough Island, six or eight miles to the west. There was a wharf we used to dock our two LCP (landing craft, personnel) boats.

Our base was on a beautiful lagoon, and there were some palm frond buildings that had been a religious mission before our LCP boats landed.

Commander Coultas and staff arranged for the natives to build a mess hall/meeting room, medical house, storage room, radio shack, and sleeping rooms. We were amazed how quickly the natives did this using logs, palm fronds, and vines.

Lessons were given in the use of rubber boats for landing from PT boats and submarines. We practiced landing on beaches in the surf, pulling boats ashore, deflating them so they could be hidden in the jungle and later inflating them with a small cylinder of compressed air for the return after the mission was completed.

We made many trips into the jungle for stays of two or three days or more. We landed at night along the coast. We had classes on what intelligence was likely to be gathered.

We played physical fitness exercises such as five-mile fast marches. We learned to communicate with the natives. We had target practice with our carbines and .45 pistols.

Some nights we could see flashes of antiaircraft fire to the east, probably from Woodlark Island. One night coming back to base, we shut down our LCP's engine when a Japanese plane flew over so he would not see the wake of our moving boat.

In October of 1943 one of our teams made a mission to the Finschhafen, New Guinea, area. The team had three Australians and our Lt. (jg) Hank Staudt. One of the Aussies was "Blue" Harris, who had been one of the first coast watchers.

In late November 1943 we moved from Fergusson Island to Milne Bay. Some of us were given recreation -- R & R -- leave to Australia. When we returned, most of the Special Service Unit No. 1 trainees had been reassigned to other duties. John Grady and I remained in the unit along with Lt. Root and Lt. Gipe. We were then assigned to the staff on the USS Blue Ridge, Admiral Barbey's flagship. Lt. Root and I became a team, as did Lt. Gibe and John Grady.

Around February 1944 the Army First Cavalry Division invaded the Admiralty Islands. Lt. Root and I were given the assignment to move from our base and take the USS Oyster Bay, a PT boat tender, and then to board one of the PT boats for transport to Bat Island, in the Purdy Group. There we were to perform surveillance and to gather tidal information to be used in the proposed invasion of Aitape, New Guinea. Near the Admiralty Islands we transferred to a PT boat for the final leg of the journey.

On arrival at Bat Island it was just after dark. We were challenged by someone onshore and found that it was a U.S. Army...

More About the Author

Chet Cunningham : Chet Cunningham, who makes his home in San Diego, California, is a prolific writer of both novels and nonfiction books. He comes from a newspaper background so is geared to producing writing every day and not "when the muse moves me." He said he doesn't believe in writer's block.

In 1950, he was drafted in the Army. After nine months in Japan Cunningham went to the front lines of the war in Korea. He participated in two battles and numerous line-crossing and prisoner patrols. Assigned to a heavy weapons company he served as an 81 mm mortar gunner, squad leader, and section leader. His service earned him the Combat Infantryman's Badge. After two years of service he was discharged in the rank of sergeant.

Cunningham was born in Nebraska, grew up in Oregon, worked in Michigan, and went to college in New York City. Now he lives in California. He works in an expanded den in his home and says he never gets to work late due to fog, rain or traffic jams. "Walk down the hall, turn left and I'm at work."

He graduated from Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon with a BA in journalism, and after his hitch in the Army he received his MS degree from the Columbia University Graduated School in Journalism in New York City in 1954.

Customer Reviews

Too much training; needed more action.
All and all this is a very informative book for anyone interested in World War II.
Uncle Don
A great deal of work goes into these oral histories.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Air Force Member on March 11, 2005
Format: Mass Market Paperback
"Navy Frogmen of World War II" combines two subjects that have enjoyed enormous popularity in recent years: World War II exploits and Special Operations. The Navy Frogmen were a precursor to the Navy Seals, and were often engaged in some of the most dangerous behind-enemy-lines operations. It's hazardous enough to storm a beach in full combat gear during an amphibious invasion, but even more perilous to scout or destroy obstacles on that same beach clad in only swim trunks and armed with a dive knife. Obviously, these men and their courage are worthy of our attention and praise. The prologue and the comments in between the oral testimonies establish that both the Army and the Navy had equivalent units intended to scout and clear potential landing areas, while also providing some thematic background on their development.

The oral comments themselves are interesting, but there is a tendency for repetition. There are too many comments about training and not enough about actual operations. The author should have edited the comments or streamlined the material to cover the various aspects of the Navy Frogmen operations. As it is, the repetition tends to get tedious. The oral history is a great approach to military history, and the stories of these men need to be captured, but this book could be better.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By W. H. McDonald Jr. on September 14, 2006
Format: Mass Market Paperback
The memories of frogmen from WWII, whose heroic exploits underwater doing everything from intelligence gathering to demolition, is captured and preserved for history in this moving chronicle. Author Chet Cunningham once again takes the oral personal histories of old warriors and weaves them into a book called "The Frogmen Of World War II". The title only partially tells the reader what to expect. The author has a way of taking small memories from many men and like a good artist he creates an over all picture of the war from the point of view of these undersea heroes.

Cunningham allows us to sample the life and death situations that faced these men. His book takes us through the end of the War with Japan. He uses his writing talents to pay homage to what was really the birthing of the SEALS many years later on. He captures the emotions and the feelings that these men experienced through careful placement and editing of their stories. The author does not drown out the voices of these men with some ego laced comments but ties it altogether so that all the individual stories flow along as if one just story. It is a smooth transition from one story to the next. The stories are powerful, moving, and at times very emotional and always action packed!

The book is backed up by lots of researched facts and footnotes. Readers will enjoy this book because it is not dry history. It is emotionally alive and full of action. You will find yourself engrossed in the plight that these men faced and your respect for them will only grow. These men were real heroes and the author does well in letting them tell their own stories without much interference.

I fully recommend this book and give it the MWSA HIGHEST BOOK RATING - FIVE STARS!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Sharkman on November 24, 2008
Format: Mass Market Paperback
What genius puts Naval aviator wings on the cover of a UDT book? The publisher should've gotten something THAT simple correct. That mistake alone cost the book a star in the rating, and it wasn't the author's fault.

However... this is an interesting and necessary read for UDT history, but a little disappointing. A lot of work goes into these oral histories, though, and the author is to be commended. Agree with some of the other comments. Too much training; needed more action. The Naked Warriors is the first book to read on the subject, followed by America's First Frogman and The Water is Never Cold.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Randy Robison on December 25, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
These reading of the men who risked it all in WWII is an eye opener... a true learning experience and an entertaining read...highly recommend to anyone interested in WWII history.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Wade Hughes on August 5, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition
This a good read and the frogmen undoubtedly posessed of courage and determination that few of us can imagine, let alone emulate. but the blurb is hyped overstatement. " never before attempted" ? The Italians had frogmen active in ww 1. The Italians and British had active marine commandos in combat for two years before the U.S even entered ww2.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Reading the stories of the men that were NCDUs, Scouts & Raiders and UDT men gave me a glimpse of what my father lived. For that Mr. Cunningham, I am grateful. And to all of the Frogmen out there, thank you from the bottom of my heart.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I am so happy to see this book, which had been out of print, available for a quite reasonable price. My father was one of these brave men who started what became the SEALS. Reading these stories is like listening to my father's voice again after many years. Anyone interested in first person accounts by men who were there will value this book.
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