The first airborne SEAL

Today, basic and advanced parachuting in the SEAL, SDV and SWCC Teams is routine and an accepted part of doing business. While the parachuting lineage of today’s Naval Special Warfare forces can be traced to the early 1950s, there was one unsung hero in World War II, who by virtue of training and operations was likely the first individual in the United States to ever conduct the full range of missions considered core to the SEAL Teams.

When the U.S. entered World War II, Jack Taylor, a 33-year old orthodontist practicing in California, joined the Navy as a line officer and initially served on a sub-chaser. Based on his vast pre-war experience as an open-ocean sailor, he was sequestered by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to serve in their maritime training section as an instructor in boat handling, navigation and seamanship. He then went on to qualify in the use of the Lambertsen Amphibious Respiratory Unit (LARU) and was assigned to the first Underwater Swimmer Group trained for operations in Northern Europe. However, prior to his deployment to England, his vast experience in small boat operations found another calling, and he was transferred as the first OSS Maritime Unit (MU) representative in the Middle East. Over a 15-month period, his achievements were considerable in the landing of agents and the delivery of ammunition and supplies to advance operations bases in the Nazi-occupied Greek Islands and mainland, and into Yugoslavia and Albania, including near capture on one occasion.

As the war in Europe was coming to a close, it was recognized that there were no known Partisan groups or resistance movements in Austria with whom to ally with. Thus, the Vienna area was chosen as the first priority to infiltrate an OSS team. LT Taylor was selected to lead three volunteer Austrian corporal POWs on the first American operation into Austria, coined the Dupont Mission. On 13 October 1944, the 4-man team was infiltrated by parachute from a British Liberator manned by a Polish crew. To minimize their exposure to searchlights and anti-aircraft batteries, the jump was conducted during the dark of the moon from 400 feet, without a ground reception committee or ground lights, and with absolutely no circling. Compared to normal Partisan drops, this plan was entirely abnormal, due to the extremely hazardous nature of this operation.

After evading the enemy for over 6-weeks, the team was captured an interned in a Vienna prison. Tortured and brutalized for over 4-months, LT Taylor was transferred on 1 April 1945 to Mauthausen, the most notorious of all Nazi concentration camps. He was scheduled to be executed on 28 April, but 3-days before, a friendly Czech working in the political department burned his file. Several days later, Mauthausen was liberated by the Americans and LT Taylor was set free. Following his recovery, he testified at the Nuremberg Trials, wearing his service dress blues, with silver jump wings over his left breast pocket.

As a member of the U.S. Navy, LT Jack Taylor unquestionably stands out in the history of Maritime Special Operations as our nation’s first Sea, Air, and Land Commando. While he did not have the benefit of today’s formal training, parachuting or otherwise, his operational exploits and personal daring serve as a role model for present day SEALs to emulate.

More to come…

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