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Book Review

The Naked Warriors: The Elite Fighting Force That Became the Navy Seals by Francis Fane and Don Moore

The Naked Warriors: The Story of the U.S. Navy’s Frogmen

31 July 2006

Kenn Miller

I'm really beginning to appreciate the Naval Institute Press. Sure, it was Naval Institute Press that published The Hunt For Red October, and unleashed Tom Clancy on the world. I really wish they hadn't done that, since I'm jealous of Clancy's wealth, and resent his success on the grounds that he's not a veteran of military service.

Of course, the fact that I'm becoming unreasonably bigoted against everybody who profits off the efforts of America's military without ever having been a member of it should reflect against me, not Clancy, and certainly not against Naval Institute Press. Not only did they bring the greats American novel of the 20th Century, The Sand Pebbles, back into print, but Naval Institute Press is now giving us some great new special operations books – and bringing back some of the classics.

The Naked Warriors is certainly a classic. First published in 1956, it was the American public's first real look at the Underwater Demolition Teams of the U.S. Navy. The UDTs were already legendary by the time this book came out, but The Naked Warriors told the true story that gave rise to the legend in a readable, exciting, extremely accurate and detailed form. The fact that Francis Douglas Fane was a serving UDT officer when he wrote the book gave it credibility when it first hit the book stores, and still gives it credibility today. This is one of the books that helped corrupt an entire generation of us who saw service in elite units in Vietnam. Unlike Ross Carter's Those Devils In Baggy Pants, it wasn't a personal combat memoir, and it wasn't a novel, like all those books that led guys scrambling into the Marine Corps, or that book about SF-types with the hill tribes in Burma that drove War Story author Jim Morris into Special Forces. The Naked Warriors was almost as exciting as a novel, almost as involving as a personal combat memoir, but it was solid history – and so it was available in school libraries all across America. This was and still is on influential book.

Chances are, a high proportion of readers read The Naked Warriors decades ago, and don't think they have to read it again. If that's what you think you're wrong. In recent years, we've had all sorts of SEAL books, a SEAL movie or two, and a SEAL Medal of Honour recipient getting creamed in the primaries by Bill Clinton. There have been some UDT stories in some of the books – those by UDT / SEAL veterans. But for the big story on UST, you've got to go back to World War II. At the end of the war there were more than 3,000 Navy frogmen getting ready for the invasion of the Japanese homeland. Of course, back in the beginning, the early Navy frogmen weren't paratroopers, didn't have an over the beach mission, weren't using SCUBA gear except very occasionally in a few experimental units, and in the very early days, weren't even wearing fins. If you remember this much from reading The Naked Warriors, you probably also have a vague recollection that these early frogmen were some fairly bold and daring fellows, but hardly up to modern SEAL Team standards, and therefore not worth reading about again.

You'd be wrong. These old time frogmen were easily the equal of the toughest SEALs around today. They might not have been as sophisticated, or as widely schooled, but they were just as tough, just as brave, just as independent, arrogant, and at least as inventive as the best of today's Naval special warfare warriors. Sir Issac Newton, or somebody about as smart, once said that "if he could see further than most men, it was only because he was standing on the shoulders of giants." Well, these old time NCDI and UDT frogmen are some of the tallest giants today's spec ops forces have to stand on, and their story is well worth reading. And The Naked Warriors doesn't stop with the end of World War II. This is one of the few books that tell the story of UDT operations during the Korean conflict, and the post-war development of a full underwater capability. If you never read this book in your youthful days, this is your chance to read it at last.

The Naked Warriors isn't just worth reading again – it is worth spending a little money to own. If we don't support Naval Institute Press by buying their books (even if we have to make our local bookstores order them specially), then sooner or later, economic realities will force them to stop publishing new special operations books, and cease re-publishing a lot of the old military classics, like The Naked Warriors. Naval Institute Press is rendering an important service to our national culture by preserving our military history and by bringing many of the old classics back into print. These books are keepers, and you ought to buy every on e Naval Institute Press brings out. You can't keep them otherwise.

Buy The Naked Warriors

This article was originally published in Behind The Lines magazine. VietnamGear.com has reproduced this article with the kind permission of Gary Linderer.

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