Clearance Diving Branch (RAN)

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Clearance Diving Branch
Clearance Diving Branch.jpg
Clearance Diving Branch Badge
Active 1951–Present
Country Australia
Branch Royal Australian Navy
Type Special forces
Part of Mine Warfare and Clearance Diving Task Group
Garrison/HQ HMAS Waterhen, New South Wales
HMAS Stirling, Western Australia
Nickname(s) Bubbleheads
Motto(s) United and Undaunted
Engagements Vietnam War
Gulf War
East Timor
Iraq War

The Clearance Diving Branch is the elite diving unit of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) whose versatile role covers all spheres of military diving, and includes explosive ordnance disposal and maritime counter-terrorism. The Branch has evolved from traditional maritime diving, and explosive ordnance disposal, to include a special operations focus.[1]


The RAN has used divers on a regular basis since the 1920s, but it was not until World War II that clearance diving operations came to the fore, with RAN divers working alongside Royal Navy divers to remove naval mines from British waters, and from the waters of captured ports on the European mainland.[2] RAN divers were also used in performing duties including reconnaissance of amphibious landing sites.[2] The skills learned in the European theatre were brought back to Australia, and utilised in the war against Japan.[2] After the war, RAN divers were used during the cleanup of Australian and Papua New Guinea waters of defensive mines.[2]

Inspecting clandestine naval mines in the Persian Gulf, 2003.

The utility of clearance and commando divers demonstrated during and after World War II prompted the Australian Commonwealth Naval Board to establish a clearance diving branch within the RAN in 1951.[3][4] Divers were initially attached to the Underwater Research and Development Unit, based at HMAS Rushcutter.[5] In 1956, they were organised into a separate Mobile Clearance Diving Team.[3][5] In March 1966, the divers underwent further reorganisation, splitting into two Clearance Diving Teams.[5] Clearance Diving Team 1 (CDT 1) was the operational team assigned to mine clearance and reconnaissance operations throughout the Australia Station, while Clearance Diving Team 2 (CDT 2) was dedicated to mine warfare in the Sydney area, but was not cleared for operations[verification needed] outside this area.[6]

In late 1966, Clearance Diving Team 3 (CDT 3) was established specifically for deployment to the Vietnam War to assist the overworked United States Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal units, and to give RAN personnel in clearance diving work in an operational environment.[7] Sending CDT 1 or CDT 2, in full or in part, would have impacted on the teams' existing commitments, along with the continuity of training and postings.[8] CDT 3 was formed from available personnel; this was sufficient to keep a six-man team on station in Vietnam from early 1967 until early 1971, with six-month deployments.[9] CDT 3 was disbanded at the end of the Vietnam War, but the designation is reactivated for overseas wartime deployments, including in 1991 for the Gulf War, and again in 2003 for the Iraq War.[10]


Clearance Divers prepare to enter the water during a Very Shallow Water (VSW) scenario during Exercise Tricrab 2016 in Guam

The Clearance Diving Branch consists of units:-

A third unit Clearance Diving Team Three (AUSTCDT3) has been formed in the past for deployments overseas.

There are eight Reserve Diving Teams (RDT) which provide supplementary or surge capability in support of regular CDTs in addition to localised fleet underwater taskings:


Clearance Divers conduct a boarding of USS Valley Forge during a ship boarding exercise in Exercise RIMPAC 2006

The Clearance Diving Branch force elements are:[11][1]

1. Maritime Tactical Operations (MTO):[12][13]

  • Clandestine beach reconnaissance (including back of beach operations up to 2 km inland)[14]
  • Clandestine hydrographic survey of seabed prior to an amphibious assault
  • Clandestine clearance or demolition of sea mines and/or obstacles
  • Clandestine placing of demolitions charges for the purpose of diversion or demonstration (ship/wharf attacks)
  • Clandestine document collection

2. Mine Counter Measures (MCM):[13][15]

  • Location and disposal of sea mines in shallow waters
  • Rendering safe and recovering enemy mines
  • The search for and disposal of ordnance below the high water mark
  • Clearance of surface ordnance in port or on naval facilities
  • Search for, rendering safe or disposal of all ordnance in RAN ships and facilities
Clearance Diver performs an underwater search with a handheld sonar during Exercise RIMPAC 2012 in Pearl Harbour

