Chapter XXIV
Bases in the South Pacific

By one stroke on December 7, 1941, Japan seized the initiative in the Pacific. Long-made plans for offensive action by our Pacific Fleet in the event of war had to be discarded overnight. The enemy's military forces deployed with almost explosive speed throughout the western Pacific and an early counter-offensive was quite beyond the means of our Army and Navy. Furthermore, overall strategic considerations demanded that we direct our major strength against Germany before turning against Japan; in the Pacific we were forced to accept a defensive role, unsatisfying as well as hazardous.

Within a month after the Pearl Harbor attack our Pacific position was perilous. Our Pacific Fleet had been ruinously weakened; Guam and Wake had fallen to the enemy; the Philippines had been invested and there was no hope of sending them support; the British had lost Hong Kong, and Singapore was under siege; the Japanese had invaded the Dutch East Indies and there was no let-up in the progress of their conquest. To all intents and purposes they would win their war if they could continue their march until Australia and New Zealand were overrun.

Keeping open the line of communications with these two great bastions of the South Pacific was a strategic imperative. The northern route, southwest west from Hawaii, was already controlled by Japanese positions in the mandated islands. Only the southern route, via the South Sea Islands, was available for use. If we could hold it, future offensive operations would be possible. We would be able to build up our striking power in the South Pacific and when it was great enough we could attempt to wrest the initiative from the enemy.

But the line was long, 7,800 miles from Panama to Sydney, and only meagerly provided with supporting bases. Our tiny naval station in Samoa was wholly out of scale with the gigantic logistic problems that lay ahead, and would be almost negligible even upon completion of the modest expansion that was under way by civilian contract when the war broke out. A major asset, however, was the fact that the line of communication ran through an island-studded area of the Pacific, still wholly under the control of friendly powers.1

A fueling base at Borabora. -- On Christmas Day, 1941, Admiral King, already in Washington but not yet formally installed as ComInCh, requested the War Plans Division of CNO to "proceed at once to study the matter of a fueling base in the central South Pacific area -- the Marquesas, Society, or Cook Islands." Five days later CNO recommended that the base be established in Teavanui Harbor on Borabora, in the Society group, which was under the control of the Free French government. The establishment recommended was one that would provide tank storage for 200,000 barrels of fuel oil and 37,500 barrels of gasoline, a seaplane base, the installations necessary for a defense detachment of 3,500 men, and suitable harbor facilities. Admiral King approved the recommendation the day it was made. On January 8, 1942, a "Joint Basic Army and Navy Plan for the Occupation and Defense of Borabora" was issued, which provided that the expedition depart from the United States on January 25.

Thus was sown the seed that was to grow during the years that lay ahead into the great program of advance-base development in the Pacific.

To organize and equip the Borabora expedition on the fast schedule that was set necessitated the cooperation of many agencies and a great deal of improvising. The plan assigned responsibility to the Navy for shore construction at the new base and for transportation overseas, while to the Army fell responsibility for the defense of the island and subsistence ashore after the expedition had arrived at its destination. Planning for the construction operations, or as much planning as could be


done in the time available, including procurement of the necessary equipment and materials, became the duty of the Bureau of Yards and Docks, in cooperation with CNO.

Construction planning, equipment procurement, and construction-force organization all had to proceed concurrently. Advance-base equipment was requisitioned from the stock at Davisville awaiting shipment to bases under construction in Scotland and northern Ireland. Hastily, a group of enlisted men was organized into a Construction Detachment, and assigned to "BOBCAT", the code name which had been chosen for the new base. Despite much confusion, inevitable under the circumstances, the departure date of the expedition was January 27, only two days behind schedule. In fact, the convoy would have sailed from Charleston on schedule if one of its ships had not needed some ballasting, an operation which occasioned a two-day delay.

After an uneventful voyage via the Panama Canal the BOBCAT expedition arrived at its destination on February 17. Immediately, problems arose which overshadowed those encountered during the planning and mounting of the expedition. The terrain of Borabora was different from what had been shown on the mid-19th century French map that the planners had had to use. An existing water supply the expedition expected to use turned out to be a myth. Above all, cargo had been badly loaded. Equipment needed immediately had been stowed deep in the ships' holds. Important items of equipment had been omitted from the outfitting lists or left on the wharf in the United States.

Difficulties of unloading, the unforeseen necessity to provide a water supply, and other impeding factors combined to delay until April 2 the start of construction of the tank farm which was BOBCAT's primary reason for existence.

In the meanwhile, decision had been made to extend base support to a point farther along the line leading to Australia and two more advance-base expeditions were being prepared.

Bases at Efate and Tongatabu. -- From Borabora, the midway point, shipping destined for Australia would have to sail through or close to a number of the South Pacific island groups. First would come the Cook Islands, then the Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji groups, and finally, a thousand miles or so from the Australian coast, the New Hebrides group and New Caledonia, forming the eastern rim of the Coral Sea. Protected and developed, these islands could secure the indispensable shipping route; in the hands of the enemy, our line of communications would be severed and the great continent of the South Pacific would be isolated.

An advance in our supporting positions along the Borabora-Australia route was decided upon. On March 12, 1942, the "Joint Basic Plan for the Occupation and Defense of Tongatabu" was issued, calling for the construction of facilities enabling that island, a British protectorate, to serve as a fueling base and as a staging oint on the South Pacific air ferry route; eight days later, on March 20, a "Joint Basic Plan" was issued for the development of Efate, the southernmost New Hebrides island, under joint British-French control, as an advance air base. The fuel depot on Tongatabu would extend our support to South Pacific shipping over another quarter of the distance to the Anzac area. Air operations based on Efate would strengthen the communications line where it seemed to be most directly threatened, for the Japanese were in Rabaul and were marching down the Solomons chain, apparently in preparation for a thrust southward that would cut off both Australia and New Zealand.

Again, as with the BOBCAT expedition, Army forces were assigned responsibility for island defense and the construction of the base was made a Navy job. By this time the 1st Construction Battalion had been formed and was in training. For the Efate and Tongatabu assignments, coded ROSES and BLEACHER respectively, the new battalion was formed into two detachments; the one consisting of Companies C and D and half of the headquarters company, designated the 3rd Construction Detachment, was assigned to ROSES and the other Companies A and B and the remainder of the headquarters company, was designated the 2nd Construction Detachment, and assigned to BLEACHER. The officers were ordered to the Bureau of Yards and Docks to plan for the assembly of the equipment that would be needed for the new bases, while the battalion continued in training and preparing for its departure. On April 10 the 2nd Construction Detachment sailed from Norfolk for Tongatabu, and the Efate detachment sailed from the West Coast two days later.

The 3rd Construction Detachment arrived at Efate on May 4. There they found a detachment


Showing the lagoon and the airstrips on Moto Mutu

of Army engineers, a Marine aviation squadron (without planes), and the 4th Marine Defense Battalion, who had preceded them by about a month. As the purpose in occupying the island was to provide an air base to support New caledonia and the Fijis, airfield construction was the first and most important task undertaken by the construction detachment. The Marines had already cleared, graded, and surfaced with coral about 2000 feet of a 200-foot-wide landplane runway on the site chosen for the airfield. The completion of the facility to its planned dimensions, 6,000 by 400 feet, immediately became the responsibility of the Navy construction men. Twenty planes for the Marine aviation squadron arrived on May 28; the runway was ready for them.

The 2nd Construction Detachment, the other half of the 1st Construction Battalion, arrived at Tongatabu on May 9. Here the development job was to be two-fold, a fuel-tank farm and an air base. Although the "Joint Basic Plan" called for the Navy construction forces to "construct aerodrome suitable for heavy bombardment operations," the Army on April 25 had entered into a contract with a civilian construction firm to develop airfield facilities in the South Pacific including landplane facilities on Tongatabu. Moreover, because of omissions in its construction-equipment allowance, improper echeloning, and bad loading, the 2nd Detachment was inadequately equipped to take on the airfield construction along with the other installations planned. Accordingly, it was agreed that the Army should proceed with the work under the contract, and the Navy construction personnel turned their attention to the tank farm and the provision of an emergency seaplane ramp.

Strengthening the Samoan Positions. -- The third step in supporting the South Pacific supply line, undertaken concurrently with the establishment of the bases at Efate and Tongatabu, was the strengthening


Refrigerator Warehouse, Havannah Harbor, Efate
Refrigerator Warehouse, Havannah Harbor, Efate

of our positions in Samoa. The plan called for the establishment by the Navy of facilities to support land, sea, and air forces on Upolu, an island under New Zealand mandate, and on Wallis, a French possession 300 miles to the west. On both Upolu, coded STRAWHAT, and Wallis, coded STRAWBOARD, combined landplane and seaplane bases were to be built for use of Navy and Marine Corps air units. The existing naval station at Tutuila was already being extended and strengthened by civilian construction forces under the PNAB contract, and it was not intended that the work under way should be altered by the decision to establish the two new advance bases.

Again the Bureau of Yards and Docks was assigned the responsibility for planning the construction of the shore installations, and the 2nd Construction Battalion received the construction assignment. Like the 1st Battalion, the Second was split into two detachments; the 4th Construction Detachment, consisting of the Battalion's Companies A and B, was assigned to Upolu, and the 5th Construction Detachment, comprising Companies C and D, was assigned to Wallis.

The battalion, comprising the two detachments, sailed from Norfolk on April 9, 1942, as part of the convoy destined for the Samoan bases. The convoy arrived at Tutuila on May 2, and the 4th Detachment departed a few days later for Upolu, anchoring in Apia Harbor on that island on May 9. The Wallis detachment, however, was kept at Pago Pago, in Tutuila, for about three weeks while diplomatic negotiations were completed to arrange for their operations on the French island to the west. They arrived at Wallis on May 27.

On Upolu, survey and engineering parties were dispatched immediately to the site of the proposed landplane airfield, 14 miles west of Apia, and in a


Map: South Pacific Islands
South Pacific Islands

short while the necessary grading work was well under way. Small detachments of construction personnel were set to erecting the necessary camp facilities and putting into operation the automotive and refrigeration equipment.

The Wallis detachment, after the delay at Tutuila, got a later start than did their battalion mates on Upolu on the facilities they were to construct. Here too, however, the survey parties began immediately to stake out the airfield, while special detachments erected tentage and temporary messing facilities.

Reinforcing the Fiji Islands. -- Shortly after the war broke out in Europe in 1939, responsibility for the defense of the Fiji Islands, a British Crown Colony, was accepted by New Zealand. As long as the scene of the war was confined principally to European battlefronts the protection of the islands was a relatively light burden, but when the world conflict was extended to the Pacific, the Fiji suddenly became of great strategic importance as a support point on the long south Pacific shipping route. On May 13, 1942, the United States issued a "Joint Army and Navy Plan for the Relief of New Zealand in the Fiji Islands," calling for the replacement of 10,000 New Zealand troops then in the islands with a U.S. Army division.

The joint plan viewed the Fijis as an area to be used as an advance air and naval base and as an air-staging area, and called for an expansion of the existing base facilities on Viti Levu. Of the Navy portion of the plan, the principal new construction item called for was an 80,500-barrel tank farm to be erected near Nandi, on the island's west coast.

The 3rd Construction Battalion had just been commissioned at Camp Allen. Half of it, Companies C and D and a part of the headquarters company, was formed into a detachment and assigned to the Navy construction program in the Fijis. The detachment embarked in June.

Upon their arrival at Viti Levu the detachment was split up again, one company going to Nandi, where the tank farm was to be built, and the other to Suva, the island's principal port.

A Main South Pacific Base at Noumea. -- In the meanwhile, the other half of the 3rd Battalion had also been given South Pacific assignments. Company A was sent to Borabora to reinforce the 1st Construction Detachment, the BOBCATs. Company B was given the task of building another tank farm at Noumea, at the southern end of New Caledonia.

New Caledonia was a French colony. It had committed its loyalties to the Free French organization in September 1940, shortly after France had fallen to the German forces, and for some time prior to the entry of the United States into the war, an Australian garrison had been stationed there. The colony marked the end of the island-protected portion of the Australian shipping lane; from New Caledonia westward to Australia there was but the open Coral Sea.

