Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Seventy years ago- on this day

December 28, 1941, Rear Admiral Ben Moreell, Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks (BUDOCKS), requested specific authority to activate, organize, and man a unique, very special organization that would support the Navy and Marines in remote locations and defend themselves if attacked — the Naval Construction Battalions. On January 5, 1942, he was given that authority and the original Battalions were formed at a new Naval base in Davisville, Rhode Island.

The first naval construction unit to actually deploy from the United States left Davisville, Rhode Island, less than two weeks later on January 17, 1942. It was designated the First Construction Detachment. The 296 men arrived at Bora Bora on February 17, 1942.

On March 5, all Construction Battalion personnel were officially named Seabees by the Navy Department. Admiral Moreell personally furnished them with their motto Construmus Batumius, or We Build, We Fight. A logo, the Fighting Bee, was created by a Rhode Islander at Davisville.
The Navy built their Battalions with experienced, highly skilled craftsmen … electricians, carpenters, plumbers, equipment operators — virtually any construction or building trade was welcome in the Seabees. Seabee units were quickly engaged in construction and combat. By July 1942, the first Naval Construction Battalion landed on Midway Island to begin work on the new airstrip on Sand Island and to start the massive clean up of damage caused by the Japanese bombing.

From the construction and defense of Henderson Field on Guadalcanal to the Normandy Invasion. Seabees participated in every major amphibious assault in World War II. They quickly earned a reputation for exceptional creativity. If materials weren’t available, the Seabees used whatever they could to get the job done.
                                                      Building a pipeline out of old 55 Gal drums

More than 325,000 men served with the Seabees in World War II, fighting and building in more than 400 locations before the war's end. They knew more than 60 skilled trades. In addition, nearly 8,000 Civil Engineer Corps officers served with the Seabees

NOTE--My battalion lost almost a quarter of their compliment assaulting Iwo Jima.
What was needed after the successful Marianas campaign was an emergency landing field much closer to the Japanese homeland that would service crippled bombers returning from raids and enable shorter- ranged fighter planes to accompany the giant bombers to their targets. The island chosen for this purpose was Iwo Jima, scene of some of the most savage fighting of the war. On 19 February 1945, the Fifth Amphibious Corps, which included the 133rd Naval Construction Battalion and elements of the 31st Naval Construction Battalion, hit the beaches. During the assault, the 133rd Naval Construction Battalion had the dubious honor of suffering more men killed or wounded than any other Seabee battalion in any previous or subsequent engagement. Although only minor construction was accomplished during the first ten days of the operation, the Seabees later built one crucial emergency landing field and fighter airstrips so desperately needed by the Allies.


The Seabees also played a key role in the last big operation of the island war, the seizure of Okinawa. The main invasion forces landed on Okinawa's west coast Hagushi beaches on Easter Sunday, 1 April 1945. Off the amphibious landing craft and over pontoons placed by the 130th Naval Construction Battalion went the 24th Army Corps and Third Amphibious Corps. Right beside them were the 58th, 71st and 145th Naval Construction Battalions. A few days later, two additional Naval Construction Battalions, the 44th and 130th, landed. The fighting was heavy and prolonged, and organized resistance did not cease until 21 June 1945.

The Seabees' task on Okinawa was truly immense. On this agrarian island, whose physical facilities a fierce bombardment had all but destroyed, they built ocean ports, a grid of roads, bomber and fighter fields, a seaplane base, quonset villages, tank farms, storage dumps, hospitals, and ship repair facilities.

Nearly 55,000 Seabees, organized into four brigades, participated in Okinawa construction operations. By the beginning of August 1945, sufficient facilities, supplies, and manpower were at hand to mount an invasion of the Japanese home islands.

While the Allied forces in the Philippines and on Okinawa were readying themselves for the final battles that would get them to Tokyo and complete the roads to victory, decisive events were taking place elsewhere, on the island of Tinian in the Marianas.

During the summer of 1945, the USS Indianapolis (CA-35) arrived at Tinian from the Naval Weapons Center at Port Chicago, California. Seabees of the Sixth Naval Construction Brigade helped with the unloading of the components of a newly- developed weapon. The Seabees then stored the elements in a shed built by themselves, and organized a detachment to guard the shed and its mysterious contents. Scientists assembled the weapon in the shed with several Seabees assisting as handymen.

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