3. Underwater Battle Damage Repair (UBDR):[13][16]

  • Surface supplied breathing apparatus diving
  • Use of underwater tools including welders, explosive nailguns and pneumatic drills and chainsaws

4. Task Group Explosive Ordnance Disposal (TGEOD)[17][1]

  • Embarking on frigates for Operation MANITOU rotations in the Middle East to provide specialist support for boarding parties with improvised explosive devices (IED) and explosive ordnance[18][19][1]

5. Maritime counter terrorism-explosive ordnance disposal (MCT-EOD):[11][1]

  • Provide explosive ordnance (EOD) and improvised explosive device disposal (IEDD) mobility support to Tactical Assault Group (East and West)[11]
  • Conduct Assault Improvised Explosive Device Disposal (AIEDD) at a rapid speed to maintain the momentum of a direct assault mission[11]

In addition since January 2002, Special Duties Units of Clearance Divers from AUSCDT1 and AUSCDT4 have provided the maritime counter terrorism element of Tactical Assault Group-East (TAG-E), attached to the Australian Army 2nd Commando Regiment, which became operational on 22 July 2002 to respond to terrorist incidents in the Eastern States of Australia.[20][21][13][22][1] Clearance Divers need to successfully pass the Army Special Forces Screen Test and then successfully complete specific elements of Commando Reinforcement Training before serving in either the water platoon as an assaulter or in the water sniper team in the sniper platoon.[21][20][23] Service in TAG-E is normally 12 to 18 months online before rotating back into the Branch with divers able to rotate back into TAG-E after 12 to 18 months offline.[1]

Selection and training[edit]

The RAN's diver training program is centred on a 10-day clearance diver acceptance test (CDAT), colloquially known as "hell week". Recruits begin each day at 02:00, and are put through over thirty staged dives designed to test their strength and endurance.[24]

Upon passing selection recruits must successfully pass a number of specialist course to become fully qualified. The Basic Clearance Diver Course spans 37 weeks whilst the Advanced Clearance Diver Course and the Clearance Diving component of the Mine warfare and Clearance Diving Officers course spans 41 weeks.[25]

The MCT-EOD role requires clearance divers to be familiar with TAG specialist insertion techniques including diving, fast roping and parachuting to be able to integrate into the unit to provide IED expertise.[11]


Clearance Diver inspects an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) during Exercise Tricrab 2016 in Guam