The harbor at Noumea was extensive and well protected, but during the early months of the war it had been considered a bit too far forward for major naval-base development. Until the early summer of 1942, Auckland had been preferred as the site of the principal base facilities for our naval forces in the South Pacific, and a considerable amount of construction had been undertaken there in cooperation with the New Zealand government. The first two CUBs to be sent to the Pacific left the States with Auckland as their destination, but favorable developments in the war situation led to the decision while the shipments were enroute that the advance-base equipment they included should be erected farther north. Accordingly, the CUBs were diverted from their earlier destination; part of CUB 1, including the construction company from the 3rd Battalion, arrived at Noumea on June 26. It had been the Company's mission to erect a tank farm, but shortly after their arrival the project was cancelled.

During the months that followed, emphasis shifted from Auckland to Noumea as the location of Navy's principal fleet base in the South Pacific. On November 8, 1942, South Pacific headquarters was established there. Additional construction battalions were assigned to the area during the latter months of the year, and development proceeded rapidly until Noumea became the most important of the South Pacific installations.

Development of Espiritu Santo. -- While the detachment of the 1st Battalion was building the air strip on Efate the Japs were engaged in constructing a field of their own on Guadalcanal. It was a construction race, and the Seabees won. Bombers took off from Efate within a month of the start of construction to harass the Japanese builders. But it was clear that the possession of Guadalcanal


would have to be disputed with the enemy and Efate was not quite close enough to provide effective fighter support for our assault forces in the impending action. Another field, farther north, would have to be established.

After a reconnaissance had been made of the islands lying to the north of Efate, extending as far as the Santa Cruz islands, choice for the new airfield site fell upon Espiritu Santo, the northernmost island of the New Hebrides, 400 miles closer to the enemy's position. On July 8 a small group of Seabees from the 1st Battalion detachment on Efate landed on Espiritu Santo and began work on the new field. They were accompanied by an infantry company of the U.S. Army who performed the unskilled work involved in the construction operations. Within twenty days the new field was in operation and offensive action against the japs in the Solomons was stepped up in intensity. On August 7, the Marines made their landings on Guadalcanal and Tulagi.

The subsequent development of Espiritu Santo as an air base was rapid and extensive. A few days after the Guadalcanal landings, the 7th Battalion arrived on Santo and began building more extensive air facilities. Army Air Forces and Marine Corps personnel on the island increased rapidly until Santo became a major South Pacific base for the support of air activities throughout the year-long campaign for possession of the Solomons.


On January 8, 1942, Admiral King, Admiral Stark, and General Marshall signed a joint basic Army and Navy plan for the occupation and defense of Borabora. It called for the establishment by the Navy of a fueling base which would be defended by the Army. The code name and short title for the base was BOBCAT. The importance of establishing and holding such a base to facilitate the use of United States shipping routes from the United States and Panama to Australia and New Zealand was obvious. An advance-base expedition to carry out the mission was provided for, including naval construction personnel. According to the plan, the naval personnel were to be withdrawn upon completion of the base. January 25 was designated as the date when the convoy was to leave the East Coast.

Training of the men who formed the construction force for Borabora was cut to a minimum, and a detachment of 250 men and 8 CEC officers was quickly organized. It included 99 men who had been trained as an administrative headquarters company to function with advance-base construction workers in Iceland, 138 seamen from the boot camp at newport, R.I., 13 petty officers, mostly gunners' mates, and commissary personnel.

The Army personnel consisted of 4,200 men and 176 officers.

Construction and aviation personnel embarked at Quonset, R.I., their transport stopping at Norfolk to pick up nets and guns. At Charleston, S.C., the convoy assembled for redistribution of personnel and loading operations. It consisted of two cruisers, two destroyers, two transports carrying 2,200 troops each, four cargo vessels, and one tanker. (The Seabees' first job was to correct a 12-degree list on one of the transports, by installing concrete ballast.) On January 27 the convoy sailed from Charleston. They arrived at Borabora February 17, 1942.

Borabora, in the Leeward group of the French-owned Society Islands, is 140 miles northwest of Tahiti, the center of government. The island is small, about 41/2 miles long and 4 miles wide. A steep barrier reef, a mile or two offshore, almost completely encircles it; the natural passageway through the reef is curved, adding protection to the harbor.

Vaitape, on Teavanui Bay, is the principal town. When the advance-base expedition arrived, the population numbered about 1400, with less than half a dozen permanent white residents.

Negotiations with the French. -- Negotiations for the use of Borabora by the United States forces were conducted with Monsieur Charles Passard, Administrator of Borabora, but were subject to ratification by Lt. Col. G. Orselli, Governor of the Society Islands, whose headquarters were at Tahiti. Questions arose, regarding arrangements for acquisition of leases, employment of native workers, defense of other islands in the Society group, and other matters. The agreement between the Free French government and the United States for the use, administration, and operation of the proposed naval base on Borabora was signed by Lt. Col. Orselli and Rear Admiral John F. Shafroth at a conference on February 23, 1942 on board USS Trenton. Under the agreement the United States


Map: Borabora
Borabora (Society Islands)


recognized Free French sovereignty. It was agreed that title to the property on which the naval base was established would remain with the Free French government; and all permanent installations, such as buildings and waterfront facilities, were to become the property of the Free French government upon expiration of the agreement.

By October 24, 1942, leases had been consummated for all privately owned property occupied by American installations. The American forces occupied 169 parcels of land, owned by 115 individuals, who received a token payment of $1,000 per annum for each lease. All repairs, alterations, and additions, however, had to be made with the consent of the owner.

Upon arrival of the expedition, unloading commenced at once, but six weeks were required for the operation. Bridgeheads to the beach had to be established, as there were only two small coral piers, at Vaitape and at Fanui, available, and these would not support heavy loads.

Moreover, there was only one single-lane road, with a number of small bridges. The heavy Army trucks soon broke down the small bridges and culverts and tore up the roadbed. Road work had to be undertaken at once, but without the proper equipment for there was no road-building machinery available and only one small rock crusher. A large portion of the detachment's continued effort was expended in attempts to improve and maintain in passable condition the roads connecting the installations.

Pallikula Bay Pontoon Wharf, Espiritu Santo
Pallikula Bay Pontoon Wharf, Espiritu Santo
USS Tangier unloading supplies


Aviation Supply Annex, Espiritu Santo, Under Construction
Aviation Supply Annex, Espiritu Santo, Under Construction

Unloading cargo from the ships was the detachment's first job, a difficult one owing to improper loading and a lack of landing facilities. No weight-handling equipment was available, and it took three weeks to locate and unload the first crane. Pontoon barges could not be assembled until the tie rods and accessories needed had been uncovered from beneath other cargo. Rain and mud added to the difficulties. Large quantities of construction materials, such as cement, tools, heavy pipe, and special fittings, were scattered along a 2-mile beach.

Eventually, causeways were built out to deep water and a marginal pier, large enough to permit discharging cargo from two hatches, was constructed.

In the course of 18 months, the BOBCATs unloaded 60,000 tons of cargo.

Reconnaissance of the island disclosed that much of the information about local conditions used by the base planners, such as character of terrain and availability of water supply, was deficient and erroneous. The water supply the BOBCATs expected to find was non-existent, and as the dry season was approaching, rapid steps had to be taken to insure an adequate supply of water. Within two weeks after the landings, construction of a water system was initiated by building dams on the main streams. At the end of two months, four dams had been built and a distribution system, comprising 13 miles of 4-inch pipe, supplied the camps scattered along the perimeter of the island.

Work on the defense batteries was also slow, but by the middle of March, construction on this major project was well under way. Eight 7-inch guns had to be mounted on skids for hauls 1,000 to 2,000 feet up the side of 45-degree slopes. Besides the gun emplacements, eight magazines, four battery command posts, and one harbor-defense command post were built.

By the time the detachment was released from unloading duties, the personnel assigned to the air station had installed temporary facilities sufficient to permit operation of planes. On April 11, the BOBCATs took over completion of the project and began work on a concrete seaplane ramp, a compass-calibration rose, permanent gasoline-storage facilities, and the erection of huts for shops and personnel. Ten 5,000-gallon tanks were buried in the mountainside just behind the camp and connected by underground feed lines with the gasoline pits near the ramp. A hangar for VOS aircraft was constructed from a 40-by-100-foot quonset-hut


Pontoon Pier at the Seaplane Base, Noumea
Pontoon Pier at the Seaplane Base, Noumea

storage building by raising the entire building 21/2 feet above the ground and leaving one side open. There was sufficient depth of water and length of runways within the lagoon to permit the take-off of any type of plane in any direction. The base could accommodate one patrol squadron of 15 planes. PBY's were the heaviest planes that could be handled over the ramp. Concealment of both ramp and aircraft at the naval air station was fairly effective due to the heavy growth of coconut palms.

Thus, construction of the fuel-oil depot, the major facility of BOBCAT, was greatly delayed by the many demands upon the extremely limited number of skilled men and the amount of construction equipment available. Rough terrain further complicated the building. Areas had to be blasted out of solid rock, and the soil encountered with the rock was a clay which was difficult to handle when wet.

The tanks were erected by fashioning a guy derrick from two tubular-steel radio masts. By setting up the derricks at the tank center, the sides were hoisted into place and bolted together in a continuous circle, at the rate of 21/2 to 3 days per tank. Army personnel, numbering about 725, worked with the detachment seven days a week on three shifts to complete the construction of the first eight tanks by June 9 so that the first tanker to arrive could be promptly emptied. On the day of completion, sea-loading connections were made and pumping to the tanks was begun while some of the bolts were still being tightened. The completed fuel depot consisted of twenty 10,000-barrel storage tanks, two 10,000-barrel diesel-oil storage tanks, and five 1,000-barrel aviation-gasoline storage tanks.


Soon French, American, New Zealand, and Australian ships began to fuel at Borabora on the average of one or two ships per week. Since the docking facilities were poor, the ships had to pull up to one of the two cruiser moorings, anchor, and take on the fuel hose there. Nevertheless, by mid-sumer of 1942, Borabora became a filling station for ships going to the Southwest Pacific. The battle-damaged cruiser Boise stopped for fuel and water on its way back to the States.

In July 1942, the detachment was reinforced by 100 men from Company A of the 3rd Construction Battalion.

The Army planned to ship fighters to the island, assemble them, and fly them from one island to another on the way to the front. For this reason, in October 1942, construction of an air depot was proposed; the Army was to furnish the necessary equipment and materials and the Navy was to provide the construction personnel. Work was started on December 16, 1942, on a 24-hour day, 7-day-week schedule, on the reef islet of Motu Mute. Construction of an asphalt-paved 6,000-by-400-foot runway with 100-foot shoulders for bombers and a 3,000-by-150-foot airstrip for fighters was completed in seven weeks, together with installation of radio direction devices and permanent camp facilities for Army flying and operating personnel. By April5, 1943, all authorized work on the airfield and depot had been completed and Seabee personnel moved back to the fuel-depot construction work. Because of the rapid progress of the war, mail and transport planes made only occasional use of the strip.

The detachment kept an organized crew available for the repair of convoys of the recently commissioned LST's, LCT's, YMS's, and subchasers which passed through Borabora on their way to the Southwest Pacific. The BOBCATs repaired refrigerating plants, diesel engines, electrical wirings, and occasionally performed a major overhaul job.

Camouflage activities began early. Protective concealment painting was applied to the tanks, and netting was used to hide their circular outlines. Native labor was employed in planting such trees,

Luganville Field, Espiritu Santo
Luganville Field, Espiritu Santo


shrubs, grass, and local vegetables as could be used to the best advantage for camouflage.

Native labor was seldom used for other purposes, partly because the island had just enough manpower to take care of its own needs. Moreover, when it was used, native labor was found to be unskilled and required much supervision. Money was of little value to them.

The only native materials used were coconut logs and coral.

In March 1943, the detachment's commanding officer reported that the original scope of work at the naval fuel depot had been completed and recommended that a CBMU be ordered to Borabora to maintain it. The war had moved ahead so rapidly that the island's other facilities were no longer needed. Two months later, orders were received from headquarters to dismantle and crate half the huts and equipment for shipment. Army personnel moved westward. By June 30, 1943, surplus material and equipment were shipped to Noumea. The tank farm remained intact.

