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The U.S. Navy's SEa, Air, and Land (SEAL) Teams (commonly known as the Navy SEALs), along with Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen (SWCC), compose the Special Operations Forces of the United States Navy, who are employed in direct action and special reconnaissance operations. SEALs are also capable of undertaking unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, hostage rescue, counter-terrorism, and other missions.
Today's Naval Special Warfare operators can trace their origins to the Scouts and Raiders, Naval Combat Demolition Units, Office of Strategic Services Operational Swimmers, Underwater Demolition Teams, and Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons of World War II. While none of those early organizations have survived to present, their pioneering efforts in unconventional warfare are mirrored in the missions and professionalism of the present Naval Special Warfare warriors. The origins of the Navy SEALs go back to World War II when the United States Navy saw that in order for its troops to successfully land on beaches it needed soldiers to reconnoitre the landing beaches, take note of obstacles and defenses, and ultimately guide the landing forces in. As a result the Amphibious Scout and Raider School was established in 1942 by joint- Army and Navy at Fort Pierce, Florida. It was intended to train explosive ordnance disposal personnel and experienced combat swimmers from the Army and Marine Corps, becoming the Naval Combat Demolition Unit, or NCDU.
They were trained by The NCDU was first employed in Operation Torch during the invasion of North Africa in 1942. This unit became the 'first group' specialized in amphibious raids and tactics in the United States Navy.
By 1943 had expanded the Amphibious Scout and Raider School syllabus to include underwater demolition. Following the near-disaster of the landing force on Tarawa in November 1943, when offshore coral reefs and other obstacles in the surf resulted in many of the Marines drowning, Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner directed the formation of nine Underwater Demolition Teams mostly composed of navy personnel from the Naval Construction Battalions (Seabees). These volunteers were organized into special teams and were tasked with reconnoitering and clearing beach obstacles for troops going ashore during amphibious landings, and evolved into Combat Swimmer Reconnaissance Units, becoming the Navy UDTs. UDT members using the casting technique from a speeding boat.President John F. Kennedy (a World War II Navy veteran), aware of the situations in Southeast Asia, recognized the need for unconventional warfare and special operations as a measure against guerrilla warfare. In a speech to Congress on May 25, 1961, Kennedy spoke of his deep respect for the United States Army Special Forces (Green Berets). He announced the government's plan to put a man on the moon, and, in the same speech, allocated over $100 million toward the strengthening of the special operations forces in order to expand American capabilities in unconventional warfare.
The Navy needed to determine its role within the special operations arena. In March 1961, Arleigh Burke, Chief of Naval Operations, recommended the establishment of guerrilla and counter-guerrilla units. These units would be able to operate from sea, air or land. This was the beginning of the Navy SEALs. Many SEAL members came from the Navy's UDT units, who had already gained experience in commando warfare in Korea; however, the UDTs were still necessary to the Navy's amphibious force.
The first two teams were on both US coasts: Team One at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, in San Diego, California and Team Two at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Men of the newly formed SEAL Teams were trained in such unconventional areas as hand-to-hand combat, high-altitude parachuting, demolitions, and foreign languages. Among the varied tools and weapons required by the teams was the M16 assault rifle, a new design that evolved from the AR-15 rifle. The SEALs attended UDT replacement training and they spent some time training in UDTs. Upon making it to a SEAL team, they would undergo a SEAL Basic Indoctrination (SBI) training class at Camp Kerry in the Cuyamaca Mountains. After SBI training class, they would enter a platoon and conduct platoon training.
The Pacific Command recognized Vietnam as a potential hot spot for unconventional forces. At the beginning of 1962, the UDTs started hydrographic surveys and along with other branches of the US Military, the Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) was formed. In March 1962, SEALs were deployed to South Vietnam as advisers for the purpose of training Army of the Republic of Vietnam commandos in the same methods they were trained themselves.
