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Seabees!

Discussion in 'Land Warfare in the Pacific' started by Thurman, Apr 14, 2006.

  1. Thurman

    Thurman Member

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    The role played by the Seabees has never been properly recognized! Here's one Story!

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    Vella Lavella - 58th Naval Construction Battalion
    On August 11, 1943, the 58th prepared to embark from Guadalcanal for the landing on Vella Lavella. An advance party went ahead to survey the site for the air strip and mark the beach for the landing. This party was composed of the Skipper, CDR. Lewis, Lt. Reynolds, Lt. Currie, W.O. Smith, W. Moss, and F.J. Dowling. CCM. The scouting party boarded PT Boats at Guadalcanal on the afternoon of August 11 for the overnight run up to Vella Lavella. It was a rough trip and not only did the party suffer PT sickness but were spotted by Jap planes who bombed and strafed them for nearly two hours. Lt. Reynolds said afterwards, there was nothing else for us to do but lie under the torpedo tubes and pray. After awhile of praying that the bombs would not hit us, we thought better of it and decided that the bombs were not as bad as the sea sickness. The party sneaked ashore just before daylight on August 12. The island was alive with Japanese patrols but they evaded them and began surveying the landing and air-strip sites. However, they did encounter some Japanese, who were wiped out to the man. The men were looking forward to the 15th, when the first detachment of the battalion was due to land, because the Japanese patrols were becoming larger. Well, if the advance party were having trouble with the Japanese patrols, so was the main landing party. The first detachment to embark boarded two LCI's and two LST's at Koli Point on August 13th. On the night of the 13th, the craft were lying off Lunga Point when Japanese planes attacked them. The attack lasted three hours and during it, The John Penn was sunk, the ship we had come to Guadalcanal from the Fiji's. On the morning of the 14th, the convoy shoved off and, at dawn of the 15th, it approached the beach at Vella Lavella. We began to unload the cargo from the ships at Barakoma Village. The boys with the "BAR's" were acting as guards, and the unloading proceeded very swiftly as we had practiced it many times back on the "Canal". As the ramps of the LST's came down, men and vehicles rolled out, as most of our equipment was on six wheelers, and bumped into the jungles. Bulldozers were sent ashore and soon coconut and palm trees came crashing down and pushed over with yards of coral to form ramps to the ships. Meanwhile, long lines of men waistdeep in water passed boxes of supplies and equipment, for on LCI's all cargo must be man-handled. We all worked feverishly because we knew it was only a matter of a shorter space of time before the Japanese planes would be on us as the whole landing operation could be observed from enemy lookouts on Kolombangara only thirteen miles across the water. Quite suddenly, the alarm was sounded and all hell broke loose. Every one took off for the boomddocks or the ships. High in the sky, planese zoomed and droaned, their machine guns spitting leaden death. The first attack lasted five minutes and seemed hours, then it began again, through some miracle, none of the gan were hurt. When the attack was over, we completed the unloading and moved up a hill to dig in for the night as best we could in foxholes. There were so many attacks during all of the day and the night that it was a continual "Condition Red". The second echelon landed on august 17 at 1800 and this landing was a mistake, since their was no air coverage from Munda at this late hour in the day. The only defense we had was the few anti-aircraft guns that had been set up. Attempts were made to unload the ships but the constant air attacks made this impossible. The LST's pulled off the beach and one of them was hit and had to be sunk. We lost considerable equipment on this ship. The next day, the remaining two were beached and were unloaded. The third wave landed on August 22nd. This bunch really got the business for, by now, the Japanese really had us spotted and knew what we were about to do. In the early morning about 1000, they came over and bombed us at about 800 feet. At top speed, screaming eerily over the jungle, the Jap bombers flew to the attack. The ships gunners returned their fire, but still the planes came in and released their loads of destruction. In a formation of six, one suddenly wavers and to the cheers of the gang, it bursts into a bright pyre of flames as the gunners found their mark. The other five however, broke through and plastered us. They didn't miss the target at this range and of the fifteen bombs that fell, not one was less than a hundred yards from the ships. It was a literal rain of death, when the bombers pulled out of their shrieking plunge, not a man on the ships deck was left standing. The guns were either blasted to scrap or choked with coral dust. While the smoke and dust of the explosions still blanketed the ships, the gang on the beach and below the decks swarmed aboard to clean up. They found the decks littered with coral boulders, wounded and dead shipmates. Many men of the battalion had manned guns during this raid and Roger Poulin, Sam Barker and Steve Pavlick of Company "D" were badly wounded. On the beach lay Bob Neumann, CM3C, our first fatal casualty of the enemy. The fourth wave arrived on August 26th and the fifth on Agust 31st and by this time raids were lessened due to the Marine Defense Battalion being set up in action. During the first few days of the landings over 34 Japanese planes were shot down with only a loss of two of hours. After the landings, we set about to build a campsite and establish an airfield previously surveyed by the advance party. Slow progress was made because we were constantly under "Condition Red" because of the lack of air protection in the first few days. Vella Lavella was captured by by-passing other islands fortified by the Japanese, such as Kolombangara,Ganongga,Gizo and several other smaller islands north of Munda in the New Georgia group. The Munda airfield was still subject to night attacks which were quite frequent and, of course, Vella being North of Munda, they had us coming or going. Major General, Twining, Commander of aircraft in the Solomons at that time said, it was the toughest, densest jungle in all the South Pacific, and the 58th Seabees have constructed a modern field set up for bomber fighter transport craft, whipped the field in shape in record time making it the best in the Solomons although the "hardest to construct".
     
    sdmahaneysc and rkline56 like this.
  2. The_Historian

    The_Historian Pillboxologist Patron   WW2|ORG Editor

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    Cheers Thurman,
    It truly is a sadly undocumented story for many people. I'm almost embarassed to admit that all I know about the Seabees is from the John Wayne movie.... [​IMG]
     
  3. Thurman

    Thurman Member

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    Gordon - Many Seabees wearing "Marine Corps" uniforms were an integral part the Marine landings and fighting operations. They were right in the middle of the action and were there when needed to help shore up the Marine Combat units during all of the South Pacific landings. Embedded correspondents didn't see or appreciate any difference between Marine or Seabee.

