United States Navy SEALs – Frogman History

By Navy SEAL Veteran Brad McLeod

The United States Navy’s “Sea, Air, and Land” Teams, commonly abbreviated as the Navy SEALs, are the U.S. Navy’s primary special operations force and a component of the Naval Special Warfare Command. Among the SEALs’ main functions are conducting small-unit maritime military operations that originate from, and return to, a river, ocean, swamp, delta, or coastline. The SEALs are trained to operate in all environments (sea, air, and land) for which they are named.


The roots of the modern-day U.S. Navy SEALs can be traced back to World War II. The US Navy determined a need for a team of specially trained covert recon level sailors whose primary role was beach landings and coastal defense strategies. In 1942, the Amphibious Scout and Raider School was established at Fort Pierce in Florida. Early SEALs were first called Scouts and Raiders.

Scouts and Raiders

During World War II, the United States Navy Amphibious Scout and Raider School was established in Fort Pierce, Florida, to train specially selected volunteers in amphibious tactics and reconnaissance. This paper will explore the history of the Amphibious Scout and Raider School, its purpose, training methods, and its impact on the war effort.

The Amphibious Scout and Raider School (also known as the Naval Combat Demolition Training and Experimental Base) was established in 1942 as part of the Navy’s effort to develop specialized units for amphibious warfare. The school was located at the Hutchinson Island Naval Amphibious Training Base in Fort Pierce, Florida, and was tasked with training select volunteers for amphibious reconnaissance and raiding operations. The location of this military training camp for elite frogmen was crucial for training.

The purpose of the Amphibious Scout and Raider School was to train volunteers to operate in small teams behind enemy lines, gathering intelligence, conducting sabotage, and disrupting enemy operations. These specially trained personnel were intended to be deployed in advance of larger amphibious landings to gather intelligence on enemy defenses and provide early warning of any threats.

The training program at the Amphibious Scout and Raider School was rigorous and demanding. It was designed to prepare volunteers physically and mentally for the harsh conditions they would face behind enemy lines. The curriculum included marksmanship, demolitions, navigation, hand-to-hand combat, and survival skills. Trainees also received extensive instruction in watercraft operations, including small boat handling, canoeing, and swimming.

The Amphibious Scout and Raider School played a significant role in the Allied war effort. The specialized training provided by the school helped to prepare volunteers for the unique challenges of amphibious reconnaissance and raiding operations. These operations proved to be essential in providing intelligence and disrupting enemy operations, ultimately contributing to the success of Allied amphibious landings in North Africa, Sicily, and Normandy.

The United States Navy Amphibious Scout and Raider School in Fort Pierce, Florida, was a critical component of the Allied war effort during World War II. Its specialized training prepared volunteers for the challenges of amphibious reconnaissance and raiding operations, contributing to the success of Allied amphibious landings in several key theaters of the war. The legacy of the school can still be seen today in the training of modern special forces and amphibious units.

Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs)

The origin of the Navy SEALs can be traced back to the Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs) of World War II. These units were responsible for clearing obstacles and mines from beaches and harbors in preparation for amphibious landings.

Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT), were amphibious (water bound) units withing the US Navy. These teams of “Frogmen” were created by the United States Navy during World War II with specialized non-tactical missions. The UDT’s were predecessors of the US Navy SEAL Teams which are operational today.

The primary function during World War 2 was to perform reconnaissance and underwater demolition of natural or man-made obstacles obstructing amphibious landings. After World War 2, the UDTs were disbanded, but some of their members continued to train and develop new tactics and techniques.

Postwar they transitioned to scuba gear changing their capabilities. With that they came to be considered more elite and tactical during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The frogmen were early pioneers in underwater demolition, closed-circuit diving, combat swimming, and midget submarine (dry and wet submersible) operations.

Space Flight Program

U.S. Navy Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT), often referred to as Frogmen, played an unexpected but crucial role in the early days of the American spaceflight program. Their specialized training and expertise in underwater operations proved invaluable in the recovery of astronauts and spacecraft after splashdown in the ocean. One of their most notable contributions was their involvement in the Mercury and Gemini space programs.

During the Mercury program, which aimed to put the first American astronauts into space, UDT Frogmen were responsible for the recovery of the space capsules and astronauts from the ocean upon reentry. This required them to parachute into the ocean near the splashdown site and assist the astronauts in exiting their capsules and getting safely aboard recovery vessels. Their ability to quickly and efficiently perform these tasks in challenging conditions earned them a reputation for precision and reliability.

As the space program advanced into the Gemini phase, UDT Frogmen continued to play a vital role in astronaut recovery operations. They refined their techniques and procedures, ensuring the safety and success of the astronauts’ return to Earth. The amphibious skills and physical conditioning of the Frogmen made them well-suited for these demanding tasks. While their involvement in the space program may not be as widely recognized as their other missions, their contributions were essential to the overall success and safety of American space exploration during those early years.

