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By Water Beneath the Walls: The Rise of the Navy SEALS

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A gripping history chronicling the fits and starts of American special operations and the ultimate rise of the Navy SEALs from unarmed frogmen to elite, go-anywhere commandos--as told by one of their own. Just how and why did the U.S. Navy--the branch of the U.S. military tasked with patrolling the oceans--ever manage to produce raiders trained to operate on land? More, how A gripping history chronicling the fits and starts of American special operations and the ultimate rise of the Navy SEALs from unarmed frogmen to elite, go-anywhere commandos--as told by one of their own. Just how and why did the U.S. Navy--the branch of the U.S. military tasked with patrolling the oceans--ever manage to produce raiders trained to operate on land? More, how did a unit that had no business existing come to lead the ranks of the world's most elite commandos, routinely striking thousands of miles from the water into the deserts and mountains of Iraq and Afghanistan? Behind those questions lies an incredible underdog tale of American military history--and in By Water Beneath the Walls, former Navy SEAL Benjamin H. Milligan tells it as never before. In chapters built around key raids and told through the eyes of remarkable leaders both famous and forgotten, Milligan brings to life the SEALs' predecessors in World War II, the Korean War, and elsewhere; lands us on the beaches of the Bay of Pigs Invasion where the Navy alone emerges with a dedication to commando raiding; and launches us into the rivers and highlands of Vietnam, the proving ground where the SEALs discover the mission of capture-kill and cement their future for decades to come. Yet as the SEALs made their transition to elite commandos, again and again it seemed predestined that some other unit--the Recon Marine, the Green Beret, the Army Ranger--would race to that finish line first. Ranging from the battlefield to the boardroom, Milligan reveals here the fateful victories and defeats that shaped those units in other directions--and how, in each key moment, the Navy contrived to sail into the gaps left behind. Written with uncommon verve and the insight that can only come from a combat veteran and a former member of the book's tribe, By Water Beneath the Walls is not only an exhaustively researched and essential new history of the SEAL Teams but a crackling account of desperate last-stands and unforgettable characters accomplishing the impossible. Most of all, it is a riveting epic of the dawn of American special operations that belongs on the shelf of every reader of military history.


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A gripping history chronicling the fits and starts of American special operations and the ultimate rise of the Navy SEALs from unarmed frogmen to elite, go-anywhere commandos--as told by one of their own. Just how and why did the U.S. Navy--the branch of the U.S. military tasked with patrolling the oceans--ever manage to produce raiders trained to operate on land? More, how A gripping history chronicling the fits and starts of American special operations and the ultimate rise of the Navy SEALs from unarmed frogmen to elite, go-anywhere commandos--as told by one of their own. Just how and why did the U.S. Navy--the branch of the U.S. military tasked with patrolling the oceans--ever manage to produce raiders trained to operate on land? More, how did a unit that had no business existing come to lead the ranks of the world's most elite commandos, routinely striking thousands of miles from the water into the deserts and mountains of Iraq and Afghanistan? Behind those questions lies an incredible underdog tale of American military history--and in By Water Beneath the Walls, former Navy SEAL Benjamin H. Milligan tells it as never before. In chapters built around key raids and told through the eyes of remarkable leaders both famous and forgotten, Milligan brings to life the SEALs' predecessors in World War II, the Korean War, and elsewhere; lands us on the beaches of the Bay of Pigs Invasion where the Navy alone emerges with a dedication to commando raiding; and launches us into the rivers and highlands of Vietnam, the proving ground where the SEALs discover the mission of capture-kill and cement their future for decades to come. Yet as the SEALs made their transition to elite commandos, again and again it seemed predestined that some other unit--the Recon Marine, the Green Beret, the Army Ranger--would race to that finish line first. Ranging from the battlefield to the boardroom, Milligan reveals here the fateful victories and defeats that shaped those units in other directions--and how, in each key moment, the Navy contrived to sail into the gaps left behind. Written with uncommon verve and the insight that can only come from a combat veteran and a former member of the book's tribe, By Water Beneath the Walls is not only an exhaustively researched and essential new history of the SEAL Teams but a crackling account of desperate last-stands and unforgettable characters accomplishing the impossible. Most of all, it is a riveting epic of the dawn of American special operations that belongs on the shelf of every reader of military history.