On September 9, 1943, the detachment embarked for New Caledonia to join the 3rd Construction Battalion. Their orders were changed, however, and they went, instead, to Samoa to join the 22nd Marine Regiment for intensive combat training and minor construction work on camps. A detachment of 31 men and 2 officers remained at Borabora to maintain the base until the arrival of the CBMU.

CBMU 519 arrived at Borabora in the fall of 1943 and began construction of a fuel wharf with a network of fuel and water lines to service LCT's. The new facility shortened by one-tenth the time previously required for fueling these craft, and permitted them time to arrive at forward zones several days earlier.

By April 1, 1944, the base had been placed in reduced status, its mission being to provide a fueling and minor repair depot for small diesel-driven craft enroute to the South Pacific. The airfield was also maintained as an emergency landing field.

The base at Borabora was disestablished June 2, 1946.


The base at Efate was established to serve primarily as an outpost for supporting both New Caledonia, 300 miles to the southwest, and the Fijis, 600 miles to the east, and subsequently to serve as a minor air and naval base for offensive operations. The U.S. Army had moved into New Caledonia, and the Japanese were moving into Guadalcanal, 700 miles to the north. The U.S. forces went into the New Hebrides to open up airfields from which they could start bombing the Japanese on Guadalcanal and prevent them from completing the airfield which later became Henderson Field.

Efate, the most important island of the New Hebrides group, is 25 miles long from east to west, and 18 miles wide. The northern half of the island is mountainous but the southern part is almost flat. There are two harbors, Havannah, in the northwest, and Vila, in the southeast, both of which afford anchorage for large vessels. The basic formation of the island consists of a laval substratum covered by coral and a shallow top soil of rich humus. The vegetation is tropical and a large part of the island is covered by dense jungle. On the island are several mountain ranges which rise to heights of 2,300 feet. The island is well watered by brooks, streams, and small rivers and, even in the dry season, water satisfactory after chlorination may be obtained from the larger streams. Sufficient distillation equipment had to be provided to supply drinking-water for the U.S. forces.

Politically, the island at the opening of the Pacific war was a condominium of Great Britain and Free France.

Prior to the United States entry into the war, there were a few Australian troops and a seaplane base at Efate. The harbor at Vila contained several small piers in water with a maximum depth of six feet at low tide. There were no facilities at Havannah Harbor.

The charts showed ample space for the construction of a landing field of any size. Seaplane operations could be carried out in Havannah Harbor, but the water was reported as rough in Meli Bay. Vila Harbor would not support patrol-plane operations, but small seaplanes could be used. There was no road between Vila and Havannah and all traffic between them was by water.

Admiral King distributed the joint basic plan for the occupation and defense of Efate on March 20, 1942. Under its terms the Army was to defend Efate and support the defense of ships and positions. The Navy's task was (1) to construct, administer,


Map: Efate Island
Efate Island


Naval Air Transport Service Facilities, Espiritu Santo
Naval Air Transport Service Facilities, Espiritu Santo

and operate a naval advance base, seaplane base, and harbor facilities; (2) to support Army forces in the defense of the island; (3) to construct an airfield and at least two outlying dispersal fields; (4) to provide facilities for the operation of VPB-type seaplanes. Navy personnel was to consist of 80 officers and 1184 enlisted men; Army forces were to total 4811.

The plan called for an escorted convoy to be dispatched from the West Coast about April 12, 1942 to transport all Army and Navy personnel and the supplies necessary for sixty days. The defenses, including the airdrome, were to be constructed as rapidly as possible, to be followed by the erection of fuel and housing facilities. Seabees were to be withdrawn, except for a maintenance crew, after the base had been completed.

About March 25, 1942, the Army sent about 500 men to Efate from Noumea, and the 4th Defense Battalion, 45th Marines, arrived about April 8.

The 3rd Naval Construction Detachment, made up of Companies C and D of the 1st Construction Battalion, 506 officers and men, sailed from the United States on April 12, 1942, and landed at Efate on May 4.

The war at that time was a race between the Japanese and the Americans. Our forces had to get their planes into the air to stop the Japanese construction of an airfield on Guadalcanal, from which they would be able to attack the all-important Allied supply lines across the South Pacific. Therefore, the first and major job at Efate was the construction of an airfield.

When the Seabees arrived they found that the Marines had already cleared and surfaced with coral about 2,000 feet of a 200-foot-wide landplane runway near Vila. The responsibility for construction was immediately assumed by the Seabees, who


cleared, grubbed, and graded a 6,000-foot runway, 350 feet wide. Finger coral was used as surfacing material.

Available construction equipment was very meager. Even after the Seabees pooled resources with the Army and Marines, the total equipment included one crane, ten trucks, two motor patrol graders, one pull-type grader, seven bulldozers of various sizes, and one scarifier. To keep the equipment from breaking down was a continuous job. Seabees, soldiers, Marines, and natives worked steadily under difficult conditions, and on May 8, the first planes landed on the field.

At the same time, members of the detachment rushed construction of a seaplane base at Havannah Harbor to serve a squadron of PBY's. The Seabees built two ramps of coral, surfaced with wire mesh, and provided buoys for mooring 14 seaplanes. By June 1, the PBY's began operating from the new base, bombing the Japanese positions on Guadalcanal. In addition to the ramps and moorings, two small piers, two nose hangars, one 40-by-100-foot seaplane workshop, four 5,000-gallon underground gasoline tanks, and housing facilities for 25 officers and 210 men in quonset huts were constructed.

Another project, a 600-bed base hospital, of quonset huts, was also begun. A site at Bellevue plantation, about three miles inland from Vila, was chosen because of its favorable location from the standpoint of drainage, safety, and cover, freedom from malaria causes, and accessibility to other island facilities. Concrete piers were used for support. Mess halls were H-shaped, with a serving hut in the center. Vertical panels in several huts were omitted for ventilation. The hospital began to operate on September 15, when wounded Marines were brought in from Guadalcanal.

Two other airfields were soon under construction. Near Quoin Hill, on the northeastern corner

Aviation Overhaul Area, Espiritu Santo
Aviation Overhaul Area, Espiritu Santo


of the island a site was chosen for a bomber strip in an area of hot springs. The work on the 6,000-by-200-foot runway was begun early in October and was completed by the middle of January 1943. A 3,000-by-180-foot fighter strip was also built at Port Havannah in the early fall of 1942. Fighters were able to land 26 days after construction began, and in another 15 days the field was completed. Two nose hangars were also erected.

In addition to the major facilities constructed, the Seabees built gun emplacement, quonset hut camps for naval personnel, structural-steel storage buildings, pontoon piers, and barges. The main naval camp was located at Malapoa Point, where, by February 1943, fifty quonset huts housed from 400 to 500 men. New roads were built, and some of the original roads, made impassable by heavy traffic, were resurfaced.

At Malapoa Point seven 1,000-barrel bolted-steel tanks for aviation gasoline were completed, as well as two 10,000-gallon diesel storage tanks. At Vila airfield, four 5,000-gallon buried welded-steel tanks for aviation gasoline were provided. Eight similar tanks were built at Havannah Harbor.

In March 1943, the Seabees on Efate were joined by the other half of the 1st Battalion, Companies A and B, which had been working on Tongatabu since the preceding May.

Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit 511, with 3 officers and 196 men, arrived at Efate on July 7, 1943, and was assigned work at Vila and havannah Harbor. Men of the 1st battalion, relieved of the maintenance work, were assigned to additional construction at Quoin Hill for the Marines, the improvement of the camp at Quoin Hill, and the extension of the hospital to a 1500-bed capacity.

In January 1944, CBMU 550 left the States bound for Efate, to handle maintenance work in connection with the operation of the three airfields, the roads, and camp facilities.

By the early part of 1944, the principal authorized construction had been completed. The mission of the base was reduced to an emergency landing field and minor fleet operating and communications setup. The base hospital was dismantled and crated for shipment. Other facilities were prepared to be moved forward.

At this time, the medical officer reported that a large number of the men showed signs of operational fatigue and lowered physical stamina caused by long continuous duty in the area. Accordingly, the 1st Construction Battalion was returned to the replacement and recuperation center, Camp Parks, Calif., for reforming and further assignment.

CBMU 511 was moved to Tongatabu, and CBMU 550 remained at Efate.

The base was disestablished and abandoned in February 1946.


Tongatabu was developed to serve as a fuel base and protected anchorage in the line of communications between the United States and the Anzac area, as an alternate staging point on the South Pacific air ferry route, and as a supporting point for aircraft operating in the Samoan-Fiji area.

Tongatabu, the principal island in the Tonga group, is about 18 miles long by 9 miles wide, and is surrounded by fringing reefs. It is a comparatively level island, its northern shore indented by a large shallow lagoon, Nukualofa Harbor on the north coast, with a depth from six to eighteen fathoms, offers a sheltered anchorage suitable for a large fleet.

Companies A and B, 517 men and 12 officers, of the 1st Construction Battalion, which sailed from Norfolk on April 10, 1942, arrived at Tongatabu on May 9.

The Seabees' first, and major, job at Tongatabu was to provide a fuel depot of twenty-two 10,000-barrel tanks for fuel and diesel oil and twenty-six 500-barrel tanks for aviation gasoline. The basic plan also called for the Navy to construct an airfield suitable for heavy bombardment operations. However, the Army, on April 25, had entered into a contract with with a civilian construction firm to develop the Fuaamotu airfield, 7 miles southeast of Nukualofa, the principal city on the island. As the Seabees were inadequately equipped to undertake the airfield construction along with other installations planned, it was agreed that the Army should proceed with the work under contract. However, the Seabees later assisted the contractor in the completion of the field for the Army. Three turf-covered runways, satisfactory in dry weather but requiring strengthening to support heavier aircraft in the wet season, already existed at Fuaamotu. These strips were lengthened and surfaced with coral and marston mat, and other facilities a the field were improved

In addition, the Seabees constructed a seaplane base, including a coral ramp, three mooring buoys,


Map; Tongatabu Island
Tongatabu Island


Ship Repair Unit Shop Area, Noumea
Ship Repair Unit Shop Area, Noumea

a nose hangar, and storage and camp facilities. They also built an Army hospital, comprising 250 buildings, and warehouses, camps, and gun emplacements for both Army and Navy.

Progress on the projects at Tongatabu was delayed by inadequacies in construction equipment, improper loading of the ships, and uncertainties as to the responsible agency for the determination and performance of certain work projects.

One important job performed by the Seabees at Tongatabu was the placing of a concrete bulkhead in the aircraft carrier Saratoga when she came in with a large hole in her side. The temporary bulkhead served until the ship reached Pearl Harbor, where more permanent repairs were made.

Natives were used extensively for ship unloading, general labor, and carpentry. The Tongans proved to be rather good workmen.

The main part of the construction at Tongatabu was completed in about nine months, and the base was one of the first to be folded up. The facilities installed were never used to capacity except for the warehouses, for the strategic situation changed materially after the island was occupied. If the Battle of the Coral Sea had turned out unfavorably for the Allies, Tongatabu would have been an important supply base for the combat areas. As it was, the mission of the base was reduced to that of a reserve fuel supply base and a service point for the Naval Air Transport Service planes.

In November 1942, orders came to stop building and start tearing down. CBMU 511 was sent to Tongatabu from Efate to accomplish the dismantling.

The Army hospital and the aviation facilities were left for the New Zealand forces, which took over when the Americans moved out. The tank farm was dismantled and moved to Wallis Island. A large number of the huts, magazines, and warehouses were torn down.

On February 23, 1943, the Seabees left for Efate to join the other half of the 1st Construction Battalion.


Three of the Samoan group of islands were developed as air and naval bases. Together with bases


in the Fijis and New Caledonia, the new Samoan bases on Tutuila, Upolu, and Wallis islands provided strong, mutually supporting defense positions.

Tutuila Island, which had been owned by the United States since 1899, is about 17 miles long and 5 miles wide. Pago Pago, the largest village and the seat of the government, is the best harbor in the South Seas. It is formed by the crater of an immense volcano, the south side of which is broken and open to the sea. Good anchorage is found anywhere in the inner harbor in 6 to 25 fathoms. The island is mountainous and heavily wooded.