    Thurman
     
  4. The_Historian

    The_Historian Pillboxologist Patron   WW2|ORG Editor

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    That's understandable in the circumstances, I suppose. Do you know if anyone has written any good books/articles on the Seabees?
     
  5. Thurman

    Thurman Member

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    "Can-Do" and "From Omaha to Okinawa" both written by William Bradford Huie are two of the best in my opinion.
     
  6. Thurman

    Thurman Member

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    Here is another Story.
    40th The Seabees at Los Negros - In May 1944, on Los Negros island in the Admiralties, just north of eastern New Guinea, the 40th Seabee Battalion was assigned to the 1st Calvary Division of the Army. Its objective was to put the unused and much bombed Japanese airstrip at Momote into operation. The army captured the airfield, all right, but while the Seabees were at work on it, the Japanese counterattacked in greater force than anyone suspected was present. Two Seabee officers and 100 men took over a sector of the perimeter and occupied a trench that they dug with the battalion's ditch digger. They armed themselves with automatic rifles and knives, and set up a truck mounted 20 mm gun behind them. Meanwhile other Seabees landed and started to grade and clear the runways and taxiways in the midst of battle. Others drove bulldozers into the jungle to clear fire lanes for Army guns, using the blades now to clear a lane and again raised as a shield, behind which they fired at the enemy. In the Japanese assault, the Seabees distinguished themselves by capturing two machine gun positions and a Bofors gun. They took 47 casualties, with nine killed. General Macarthur awarded them the Army's Distinguished Unit Badge, and President Roosevelt gave them the Presidential Unit Citation.
     
  7. bigiceman

    bigiceman Member

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    Good stories Thurman. Thanks for the contributions and welcome to the forum.
     
  8. Thurman

    Thurman Member

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    One Seabee/Marine Detachment's History!
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    18th NCB - Seabees History. The 18th Battalion was commisioned at Camp Allen, Norfolk Va., August 11, 1942, and transferred that day to Davisville R.I. On September 6, "C" Company was transferred to CB Replacment Group, Fleet Marine Force, San Diego, California. The remainder of the battalion was transferred to the FMF Base Depot, Norfolk. Embarking on September 11, 1942, the unit arrived at Noumea, New Caledonia, November 11. "A" "D" and Headquarters companies disembarked at Noumea, while "B" company sailed for Guadalcanal, landing December 6, 1942. On December 7, "A" "D" and Headquarters companies sailed from Noumea for Guadalcanal on two ships, and disembarked at Guadalcanal December 12. More detachments of the outfit arrived at Guadalcanal December 19 and 25. On April 7, 1943, the battalion, minus the rear echelon embarked at Guadalcanal and arrived at Wellington, New Zealand, April 16. The rear echelon arrived April 20. On April 26 the battalion was redesignated as 3rd Battalion, 18th Marine Engineers, 2nd Marine Division. On October 31, 1943 Companies "H" "I" and Headquarters sailed from Wellington for Tarawa. On November 21, and throughout the next three days detachments of 290 men and three officers disembarked at Tarawa, the remainder of the force continued to Hilo, Hawaii, landing December 5. "G" company left Wellington November 29 and arrived at Hilo December 12. Remainder of the echelons left Wellington a few days later and the last detachments arrived at Hilo January 6, 1944. The group left at Tarawa embarked on January 8, 1944, and arrived at Hilo January 21. On April 1, 1944, the battalion was redesignated as the 18th USN Construction Battalion and assigned to Corps Troops, Fifth Amphibious Corps, but remained attached to the Second Marine Division. On May 11, 1944, the battalion minus the rear echelon, left Hilo bound for Saipan. On June 15, 1944 (D-Day) seven shore party platoons landed on Saipan. On D-Plus-1, nine more shore party platoons went ashore, and on D-Plus-2, one shore party landed. Turning their attention to Tinian, a group of two officers and six men went ashore on that island on July 24 (J-Day). On July 26 (J-Plus-2) a detachment of 16 officers and 613 men landed on Tinian. The remaining men arrived on Saipan in small groups over a period of ten days. The rear echelon departed from Hilo in small groups during June and July, with the last group arriving on Tinian September 5, 1944. In June 1945 the battalion was inactivated.[/b
     
  9. wilconqr

    wilconqr Dishonorably Discharged

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    My brother-in-law is a Seabee here in Gulfport. He is an instructor at the Naval Construction Training Center (NCTC) which trains members of the Navy, Army and Air Force. It feels strange to sit around talking about the 60-mm mortar and other crew-served weapons when, after all, he's an electrician. The only thing we had that was crew-served, other than the 155-mm howitzers of my old Army arty regiment of 16 years ago, was a tripod-mounted M-60 mg.
     