43 review for By Water Beneath the Walls: The Rise of the Navy SEALS

  1. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    Why this book: The author asked that I review this book before it was published. I declined, he politely persisted, I politely agreed to just take a look at it. After I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. I read a galley proof. It will be published and available to the public in July 2021. Summary in 4 Sentences: Ben Milligan’s intent was to explore how one of the nations and the world’s premier land commando units resides in the Navy, vice the Army, the Marine Corps or perhaps another g Why this book: The author asked that I review this book before it was published. I declined, he politely persisted, I politely agreed to just take a look at it. After I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. I read a galley proof. It will be published and available to the public in July 2021. Summary in 4 Sentences: Ben Milligan’s intent was to explore how one of the nations and the world’s premier land commando units resides in the Navy, vice the Army, the Marine Corps or perhaps another government agency. He explores how the US military approached commando and commando-like (small unit raid operations) during WW2, Korea and ultimately Viet Nam, when the SEALs finally came into their own. It is a story of individual champions in all the services arguing for a special capability, and repeatedly being shut down by leaders steeped in conventional thinking who could not imagine that the value of such a force could be worth the costs. It is also a story of battles between staffs, as well as battles fought by intrepid early special operators, often under-trained, under-resourced, and poorly supported against our nations enemies in war. My Impressions: I wasn’t planning on reading this whole book -was planning to just read a chapter or two, skim the rest and give Ben Milligan an overall impression. But as I got started, I couldn’t put it down. It is a great read – Ben Milligan has an engaging writing style that pivots back and forth between intense and serious, to humorous and even occasionally “snarky.” Ben is a former SEAL with a BA in History and an MA in International relations and he successfully brings those worlds together in this book. He is an outstanding researcher and a great story teller. And though I had spent my career in the Navy SEALs and have read more military history than even most military officers, this book was full of new information and insights that give me a greater understanding of not only the history of the Navy SEALs but also of Special Operations. His narrative extends from stories about leaders at the highest levels of power and authority in the military, those whose decisions shaped the direction of Special Operations, down to the operators on the ground – their characters, experiences, decisions, frustrations and tragedies. Most of the story takes place well before there were any SEALs. Indeed, the SEAL Teams didn’t simply spring onto the scene. There is a fascinating back story, and By Water Beneath the Walls tells it. In this book we learn about the rise and demise of William Darby’s Rangers in WW2, of the formation of the Naval Combat Demolition Units, Scouts and Raiders, and Underwater Demolition Teams, as well as Marine Raider units, and how they fared in North Africa, Normandy, and the Western Pacific. We learn of the Navy-run insurgency operation and network behind the lines in Japanese-occupied China. We learn of early attempts at using UDT’s as raiders in Korea, then of the ill-fated but bold efforts to create out of whole-cloth, a joint team of insurgents to run operations behind China’s lines in Korea. And we learn how repeatedly, after such units were created to meet an immediate need in war, at the conclusion of that war, the services either disbanded them altogether, or scaled them way back, and reverted to what they knew best how to do – train and resource traditional general military forces. The final two sections of the book appropriately focus on Viet Nam, where the SEALs initially earned their credibility. I came into the SEALs just after the Vietnam War, and all of the experienced SEALs I worked with and for had fought in that conflict. Though I thought I had a pretty good idea of what that war was about, By Water Beneath the Walls gave me context to help me better understand and appreciate the stories of my mentors. I knew many of the people he portrays in the operations he describes, which made this section that much more meaningful to me. The book concludes with CNO Adm Jimmy Holloway at the end of the Viet Nam war confiding to SEAL Medal of Honor recipient Mike Thornton, that the Navy’s long term intention was to “dissolve the Teams.” Was it deja vu all over again? It seemed that the SEALs, “like the Raiders and Rangers before them, would be disbanded at the apex of their achievements.” p502 The irony is that this was the same Adm Holloway who led the Holloway Commission investigating the failure of Operation Eagle Claw (Desert One) in 1980. The resulting Holloway report led directly to justifying the establishment of US Special Operations Command which all but ensured that the services would not be able to disband the SEALs, the Army SF, the Rangers or other Special Operations Forces. By Water Beneath the Walls is not a quick read for someone wanting a SEAL book for a junk-food-read on an airplane ride. It is a multi-course banquet – 500 pages long, covers a lot of fascinating history, and Milligan builds his case with engaging and often edge-of-your-seat examples of brave men learning hard lessons that will make a current operators wince. It is a fascinating read for anyone interested in the history of not just the SEALs, but of Special Operations, and it is an engaging read for anyone who enjoys great story telling by a wonderful writer. I really enjoyed learning so much from this book. This is an abbreviated version of the review I wrote on my blog site. To read the entire review, go to: https://bobsbeenreading.wordpress.com...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jurgen Rose

