Campaign in the Solomons
See HyperWar for histories of the campaigns on Guadalcanal and the Solomons
By the early summer of 1942, six months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese had reached the full tide of their conquest of the islands of the Pacific. The Philippines and all of the Dutch East Indies had fallen. The enemy was in control of the north coast of New Guinea and was preparing to push across the mountainous spine of that island to port Moresby on its southern shore. Although this continued advance to the south by amphibious operations had been checked in May, at the Battle of the Coral Sea, Japanese control of the Solomons was a sharp threat to our own extended position in the South Pacific and to the safety of Australia itself. The necessity of ejecting the enemy from his newly won position in Guadalcanal became increasingly apparent.
The contest for the Solomons opened on August 7, when the 1st Marine Division landed on the beaches of Guadalcanal and Tulagi, initiating a campaign that was to continue for more than a year.
The Struggle for Guadalcanal. -- The principal objective of the first phase of the struggle, the contest for Guadalcanal, was to deny to the enemy and to possess for ourselves the airfield that the Japanese had been constructing on the island since early May, the field soon to become known throughout the world as Henderson Field It was close to completion when our invasion forces struck, and making it operational, and keeping it that way during months of fierce combat, was the principal task assigned to the 6th Construction Battalion, the naval construction force assigned to our first real offensive move in the South Pacific. The 6th Battalion followed the Marines into Guadalcanal on September 1 and thereby became the first Seabees to engage in the combination of fighting and building for which they had been organized and trained.
Japanese resistance was fierce and persistent, and the support we could give our invasion forces was restricted by the shipping demands for the forthcoming invasion of North Africa. For six months, ground, sea, and air forces battled for possession of Guadalcanal. On February 8, 1943, the Japanese evacuated their remaining troops, ending the first phase of the Solomons campaign.
During the six months of struggle for Guadalcanal, however, the enemy had completed the development of an important air base at Munda Point, on the southwest coast of New Georgia. From their new base they threatened our position in the southern Solomons, and consequently our next undertaking would have to be their ejection from New Georgia.
Driving the Enemy from New Georgia. -- In preparation for the invasion of New Georgia our forces moved into the Russell Islands, 60 miles northwest of Guadalcanal, to build an air base to provide fighter support for the planned operation. The occupation of the Russells, on February 21, 1943, was unopposed. Accompanying the landing forces was a major portion of the 33rd Construction Battalion, which was followed a few weeks later by the 35th Battalion. By early June the Seabees had completed the construction of two air strips and the necessary fuel tanks and other supporting facilities. On June 30 the invasion of New Georgia began.
Naval construction forces participated in the assault of New Georgia at three different points. The 47th Battalion landed at Segi Point at the extreme southeast end of the island, and immediately set to work constructing an air strip. The 20th Battalion, accompanying Marine assault forces, landed at Viru Harbor on the island's southern coast, for the purpose of building a PT-boat base. The third landing was on Rendova, an island separated from New Georgia by a narrow channel, across which the Munda airfield was within artillery range. The assault on Rendova was made by Army forces, accompanied by the
24th Battalion. The Seabees' principal duty became that of building and maintaining roads over which the artillery and its ammunition could be moved.
The New Georgia campaign, the second phase of the campaign for the Solomons, went much faster than did the struggle for Guadalcanal. On Augusta 5, Munda airfield was captured, almost exactly a year after the Marines' first Solomons landing. Speedy rehabilitation of the Munda field by the Seabees and Army engineers permitted our air forces to neutralize effectively the enemy's remaining New Georgia position at Bairoko Harbor and that on Kolombangara Island. Our forces followed up their success promptly and on August 15 landed, unopposed, on Vella Lavella, the northernmost island of the New Georgia group. Participating in the landings was the 58th Battalion, charged with building a small air and naval base to serve as one more step up the Solomons chain. Before the month was out the New Georgia campaign was considered closed; the Japanese retired farther northward to Bougainville, the largest island of the Solomons chain.
The Bougainville Campaign. -- The third phase of the Solomons campaign revolved around our efforts to drive the enemy from Bougainville. It was his last position in the Solomons, and in our hands would greatly facilitate our attacks on the major Japanese bases at Rabaul and Kavieng.
Invasion of Bougainville was preceded by the assault upon and capture of the Treasury Islands, comprising Mono Island and Stirling Island, 28 miles south of the southern end of Bougainville, and their development as an air and naval base. The assault, on October 27, 1943, was made by New Zealand forces, who were accompanied by a detachment from the 87th Construction Battalion. The landing was strenuously resisted, but, despite severe conditions, by the end of the year the Seabees had successfully completed the fighter field they had set out to build.
On November 1, Bougainville was invaded. Landing with the Third Marine Division at Empress Augusta Bay were detachments from the 25th, 53rd, 71st, and 75th Construction Battalions. Again the principal facilities to be built were airfields, first a fighter strip at Torokina and immediately thereafter a bomber strip and a fighter strip at Piva nearby. Much of the construction plan had to be carried out under fire, but by early December the Torokina strip was complete and work had begun on the Piva field. By early January 1944, both bomber and fighter strips at Piva were in operation.
Immediately following completion of the Bougainville airfields the next step forward was taken, occupation of Green island, an atoll 40 miles northwest of the northern tip of the Solomons chain and only 120 miles east of Rabaul. The assault, on February 15, 1944, was made by the Third New Zealand Division, immediately followed ashore by the first echelon of the newly established 22nd Naval Construction Regiment, comprising the 33rd, 37th, 93rd, and half of the 15th Construction Battalions. Japanese opposition to the landing was light. Within twenty days after landing the Seabees had completed the construction of yet another fighter field and by the end of March a new bomber field was completed and in operation.
Occupation of Bougainville was never extended beyond a small area in the vicinity of Torokina, and until V-J Day, Japanese troops in large numbers were present on the island. From our newly won bases, however, the enemy strongholds of Rabaul and Kavieng were attacked incessantly until their effectiveness was reduced to the vanishing point. Enemy troops in the jungles of Bougainville constituted no threat to our offensive strength. Moreover, rapid progress had been made since the landing on Guadalcanal in ejecting the Japanese from positions of advantage in New Guinea and in the Central Pacific. A month before the Bougainville campaign was launched, forces of the Southwest Pacific had captured Finschhafen on the New Guinea coast, and while the struggle for the northern Solomons was under way they had completed their conquest of the entire Huon peninsula. During the last week of November 1943, immediately following our landings at Empress Augusta Bay, Marines of the Central Pacific forces had wrested Tarawa, in the Gilbert Islands, a combined force of Marines and Army troops had captured Kwajalein, the dominant position in the Marshalls.
Guadalcanal, the second largest island of the Solomons group, a British possession, is about 80 miles long and 25 miles wide, of rugged terrain with mountains rising to 8,000 feet toward the
36th Seabees Enroute to Bougainville
Leaving their base in Espiritu Santo on September 11, 1943, for new work in the Solomons
eastern end. The northeast coast, the most fertile and most thickly populated area, contained many coconut plantations; the population numbered about 14,000 mainly Melanesians. The climate was known to be unhealthful, with an average annual rainfall of about 164 inches.
The Japanese occupied Guadalcanal in May 1942, and immediately began the construction of a field on Lunga Point. It was this field which became the prime objective of our invasion. It was close to completion but not yet in operation when the assault forces of the 1st Marine Division struck the island on August 7. On August 9 the Marines captured it and immediately set about filling bomb craters to make the field usable by fighter planes. It was forthwith named Henderson Field, in honor of Major L.R. Henderson, USMC, a flier lost at the Battle of Midway two months previously. The completion of the field and its maintenance during the forthcoming combat period was the first priority task of the 6th Construction Battalion, assigned to the operation.
Thirteen days after the Marines made their landing, the Civil Engineer Corps officer in charge of the 6th, flew to Guadalcanal from Espiritu Santo, where the battalion was being held pending the stabilization of the beachheads. After a quick tour of the area held by the Marines, to size up the situation the Seabees would have to face, he sent word for two companies to come forward immediately.
Henderson Field under fire. -- The first contingent of the battalion, selected principally from companies A and D and consisting of 387 men and 5 officers, landed on Guadalcanal on September 1, 1942. They dug in immediately, in a narrow strip of coconut grove adjoining Henderson Field, and the next day a detail took over the construction and maintenance of the airfield. They found a runway 3,800 feet long by 150 feet wide, with 150 foot
clearance zones adjacent to the flight strip. The field had been graded and rolled by the Japanese, but they had made no provision for drainage. Near the center of the strip, there was still about 600 feet not yet completely cleared and graded, but the Marine Engineers had done enough grading to make the runway usable for fighter planes. The soil was generally an unstable muck which had been corrected with a gravel base over a small portion of the field. Use of the uncompleted field by Navy and Marine fighter planes, combined with intermittent rainy weather, had created many bad ruts which had caused a number of plane crashes.
Construction work on the airfield consisted of clearing and grading an additional 1,300 feet of flight strip, building a crown on the existing runway, and surfacing with marston mat. Operations were complicated by the need to keep the field open for use at all times, despite frequent shellings and bombings from the Japanese, who made the field one of their prime targets.