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Linton and Donohue., Commander E.W. (Jake) and Commodore H.J (Hec) (2015). United and undaunted : the first 100 years : a history of diving in the Royal Australian Navy 1911–2011. Queanbeyan, New South Wales: Grinkle Press Pty Ltd. ISBN 9780980282153. 
  2. ^ a b c d Grey, Up Top, p. 280
  3. ^ a b Perryman & Mitchell, in Oldham (ed.) 100 Years of the Royal Australian Navy, p. 73
  4. ^ Grey, Up Top, pp. 280–1
  5. ^ a b c Grey, Up Top, p. 281
  6. ^ Grey, Up Top, pp. 281–2
  7. ^ Grey, Up Top, p. 282
  8. ^ Grey, Up Top, pp. 282–3
  9. ^ Grey, Up Top, pp. 282–3, 290–1, 318–9
  10. ^ Perryman & Mitchell, in Oldham (ed.) 100 Years of the Royal Australian Navy, p. 74
  11. ^ a b c d e Kelly, LEUT Ryan (15 August 2013). "Clearance divers go on show" (PDF). Navy News newspaper (56 (13)). Retrieved 8 July 2016. 
  12. ^ Hardman, Wes. "The men who are trained to be invisible: Meet Australia's navy clearance divers". Channel Nine News. 13 July 2015. Retrieved 8 July 2016. 
  13. ^ a b c d "Clearance Diving Teams". Royal Australian Navy. Retrieved 8 July 2016. 
  14. ^ "Navy divers plunge into Army course". Navy News newspaper. 44 (14). 23 July 2001. Archived from the original on 2003-01-24. 
  15. ^ "Clearance Diver". Defence Jobs. Retrieved 8 July 2016. 
  16. ^ "Underwater Battle Damage Repair". Defence Jobs. Retrieved 8 July 2016. 
  17. ^ Burkhart, John; Barnes, Michael (7 November 2013). "Divers ready for Slipper" (PDF). Navy News newspaper (56 (21)). Retrieved 29 October 2016. 
  18. ^ "Operation MANITOU". Australian Defence Force. Retrieved 28 October 2016. 
  19. ^ "Operation MANITOU". Royal Australian Navy. Retrieved 28 October 2016. 
  20. ^ a b "Clearance Diver". 2nd Commando Regiment. Australian Army. Retrieved 8 July 2016. 
  21. ^ a b O'Brien, Hugh (2014). Undaunted: From Clearance Diver to Mercenary: An Australian Man's Life on the Edge. North Sydney, NSW: Random House Australia. ISBN 9780857983480. 
  22. ^ Davis, Graham (26 September 2002). "Action Team TAG – Sailors form integral part of anti-terrorist unit". Navy News – The official newspaper of the Royal Australian Navy (Volume 45, No.19). Archived from the original on 2002-10-17. 
  23. ^ "Team History – Tactical Assault Group (TAG)-East". RAN Clearance Divers Association. Retrieved 28 July 2016. 
  24. ^ "Hell Week". Navy Divers. Series 1. Episode 1. 2008-10-28. 
  25. ^ "Clearance Diving Team One". Royal Australian Navy. Retrieved 28 October 2016. 
  26. ^ Farrell, John Hunter. "CDT Vietnam 69–70 Brown Water War" (PDF). Australian & NZ Defender Magazine (4). Archived from the original on 2003-04-03. 
  27. ^ Tony, Chief Petty Officer Ey. "RAN Clearance Diving Team 3's War Service in South Vietnam, 1967–1971". RAN Clearance Divers Association. Retrieved 9 July 2016. 
  28. ^ Maxwell, Chief Petty Officer Eugene. "A Clearance Diver in the Gulf War – 1991". RAN Clearance Divers Association. Retrieved 9 July 2016. 
  29. ^ "RAN Clearance Divers (CDT3) in 91 Gulf War". Australian & NZ Defender Magazine (16). Fullbore Magazine. 
  30. ^ "Australian involvement in the Gulf War". Department of Veterans' Affairs. Archived from the original on 2003-06-26. 
  31. ^ "CDT3 Report of Proceedings First Gulf War". Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 9 July 2016. 
  32. ^ "CDT Kuwait". RAN Clearance Divers Association. Retrieved 9 July 2016. 
  33. ^ Williams, LEUT Emma. "AUSCDT4 Clears Beaches and Conducts Clandestine Ops in East Timor". Royal Australian Navy. Archived from the original on 2001-04-28. 
  34. ^ Caton, LEUT Richard. "AUSCDT4 hands over to AUSCDT1". Royal Australian Navy. Archived from the original on 2001-04-28. 
  35. ^ Smith, Simon; Walker, Maxy. "Team Four in Timor – Divers do Dili". Royal Australian Navy. Archived from the original on 2001-04-28. 
  36. ^ "East Timor". RAN Clearance Divers Association. Retrieved 9 July 2016. 
  37. ^ Hunter Farrell, John (September 2003). "CDT3 at Umm Qasr & Az Zubayr". Australian & NZ Defender Magazine (43). Fullbore Magazine. Archived from the original on 21 August 2006. Retrieved 10 July 2016. 
  38. ^ Craig, LCDR Scott. "Operation Iraqi Freedom". RAN Clearance Divers Association. Retrieved 10 July 2016. 


  • Grey, Jeffrey (1998). Up Top: the Royal Australian Navy and Southeast Asian conflicts, 1955–1972. The Official History of Australia's Involvement in Southeast Asian Conflicts 1948–1975. St. Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86448-290-7. OCLC 39074315. 
  • Perryman, John; Mitchell, Brett (2011). "Naval Operations in Vietnam". In Oldham, Charles. 100 Years of the Royal Australian Navy. Bondi Junction, NSW: Faircount Media Group. OCLC 741711418. Retrieved 20 June 2011. 

External links[edit]