The Central Intelligence Agency began using SEALs in covert operations in early 1963. The SEALs were involved in the CIA sponsored Phoenix Program where it targeted key North Vietnamese Army personnel and Vietcong sympathizers for capture and assassination.
The SEALs were initially deployed in and around Da Nang, training the South Vietnamese in combat diving, demolitions, and guerrilla/anti-guerrilla tactics. As the war continued, the SEALs found themselves positioned in the Rung Sat Special Zone where they were to disrupt the enemy supply and troop movements and in the Mekong Delta to fulfill riverine operations, fighting on the inland waterways. SEALs on patrol on the River Mekong Delta.Combat with the Viet Cong was direct. Unlike the conventional warfare methods of firing artillery into a coordinate location, the SEALs operated within inches of their targets. Into the late 1960s, the SEALs were successful in a new style of warfare, effective in anti-guerrilla and guerrilla actions. SEALs brought a personal war to the enemy in a previously safe area. In Vietnam, Navy SEAL kill ratio was extraordinary, with over 200 enemy dead for every SEAL casualty.The Viet Cong referred to them as "the men with green faces," due to the camouflage face paint the SEALs wore during combat missions.
SEALs continued to make forays into North Vietnam and Laos, and covertly into Cambodia, controlled by the Studies and Observations Group. The SEALs from Team Two started a unique deployment of SEAL team members working alone with South Vietnamese Commandos (ARVN). In 1967, a SEAL unit named Detachment Bravo (Det Bravo) was formed to operate these mixed US and ARVN units, which were called South Vietnamese Provincial Reconnaissance Units (PRUs).
At the beginning of 1968, the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong orchestrated a major offensive against South Vietnam: the "Tet Offensive." The North hoped it would prove to be America's Dien Bien Phu, attempting to break the American public's desire to continue the war. As propaganda, the Tet Offensive was successful in adding to the American protest of the Vietnam war. However, North Vietnam suffered tremendous casualties, and from a purely military standpoint, the Tet Offensive was a major disaster for the Communists.
By 1970, President Richard Nixon initiated a Plan of Vietnamization, which would remove the US from the Vietnam conflict and return the responsibility of defense back to the South Vietnamese. Conventional forces were being withdrawn; the last SEAL adviser left Vietnam in March 1973 and Vietnam fell to the communists in 1975. The SEALs were among the highest decorated units for their size in the war. SEALs were awarded two Navy Crosses, 42 Silver stars, 402 Bronze Stars, 2 Legions of Merit, 352 Commendation Medals, 3 Presidential Unit Citations and 3 Medals of Honor.
SEAL Team 6, the predecessor to DEVGRU participated in the US invasion of Grenada. The SEALs two primary missions were the extraction of Grenada's Governor-General and the capture of Grenada's only radio tower. Neither mission was well briefed or sufficiently supported with timely intelligence and the SEALs ran into trouble from the very beginning. One of their two transport planes missed its drop zone and while making an airborne insertion with their boats off the coast four SEALs drowned in a rain squall. Their bodies were never recovered.
After regrouping from their initial insertion the SEALs split into two teams and proceeded to their objectives. The SEALs at the Governors mansion realized after digging in that they had forgotten their SATCOM gear on the helicopter. After being surrounded by BTR-60s and a substantial number of Grenadian and Cuban troops the SEALs only radios ran out of battery power. Using the land line telephone in the mansion the SEALs called in AC-130 fire support. The SEALs were pinned in the mansion overnight and were relieved and extracted by a group of Force Recon Marines the following morning.
The team sent to the radio station also ran into communication problems. As soon as the SEALs reached the radio facility they found themselves unable to raise their command post. After beating back several waves of Grenadian and Cuban troops supported by BTR-60s the SEALs decided that their position at the radio tower was untenable. They destroyed the station and fought their way to the water where they hid from patrolling enemy forces. After the enemy had given up their search the SEALs, some wounded, swam into the open sea where they were extracted several hours later after being spotted by a reconnaissance plane.
