Beach Jumpers were United States Navy tactical cover and deception units which were organized under Admiral H. Kent Hewitt, then Commander, Amphibious Forces, and all U.S. Naval Forces in Northwest African waters and the Western Mediterranean. The concept for Beach Jumpers came about as a result of then Lieutenant Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., the Hollywood actor turned naval officer during World War II having been detached from "Blue water" duty on the high seas and assigned to duty with British Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten Combined Operations (Commandos) in England.
Lieutenant Fairbanks assignment was to be one of those temporary duty officer exchange programs where American Officers would acquaint themselves with the training, planning, and execution of raiding parties, diversions, and deception operations. Lieutenant Fairbanks however did more than just observe the workings of these commandos. He trained with them at the aptly named H.M.S. Tormentor Advanced Training and Amphibious Operations Base, and at the Commando Training School at Ancharry Castle, Scotland. Subsequently, he participated in several cross channel harassment raids from the Isle of Wright which was the forward base for such activities. It was during these raids that Lieutenant Fairbanks gained a true appreciation for the military art of deception.
Lieutenant Fairbanks was subsequently transferred to Virginia Beach where he came under the command of Admiral Hewitt who was supervising the training of U.S. Naval forces in preparation of their deployment to North Africa and the Mediterranean. It was here that the brash movie star now Naval Lieutenant pitched his idea for a similar unit of specialists trained to conduct tactical cover, diversionary and deception missions. Admiral Hewitt immediately saw the advantages of such a unit and agreed to support Fairbanks. All that was required now was to sell the Navy brass in Washington.
In Washington, Fairbanks was at his persuasive best. Inspired by the success of British Commandos in using sonic deception on raids against the Nazis and Fairbanks' concept of operations, Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander-in-Chief, U. S. Fleet, and Chief of Naval Operations issued a secret letter on 5 March 1943 charging the Vice Chief of Naval Operations with the recruitment of 180 officers and 300 enlisted men for the Beach Jumper program.
The recruiting effort identified four general requirements: (1) no seasickness, (2) experience in small boat handling, (3) enough electrical knowledge to fix a home radio, and (4) at least fundamental knowledge of celestial navigation. The announcement further stated that "The Navy is requesting volunteers for prolonged, hazardous, distant duty for a secret project ".
On 16 March 1943, the volunteers reported to the Amphibious Training Base at Camp Bradford, Virginia and Beach Jumper Unit-1 was commissioned as a command . The basic mission of Beach Jumper Unit-1 was:
"To assist and support the operating forces in the conduct
of Tactical Cover and Deception in Naval Warfare"
Small boat handling, seamanship, ordnance, gunnery, demotions, pyrotechnics, and meteorology were among the the courses taught. Beach Jumpers were also cross-trained to handle all crew positions. The Beach Jumpers were assigned Ten 63-foot Air-Sea Rescue Boats, (ASR). These ASRs were double hulled, plywood construction, powered by either twin Hall-Scott 750 UP or Packard engines, and operated with an Officer and a 6 man crew. The ASRs were equipped with twin 50 caliber machine guns and carried the units deception gear and equipment. The boats also had ten, five on the port and five on the starboard bow, 3.5 inch window rockets, smoke generators or smoke pots and floating, time delay explosive packs.
The units specialized deception equipment included: the multi-component heater consisting of a wire recorder; 5-phase amplifier; 1000 watt, 12 horn speaker; 3 UP Ohm generators for power and Naval balloons, ZKM and MK-6 models, to which strips of radar reflective window had been attached and could be towed behind the boats. Later, different models of jammer transmitters, such as the APT-2 (Carpet); APQ-2 (Rug); AN/APT-3 (Mandrel); AN/SPT-4; AM-14/APT; AM-18/APT; and AN/SPT-1 (DINA), were in operation.
Now there are several stories as to how the Beach Jumpers got there name. One story has it that it was due to their capability of quickly hitting the beach and causing confusion with the enemy due to their harassment and deception operations. Perhaps the best theory as to how they got their name came from Harold Burris-Meyer, Theater and Sound Research Director for the Stevens Institute of Technology. The Stevens Institute was working on a Navy contract to study the physiological and psychological effects of sound on men in warfare. During a high level conference, Mr. Burris-Meyer responded to a question concerning the purpose of their work by stating: "To scare the be-jesus out of the enemy". His engineering team used the "BJ" factor thereafter in their planning which is said to have led to the inspiration for the cover name Beach Jumpers.
