Legends of Diving Articles


Commander Francis Douglas Fane
One of the Originators of UDT Demolitions

Fane continues, “My first dive was with Dimitri. He had a lung and a place in Cannes. And took me with his Pegasus, his underwater craft. Ribikoff had invented a torpedo shaped diver propulsion unit, with a light and camera on the front end of it. This was the predecessor of today’s units. A tremendous experience. He took me underwater near a small island where there was a nudist colony. We made a small reconnaissance, put our heads above the water about 100 yards offshore. That was a much more exciting meeting for me than Cousteau.

Gagnan came down from Canada and spent Thanksgiving with us. He brought a single bottle, Aqualung regulator. My wife made canvas straps to hang around my shoulders, and that’s how the first aqualung came to America. I’ve got a picture of this, my divers and myself. Me using the Aqualung, one using the Jack Browne mask. And one a helmet diver. We were clearing wrecks from the edge of a channel, Havens Roads to Norfolk. It was sheer joy. I was able to out dive the other fellows. Placing explosives and getting ready to blow a section of those two wrecks. This was not a hard sell to the Navy after this harbor clearing experience.”

Fane tested the Aqua Lungs and later placed an order for 150 of the regulators. These were French built models. Half went to the West Coast Teams 1&2 and the other went the East Coast teams 2&3. Gone were the problems of black outs with re-breathers.

Fane had been offered the American distribution for the Aqua Lung at the time, but it would have required him retiring from the Navy. After he turned it down Cousteau offered it to Rene Bussoz.

Fane had envisioned expanding UDT operations from surface swimming to true underwater missions. The first UDT combat operation was October 1950: “The Pirate and the Pledge,” at the Wonsan Harbor in Korea. The UDT successfully mined the harbor, destroying two enemy ships.

After the Korean War Fane was assigned to Coronado, California, with UDT 1. Fane describes that experience, “ I used to take 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. Some were Conrad Limbaugh, Andy Rechnitzer, Jack Prodanovich, Wally Potts, Dr. Nelson Mathieson and Lamar Boren.” When Limbaugh taught the first civilian course in 1951, there was a strong military influence he had picked up from Fane.

1952 Fane suffered the bends while locating a B-36 bomber that had crashed in the ocean off San Diego. He was diving tri-mix 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 the Navy Medical officers and the physiologists, the mixed gas 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.

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