During the closing stages of the Iran-Iraq War the United States Navy began conducting operations in the Persian Gulf to protect US flagged ships from attack by Iranian naval forces. A secret plan was put in place and dubbed Operation Prime Chance. Navy SEAL Teams 1 and 2 along with several Special Boat Units and Navy EOD teams were employed on mobile command barges and transported by helicopters from the Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. Over the course of the operation SEALs conducted VBSS missions to counter Iranian mine laying boats. The only loss of life occurred during the take down of the Iran Ajr. Evidence gathered on the Iran Ajr by SEALs and EOD techs later allowed the US Navy to trace the mines that struck the USS Samuel B. Roberts. This chain of events lead to Operation Praying Mantis, the largest US Naval surface engagement since the Second World War.
The United States Navy contributed extensive special operations assets to the invasion of Panama, code named Operation Just Cause. This included SEAL Teams 2 and 4, Naval Special Warfare Unit 8, Special Boat Unit 26 all falling under Naval Special Warfare Group 2 and the separate Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DevGru). DevGru fell under Task Force Blue while Naval Special Warfare Group 2 composed the entirety of Task Force White. Task Force White was tasked with three principle objectives: the destruction of Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF) naval assets in Balboa Harbor and the destruction of Manuel Noriega's private jet at Paitilla Airport collectively knows as Operation Nifty Package as well as isolating PDF forces on Flamenco Island.
The strike on Balboa Harbor by Task Unit Whiskey is notably marked in SEAL history as the first publicly acknowledged combat swimmer mission since the Second World War. Prior to the commencement of the invasion five Navy SEALs, Lt Edward L. Coughlin, EN-3 Timothy K. Eppley, ET-1 Randy L. Beausoleil, DC-3 Brian Connell and PH-2 Chris Dye, swam underwater into the harbor on Draeger LAV-V rebreathers and attached C4 explosives to and destroyed Noriega's personal ship the Presidente Porras.
Task Unit Papa was tasked with the seizure of Paitilla airfield and the destruction of Noriega's plane there. Several SEALs were concerned about the nature of the mission assigned to them being that airfield seizure was usually the domain of the US Army's 75th Ranger Regiment. Despite these misgivings and a loss of operational surprise the SEALs of TU Papa proceeded with their mission. Almost immediately upon landing the 48 SEALs came under withering fire from the PDF stationed at the airfield. Although the Noriega's plane was eventually destroyed the SEALs suffered four dead and thirteen wounded.
InvasionIn the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks Navy SEALs quickly dispatched to Camp Doha and those already aboard US Naval vessels in the Persian Gulf and surrounding waters began conducting VBSS operations against ships suspected of having ties to or even carrying al Qaeda operatives. SEAL Teams 3 and 8 also began rotating into Oman from the United States and staging on the island of Masirah for operations in Afghanistan. One of the SEALs' immediate concerns was a lack of adequate organic land mobility platforms to conduct Special reconnaissance (SR) missions in the rough, landlocked terrain of Afghanistan. After borrowing and retrofitting Humvees from the Army Rangers also staging on Masirah, the SEALs inserted into Afghanistan to conduct the SR of what would become Camp Rhino as part of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). These early stages of OEF were commanded by a fellow SEAL, Rear Admiral Albert Calland. Task Force K-Bar SEALs at one of the entrances to the Zhawar Kili cave complex.The SR mission in the region of Camp Rhino lasted for four days, after which two United States Air Force Combat Control Teams made a nighttime HALO jump to assist the SEALs in guiding in Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit who seized control of the area and established a Forward operating base. While at Camp Rhino the CIA passed on intelligence from a Predator drone operating in the Paktia province that Taliban Mullah Khirullah Said Wali Khairkhwa was spotted leaving a building by vehicle convoy. SEALs and Danish Jægerkorpset commandos boarded Air Force Pave Low helicopters and seized Khairkha on the road less than two hours later. The SEALs continued to perform reconnaissance operations for the Marines until leaving after having spent 45 days on the ground. Task Force K-Bar SEALs searching munitions found in the Zhawar Kili cave complex.Subsequent SEAL operations during the invasion of Afghanistan were conducted within Task Force K-Bar, a joint special operations unit of Army Special Forces, United States Air Force Special Tactics Teams, and special operations forces from Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Denmark, Norway, and Turkey, under the command of Navy SEAL Captain Robert Harward. Task Force K-Bar conducted combat operations in the massive cave complexes at Zhawar Kili, the city of Kandahar and surrounding territory, the town of Prata Ghar and hundreds of miles of rough terrain in southern and eastern Afghanistan. Over the course of six months Task Force K-Bar killed or captured over 200 Taliban and al Qaeda fighters, and destroyed tens of thousands of pounds of weapons and ordnance.
