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The World War II Version of the Navy SEALs Suffered 52% Casualties at D-Day’s Omaha Beach

The World War II Version of the Navy SEALs Suffered 52% Casualties at D-Day’s Omaha Beach

Sebastien Roblin

Security, Asia

Their sacrifice is a story like no other.

The beach obstacles to the D-Day landing in Normandy were formidable: gigantic concrete tetrahedra, hut-shaped wooden embankments, submerged log or concrete pilings and bristly steel “hedgehogs.”

And there were nastier traps half-submerged in the water: 250 huge steel “Belgian Gate” barricades wrapped with remotely-detonated explosives, over 11,000 long wooden beams tipped with disc-shaped anti-tank Tellermines positioned to explosively gut any boats that bumped into them, and even fixed flame-throwers concealed to douse approaching ships in plumes of fiery petroleum.

The obstacles constrained approaching landing craft in the massive Allied invasion force readied for the liberation of Nazi-occupied France, channeling ships into deadly kill zones covered by machinegun nests, pill-box encased howitzers and pre-ranged mortars on the bluffs overlooking the Normandy beaches codenamed Utah and Omaha. 

The submerged obstacles had to go quickly—which meant someone would have to clear them under enemy fire. That job fell to the World War II ancestors of the Navy SEALs.

Exactly a year before the fateful landing at Normandy on June 6, 1943—the Navy established the Naval Combat Demolition Unit training school at Fort Pierce, Florida, drawing personnel from the “Seabee” construction corps and Bomb and Mine Disposal School.

The school was led by Lt. Commander Draper Kauffman, who had prior served as a volunteer ambulance driver in France and then as a Royal Navy volunteer trained as an expert bomb disposal specialists during German “blitz” over London. 

By 1943 it was growing increasingly clear Allied forces in the Pacific and Europe were going to be involved in a lot of amphibious landings—and that if there weren’t experts available to rapidly clear beach obstacles, U.S. troops could end up pinned down indefinitely on the water’s edge.

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