  10. Thurman

    Thurman Member

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    BOUGAINVILLE - On November 1 ,1943 a detachment of the 75th Seabee Battalion landed with the first wave of Marines at Torokina Point, Bougainville. The five officers and 95 men who composed the landing detachment were all volunteers. They came in with the Marines on the USS President Adams. For the landing they divided themselves into four units - one to unload ammunition, another to unload fuel, another to unload rations and packs, and the fourth Seabee unit manned the machine guns on all Higgins boats and tank lighters. They were to follow ashore immediately behind Company "C" First Battalion ? Marines Third Marine Division, which was the only assault force expected to meet any opposition. At the beach they encountered determined resistance, the 250 Marines and the 100 Seabees worked perfectly as a team. The Seabee gunners provided cover while the Marines advanced to erase the Japanese with grenades and flame throwers. When a marine was shot from a crippled tractor which was pulling in the first load of ammunition, a Seabee leaped to his place, repaired the tractor, and delivered the ammunition. The Seabees dug foxholes not only for themselves but also for the Marines and for all casualties who were unable to dig their own. When a group of Marines was about to be wiped out because of lack of supplies, three Seabees managed to get through with ammunition and to bring back the wounded. The first Seabee killed was shot by a Japanese sniper while he was helping to man the line of beach which the Seabees had been assigned to defend. They got the sniper. To begin the construction of the airfields around Empress Augusta Bay, the 71st Seabees began landing on the afternoon of November 1. there were many difficult construction problems. The ground was swampy, and the rains were unseasonably heavy. Part of the area on which the Torokina fighter strip had to be built was actually "beyond the front lines". The Seabees had to risk capture as well as death from enemy fire, and one man was captured while he was clearing the strip. A mental hazard for the men was Mt. Bagana, a volcano, which towered near the scene. The Seabees at Bougainville are the only ones who have had to work under an active volcano. In spite of all these handicaps, however, the field was superimposed on the swamp, and planes were operating from it on December 10. There is a bridge in this area named for Chief Carpenters Mate Elmer I, Carruthers. A detachment of Seabees under Chief Carruthers was cutting a road in advance of the front lines when the detachment and its Marine security guard were attacked by the Japanese. Chief Carruthers and six other men were killed and twenty were wounded. The entire detachment might have been wiped out had it not been for the gallantry of Chief Carpenters Mate Joe Bumgarner. Bumgarner and a detail were building a bridge when they heard the firing against Carruthers. Bumgarner led his men to the rescue, helped drive off the Japanese, and evacuated the Marine and Seabee casualties.The 53rd Seabees also participated in the assault on Bougainville. Their "A" and "C" Companies landed with the Marine raiders in the first two waves.
     
  11. bigiceman

    bigiceman Member

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    Thurman, keep up the stories. I know I for one, am enjoying them.
     
  12. Thurman

    Thurman Member

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    Off icial account of the 53rd Seabee Battalion's work while in support of the 3rd Marine Division on Bougainville, covering the period November 1-24, 1943. Two Hundred and forty-four men, the Ifficer in Charge, seven officers and one bulldozer landed in the second wave with the Second Raider Battalion on Beach Green-2 (on D-Day, November 1). This group acted as shore-party for the unloading of the USS George Clymer. This work was concluded early in the afternoon of D-Day.

    Seventy-four men, two officers, and one bulldozer landed in the second wave on Puruata Island, with the Third Raider Battalion and one battery of the Third Defense Battalion. This group acted as shore-party in unloading their ship, and assisted the Third Defense Battalion battery in securing their positions. This detail remained with the battery for eight days. Twenty three men, one officer and one bulldozer landed in the first and second waves on Beach Yellow-4 and assisted as shore-party temporarily, their principal mission being assistance to the third defense Battalion in securing their battery positions. One man, with bulldozer and one officer landed in the second wave on Beach Blue-1 to assist the Third Defense Battalion in securing their battery positions. On November 2 about one hundred men and two officers from Beach Green-2 were assigned to assist the battery for three days.
    On November 2 all available men were constructing bridges and pioneer road along the Piva Trail from Beach Yellow-1. No amount of construction equipment was available until November 6, and progress was slow through the swamps. This project was later expanded to include a pioneer road from Blue-1 and extension of the Piva Trail to an intersection with the Piva Road near Piva. On November 6 an additional six Officers, 179 men, and considerable construction equipment were landed on Puruata Island. These troops were transferred to the mainland on November 9, and assigned to road construction. Here, at Empress Augusta Bay, was once again seen the close relationship and cameraderie which existed between the Seabees and the Marines. The main road, when completed, was named "Marine Drive" and dedicated, with deep affection, 'To our very good friend, the Fighting Marines". A large sign, announcing this fact, was placed at one of the roads terminals.
    On November 15, work was started on a two-lane road up the Piva River from the beach. On November 30, this road was open to traffic to the southeast corner of the Piva Airfield site. The Piva Trail pioneer road was 85 percent completed at this time. Survey crews, on November 4, started surveys from Yellow-2, and, on November 10, these crews started preliminary surveys for the Piva Airfield. These crews worked under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions as sporadic enemy opposition was encountered in these areas until about November 30. The various detachments of the Battalion landing on D-Day were under operational control of the Third Marine Division until November 8, at which time they reverted to the control of the Commanding General, First Marine Amphibious Corps. Up to November 24, a total of two miles of primary highway and 1.8 miles of pioneer road had been constructed. A majority of this work was through extremely difficult swamps and jungles, and a considerable portion of these roads were built on corduroy brush mats, by hand.
    "Miscellaneous activities included"
    1. Construction of operational dugouts for First Marine Amphibious Corps, numbered among these was the elaborate one built for the personal use of Admiral Halsey.
    2. Hauling ammunition and rations on Affe trailers to the front lines, until relieved of this duty by the Third Division.
    3. Start of development of a coral pit on Torokina Point.
    4. Construction of emergency operating tent and hospital ward for Third defense Battalion Medical Officer, and the loan to him of the assistance of two Battalion medical officers and several Corpsmen to care for Raider casualties during the first ten days.
    Available records indicate 81 enemy air alerts in which enemy planes were overhead and bombs were dropped. Enemy artillery, mortar and machine gun fire existed on the beaches November 1st and 2nd. Sniper fire existed for the entire two months period in the jungle. Its assigned missions successfully and commendably completed, the 53rd returned from Both Vella Lavella and Bougainville during the middle of January, 1944, to its former camp at Doma Cove, Guadalcanal. Once again we were to undertake extensive and vigorous Marine Amphibious training. But this time, there was also much construction to be done. Since our previous camp had been occupied by other troops during our absence or had been rendered useless by changing conditions and our expanding requirements, we built a camp for ourselves before turning to the construction of a 1,500-man Marine camp.
     