Equipment available at the time for use on the field included two medium-duty bulldozers, six 11/2-yard dump trucks, one road grader, one front-end loader, and, later on, a 5-yard carryall scraper and two small scrapers borrowed from the Marines. In addition, the Japanese had left eight small tandem rollers and 15 trucks. The Japanese also had left two 400-kva, diesel power units, hundreds of steel trusses for hangars, a complete radio, large quantities of cement, and other materials. Much of the enemy equipment was of an obsolete design; nevertheless, it was put to use.
The maintenance crew set to work filling and grading the ruts with a mixture of clay, rotten stone, and coral. Another crew began clearing the extension to the runway and building the crown. Hundreds of coconut palms were cut and the stumps blasted with Japanese powder. In locations where the soil was unsuitable for compaction, it was excavated to a depth of 21 inches and replaced with gravel, coral, and clay. Grading for the crown was difficult, for it was necessary to maintain at all times a smooth transition between the uncrowned portion of the runway and the 12-inch crown in order to permit continued plane operation.
The first large-scale laying of marston mat began on September 25, and about that time Flying Fortresses began to use the field. Small sections of mat which previously had been laid over unstable spots were removed, and the base conditions were corrected. Work was also commenced on the matting of taxiway stubs to hardstand areas.
During September, Japanese bombing and shelling threatened vital radio and radar equipment, all of which was surface housed, and it became necessary to get the equipment under ground as soon as possible. The 6th Battalion undertook tunneling operations into Pagoda Hill, just a few feet from Henderson Field. Because of the urgency of the situation, three eight-hour shifts were put to work. Air spades, air drills, and hand shovels were used and Japanese cars, on Japanese rails, were used to remove the spoil. On October4 14, all equipment was moved from the Pagoda building on top of the hill into the tunnel, just before a new Japanese shelling took place. In all, four such tunnels were built by the Seabees.
In the early part of October, a Japanese offensive pushed the Marines back to the Lunga River at a point only 150 feet from the west end of the runway. With the Marines entrenched and fighting at one end of the field, the Seabees carried on construction at the other.
In addition to air raids, which at first occurred almost regularly every noon, there was minor sniping from adjacent hills and woods and the more serious annoyance of shelling from a six-inch artillery piece hidden in the hills, which had the range on Henderson Field.
On October 13, the enemy launched an all-out sea, air, and land assault in an attempt to retake the island. About 30 twin-engined Japanese bombers dropped their bombs on the airfield, scoring several direct hits on the bomber strip. U.S. fighter planes took off immediately in pursuit. As soon as the last plane left the ground, the entire battalion turned out to assist in repairing the damage. Special trucks, loaded with gravel to fill the bomb craters, had been standing by for just such an emergency. Others carried equipment for repairing the marston mat. Peavies were used to pull the pins holding the mat sections together. Entire sections were replaced and fitted into the undamaged mat. As there were not enough shovels to supply all the men, many used their helmets to pick up earth fill and carry it to the bomb craters.
In the afternoon, a second flight of enemy bombers hit the field and repeated the morning's depredations. The men worked all afternoon to get Henderson Field back into service.
That night, star shells marked the beginning of a barrage of 14-inch and smaller shells from an
Guadalcanal Island (Solomon Islands)
enemy fleet consisting of a battleship, cruisers, and destroyer escort. The shelling was followed by bombing from three waves of aircraft. The field received 21 holes in the mat, most of them from the shelling. Of 16 Flying Fortresses which were on the field, one was damaged by the enemy fire and one cut a tire on some torn mat in an attempted take-off and had to be abandoned. The remaining 14 avoided the shell craters and took off successfully, using only 2,600 feet of runway. Repairs to the damaged field began immediately after the Fortresses had taken off. Fortunately, the Japanese cruisers had used armor-piercing shells, and the holes in the field, although deep, were of relatively small diameter.
All the next day, the field was bombed again by enemy craft. The hidden artillery piece also kept sending in shells. Holes were put in the strip as fast as they could be repaired, and then repaired as fast as they were made. Nevertheless, our aircraft were able to use the field throughout the attacks.
Early on the morning of October 15, there was another 50 minutes of heavy shelling by enemy cruisers, and bombers again hit the runway. Within 48 hours the field had been hit 53 times.
On October 16 and 17, the field was again shelled and bombed.
Bombing and shelling continued through the latter part of October and November, but on a reduced scale. In the latter part of November, Henderson Field was turned over to the Fleet Marine Aviation Engineers. At that time, 3,400 feet of mat had been laid and the remaining 1600 feet of the flight strip improved to serve heavy traffic without the necessity for marston mat.
It is the proud record of the Seabees that, despite shellings and bombings, the field was never out of operation for more than four hours and in emergencies was always usable by fighter planes.
To supplement Henderson Field, three secondary flight strips were built close by. Number One Field was a rolled-turf strip, 4,600 feet by 300 feet, constructed in three days, using Japanese equipment entirely. The bush was cut to a height of about 18 inches, hummocks were leveled, old foxholes were filled, and the field was rolled. At one time in October, this fighter strip served all air traffic, including B-17's, when artillery fire made the main field untenable. Number Two Field was a grading job accomplished with a single carryall and one bulldozer which pulled some Jap trusses rigged into a drag. Number Three was a rolled-turf strip used only for dispersal. These last two strip were on the front line at the time of construction. Marine patrols set up emplacements and stood guard while the construction work was under way.
During the following summer, the 46th and 61st Construction Battalions further extended the main runway with a coral surface, making its total length 6,000 feet and its width 150 feet, with 75-foot shoulders. They also built a second runway, 5400 feet long and 150 feet wide, with 75-foot shoulders. This new runway was placed in operation on October 12, 1943. The field, at that time, had 250 hardstands, 54 with revetments. Taxiways, 80 feet wide, with 75-foot shoulders, were built. Some were surfaced with river gravel and steel mat, and others with coral.
Four more airfields on Guadalcanal. -- From the beginning, plans for the development of Guadalcanal into a major air base called for the construction of four airfields in addition to Henderson. On Lunga Point, where Henderson Field was located, two fighter fields were projected, one at Kukum and one at Lunga; about 8 miles to the east, on Koli Point, two bomber fields were to be built.
The 6th Battalion began the construction of two fighter runways at Kukum Field. Due to heavy evacuations of personnel, representing nearly half its strength, the battalion was relieved on December 1 by the First Marine Aviation Engineers. At that time, approximately 30 per cent of the subgrading for the runways had been completed. The first strip, coral-surfaced, was placed in operation on January 1, 1943.
An auxiliary strip was constructed by the 46th and 61st Construction Battalions in June-July 1943. It was coral surfaced, 4,000 feet long by 150 feet wide, with 75-foot shoulders. Coral taxiways, 80 feet wide, and 121 hardstands, 15 of them revetted, were also constructed.
On December 5, 1942, the 14th Construction Battalion, which had landed at Koli Point, early in November, in the wake of a small detachment of Marine raiders, began work on an emergency fighter strip at Carney Field, one of the bomber fields built in the Koli Point area. The strip was completed in two weeks, and on December 23, construction was started on the main bomber runway, to be 6,500 feet long and 150 feet wide, with a steel
Building a New Fighter Strip on Guadalcanal
Seabees laying steel mat on strip No. 1 at Kukum Field
mat surface. On February 3, the construction force was augmented by the 2nd Marine Aviation Engineers, who had arrived at Guadalcanal on January 30.
Heavy rain and day alerts hampered the construction work, but on March 21, and Army night-fighter squadron began using the field; heavy bombardment units began operations on April 1.
Reconstruction work at later dates by the 810th Army Engineers, 873rd Airborne Engineers, and the 26th and 46th Construction Battalions provided the field with three main taxiways, five cross-overs, and 85 hardstands for heavy bombers.
Construction of Lunga Field for fighter planes was started on December 27, 1942, by the 18th Construction Battalion, which had arrived at Guadalcanal two weeks earlier. A request was made to finish construction with all possible speed, but, due to bad weather, the field was not usable until February 9. By this date, the runway, 4,000 feet long and 150 feet wide, of steel mat on a gravel base, and one taxiway were complete. Two squadrons immediately began operating, and by March 7, four squadrons were in operation. An additional taxiway and 110 hardstands for light bombers were later constructed at the field by the 46th and 61st Construction Battalions.
Koli bomber field was constructed during a period when emergency fields for fighters were no longer needed and, therefore, was not put to use until the runway for heavy bombers was completed in October 1943. Work was started on May 22 by the
Unloading Gas and Oil Drums on the Beach at Bougainville
61st Construction Battalion. The strip, 7,000 feet by 500 feet, was built of river gravel with a marston mat surface on a silty soil base. Under heavy bomber loads, many failures of the mat occurred, traceable to the poor nature of the sub-soil. Emergency repairs were made to permit uninterrupted operation of planes, by filling coral under the mat to provide adequate support. A new site, with a heavy blanket of stabilized soil, was chosen 300 yards northwest of the original strip, and the original strip was reconstructed. The project was under the direction of the 61st Construction Battalion, with additional equipment and men from ten other outfits, both Army and Navy, at various times. The 2nd Marine Aviation Engineers built the south taxiway system, a taxiway connecting with Carney Field, and 101 heavy bomber hardstands were provided.
