While the Navy Diver (ND) rating draws much of its heritage from the heroic work done by divers who helped clear the landing areas at Normandy and numerous islands in the Pacific Theater, the rating was actually birthed along with the introduction of a relatively new Naval weapon: the torpedo.

With the introduction of a true, self-propelled torpedo (the term “torpedo” in the Civil War, for instance, was used for what we today would call a mine) in 1866, the U.S. Navy was eager to incorporate this new type of ordnance delivery system. That meant not only testing the devices’ explosive capabilities, but also seeing how they performed in the water. And since no one wanted to waste munitions on a torpedo that was being used simply to determine its accuracy and speed, these unarmed torpedoes could be recovered after their course had been run and used again for testing.

So a school headed by a Chief Gunner’s Mate named Jacob Anderson was created in 1882 in Newport, Rhode Island, for the singular purposes of training divers to recover torpedoes. During the two-week course, trainees learned how to dive to a depth of 60 feet to recover test torpedoes; at the time, there was no recognition of potentially injurious results of diving, such as decompression sickness or arterial gas embolism, even though the causes of such things had been discovered during the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Because of the contributions Navy Divers had made during World War II, the Navy attempted to establish a Navy Diver rating in 1948 during its sweeping reorganization of the rating system. Named Underwater Mechanic, it was originally classified under the Exclusive Emergency Service Rating system created during the war to classify jobs and sailors on an ad hoc basis. Indeed, the Navy had even designed the rating badge—a familiar MK-V diving helmet placed atop a two-headed wrench—and come up with an alphabetic rating designator (UM). But while the plans were firmly in place and manufacturers had even been lined up for production of the rating badge, all the plans came to naught when the rating was disestablished in 1964.

But the work of Navy Divers continued unabated, and when the rating was officially established in 2006, it was only fitting that two ratings which had also grown out of the contributions of Navy Divers in World War II—Special Warfare Operator and Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician—each received their own rating as well.

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