  13. Thurman

    Thurman Member

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    I got this directly from an 18th Seabee Veteran. You wanted to know about the 18th landing on Tarawa. The landing assignments for the 18th were diversified and required different disembarking times. For example, first priority was to get the runway repaired. On Day 1, waves of Marine assault troops went ashore. They were pinned on the beach throughout some of the next day. The official 2nd Marine Division memoirs of WWII named "Follow Me" wrote, The Seabees had begun streaming ashore during the morning of D-Plus-2, bringing their heavy equipment in and tracking it over the reef. Marines who had fought for hours with exemplary courage stood in opened mouth admiration as the Seabees drove their bulldozers out onto the strip, still swept by rifle fire, and began smoothing out the shell holes. Photographs of this are in the Marine Corps book. Some Seabees who had other assignments disembarked shortly after, the second and third days. It was only after the third day that the landing area could be cleared for support supplies to get in. Keep in mind the Tarawa battle lasted only 76 hours. Supplies and ammunition did not get on shore until there was room behind the sea wall to land and the direct heavy enemy fire could be contained. For some units in the 18th, it was staying until they could get on the beach after the third day with equipment to build roads, erect piers, observation towers, pipelines and electrical facilities. For a capsule, the 18th arrived on the "Canal" in early December 1942, and stayed until April 1943. They built Fighter Strip "1", bridges and roads and other facilities and nightly manned machine gun positions in their secor of the beachhead. On Saipan, the 18th started disembarking on Saipan on D-Day (Hour-4) under heavy mortar fire. Our assignment was to receive materials and equipment from the shore to designated areas, such as the ammo dump. After the traffic coming in to the shore minimized we were hauling ammunition to the front lines, routing out by-passed Japanese stragglers, and bringing back wounded men. On Tinian, we went in the second day, after some 18th volunteers on the first day built a special ramp to facilitate entry. The rest went in the second day through land mines and snipers. we did alot of Seabee type work, like bridges, roads, tank farms and a hospital. A single plane left our airstrip and caused the end of the war. My tour of duty overseas lasted 34 months.
     
  14. Thurman

    Thurman Member

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    On July 1, 1943, after 11 months of consolidation at Guadalcanal, U.S. forces were headed up the slot of the Solomons toward the big Japanese air force base at Munda, on New Georgia Island. The landing was to be at nearby Rendova in pouting rain., which was standard weather in that area. The first Marine landing had pretty well taken care of the Japanese on Rendova but not on Munda. The only obstacles were nature, Japanese guns and planes on nearby Munda and snipers left on Rendova. Here's how Commander Whittaker described things, as quoted in William Bradford Huie's book "Can-Do". Where we landed the soil was unbelievably marshy. A swampy coconut grove lay just back of the beach and we had to cut a road through there. Guns had to be transported from our beach over to West Beach so that shells could be hurled across the narrow strip of water into the Jap positions at Munda. And still that rain poured........
    All day long, we sweated and swore, and worked to bring the heavy stuff ashore and hide it from Jap Bombers. Our mesh, designed to snowshoe vehicles over soft mud, failed miserably. Even our biggest tractors bogged down in the muck. The men ceased to look like men. They looked like slimy frohs working in some prehistoric ooze. As they sank to their knees, they discarded their clothes. The Japs were still sniping, but in spite of this, the men began felling the coconut palms, cutting then into 12-foot lengths and corrugating the road. Our traction-treaded vehicles could go over these logs, but the spinning wheels of a truck would send the logs flying and the truck would bury itself. To pull the trucks out, we lashed a bulldozer to a tree, then dragged the trucks clear with the dozers winch.
    When night came, we had unloaded six ships, but the mud was about to lick us. Foxholes filled with water as rapidly as they could be dug. The men rolled their exhausted, mud covered bodies in tents and slept in the mud. The next day, at 1330, without warning, the Jap planes came in with bomb bays open. all of us began firing with what guns had been set up, but most of the Seabees had to lie in the open on the beach and take it. The first bombs found our two main fuel dumps and we had to lie there in the mud and watch our supplies burn while the Japs strafed us. One bomb landed almost under our largest bulldozer and the big machine just reared up like a stallion and disintegrated. Then every man among us thought that his time had come. A five ton cache of our dynamite went out, exploding the eardrums of the men nearest to it. Two of our best officers and 21 men were dead. Many more were wounded, others were missing and a number were out of their heads.
    Our galley equipment, most of our supplies and all the men's seabags and personal belongings were destroyed. By the morning of the fourth day, we had opened the road to West Beach, but what a road it was. We had literally snaked those big 155's guns to fire at Munda, through two miles of mud and the Marines began setting them up. Our men had been under constant strain for 90 hours. At least 50 of them were running high temperatures. They could only jump between gasoline drums and powder when the Japs came over. And the beach, as always, was a potential torch with ammunition, diesel oil and gasoline everywhere. To move the inflammable stuff back into the storage areas, the men had to emplace themselves in the mud in bucket brigade fashion. For hour they worked that way, sinking deeper into the mud each time they handled a package. And still the rain poured. Late that afternoon, from over on the West Beach, the Marines opened up on Munda with 155's. Our men stopped work and cheered almost insanely. No group of men had endured more in order for guns to begin firing. Our number of psychopathic cases had begun to mount. We had to evacuate ten men who had become hysterical. As men grow physically exhausted, they become more and more susceptible to nervous collapse under bombing. By the sixth day, the 155's were pouring shells into Munda almost incessantly and we had the supply road open, bur our position seemed more impossible than ever. None of us could remember anything except mud and bombs. The rains seemed to get heavier. But somehow, the men kept working. The air raids continued, but Whittakers Seabees did their jobs. Finally U.S. planes started to provided effective air cover and things improved. Later, the Japanese were chased out of Munda and the Seabees went in to build a large airfield there.
     
