The history and evolution of the SEAL Teams is a powerful one. I spent over 10 years as a SEAL and never really understood who they were until now. If I knew then what I know now, I never would have left the Teams in 2008.
“Officially” the SEAL Teams were formed in January of 1962 under the direction of President Kennedy. But, to truly understand how and why the US Navy SEALs were able to immediately establish dominance and rapidly rise to legendary status, you need to follow them through their secretive and murky history. To truly understand what makes a SEAL a SEAL you need to know that they were never “formed”. SEALs, like any other amphibian, evolved.
It all started because of some islands in the Pacific.
League of Nations – The Spark
After the end of World War I, by way of a League of Nations Class C mandate, Japan was given reign over multiple islands in the Pacific. The Marshalls, Marianas and the Caroline Islands were handed over for the Japanese to control. These islands were what we call “Danger Close” to the U.S and provided our would be enemy strategic access to our shores.
These islands put Japan in perfect position to conduct attacks on America and her territories. This made a gentlemen by the name of Lieutenant Colonel Earl Hancock “Pete” Ellis very nervous.
Ellis and others, in response to the League of Nations actions, began developing an offensive plan called “Operational Plan 712H-Advanced Base Operations in Micronesia.” These plans, decades ahead of their time, outlined the need for trained demolition specialists who would operate with little more than grit, wire cutters and explosives.
Understanding the critical danger and difficulty involved in accessing fortified beach landing sites, Mr. Ellis envisioned something unprecedented. He conceived a cunning warrior who could withstand the elements and execute the unpredictable and dangerous pre assault phase of an amphibious invasion. These men would be tasked with the reconnaissance and preparation of beach landing sites to enable much larger forces access to highly defended and dangerous “Fortresses of the Sea” called islands.
Prior to Dec 7th, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the small nation, as predicted, had been aggressively establishing footholds on islands everywhere, posing a tremendous threat to the United States. Japan also had a proven track record of attacking countries much larger than themselves, making the potential attack even more concerning.
After Pearl Harbor, Mr. Ellis’s prophetic concerns about a need for and amphibious landing force capability became certainty. Thus, the beginning of the blood embroiled and war forged evolution of the Navy SEALs.
Born In Blood – Landing at Dieppe N. France 19 August 1942
As a SEAL, in every phase of training there is a reminder of the bloodshed that induced the tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP’s) being taught. SEALs function on the pointy end of the spear executing ever changing missions. This means a large part of their job is to learn the hard way. An evolutionary process requiring the the ultimate demonstration of commitment. Death.
If you ever spend anytime working with a SEAL in any environment you will notice an incredible level of resolve. The price their brotherhood has paid was absolute and you’ll find they have little tolerance for allowing a single drop of blood to go wasted.
August 1942, The first major invasion (landing) in the European theater was conducted as a large-scale raid by Canadian troops, British commandos and a small number Americans. It was a blood bath. A blow so significant that Hitler’s HQ issued a statement saying “”The enemy has suffered a devastating defeat in this landing attempt, which served only political purposes but defied all military reason.”
“Defied all military reason” – If Hitler thought our first attempt to take a beach “defied all military reason” then the fact that we did it again, and again, and again must have blown his mind. There is no “reason” that can describe a man’s will for freedom.
The moment allied forces stepped onto the heavily fortified beaches of Dieppe they were met with fierce and desolating resistance. Over 6000 men were killed. More than 100 aircraft lost. We lost an entire destroyer, over two dozen tanks and more than 30 landing craft.
To the uninitiated this could be described as an incredible waste of life; however, to those who have served, are serving and will serve, epic battles such as this one are never forgotten and the lessons to be learned never end. To this day we honor and owe these brave men, and their families, nothing less than everything.
The first Drop of Evolutionary Blood
Lieutenant Loustalot of the U.S Army Rangers was lost during this raid. He was the first American serviceman of World War II to die in combat on European soil. His blood was the first deposit in what would eventually evolve into one of the most effective fighting forces this planet has ever seen.
Though the loss was great, it was not without gain. Lord Mountbatten, a Supreme Allied Commander, said it best, “For every soldier who died at Dieppe, ten were saved on D-Day.” I’ve no doubt that the lessons learned during that defining battle saved lives on “D-Day” and beyond. Over 50 years later the training I endured as a SEAL’s still included the tactics and strategies developed in response to these losses.
With thousands of lives lost, the seemingly impossible, but absolutely necessary, task of taking a defended beach was at hand. It was time to make it official. It was time to see Mr. Ellis’s vision become a reality. It was time to forge some bad asses!
25 August 1942 – Amphibious Scout and Raider School was formed