He was a frogman in World War II – Don Lumsden took part in the wars last island invasion.
The following story first appeared in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Friday, June 7, 2002 and is republished with permission. Read More
Don Lumsden was a frogman who participated in the last battle of World War II. It was the last island invasion of Brunei Bay off the island of Borneo on June 8, 1945 — two days after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.
A member of Underwater Demolition Team-11, the 80-year-old Englewood man took part in the invasion, even though Australian troops did most of the fighting.
“We and another UDT team were the only Americans there, other than Gen. (Douglas) MacArthur,” he said. “MacArthur was there because of his allegiance to the Australians who took him in when he escaped by PT boat from Corregidor.”
Lumsden was a graduate of Cmdr. Draper Kauffman’s UDT school in Fort Pierce and his advanced UDT school in Hawaii. The commander founded the Navy’s UDT program during WWII.
After the disastrous invasion of Tarawa, a minuscule atoll in the South Pacific, in which hundreds of Marines died for lack of advance reconnaissance, the Navy decided that before any more island invasions, frogmen would be sent in to reconnoiter.
“After the calamity at Tarawa, every invasion in the Pacific was preceded by UDT teams. They would go in, check out the situation and blow up the obstructions,” he said.
“We swam into Brunei Bay. Like Okinawa and Iwo Jima, the Japanese had a series of underwater hard wood pilings about 8 to 10 inches in diameter pounded into the coral bottom to block our landing craft from reaching shore,” Lumsden said.
Their job was to clear the underwater obstructions. Initially, they swam into shore from approximately a half-mile off the beach clad in bathing suits, flippers and masks and carrying knives. In addition, they had a Plexiglas plate to write underwater notes on as well as mine detonators and timers.
They had no wet suits or scuba tanks, not even a snorkel. Their faces were painted silver to make them less noticeable to the enemy when they broke the surface to breathe.
“The thing that saved us was the fire power. At 1,500 yards offshore, we had LCFL (Landing Craft Support Large). They had six quad 40 mm guns on them. At 2,500 yards there were two or three destroyers. At 3,500 yards there were two or three cruisers. And at 5,000 yards we had two or three battleships.
“All these ships were firing over us … so we’d be protected,” he said. “We also had B-24 Liberators dropping bombs. We were very important people as far as the Navy was concerned.”
The Japanese apparently didn’t realize the important part the frogmen played in clearing away the underwater obstructions to the invasion beaches. Lumsden said 98 percent of his group survived despite the hazards of the occupation.
In the Borneo invasion he lost one of his men to friendly fire. A B-24 flew over and dropped a bomb in the wrong spot. Several other members of his UDT team were hit by enemy fire, but they all managed to return to the pickup area.
The way it worked, frogmen would swim in and reconnoiter the area the first day to determine what would be needed to clear a path to the beach for the landing crafts. The following day they would bring in plastic explosives in 2 1/2-pound chunks. A piece of primer cord would be attached to each block of explosive. They would also have a cord on the explosives to tie them to the underwater obstructions.
Each charge would be connected to a main primer cord that ran out to sea. Off the beach, a couple of fuse lighters were stationed in a rubber boat. It was their job to explode the connected charges by lighting a single primer cord when the time came.
At Brunei Bay, Lumsden had to report to Gen. MacArthur.
“Two other officers and myself briefed him on the pending invasion of the island. We went aboard his cruiser; I think it was the ‘Columbia.’ We were ushered into his war room.
“It was something. MacArthur was very distinguished and very, very polite to us,” Lumsden said. “He complimented us on what we had done so far clearing the obstructions prior to the invasion.
“I guess under different circumstances I would have been shaking in my boots. But I can remember telling MacArthur that I had been swimming into the beaches and I felt that the brown designated beaches were better than the green beaches for landing craft. He thanked me and took my suggestion when the invasion was launched.
“After the Marines secured the beaches on Borneo, MacArthur waded ashore just like he did in the Philippines,” he said. “I wasn’t 75 feet from him when he waded ashore at Brunei Bay. But I’ve never seen a shot of him coming ashore there.”
Lumsden and his UDT team were originally scheduled to be the point team during the invasion of Iwo Jima, a few months earlier. But his entire group was injured in a practice invasion just before the real thing and temporarily put out of commission.
They were back in shape and ready to hit the beaches just days before the April 1, 1945, Easter Sunday attack on Okinawa.
“UDT-11 swam into Okinawa on March 28 about 3 p.m. We came in on the high tide so we would have more protection from the enemy,” he said. “The Japanese had put in three rows of pilings that stuck up from the bottom. We had to blow each one individually.”
The pilings came all the way up to the shore. They had to attach plastic explosives while almost lying on the beach, trying to stay concealed behind the 10-inch-in-diameter pilings.
“On D-Day, April 1, we led the Marines ashore in our boats. I had a boat full of radio operators from the 3rd Marine Division that came with me,” Lumsden recalled. “A machinist mate by the name of Conrad who was in my boat jumped over the side and waded ashore to show the Marines the water wasn’t deep.”
The young sailor stood in harm’s way. The Japanese had opened fire with everything they had. Conrad was a brave man, he said.
“Those were the days of the Kamikazes (Japanese suicide pilots). Our destroyer just missed being hit by one. A cruiser near us was hit and went up in flames,” he said.
“Once the war ended, a few days after the Borneo invasion, we headed for Japan, Lumsden said. “I was probably the first American to see Nagasaki after it was bombed. Our UDT team was sent into Nagasaki to secure the beaches. You wouldn’t believe the devastation.”
After they secured the harbor at Nagasaki, they were sent on patrols. At one point they freed a group of American prisoners who had been used as slave laborers in Japanese coal mines near the devastated city.
“I don’t think they had seen the light of day in months,” Lumsden said. “They were 50 or 60 pounds underweight. They staggered out and put their arms around us,” he said.
“At Nagasaki I remember talking to a Japanese man who had been educated in England,” he recalled. “He said to me, ‘How could I have been so duped? Many of us thought you Americans were still defending your California coastline from our planes and ships.’”
Read More: http://donmooreswartales.com