  15. Thurman

    Thurman Member

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    Two Battalions of the 41st Seabee Regiment are operating with the Marines at Iwo-Jima. The 133rd Battalion attached to the Fourth Marine Division, and the 31st Battalion, attached to the Fifth Marine Division, hit the Iwo-Jima beach in the second wave of the initial assault. Seabee correspondent Robert Evans, on the beach with the assault troops said the Seabee battalions landed less than 60 minutes behind the first assault wave, made up of amphibious tanks and armored amphibious tractors. In the face of heavy fire from mortars already zeroed in on the beach positions, the Seabees unloaded Higgins boats with cranes and bulldozers. Over the treacherous volcanic sand, in which many landing vehicles had mired down almost at water's edge, the Seabees laid Marston matting. The matting permitted medium tanks to rumble into the battle, reinforcing lightly- armored amphibious tractors which almost alone had been able to cross the loose volcanic ash. The tractors had taken the brunt of the first attacks on enemy pill boxes and strongholds, ordinarily the job of light and medium tanks.

    The Seabees had two jobs:
    1. To secure the beaches as the first assault waves swept inland to make contact with the enemy.
    2. To unload supplies on the beachhead and to provide runners to keep contact between the beach, and the forward battle lines.

    Four days after d-Day, the Seabees had another job, repairing the newly one, main Iwo airfield, battered and shell pocked by the battle which had swept across it.
    With the entire surface of the island ablaze with combat, the Seabees worked in the half-light of dawn, dusk and moonlight to put the Japanese airfield into shape for American planes to use. Japanese gunners, in caves which honey-combed the hills, laid down a heavy but intermittent fire on the field.

    Marine Fliers started to use the Seabee-repaired southern airfield February 26, providing land-based air support for the ground troops and an American airfield less than 750 miles from Tokyo. The second wave, including the Seabees were permitted to land on the beach without strong opposition from enemy positions in the hills. A strong fire then was opened against the third and succeeding waves and concentrated on the positions on the beach. One Marine described the mortars used against the Seabees and Marines on the beach as the largest used against us. Unofficial reports said casualties were highest among members of the beach parties who had to work without seeking cover. From the blazing beach, the Seabees and Marines hauled supplies by hand for two days. Only a few trucks were able to get ashore early, and even some of the Seabees powerful bulldozers were unable to gain traction on the shifting volcanic cinders. On some beaches a shelf slowed vehicles and made them easy prey for Japanese gunners in the hills. Not only enemy shelling imperiled the beach positions, where Seabees stood perimeter guard. Japanese counter-attacks, some supported by tanks, threatened the beaches early in the battle, and enemy groups in strength as great as 100 men attempted to infiltrate to the beach.

    On a beach held by Marines of the Fifth Division and Seabees of the 31st Battalion, Japanese with light machine-guns infiltrated during the night and the first men to venture from the foxholes and trenches in which they had slept became casualties. Marine riflemen eliminated the enemy parties. Flares and Searchlights from the ships made an eerie picture on the bloody beaches of Iwo, as they maintained a flickering light throughout the night to discourage parties of infiltrating Japanese. Landing of supplies by Seabees was hampered by great quantities of wrecked equipment, tanks, tractors, cranes, bulldozers and landing boats. Seabee Demolition men blasted beach obstructions, opening up unloading points. Bulldozers cleared debris on the beach, and smoothed access roads for Amtracks and Dukws. Some of the battalion members assigned to security duty even went up on the front lines and fought beside the Marines until their specialties were required for the beach operation. For twenty six days the Seabees lived under conditions of intense discomfort, violence, and destruction. The men learned how to identify the sounds of battle, when to duck, and when to ignore them. They learned by bitter experience how to avoid mines, and to spot booby-traps. There were highlights, When the flag was raised on Mount Suribachi, when an occasional LST offered the use of its showers, when the commissary department made fresh doughnuts and everybody had a couple.

    Unpleasant memories include air raids from the receiving end, and rockets and rocket mortars as large as the average water heating tank. Dust hung in the thick pall over everything, and everywhere the overpowering odor of death. Iwo-Jima was declared secure on March 16.

    Seabees "Assault phase" - 31st NCB, 133rd NCB, 23rd Special NCB Detachment, 62nd NCB, 70th Pontoon Detachment, 106th NCB Detachment. The 133rd suffered over 40% Percent casualties, higher than many of the Marine units suffered.

    Second Echelon - 8th NCB, 90th NCB, 95th NCB, 106th NCB, 23rd Special NCB, 301st Harbor Stretcher Battalion.
     
  16. Thurman

    Thurman Member

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    Iwo Jima Seabees Stay Unsung

    Navy construction battalion units, whose main purpose was to unload supplies and build roads and airstrips, fought alongside combat troops storming the black sandy beaches of Iwo Jima. Now, some of the Seabee veterans think they deserved more recognition for what they did.

