Symposium Wrap Up

In Stealth We Trust: Special Operations and their Origins in WWII Wrap Up

In Stealth We Trust: Special Operations and their Origins in WWII Wrap Up

Thursday, December 18, 2014

This year’s Symposium, In Stealth We Trust, was a very successful look at Special Forces and their origins in WWII. This was Part I of a 2 part series, and it dealt with how the organization and use of U.S. Special Forces have changed significantly since their beginnings in World War II.  Part 1 dealt with the founding of U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Special Operations in World War II and how they evolved over the years. Next year’s Symposium, to be held on 19 September 2015, will address the U.S. Army and Air Force Special Forces. Following are short summaries of this year’s Speaker’s presentations.


RichardFrank: Historical Overview of Special Forces


History abounds with the creation of small elite units. These are now what we now refer to as special operations forces, and this is the category being addressed in this two-part Symposium. These units have a long and diverse history, and they have enjoyed a vibrant history in litera- ture and the arts.
Precursors in American history include: George Washington had an interest in special operations during the Revolutionary War, including attempts to kidnap rank- ing officers and other British dignitaries. The Civil War was especially rich in examples of special operations. There were also examples in the Barbary Wars, the Span- ish-American War and even the “Banana Wars.” In gen- eral, the most customary operations of special forces include deep reconnaissance, raids, efforts to capture ranking officers or dignitaries, and nurturing and sup- pressing insurgencies.
What especially distinguishes these early operations from what the rest of the Symposium will discuss is that few of these operations were conducted by members of any special operations forces. Most of these involved in- dividuals who were actually members of regular units and were detached to perform special operations. They would then return to their regular units.
World War II is when a formal structure of special operational forces was formally created. This means that WWII was a formal turning point in the creation of the special operational forces we know today.


Tom Hawkins (USN Ret): Underwater Demolition Teams and Navy Seals

Some of the key groups which grew out of WWII needs later influenced the development of the U.S. Seals. A few were:
Amphibious Scouts and Raiders (Joint): They were formed in August 1942 and were classically trained in demolition, inflatable boat operations and the like.
The Sino-American Cooperative Organization (SACO): This group, also known as the Rice Paddy Navy, was put together by Admiral Milton (“Mary”) Miles. The men were trained under the code name “Amphibious Roger,” and they worked with Chinese indigenous forces targeting the Japanese. Some of their primary missions were weather forecasting, scouting landings for the US Fleet and American planes, rescuing downed American airmen and obtaining intelligence against the Japanese.
The OSS Maritime Unit, developed during WWII, had the most impact on naval special warfare today. This group was established by OSS Director William Donovan in 1943. Units now called “Operational Swimmers” were developed. Back then, they were just known as Swimmers or “Swimmer Groups.” What is significant is that they developed a special boat capability which can still be seen in today’s boat teams which are part of special naval warfare.
The Maritime Unit was composed of army, coast- guard and marine personnel, some of whom did their ini- tial swimming training in the pool at the Ambassador Hotel in Washington, DC. At the same time, the group was developing its maritime boat activities. Many in the unit were sent to the C-B-I theater, especially to Ceylon


Donald Mitchener: Marine Raiders

The Marine Raiders of WWII were born out of a need for early and immediate action against the Japanese. Four key men can be credited with their creation: Evans Carl- son, James Roosevelt, Holland M. Smith and Merritt Edson.
OSS Director Donovan had suggested to FDR that the
U.S form guerrilla style units independent of both the Army and Navy to strike back and harass the Japanese. The Marine Corps had already been thinking about adapt- ing the commando concept for American use and sent rep- resentatives to England to observe what the British were doing. Evans Carlson, who had served with Pancho Villa and in Central America, was also intrigued with these ideas. His experience in China, where he met many lead- ers, including Mao, added to his interest. He found an ally in James Roosevelt, FDR’s eldest son, and the Presi- dent asked him to put together a unit similar to the British commandos, with James Roosevelt serving as his Execu- tive Officer. Neither Carlson nor Roosevelt realized the opposition to Carlson in the Marine Corps because he was a maverick and perceived as overly influenced by the Communist Chinese.

Merritt Edson, was another key player in the formation of another unit, and he had the backing of Holland M. Smith. Admiral Nimitz was pressured to create similar units on the West Coast, and he ordered four commando style units be organized. Edson’s unit became the 1st Marine Raider Battalion and the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion was led by Carlson. The two commanders were told to prepare for spearhead- ing amphibious landings, conducting raids requiring speed and surprise and coordinating guerrilla operations behind Japanese lines. Edson trained his unit along traditional Marine Corps lines, while Carlson, with his emphasis on guerrilla style tactics, developed his own unique training regimen.
The two Battalions were shipped overseas in April 1942 to prepare for action. The 1st Battalion is famous for its fighting on “Edson’s Ridge” on Guadalcanal. The 2nd Battalion is famous for “the Long Patrol” on Guadalcanal. In early 1944, the Raiders were formally disbanded -
- not because they had not performed extremely well, but because the tactics needed to end the war did not include their form of warfare. Although they only existed for two years, their legacy is a powerful one. The exploits at Edson’s Ridge and the Long Patrol remain strong in the Marine Corps’ collective memory to this day.


Patrick O’Donnell: Office of Strategic Services (OSS)

The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was one of the most amazing organizations ever created. It began as the Coordinator of Information because FDR was dissatisfied with the quality of the intelligence he was receiving. British Admiral Godfrey and author Ian Fleming were influential in convincing FDR to create a Coordinator of In- formation, and FDR chose William Donovan, an extraordinary individual, who built the Office of Strategic Services out of his rolodex, by choosing the best and the brightest. Donovan quickly saw the need for a combined approach: gathering intelligence, special operations, and psychological operations.

Also a Maritime Unit was needed and had to be developed. The key role went to British LCDR Wooley, who was placed in command of the Maritime Unit in June 1943. Wooley was a visionary who was given the tasks of training the men, creating the equipment needed by such a group and developing the core capabilities that we know now as belonging to the SEALS.
As the various groups operated, they combined intelligence gathering with their special operations.
After the war, the OSS was disbanded, and most of the secrets of the Maritime Unit were lost or buried in the Archives.


Col. Bruce Meyers USMC (Ret): Amphibious Reconnaissance Company

Col. Meyers spoke about his career in the USMC where he served in various Amphibious Reconnaissance units. He entered WWII in 1943, serving in the Pacific, where he commanded a combat swimming platoon until the end of WWII. During the war, there were over 200 amphibious landings, predominately made by Marine reconnaissance units to secure intelligence regarding enemy held beaches before the actual invasions.

Later in his career, he served as OIC for famed General Chesty Puller, whom he liked very much. Puller assigned him to the “Reconnaissance School.” They then established “Force Reconnaissance,” and Test Unit One. In the latter, they did a lot of experimentation. For the parachuting part of the training, they went to El Centro, which was near the Mexican border.  They tested 22 kinds of parachute jumps, half at night. They made the first off carrier parachute jumps in aviation history. They also experimented with HALO jumps which was the first time jumps had been made at such high altitudes. They made their jumps from about eight to ten different types of aircraft. Meyers stated that he and his men in Force Reconnaissance felt they were doing some- thing new and thus, giving the military a new asset.

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