DURING the Pearl Harbor bombing on December 7, 1941, Draper Kauffman, a tall and slender thirty-year-old with thick Coke-bottle glasses to improve his terrible eyesight, was the only real US officer of any service been trained in bomb disposal.
Kauffman had cut his teeth diffusing bombs in England as a volunteer through the Blitz, and have been recently tapped to launch Americas first Bomb Disposal School, based out of Washington, DC. Because the war waged on, his commanders told him that it had been time and energy to re-imagine his expertise altogether: Instead of getting ready to disarm unexploded ordnance after air raids, he’d should try to learn how exactly to set their own chargeslikely under fire. Surveillance photos of enemy waters showed pyramids of concrete, wooden and steel ramps, and angled metal beamsthe Nazi obstacles on the coastline of France. Theyd need to be forcibly removed before any infantry men could storm those beaches.
Draper Kauffman established the Navys first school to teach Naval Combat Demolition Units, an early on iteration the Navy SEALs.
Kauffmans new mission was equal parts nebulous and ambitious: establishing the Navys first-ever demolition school to teach Naval Combat Demolition Units, an early on iteration of what would eventually become referred to as the Navy SEALs.
He was responsible for designing the curriculum, and recruiting and preparing demolition men for yet undetermined operations in Europe and the Pacific. The one thing he knew for certain was he couldnt predict everything his men would face. So he invented their own test. It had been a rigorous and grueling conditioning course made to not only push men with their limits, but probably make some fail. His goal: to instill in soldiers the type of mental and physical toughness leading to confidence under extreme pressure.
Today, that crucible is called Hell Week, and surviving it remains probably the most difficult feats essential to turn into a Navy SEAL. But pushing already elite soldiers to the stage that some fold wasnt exactly standard operating procedure during World War II. To comprehend this excruciating and enduring logic better, it can help to learn how just how it got forged.
ALTHOUGH A SPECIALIST in bomb disposal, Kauffman had no experience using bombs to destroy obstacles. In a letter to his father, he described the Navys tendency to assign you employment, no matter your qualifications, and expect one to master it.
Along with not knowing how exactly to inflate obstacles, Kauffman didnt know for several what kind, which exact stretch of coastline, as well as if the obstacles will be on land or underwater. There have been conflicting reports from British intelligence operatives, some claiming to possess observed underwater obstacles on the French coast, others dismissing these sightings as mere figments of the imagination.
A Navy frogman attaches demolition to underwater obstacle during World War II.
Instead of plan every contingency, Kauffman inventoried the few things he did know. He knew the invasion of Europe, that was then your Navys priority, would definitely be on a beach. He consulted with personnel at the Bureau of Ordnance who walked him through what explosives and equipment hed have to clear beach obstacles. He learned the Navy was in charge of everything around the high-water markthe point where in fact the waves reach highest on the beachand the Army for anything beyond where in fact the water touches. But because the tide could change drastically, Kauffman determined his demolition men would have to be prepared to are powered by land and in water.
Next, Kauffman looked for a beach area where to teach. He considered Navy bases in the Solomons, Maryland, or Little Creek, Virginia, but chosen Fort Pierce, a little fishing town just south of Vero Beach on the east coast of Florida. Its the sunshine allowed for water activities year-round, and there is already an amphibious base at the location, which would enable collaboration. The bases commander, Captain Clarence Gulbranson, was thinking about Kauffmans new organization, offering him two islands to inflate replicas of enemy obstacles. The areas were secluded enough that demolition could possibly be conducted without risking problems for Navy personnel or civilians.
Kauffman moved right into a tent on the beach, that was dotted with tall pines and scrub palmetto. By using two officers from his staff, and a lieutenant whod previously worked at a gunpowder company, Kauffman go about designing the schools curriculum.
It had been a rigorous and grueling conditioning course made to not only push men with their limits, but probably make some fail.
First of all, Kauffman knew his demolitioneers would have to be in top health. Exactly like bomb disposal, combat demolition was physically taxing work. His men would have to be in a position to swim and stepped on rugged beach terrain while carrying heavy packs of explosives.
Speed was also essential. In order to avoid a backup of invasion troops, beach obstacles would have to be cleared quickly and efficiently. Consequently, Kauffman wanted men who have been strong and enthusiastic. He wanted young menthirty-five and youngerwho displayed self-confidence and courage, no concern with explosives.
Mental toughness was also paramount. Kauffmans bomb disposal experience in Britain had taught him a single mental lapse could possibly be deadly.