    During this fierce assault on Iwo Jima in February 1945, Navy construction battalions (NCB's or Seabees) had two functions. To secure the beaches as the first assault troops went inland to engage the enemy and to unload supplies and provide runners to keep contact between the beach and the forward battle lines.

    Four days after D-Day, the 133rd NCB inherited another job - repairing the newly won airfield that had been shattered and shellpocked by the battle that had swept across it.

    I was the assistant company commander, Headquarters Company of this unit. The 133rd Companies A, B, and C and Company A of the 4th Marine Division Pioneer Battalion composed the shore party for the 23rd Regimental Combat Team. Company D of the 133rd NCB and Companies B and C of the 4th Pioneer Battalion composed the shore party for the 25th Regimental Combat Team. These two teams were the lead units for the assault troops of the 4th Marine Division.

    Seabee staff correspondent Robert V, Evans outlined the activities of the 133rd NCB best:

    Two battalions of the 41st Seabee Regiment at Iwo Jima - the 133rd NCB attached to the 4th Marine Division and the 31st NCB attached to the 5th Marine Division - hit the Iwo Jima beaches on the second wave of the initial assault, landing less than 60 minutes behind the assault wave made up of amphibious tanks and armored tractors. In the face of heavy fire from mortars already zeroed on beach positions, the Seabees unloaded cranes and bulldozers and Steel matting to be laid over the volcanic sand in which many vehicles were stuck almost at the water edge. The matting placed by the Seabees permitted medium tanks to enter into the battle, reinforcing the lightly-armored amphibious tractors which had taken the brunt of the first attack on enemy pill-boxes and strongholds, ordinarily the job of light and medium tanks.

    With the entire surface of the rocky island ablaze with combat, the Seabees worked day and night to put the airfield into shape for U.S. planes. Japanese gunners, emplaced in caves that honeycombed the hills, laid down a heavy but intermittent fire on the field. Marine fliers started to use the Seabee-repaired southern airfield on 26 February, providing land-based air support for thee ground troops and a U.S. airfield less than 750 miles from Tokyo.

    The second wave, including the Seabees, was permitted to land on the beach without strong opposition from enemy positions in the hills. The Japanese then unleashed heavy fire against the third and succeeding waves and concentrated on the beach positions.

    Our ships and aircraft had pounded the volcanic Mt. Suribachi until no one could believe that anything or anyone was left alive. But the Japanese continued firing. The defenders in the mountainside caves resumed serving their mortars after we stopped. One Marine said that the mortars used against the Seabees and

    Marines on the beach were the largest ever used against us. On many beaches, mortar fire pinned down the Seabees and Marines for as long as 12 hours straight.

    The barren landscape provided little cover, and it was impossible to dig adequate foxholes. At Yellow Beach One, on the central portion of Iwo Jima's eastern coast, elements of the 133rd NCB were pinned down by mortar fire on D-Day from mid-morning until after sunset. Shellfire from 75-mm guns set up the ridge also rained down from several hundred yards away. In the shallow, crumbling foxholes, many men were wounded or killed. Unofficial reports said casualties were highest among members of the beach parties, who had to work without seeking cover.

    Because only a few trucks were able to get ashore early, Seabees and Marines were forced to haul supplies by hand for two days under heavy enemy fire. Even some of the powerful bulldozers were unable to gain traction on the shifting volcanic sand. An earthen shelf slowed vehicles and made them easy targets for the artillerymen on the high ground. On D+3, a heavy rain affected our activities, but a large quantity of material had been unloaded already. Flares and searchlights from ships were used to prevent enemy infiltration during the night.

    Headquarters Company of the 133rd NCB was assigned to provide a perimeter defense against a counterattack from the sea. The security unit consisted of two 30-man infantry platoons and two 4-man light machine gun sections. The Japanese did not attempt any counterattacks either from the sea or on the front lines in our area. Credit for the fact that security unit had only one man killed in action goes to the special training provided by a Gunnery Sergeant named Hickman of the 23rd Marines. When I realized that we were going to be involved in serious combat and that any advice from a combat veteran would be helpful, I asked my company commander to secure the services of a Marine to help train my security units. Sergeant Hickman held forth every afternoon from 13:00 to 16:00 for three weeks. After we landed, he emphasized, we should get away from the water's edge as quickly as possible and avoid seeking shelter in any shell holes or depressions because enemy gunners would no doubt be zeroed in on them already. It would be safer to lie on the open ground, he told us. This meant going beyond the first two terraces, inland about 250 yards from the beach. Unfortunately, one of my men in the machine-gun crew jumped into a 16-inch shell hole with other men, and all were killed by a mortar shell. I will always appreciate the help we received from Sergeant Hickman, the pride of Mississippi.

    The Seabee companies were mainly involved in regular shore-parry duties, unloading landing craft at the water's edge and establishing and operating dumps of food, ammunition, fuel, and water. We also loaded the transport units for delivery to the troops at the front.

    During the 26-day battle for Iwo Jima, elements of the 133rd NCB bulldozed debris on the beaches and made access roads. A vehicle maintenance group kept trucks, jeeps, tractors, and other equipment running. Surveyors and draftsmen were assigned intelligence tasks and kept daily maps and reports for the Marines.

    Corpsmen and doctors worked with evacuation station personnel, and the medical units were hit hard, with one corpsman killed in action, one corpsman wounded in action, and one doctor missing in action. Two other doctors, the dentist, and the chaplain were wounded. All casualties except one were evacuated.

    The 133rd NCB suffered 245 [370*] casualties - 3 officers and 39 enlisted men killed in action and 12 officers and 191 enlisted men wounded - the highest total of any Seabee unit in history. The totals exceeded the casualties of the 4th Marine Division Pioneer Battalion. The members of the 133rd NCB wore Marine uniforms, were subject to Marine regulations, and were active participants of the 4th Marine Division assault team and were not identified as part of a support group.