Upolu Island, mandated to New Zealand, lies 36 miles west-northwest of Tutuila and is about 40 miles long and 13 miles wide. It is of volcanic

Naval Hospital No. 3, Espiritu Santo
Naval Hospital No. 3, Espiritu Santo


Bombproof Operations Building, Tafuna Airfield, Tutuila
Bombproof Operations Building, Tafuna Airfield, Tutuila

origin, and mountainous, with rich and fertile valleys. Coral reefs, intersected by channel, from convenient harbors.

The Wallis Islands, a French Protectorate, consist of Uea Island, 7 miles long and 4 miles wide, and several smaller islands surrounded by a barrier reef through which there are three channels. Mata Utu Harbor affords anchorage of 10 to 15 fathoms.

Before the war, the Navy installations in Samoa consisted of a refueling station and a communication center at Pago Pago harbor. The station was a minor establishment until construction under contract was begun in 1940 as part of the national defense program. At that time, the station comprised a 300-foot wharf, a radio station, housing facilities, office space for four desks, shops, and a garage (all poorly equipped), a small power plant, water-supply system, and several miles of narrow, crooked roads.

The PNAB contract, dated July 1, 1940, authorized the construction of fuel-oil, diesel-oil, and gasoline storage facilities at Samoa at an estimated cost of $30,000. By supplementary agreements and change orders, 98 additional projects at an estimated cost of $10,751,750 were authorized. These projects included expansion of station facilities, an airfield, hangars and facilities, dispensary, war buildings and accessories, net depot, radio station, gun emplacements, shelters, magazines, and facilities for defense forces.

On December 7,1 941, the military governor of Samoa assumed responsibility for all construction operations. Under his direction, the original contract construction plans were altered to meet the wartime emergency. The contractor ceased work on the going projects and started work on the defense of the Pago Pago Harbor vicinity, mainly the construction of bombproof shelters. Moreover, the construction concept for the base was modified. For example, large buildings were considered undesirable, and designs were revised to provide for dispersal.

Marine forces arrived at Tutuila in January 1942, under a brigadier general who was empowered by the President to assume military governorship and command of the defense forces. He


Map: Tutuila, Samoan Islands
Tutuila (Samoan Islands)


took charge of all construction operations and concentrated attention on the airfield, where a runway was to be completed at the earliest possible moment. Two 10-hour shifts worked daily, and all usable equipment was put on the job. By virtue of concentration, a 2,500-by-250-foot section was ready for operation by April 6, 1942, and the runway was completed in late June.

As the airfield neared completion, work on other facilities was accelerated. Construction of a fuel wharf, an additional power plant, a 100-foot extension of the old naval station wharf, and additions to the net facilities on Goat Island and to storehouses at the naval station were undertaken. In April 1942, facilities for the construction of the 300-bed Naval Mobile Hospital 3 arrived, and the naval personnel attached to the hospital started construction of the unit.

Construction was performed largely by native labor and supervised by imported white superintendents. The maximum feasible number of native laborers was employed and a school was built to train them in welding, carpentry, and other crafts. Work progressed at an unsatisfactory rate, however, due to heavy rainfall, shortcomings of native labor, unavailability of equipment, and frequent breakdowns caused by inexperienced natives, and slow delivery of materials and equipment.

The 7th Construction Battalion reported at Tutuila in July 1942, and prepared to take over from the contractor. The contractor's forces were loaded aboard ship ready to sail for home when the battalion received orders to embark immediately for the New Hebrides. One hundred of the contractor's men volunteered to remain until relieved by another construction battalion. Supplemented by native labor, as before, this group continued to work until the 11th Battalion arrived late in August 1942, and assumed all responsibility for construction. With the exception of two men who remained for work in connection with material procurement and with the native labor pay-roll until September 1943, all contractor personnel then returned to the States.

The major project of the 11th Battalion at Tutuila was the construction of a destroyer repair base. More than 800,000 cubic yards of earth and coral fill were required, for the site of the proposed facility was rugged country and had little level area. Fill was obtained from two rock quarries opened on opposite sides of the island. Quarters for officers and enlisted men, mess hall, water-supply facilities, fourteen 50-by-200-foot frame warehouses, three 20-by-40-foot timber piers, and a 600-foot timber bulkhead were installed. The job, begun in September 1942, was completed the following June.

The Marine airfield, with two coral-surface runways -- one 6,000 feet by 500 feet; the other 3,000 feet by 500 feet -- was completed at Tafuna, together with industrial facilities, warehouses, a 6,000-kw power plant, a 50-bed dispensary, quarters, and mess halls. The Seabees also constructed Leone Airfield, a 6,000-by-400-foot bomber strip, surfaced with volcanic cinders, and necessary supportive facilities.

Mobile Hospital 3 at Mapasaga, which had been started by the hospital personnel assisted by Marines, was completed, with expanded facilities, by the Seabees.

Other work accomplished by the 11th Battalion involved the construction of fuel storage tanks, a pump system and fuel pier, a net depot, and development of the island water supply, power plants and services, and the construction and maintenance of roads.

The 5th Construction Detachment, comprising half of the 2nd Battalion, which had been sent to western Samoa, was assigned to Tutuila in April 1943, and helped to complete the construction projects. In May 1943, CBMU 506 arrived to relieve the 11th Battalion, which was moved to New Caledonia on June 18. CBMU 506 took over all the maintenance work, including the operation of power plants, refrigeration installation, a rock quarry and crusher, and a cinder pit. By January 1944, the entire 2nd CB had been united at Tutuila; it was returned to the States on March 7, 1944.

At Upolu, the Navy's task was to construct and operate an air base and the necessary harbor facilities to support it. The first U.S. forces on the island, the 7th Marine Defense Battalion, arrived on April 1, 1942; the 4th Construction Detachment, comprising Companies A and B of the 2nd Construction Battalion, reached Upolu on May 10.

Pier and sea-wall facilities were found to be of small capacity, and cargo unloading was effected by the use of 3-by-7-pontoon barges, Marine tank lighters, and small native scow-type lighters. Native buildings were used temporarily for warehouses and offices and for a dispensary, supplemented by tentage for wards, messing facilities, and quarters.


Map: Upolu (Samoan Islands)
Upolu (Samoan Islands)


Ship Repair Base, Noumea
Ship Repair Base, Noumea
Warehouses are part of the diesel spare parts sub-depot

The topography of Upolu is not so precipitous as that of Tutuila, and there were many areas suitable for airfields. Construction on a landplane runway, 4,000 feet by 200 feet, was begun immediately at Faleolo, a task which necessitated the removal of a number of native dwellings and many coconut palms. The runway was surfaced with crushed and rolled volcanic ash on a lava rock base, and was able to support planes of the heaviest type. The runway was completed by July 1942.

By March 1943 the Seabees had enlarged the runway to 6,000 feet by 350 feet and had provided a taxiway parallel to the field, parking areas for about 58 VF's or VB's, two nose hangars, and a number of quonset huts for shops and housing.

Meantime, in late May 1942, the Seabees began construction nearby of five 30-foot seaplane ramps of rock fill with concrete surfacing. Six mooring buoys, one nose hangar, and the necessary storage and housing facilities were also installed. Two ramps were completed by the end of September.

Twelve quonset huts, two buildings for an operating room and dental office, and seven barracks were constructed for a 108-bed hospital. The Seabees also built a 600-by-20-foot wharf of lave rock surface with concrete, several magazines, and numerous quonset huts for quarters.

CBMU 506 arrived at Upolu on May 20, 1943, to relieve the Seabees. It took over the maintenance of all facilities, also operated the sawmill and constructed carpenter, plumbing and sheet-metal shops. On February 16, 1944, all work was turned over to a detachment of men from CBMU 504 and all personnel of CBMU 506 departed for Tulagi on February 27, 1944.

Wallis Island was occupied by the Free French


forces on May 26, 1942, and on the following day, under an agreement with the French, by U.S. Marines. Companies C and D of the 2nd Construction Battalion assigned to the base construction tasks at Wallis, arrived at Tutuila on April 28, 1942 and were held there for three weeks until the necessary diplomatic arrangements were completed for the Wallis occupation.

While at Tutuila, the Seabees completed the assembly of a 3-by-7 pontoon barge and borrowed a 1500-ton steel barge. These two barges were loaded with construction equipment and materials and towed to Wallis by a Pago Pago station tug.

At Gahi village, Wallis, a causeway about 75 feet long, of log framework filled with volcanic rock and covered with coral sand, was built out over the reef to deep water. Material was easily and rapidly unloaded from the barges to the causeway, and from boats and tank lighters to the beach at high tide. Tentage and temporary messing facilities in native-type shelters were set up near the landing point.

Construction on a field for heavy bombers, one of the major activities of the Seabees at Wallis, was greatly delayed by lack of proper construction equipment. The area selected for the runway was a low plateau, covered with relatively light, low bush. The soil was loose, a brown friable clay of volcanic origin. The runway, 6,000 feet by 250 feet, surfaced with crushed rock, was completed by October 1942. Other facilities added included taxiways, plane revetments, two nose hangars, a machine shop, underground magazines, and one 25,000-gallon aviation-gasoline tank.

Crane Hoisting Concrete Beams for Cribbing at the End of the 60-foot Marine Pier, Upolu
Crane Hoisting Concrete Beams for Cribbing at the End of the 600-foot Marine Pier, Upolu


Fuel Tanks at Noumea
Fuel Tanks at Noumea
Men of the Third Construction Battalion erecting 1000-barrel-gasoline storage tanks

A fighter strip, 5,000 feet by 200 feet, with a coral surface, was also built late in 1942. It was originally planned that a catapult and arresting gear be set up at Wallis for use pending the completion of the airfields. Accordingly, construction began on the catapult near the fighter strip on September 20, 1942, and was completed on October 10, but by that time the field was already in operation. Taxiways, 18 plane revetments, and one nose hangar were installed at the fighter strip.

The lagoon provided ample landing and take-off area in all directions for seaplanes. By October, 1942, the Seabees had finished a 150-by-2,400-foot taxiway and a 70-by-200-foot ramp. Later, concealed parking areas for six VPB's and PBY's, camp facilities, and one 25,000-gallon aviation-gasoline tank were constructed.

The Seabees, using local materials, also built storehouses for dry and refrigerated storage, a 72-bed hospital, some 70 miles of roadway, and the necessary housing facilities.

In May 1942, CBMU 504 reported to Wallis to assume responsibility for maintenance work, and the Wallis detachment of the 2nd Construction Battalion rejoined the rest of the battalion at Tutuila.

At that time plans were underway for the moving of fifteen 50-barrel tanks from Tongatabu to Wallis. In August 1943, the Tongatabu detachment of the 1st Battalion arrived at Wallis from Tongatabu to erect the tanks. Another detachment, made up of six officers and 201 men of the 3rd Battalion, reached Wallis the same month to assist in the tank-farm construction. The erection was completed by January 1944. The Tongatabu detachment thereupon left for Efate, and the detachment from the 3rd Battalion rejoined the rest of their battalion at Noumea.

The roll-up at Samoa was the first extensive activity of this nature in the South Pacific. By order of the South Pacific Commander on February 19, 1944, dismantling began throughout the Samoan group.

Salvage at Upolu and Wallis was accomplished


Map: Wallis (Uea) Island
Wallis (Uea) Island (Samoan Islands)


rapidly by CBMU 504. By July 1944, the salvage operations at Wallis were complete, and the detachment that had been working there joined the rest of the unit at Upolu; the entire unit moved to Tutuila on November 25, 1944. All material was transshipped to Tutuila to await shipment to forward areas.

At Tutuila, CBMU 506 had virtually completed salvage of valuable materials by August 1944. Most of the materials from the Samoan area were sent to Noumea for segregation, improvement of crating where necessary, and determination of future use.

By January 1945, only a token Navy garrison remained in Samoa, and the mission of the base was reduced to emergency seaplane operations, weather reporting, and communications.


New Zealand accepted responsibility for the defense of the Fiji Islands, a British Crown Colony, soon after the beginning of the war with Germany and Italy. On May 13, 1942, the United States prepared to take over the defense of Fiji under the joint Army and Navy plan for the relief of New Zealand in the Fiji Islands. At that time, New Zealand had some 10,000 troops stationed on Viti Levu, the largest of the 250 islands which make up the Fiji group. This group was an important link in the line of communications to the south and southwest Pacific areas.