Tank farms for the Airfield. -- Concurrent with construction of the airfields was the erection of tank farms. Late in October 1942, work was begun by the 6th Battalion on three 250-barrel tanks for aviation gas at Henderson Field. Up to that time, fuel drums had been loaded from cargo vessels to landing barges, unloaded at the beach, and thence transported by trucks to fuel dumps near the airfield.Such operations were costly of manpower, and at times it was impossible to furnish enough fuel by this method to satisfy operating requirements. The three tanks were located so that it was possible to roll drums from the trucks onto a rack and to empty them into a trough discharging into the tank. Fuel for use on the field was drawn from the tanks into tank trucks. In December, additional storage volume was provided through the erection of one 1,000-barrel and two
10,000-barrel prefabricated steel tanks. The final step in the construction of the tank farm was the laying of a 6-inch welded pipeline connecting a distributing point on the beach to the various tanks.
The 26th Battalion erected two additional 10,000-barrel aviation-gasoline tanks and nine 1,000-barrel aviation-gasoline tanks for Henderson Field and the supplementary fighter strips. At Kukum they built a tank farm providing storage for two million gallons of aviation gasoline, one million gallons of motor gasoline, and 42,000 gallons of diesel oil.
In March 1943, a detachment of 260 men from the 34th Battalion, stationed at Tulagi, was ordered to Guadalcanal to take over the building of a 36,000-barrel tank farm at Koli Point, begun by the 14th and 46th Battalions. The tank farm, with a total capacity of 1,300,000 gallons of aviation gasoline and 500,000 gallons of motor gasoline in thirty-five 1,000-barrel tanks and one 10,000-barrel tank, was completed by May. The tanks were well dispersed and concealed in heavy jungle growth in seven groups. A submarine line was installed to moorings off Kilo Point to permit tankers to discharge their cargoes into the storage tanks.
Waterfront Facilities. -- When our forces landed on Guadalcanal, waterfront facilities were virtually non-existent. Unloading from ships to beaches was accomplished by means of light landing-craft, tank lighters, and pontoon barges. Working parties of Marines, and the 6th Seabees generally did their own unloading, except during critical periods when the Marines had to man the front lines. Initially, coconut-log ramps, about 35 feet long and wide enough to accommodate a truck, were constructed, extending far enough offshore to float a landing craft at the outer end. Later, three timber piers were built. The first was constructed by repairing an old enemy pier at Kukum, using creosoted telephone poles left by the Japanese. On the day that the pier was completed, enemy artillery got range on the area, forcing its temporary abandonment, and the pier was left unused for quite a while. To substitute for it, two other small piers were constructed at Lunga.
During 1943, harbor facilities were considerably extended. The Seabees assembled pontoon barges to aid in unloading, and built finger piers at various locations around the island. Two T-shaped piers, having 40-foot water depth at their outboard ends, were constructed at Kukum. A pier to accommodate Liberty ships was also built at Point Cruz.
Three (Special) construction battalions arrived during 1943 -- the 1st in March, the 4th in May, and the 9th in August -- to handle stevedoring operations and pontoon assembly. Later, the 2nd (Special) and the 11th (Special) were assigned to Guadalcanal. One Army port battalion and four amphibious truck companies also handled unloading operations.
Road Construction. -- Initially, road construction on Guadalcanal was delayed by the pressing necessity to complete the airfields and by a shortage of equipment. When the 6th Battalion was relieved of airfield construction, about the middle of November 1942, its attention was turned to road construction. No attempt was made to remove the layer of organic material which formed a sub-base for most of the roads, but a 12- to 18-inch clay blanket was placed over it, traffic-compacted, and surfaced with 6 inches of gravel. Later, the 14th and 26th Battalions, which arrived in the last two months of 1942, added some 96 miles of road to the 24 miles built by the 6th Battalion. At the peak of its development, Guadalcanal had about 135 miles of roads with numerous bridges to permit access between airfields, dock and harbor installations, and camp areas. Furthermore, the 6th Battalion erected four major vehicle bridges, ranging in length from 90 feet to more than 200 feet. For the construction of the Lunga River bridge, which was originally a narrow, coconut-log structure built by the Japanese and not strong enough for trucks, the Seabees fabricated a pile driver from Japanese structural shapes. Work was begun on September 14, 1942, and was more than half completed by October 11, when high water washed out the old bridge and carried it into the new construction, shearing off two piles and tumbling the pile driver into the river. This occurred just before the major Japanese offensive to retake the island on October 13. Because of the immediate need for a river crossing, the Seabees set to work salvaging lumber from the wrecked bridge and used it, in combination with empty fuel drums, to construct a temporary pontoon bridge. During the action of October 13-15, the bridge was used by traffic bearing casualties to the dressing stations at the rear and carrying ammunition to the front. It was kept in use until the new bridge, 225 feet long, with a 20-foot roadway, was completed on October 25.
By December 5, the 6th Battalion had also built
Piva Bomber Field, Bougainville
Men of the 71st Seabees at work, January 23, 1944
the Tenaru River bridge, 209 feet in length, with a 20-foot roadway. By that time the supply of Japanese timber had been used up, and it was necessary to hew many of the timbers from trees cut in the nearby jungle.
It was found that the pile trestle structures were regularly washed out by floods, so later bridges were constructed using high-level pontoon spans supported on pile abutments without intermediate supports. The upper Lunga River bridge, completed by the 61st Battalion in January 1944, and the Malambu River bridge were of this type.
One of the interesting tasks of the Seabees at Guadalcanal was the construction of the "Guadalcanal-Bougainville-Tokyo Railway," 1.22 miles long, in three days by the 26th Battalion. In two more days, the pier terminus of the railway was completed.
Hospitals. -- The principal naval medical facilities at Guadalcanal consisted of the 1290-bed hospital for MOB 8, supplemented by a 300-bed hospital for Acorn 1. The work of the Seabees in hospital construction was severely hampered by lack of building materials. To take care of the situation, temporary structures were improvised out of native material to accommodate the overflow of patients until permanent surgical facilities and other requirements could be completed.
Repair and Storage Facilities. -- Repair facilities established on Guadalcanal were limited. By November 1943, an aviation repair and overhaul unit had been placed in operation to handle necessary repairs to structural sections of aircraft, manufacture sheet-metal parts, and repair stationary and moveable control surfaces. Boat repair units at Lunga Point and Kilo Point were equipped to
handle repairs and to overhaul engines for small boats and landing craft.
Quonset huts and 40-foot arch-rib warehouses were constructed by the Seabees for Navy and Army aviation supplies, for a naval supply depot, and for a medical supply depot. In July 1943, a Navy construction materials depot was set up to supply all construction battalions with much needed spare parts for repair of their equipment and with expendable materials used in construction. All construction battalions on Guadalcanal at the time furnished personnel to set up this activity, which was in operation within a month.
Malaria Control. -- The plan to use Guadalcanal for extensive staging operations was greatly handicapped by malaria, which rose to epidemic proportions with the rainy season. Accordingly, 14 officers and 650 men of the 63rd Battalion, which had arrived on June 11, 1943, were assigned to malaria control. With the assistance of native labor, Seabees removed logs, roots, and overhanging trees from the banks of streams and lagoons and submerged snags from the beds. In small streams, this brought about an increase in the rate of flow so that breeding of the anopheles mosquito was checked. In the case of lagoons or the larger, slower-moving streams, clearing their banks permitted easier access for the oiling crews on their periodic missions. In endeavoring to free lagoons on the flat coastal plains from anophelene larvae, it was necessary to surmount the obstacle of sandbars by devising a method to permit egress of infected lagoon water to the sea. Control methods included the clearing of the banks and the installation of culverts, fabricated from discarded oil drums, through the sandbars. The culverts permitted tidal fluctuations alternately to raise and lower the level of the lagoon, flushing it with sea water -- an effective breeding preventive. In smaller, sluggish-flowing streams, a rapid cleansing was accomplished by impounding water behind semiautomatic flush dams and releasing it quickly when the water had reached a desired height.
Complete swamp drainage on Guadalcanal was found to be impossible; therefore, the swamps were ditched so that the water could collect in pools, where it could be oiled. More than 50 miles of ditches were dug by hand labor, dragline, and blasting.
Meanwhile, the remaining members of the 63rd Battalion were building dock facilities at Tetere Beach. Using piling, caps, stringers, and decking obtained from the jungle, they erected a stage, 40 feet square, with a 12-foot driveway extending 60 feet to shore. A ramp on the seaward side facilitated unloading of heavy ordnance and equipment.
General experiences on Guadalcanal. -- The Seabees on Guadalcanal were subjected to intermittent air raids until the fall of 1943, but the most severe punishment was taken by the 6th Battalion during the first months of airfield construction. Other early battalions were under the constant strain that goes with frequent air raids, but they suffered no personnel losses.
Materials found on Guadalcanal were widely used on construction projects. River gravel, mixed with sand-clay silt as a binder, provided support for airstrip steel-mat surfacing. Decayed coral was later used for runways, taxiways, and hardstands. Gravel and some coral were used for road construction. Good hardwood, mahogany, rosewood, and teakwood furnished piling and timbers for wharves and bridges. Many offices and warehouses were built of native poles, with side and roof materials procured from the coconut tree. The 61st Battalion, from June 1943 to January 1944, set up and operated two sawmills, which produced more than one million board feet of lumber, in addition to numerous piles for camp, bridge, and pier construction. The 46th and 26th Battalions also operated sawmills.
