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  • Writer's pictureShaun Lewis

Draper Kauffman - the founder of the US Navy SEALs

In my latest thriller They Have No Graves as Yet, one of the heroes is an American officer in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve who is trained for underwater mine disposal operations. Some have questioned whether an American might have served in the Royal Navy (RN) in such a role. In actual fact, the character Dwight 'Johnny' Johnson was inspired by Draper Kauffman.

Like Johnny, Kauffman graduated from the US Naval Academy, but was denied a commission in the US Navy (USN) due to his poor eyesight. He then went to sea with a US merchant shipping line and found himself in Europe. Appalled by the rise of the Nazi Party, in early 1940, he joined the American Volunteer Ambulance Corps in France, but was captured by the Germans. Following his release, he made his way to Britain and volunteered for service in the RN. He was trained as a member of the Rendering Mines Safe teams, serving with such distinction that in late 1941, immediately prior to the bombing of Peral Harbour, he was recalled to the US and offered a commission in the USN. Hereafter, the paths of my character, Johnny, and that of Kauffman diverge. Following the Japanese attack, Kauffman earned a Navy Cross for defuzing intact a Japanese bomb.

Kauffman went on to help organise a naval bomb disposal school and the first USN combat demolition teams. The latter were to form the underwater demolition teams, the forerunners of the USN SEALs. As the commanding officer of one of these underwater demolition units, he won a second Navy Cross for leading his team under heavy fire on daylight and night-time reconnaissance missions of beaches on Japanese-held territory.

Ironically, for a man refused a USN commission prior to WW2 for poor eyesight, Kauffman went on to command a destroyer, to be promoted to Rear Admiral and to hold several operational commands. He, also, served as the Superintendent of the US Naval Academy. He retired in 1973 and died six years later. As part of his legacy, he is regarded by some as the USN's first frogman, a USN destroyer was named after him and his father, and various US facilities related to explosives demolition training and naval special operations have been named after him, too.

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