    After Iwo Jima was declared secure, the 4th Marine Division returned to Maui, Hawaii, and the 133rd NCB, reduced by casualties to 75% of its full strength, remained on the island to help build B-29 airfields. The battalion worked two 12-hour shifts seven days a week and was subjected to occasional night air raid alerts, several attacks, and daytime sniper fire from enemy survivors still living in numerous tunnels and caves that remained intact after the battle.

    The B-29 airfields on Iwo Jima saved the lives of more than 25,000 Army Air Corpsmen whose planes were so damaged from air raids over Japan that they never could have returned to their home bases on Guam and Tinian. This was some consolation for those of us who saw the sacrifices made by the 3rd, 4th and 5th Marine Divisions and their attached units.

    Since Marine veterans have said that Iwo Jima was the toughest battle they ever fought, it seems fitting and appropriate that the survivors of the 133rd NCB finally get their due.



    WHAT ABOUT A PUC?

    Veterans of the 133rd Naval Construction Battalion wonder why their unit was not awarded a Presidential Unit Citation (PUC) for the Iwo Jima campaign as part of the 4th Marine Division.

    The Marine units of the 25th Regimental Combat Team (RCT) received the PUC. Company D of the 133rd NCB - part of the 25th RCT - did not. Company A of the 4th Pioneer Battalion in the 23rd RCT received the PUC. Headquarters Company and Companies A, B, and C of the 133rd NCB did not. The 4th Marine Division had only one Pioneer battalion - the 4th - which was assigned to the 25th RCT. Therefore, another Pioneer battalion was needed for the 23rd RCT.

    According to veterans of the battalion, the 133rd NCB, with the 4th Pioneer Company A., satisfied that need. Official 4th Marine Division documents prove that the 133rd NCB was part of the assault units of the 4th Marine Division for the Iwo Jima campaign.

    Did the 133rd NCB deserve a Presidential Unit Citation?

    Commander Marra and his fellow Seabee veterans think
     
  17. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    Some notes on Seebees:

    On V-J day there were 238,000 men in the Seebees having risen from a pre-war strenght of 8000.
    These men were organized in 9 brigades, 31 regiments and 338 battalions and smaller detachments.

    Units included Stevedore battalions for unloading and loading ships, CBMU (CB maintenance units) for maintaining existing bases, and CBD's (CB detachments).
    The last were often specialized units engaged in various tasks like:
    Tire retreading and recapping (CBD 1059 for example)
    Dredging of harbors (CBD 1068 on Guadalcanal for example)
    Pontoon assembly (one detachment could make 1800 pontoon assemblies a month)
    Heavy excavating and hauling (capable of moving 337,000 cubic yards of rock per month
    Sand and Gravel plant (produced 250 tons per hour)
    Asphalt plant (110 to 200 tons per hour) 5 of these were employed to build the B-29 bases in the Marianas.
    Sawmill plant (16,000 BF per hour)
    Oil Exploration (one detachment went to Point Barrow Alaska for example...yea, that Point Barrow)
    Electrical generation plant
    Advance Base Construction Depot
    Vehicle overhaul (could overhaul 500 pieces of equipment or vehicles per month)

    A battalion of 32 officers and 1073 men were provided with the following equipment in a standard battalion:

    264 16 sq ft tents
    21 17 x 20 ft tents
    26 16 x 50 ft tents
    69 20 x 48 ft quonset huts
    3 40 x 100 ft quonset huts
    8 water purification units (10,000 gpd)
    Canvas tanks for water storage
    2 x 500 gpm fire fighting pumps + hand held extinguishers
    8 x 15 Kw generators
    1 x 50 ckt telephone switchboard + telephones
    1 x public address system
    1 FM radio set with 60 mi range (as required)
    1 x 3/4 ton ambulance
    18 jeeps
    4 3/4 ton weapons carriers
    1 2 1/2 ton truck with 750 gal water tank
    4 1 1/2 ton trucks
    4 2 1/2 ton trucks
    32 2 1/2 ton dump trucks
    1 2 1/2 ton truck oilfield body (for moving heavy equipment and parts)
    1 4 ton truck.
    20 trailers
    1 fifth wheel 2 1/2 ton truck tractor combo
    2 2.5 yd 6 ton crawler cranes
    3 .75 yd 13 ton crawler cranes
    1 1.5 yd 30 ton crawler crane
    All have clamshell and dragline buckets and the 13 ton units have backhoe attachments
    8 class 1 tractors (Caterpillar)
    4 class 2 tractors (Caterpillar)
    4 class 3 tractors (Caterpillar)
    2 class 4 tractors (Caterpillar)
    All have either a bulldozer or angledozer attachment
    4 8 - 10 cu yd earth mover trailers (for use with the tractors)
    4 12 -15 cy yd earth mover trailers
    8 pneumatic rock hammers
    1 8 ton road roller
    1 12 ton road roller
    1 3 tooth trenching machine
    3 road graders w/ 12 ft blade
    2 5 ton cargo cranes
    1 7 cu ft cement mixer
    1 14 cu ft cement mixer
    4 portable 3000 gpm pumps
    Supplies for immediate use included:
    1000 bags of cement
    328,000 BF of lumber
    2800 feet of steel shapes
    10,850 pounds of rebar
    14,000 fasteners
    65,400 feet of wire rope
    120 oxygen cylinders
    2550 lbs of welding rod.

    A single Seebee battalion was better equipped than an entire German field army's worth of engineers!
     