Native labor was used principally in stevedoring operations, handling material at cargo and ration dumps, building native-type structures for warehouses and offices, clearing and oiling streams for malaria control, and, during the early stages of construction, as common labor on airfield construction.
A total of seventeen construction battalions, including five special battalions, were assigned to Guadalcanal. By the end of 1942, the 14th, 18th, and 26th Battalions had reported to Guadalcanal, in addition to the original 6th which was transferred in January 1943. During 1943, the 34th, 46th, 61st, 63rd, 53rd, and 27th Battalions arrived, and the 1st, 4th, and 9th Specials. CBMU 501 took over part of the maintenance duties on Guadalcanal in March 1943, and during the early months of 1944, four maintenance units, CBMU's 532, 533, 518, and 520, assumed responsibility for maintenance and minor construction activities. By that time, all battalions, with the exception of the Specials,
had been withdrawn. The 18th, 25th, and 58th Battalions staged through Guadalcanal with Marine divisions, and numerous other Seabee groups were at Guadalcanal for staging activities prior to forward movements to the upper Solomons.
The naval air base on Guadalcanal was disestablished on June 12, 1946.
Concurrent with the building up of the large base on Guadalcanal, Tulagi, across Iron Bottom Sound and part of the Florida Island group, was developed as a small naval base. It provided a well-protected harbor where large ships could anchor, and facilities were established for the reserve storage of fuel and diesel oil, and for the support of seaplanes, landing craft, and motor torpedo boats.
Tulagi, with a circumference of about 3 miles, was the seat of government for the British Protectorate of the Solomons.
In October 1942, a detachment of 59 men of the 6th Battalion was sent from Guadalcanal to Tulagi to built a PT-boat base at Sesapi. The strength of the detachment was later increased to 133 officers and men. First, an emergency outlet channel for Tulagi harbor was dredged and blasted to avoid having PT boats bottled up by enemy warships. Two PT-boat floating drydocks were assembled from pontoons; a 50-man camp was set up; and power and telephone systems to serve the island and harbor area were installed. The detachment also furnished a number of carpenter details to assist with the maintenance and repair of PT boats.
By August 1943, the facilities at the Sesapi base had been augmented to provide more shop facilities and storage areas, to permit major PT-boat overhaul. A repair and service unit was set up able to support 40 PT boats in combat operations. The Seabees also built three small wharves for PT boats. Much of this later work was done by the 27th Battalion.
In addition, PT-boat facilities were constructed on the island of Macambo, the base housing at Calvertville on Florida Island. An existing concrete wharf at Macambo, in need of repair but still serviceable, was used, but it was necessary to build torpedo overhaul and storage facilities.
In July 1943, PT Squadrons 1, 3, and 8 were using the Sesapi and Macambo bases. Two 1,000-barrel tanks for aviation gasoline were erected at Sesapi, and eight 1,000-barrel tanks at Macambo, with loading line to the dock.
Halavo seaplane base. -- Before leaving the Tulagi area in January 1943, the 6th Battalion detachment began construction of a seaplane base at Halavo on Florida Island; the completion of this base became the major task of the 34th Battalion when it arrived on Tulagi on February 12, 1943.
A tent camp was erected for 1500 men and 300 officers. In planning for the seaplane facilities, due to the shortage of cement, it was decided to use steel mat on the ramps and apron. A temporary mat ramp, 25 feet wide, had been completed when priorities for work at Halavo were reduced in May to allow concentration on work in the Russells and on Guadalcanal. Priorities were then established as follows: (1) base roads, (2) a 12,000-barrel tank farm, (3) a small apron without mat.
Toward the end of June, a squadron of 15 PBY's was added to the scouting squadron already operating from the base, and another temporary ramp of steel mat was laid for their use. Construction of the tank farm was completed, including a filling line to the beach and a delivery line to the ramp. Thirty wooden buildings for administration and shops were constructed as fast as the output of the local sawmill permitted.
The marston-mat ramps were considered wholly satisfactory in service, and it was estimated that their substitution for concrete saved about two months' construction time.
In late 1943, the scope of the Halavo base was revised upward, the new plan calling for an increase in apron area, structures more permanent than the original canvas-covered ones, and the reconstruction of housing facilities. Two ramps of marston mat, 50 feet wide, and a coral apron, 150 feet by 850 feet, were installed. Dock facilities were constructed, consisting of a small-boat wharf, 16 feet by 72 feet, and a boat refueling wharf, 6 feet by 50 feet. Twelve screened frame wards with canvas roofing were provided for a 200-bed bas hospital.
In September, ten quonset huts, 20 feet by 48 feet, were erected for quarters. The aviation-gasoline tank farm was filled to capacity through the newly completed sea-loading line. By December 1943, three PBY squadrons occupied the base, and the scouting squadron had been moved forward
Florida & Tulagi Islands (Solomon Islands)
Work Shops and Marine Railway at the Landing-Craft Repair Base, Carter City
Note concrete gutters and ramps and crowded streets
New housing facilities and quonset huts for NATS storage and office facilities were erected.
Tank farms. -- One of the major projects at Tulagi was the erection of tank-farm facilities. In addition to smaller farms provided at the different activities in the area, the 34th Battalion erected a large farm, together with two fuel piers, on Phillips Peninsula, on Florida Island, to serve the Fleet. Tanks with a 10,000-barrel capacity were used, 28 for fuel oil, 5 for diesel oil. The task was completed by March 15, 1944.
Landing-craft repair base. -- On April 22, 1943, instructions were received calling for the establishment of a base for landing craft in the Tulagi area. The base was to be self-sustaining and mobile, in the sense that disassembly and reshipment of its facilities to forward areas and resumption of normal operation could be accomplished with a minimum of delay. The base was to be capable of keeping 80 landing craft in repair.
The base called for was established by the 27th Battalion at Carter City on Florida Island, between April and August 1943. Warehouses, tropical-hut housing for officers and men, and other camp facilities were provided. One 350-ton, 6-by-24-pontoon drydock for LCI's was assembled. On August 22, 1943, the operation of the repair base was taken over by CBD 1008.
The 27th Battalion also constructed facilities on Gavutu Harbor for the functionng of two amphibious boat repair and training centers and the training of their crews prior to forward-area assignment.
The base at Turner City, on Florida Island, included camp facilities for 400 men and officers, a pier, 10 feet by 130 feet, a 2-by-12-pontoon finger pier for small craft, and two steel arch-rib warehouses to be used as shops. At the base on Gavutu, steel arch-rib buildings were erected for shops and two 10,000-barrel aviation-gasoline tanks were built concealed in a hillside. An existing concrete wharf, 125 feet by 150 feet, providing 20-foot-draft berthing space, was repaired and equipped with a marine railway. These facilities were essentially completed by August 1943. In December, the 34th Battalion installed a second marine railway on Gavutu and practically doubled the capacity of the boat nest for small landing craft. The boat nests consisted of rows of piling driven in 50-foot squares with heavy steel mooring cables stretched across the top of the piles. Supporting facilities for the Gavutu base, including a 10,000-barrel diesel fuel tank, were built on the adjoining islands, Tanombago and Palm.
Hospital Facilities. -- Illness was even more prevalent on Tulagi than on Guadalcanal. Medical facilities, as established, consisted of a 200-bed hospital at the Halavo seaplane base and the "Blue Beach" Hospital on Tulagi. The first 200-bed unit at Blue Beach, consisting of 35 quonset huts originally part of Cub 2, was completed by the 27th Battalion in May 1943. In August, plans to expand the hospital to a 450-bed unit were formulated, but because of materials shortages, the expansion was not completed until November.
Waterfront facilities. -- Waterfront facilities at Tulagi Harbor were improved and extended by the Seabees. The 6th Battalion installed a five-ton stiff-leg derrick, built from Japanese structural steel and powered by a salvaged Japanese automobile engine, on Government Wharf, and the
Halavo Seaplane Base, Florida Island
Receiving first tanker shipment of aviation gasoline into tank storage system installed by the 34th Seabees
wharf, built of timber, was enlarged by the 27th Battalion. The 27th also constructed Sturgess Wharf, with a 140-foot face and 40-foot water depth.
The Seabees assembled pontoon barges to aid in unloading operations. In October 1943, Company B of the 9th (Special) Construction Battalion arrived at Tulagi for stevedoring activities. A salvage wharf was built at Tulagi with piling, framing, and decking cut by the 27th Construction Battalion logging and sawmill crews on Florida Island.
General experiences on Tulagi. -- Native hardwoods, produced by the Seabees' logging and sawmill activities, were extensively used at Tulagi. Logging was an unusually difficult operation, for the men had to work in mud all day, guarding themselves against crocodiles, poisonous vines, and fungus infection.
The Japanese did not bomb Tulagi until February 1943, after the close of the Guadalcanal campaign. However, from that time until the following June, the Seabees were subjected to occasional air raids. Men of the 27th Battalion were given partial credit for the downing of three Japanese planes.
When CBMU 521 reported at Tulagi in December 1943, all the Seabees had left with the exception of the 34th. That battalion was relieved by CBMU 505 in March 1944.