He needed men who could operate at peak performance while fatigued, and in probably the most trying conditions. To create the physical and mental toughness that his trainees would have to survive, Kauffman asked the elite Scouts and Raiders, who also trained at Fort Pierce, to condense their grueling eight-week program into seven days. The commandos developed a schedule that included daily swims in rough ocean, nightly swimming with heavy packs, ten-mile runs in the soft sand, a treacherous obstacle course, and rigorous rubber raft training, all on minimal sleep and barely any food. Kauffman expected a higher attrition rate but was fine with it; he wanted only tough, adaptable men. Kauffman called it Indoctrination Week, nonetheless it would soon earn a fresh nickname on the list of trainees: Hell Week.
To fill his high grade, Kauffman poached many students and officers from his Bomb Disposal School. He also sought men with demolition experience, such as for example former engineers, hard-rock miners, and construction industry workers. Looking forward to intellectually curious men, he visited college campuses to handle auditoriums of students. He didnt enter specifics concerning the unit, butdrawing from public-speaking classes hed extracted from Dale Carnegieregaled the students with exciting anecdotes about demolition and opportunities for adventure. Students rushed to join up, despite the fact that they werent exactly sure what these were registering for.
Navy SEAL trainees at the Coronado Naval Amphibious Base in NORTH PARK in 2000.
Kauffman was presented with no official funding, so he was forced to beg for the money from personal contacts and scrimp to provide his Fort Pierce demolition school. He found a supply officer whod honed his scrounging skills growing up through the Great Depression, and the officer were able to develop useful items which range from unused typewriters to Army jungle boots.
Kauffmans high grade of traineesninety-eight men and officersarrived in July 1943, getting into five-man canvas tents pitched on the sand and infested with biting and crawling sand fleas and mosquitoes. Then your real test began. Actually, Kauffman insisted on joining the men in the punishing conditioning course, to create a good example that demolition officers and enlisted men should endure exactly the same challenges.
KAUFFMAN MAY HAVE looked more just like a professor than an athlete, along with his thick glasses and lanky physique, but he hustled right alongside his young trainees, running in the soft sand and swimming in the foaming surf. The water is never cold! Kauffman yelled at anyone who complained concerning the ocean temperature. He paddled with the class in five-man rubber rafts on the choppy seas, counting each stroke aloud, as water splashed on the sides, and he joined within their exhausting night drills.
One young trainee was running across a jetty of slippery moss-covered rocks in the inky darkness, when he fell and caught his leg between your jagged rocks. As he tried to yank his leg free, Kauffman and the class continued running. Heave-ho! Kauffman shouted at the struggling man. Dont be last!
Kauffman saw an obvious and immediate payoff to Hell Week. Hed later say, The esprit de corps of these who remained was enormous.
Men received the choice to drop out at any point. This is a volunteer unit, these were reminded, and there will be no blight on the personnel record should they quit. Some embraced the choice to bow out; others were too injured or fatigued to keep.
From then on first grueling Hell Week, the amphibious bases commander, Captain Gulbranson, demanded to see Kauffman, who limped to Gulbransons office, exhausted and sore.
Whats this about 40 percent of one’s class quitting or in sick bay? Gulbranson asked.
Kauffman confirmed 40 percent was about right.
Navy SEAL trainees crawl through simulated battle conditions as a drill sergeant watches.
I dont think you have any idea what youre putting these men through, Kauffman, Gulbranson said.
Yes, I really do, the aching Kauffman replied.
Kauffman saw an obvious and immediate payoff to Hell Week. Hed later say, The esprit de corps of these who remained was enormous. The shared pain of Hell Week had bonded the trainees and cemented an organization spirit. It had created the attitude, as Kauffman later recalled, that should you havent experienced Hell Week, youre not just a demolitioneer.
Nearly eighty years later, the crucible continues to forge a robust and unique bond among Navy SEALs. Draper Kauffman passed on in 1979, but todays frogmen still make reference to him, with reverence, because the Grandpappy Bullfrog.”
From the book Into Enemy Waters: A GLOBAL War II Story of the Demolition Divers Who Became the Navy SEALs by Andrew Dubbins. Copyright 2022 by Andrew Dubbins. Published by Diversion Books.
Andrew Dubbins is really a journalist and author, whose work has appeared in Alta, Slate, LA, along with other publications. His new book, Into Enemy Waters: A GLOBAL War II Story of the Demolition Divers Who Became the Navy SEALs, can be acquired from Diversion Books.
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