The population, composed mostly of native Fijians and Indians, with a few whites and other races, totals 220,000. Each island is surrounded by a barrier reef, forming a natural breakwater. Fiji has probably the most healthful tropical climate in the world.

Suva, the capital and largest port, is located on Viti Levu. The island, about 90 miles long and 50 miles wide, is of volcanic origin, and, in general, the land rises abruptly from the coast to heights of as much as 4,500 feet. There are several good rivers, the largest of which is the Rewa, which empties into the ocean near the island's southeast corner.

Suva, on the southeast coast, had long been a port-of-call for merchantmen and had many service facilities before the war. Nandi, on the west coast, in a sparsely populated sector, but with a fine large harbor, was chosen as the major location for the United States naval activities. The base was to provide secure anchorage for a large task force, training airfields, and a staging point for aircraft of all types, fuel storage, and hospital facilities for forward areas.

A number of usable facilities already existed when the U.S. forces assumed responsibility for the defense of Fiji. At Nandi Airfield, there were two runways, both 7,000 feet by 200 feet -- one with a clay-gravel surface; the other having 5,000 feet of its runway paved with concrete. There were also hurricane pits, revetments, and storage capacity in two underground tanks for 98,000 gallons of aviation gasoline. Narewa Airfield, with two 5,000-by-200-foot stabilized clay-gravel runways, was made an Army base. There was also a turf-surfaced runway, 3600 feet by 600 feet, at Nausori, 10 miles northeast of Suva.

Suva Harbor was the principal seaplane area, with 11/2 miles of water for landing and take-off, eight mooring buoys, extensive repair facilities, and underground storage for aviation gasoline. Lauthala Bay seaplane base, near Suva, was being developed as the principal base for the Royal New Zealand Air Force when the Americans arrived. There was excellent anchorage in the inner harbor at Suva, and three large vessels could be accommodated at a timber wharf. Public and private barges were also available.

Companies C and D of the 3rd Construction Battalion left the United States in June 1942, for Fiji. Upon arrival, Company C was located in the Lautoka area near Nandi, and Company D at Suva. The main project of the detachment, according to the joint plan, was the construction of a tank farm to consist of storage of 50,000 barrels of fuel oil, 20,000 barrels of diesel oil, 10,000 barrels of gasoline, and 500 barrels of lubricating oil. Until the tank-farm material arrived in late October, however, the Seabees were engaged in other construction activities.

After establishing camp, Company C built a jetty, 60 feet long and 300 feet wide, at Lautoka, and a small-boat landing at Vunda Point in Nandi Bay. They also proceeded with the surveying, planning, and drafting work for the tank farm and erected a 10,000-barrel gasoline tank, including camouflage, at Sambeto. For the Saweni Beach seaplane base, 10 miles north of Nandi Airfield, where initial facilities had been provided by the personnel of a naval patrol squadron, the company constructed a seaplane ramp and apron, 50


Map: Viti Levu Island (Fiji Islands)
Viti Levu Island (Fiji Islands)


Oxygen Plant in the Industrial Area, Espiritu Santo
Oxygen Plant in the Industrial Area, Espiritu Santo
Note 5500-gallon liquid oxygen storage tank (right) and empty oxygen cylinders on platform

feet by 300 feet, a small-boat landing, and camp facilities for 200 men.

Company D, stationed at Suva, carried out extensive work on Luathala Bay seaplane base, including the construction of a dispensary, guard house, roads, and an underground tunnel for a power house. This company also made repairs on the destroyers O'Brien and Breese, and engaged in the construction of the 18th General Hospital for the Army.

Upon arrival of the tank-farm material, all efforts were concentrated upon its erection. The personnel at Suva were transferred to the Lautoka area and stationed at the camp already occupied by Company C. The site chosen for the tank farm lay in a small protected depression between two ridges and open to the shore. The nearest wharf was a small pier at Lautoka, accessible to seagoing vessels of light draft. A narrow-gauge railway ran along the beach near the tank farm, connecting the pier with the harbor at Nandi. By April 1943, the tank farm was completed.

The Seabees also provided tents with wood decks for 500 men, galleys, messhalls, a four-building hospital unit, refrigeration and warehouse facilities, and necessary utilities.

At Fleet Air Base No. 2 they erected housing, messing, and galley facilities for 250 officers and 1500 men, and shops for aircraft repair and operations.

The 58th Construction Battalion reported at Fiji on May 3, 1943, with the first echelon of CUB2 3. Until the arrival of the 5th (Special) Construction Battalion on May 14 to assume responsibility for all stevedoring activities the personnel of the 58th and of CUB 3 handled all unloading. All vessels were anchored, and lighters were used between ships and a small pier. To facilitate the unloading, pontoon barges were assembled, two 3-by-7 type with propulsion units and one 4-by-7 tow barge. The harbor at Vunda Point had one T-shaped


pier with a head about 75 feet by 300 feet, a loading capacity of some six tons, and 10 feet of water at low tide.

In addition to their own camp, the men of the 58th erected tent camps with all necessary facilities for CUB 3, the aviation unit, and the 6th (Special) Construction Battalion. A standard steel munitions building and quonset huts were constructed for the Port Director. The problem of safe storage of dynamite was quickly solved by the use of three 150-cubic-foot refrigerators set on top of small mounds about four feet high.

The 58th Construction Battalion left Fiji for Guadalcanal on July 23, 1943.

In May 1943, two other Seabee groups had also arrived at Fiji. CBMU 503 reported on May 6 and prepared to take over all activities previously manned by the 3rd Construction Battalion. Company C of the 3rd had been sent to Funafuti in April, and Company D broke camp and joined the other detachment of the battalion stationed at Noumea in June 1943. The 6th (Special) remained in Fiji until November 6, 1943.

CBMU 503 was engaged in maintenance work on the tank farm and other facilities at Vunda Point. In June and July 1943, a detachment of twelve men from the unit assisted the workmen of a local contractor in Suva to construct NATS facilities, including 16 Army-type medical huts used for housing, galley, and mess halls, and two New Zealand-type 48-by-108-foot warehouses.

By August 1944, when CBMU 503 left Fiji, major activities had been abandoned. The facilities at Saweni Beach seaplane base were discontinued and salvaged. Most of the Army airfields were inoperative. NATS operated from the seaplane base at Lauthala Bay.

Naval installations were turned over to the Army on July 1, 1945.


Noumea, at the southern end of the island of New Caledonia, was developed as the main fleet base in the South Pacific, assuming the extensive functions planned originally for Auckland, New Zealand. It served as a staging area for the development of other advance bases, such as Guadalcanal; and on November 8, 1942, became headquarters for the Allied Commander of the South Pacific.

The island of New Caledonia is one of the largest of the Pacific islands. About 250 miles long and 31 miles wide, it has two high parallel ranges of mountains, separated by a central valley, extending through the center of the island. There are numerous rivers, and fresh water is plentiful. The island is almost entirely surrounded by a barrier reef, with a spacious channel, varying in depth from 20 to 50 fathoms, between the shore and the reef.

New Caledonia is a French colony, which has also under its administration several outlying islands -- Isle of Pines, the Loyalty Islands, the Wallis archipelago, Futuna and Alofi, and the Huon Islands. The total population numbers about 55,000. Minerals are plentiful, nickel being of special value.

Noumea, with a population of about 11,000, is the chief French city in the Pacific and the seat of government for New Caledonia. It is the only port on the island, its harbor affording shelter to vessels of any size. Between Noumea and Ile Nou, and island in the harbor, there is a channel three miles long and about one mile wide, providing anchorage in any part, with the advantage of complete security and facility of defense.

New Caledonia joined the Free French organization in September 1940. Prior to the entry of the United States into the war, an Australian garrison was stationed on the island. In March 1942, by agreement with the French, U.S. Army forces under General Patch occupied the island, and most of the Australian garrison was withdrawn. On June 10, 1942, a naval officer took over duties as Captain of the Port. With him were 8 other officers and 143 men whose purpose, in addition to forming an administrative unit, was the installation of underwater defenses.

The development of Noumea proceeded slowly at first, for effort was being concentrated on the construction of facilities at Auckland, 1,000 miles south. However, in July and August 1942, two CUBs, originally intended for Auckland, were diverted en route, one to Espiritu Santo and the other to Noumea. The CUB unloaded at Noumea formed the nucleus of the subsequent base development. At that time, the only project scheduled for Noumea was a tank farm, providing 30,000 barrels of fuel oil and 20,000 barrels of diesel oil. Company B and one-fourth of the headquarters company of the 3rd Construction Battalion arrived at Noumea on June 26, 1942, to erect the


tank farm, but shortly thereafter, the project was cancelled.

Plans for building up Noumea as a main air and naval base were soon put into execution, and the detachment of the 34d Battalion began construction of facilities on Ile Nou. With tents, mess gear, and canteens borrowed from the Army, the Seabees set up camp. No construction equipment or material was available until mid-August, however, so the early projects were accomplished with borrowed equipment. The Army loaned a tug and enough pipe for a 2-inch water line along a shoal from Noumea, and a distribution network on Ile Nou. Later, due to the increase in population, a 4-inch line was run from Noumea, and storage tanks were installed.

The French power cable to the island had been accidentally cut in March, so the Seabees erected a power plant on Ile Nou. A 225-kva generator with a 260-hp diesel engine taken from a Japanese mine at Goro, dismounted and stored in Noumea, was the only power equipment available. The detachment overhauled the machinery, built missing parts, and erected and operated the power plant.

The RAAF had a modest seaplane base at Ile Nou which was taken over by the U.S. Navy to provide fueling and re-arming services for patrol planes and quarters for their personnel. The U.S. Army undertook the construction of a seaplane ramp and apron capable of taking three patrol aircraft. Army personnel completed the excavation and grading, and the paving was laid by the Seabees. By early 1943, the Seabees had constructed 71 pre-fabricated New Zealand-type huts, 180 Dallas huts, seven 40-by-100-foot warehouses, seven quonset hut hangars, and a floating pontoon pier.

In August, the detachment began assembly of pontoon barges, both with and without propulsion units. Most of them were turned over to the Army transportation pool for use in ship unloading.

On December 1, the detachment assumed the operation of a 75-ton crane and its pontoon barge, which they had assembled. It was used to unload PT boats, landing barges, tank lighters, LCT-5's, and P-38's.

Noumea had a large harbor, but servicing facilities were meager. Nickel Dock, 800 feet long with a 24-foot water depth, could take one large vessel. The wharf was equipped with three 7-ton cranes, but it had little storage area. Le Grand Quai, 1400 feet long, with water depth of from 20 to 26 feet, had some 68,500 square feet of space in transshipment sheds, but had no crane.

A shortage of stevedore personnel impeded the unloading of ships during the summer months. All Navy personnel available were used for unloading, and the construction battalions, as they arrived, handled most of their own unloading. When 600 men of the 20th Construction Battalion arrived in Noumea on October 21, 1942, they concentrated their attention on stevedoring activities. Unloading at Noumea in the first half of December 1942 averaged 5,000 tons per day, but was still not sufficient to keep up with the rate at which cargo was arriving, and a serious congestion of merchant shipping in the harbor resulted.

The 19th Battalion, which reported at Noumea on November 11, 1942, started building an advance base construction depot, the first in the forward area, comprising eleven quonset huts, one steel and two timber warehouses, an electric system, and an area for receiving, sorting, and shipping construction equipment and material. The battalion also operated the depot until the arrival late in the year of the base construction depot detachment, which then assumed responsibility for receiving, inventorying, storing, issuing, and transshipping construction material and equipment, maintaining and operating the detachment camp, and operating the Seabee receiving station.

For the 1st Marine base depot, the 19th Battalion constructed two large piers, one 300 feet and one 200 feet long, and twenty frame warehouses having concrete decks. A vehicular bridge, 20 feet wide, was built at the depot to unload vehicles from barges. The battalion also built warehouses for various naval activities, and operated a rock quarry and crushing plant, a silica pit, and a gravel pit, until transferred to Melbourne in March 1943.