Unfortunately for Fairbanks, as a Lieutenant he did not have the rank to command such a unit. Anthony L. Rorschach, Captain, USN arrived at Camp Bedford on 15 May 1943 to take Command of the forming Beach Jumpers. However, Lieutenant Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. was given the assignment to develop, supervise, and coordinate all the plans with the British. Upon his return he was assigned as Special Operations Officer and Assistant Chief of Staff and Operations Officer to Captain Charles L. Andrews who had assumed the Command of all Beach Jumper activities. As Special Operations Officer Fairbanks was responsible for the supervision, training, supplying, and planning for all Beach Jumper activities: all raids, special assault landings, and special operations. As Assistant Chief of Staff and Operations Officer Fairbanks was granted a security clearance level which allowed him access to any information the Beach Jumpers might need.
The Beach Jumpers mission would be to conduct deception operations in which they would simulate amphibious landings with a very limited force. Utilizing their deception equipment the Beach Jumpers would lure the enemy into believing that theirs was the location of the amphibious beach landing, when in fact the actual amphibious landing would be conducted at another location. Beach Jumper Unit-1 (BJU-1) did not have to wait long to be tested. Their first operation was to be "HUSKY", the assault on Sicily.
On the night of 10 July 1943, Beach Jumper Unit-1 was ordered to conduct a diversion off Cape San Marco, 100 miles west of the HUSKY landing area. The first attempt was recalled due to hazardous seas. On D+1, the weather was better and the operation began at 2200 hours. At 3,000 yards off shore, three of the ASRs prepared their heaters, one ASR proceeded a thousand yards ahead and began to lay smoke. As the sound boats prepared to make their run parallel to the beach, a searchlight from Cape San Marco illuminated the area, accompanied by small arms and artillery fire. At 0230 the sound boats were ordered to secure their heaters and close the beach, which they did, firing guns and rockets. All boats retired on a course back to there home port at Pantelleria, Sicily at 0730 hours.
To keep the Germans attention, Commander Robinson was ordered to conduct another operation on the night of 12 July 1943, using all available craft. This time the shore batteries were completely alerted. The Germans were convinced that a landing was about to take place. Salvos of six inch and smaller guns were thrown at the boats. The operation was a success and no casualties were sustained.
Operation HUSKY accomplished complete surprise due to the uncertainty created in the minds of some German Commanders by the BJU-1 diversions and strategic cover and deception operations. BJU-1 was responsible for an entire German Reserve Division being held in place, as the German Command was unsure where the actual landing would take place.
Beach Jumpers Unit-4 were assigned to assist Marshal Tito's forces as well as British Commandos operating in the Adriatic during the later part of 1944. They were also instrumental in the rescue of Airmen of the 15th Air Force who were forced to evacuate their aircraft on return to their bases in Italy from missions over the Polesti oil fields. In addition some of them took part in land combat missions on several Islands along the Dalmation coastal area.
Beach Jumpers Units ONE, THREE, and FIVE continued to support naval operations with their deception interventions into the summer of 1944. Their exceptional diversionary efforts during Operation Bigot-Anvil earned them the Presidential Unit Citation. For his planning the diversion-deception operations and his part in the amphibious assault on Southern France, Lieutenant Commander Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., was awarded the U.S. Navy Legion of Merit with bronze V (for valor), The Italian War Cross for Military Valor, the French Legion d'Honneur and the Croix de Guerre with Palm and the British Distinguish Service Cross.
For most of the Beach Jumper Officers and men of Units 1, 3, 4, 5, who served in the Mediterranean Theater Operations, participation in their specialized brand of Naval Warfare was over. For some, the future meant service in newly formed BJ Units which deployed to the Pacific Theater.
The Beach Jumpers had a rough time getting started in the Pacific. BJU-6 and 7, combined with other Naval Units to form TG 77.11. It sailed on 16 December 1944 for Mindoro in the Philippines aboard the USS Orestes.
On 30 December 1944 at 1655 Hours, a kamikaze struck the water at an angle and bounced off the surface and then into the starboard side of the USS Orestes, the planes unexploded bomb was thrown upward and detonated within the ship resulting in 20 killed and 93 wounded. Unfortunately for Beach Jumpers, most of TG77.11 top officers were among the killed or wounded. On 1 January 1945, bombs at the PT Base on Mangarin Bay killed 16 more men who had survived the kamikaze attack.
BJU-6 conducted their first diversion on 22-23 January 1945, by providing deception tactics in and around the coastal town of Unisan to the Tablas Strait. Beach Jumper communications deception followed a script which included a mix of ad-lib actual conditions at sea, radar and surface search information, orders, station keeping, references to putting boats into the water and the control of landing craft. They also broadcasted normal traffic.
The last Beach Jumper mission for WW II was their most ambitious to date. The effort featured a plan of maneuver and course changes during which rockets would be fired and smoke screens laid, with all activity ending by 0630 hours when all units were to rendezvous, change course a final time to 180 degree, reform, and return to base.