In early 1945, when the Solomons area was well
Living Quarters at Carter City, Florida Island
Industrial buildings in the foreground
Florida Island Chapel
behind the front lines the CBMU's secured several of the activities and crated usable materials for use in forward areas.
After the Japanese evacuated Guadalcanal, the next phase of the Solomons campaign, the ejection of the enemy from New Georgia, began. On February 21, 1943, Seabees landed in the Russell Islands to construct an air and naval base to lend support.
The Russell Islands, which lie northwest of Guadalcanal, consist of two principal islands, Banika and Pavuvu, and a number of islets.
The topography of Banika Island, where most of the naval development took place, was highly favorable for the projected facilities. Well-drained shore areas, deep water, protected harbors, and lack of malaria made it a good location for a base to support landing craft, PT boats, and small craft. The greatly sloping terrain and well-drained coral subsoil facilitated construction.
Airfield construction. -- The major portion of the 33rd Battalion departed from Guadalcanal for the Russell Islands on February 20, 1943, on LCT's and LST's, with whatever equipment could be put aboard. Immediately upon arrival, they started work on the fighter strip. Progress was slow, due to inadequate equipment and lack of personnel, but by April 13, the emergency landing of a P-38 was possible. On April 20, 1943, the 35th Battalion, which had followed the 33rd, in early March, was given the task of completing a strip 3100 feet long by 150 feet wide, in twenty days. A detachment of
33rd Seabees Working on Banika Airfield in the Russells
This photograph was taken March 13, 1943
200 men from the 34th Battalion with much of that battalion's heavy equipment was also brought to Banika to help rush the work. The strip was surfaced with coral, which was available in abundance. By early June, in addition to the main runway, a taxiway, two warm-up areas, 60 feet by 450 feet, and 25 revetments for Airstrip No. 1 had been completed.
During June, the 35th Battalion completed the construction of a second 4500-foot strip, with a taxiway and dispersal areas for 60 planes. Work was then started on the lengthening of the first strip to 6,000 feet to make it suitable for medium bombers, and on a bomber taxiway. The hardstands had to be constructed to allow them to accommodate heavier aircraft, and more had to be provided.
The two fields were used by the Army Air Force planes in their attacks on enemy positions in New Georgia.
In conjunction with the construction of the airstrips, the Seabees also erected quonset huts and dallas huts for use as quarters, galley, mess halls, offices, operations building, and dispensaries at each field.
Tank farms. -- By May 1943, the 33rd Battalion had erected an aviation-gasoline tank farm of eight 1,000-barrel tanks, together with piping and fittings, for Airstrip 1. A second tank farm of six 1,000-barrel tanks, completed in June for Airstrip 2, was connected to the landing dock by a 1,200-foot pipeline.
Enemy bombing on June 25, 1943 caused considerable damage to Tank Farm 1. One tank was set on fire and was completely destroyed; three others were punctured by shrapnel. The piping was also damaged. Repairs were completed in five days. Gasoline service to the airfield was maintained without interruption.
In July, five more tanks were added at Tank Farm 1 and four at Tank Farm 2.
Waterfront facilities. -- Development of waterfront facilities at Banika was begun by the 35th Battalion immediately upon its arrival in March 1943. An existing wharf on Renard Sound was
Russell Islands (Solomon Islands)
Advance Base Construction Depot, Banika Island
The photograph was taken August 15th 1944, when the 67-acre depot was approximately seventy-five per cent complete
lengthened to 300 feet, the storage area was enlarged, and dock access roads were relocated and widened. The 35th also maintained and operated pontoon barges across Renard Sound and to Pavuvu Island, and constructed a barge landing on Pavuvu.
Excellent berthing was developed for LST's and LCT's at Blue Beach and Yellow Beach. Deep water existed close inshore and by building coconut-log bulkheads, backfilled with coral, berthing space having a minimum depth of 3 feet was provided so that the shallow vessels could come to shore and drop their ramps.
In September 1943, the 36th Battalion came to Banika for the purpose of developing transshipment facilities. Twin floating pontoon wharves were assembled at Tillotson Cove. Each wharf was 432 feet long and had five bridges connecting it with the shore. The water depth at the outboard edges of the wharves was enough to allow the berthing of the largest ships. Tidal swamps also were cleared at Tillotson Cove for LST and LCT landings. When completed in November 1943, each area was capable of berthing at least six landing craft. Eight standard 40-by-100-foot steel arch-rib buildings were erected for transshipment warehouses, and 50 quonset huts for a transshipment camp.
During the fall of 1943, stevedoring operations were handled by detachments of the 6th and the
9th (Special) Battalions. From early 1944, the 11th and the 12th (Special) Battalions were responsible for those activities.
Road construction. -- Considerable time was spent in road construction and maintenance. In March 1943, the 35th Battalion laid out and constructed a two-lane road from Blue Beach around Banika Island, and in the months that followed, other coral-surfaced roads were built to connect the various activities on the island.
Hospitals. -- The first medical facilities on Banika consisted of several large hospital tents. By May 1943, the 33rd Battalion had supplemented these with two timber-frame hospital wards to accommodate 60 patients, a surgery building, and an underground surgery.
In June 1943, four 35-patient wards were built for a naval dispensary, completely screened, and equipped with emergency battle dressing stations that could be blacked out. An operating room was also constructed. In August, additional construction was authorized, including a dental laboratory and administration building, two additional wards, and an officers' mess.
Construction was started in December 1943, on a 1300-bed hospital for MOB 10, by the 93rd Battalion, which had arrived in the Russells in November. To meet a completion deadline of March 1, 1944, personnel from the 15th Battalion assisted the 93rd by working on the plumbing and electrical installations, and doctors and hospital corpsmen aided in the erection of the prefabricated-steel building, 20 feet wide and 250 feet long.
Construction facilities. -- Late in 1943 several battalions cooperated in constructing the steel arch-rib warehouses for an advance base construction depot annex at Banika. A pontoon assembly depot was also established. In January 1944, the second section of the 20th Battalion arrived to operate the ABCD annex. Operations included the receiving and storage of incoming material; assembly and shipping of outgoing material; uncrating and
Acorn 15 Messhall, Bougainville, May 9, 1944
assembling of jeeps, command cars, water trailers, and fire pumps; erecting, checking, and servicing of cranes, shovels, and bulldozers; and the maintenance of an accurate stock inventory. In June 1944, the first section of the 20th Battalion also arrived. That same month, the 24th Battalion undertook an enlargement of the annex. In January 1945, its operation was taken over by CBMU 501.
In December, the personnel of PAD 2 arrived to operate the pontoon assembly depot which had been constructed by the 93rd Battalion the previous month. CBD 1054 assisted in the operation during the summer of 1944.
One of the most important activities of the 33rd Battalion was the establishment and operation of a sawmill to augment the meager supply of finished lumber available for construction. This mill furnished about 4,000 board feet of lumber daily. However, suitable timber was neither plentiful nor easily accessible. Logging had to be conducted in a jungle difficult to penetrate; trails were cut through by bulldozers, and tractors and bulldozers were used to drag the logs to the mill. In August 1943, demands for lumber became too great for the 33rd alone to supply, and two other battalions also provided logging crews. By October 1943, Banika Island had been practically cleaned out of suitable timber.
The abundant coral supply of the island was used extensively to surface airstrips, roads, and storage areas. In December 1943, the 93rd Battalion set up a ready-mix concrete plant, which greatly increased concrete production while at the same time saving a considerable amount of labor.
The Seabees on Banika were subjected to the constant strain of air attacks until the close of the New Georgia campaign in July 1943. They helped man the 20-mm guns around the island and suffered several casualties, including four men killed.
Most of the construction on Banika was carried out during 1943 by five battalions. In 1944, seven other battalions undertook the construction of additional facilities. The first CBMU arrived in September 1943. During 1944, CBMU's 503, 571, 572, 573, 501, and 580 arrived, and, after the departure of CBMU 503 in January 1945, CBMU 550 took its place.
During the early months of 1945, the maintenance units began dismantling some of the facilities, including MOB 10. All structural parts were marked and packed to facilitate setting up at a new station. Parts found usable were cleaned and repainted, and crated for transshipment. The salvage operation required approximately four months.
On occupation of the New Georgia group in the Solomon Islands took place between June 30 and August 5, 1943. Its purpose was to remove the threat of the Japanese-held airfield at Munda Point and to provide an air and naval base to support further moves into the northern Solomons.
New Georgia Group
The New Georgia group consists of several large and many small islands, occupying an area about 150 miles long and 40 miles wide. The islands are mountainous, their indented coastlines affording numerous excellent harbors and protected anchorages. New Georgia, the principal island of the group, is about 45 miles long and 20 miles wide at its broadest point. Two other large islands with strategic significance were Rendova, south of New Georgia Island, and Kolombangara to the west of it.
Seabees participated in the assault landings which took place on June 30, 1943, at three different points simultaneously, two on New Georgia -- at Segi Point, at the southern end of the island and at Viru Harbor on the southwest coast -- and one on Rendova.
Segi Point. -- In the wake of two small reconnaissance parties, 17 officers and 477 men of the 47th Battalion landed at Segi Point. No enemy resistance was encountered and unloading operations were begun immediately. Before the day was over work was started on clearing an airstrip and preparing revetments.