On January 1, 1943, the 24th Construction Battalion, which had arrived in December, undertook the construction of a 600-by-72-foot timber pier at the northern end of the Nickel Dock. The Army Engineers had been working on the pier for several weeks, but due to inadequate equipment, lack of materials, and a shortage of skilled personnel, they had completed only a small portion of the approach. To the newly arrived battalion was assigned the completion of the project. The Seabees developed a pile driver by altering a floating crane. About three-fourths of the bolts


Maps: New Caledonia and Noumea
New Caledonia


Mobile Hospital No. 7, Noumea
Mobile Hospital No. 7, Noumea
Beyond Magenta Bay (in the background) is Mont Dore

and drift pins for the pier had to be made by hand, in a small French forge shop. Holes for bolts and drift pins were bored by hand, and most of the piles, of hard native wood, were also cut by hand. In spite of these difficult conditions, the pier was finished and placed in service within the month (January 28). Its completion increased by more than half the berthing capacity of the port.

The detachment of the 3rd Construction Battalion, assisted by a company from the 24th and some fifty men from the 955th Army Engineers, extended the waterfront facilities by means of pontoon assemblies. A Navy landing pier was constructed of two 3-by-12 bridge sections for the wharf and two 2-by-12 bridge sections for the approach. Two 5-by-12 wharf units were installed at Point Chalix for use as a barge landing for the aviation supply depot. Approaches consisted of a landing ramp at each end, hinged to a concrete abutment.

The same personnel handled pontoon erection and assembly until the arrival of PAD 1 on January 18, 1943.

In the fall of 1942, the decision had been made to ship the 15,000 pontoons needed in the Pacific area for 1943 in the form of flat plates and rolled shapes and to assemble them into pontoons at a mobile plant to be located in the South Pacific, because units shipped in knockdown form would conserve much valuable cargo space. On the basis of this decision, a pontoon assembly depot was established at Ile Nou. By March 1943, Seabees had completed the erection of buildings needed to house operations and had installed a narrow-gauge railway in the plant and storage area. The PAD was charged not only with the manufacture of the pontoons, but also with their assembly into barges, wharves, and other units as required.

During the first half of 1943, the construction at Noumea grew rapidly. Facilities at Ile Nou were increased to include an amphibious boat pool, a ship repair unit, NATS facilities, a pontoon assembly


depot, an aircraft engine overhaul base, a tank farm for aviation gasoline storage, a section base, and an anti-aircraft school.

In March 1943, the 2nd (Special) Construction Battalion arrived to handle stevedoring.

The construction at the amphibious boat pool was accomplished jointly by Company B of the 3rd Battalion and Company C of the 37th which had arrived at Noumea on January 18, 1943. A marine railway was completely rebuilt, and two houses were erected for LCI storage, and a pontoon pier was increased in size, and relocated.

At the repair base, facilities were provided for the repair and servicing of vessels as large as destroyers, and the base was also equipped to go into the stream and make repairs and alterations to vessels of the transport type. Sixteen 40-by-10-foot steel-arch buildings, 40 quonset huts, five frame storage buildings, and five stone buildings for shops, were erected, together with camp facilities for personnel. A 300-by-70-foot pontoon pier and a 30-by-141-foot small-boat pontoon pier were provided, as well as ARD-2 and AFD-9.

The 3rd Battalion also established facilities for NATS at Ile Nou. This project included the erection of quonset huts for housing and all camp facilities, warehouses, two double nose hangars, and the extension of the existing seaplane ramp. By October 1943, the Seabees had also completed a tank farm for aviation gasoline, consisting of six 1,000-barrel tanks.

Due to the lack of a sufficient pool of spare engines in the South Pacific to permit rotation of engines for overhaul, an aircraft engine overhaul base was set up on Ile Nou, with a capacity of 100

Ship Repair Unit, Ile Nou, Noumea
Ship Repair Unit, Ile Nou, Noumea


Pontoon Assembly Area, Noumea
Pontoon Assembly Area, Noumea
Third Seabees constructing barges

engines per month. This project was started in February 1943, by Company C of the 37th Battalions, which arrived at Noumea in May and June, respectively. Facilities erected included a water-bound macadam apron and a 4500-square-foot concrete ramp, numerous steel warehouses, engine test stands, shop buildings, quonset huts for quarters, and necessary utilities. The work was essentially complete by August 1943. The 78th Battalion, which reported at Noumea in July 1943, assumed responsibility for general maintenance and repair work of the overhaul base.

A section base at Ile Nou, started by the 3rd Battalion and taken over by the 24th in April 1943, had facilities to operate and maintain harbor defense and detection units, to make minor repairs to small craft, and to provide small-boat service for all naval activities around the harbor. There were also two pontoon piers, 120-by-40-foot and 120-by-14-foot, and camp facilities for operating personnel.

Navy medical facilities at Noumea consisted of two 2,000-bed hospitals, MOB 5 and MOB 7. Several construction battalions cooperated in the construction of these facilities, using prefabricated metal huts, native structures, and frame buildings. A convalescent camp was added to MOB 7.

At Noumea, also, a supply depot was established to serve the South Pacific. The construction of some 85 steel warehouses was handled by the 37th and 6th Battalions, while the 78th and 11th established the depot's camp, including barracks, administration building, shops, messing facilities, and all necessary utilities. Steel magazines for an ammunition depot and warehouses for an aviation supply depot were also erected.

The land-plane facilities at Noumea were, in general, under the cognizance of the U.S. Army. On the west shore of Magenta Bay, however, an auxiliary field with a single fighter runway was built for the Navy. In February, the 37th Battalion took over the construction of the airfield, which had been started and brought to some 10 percent completion by the 33rd Battalion during its one-month stay in Noumea. Light rod-and-bar mat was laid, covered with coral fill, and tar primer was applied to the surface of the entire runway. To provide additional parking and assembly area, the Seabees hauled material to fill the swampy area at the runway's southwest side. Personnel of the 11th, 6th, and 73rd Construction Battalions assisted in


the construction. Two taxiways, four acres of plane assembly, and parking area, shops, dispensary, storage facilities, and housing in tents and Dallas huts were provided.

The 33rd Battalion also started construction of docking facilities at Magenta. This project, completed by the 37th, included the construction of two timber-crib piers extending into the bay about 200 feet.

Two battalions also constructed additional facilities for the Army field at Tontouta, where two runways had been built by the Australians and the Free French. The U.S. Army took over the field in the spring of 1942, resurfaced the runways, lengthened one runway, and provided additional quarters. The 53rd Battalion surfaced 180,000 square feet of airplane-parking area, with nickel ore covered with mesh. The 78th Battalion constructed hardstands, shop areas, and buildings, a nose hangar, service roads, and complete facilities for CASU 3 camp.

On Ducos Peninsula, the 24th Battalion, assisted by the 6th, erected a tank farm for 370,000 barrels of fuel oil and 30,000 barrels of diesel oil. Minor tank facilities were provided at Magenta.

The 53rd Construction Battalion had arrived in Noumea on March 25, 1943, with the First Marine Amphibious Corps. Their major assignment was the construction of three Marine Corps camps, each of 2,000-man capacity. They also drained Lake Gaettege for future Marine camp sites. During its six-months stay at Noumea, the battalion received special Marine training for future combat operations.

During the summer of 1943, CUB 9 was staging in New Caledonia with the 75th and 88th Battalions. The Seabees constructed the staging area, including camp and storage facilities, magazines, a sheet-pile timber bulkhead, and roads at Mont Dore. The 88th also engaged in stevedoring work, unloading the base equipment and supplies and transferring them again to ships at a later date.

CBMU's 536 and 537 arrived at Noumea on January 19, 1944, and shortly thereafter took over all maintenance work theretofore done by the 3rd and 6th Battalions, increased facilities in the former 11th Battalion camp, for their own use, and helped to repair extensive damage caused by a hurricane [typhoon] which occurred on January 18. When the maintenance units arrived, the 6th and 3rd Battalions, and the base construction depot detachment, were the only Seabees left at Noumea. The 3rd returned to the States in May 1944, and the 6th left Noumea the following September.

In September 1944, the 87th Battalion arrived and had as its major project the completion of an Army staging area at Neponi in the northern part of the island. The movement of the battalion and its equipment to that location over 150 miles of narrow, winding mountain road presented a formidable problem, and an LST was brought from another island base to take most of the equipment by water, camp equipment being sent by truck convoy. Work began on the staging area on October 12. Some 350 Seabees were used on the project; the Army supplied the materials. The Seabees also built a pier, consisting of one 4-by-12 pontoon floating barge secured to a bulkhead with access to shore by a standard 30-ton ramp.

While at Neponi for rehabilitation from September 1944 to May 1945, the 82nd Battalion constructed a pier having capacity for berthing two Liberty ships, and reconstructed some 20 miles of highway.

Although little local labor was employed at New Caledonia, native materials were used extensively. The island forests provided a great variety of timber.

Because of the continued, and even increased, use of New Caledonia as a staging and rehabilitation area and the island's position on the line of support to the forward areas in the Pacific, roll-up at Noumea did not get under way until late in 1944. The only activities moved from Noumea were those whose mission could no longer be accomplished in the rear areas, such as the pontoon assembly plant, the aircraft engine overhaul unit, a portion of the advance base construction depot, and a few minor facilities.

In November 1944, the 47th Battalion reported at Noumea and concentrated its attention on dismantling, salvaging, and crating equipment no longer useful there. The advance base construction receiving station, the ammunition depot, MOB 7, and the section base were dismantled. The Seabees set up a mill and carpenter shop to construct crates, using about one-third salvaged lumber. Frame buildings were razed, and steel warehouses and magazines dismantled. When the 47th left


Noumea in June 1945, roll-up as planned was virtually complete.

CBMU's 536 and 537 were still at Noumea when the Japanese surrendered. The reduction of the naval base left the airfields at Tontouta and Magenta, ship and boat repair facilities, refueling facilities for ships and aircraft, and MOB 5.

Espiritu Santo

When the Japanese moved into the Solomons and began construction of airfields on Guadalcanal, an Allied air base in an advance area became vital. The choice of Espiritu Santo, 630 miles southeast of Guadalcanal, in the New Hebrides, as a site for a major Army and Navy operating base, brought the U.S. bombers 400 miles closer to the Japanese positions and provided a staging area for the forthcoming Allied invasion of the Solomons. The base provided aircraft facilities capable of supporting heavy bombers, fighters, and two carrier groups; an accumulation of ammunition, provisions, stores, and equipment for offensive operations; repair and salvage facilities for all types of vessels. It became a vital link between Henderson Field on Guadalcanal and the airfields at Noumea and Efate.

Espiritu Santo is the northernmost and largest of the New Hebrides islands. It has an irregular outline, with numerous small islands near its shores. Heavily wooded and mountainous, particularly in the south and west where the highest peak rises to more than 6000 feet, Santo, as it is locally known, is about 75 miles long and 45 miles wide. Like that of Efate, the government is under joint British and French control.

A small reconnaissance party of three men left Efate on June 28, 1942, to find an airfield site closer than Efate to Henderson Field. Espiritu Santo was chosen, and on July 8, a small group of Seabees of the Efate detachment arrived at Santo with a Marine anti-aircraft battery and a company of colored infantrymen to begin work on Turtle Bay airfield.

The Santo pioneers were given twenty days in which to construct the field. They worked day and night, in the race against time. Equipment for heavy grading was not available and they had to make out with six tractors, two scrapers, one grease truck, one gas wagon, three weapon carriers, and one 50-kw generator. Assisting them were 295 infantrymen, 90 Marines, and 50 natives.

A 6000-foot runway was cleared and surfaced with coral in time to met the deadline. On July 28, the first fighter squadron came in and was followed the next day by a squadron of B-17's. The planes were fueled from drums and gave the Japs in Guadalcanal their first big bombing on July 30.

Army Air Force and Marine personnel poured into the island shortly thereafter, and after the Marines landed on Guadalcanal on August 7, the new field at Santo gave vital support to that action.

On August 11, 1942, the 7th Battalion arrived and immediately began construction of more extensive air facilities to support the Guadalcanal campaign. In sixty days, they completed a second fighter strip, 4500 feet by 170 feet, with 7500 feet of taxiways and 60 revetments. They then began work on two fields to support bomber operations.

A runway, 5000 feet by 150 feet, of steel mat on an 8-inch coral base, was constructed on the shores of Pallikulo Bay (Bomber Field No. 1). Working in cooperation with a company of the 810th Army Engineers, the 7th Battalion also cleared, graded, and surfaced with coral a runway of the same dimensions at Pekoa (Bomber Field No. 2).