During this deception Beach Jumpers operated a full array of equipment that included jammer transmitters, radar intercept receivers, and smoke generators. The diversions proved effective allowing the 34th Regimental Combat team, and the 38th and 11th Airborne Divisions to land with little or no opposition.
Lieutenant Fairbanks was working on deception schemes to support the scheduled British landings on Singapore when the war ended. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., retired as a Captain, USNR.
Shortly after the end of World War II, all Beach Jumper Units were deactivated.
The Rebirth of Beach Jumpers
On 28 June 1951, Beach Jumper Unit ONE and TWO were reactivated.In July 1951., requirements for Beach Jumper Units again became evident; Beach Jumper Unit-1 (Pacific Fleet) and Beach Jumper Unit-2 (Atlantic Fleet) were commissioned under a new directive of the Chief Naval Operations. Beach Jumper Unit-1 was formally commissioned 26 July 1951 at U. S. Naval Amphibious Base, Coronado., California. Administrative control of the Unit was held by Commanding Officer, Naval Amphibious Training Unit but under operational control of Commander, Amphibious Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet. Unit internal organization was similar to shipboard organization. Personnel allowance included ten officers and eighteen enlisted men.
As during their initial start there were those who questioned the worth of a deception unit in these modern times. As a fleet training exercise was planned, the Beach Jumpers unit was given a chance to prove their worth. It didnt take the Navy long to realize that deception still played an important part in modern warfare.
Beach Jumpers knew that Fleet communications from COMPHIBLANT to ships at sea were relayed through radio Washington. Pretending to be COMPHIBLANT they sent an official message, via Radio Washington, ordering every ship Commanding Officer to report aboard the flagship the next morning to discuss terminating the exercise. The next morning at least half of the ships Commanding officers were aboard the flagship in a state of mounting confusion and anger. All doubt as to the worth of the Beach Jumpers program was quickly erased.
Through the late 1950's and into the early 1960's as the Cold War evolved into the "Counterinsurgency Era," Beach Jumper expertise in the area of manipulative and imitative deception and electronic warfare (EW) was employed in revolutionary new ways, both during scheduled fleet exercises and on actual operations. Additionally, a new secondary mission for Beach Jumper ONE was directed:
"To plan and execute Psychological Operations in
support of commands to which it has been assigned".
The Vietnam War
Beach Jumpers Unit ONE, Team TWELVE was deployed in the Western pacific Area on a continuous basis. Although the Officer in Charge (OIC), Assistant OIC and an administrative staff were headquartered at White Beach, Okinawa, the bulk of Beach Jumpers were divided into detachments and deployed in Vietnam.
First to Deploy for Vietnam service was Beach Jumpers Unit One Detachment ALPHA made up of initially of 2 Officers (later only one) and 10 enlisted men. The unit was assigned under the operational control of the Navy's Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) BRAVO which supported marine Special Landing Force (SLF) operations. Detachment ALPHA was responsible for employing psychological operations (PSYOP) which would become one of the Beach Jumpers' Vietnam missions and later, their unclassified cover activity. For the Beach Jumpers this meant things such as propaganda leaflet drops and loudspeaker broadcasts, which Detachment ALPHA conducted during all major ARG/SLF operations in 1966. Detachment ALPHA operated off of several naval platforms including the USS Tripoli (LPH 10). Subsequently, Detachments BRAVO, CHARLIE, DELTA, ECHO, FOXTROT, and GOLF joined Detachment ALPHA in Vietnam.
Detachment BRAVO initially consisted of one officer and eight enlisted men (The team would later operate minus the officer). Their primary task was to assist the carrier strike force in planning and executing deception efforts. They were assigned the primary mission of assist and support the operating forces in the conduct of Tactical Cover and Deception in Naval Warfare. Bravo was under the operastionsl control of Commander seventh Fleet. They conducted monitoring, tape preparation and Soviet Signal Intelligence SIGINT trawler jamming missions from destroyers.
Detachment CHARLIE consisted of one officer and five enlisted men. CHARLIE was under the operational control of Commander Task Force 77 and were assigned on board of of fleet tugs such as the USS Cocopa (ATF-101) shown in the photo at right. CHARLIE operated under the cover name "Yankee Station Special Surveillance Unit". Their mission was to deceive and jam Soviet Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) and Electrical Intelligence (ELINT) trawlers that were monitoring US Naval operations in the Gulf of Tonkin. Detachment CHARLIE conducted counter SIGINT trawler activities which included random wave jamming with noises which even included bagpipe recordings.
Detachment DELTA, formed in June 1966, consisted of one officer and four enlisted men and was assigned to Commander Naval Forces Vietnam. DELTA conducted psychological operations in support of Commander Task Forces 115, 116, and 117 operating in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam. They later were designated as Team THIRTEEN. This detachment deployed to support SEA DRAGON operations which were cruiser-destroyer patrols carried out against North Vietnamese coastal sea and land objectives such as shore batteries.
Detachment ECHO, formed in February 1967, consisted of only one officer. He was tasked with the primary objective of conducting liaison with Commander task Force 77 and acted as an advisor to the admiral on the feasibility of using communication deceptions in support of operations such as GAME WARDEN and MARKET TIME which were then underway on the rivers, canals and along the coastline of South Vietnam. The Echo Detachment Officer operated from the flag ship (the admiral's ship).
Detachment FOXTROT consisted of two officers and ten enlisted men and was under the operational control of the Commander, Amphibious Ready Group ALFA. Detachment FOXTROT mission was similar to that of Detachment ALPHA and was formed and deployed to further support Marine Special Landing Forces. FOXTROT also monitored Special Landing Force (SLF) frequencies for security breaches and rode River Patrol Boats conducting psychological operation on the Cua Viet and Hue rivers in northernmost I Corps. FOXTROT dropped over 260,000 leaflets during Operation "Daring Rebel" which was a multi-battalion assault on the Hoi An area against the Viet Cong. The leaflets carried rally themes of Chieu Hoi, population control directives, and pleas for local population assistance. Aerial broadcasts, which followed the leaflet drops, carried the same themes and were made by Vietnamese liaison personnel.
Detachments GOLF, which consisted of only two enlisted men, was activated in August 1967 and deployed as a support unit for other Team TWELVE Detachments. Golf operated out of the Naval Station in Subic Bay, Philippines.
Team THIRTEEN was established in December 1968 from Team TWELVE Detachment DELTA and consisted of one officer and four enlisted men. Team THIRTEEN conducted psychological operations from River Patrol Boats on all waterways in country. Additionally they supported both Army 5th Special Forces A and B Teams and Navy SEALS. THIRTEEN also set up the DUFFEL BAG sensor operation program which was later taken over by the SEA LORDS. For their efforts, Beach Jumper Unit One Team Thirteen was presented the Navy Unit Commendation.
For exceptionally meritorious service from 1 December 1968 till 30 April 1971 during operations against enemy forces in the Delta Region of the Republic of Vietnam. Throughout this period, Beach Jumper Unit ONE, Team THIRTEEN operated with units of the United States Navy, the United States Army, and the Vietnamese Navy In carrying out psychological operations and combat missions of a classified nature. By April 1971, the Team had established detachments throughout the IV Corps area, effectively covering the fifteen provinces of the Mekong Delta with their diversified psychological operations capabilities, including loudspeaker broadcast equipment, leaflet drops, civic action projects, and other techniques. Team THIRTEEN participated In over eighty civic action projects In which thousands of Vietnamese civilians were assisted In innumerable ways. During their operations, the Beach Jumpers were subjected to enemy fire on a number of occasions. In each Instance they distinguished themselves by suppressing the fire and completing the assigned mission. The outstanding courage, resourcefulness, perseverance and devotion to duty displayed by the officers and men of Beach Jumper Unit ONE, Team THIRTEEN In combat psychological operations against a determined enemy, reflected great credit upon themselves and their unit and were in keeping with the finest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
Modern Beach Jumpers
On 1 August 1972, by order of the Chief of Naval Operations, Beach Jumper Unit-1 underwent a number in changes in concept, structure and direction. The most obvious of these changes was the emergence of a new name for the unit. The command was redesignated Fleet Composite Operational Readiness Group ONE (FLTCORGRU ONE). That mouthful of a cover name was ordered to emphasize the importance of the command's mission in all areas of Naval Warfare.
Twelve years later in June 1986, the unit was redesignated Fleet Tactical Deception Group Pacific (FLTDECGRUPAC) and Fleet Tactical Deception Group Atlantic (FLTDECGRULANT). Their new mission statement:
"Assisting Commanders in the planning
and conduct of tactical military deception operations."
Today the groups orchestrate their deceptions through the application of sophisticated technologies. In 1987, FLTDECGRUPAC received the Meritorious Unit Commendation for outstanding service in support of deployed Pacific Fleet forces and staffs in the critical areas of Electronic Warfare and Command, Control, and Communications. Thus the Beach Jumpers lineage lives on and the planning and execution of the art and science of seaborne deception continues.
Note: A special thanks to John McLeod, EMC, USN, (PJ) (Retired), a former member of Beach Jumper Unit ONE for providing me with much of the material in my research on Beach Jumpers. If you would like to learn more about the Beach Jumper Units, I recommend you read "Seaborne Deception - The History of U.S. Navy Beach Jumpers" by John B. Dwyer (Praeger Publishers, 1992) or vist the U.S. Navy Beach Jumpers Association website.