    Fantastic book, exquisitely researched, excitingly written. Ben did the SEAL community an immense service writing this book. Key parts that I want to remember: At Tarawa, the reef was the identified obstacle and the Marines could only consider the Landing Vehicle Tracked as the solution...'one track minds tend to prefer dual-tracked solutions'...the Navy however, particularly RADM Kelly Turner, CDR 5th Amphib force, obsessed with vengeance and the Navy's preeminent role in exacting it...wanted a Fantastic book, exquisitely researched, excitingly written. Ben did the SEAL community an immense service writing this book. Key parts that I want to remember: At Tarawa, the reef was the identified obstacle and the Marines could only consider the Landing Vehicle Tracked as the solution...'one track minds tend to prefer dual-tracked solutions'...the Navy however, particularly RADM Kelly Turner, CDR 5th Amphib force, obsessed with vengeance and the Navy's preeminent role in exacting it...wanted a solution that would enable the Higgins landing boats to be used which were much more effective and faster...but only if the coral could be removed...Handed a plan by an Army General, Turner examined it and declared: "it stinks. Whose is it?" "it's mine, declared the General. "It still stinks!" Turners belief over the divine right of Navy admirals over Marine Corps generals was inherent, and based on an old Fleet Tactical Pub 167, it was overturned by ADM Nimitz, establishing the Marine Corps invasion commander as equivalent to the Navy's Amhib CDR...this would take away from Turner's command all the Marine special units, Raiders, Recon, Scout snipers, and also cut him out of any solution to the coral that did not involve the LVT. Unless, he came up with tasking the Seabees to figure out a solution...which led to the establishment of UDT. Turner opened the doors of these teams to the NCDUs from Fort Pierce and local Seabees, the main requirements for joining being an ability to swim one mile through choppy water and dive to a depth of fifteen feet---skills so hard to find that they were soon opened to ratings of every sort...'cooks who never cooked, ship fitters who never worked on a ship, and storekeepers who never kept a single store." In March 1944, Draper Kaufman arrived in Maui. After scouting the approaches to the island of Tsugen Shima, one UDT CPO 'bawled out' a pair of his swimmers for extending their recon past the beach. 'I was perfectly save, chief" the accused responded indignantly. 'My buddy was covering me with his knife.' Raised in the only branch of service where estrangement from one's chain of command was routine, Miles nevertheless knew that such a plan would not only isolate its members with unheard of distances, but would also force them to fight the enemy in seas not of water but of people--a people that nearly every American viewed as backward but that Miles knew to be descendants of one of the most ancient civilizations on the planet. To smooth those points of friction that would stunt the teamwork so needed in his plans, Miles dressed his sailors and Marines in the rank free Army khakis, then issue them a list of don'ts: Don't say 'Chinaman'; Don't say 'Coolie'; Don't call American food 'civilized'; Don't use pidgin English. Miles would request from the Navy a particular type of recruit: 'No high hat, rank conscious, red tape clerks or Old China Hands"...He wanted the kind of men who could 'fight the nips in any job assigned' but also the kind who could do so without 'fighting his shipmates'. When Miles and Metzel, plus an entourage of two admirals, one Chinese colonel, and one OSS man, arrived at General Marshall's Washington office in Feb 1943 to obtain agreement to the arrangment that cut the Army out of guerrilla warfare in China except by way of its OSS levers...a staff officer kept them waiting...when they were finally ushered in...Marshall greeted them 'straight mouthed' never standing from behind his desk and leaving them locked at attention. All Marshall had to do, said one of the admirals, respectfully, was initial the agreement and it would be whisked to the President's desk. At this, Marshal paused. There were, he said, still 'some minor changes to make.' Instead of retreating before the guns of the 4 star...Metzel broke rank and marched right up to Marshall's desk, an act so abrupt that, as Miles remembered, 'the very office seemed to gasp'. 'Do you mind if I smoke, General?' asked Metzel as he lit his cig with nary an ashtray in sight. Metzel then braced a hand on Marshall's desk--leanded in, his free hand ready to deposit ash on the antique...'To attempt to make changes will delay things for months, even if we get the Agreement back without additional Chinese requirements. All you have to do, General, is put your initials here next to Admiral King's." Barely a foot note today, Metzel was on history's stage, playing all the way to the last row. Navy LT Eugene Franklin Clark, sent to Korea after being a POW in PI for much of WWII and now hoping to change all that by leading a guerrilla army in Korea. Clark was mature, deliberate, and calculating. In manner he was agreeable, somewhat quiet but not overly so, and like all sailors, was never shy of tobacco, Scotch or a joke....had grown fond of all the Asian amenities: geisha houses, massage parlors, hot baths, cold showers...but unlike most servicemen, these luxuries did not seem to have dulled his inclinations or imbued him with a sense of superiority to Asian peoples. 1961 CNOs director of strategic plans, William Gentner, answered ADM Burke's memo with a 6 page response that began with a single question: 'How can the Navy improve its contribution to US guerrilla/counter-guerilla warfare capability?' He provided a laundry list of 8 recommendations, A through H, including new shallow-water boats, new mines, a comprehensive study of naval assistance to indigenous fighters, an increased emphasis on guerrilla training, a manual for operations in restricted waters...and lastly, the establishment of a unit that was specialized to perform 'naval guerrilla and counter guerilla operations'...a unit that could cross-pollinate with the CIA and sister services, training for the unit could include elements of Army SF and UDT...An appropriate name for such a unit could be 'SEAL' units, a contraction of SEA, AIR, LAND and thereby indicating an all-around universal capability. ADM Ward...submariner from WWII...truly understood the concepts of decentralized command because you had no other choice as a submarine commander...he valued the concept of 'latitude' and giving his subordinates plenty of it to foster creativity. But unless the subordinate is aggressive, latitude is limited...faced with the failure of the first SEAL deployment to Viet Nam, Ward could have hung it up, but he knew better...though Ward had not expected an outcome so underwhelming, let alone one of near criminality. In response to this scandal, Ward's operations officer arranged a conference call with the Coronado-based commander of Naval Operations Support Group, administrative head of all UDTs and SEALs in the Pacific. He ran through the rap sheet of Det Delta's offenses, lack of aggressiveness, lack of operations, the booze, the girls--all problems that could be solved by kicking the SEALs out of the AO...any other commander might have dumped the SEALs in the dustbin of history, but Commodore Phil Bucklew offered another solution...the problem, Bucklew contended, was LEADERSHIP. Fix that and everything would sort itself out. The rest is history. Lots more great stuff in here, too much to continue to record. I loved the book and probably need to own it as a reference. My son who is headed to BUD/S needs a copy. I will probably buy several.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Brandon