When the 15th Battalion reached Espiritu Santo on October 13, 1942, they were assigned the complete overhaul of the grading and drainage of Bomber Field No. 1. They also added taxiways, revetments, and a 1,000-foot extension for air transport operation. In similar fashion, they renovated the grading and drainage of the fighter strip, extended its length 500 feet, and provided it with additional taxiways, revetments, and access roads.

The work at Bomber Field No. 2, which had been begun by the 7th Battalion, was also taken over by the 15th. They completed the construction of a 7,000-foot-runway, having a steel-mat surface on coral, and built taxiways, revetments, and miscellaneous structures.

At the same time, both the 7th and the 15th were engaged in providing other necessary facilities for the base as a whole. The 7th erected 60 quonset huts to be used as galleys, wards, operating rooms, dispensaries, and the like for CUB One Hospital, and 40 quonset huts and warehouses for Base Hospital Three. Another hospital of 100 beds, including quarters, wards mess hall, operating building, and other structures, was established by the 15th for Acorn 2 Hospital. In cooperation with the 822nd and the 350th Army Engineers, the 15th built quarters, wards, laboratories, and messing


Map: Espiritu Santo Island, New Hebrides
Espiritu Santo Island, New Hebrides


facilities for the 25th evacuation Hospital. They also provided surgery and storage buildings and handled electrical and plumbing work. These medical facilities proved to be extremely important for the Guadalcanal campaign in the latter part of 1942.

For a seaplane base, the 7th Battalion constructed a parking area, two pre-fabricated 85-by-100-foot nose hangars, warehouses, quonset huts, and two seaplane ramps in Segond Channel. These Seabees also established a PT-boat base, with extensive facilities.

The 7th built ten camps, varying in capacity from 100 to 1,000 men, with all facilities, roads, and drainage. The 15th provided seven additional camps for various base activities. An outstanding project was the enlisted men's galley and mess hall, equipped to feed 1,000 men in one hour, which the 15th constructed. All decks were of concrete, and complete drainage and plumbing systems were laid out and built with 6-inch quick-coupling pipe and parts of empty oil drums. The Seabees also improvised indirect lighting from discarded tin cans.

The original network of roads -- 26 miles of new and 8 miles of rebuilt roads -- was established by the 7th CB.

The men of these early battalions on Santo were subjected to spasmodic submarine shellings and several air raids.

In the early months of 1943, six additional battalions arrived at Espiritu Santo. The 35th Battalion arrived on January 26th, 1943. After unloading its equipment and setting up camp, the battalion assembled pontoons, constructed a PT-boat base and built roads. In cooperation with the 36th Battalion, which reported on February 10, half of the 35th Battalion constructed Base Hospital No. 3 (500 beds) during the summer of 1943. The other half of the 35th was sent forward to the Russells in March. The rest of the battalion joined them there in late August 1943.

The 40th Battalion reached Santo on February 3, 1943. The principal project of this battalion was the construction of a third bomber field at Luganville. A runway, 6,800 feet by 300 feet, with 27,000 feet of taxiway and 75 hardstands, cut out of dense jungle, was completed in 120 days. Nearly a fourth of the runway was in solid-coral cut ranging from a few feet to 35 feet in depth; 3,000 feet of taxiway and six hardstands were also in solid coral cuts averaging 10 feet. Coral for surfacing and necessary fill was obtained from the cuts and from borrow pits. Because of the heavy rainfall in the area, the surface of the coral was treated with an emulsified asphalt binder.

Additional facilities constructed for the operation of the airfield included a tank farm of six 1,000-barrel steel tanks, two truck-loading stations, two repair areas, fifteen 40-by-10-foot arch-rib warehouses, one 100-by-90-foot hangar, eighteen 20-by-48-foot quonset huts for living quarters, six mess halls, and all necessary utilities. Fifteen miles of two-lane road, for access to and operation of the airfield, were cut through dense jungle.

The 40th Battalion moved to New Guinea on November 25, 1943.

Accompanying the first echelon of LION 1, the 36th Battalion arrived at Espiritu Santo on February 10, 1943. While most of the battalion was engaged on setting up camp facilities and unloading operations, a detachment was sent to Pallikulo Bay to build a pontoon wharf. It consisted of four 6-by-18-pontoon barge sections hinged together and connected to a steel cofferdam by eight 72-foot bridge sections. There was a minimum of 33 feet of water at the end of the pier.

The next major assignment for the 36th Battalion was the construction of an aviation engine overhaul base. This project provided housing for 250 officers and 1,800 enlisted men, as well as facilities for the overhaul of 200 aviation engines per month. The work, begun in February and completed in June, involved the construction of 85 quonset huts for housing, 18 standard 40-by-100-foot arch-rib shop buildings, messing facilities, four quonset huts on concrete decks for offices and instrument shops, and all necessary utilities.

Meanwhile, on March 17, construction was begun on facilities for the overhaul and servicing of torpedoes for the Fleet. This project consisted of the erection of three arch-rib buildings and the installation of torpedo-overhaul equipment, including air compressors and connecting piping, and the construction of all utilities. The work was completed in May.

The 36th Battalion also built an aviation supply annex of twenty arch-rib buildings, and six 1,000-barrel gasoline storage tanks at Bomber Field No. 2, with a connecting pipe line to a tank farm at Bomber Field No. 1. Motor repair facilities and a 300-foot steel-pile bulkhead were built at the PT-boat


base, and 75 steel magazines and 16 open bomb-storage areas were constructed for an ammunition depot.

In cooperation with the 35th Battalion, the 36th built 25 quonset huts for quarters and wards, four steel warehouses, and extended the water system, lighting and roads at Base Hospital No. 3.

The 36th Battalion constructed aviation-engine overhaul facilities at Bomber Field No. 3, additional camp buildings for South Pacific Air headquarters, and further extensions to the road system of the island. On September 12, 1943, the battalion left for the Russells.

The 44th Battalion arrived at Santo on March 18, 1943, and undertook the operation of two coral pits, and the construction of storage tanks, hospital facilities, a boat pool, five piers, utilities for various camps, and an ABSD. The battalion left Espiritu Santo for Manus on April 4, 1944.

The 57th and the 3rd (Special) Battalions reported at Santo late in March 1943. Although the main activity of the 3rd (Special) was stevedoring, camp construction was considered so vital that the entire headquarters company of the battalion worked with the 57th to provide camp facilities. At first, tents were erected, but the torrential rains caused these to wash out almost as soon as they were staked. The tents were therefore floored and raised, and later, screened. Mess and hospital facilities were given equal priority with housing. The 57th soon had quarters and messing facilities for 1,000 officers and men, using floored and screened

Men of the 36th Battalion Erecting Dallas Huts, Espiritu Santo
Men of the 36th Battalion Erecting Dallas Huts, Espiritu Santo


tents and concrete-floored mess halls. The 3rd (Special) was gradually transferred into quonset hut facilities for 1,000 men.

The 57th Battalion built a seven-acre ammunition dump and ordnance facilities, and rebuilt a portion of the 7,000-foot airstrip at Luganville Bomber Field No. 3.

At Aore Island, the battalion erected quonset huts for housing, 30 magazines for mine storage, and other installations for the mine-assembly, target-repair, and mine-recovery plants. On the same island, they constructed fifty 10,000-barrel bolted tanks for fuel storage, 25,000 feet of 12-inch spiral pipe, and 50 pump units. Other oil facilities provided at Santo included seventeen 1,000-barrel tanks for motor gas storage, two 10,000-barrel tanks for diesel storage, and twenty-three 1,000-barrel tanks for aviation gasoline.

Pontoon assembly was a major activity of the 57th Battalion. Pontoons were assembled into barges with propulsion units, two seaplane drydocks, bridge units, and numerous wharves. They also constructed a cruiser drydock, 840 feet long, 55 feet high, beam inside 140 feet, width outside 180n feet, with 5-foot wing walls.

The 57th built additional facilities for the seaplane base and for Base Hospital No. 3. Hangars were erected at Fighter Strip No. 1 and at Luganville. The battalion also participated in the repair and restoration of a number of warships which had been damaged in battle and put into Santo for repairs.

No local labor was used, but native materials played an important part in construction at Espiritu Santo. Coral quarried from numerous local pits was used for roads. Coral fill for foundations and as aggregate for concrete was useful in the building of quonset huts and warehouses. Palm logs were used for quonset hut footings.

The 57th Battalion left the island on March 15, 1944. CBMU's 535 and 538 arrived late in 1943, on November 23, and December 27, respectively. Three other maintenance units, CBMU's 541 and 542 and Section One of 539, reached Santo in February 1944. These units took over all maintenance work and minor construction. By April 1944, all construction battalions, except the 3rd (Special), which returned to the States in September 1944, had left the island. CBMU 538 moved out in March 1945, and was followed by CBMU's 535 and 541 in July 1945. When the Japs surrendered, CBMU 542 and the section of CBMU 539 were still operating at the naval air base at Espiritu Santo.

CBD 1007, which had arrived at Espiritu on August 8, 1943, to operate a truck-repair unit, completely overhauled trucks and construction equipment so that they could be used at one base after another. This was not strictly roll-up activity, but contributed greatly toward the reduction of requirements from the United States.

Major bases, such as Noumea and Espiritu Santo, were not involved in the extensive roll-up activities of the South Pacific area in 1944, as these bases were expected to be utilized in staging the increased forces to be used in the Pacific. The naval base at Espiritu was disestablished June 12, 1946.


Funafuti, an atoll of the British-owned Ellice group of islands, was developed initially in the fall of 1942 to provide an air base and scouting and ferry point for planes en route to the South Pacific area. However, its facilities came into their most important use later in connection with our thrust northwestward into the Gilbert and Marshall islands.

Funafuti Island, the largest of the 30 islets which make up the atoll, is about 7 miles long and from 50 to 150 yards wide, except at the southern end where it forms an elbow about 700 yards wide. The entire island is not large enough to support extensive facilities. However, ships with draft up to 20 feet can enter the lagoon, which is commodious and provides good anchorage. The Seabees brought the first wheels to touch the island.

Two other islands of the Ellice group, Nanomea and Nukufetau, were also used as sites for U.S. air activities. Nanomea, 250 miles northwest of Funafuti, and only 460 miles southeast of Tarawa, is 6 miles long and has no sheltered anchorage. Nukufetau, a group of islets on a reef about 24 miles in perimeter, lies less than 50 miles northwest of Funafuti.

On October 2, 1942, a detachment of the 2nd Construction Battalion, comprising two officers and 120 men from the group on Samoa, went ashore at Funafuti with the 5th Marine Defense Battalion.

The Seabees immediately began the construction on a fairly level site of an airstrip, 5,000 feet long and 250 feet wide. Within thirty days, the field was


Map: Funafuti Atoll, Ellice Islands
Funafuti Atoll, Ellice Islands


in use by Navy planes. By early spring, an all-weather runway, 6,000 feet long and 600 feet wide, was completed, together with parking and shop facilities. In April of 1943, B-24's took off from the field in raids against Nauru and Tarawa. The completion of the field marked the completion of the original mission of the Seabee detachment.

The detachment also constructed fifty prefabricated frame buildings for housing, four Marine warehouses, a seaplane ramp, 30 feet wide, a 76-bed hospital, a floating drydock for PT-boat repairs, and a road system.

In April 1943, a detachment of six officers and 235 men of the 3rd Battalion was ordered to Funafuti for the construction of an aviation-gasoline tank farm, the project comprising ten 1,000-barrel storage tanks, together with connecting piping, a sea line, and moorings. The detachment arrived on May 9, and by May 17 had completed unloading operations and begun construction. The project was completed by June 15.

The detachment then constructed 43 plane revetments, of steel mat and coral fill, and erected a radio repair shop, an airfield operations building, an Army aerological building, and ten frame buildings for base personnel housing. It moved to Wallis on August 23, 1943.

The 16th Battalion arrived in the Ellice Islands in several echelons in 1943. Two echelons disembarked at Funafuti on August 20 and 24, and were moved to Nukufetau on August 30. Three more landed at Nonomea on September 6, and 7. Two additional echelons were sent to Nukufetau on September 8 and October 7.