Nearly continuous rains for the first seventeen days slowed up work on the airstrip and made construction of roads almost impossible. The soil was largely clay, exceptionally difficult to work where wet. Coral was scarce and what little there was had a high content of clay, and consequently drained poorly. Work on the airstrip was carried on night and day until July 18, when enemy air raids seriously retarded night work. By that time, however, the field had been completed to a usable width of 150 feet and length of 3300 feet. By the end of July, two taxi loops with 28 hardstands were complete. Continuous enemy bombing resulted in one casualty, several cases of war neurosis, and damage to several pieces of equipment.
During that first month, most of the battalion's
New Georgia Island Group
remaining personnel arrived at Segi Point. They cleared and graded about two miles of road and built one permanent and two temporary LCT wharfs for unloading operations. Permanent camp facilities were constructed, and a saw mill was set up and put into operation.
In August, the field was widened to 200 feet and provided with an all-weather coral-surfaced runway; its shoulders were widened; and warmup areas were graded and surfaced. Two 42,000-gallon aviation gasoline tanks were constructed and put in use.
Seabees Laying Pierced Plank at Bougainville
The roads, which had been constructed so hurriedly during July, were almost impassable in a few months, in consequence of the rains and the heavy traffic. Pit coral proved unsatisfactory for road construction because of its high clay content, but satisfactory coral was dredged from the sea by draglines working from the beach. The coral was placed two to nine feet thick, to assure roads capable of withstanding rains and heavy traffic.
In September, the Segi Point airstrip was extended 150 feet; the parking areas were enlarged; and 52 hardstands were completed. A 30-ton marine railway was constructed, and two self-propelled pontoon barges were assembled. The Seabees then constructed a pontoon pier to accommodate ships with drafts up to 15 feet, and a 90-foot log ramp for small landing craft.
By December 1943, about 75 per cent of the battalion had bee moved to Munda, CBMU 500 arrived in November 1943, and assumed responsibility for all maintenance and construction.
On June 30, 1943, the same day as the Segi Point landing, the first echelon of the 24th Battalion accompanied the 172nd infantry in a landing on Rendova. The assault was met by Japanese fire, but bulldozers immediately set to work to cut roads into the jungle. After enemy snipers had been driven back into the jungle, the transports were unloaded and then left the harbor.
The Seabees in their road work immediately encountered extremely difficult ground conditions. After four or five passages by heavy vehicles over the marshy terrain, movement became difficult or impossible. Steel-mesh proved useless after the passage of eight or ten trucks, and even tractors bogged down in two to three feet of mud.
The day following the landings, the Army and Marines requested that roads be built so that they might move their howitzers and anti-aircraft guns and have access to their ammunition dumps and bivouac areas. The Seabees then cut down coconut trees, sawed them into 12-foot lengths, and used them to build corduroy roads. This was slow work, however, and even then gave only one-lane passage. That day, an air attack caused the loss of three bulldozers and much of the battalion's galley equipment. Battalion casualties included two officers and 18 enlisted men dead and eight enlisted men missing. Wounded were evacuated to Guadalcanal.
The Seabees continued to construct and maintain corduroy roads to assist in the unloading and dispersal on the beaches during the eight days required to secure Rendova. Rainy weather aggravated transportation difficulties. Heavy Japanese bombing attacks were daily occurrences while skirmishing and sniping continued. However, the corduroy roads permitted the Marines to move heavy artillery to points from which they could bring the Japanese stronghold at Munda Point under fire. By August 1, the entire 24th Battalion had reached Rendova; on the 15th it moved across the channel to Munda.
Viru Harbor. -- At the third of those June 30th landings, the one at Viru Harbor, the first echelon of the 20th Seabees accompanied the landing, having been assigned the task of building a base for PT boats. They attempted to enter the harbor
but were driven off by enemy fire. On July 2, they returned and landed after the harbor had been secured by the assault troops. Meanwhile, the second echelon had landed successfully on the west bank of the harbor on July 1. The third echelon landed on July 3.
Quonset Hut Erected by the 73rd Seabees for Field Operations at Munda
The Seabees immediately commenced unloading operations. They improved and extended an existing road and built a new one along the beach to provide for transferral of cargo. A sector of the main defense line was assigned to the detachment, and machine-gun emplacements and rifle pits were constructed and camouflaged. Extensive barbed-wire entanglements were strung in front of the line and fitted with booby traps.
The original plan for the establishment of a PT-boat base was abandoned because the harbor was found to be unsuitable. However, the Seabees remained at Viru Harbor until October, to carry out minor construction projects and maintenance. A marine railway was constructed for the repair of small landing craft, and an existing wharf, 50 feet by 30 feet, was rehabilitated, using earth and coral fill held by coconut-log cribbing.
Munda Point. -- Immediately after the capture of Munda on August 5, 1943, the 73rd and 24th Battalions began repairing the battle damage to the airfield. The Japanese had surfaced the runway with coral over an area 150 feet by 3,000 feet, but the remainder was overgrown with grass and was soft. By August 13, the strip was ready for use; taxiways and 50 hardstands were ready the next day, when 48 planes arrived for permanent basing on the field. Four aviation-gasoline issuing points were installed, pontoons, supported by coconut-logs, serving as tanks.
One company of the 47th Battalion, the 828th Aviation Engineers, and the 131st Army Engineers were assigned to Munda to expedite completion of the airfield, which was ready for bomber operations before October 15. By December, the runway had been extended to 8,000 feet, and taxiways had been built along both sides. Quonset huts served for operations buildings, mess halls, and galleys; personnel were housed under canvas.
The construction of a hospital for Acorn 8, and one for Cub 3, was completed in October 1943. Lumber for these structures was produced at the 73rd Battalion's sawmill. The production of the mill was limited, however, by the inadequacy of its power unit, which had difficulty driving the saw through the hard native woods.
In addition to the construction of aviation facilities, the Seabees were responsible for several other projects. In October 1943, the 24th Battalion completed the erection of an aviation-gasoline tank farm of eight 1,000-barrel tanks and one 10,000-barrel tank. Housing was also provided for various naval base activities, as well as numerous steel arch-rib warehouses for the supply depot.
In November 1943, the 73rd Battalion completed the deepening of the channel through Munda Bar to provide a 300-foot channel, 15 feet deep, for passage of LST's and similar craft. Deepening of the channel to 35 feet was completed in April 1944, the 73rd and 47th Battalions cooperating on dredging and blasting. The Seabees also added to the pier facilities on Roviana Lagoon. By November 1943, Companies A and D of the 9th (Special) Construction Battalion had reported to New Georgia for stevedoring operations.
On Ondonga Island, near Munda Point, the 82nd and the 37th Battalions constructed an air and naval base. Ondonga presented many obstacles to construction -- dense jungle covering a mud bog. Construction of airstrips and roads required excavation down to the natural coral surface, and filling to grade with compacted crushed coral. Here, the Seabees worked against mud and time, under the strain of periodic shelling from Japanese-held Kolombangara Island and intermittent bombing by Japanese planes based on Bougainville.
Nevertheless, they successfully completed a fighter strip, 4,500 feet long and 200 feet wide, in 25 days, in time to provide coverage for the forthcoming
Bougainville campaign. By February 1944, the two battalions, augmented by additional equipment and equipment operators from the 24th Battalion, completed 20 miles of roads, two fighter strips, several miles of taxiways with accompanying hardstands and revetments, as well as a control tower and quonset-hut camps for aviation personnel. A 12,000-barrel tank farm with a submarine filling line and two filling stands was also erected.
During October and November 1943, a detachment of the 20th Battalion improved the island's docking facilities by installation of three LCT landings and one 40-foot-wide boat-pool landing. In February 1944, the 47th Battalion developed the Ondonga base to include offices, headquarters, camp, a net depot, and dispensary.
On Bau Island, beginning in october 1943, a PT-boat base was built by the 20th Battalion. The Seabees first improved docking facilities, built roads and incidental structures. In November, facilities were increased to include three steel arch-rib warehouses, four quonset huts, and water and electrical systems. During March 1944, the 73rd Battalion added an engine warehouse, more roads, and a fuel line.
Two boat pools were established in the New Georgia group, one on Doke Doke Island and one at Liana Beach. For the boat pool at Doke Doke, the 20th Battalion erected during October 1943, camp and administration buildings, roads, three coral-log wharves, a fuel-storage area and fueling pier, and quonset-hut warehouses. The Liana Beach boat pool was completed by the 73rd Battalion in Mach 1944.
In April and May 1944, CBMU 561 and 568 arrived at Munda for base maintenance and minor construction; by October 1944, all construction battalions had left New Georgia. Before its departure in February 1945, CBMU 561 had dismantled and assembled for forward movement the major installation. CBMU 568 remained at Munda until May 1945.
The naval base in New Georgia was decommissioned in March 1945.
The occupation of Vella Lavella by U.S. forces marked the close of the central Solomons campaign. There a small air and naval base was established, providing one more step up the Solomons chain toward the strong Japanese positions in the northern islands.
Vella Lavella, measuring approximately 26 miles long by 12 miles wide, lies 14 miles northwest of Kolombangara Island.
Prior to the war there were no roads on Vella Lavella; but an abundance of coral was available for use as concrete aggregate or road surfacing. There were also ample stands of timber.