    I received a ARC copy from NetGalley, and while I was looking forward to reading it life kept happening and it was several months before I was able to pick it up and get started. The Navy SEALS are the equivalent of rockstars, when it comes to acclaim and status in the public eye when it comes to the Special Operations community but there probably aren't many that could tell you where they actually originated. The Navy has had a long standing tradition of keeping to the water, so how did they end I received a ARC copy from NetGalley, and while I was looking forward to reading it life kept happening and it was several months before I was able to pick it up and get started. The Navy SEALS are the equivalent of rockstars, when it comes to acclaim and status in the public eye when it comes to the Special Operations community but there probably aren't many that could tell you where they actually originated. The Navy has had a long standing tradition of keeping to the water, so how did they end up with one of the premier "go anywhere, do anything" organizations? A question I didn't realize I needed answering. Milligan had a myriad of options when it comes to what path he could have chosen to wave. There isn't a single, straight line path that can be pointed to and said, "this is where they came from". The tale that he weaved together, from the various organizations that sprang up in the US Military to then fade back into non-existence/relative obscurity with each contributing another piece to the puzzle was engaging and enjoyable. It certainly isn't a pulpy feel good read that you might pick up in the airport and finish while sitting at the gate. It's a massive book, complete with a section of foot notes long enough to put most children's books to shame. With that being said, one wouldn't have to be a dedicated student of military history to find it enjoyable.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Carter Rise Sr

    A dense and exciting read. I had a little trouble following all the different squads, divisions, etc, etc, but the narrative about from battlefields are really good.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Josh

  6. 4 out of 5

    Alan L

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jill R. Milligan

  8. 5 out of 5

    Carmen Denton

  9. 4 out of 5

    Nick

  10. 4 out of 5

    Alison

  11. 4 out of 5

    Robert

  12. 4 out of 5

    Gordondad2nine

  13. 4 out of 5

    Andrew McKay

  14. 5 out of 5

    Dale Singer

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jay Hennessey

  16. 4 out of 5

    Matt Steven

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jerome

  18. 5 out of 5

    Amie's Book Reviews

  19. 4 out of 5

    DB in Richmond

  20. 5 out of 5

    Alex Helm

  21. 5 out of 5

    John

  22. 4 out of 5

    Michael Kovan

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mike

  24. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ziggfred

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

  27. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Moyer

  28. 4 out of 5

    Amy Kinsey

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Jones

  30. 4 out of 5

    Janet

  31. 4 out of 5

    Troy

  32. 5 out of 5

    DA Gros

  33. 5 out of 5

    Jake

  34. 5 out of 5

    Meghan

  35. 5 out of 5

    Dale Lantzer

  36. 4 out of 5

    Alex Fernandez

  37. 4 out of 5

    William

  38. 5 out of 5

    Jan Grass

  39. 5 out of 5

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  40. 5 out of 5

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  41. 4 out of 5

    Sheri Gulde

  42. 5 out of 5

    Michael Tiger

  43. 4 out of 5

    AK

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