All supplies for Nukufetau had to be transshipped at Funafuti, since the entrance channel at the former island could not give passage to a large cargo vessel. Landing craft could get as far as the edge of the reef; from there, men, tractors, and supplies had to be brought ashore at low tide.

The base at Nukufetau was primarily an air operations base, designed to support strikes against Japanese installations in the Gilberts and Marshalls. The 16th Battalion built a fighter strip, 3500 feet by 200 feet, and a bomber strip, 6100 feet by 220 feet. For the latter, nearly 50,000 coconut trees had to be cut down. About 2,000 feet of the runways was built on fill over swamp. The construction as planned was completed in forty days. Two

PT-Boat Drydock and Repair Base, Espiritu Santo
PT-Boat Drydock and Repair Base, Espiritu Santo


Map: Nukufetau Atoll, Ellice Islands
Nukufetau Atoll, Ellice Islands


bombers landed on October 30, and a squadron of VB108's came in on November 7.

A complete aviation-gasoline tank farm, consisting of eleven 1,000-barrel tanks, a filling station, pumps, and off-shore lines for receiving gasoline from tankers, was constructed. Other necessary facilities, such as hangars and hardstands, were provided at the fields. The Seabees often helped to install motors in Liberators.

To link together sections of the atoll, the Seabees built a 1,000-foot causeway, using coconut logs for the foundations.

About fifty natives were used for tasks such as clearing, grubbing, and garbage disposal.

At Nanomea, a detachment of the 16th Seabees went ashore with the Marines in September 1943. Two days after the landing, Japanese fighter pilots hit Nanomea and took advantage of the poor defenses to bomb and strafe at tree-top levels. There were no Seabee casualties.

Work was started on a bomber strip, 7,000 feet by 200 feet, on September 11, and eight days later, planes of a Marine fighter squadron landed on it. The fighter planes continued to use the runway during the remainder of the construction period. The first bombers landed on November 12, although the Japanese had carried out a damaging raid early that morning. The Seabees built the necessary camp and operation facilities for the airfield, including an 8,000-barrel tank farm for aviation gasoline.

The natives proved invaluable in aiding the diving crew in the blasting of obstacles from the lagoon. Capable of diving to great depths, the natives placed the underwater explosives where they would be most effective. Some 80 natives were employed for short intervals.

When the U.S. forces landed at Nanomea, there were no installations, except native churches, council houses, and living quarters. One of the large council houses was utilized for provision storage, and some small huts were used by Marine personnel for offices and living quarters. Seabees and Marines laid out and cleared roads necessary to the placing of defense weapons and detecting devices.

On December 30, 1943, CBMU 517 arrived at Funafuti to relieve the 2nd Battalion, its task being the completion of construction and the maintenance of the installations. The unit also built a NATS pontoon wharf, a log-crib coral-filled LST and LCT wharf for the Marine Corps supply depot, Marine barracks and warehouses, and handled salvage operations on sunken seaplanes and wrecked landplanes.

CBMU 552 left the U.S. for Nukufetau in January 1944, to assume responsibility for the maintenance of the air strips and all other island facilities, and for stevedoring. On February 2, 1944, CBMU 553 arrived at Nanomea for maintenance duty. They cleared out stumps and other debris along the bomber strip, constructed approximately nine new structures for ATC, made numerous repairs to LST's and LCT's, and maintained roads and equipment.

In May and June 1944, CBMU 517 took over the maintenance of Nanomea and Nukufetau, and CBMU 552 and 553 moved to forward areas.

By May 1944, roll-up activities had begun at the several islands. Before leaving for a new assignment, CBMU 552 began dismantling all buildings and installations not in use and the assembly of all salvageable material at Nukufetau. In June, the majority of the personnel of CBMU 517 were engaged in salvage work. All quonset huts at Funafuti were taken down and crated for shipment. Salvage of the Marine Corps depot was completed by August. One officer and 39 men were assigned to Nanomea for the salvage of structures and the tank farm. One officer and 45 men were assigned to the same duty at Nukufetau.

In September 1944, a detachment of CBMU 506. consisting of three officers and 125 men, arrived at Funafuti and took over the duties of CBMU 517, which was then sent to the Russells. The personnel of CBMU 506 salvaged 72 frame buildings at Funafuti. Six men were sent to Nukufetau to load the salvage materials there. One officer and 20 men were sent to Nanomea to complete salvage operations. The complete detachment returned to Samoa on March 27, 1945.


In the opening months of the war, Auckland was chosen as a major fleet anchorage for the U.S. Fleet, and it was planned to develop these facilities to provide for ship repair, training and rehabilitation of combat units, and hospitalization of sick and wounded from forward areas, and to maintain air cover for the allied fleets.

Auckland is on North Island, one of the two principal islands of New Zealand, about 1,200 miles east of Australia. Under the circumstances it


Map: Nanomea, Ellice Islands
Nanomea, Ellice Islands


PBY Base, Espiritu Santo
PBY Base, Espiritu Santo
Showing ramps and fill ground

was decided that the construction of the additional facilities needed for the defense of the base and the support of the U.S. naval forces in the area would be carried out with materials furnished by the United States to the New Zealand Naval Board, and that the U.S. Navy would provide experts to supervise the installation and initial operation of the facilities built, but that the actual installation and service operations would be performed by New Zealand personnel. The New Zealand Public Works Department was the construction agency for all government departments.

Consequently, no construction battalions were assigned to New Zealand for construction work. However, the 25th Battalion, which arrived in Auckland on March 11, 1943, attached to the Third Marine Division, and stayed for four months, gave aid to a local contractor in the construction of MOB 6. In April 1943, CBMU 501 and CBMU 502 were assigned to Auckland and took over maintenance and minor repair work on all U.S. facilities there.

In April 1942, the Navy ordered an officer to Auckland as port director, charged with responsibility for developing a main naval base, including headquarters for the Commander of Allied Forces in the South Pacific, Vice Admiral Robert A. Ghormley. When the line of U.S.-held bases moved rapidly northward, ComSoPac headquarters in Auckland were closed on November 8, 1942, and were moved to Noumea, New Caledonia. Auckland thereafter had the scope of a minor base.

Housing Facilities. -- By May 1942, the increase of U.S. naval activities in the Auckland area had caused a serious problem in connection with the housing of personnel.

On June 3, work was begun on a 500-man camp at Mechanics Bay to provide a receiving barracks for the area. On land donated at no cost by the Harbor Board, the New Zealand Public Works


Department built four 112-man barracks, one C.P.O. dormitory, galley and mess hall, ration storehouse, boiler plant, laundry, recreation building, and officers' quarters. The first barracks were occupied on June 19, and the camp was completed by December.

At Camp Domain, New Zealand, workmen constructed facilities for 1,000 men, to be used by headquarters personnel, Marines, and convalescents. This project was also completed by December 1942.

Later, at Victoria Park, a 1200-man camp consisting of 166 eight-man huts, 30 four-man huts, 2 thirty-man quarters for officers, and other necessary facilities was built for Seabee use. However, the camp was occupied by the U.S. Army and Marine Corps personnel.

To house the personnel assigned to ammunition depots at Kauri Point and Motutapu, small camps were constructed. Numerous other hut camps were constructed in the area for the Marine Corps. For example, a 1200-man camp was erected at the Tamaki railway station, location of the Third Base Depot of the Marine Corps.

Hospital Facilities. -- To supply medical aid to the U.S. personnel stationed in New Zealand and to the sick and wounded evacuated from forward areas, two mobile hospital units were assigned to Auckland. When MOB 4 arrived, about the middle of 1942, construction was begun on a 1000-bed hospital faciltiy. Prefabricated buildings were erected by hospital personnel; all other construction was carried out by New Zealand workmen. By June 1943, all major construction work on supplemental buildings, such as the recreation hall and quarters, was completed.

For MOB 6, the facilities, begun early in 1943, included 66 BuMed-type buildings for ship's service, corpsmen's barracks, and storehouses. In June 1943, detachments from the 25th Battalion, prior to their departure to a forward area with the Marines, undertook the necessary grading, and built roads, drainage structures, a water system, and a steam-distribution system, erected steel buildings, and remodeled existing quarters. All ward, galley, mess-hall, administration, surgery, and recreation buildings, as well as officer and enlisted quarters, were built by the New Zealand government.

Storage and Ammunition Facilities. -- A considerable amount of existing storage space, for fuel as well as for dry materials, was available at Auckland for use by the U.S. forces. In addition, there were built for the Navy 120,000 square feet of covered storage for the Third Base Depot of the Marine Corps at Tamaki Station, a 32,000-square-foot medical storehouse, 550,000 square feet of covered storage at Sylvia Park, and 100,000 square feet of wood-frame storehouses at King's Drive. Additional storage space was leased. The work on these storage facilities was accomplished in late 1942 and 1943.

An extensive tank farm, including storage for 500,000 barrels of fuel oil, was planned for Auckland. However, it was gradually reduced in scope as the line of U.S.-held bases moved forward, until in January 1943, the entire project was cancelled and the materials then on hand were moved to Noumea.

Two ammunition depots were built by New Zealand workmen for the Navy. At Motutapu Island, some 8 miles down the harbor from Auckland, fifty 28-by-80-foot concrete magazines and sixteen brick magazines were constructed, together with 15 miles of road to give access to the site. The project was complete early in 1943.

Harbor Facilities. -- One of the main reasons for the choice of Auckland as a naval base was its excellent harbor facilities. However, the drydock facilities for major and intermediate types of ships were so meager that the Calliope Graving Dock at Davenport, owned and operated by the Auckland Harbor Board, was enlarged to take heavy cruisers of the Indianapolis class. The only two other graving docks in the area capable of docking heavy cruisers, were the Woolwich and the Cockatoo Island docks at Sydney, Australia. There were also two large floating docks, one at Wellington, N.Z., and one at Newcastle, Australia. Unfortunately, the overhang of the bow and the stern of heavy ships in these docks would have been undesirable for a cruiser in a damaged condition, and the depth over the blocks would have been insufficient.

It was decided therefore, late in 1942, that the Navy should undertake to extend the length of the Calliope Graving Dock by 40 feet. This work was planned by the U.S. Navy, and accomplished by the New Zealand government under reverse lend-lease. The work required about six months for completion and was done without interfering with the use of the dock.

Airfields. -- At the opening of the war in the Pacific, all the airfields of the RNZAF were turf-covered. The turf was in excellent condition, but


became badly cut up in wet weather under heavy traffic. With the cooperation of the New Zealand Public Works Department and the U.S. Navy, the RNZAF provided some of the fields with concrete or stabilized runways so that they could be used by heavy bombers. At Ardmore Field, the RNZAF began work early in 1943 on two runways -- 5,100 by 150 feet -- to be stabilized and tar-sealed. The U.S. Navy took over the project and brought it to 70-percent completion. The field was then turned over to the RNZAF for use as a training field. Construction of strips, taxiways, peripheral roads, and frame structures was accomplished by New Zealand workmen under U.S. Navy supervision.

Maintenance. -- CBMU's 501 and 502, the first maintenance units to be commissioned, arrived in New Zealand in April 1943. They performed all major maintenance work on U.S. facilities and made numerous minor repairs. In January 1944, CBMU 501 erected a number of New Zealand prefabricated buildings and remodeled existing buildings at the Maungakiekie rest camp for the U.S. Army. This unit also accomplished extensive repairs and remodeling activities at the Tamaki Station Marine Corps camp.

CBMU 502 went to New Georgia in June 1944, and CBMU 501 departed from Auckland for the Russell Islands in October 1944. Auckland soon lay well of the line of flow of support for staging to forward areas. By February 1944, the entire function of the Navy's public works officer was reduced to maintenance. By July, the roll-up was well under way, and even rehabilitation activities were discontinued.

Both mobile hospital units were moved to forward areas in October. Navy's Auckland complement was reduced to 26 officers and 82 men, concentrated at the receiving barracks at Mechanics Bay, thus virtually vacating the naval base at Auckland.


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1. Marquesas, Society, Cook, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, and New Hebrides and the large island of New Caledonia.

2. Term used to designate an advance base unit consisting of all personnel and material necessary for the establishment of a medium-sized advance fuel or supply base. It had no ship-repair facilities.

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation