Commander Francis Douglas ‘Doug’ Fane, UDT-SEAL
by Victoria Freeman
One of the Originators of UDT Demolitions
Commander O-5, U.S. Navy
U.S. Merchant Marine 1936-1940
U.S. Navy 1940-1960
World War II 1941-1945
Cold War 1945-1960
Korean War 1950-1951
Doug (Red Dog) Fane was born in Aberdeen, Scotland on November 16th, 1909. He immigrated to the U.S. with his family in 1911 and became a Naturalized U.S. Citizen in 1934. Despite losing his Father to drowning, and not knowing how to swim himself, Doug volunteered for the Underwater Demolition Team (UDT). This move would define the remainder of his career, and put him into the history books.
Commander Fanes’ service began in the United States Merchant Marines in 1936, working his way up from Vessel Navigator to Master, before accepting a commission as a Lieutenant, Junior Grade, in the United States Navy, on May 15, 1940. His early career included assignments aboard the oiler USS Platte (AO-24), the light cruiser USS Nashville (CL-43), and the destroyer USS Reid (DD-369). During this time he participated in operations in the Pacific Theater, including support as part of the infamous Doolittle Raid task force in April 1942, as well as combat at Kiska Island, Alaska, in August 1942.
LT. Fane spent time in the Atlantic serving aboard the aircraft carrier escort USS Card (CVE-11), the attack transport USS Calvert (APA-32), participating in the Invasion of Sicily in the Mediterranean Theater, as well as the ammunition ship USS Mauna Loa (AE-8).
It was after several years of service that he volunteered for Extra Hazardous Duty, in the US NAVY UDT. There was only one slight hurdle. He was unable to swim. Before 33 year-old Doug Fane was to report for duty, he had to learn to swim. He took two-weeks leave in 1943, and trained at a YMCA in Chicago before reporting for training at Ft. Pierce, FL. This is where he earned his nick-name, when his fellow divers began calling him “Red Dog Fane” because of his red-hair and ruggedness. After training, he was promoted to Lt. and served as Commanding Officer of UDT 13.
He and his forces were among the first to land in Japan. After World War II, he was dispatched to Europe to study ‘combat’ diving techniques. Fane was stationed next at Naval Air Base (NAB) Little Creek in Virginia for several years, performing research and development, and training for UDT Teams. He was also instrumental in organizing the Submersible Operations Platoon within UDT, which was trained for attacks against naval shipping and naval base infiltration. His next assignment was with UDT-2, also at NAB Little Creek.
Up until that time, divers used a closed circuit oxygen re-breather as an underwater breathing system. The device did not release any bubbles when the diver exhaled. It worked well enough, but it limited the depth a swimmer could go. In 1948, Fane was shown an article in an edition of Science Illustrated. The article described a breathing device co-invented by Jacques Cousteau. The device allowed a diver to dive to an unheard of depth of 300-feet. Envisioning true underwater missions, rather than surface swimming, the innovative and curious Fane, immediately wanted to know how to get his hands on one.
On orders from superiors, Fane flew to France and tested the new “Aqua Lung,” and later placed an order for 150 of the regulators. Half of those went to the West Coast Teams, and the other half went the East Coast teams.
After the Korean War, Fane was assigned to Coronado, California, with UDT 1. Fane describes that experience … I used to take divers from the “Scripps Institute of Oceanography or any other skin-divers that wanted to go diving in the Coronado Islands. I thought we should develop a relationship with these people who were really expert swimmers. It was easy to teach them how to use the Lungs, just a matter of a couple days. I thought of building a reserve unit of trained divers for immediate use in war-time. They were great swimmers anyway, as good as us.”
In 1952 Fane suffered ‘the bends’ while deep-sea diving. He was locating a B-36 bomber that had crashed in the ocean off San Diego. He was diving at 252 feet, a record for a working diver at the time. It was after this frightening experience that he went on to develop (along with a Navy Medical officer and physiologist) the diving decompression schedules for scuba equipment. One of his early complaints was that the schedules wasted too much time for his divers on coming up from the depths. However, his work with these experts soon helped him to appreciate that this rate of ascent was necessary for the safety of the diver.
Commander Fane’s contributions continued into the 1950’s ranging from shark research at the Jaluit Atoll in the Marshall Islands, to the first Scuba dives under the Arctic Ocean. He was also instrumental in making UDT team 12 available for beach reconnaissance and demolition assignments in the Arctic, to assist in the construction of the DEW (distant early warning radar line). Fane also trained British commando units, and United Nations forces, in the use of explosives. Many of the nonconventional warfare developments from 1947 through 1951, by Fane and others, formed the basis for the future SEAL teams.
Fane’s work intrigued Hollywood. He was asked to share his expertise from 1954 to 1958 as a technical adviser on the films “Take Her Down,” which starred Ronald Reagan, and “Francis Joins the Navy,” featuring Donald O’Connor. He also provided script ideas and assisted in the production of the pilot for the television series “Sea Hunt,” which starred Lloyd Bridges. Fane’s storied career was also the basis for the 1958 movie “Underwater Warrior.”
In 1956, Commander Fane collaborated with Dan Moore on the book “The Naked Warriors.” The book was a compilation of his personal recollections and re-creations of combat missions from D-Day to battles in the Pacific. This book is one of the most accurate histories of the UDT today, and should be thought of as a reference for anyone interested in learning more about them.
After his retirement from the Navy in 1960, Fane continued consulting and writing. He had become a legend in Navy Special Forces, developing advanced diving equipment and diving techniques, as well as laying much of the groundwork for the Navy Seals. To his Teams, he was a leader. In fact, he was recommended for this biography along the Avenue of Heroes by former UDT Frogman, Kenneth Wortley, UDT Team 12. Mr. Wortley served with him in the 1950s and 60s. He is in his 80s today.
In short, by historians and SEALs alike, Red Dog Fane is recognized as one of the leaders in the history of UDT. Doug Fane died on November 13, 2002, and was buried at the Lauderdale Memorial Park in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Navy Commendation Medal Citation reads:
“For meritorious achievement in the performance of his duties while serving as Commander Task Unit 5.0.1 from June 25 to September 1, 1955, during MSTS Arctic Operations in connection with the ocean transportation of personnel and equipment in support of the construction of the DEW (Distant Early Warning) Line across Northern Alaska and the Canadian Northwest Territories. Under the personal direction of Commander Fane and under the most arduous of conditions, the Survey Unit, composed of Navy Underwater Demolition Teams, augmented by civilian employees of the Hydrographic Office, conducted hydrographic surveys from small open boats and underwater survey from designated beaching sites to obtain the necessary information to enable the ships of Task Force FIVE to transit the uncharted waters of Amundsen, Coronation, and Queen Maud Gulfs and deliver important cargoes to designated sites in the Canadian Arctic. He consistently exhibited outstanding professional skill, determination and fortitude in combatting the extremely hazardous conditions of cold, ice, and adverse weather. His conduct, courage, leadership and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”
Fane, Doug. The Naked Warrior. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.”SignOnSanDiego.com News Military –
Cmdr. Doug Fane; Laid Groundwork for Navy SEALs.” SignOnSanDiego.com News Military — Cmdr. Doug Fane; Laid Groundwork for Navy SEALs. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 May 2015.
“Comments on Douglas Fane, by Fellow UDT.” Interview with Kenneth Wortley by Toni McGowan n.d.: n. pag. Print.
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