  18. Thurman

    Thurman Member

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    I wish to express at this time my appreciation for the work done by the Sixth Naval Construction Battalion at Guadalcanal. They were a spendid body of workmen who approached and successfully performed an unsusal variety of tasks. Each of those tasks was intimately connected with the preparation of and maintenance of Guadalcanal as a a base. The members of the Battalion with courage and willingness undertook construction work of all types; and when the demand arose, they cheerfully turned to other tasks where hands were needed. During one period the pressure of enemy forces against us was so great that troops could not be spared to handle stores on the beaches. Fighting had to go on and ships had to be unloaded. Construction workers voluntarily took over that work and performed it exceedingly well.
    In addition to commenting upon the performance of duty the "Seabees", I wish to commend the wisdom that foresaw the need for such an organization. In the war in the Pacific in seizing one base after another, few of us realized the great amount of construction which would be necessary. Need for this arises almost immediately after the initial landing, and becomes greater as the area seized is developed into a real base. I do not know how we would have gotten along without the "Seabees", and trust that they will be participants in every future operation in even larger numbers than at Guadalcanal.

    Very Sincerely Yours,
    A.A. Vandegrift
    Major General, USMC.
    Rear Admiaral B. Moreel, USN
    Chief of Bureau of Yards and Docks
    Navy Department
    Washington D.C.
     
  19. Thurman

    Thurman Member

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    GUADALCANAL: "If they had been visitors from Mars, the men of the 63rd NCB could scarcely have been more out of their element. That was the case when they arrived on Guadalcanal in June 1943."

    Towering trees, dense vegetation, a fantasy land of "lizards as large as small crocodiles, snakes that fly, toads that eat flesh and fish that climb trees." And, the scattered remnants of a Japanese military force, although defeated, refusing to surrender.

    Guadalcanal, its name equated with a hard-fought campaign that began on Aug. 7, 1942, was now the main route on the highway across the Pacific's island-hopping campaign to victory. A route marked by the skills, labor, sweat and determination of the Seabees who scratch-built airfields, harbor facilities and piers, and constructed roads, barracks, hospitals, fuel depots and massive supply dumps. Seabees were the workforce of the Pacific.

    Unglamorous and backbreaking, the 63rd's initial major project on "the Canal" was an 80-square-mile program to destroy the breeding grounds of malaria-carrying insects "by swamp and lagoon draining, stream clearance and depression filling." Work started on June 24. When completed, more than 20 miles of roads, "16.5 miles, as a last resort, by hand labor," had been constructed by the 664 officers and men assigned. Some 100 miles of stream ran free to the sea. The Seabees moved 400,000 cubic yards of earth to level and fill water-filled depressions.

    "Lagoons, land-locked by sand-bars, were fitted with oil-drum culverts to permit excess tidal fluctuations to vary the lagoon level. The inflow of salt water at high tide rendered lagoon water sufficiently alkaline to inhibit mosquito breeding."

    The 63rd's history notes, "there was little fun on these jobs," but as footnote, "there were some thrills." Massive, more than 60, air raids by Japanese bombers. An encounter with Japanese troops on a tropical trail. And "it's no fish story," the 10-foot crocodile that chased a work party out of the Tenaru River.

    There was also the trial of a 63rd Seabee.

    He was charged with leaving his shipmates without permission and striking out with the 1st Marine Raider Battalion when that unit assaulted Japanese forces near Bairoka Harbor, at Munda. He was exonerated when the Marine officer in charge of the operation initiated a Silver Star recommendation, the nation's third highest honor for heroism. The man "attached himself to a machine gun crew, serviced and manned the gun with devastating effect upon the enemy when all other members of the crew had been killed or disabled by mortar fire."

    There were other commendations and citations as the 63rd moved across the Pacific during 1944 and 1945. Journeys by convoys to Auckland, New Zealand, and Noumea, New Caledonia; return to Guadalcanal; and transit to the island of Emirau, "a tiny dot in the vast expanse of the Pacific."

    Emirau, in the St. Matthias group of the Bismarck Archipelago, was transformed from raw jungle, coral and sand by the 63rd and three other Seabee battalions [27th, 61st and 88th Seabees, commanded by the 18th Regiment--SCK]. It became a massive advance naval base with all the functions of a harbor port military city, including an airfield.

    Six months of two, six-hour shifts per man, per day, and the job was completed. Board ships again, to the Admiralty Islands, and construct another massive base at Manus, recently secured from the Japanese.

    Work at Manus progressed into 1945, and the 63rd followed the news of U.S. ground and naval forces, which had begun the liberation of the Philippines. Rumor spread the Seabees would be sent back to the states by April for deactivation. Rumor proved wrong.

    "It was on a bright and sunny Sunday, 25 March, that troops boarded the SS Mexico with full infantry gear for the voyage to Manila. . . . Slow progress was made in the South China Sea, but Luzon loomed on the northeastern horizon in the early afternoon of Friday, 6 April."

    The 63rd Seabees newest camp was in the Manila suburb of Pasay. The unit's major assignment was the construction of 7th Fleet headquarters, a massive 40-acre project of buildings and facilities on the war-ruined site of the former Manila Polo Club. Work on that project ended for these Seabees on Sunday, July 22, a day described in their history as "drizzling." But, a day with a brighter tomorrow. There was an announcement, and it was official. The 63rd was heading stateside.

    July 24, 1945, more than two years since they had departed for "Island X," the Seabees of the 63rd sailed for an unnoticed and unheralded 3:45 a.m. arrival in San Francisco on Aug. 15, 1945.
     
  20. The_Historian

    The_Historian Pillboxologist Patron   WW2|ORG Editor

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    Cheers Thurmann,
    Another great account. Keep 'em comin'. :cool:
     

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