The Underwater Demolition Teams began during World War 2 in the Pacific Theatre. The US Navy’s amphibious assault expert Rear Admiral Turner – saw the need for Frogmen as he saw the failings during the invasion of Tarawa. The US Marines were not able to get to the beach due to surrounding coral reefs.

The Navy had to find a way to be able to navigate any underwater obstacles and get reconnaissance information back to the Navy Command for planning.

The personnel for these teams were mostly local Seabees or others that had started out in the Naval combat demolition units (NCDU’s) were the ‘‘frogmen’’ of World War 2.

Naval Combat Demolition Unit

The history of the United States Navy’s Naval Combat Demolition Units (NCDUs) dates back to the early days of World War II. In response to the need for specialized units to clear beach obstacles and create safe landing zones for amphibious assaults, the NCDUs were established in May 1943. These units were tasked with carrying out dangerous and critical demolition tasks during amphibious operations in both the European and Pacific theaters of the war.

The commencement of plans for a large-scale cross-channel invasion of Europe coincided with intelligence reports suggesting that the Germans were strategically positioning extensive underwater obstacles along the Normandy beaches.

In May 1943, Lieutenant Commander Draper Kauffman received orders to establish a school for training sailors in the art of clearing obstacles on enemy-held beaches before invasion operations could commence.

On June 6, 1943, Fort Pierce, Florida became home to the inaugural Naval Combat Demolition Unit (NCDU) training school, masterminded by Kauffman. Kauffman enlisted volunteers from the Bomb and Mine Disposal School in Washington, along with personnel from the Civil Engineering Corps and Naval Construction Corps (Seabees) School in Camp Peary, Williamsburg, Virginia, to comprise the initial training cohorts.

Draper Kauffman is widely credited with instituting the grueling “Hell Week,” an enduring component of today’s Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training program. Throughout the course, the attrition rate remained notably high, averaging between 65-75%, mirroring the contemporary statistics in BUD/S training.

NCDU personnel were highly trained in explosives, underwater demolition, and reconnaissance techniques. They played a pivotal role in the success of some of the most significant Allied amphibious landings, including the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. NCDU teams were responsible for clearing obstacles, blowing up enemy defenses, and ensuring that landing craft could safely reach the shores. Their bravery and expertise were instrumental in the success of these critical missions.

After World War II, the NCDUs evolved into the Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs), which further refined their skills and capabilities. Eventually, the UDTs merged with the SEAL (Sea, Air, Land) teams in 1983, forming the modern Navy SEALs. The legacy of the NCDUs lives on in the elite special operations forces of the United States Navy, who continue to carry out vital missions around the world.

Each NCDU was comprised of one officer and five enlisted Sailors to make up a single boat crew. The first NCDU class graduated September 1943, after several months of arduous training focusing primarily on demolition of submerged beach obstacles, much like the ones present on the beaches of Normandy during the D-Day invasion. By April 1944, a total of 34 NCDUs arrived in England in preparation for the amphibious landing at Normandy — Operation Overlord.

UDT training was at the Waipio Amphibious Operating Base, located in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Most of the instructors and trainees were graduates of the Fort Pierce NCDU or Scouts and Raiders schools, Seabees, Marines, and Army soldiers.


President John F. Kennedy’s desire to establish a specialized maritime force that eventually led to the creation of the Navy SEALs was driven by several factors.

One of the primary reasons was the need for a dedicated maritime force to conduct unconventional warfare in support of US national security interests. During the Cold War, the United States was engaged in a global struggle against the Soviet Union and its allies, and there was a need for a specialized force that could operate in unconventional environments, such as coastal areas and other maritime environments.

Another factor was the success of the British Special Air Service (SAS) during the Malayan Emergency and other conflicts. President Kennedy was impressed with the SAS’s ability to conduct covert operations and saw the need for a similar capability within the US military.

Additionally, President Kennedy was a strong proponent of the use of special forces as a means of countering communist insurgencies and other threats to US national security. He believed that a specialized maritime force could help to deter or counter these threats.

Finally, the establishment of the Navy SEALs was part of a broader effort to modernize and reorganize the US military in the aftermath of World War II. The Navy saw the need for a specialized force that could operate in the maritime environment, and the creation of the SEALs was part of that effort.

Overall, President Kennedy’s desire to create a specialized maritime force was driven by a combination of strategic, operational, and political factors, as well as a belief in the importance of special forces as a tool of US national security policy.


The British Special Air Service (SAS) played a significant role in the Malayan Emergency, which was a guerrilla war fought between Commonwealth forces and communist insurgents in Malaya (now Malaysia) from 1948 to 1960.

The SAS was initially deployed to Malaya in 1950 to support the British Army’s efforts to suppress the communist insurgency. The SAS’s mission was to conduct reconnaissance, sabotage, and ambush operations against the insurgents, with a particular focus on disrupting their supply lines and command and control networks.

One of the SAS’s most significant successes during the Malayan Emergency was Operation Wolverines, a series of raids conducted in 1952 against communist supply depots and hideouts in the jungle. The SAS used helicopters to insert small teams of soldiers deep behind enemy lines, where they destroyed enemy camps and supplies, and ambushed enemy troops.

The Wolverines operations were highly successful, causing significant disruption to the communist insurgency and forcing the insurgents to retreat deeper into the jungle. The operations also demonstrated the effectiveness of special forces in unconventional warfare and inspired the development of similar capabilities in other countries, including the United States.

Overall, the British SAS‘s contributions to the Malayan Emergency were significant and helped to turn the tide of the conflict in favor of the Commonwealth forces. The lessons learned from the SAS’s operations in Malaya have continued to inform the development and use of special forces around the world.

President John F. Kennedy

President John F. Kennedy had a significant influence on the establishment and development of the US Navy SEALs.

John F. Kennedy’s service to his country during World War II as a lieutenant in the United States Navy is most famously marked by his command of PT-109, a patrol torpedo boat. On the night of August 1-2, 1943, PT-109 was rammed by a Japanese destroyer in the Solomon Islands, cutting the boat in half and leaving Kennedy and his crew stranded in the Pacific Ocean. Demonstrating remarkable leadership and courage, Kennedy managed to lead his men to safety despite being injured himself.

Over several days, he swam miles to secure help, even towing an injured crewman by the strap of his life vest. His heroic actions not only saved the lives of his crew but also earned him the Navy and Marine Corps Medal. This episode of valor and determination highlighted Kennedy’s commitment to his comrades and his country, laying a foundation of public respect and admiration that would later bolster his political career.

Here are the key aspects of his impact:

  1. Creation of the SEAL Teams:
    • In 1961, recognizing the need for specialized forces capable of conducting unconventional warfare, Kennedy directed the US military to enhance its special operations capabilities. This directive led to the establishment of the Navy SEALs in January 1962.
    • The first SEAL teams, SEAL Team One on the West Coast and SEAL Team Two on the East Coast, were officially formed as a result of this initiative.
  2. Emphasis on Counterinsurgency and Unconventional Warfare:
    • Kennedy’s focus on counterinsurgency and unconventional warfare, particularly in the context of the Cold War and conflicts like the Vietnam War, drove the development of specialized units like the SEALs. He saw the need for highly trained, agile forces that could operate in various environments and conduct covert operations.
  3. Support for Training and Resources:
    • Kennedy’s administration provided support for the training and equipping of the SEALs. This included the development of rigorous training programs designed to prepare SEALs for a wide range of missions, from direct action and counter-terrorism to reconnaissance and underwater demolition.
  4. Public and Political Support:
    • Kennedy’s endorsement of special operations forces lent political legitimacy and public visibility to these units, ensuring they received the necessary funding and support from the Department of Defense and Congress.
  5. Strategic Vision:
    • Kennedy’s strategic vision for flexible response to global threats underscored the importance of having elite units like the SEALs that could be rapidly deployed to address emerging crises, thereby enhancing the overall operational capability of the US military.

Overall, President Kennedy’s vision and directives were instrumental in the creation and early development of the Navy SEALs, shaping them into the premier maritime special operations force that they are today.

NAVY SEALs in Vietnam

The involvement of the Navy SEALs in the Vietnam War marked a significant chapter in their storied history. During this tumultuous period, the SEALs played a vital role in conducting unconventional warfare, counterinsurgency operations, and specialized missions in the hostile and complex environment of Vietnam. Their contributions exemplified their exceptional training, adaptability, and courage in the face of immense challenges.

The SEALs’ involvement in Vietnam began in 1962 when President John F. Kennedy authorized the establishment of SEAL Team ONE, specifically tailored for operating in riverine and coastal regions. The SEALs conducted a wide range of operations, including reconnaissance, ambushes, direct action raids, and intelligence gathering. They operated in small teams, utilizing their expertise in amphibious warfare, stealth, and close-quarters combat to disrupt enemy operations and gather critical intelligence.

During the Vietnam War, the US Navy SEALs were involved in several military operations. Here is a list of some notable ones:

  1. Operation Game Warden (1965-1973)
    • This operation aimed to interdict the movement of Viet Cong forces and supplies in the Mekong Delta region. Navy SEALs played a crucial role in patrolling the waterways and conducting ambushes.
  2. Operation Market Time (1965-1973)
    • This operation focused on coastal interdiction to prevent the North Vietnamese from infiltrating men and supplies by sea. SEALs conducted numerous reconnaissance and direct action missions.
  3. Operation Sealords (1968-1971)
    • Initiated to complement the efforts of Operation Game Warden and Market Time, this operation aimed to disrupt the enemy’s logistical networks and support pacification efforts in the Mekong Delta. SEALs engaged in extensive riverine warfare and direct action missions.
  4. Operation Phoenix (1965-1972)
    • This controversial operation aimed at neutralizing the Viet Cong infrastructure. Navy SEALs were involved in the capture or elimination of high-value targets within the Viet Cong leadership.
  5. Operation Bold Dragon
    • This operation involved reconnaissance and intelligence gathering, as well as direct action missions targeting enemy strongholds and supply routes.
  6. Operation Bold Mariner (1969)
    • This was a joint operation with US Marines in the Batangan Peninsula, aimed at clearing out Viet Cong base areas. SEALs provided reconnaissance and direct action capabilities.

These operations were part of broader strategic efforts by the US military to counter Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army activities during the Vietnam War. The SEALs’ unique capabilities in unconventional warfare, direct action, and reconnaissance made them a vital component of these operations.

Operation Thunderhead:

Operation Thunderhead, initiated in 1964, was a pivotal deployment marking the inception of Navy SEALs in Vietnam. The operation was primarily focused on two crucial objectives: intelligence gathering and disrupting Viet Cong supply lines. This early mission set the precedent for the SEALs’ vital role in conducting covert operations in the complex and challenging terrain of Vietnam.

Tasked with clandestine activities, the SEAL teams utilized their expertise in stealth and reconnaissance to collect valuable intelligence on the Viet Cong’s movements and supply routes. Operating in small units, they navigated the dense jungles and waterways, gathering critical information that would later assist in planning subsequent operations. Furthermore, they aimed to interdict and disrupt the Viet Cong’s logistical lines, aiming to impede their ability to transport weapons, food, and other essential supplies necessary for their operations.

Operation Thunderhead demonstrated the SEALs’ adaptability and resilience in carrying out missions under hazardous conditions. It served as a foundational experience that highlighted their capabilities in conducting clandestine operations, a skill set that would become increasingly vital throughout the protracted conflict in Vietnam. This operation laid the groundwork for the SEALs’ future roles in reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, and counterinsurgency in the region.

Operation Game Warden:

Operation Game Warden, a significant military initiative spanning from 1965 to 1972, was a key component of the U.S. Navy SEALs’ engagement in Vietnam. The operation was centered around patrolling the extensive network of waterways within the Mekong Delta region. Its primary objective was to disrupt and deter the Viet Cong’s logistical routes, which were crucial for transporting supplies, ammunition, and reinforcements.

The SEALs played a pivotal role in executing Operation Game Warden, employing their expertise in riverine warfare and special operations to navigate the intricate water systems and tributaries. Operating from swift boats, PBRs (Patrol Boat, River), and various other watercraft, SEAL teams conducted regular patrols, ambushes, and interdiction missions along the waterways. These missions aimed to intercept Viet Cong supply convoys, hamper their movements, and deter the infiltration of troops and supplies, contributing significantly to the disruption of enemy activities.

Throughout Operation Game Warden, the SEALs demonstrated their adaptability, courage, and resilience in conducting challenging and often perilous riverine operations. Their efforts in patrolling the waterways of the Mekong Delta significantly disrupted the Viet Cong’s ability to transport critical resources, undermining their operational capabilities and impeding their capacity to sustain their insurgency in the region. This operation underscored the SEALs’ effectiveness in conducting specialized operations in demanding environments, leaving a lasting impact on the overall conflict in Vietnam.

Operation Silver Creek: An intelligence-gathering mission aimed at conducting reconnaissance and surveillance along the coastline of North Vietnam.

Operation Rolling Thunder: The SEALs provided support for US forces engaged in this sustained bombing campaign against North Vietnam from 1965 to 1968.

Operation Tailwind: A controversial operation in 1970 where SEALs were involved in a covert mission in Laos to disrupt enemy supply lines.

Operation Giant Slingshot: Conducted in 1971, it involved inserting SEAL teams deep into enemy territory in North Vietnam for reconnaissance and intelligence gathering.

Operation Ivory Coast: Also known as the Son Tay Raid in 1970, it was a high-risk operation aimed at rescuing American prisoners of war held in a camp in North Vietnam (no prisoners were found during the operation).

Mobile Guerrilla Force

One of the notable aspects of SEAL operations during the Vietnam War was their participation in the Mobile Guerilla Force (MGF). The MGF was a joint effort between the SEALs and South Vietnamese soldiers, aimed at combating Viet Cong guerrilla forces. SEALs played a crucial role in training and leading these South Vietnamese soldiers, conducting missions such as ambushes, raids, and interdiction operations against the Viet Cong.

The Mobile Guerrilla Force (MGF) was a unique and highly effective counterinsurgency unit during the Vietnam War, and it saw notable involvement from U.S. Navy SEALs. The MGF was formed in 1966, primarily composed of indigenous South Vietnamese personnel and supported by U.S. Special Forces, SEALs, and other American advisors. Its mission was to conduct reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, and combat operations against Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army forces in the Mekong Delta region.

U.S. Navy SEALs played a pivotal role within the MGF, providing essential expertise in amphibious warfare, reconnaissance, and unconventional warfare tactics. They worked closely with their South Vietnamese counterparts, training them in specialized techniques and ensuring the unit’s overall combat readiness. SEALs conducted covert insertions and extractions, often by boat or helicopter, deep into enemy territory to gather critical intelligence, disrupt enemy operations, and engage in direct combat when necessary.

The collaboration between Navy SEALs and the MGF yielded significant successes. Their combined efforts led to the capture or elimination of high-value targets, the discovery of enemy supply caches, and the disruption of Viet Cong infrastructure. This cooperative model of unconventional warfare showcased the versatility and adaptability of the SEALs in the complex and dynamic environment of the Vietnam War. The experiences gained during this period would go on to shape the future roles and missions of U.S. Navy SEALs in special operations around the world.

Phoenix Program

Another significant contribution by the Navy SEALs was their involvement in the controversial Phoenix Program. This program aimed to dismantle the Viet Cong infrastructure through intelligence gathering, capturing or neutralizing high-value targets, and providing support to South Vietnamese forces. SEALs were involved in covert operations to gather intelligence, conduct raids, and capture or eliminate key individuals associated with the Viet Cong.

The U.S. Navy SEALs played a clandestine and critical role in the Phoenix Program during the Vietnam War. The Phoenix Program was a controversial, counterinsurgency initiative designed to identify and neutralize Viet Cong infrastructure and leadership. It aimed to disrupt the Viet Cong’s political and logistical support networks, significantly impacting their ability to wage war in South Vietnam.

SEALs were instrumental in the Phoenix Program’s execution, leveraging their unique skills in reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, and direct action missions. They worked in close collaboration with the CIA, South Vietnamese security forces, and other U.S. Special Operations units to carry out covert operations aimed at identifying and eliminating high-value Viet Cong targets, including political operatives and military leaders. SEALs conducted intelligence-driven missions that often involved infiltrating deep into enemy territory, gathering critical information, and conducting raids to capture or neutralize the identified targets.

The SEALs’ involvement in the Phoenix Program showcased their adaptability and effectiveness in the shadowy world of counterinsurgency warfare. While the program remains controversial due to allegations of human rights abuses, the SEALs’ contribution to its success demonstrated their ability to operate in complex, high-stakes environments and played a significant role in disrupting the Viet Cong’s operations during the Vietnam War. These experiences contributed to the evolution of the SEALs’ tactics and capabilities, ultimately shaping their role in future special operations missions.

The SEALs’ performance during the Vietnam War highlighted their adaptability and ability to operate in a wide range of environments. They conducted operations in dense jungles, coastal regions, and riverine areas, often facing formidable challenges such as harsh terrain, extreme weather conditions, and a resourceful enemy. Despite these difficulties, the SEALs demonstrated their skill and effectiveness, earning a reputation for their courage, tenacity, and commitment to mission success.

It is important to note that the Vietnam War presented unique challenges for the SEALs. They had to adapt their tactics, techniques, and equipment to the unconventional nature of the conflict. Lessons learned during this period contributed to the evolution and refinement of SEAL doctrine and capabilities in subsequent years.

The contributions of the Navy SEALs in the Vietnam War showcased their resilience, adaptability, and unwavering dedication to their mission. Their experiences in this conflict played a pivotal role in shaping the future of the SEAL Teams and further solidified their reputation as one of the world’s premier special operations forces. The lessons learned and the indomitable spirit demonstrated by the SEALs in Vietnam continue to inspire and guide future generations of operators in their pursuit of excellence and service to their country.


The Navy SEALs, officially known as the Sea, Air, and Land Teams (SEALs), played a critical and often secretive role during the Cold War, which lasted from the end of World War II in 1945 to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Operating under the Department of Defense, the SEALs were tasked with a wide range of covert operations, specializing in maritime, unconventional warfare, and counterinsurgency efforts. Their contributions to national security and the containment of communism were substantial, though much of their work remained classified for decades.

During the Cold War, the SEALs were involved in a variety of clandestine activities, including intelligence gathering, espionage, sabotage, and direct action missions. Their missions took them to hotspots such as Vietnam, Korea, and other locations where they operated behind enemy lines, training and leading indigenous forces, gathering intelligence, and conducting raids. The SEALs were instrumental in supporting anti-communist movements, bolstering friendly governments, and protecting American interests in the tumultuous landscape of the era.

The SEALs’ extensive training and expertise in underwater demolitions, reconnaissance, and amphibious operations were invaluable during the Cold War, especially in the context of potential beach landings and amphibious assaults. They conducted beach surveys, cleared underwater obstacles, and ensured the safe passage of U.S. forces during various conflicts and tensions. Their legacy from the Cold War continues to influence modern warfare, as they evolved and adapted their skills to address new global challenges and threats in the post-Cold War world.

Operation Thunderhead (1965):

Operation Thunderhead, conducted in 1965, was a significant mission that exemplified the Navy SEALs’ early involvement in the Vietnam War. During this operation, SEAL teams were deployed to Southeast Asia as part of a larger U.S. effort to support indigenous forces and conduct unconventional warfare operations. This marked one of the Navy SEALs’ earliest combat deployments during the Cold War era.

The primary objective of Operation Thunderhead was to assist the Montagnard tribespeople, who were allied with the United States, in fighting against the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces in the highlands of South Vietnam. SEALs, trained in guerrilla warfare and unconventional tactics, played a vital role in training and leading the Montagnards. They worked alongside their indigenous counterparts to conduct reconnaissance, sabotage, and ambush operations, aiming to disrupt enemy activities and gather critical intelligence.

Operation Thunderhead highlighted the Navy SEALs’ adaptability and capability to operate in diverse and challenging environments. It served as a precursor to their involvement in other unconventional warfare missions throughout the Vietnam War. The lessons learned from this operation contributed to the evolution and refinement of SEAL tactics, ultimately shaping their role as elite warriors during the Cold War and beyond.

Operation Eagle Claw (1980):

Operation Eagle Claw, conducted in 1980, was a high-stakes mission that aimed to rescue 52 American hostages held in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran, following the Iranian Revolution. The operation was a joint effort involving the U.S. military’s special operations forces, with a prominent role assigned to SEAL Team Six, a newly formed and highly secretive counterterrorism unit. The mission was characterized by its complexity and secrecy, making it one of the most challenging and significant special operations in U.S. history.

The Navy SEALs, particularly SEAL Team Six, played a central role in Operation Eagle Claw. Their responsibilities included infiltrating the desert stronghold, securing a nearby airfield, and facilitating the extraction of the hostages. The operation required a high level of precision and coordination, but it faced numerous obstacles, including unexpected sandstorms, mechanical failures, and accidents. Tragically, during a refueling operation in the Iranian desert, one of the U.S. aircraft collided with a helicopter, resulting in the loss of eight American servicemen’s lives. The mission was subsequently aborted, leading to severe disappointment and frustration for the U.S. government.

Operation Eagle Claw highlighted the need for better training, equipment, and coordination among special operations units. The failure of the mission led to an extensive review of U.S. special operations capabilities, which ultimately contributed to the development and enhancement of special operations units like SEAL Team Six. This tragic event also underscored the importance of having dedicated counterterrorism units and led to the eventual refinement and expansion of SEAL Team Six, which later became known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU). Despite its initial failure, Operation Eagle Claw served as a pivotal moment in the evolution of U.S. special operations forces, emphasizing the necessity of investing in these elite units for future counterterrorism efforts.

Operation Urgent Fury/Grenada (1983)

The U.S. Navy SEALs played a crucial role in the 1983 invasion of Grenada, codenamed Operation Urgent Fury. This military operation was initiated in response to political instability in Grenada, where a communist government had taken power. The SEALs were tasked with a variety of missions, including reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, and direct action against enemy forces. Their expertise in covert and unconventional warfare made them a valuable asset in this operation.

One of the most notable actions of the Navy SEALs during the Grenada invasion was the successful rescue of American medical students who were stranded at St. George’s University. The SEALs, in coordination with other special operations units, infiltrated the island and secured the students’ safety. This mission showcased the SEALs’ ability to operate in hostile environments and rescue American citizens in dangerous situations.

The Grenada operation served as a significant milestone for the U.S. Navy SEALs, demonstrating their adaptability and effectiveness in a variety of combat scenarios. Their actions in Grenada contributed to the successful liberation of the island and the restoration of order, and it highlighted the importance of special operations forces in addressing global security challenges.

Operation Golden Pheasant/Nicaraugua 1980s

The involvement of the U.S. Navy SEALs in Nicaragua during the 1980s was part of a broader U.S. effort to support anti-Sandinista Contra rebels in their struggle against the Nicaraguan government, which was aligned with the Soviet Union and Cuba. The SEALs were engaged in a variety of covert and unconventional warfare activities to assist the Contras and gather intelligence on the Sandinista regime. These operations were conducted during a period of intense Cold War rivalry, and the SEALs played a vital role in the Reagan administration’s strategy to counter the spread of communism in Central America.

One of the notable missions involving the SEALs in Nicaragua during the 1980s was Operation Golden Pheasant. This operation aimed to support the Contras and protect American interests in the region. SEAL teams were involved in training and advising the Contras, conducting reconnaissance, and gathering intelligence. While their activities were often secretive, the SEALs played a significant role in the broader U.S. effort to support anti-Sandinista forces.

The SEALs’ involvement in Nicaragua during this period was highly controversial, as it raised questions about the legality and ethics of the U.S. government’s support for the Contras. It was a complex chapter in the history of U.S. foreign policy, and the SEALs’ actions in Nicaragua remain a topic of discussion and debate in the context of Cold War history and the region’s geopolitical dynamics.

Operation Mike Bravo/El Salvador 1984

The U.S. Navy SEALs played a discreet but significant role in El Salvador during the 1980s, a time of civil conflict and insurgency. El Salvador was embroiled in a brutal civil war between the government, backed by the United States, and leftist guerrilla groups. The SEALs were involved in providing training and advisory support to the Salvadoran military, aiming to improve their capabilities in counterinsurgency and unconventional warfare.

One of the major operations involving Navy SEALs in El Salvador was “Operation Mike Bravo,” which focused on enhancing the Salvadoran military’s ability to combat leftist insurgents. The SEALs worked closely with Salvadoran troops, providing specialized training and guidance. Their efforts were part of the broader U.S. strategy to prevent the spread of communism in Central America and support friendly governments.

The SEALs’ involvement in El Salvador during this period was met with controversy and criticism, as it raised concerns about human rights abuses and the U.S. government’s role in supporting the Salvadoran military, which was accused of committing human rights violations. The complex history of U.S. engagement in El Salvador during the 1980s is a topic of ongoing debate and analysis in the context of Cold War-era foreign policy and its impact on the region.

HONDURAS (1980s)

In the 1980s, particularly during the Reagan administration, the United States increased its military involvement in Central America, including Honduras, due to concerns about communism and regional stability. As part of this effort, elements of the U.S. military, including Navy SEALs, were deployed to Honduras to conduct various missions.

One significant joint military exercise conducted in Honduras during the 1980s was known as “Operation Golden Pheasant.” This operation took place in 1988 and involved U.S. forces, including elements of the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force, along with Honduran military units.

Operation Golden Pheasant aimed to demonstrate U.S. commitment to regional security and stability in the face of rising tensions and potential threats in Central America, particularly from leftist guerrilla groups and Soviet-backed forces. The operation involved training exercises, joint patrols, and maneuvers conducted in coordination with Honduran authorities. Additionally, it served to reassure U.S. allies in the region and deter potential adversaries from taking hostile actions.

These missions often focused on training and advising local forces, conducting reconnaissance, and supporting counterinsurgency efforts against left-wing guerrilla groups, such as the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and leftist movements in El Salvador and Honduras. The presence of Navy SEALs in Honduras during this time period was part of broader U.S. efforts to combat Soviet influence in the region and support governments aligned with U.S. interests. While specific details of SEAL operations in Honduras during the 1980s may be limited due to their secretive nature, their presence underscored the strategic importance of Central America during the Cold War era.

Operation Just Cause (1989):

Operation Just Cause, executed in December 1989, was a U.S. military intervention aimed at removing Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega from power and restoring democracy to Panama. The operation involved a coalition of U.S. military units, including the Navy SEALs. SEALs were tasked with various missions during the operation, which included securing vital facilities, capturing Noriega’s associates, and gathering critical intelligence.

Navy SEALs played a significant role in Operation Just Cause, conducting amphibious operations and supporting the overall mission objectives. They were instrumental in seizing strategic locations, such as the Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF) barracks, which played a key role in the success of the operation. SEAL teams also executed precision raids to capture high-value targets, disrupting Noriega’s network of support and dismantling his regime. The SEALs’ ability to operate effectively in complex and dynamic environments contributed to the overall success of Operation Just Cause.

The operation led to the capture of Manuel Noriega and the restoration of democratic governance in Panama. It showcased the Navy SEALs’ adaptability and effectiveness in a wide range of missions, from amphibious assaults to direct action against high-value targets. Operation Just Cause demonstrated the SEALs’ capabilities as a force capable of conducting precision and high-impact missions in support of U.S. foreign policy objectives.

Persian Gulf War

The Persian Gulf War, also known as Operation Desert Storm, was a pivotal conflict in the early 1990s that saw the United States and a coalition of international forces responding to the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. While the primary focus was on conventional military operations, Navy SEALs played a crucial role during this conflict, conducting covert and specialized missions behind enemy lines.

One of the most notable SEAL operations during the Persian Gulf War was Operation Desert Sword, which involved the deployment of SEAL teams to the Kuwaiti coast to conduct beach reconnaissance and clear underwater obstacles in preparation for the coalition’s amphibious assault. This mission helped ensure the success of the coalition forces’ ground offensive and contributed to the liberation of Kuwait from Iraqi occupation.

In addition to their reconnaissance and demolition tasks, SEALs were also involved in intelligence gathering and other covert operations in the Persian Gulf region. These operations showcased the SEALs’ adaptability and effectiveness in a variety of roles and environments, emphasizing their importance as a critical asset within the broader spectrum of U.S. military forces during the Persian Gulf War. Their contributions helped pave the way for the coalition’s swift victory and the liberation of Kuwait.

Iraq War

The United States Navy SEALs played a significant and multifaceted role during the Iraq War, which began in 2003 with the invasion of Iraq by a coalition led by the United States. Their operations encompassed a wide range of tasks, including counterterrorism, direct action, reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, and unconventional warfare. The Iraq War marked a critical period in which SEAL teams faced the challenges of insurgency and counterinsurgency operations.

One of the most well-known missions involving Navy SEALs during the Iraq War was the operation that led to the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003. SEALs, alongside other special operations forces, played a pivotal role in tracking and detaining the former Iraqi dictator, a major achievement in the early phase of the conflict.

Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF): This was the overall U.S. military operation in Iraq, and SEALs were actively involved in supporting this campaign, often conducting various specialized missions as part of OIF.

Operation Redwing (2005): This operation gained widespread attention and was the basis for the book and movie “Lone Survivor.” It involved SEALs on a reconnaissance mission in the Kunar province of Afghanistan, but it is often associated with the Iraq War due to the broader context of counterterrorism operations.

Operation Matador (2005): SEALs participated in this operation in Iraq, aimed at eliminating insurgents and stabilizing the region.

Operation Establishment (2003): SEAL teams were involved in this operation, which focused on securing oil platforms in the Persian Gulf, preventing their sabotage.

Operation New Market (2004): SEALs conducted operations in Fallujah and other areas of Iraq as part of the broader U.S. effort to combat insurgents.

Operation Kentucky Jumper (2005): SEALs were engaged in this operation to target and eliminate insurgent leaders and to support intelligence-gathering efforts.

Operation Viking Hammer (2003): SEALs were part of this operation, which sought to eliminate high-value targets within Iraq and disrupt insurgent networks.

Operation Sydney (2007): SEALs conducted raids and direct action missions in support of counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq.

In addition to high-profile operations, SEALs conducted numerous classified missions aimed at targeting and eliminating insurgent leaders, securing key infrastructure, and assisting Iraqi security forces. Their contributions were instrumental in maintaining security and stabilizing the region during the years of the Iraq War. The SEALs’ adaptability and effectiveness in dynamic and challenging environments were evident in their performance throughout this period, cementing their reputation as elite warriors in modern warfare.

911 War on Terror

The United States Navy SEALs have been actively engaged in Afghanistan since the early days of the War on Terror, following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Their missions have been diverse, encompassing a wide range of operations aimed at counterterrorism, intelligence gathering, and supporting allied forces. SEAL teams have played a crucial role in combatting insurgent and terrorist threats in the rugged and challenging terrain of Afghanistan.

One of the most notable operations involving SEALs in Afghanistan was Operation Red Wings in 2005, which focused on capturing or eliminating a high-value Taliban leader. This operation, made famous by the book and movie “Lone Survivor,” resulted in a fierce firefight and the loss of several SEALs. It highlighted the SEALs’ unwavering dedication and determination in the face of extreme adversity.

List of Operations involving Navy SEALs in Afghanistan:
Operation Red Wings (2005)
Operation Anaconda (2002)
Operation Enduring Freedom (2001 – present)
Operation Neptune Spear (2011, the mission that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden)
Operation Vigilant Resolve (2003)
Operation Red Wings II (2005)
Operation Whalers (2002)
Operation Medusa (2006)
Operation Robar (2005)
Operation Red Wings III (2005)
Operation Red Wings IV (2005)
Operation Strike of the Sword (2002)
Operation Commander’s In-extremis Force (CIF) (ongoing)
Operation Neptune Shield (2002)
Operation Jacana (2004)


Since their establishment, the Navy SEALs have been involved in numerous military operations, including the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and the War on Terror. They are known for their rigorous training program, which includes physical conditioning, weapons proficiency, and specialized training in diving, parachuting, and other skills.

In the 1960s, the need for a specialized maritime force became increasingly apparent, and the UDTs were reorganized into the SEALs (Sea, Air, and Land Teams). The SEALs were tasked with conducting special operations, such as reconnaissance, sabotage, and direct action missions, in maritime environments.

Later in 1983, after additional SEAL training, the UDTs were re-designated as SEAL Teams or Swimmer Delivery Vehicle Teams (SDVTs). SDVTs have since been re-designated SEAL Delivery Vehicle Teams.[3]

The Navy SEALs have also become popularized in popular culture through movies and books, such as “American Sniper” and “Lone Survivor.

About the Author:

Brad McLeod is a former Navy SEAL and outdoor athlete. He enjoys writing about Navy history and how it has protected democracy around the world. He lives in Tallahassee, Florida with his family.

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