The 58th Battalion landed on Vella Lavella August 15, 1943, in the wake of the 35th U.S. Infantry, meeting inconsequential opposition. Unloading had begun when Japanese planes staged a heavy air attack, temporarily interrupting operations. The first pieces of equipment off the ships were large bulldozers, which were immediately put to work clearing roadways along the beach and into the jungle to provide access to areas chosen as supply dumps. Unloading under repeated bombing attacks continued all day. Further air attacks that night complicated operations; however, the Seabees kept supplies moving from the beach, and work on roads progressed. The second night brought more bombing and strafing, but marked the end of sustained enemy night activities.
By August 31, four additional echelons of the battalion and one company of the 58th had landed under constant enemy bombing. During the month, the Seabees built nine miles of roads, and erected tents for quarters.
The next construction undertaken was a dispensary and sick bay, the latter consisting of four underground shelters, each with a capacity of four beds, and an underground operating room. The dispensary was above ground and consisted of a wooden deck, wooden framing, and a tarpaulin roof.
Surveying and clearing of a 4,000-by-200-foot airstrip was accomplished during August; the auxiliary installations, including signal tower, operations room, aviation-gasoline tanks, and camp for operating personnel, were completed the following month. The first landing on the strip was made September 24, and thereafter the field was in daily use for shuttle service. By the end of November, considerable additions and improvements had been completed, and by December 21 an aviation-gasoline tank farm of six 1,000-barrel tanks, with a sea-loading line, was in operation.
During August 1943, the 58th Battalion provided installations at the naval base, including a radio room, a hospital, and an LST ramp. The radio
room and hospital were underground; the sides, built up with sand-filled gasoline drums, were roofed with logs and sand bags, and provided with wooden decks.
During the next few months the channel through the reef was deepened to admit PT boats to the lagoon base. The jetty was improved by widening and the addition of an "L" section at the end. A camp was set up at the naval base, and a marine railway and boat repair locker constructed.
In December, the pier at Biloa was further widened by filling in the "L" section with coral. The surface was raised, the water deepened at the outboard end, and pilings and camels installed. From the end of September until late November 1943, the second section of the 6th (Special) Battalion handled stevedoring operations.
The 77th Battalion, which had arrived on September 25, 1943 in the midst of a Japanese bombing attack, had as its major project the construction of three complete hospital units and facilities. During this attack the Seabees manned guns and took over first-aid and evacuation work. In spite of casualties and severe losses of vital equipment, the Seabees immediately set to work clearing jungle, repairing roads and bridges, and constructing gun emplacements and LST landing facilities. During the period from September to December 1943, the 77th Battalion experienced 47 bombings and suffered ten casualties.
The construction of hospital units was rushed to completion in expectation of the Bougainville invasion. Facilities for 1,000 beds, including surgery, laboratories, wards, mess facilities, administration building, underground surgery, and all utilities, were put in operation as scheduled. Proper materials were lacking, but available coral was used in the large amount of concrete necessary for the hospital construction. This substitution resulted in wide deviation from well-known concrete standards, but satisfactory results were obtained.
In September 1943, the 58th Battalion set up a sawmill which produced 5,000 to 6,000 board feet of lumber daily. The 77th Battalion operated two sawmills to supply lumber for local requirements and the thousands of board feet needed for the Treasury and Bougainville campaigns. From November 1943 to January 1944, a small detachment of the 53rd Battalion set up and operated two portable sawmills to supplement existing production.
In January 1944, the last of the construction battalions left Vella Lavella, and CBMU 502 reported for maintenance duties, beginning salvage operations in May 1944. On June 14, the airstrip was abandoned and all salvageable installations dismantled. The maintenance unit completed all possible salvage operations, including the dismantling of the tank farm, before leaving for Emirau on July 12, 1944.
The Treasury Islands, 28 miles south of Bougainville, and about twice that distance northwest of Vella Lavella, were chosen as the site of an advance air and naval base to neutralize Japanese strongholds on New Britain, New Ireland, and Bougainville. Emphasis was placed on the establishment of a medium bomber field and a motor torpedo boat base.
The Treasury Islands consist of Treasury, or Mono, Island and Stirling Island. The former, about 61/2 miles long and 4 miles wide, is densely wooded. Stirling is a coral island, 3 miles long and a mile and a half wide. Blanche Harbor, between the islands, has a deep channel, half a mile wide through its eastern entrance.
On October 27, 1943, Company A and 25 men of the headquarters company of the 87th Battalion landed with the 8th New Zealand Brigade, in the first echelon making the assault on the islands. Operations were carried out under enemy high-level bombing, mortar and machine-gun fire; however, the assault troops soon eliminated enemy resistance. It was during this operation that the bulldozer became famous as a weapon of offense, when the operator, raising the blade to act as a shield, smashed an enemy machine-gun nest.
During November, the Seabee detachment, with limited equipment, improved beaches for landing craft, built 21 miles of roads, established gun positions, and built a wharf for PT boats on Stirling Island. The remainder of the battalion arrived on November 28 and immediately began work on permanent camp facilities and on clearing and grading for the air strip.
Within a month, a strip, 5,600 feet long and 200 feet wide, had been completed and had received its first fighter squadron. Construction had been carried out on a 24-hour-day basis, hindered by enemy raids and by the unexpected hardness of the coral. The 87th began clearing for taxiways and
hardstands, later turning over the construction of these facilities to the 82nd Battalion, which reported during December. The 88th Battalion, which reported in January 1944, assisted in taxiway construction. Five 1,000-barrel aviation-gasoline tanks were also erected.
In January, two taxiways, complete with hardstands, warm-up and shop areas, were completed. Later, two additional taxiways with complete facilities were constructed, and the strip was extended to 7,000 feet by 300 feet. Tents provided a pilots' camp, and quonset huts were used for operations. For Acorn 12, the Seabees established a hospital of prefabricated steel buildings, a camp, shops, and medical-storage facilities. This hospital, with the 100-bed unit at the naval base, comprised the medical establishment of Treasury.
The 87th Battalion built docking facilities to accommodate large cargo vessels. Four 6-by-18 pontoon pre-assembled, hinge-connected barges, with an over-all dimension of 43 feet by 428 feet, were secured to four 16-by-16-foot timber cribs set on the shore line, by four 16-by-16-foot ramps, consisting of three standard ramp girders covered with heavy planking. On January 30, 1944, the dock was first used by a cargo vessel.
Facilities for a PT-boat base included a fuel station, a wharf, and three pontoon drydocks. A crash boat pier and a small-boat pier were constructed for the naval base.
Miscellaneous activities of the Seabees included preparation of LST landing beaches, erection of magazines and prefabricated steel warehouses for the naval supply depot, and sawmill operation. Road construction in the rugged, heavily wooded terrain was difficult. For malaria control, Soala Lake was cleared of debris, and the shoreline graded and filled with coral. The Seabees built camps for all activities, including naval base headquarters, a Marine bomber squadron, the 42nd Bomber Group, and Acorn 12.
During the first half of 1944, a detachment of the 6th (Special) Battalion took over stevedoring activities.
Major construction was completed by July 1944, and the base turned over to CBMU's 569 and 587. Roll-up began late in 1944, and by January 1945, some facilities had been shipped to Leyte. CBMU 569, the last Seabee group at Treasury, left in June 1945.
Establishment of an advance air and naval base at Empress Augusta Bay on Bougainville Island, largest of the Solomon group, was designed to facilitate attacks against Japanese positions on the island and on New Britain and New Ireland. The major installations planned for Bougainville were airfields and a motor torpedo boat base.
A beachhead was established November 1, 1943, on a large marshy plain along the southwest coast of Empress Augusta Bay, in an area covered with tangled jungle growth through which no roads penetrated. By VJ-Day, however, the American zone of occupation was less than one percent of the island area. The lee side of Puruata, one of two small islands off Cape Torokina, proved satisfactory as an LST landing area.
Small detachments of the 71st, 25th, 53rd, and 75th Battalions landed with the Third Marine Division on D-day, under enemy gun and mortar fire, sniping, and bombing and strafing from the air. Immediately after the initial landing the Seabees began unloading operations. Due to shallow water, the LST's were unable to approach nearer than 75 feet of the beach. Portable ramps of sufficient dimensions and strength to accommodate all heavy equipment were constructed to overcome this difficulty. Bulldozers, the first equipment landed, were used at once to make roads, clear dump areas, and move supplies. Unloading of ships continued through the second day under occasional bombing and constant fire from enemy pill boxes, antiaircraft and machine-gun emplacements in the beachhead area. Moreover, the enemy had two airstrips on Bougainville -- Kahili, near Buin, on the southeast coast of the island, and Kieta, on the northeast coast, about 40 miles northeast of the American beachhead, one on Buka Island, and a fourth at Ballale Island in the Shortland group. All fields had been rendered inoperative prior to the invasion, but later were partially repaired by the enemy and used for night raids during the first three and a half months of Allied occupation.
The original plan of the base called for the immediate installation of a small fighter strip at Torokina to provide air cover during construction of a larger bomber-fighter field (Piva Field). The construction of the fighter strip was assigned to the 71st Battalion. Torokina Field, originally planned to accommodate 35 fighter planes or light dive-bombers, handled many times that number
Treasury Islands (Solomon Islands)
Torokina Fighter Field, November 13, 1943
Snaking logs for use in construction of field facilities.