Navy SEALs participated extensively in Operation Anaconda. During insertion AB1 Neil Roberts was thrown from his helicopter when it took fire from entrenched al Qaeda fighters. Roberts was eventually killed after engaging and fighting dozens of enemies for almost an hour. Several SEALs were wounded in a rescue attempt and their Air Force Combat Controller, Technical Sergeant John Chapman was killed. Attempts to rescue the stranded SEAL also led to the deaths of several US Army Rangers and an Air Force Pararescueman acting as a Quick Reaction Force.
SEALs were present at the Battle of Qala-i-Jangi alongside their counterparts from the British Special Boat Service. Chief Petty Officer Stephen Bass was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions during the battle.
Al Faw and Iraqi oil infrastructureEdit
US military security personnel on the Al Basrah Oil Terminal after its captureSeveral days before the beginning of the invasion of Iraq two SDV teams were launched from Mark V Special Operations Craft in the Persian Gulf. Their objectives were the hydrographic reconnaissance of the Al Basrah (MABOT) and Khawr Al Amaya (KAAOT) Oil Terminals. After swimming under the terminals and securing their Mark 8 mod 1's the SDV SEALs spent several hours taking pictures and surveying Iraqi activity on both platforms before returning to their boats.
On March 20, 2003 the Navy SEALs launched what is the largest single SEAL operation in history from US Naval vessels, Ras al-Qulayah Naval Base and Ali Al Salem Air Base in Kuwait as part of a mixed force of US Navy SEALs, Polish GROM and British Royal Marines. Their targets were not only the MABOT and KAAOT platforms but their respective onshore petroleum pumping locks and the Al Faw port and refinery. Each force was to be inserted via helicopter or boat on the perimeter of the targets and then assault the main facilities. The first attacks occurred at the pumping locks for each offshore terminal. At MABOT's pumping lock the team's landing zone was covered in concertina wire that was unreported by their intelligence and so the SEALs and Royal Marines were forced to hover several feet off the ground. The Royal Marines, lead by a Provost Sergeant, were the first off the helicopter followed by the SEALs and all immediately became entangled in the obstacles. In this exposed position the SEALs and Marines began taking fire from the platform's garrison. The landing at the KAAOT pumping lock ran into similar problems with their landing zone but, both teams at both locations regrouped and successfully assaulted the pumping locks taking the main buildings and several occupied bunkers. After securing the facility an Iraqi armored vehicle approached the SEAL's position. Their embedded Air Force Combat Controller coordinated with an Air Force A-10 and destroyed the vehicle. In total five Iraqis were killed and sixteen captured.
The assault on the offshore platforms were carried out by SWCC manned ridged hull inflatable boats (RHIB) carrying the SEALs and SWCC manned Mk Vs carrying the GROM. The SEALs were assigned MABOT and GROM the KAAOT. Two days before the launch of the operation the Iraqis replaced the MABOT garrison with elite Republican Guard troops. With this last minute change in opposition in mind, and the added fear of the Republican Guard blowing up the platforms upon attack, the SEALs decided to change their plan to quickly take out all opposition before physically securing MABOT. Once the SEALs assaulted MABOT via RHIB the Republican Guard forces immediately began to surrender. The GROM on KAAOT encountered the same unwillingness by the Iraqis to fight allowing both platforms to be taken with no deaths. Subsequent inspection on MABOT showed that the Iraqi forces had not primed their explosives having been unwilling to destroy the facility.
The assault on the Iraqi positions on the Al Faw peninsula consisted of a DPV mounted SEAL force at the refinery and port with a larger force of US Marines from the 5th Regimental Combat Team of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force attacking Iraqi positions farther north in the Rumaila oil fields. Before the operation the SEALs raised objections that the ground looked unsuitable for DPV use but the faulty intelligence was assured by their attached intelligence liaison that the land on Al Faw would be hardpack. The teams went ahead and landed with their DPVs straight off the helicopters but their fears were confirmed when the oil soaked and muddy ground on the peninsula rendered their underpowered, rear wheel drive vehicles useless. Now on foot and surrounded by approximately 300 entrenched Iraqi soldiers and armored vehicles the SEALs relied on their Combat Controller to call in air strikes. In coordination with close air support the SEALs swept the entire facility on foot fighting through enemy positions until day break when they were relived by the 42 Commando of the British Royal Marines. In total several hundred Iraqis were killed, 100 captured and all the armored vehicles destroyed.
Coalition military planners were concerned that retreating Iraqi forces would destroy the Mukatayin hydroelectric dam northeast of Baghdad in an attempt to slow advancing US troops. In addition to restricting the maneuver of Coalition forces the destruction of the dam would deny critical power needs to the surrounding area as well as cause massive flooding and loss of Iraqi civilian life. A mixed SEAL/GROM force was called in to seize the dam. This force was flown several hours by US Air Force MH-53 Pave Lows to the dam. The SEALs employed DPVs into blocking positions to defend against counter-attack and roving bands of Iranian bandits that had been crossing the border and raiding Iraqi towns. As in Al Faw the SEALs found their DPVs to be ineffective and this marked the last time they would employ them in Iraq.
The SEALs and GROM on foot fast roped out of their helicopters and immediately stormed the dam. The minimal Iraqi security forces on site surrendered, and with the exception of a GROM operator who broke an ankle during the insertion, the operation went off with no casualties. After several hours of searching the dam for remaining hostile forces or any explosives, the SEALs fully secured the dam and were later relieved by advancing elements of the US Army.
|Number of Platoons||HQ||Notes|
|||SEAL Team 1||Worldwide||6 Platoons||Coronado, CA||Operational area: Southeast Asia|
|||SEAL Team 2||Worldwide||6 Platoons||Little Creek, Virginia||Operational area: Europe|
|||SEAL Team 3||Worldwide||6 Platoons||Coronado, CA||Operational area: Southwest Asia|
|||SEAL Team 4||Worldwide||6 Platoons||Little Creek, Virginia||Operational area: Central and South America|
|||SEAL Team 5||Worldwide||6 Platoons||Coronado, CA||Operational area: Northern Pacific|
|||United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group||Worldwide||Unknown||Dam Neck, Virginia||Seal Team 6 was dissolved in 1987. The operators of SEAL Team Six established the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group, also known as DEVGRU.|
|||SEAL Team 7||Worldwide||6 Platoons||Coronado, CA|
|||SEAL Team 8||Worldwide||6 Platoons||Little Creek, Virginia||Operational area: Caribbean, Africa, and the Mediterranean|
|||SEAL Team 10||Worldwide||6 Platoons||Little Creek, Virginia|
|||SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team ONE||Worldwide||4 Platoons||San Diego, CA
Dets in: Little Creek,VA Pearl Harbor, HI
|||SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team TWO||N/A||N/A||Little Creek, Virginia||Merged with SDVT-1|