In mid-1942, Vermonter Francis R. Kaine was fresh out of college and in the Navy’s V-7 officer training program when Navy bomb disposal pioneer Lieutenant Draper Kauffman stopped by his class to give a pitch and sold him on joining his program. Ensign Kaine honed skills in bombs and then followed Kauffman down to Fort Pierce, Florida, to train. He graduated in late 1943 as a member of one of the first Naval Combat Demolition Units—later to be known as Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs).
In an off-and-on active-duty career, Kaine would rise to captain in the reserves, commanding Naval Special Warfare Group Pacific prior to his retirement in 1970. As he recalls in this edited excerpt from his Naval Institute oral history, his first deployment in 1943–45 to the Seventh Fleet in the Pacific as a lieutenant (j.g.) and senior member of Naval Combat Demolition Unit 2 was unequaled in memories:
At Port Hueneme, we loaded all of our equipment on the Liberty ship we would ride unescorted to Australia. We had arbitrarily decided each guy in the six-man unit would take 50 tons of explosives and X numbers of Jack Brown diving units. We had a lot of explosive rubber hose with us.
The Marines had just suffered heavy casualties during the invasion of Tarawa, their landing craft running aground on reefs offshore and becoming easy targets for Japanese defenders. Those in the Pacific command knew that offshore and beaches would have to be reconnoitered and cleared before future landing operations.
“The first landing we went in on,” Kaine remembers, “was Los Negros in the Admiralty Islands.” U.S. troops going ashore had run into Imperial Japanese Marines and needed to reinforce, but they had to land in the harbor on the backside of the island locked by subsurface coral.
In the middle was a submerged reef that was only about 20 feet under the surface. They wanted to send in APA-type reinforcement ships that drew 26-30 feet. They sent us a dispatch: “Get on the first ship going up there and do something about it.” This is the type of orders you got in those days.
We boarded an LST and loaded explosives all night. . . . When we got up there, they gave us an LCM, a lighter boat to work from. They were having this big fight in there, and we could not find anyone when we went ashore who knew what they wanted done.
We finally found this guy [the beachmaster], and he said “We have to blow this reef out of here. You guys said you can do this. You’ve got to do it, because we have reinforcements coming in tomorrow morning or the next morning.”
We said, “Good, no problem.” We didn’t know whether we could do it or not.
So, we went out there and looked at this reef. It was 12 feet thick, and they wanted it down 40 feet. We swam around this thing, and it was just loaded with fish, unbelievable, lots of shark and huge fish. Fortunately, we had loaded a lot of Bangalore torpedoes, which came in boxes three feet, six inches long, and flat. We took the boxes in and hooked them together with rope, maybe two or three feet apart. We ran priming cord from box to box, cutting a hole on the top and priming two or three of these pipes in there.
We’d feed these things off the bow ramp, and laid them right over this reef, and when we got through we had like a blanket hanging over the reef. We ran an electric wire out, got into a boat and backed way off. We fired that rascal, 47 tons of explosives. When that went off, the slap on the bottom of the boat almost fractured your feet, it was such a thud.
We went in to measure, dived down, and couldn’t believe it. We had taken it down to 47 feet, had a breach about 75–80 feet across. By the time we got through examining it, we looked out and there was a ship coming in.