(Compare with pictures of field on pages 272, 273, 276.)
before completion of Piva Field. The original runway, 200 feet by 5,150 feet, was later enlarged and accompanying facilities were developed.
Surveys for the field and clearing of the area were begun on the third day after landing, subject to continuous enemy action, survey parties often finding themselves targets for snipers. There was little choice as to the location of the first airstrip; however, the area from Torokina Point eastward was considered the most suitable. Considerable difficulty was experienced in clearing jungle growth and removing the slimy muck to reach a suitable subgrade.
Work on the strip was prosecuted as energetically as conditions permitted, the tempo increasing with the arrival of each additional echelon, the last of which arrived November 17. To meet the deadline, night work was necessary; but by November 24 enough matting was laid to permit an SBD to make an emergency landing. The field was completed December 10, 1943, and the first 18 Corsair fighter planes landed as per schedule.
Simultaneously with the construction of the airstrip and its facilities, camps were erected for aviation personnel, including two galleys and mess halls, storage buildings, a hospital with three wards and an operating room with all utilities. All aviation facilities at Torokina were built by the 71st Battalion, with minor assistance from a detachment of the 53rd and from a Marine labor party of 100 men.
On November 29, 1943, the 36th Battalion, which had arrived three days earlier, began construction of the Piva bomber strip. This 8,000-by-30-foot strip, with warm-up aprons at each end, was cleared from dense jungle. The first plane landed on the
Bougainville Island (Solomon Islands)
Torokina Fighter Field, November 15, 1943
71st Seabees Grading Taxiway
strip December 19, and on December 30, the runway was officially put into operation with the landing of ten Army transport planes. A few weeks after the start of operations, it was found necessary to extend the strip an additional 2,000 feet.
Field facilities built by the 71st Battalion included three taxiways with 35 hardstands, a shop area, seven nose hangars, three prefabricated steel huts, and 26 frame buildings. Aviation camps consisted of a 5,000-man camp for Marine Air Group 24 built by the 77th Battalion, and a 2,000-man camp constructed by the 36th.
The 77th Battalion, arriving December 10, 1943, was assigned the task of constructing Piva Field and began this task the second day ashore, work being expedited by working at night whenever possible. The grading of Piva strip was completed December 28, but due to late arrival of steel matting, final completion was delayed until January 3. The first plane landed on January 9. The project was materially aided by the co-operation of the 53rd Battalion in furnishing and operating equipment. A few weeks later, the 77th was instructed to extend the strip 2,000 feet, and completed the work in eight days.
Another critical deadline was met by the 75th Battalion in the erection of a complete tank-farm system to service the two airfields. Due to shipping difficulties and to the losses of supplies in the establishment of the beachhead, there existed an extreme shortage of pipe fittings, which was overcome by welding joints. Although all work was in marshy jungle, the tank farm, consisting of one 10,000-barrel and eighteen 1,000-barrel tanks, with tanker mooring, submarine pipe line, and 5 miles of overland pipe, was complete in time to support
Torokina Fighter Field, December 2, 1943
West end of the field, taken from the control tower
operations from the fields. Although enemy shelling severed this pipe line eighteen times, repairs were effected each time by the 75th Battalion, frequently under fire, and in no case was delivery of fuel interrupted.
A PT-boat base and boat pool were set up on Puruata Island by the 75th Battalion, assisted by the 71st and the 77th Battalions. Wood-pile and timber construction was used for a PT-boat pier, a crash boat pier, and a PT fueling pier. Complete camp facilities included quarters, mess halls, an emergency hospital, with all utilities, and five prefabricated steel warehouses. Eighteen small-boat moorings, consisting of three pile dolphins, driven and lashed, were provided, and LST landings installed. Stevedoring was handled by the 6th and the 9th Battalions.
The 36th Battalion provided the major medical facilities at Bougainville, supplementing emergency installations at the various camps. The project, completed between February and April 1944, consisted of 70 standard quonset huts and one 40-by-100-foot mess hall, providing accommodation for 500 patients. These installations included an administration building, a general and an underground emergency surgery, as well as quarters for doctors and corpsmen.
Other Seabees activities included operation of sawmills, construction of complete camp installations for air and ground headquarters, and the building of roads. Coconut logs were much used in rough structures, and native mahogany was used in all types of construction.
Much of the construction at Torokina was accomplished under actual battle conditions. In February 1944, it became apparent that the Japanese
were preparing an all-out attack on the beachhead in an effort to capture the three airstrips. By this time, the airstrips were in full operation and were contributing much toward the destruction of the enemy. Taking an active part in the defense plan, the Seabees built secondary defense lines and stood by to occupy them in the event of a break-through. On March 8, an unsuccessful Japanese attack was launched with heavy shelling which continued for 20 days, resulting in numerous Seabee casualties.
By July 1944, all major construction had been completed. The 36th Battalion, the last to leave the base, departed in August 1944. CBMU's 586 and 582, which arrived in May, took charge of maintenance. Roll-up of installations was accomplished early in 1945, and in June the maintenance units were ordered to forward areas.
Occupation of Green Island, 40 miles northwest of Buka and 120 miles east of Rabaul, provided a new Allied base for offensive sweeps well beyond the previous range of South Pacific aircraft. The base was to provide facilities and fields for the operation of fighter and bomber planes, as well as a motor torpedo boat base.
Green Atoll consists of four, flat, thickly wooded islands which almost encircle a lagoon. Nissan Island, on which the advance base was built, is horseshoe-shaped and by far the largest of the four. The atoll is about 9 miles long and 5 miles wide; the depth of the channels entering the lagoon is 17 feet at mean low tide.
Construction on Nissan Island was begun by the 22nd Construction Regiment, which was established January 15, 1944, and consisted of the 33rd, 37th, and 93rd Battalions and the first section of the 15th Battalion. At the time of commissioning, the 15th and 93rd were staging in the Russells, the 33rd was en route from New Zealand to the Russells, and the 37th was at Ondonga, New Georgia. All battalions were instructed to obtain, so far as possible, all materials and equipment needed, from stocks available in the Russells or on Guadalcanal.
The regiment moved to Green Island in five echelons on D-Day, February 15, 1944, landing against negligible resistance, in the wake of the New Zealand Third Division. Concurrent with unloading operations, artillery was moved into position, road construction begun, and radar installed. On D-Day-plus-five, additional personnel arrived with heavy equipment, and work on the fighter strip commenced.
On D-Day-plus-twenty, the strip, measuring 150 feet by 5,000 feet, was opened to full operation. The same day its fighter planes attacked Kavieng in Japanese-held New Ireland. Work was continued on roads, fields, and taxiways, and in late March, the bomber field, 150 feet by 6,000 feet, was completed. Later, it was lengthened to 7,300 feet. Construction of the airfields proved exceedingly difficult. Dense foliage and large trees were encountered, rock blasting was necessary, and all coral used for filling had to be quarried at distant locations, and hauled to the scene of operations. Weather conditions were continually adverse.
Construction of an aviation-gasoline tank farm, completed April 9, 1944, was delayed by changes in plan; however, 14 tanks began operating March 23. The farm included a drum spillway, two tank truck filling racks with separators and strainers, one six-inch sea-loading line, and a PT-boat pier service line with all connections.
The Seabees erected floored and screened tents, galleys and mess halls, dispensary facilities, and all utilities for pilots' camps. Control towers and operations buildings were provided for the two airstrips; 21 buildings were set up for use as shops.
By June, a seaplane ramp, 250 feet by 450 feet, had been built of coral, and three moorings, consisting of four concrete anchors and oil-drum buoys, had been provided.
One company of the 9th (Special) Battalion took over the unloading of cargo ships, from the fifth echelon, thereby releasing the Seabees for construction work only. A fuel pier with a 35-foot outboard end and 11-foot depth was constructed, and the PT-boat base was developed to include a camp, four shops with approach ramps, one prefabricated steel warehouse, and a pontoon-type, T-shaped pier with a 154-foot outboard end.
Medical facilities constructed consisted of floored and screened tents as well as a quonset hut to house the X-ray facilities of Acorn 10 Hospital, and four quonset huts for the naval base hospital. Sick bays and dispensaries were likewise provided at the various camps.
Other activities included the construction of some 25 miles of roads and the operation of a
Torokina Fighter Field, December 10, 1943
sawmill, which produced more than a million board feet from native woods. Due to heavy rainfall, patrols were in constant operation to keep roads passable at all times.
Ingenious improvisations met many arising problems. A mess-gear dishwasher and a sterilizer were improvised from salvaged fuel drums. To facilitate feeding men engaged in construction at a distance from the main camp, a portable field kitchen was developed. This kitchen, capable of feeding 200 men per meal, was built over a trailer and could be loaded on an LST. It was complete with two Army field ranges, refrigerator, sink and 200-gallon water tank.
By July 1944, all authorized construction on Green Island was complete, and CBMU's 552 and 553 reported to take charge of general maintenance and miscellaneous construction. Late in 1944, the maintenance units began dismantling structures for removal. By January 1945, the majority of the naval facilities had been rolled-up and were awaiting shipment to forward areas. CBMU 552 left Green in March 1945; CBMU 553 remained until August to complete the roll-up.
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