Chapter VI
The Seabees

The Navy's Construction Battalions, popularly known as the Seabees, were established to meet the wartime need for uniformed men to perform construction work in combat areas. These groups contributed in a major way to the winning of what has been called the "greatest construction war of history." The forerunner of World War II construction battalions was a construction regiment formed at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station during the first World War. That regiment did not go overseas, but proved highly useful on work at Great Lakes.1 The idea which thus began to have practical form in World War I was expanded during World War II into an organization which built and fought in Europe, Africa, and the far-flung islands of the world. Part III of this history recounts Seabee construction achievements at advance bases.

Prior to our entry into World War II, construction of outlying facilities was limited to the development of bases on territories owned or governed by the United States. Permanency of construction was a primary requirement. In general, the character of the work followed the peacetime pattern of construction within continental United States. In 1940, large projects were under construction by contract in the Hawaiian Islands, at Johnston, Palmyra, Midway, Samoa, Wake, Guam, and the Philippines; in Alaska, at Kodiak and Sitka; at Dutch Harbor in the Aleutians; and in the Canal Zone, Guantanamo, and San Juan in the Caribbean area.

Naval construction work was stimulated in November 1940, when the transfer of fifty destroyers to the British permitted the United States to negotiate 99-year leases and to build naval bases at such points as Argentia, Bermuda, Trinidad, St. Lucia, Jamaica, Great Exuma, and British Guiana. Contract work was immediately begun on the construction of these installations, civilian labor being utilized by private contractors. In March 1941, the Bureau of Yards and Docks was directed to construct four bases in the British Isles, at an ultimate cost of approximately $50,000,000. A similar project in Iceland was also authorized.

Before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Bureau of Yards and Docks began organizing military units, known as "Headquarters Construction Companies." These units, composed largely of rated personnel, were to be utilized as administrative units by officers in charge of construction at advance bases in case war interrupted contract operations. The organization of one such company was assured on October 31, 1941, when the Bureau of Navigation granted authority for the enlistment of its personnel in Class V-6 of the Naval Reserve. Less than a month later, authority was granted to permit enlistments for four additional companies of the same type. Each company was to consist of 99 men of various ratings. One such company had been organized by December 7. That company formed the nucleus of the first Construction Detachment which left the States for Borabora on January 27, 1942.

With the advent of war, it became apparent that the services of contractors and their civilian employees could not adequately be utilized for construction work in combat zones. Under military law, the contractor's forces in their status as civilians could not offer resistance when the bases they were constructing were under attack. A civilian bearing arms would have been considered a guerilla and as such would have been liable to summary execution if captured. [A curious statement: A simple arm-band or brassard would be sufficient to mark these men as legitimate combatants under the Geneva and Hague Conventions. -- HyperWar] Furthermore, it was all too clear that civilian workers lacked the training necessary to defend themselves. This was part of the lesson learned at Wake, Cavite, and Guam.

In a letter to the Bureau of Navigation (Bureau of Naval Personnel) dated December 28, 1941, the Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks wrote that construction work on advance bases in combat zones could be carried on satisfactorily only by


Presentation of Colors at Davisville Dedication Ceremony
Presentation of Colors at Davisville Dedication Ceremony

the utilization of military personnel under direct military command. Admiral Moreell recommended that "early steps should be taken toward the organization of such military construction forces if they are to be trained and available at the times their services will be required."2 Admiral Moreell pointed out in this letter that not less than twelve construction companies of 226 men each should be available for assignment to duty at locations outside the continental limits at an early date in order that the advance base construction program might be carried forward with all possible speed and vigor. He recommended that these companies be grouped into three battalions, with an additional headquarters unit of 168 men for each battalion. These latter units would be composed of cooks, bakers, pharmacist's mates, and all other ratings necessary to make the battalion a complete operating unit if thrown into the field on its own. A proposed personnel organization, drawn in detail, was submitted for approval.

Authorization of first Seabee units. -- By BuNav Circular Letter No. 1042, dated January 5, 1942, the Bureau of Navigation established the force requested and authorized enlistment therein. On January 21, authorization for the enlistment and organization of additional battalions was requested in order to accomplish the construction program which was then under way and projected for locations outside the continental limits. This request was approved by the Bureau in a letter dated February 3, 1942.

Problem of command. -- One of the early problems


encountered by those responsible for the planning and organization of construction units was that of command. By Navy Regulations, military command of naval personnel was limited to line officers. Yet it was deemed essential that the construction forces be commanded by officers of the Civil Engineer Corps, who were trained in the skills which these units were to perform. This question was placed before the Secretary of the Navy, who gave authority for officers of the Civil Engineer Corps to exercise military authority over construction battalions. The Secretary stated that when an officer of the Civil Engineer Corps was ordered to take charge of a construction unit his authority would extend over all officers and enlisted men assigned to his unit, including officers of the line and of other staff corps. He stated further that appropriate orders would be issued "to all officers attached to a construction unit so that there will be no doubt on their part that they are to be under the authority of the officer assigned to duty as commander thereof."3

Distinctive Designation and Insignia. -- In order to contribute to the morale and esprit de corps of the personnel recruited for duty in the construction battalions, the Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks recommended to the Bureau of Navigation on March 1, 1942, that these units be allowed to have a distinctive designation and to use distinctive insignia on their equipment (not uniforms) similar to that used by various aircraft squadrons. As a consequence, the designation "Seabees," derived from the initials denoting construction battalions, was authorized. The now-famous Seabee insignia, consisting of a flying bee -- fighting mad -- with a sailor cap on his head, a spitting tommy-gun in his forward hands, a wrench in his midship hand, and a carpenter's hammer gripped in his after hand, was also authorized.

Seabee insignia


Recruitment of battalions and assignment of Civil Engineer Corps officer to them began as soon as the organization of units was authorized. Men already skilled in the various phases of construction work were enlisted. Recruits, representing about sixty different trades, were offered petty-officer classifications on the basis of their civilian construction experience and their age. The extra money which their rates assured encouraged them to enlist immediately -- at the time they were needed most. in the early days of the organization, the average Seabee enlisted with a rate of petty officer, second class, equivalent to staff sergeant in the Army. Average pay and allowances totalling $140 a month made the Seabees one of the highest paid groups in the military service.

Direct voluntary enlistment in the Seabees came to an end on December 15, 1942, in conformance with a Presidential order requiring that the services procure their military personnel through Selective Service. By that time, about 60 battalions had been assembled. From that date until October 1943, it was possible for men to enter the Seabees by voluntary induction. Under this system, men between the ages of 18 and 38 were enlisted in the Navy and assigned to the Seabees upon request, provided their request for such placement was supported by a statement, signed by a recruiting officer, that they were considered qualified for such service. In October 1943, when most enlistments went under Selective Service control, the voluntary induction system was dropped as a means of recruiting men for the Seabees. It was resumed in December 1944, and continued in force until August 14, 1945.

Officer Procurement. -- Available CEC officers were extremely limited, and it was therefore necessary to begin procurement of competent civil engineers to meet the battalion requirements as soon as the Seabee program was inaugurated. Civilian engineers were commissioned in the Naval Reserve, with rank in accordance with age and experience. On July 1, 1940, the Civil Engineer Corps had only 267 officers. As a result of the officer procurement program, there were 10,186 officers in the Corps in 1945. Most of these officers were assigned to duty with Seabee units.

As military operations in Europe and the Pacific progressed, the need for skilled construction units increased. One year after the first construction battalion was authorized, the Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks announced that the current authorized strength of the Seabees was 210,000 officers and men. This accounted for the major part of the ultimate strength of the organization, which reached a total of 247,000 men in July 1945. At that time about 83 percent of these men were serving overseas.

Seabee Military Organization. -- The complement of a construction battalion was set originally at


Barracks Area, Camp Endicott
Barracks Area, Camp Endicott

32 officers and 1,073 men. The enlisted complement was composed of carpenters, steel workers, plumbers, electricians, storekeepers, clerks, pile drivers, metalsmiths, wharf builders, draftsmen, steamfitters, and numerous other trades. Essentially, a battalion was composed of four companies which included the necessary construction trades for almost any construction job, plus a headquarters company.

It was found that there were not sufficient naval ratings to cover the various construction trades. For example, building carpenters, concrete workers, wharf builders, and surveyors were all classed as carpenter's maters. As a consequence, it was necessary that an experience record of each man be obtained when he reported for training so that each company might be composed of the proper trades.

The original officer complement for each battalion was one lieutenant commander as officer in charge, one lieutenant as executive officer, one lieutenant as company commander of each company, and four lieutenants (jg), six ensigns, and ten warrant officers (carpenters) for the headquarters and the four construction companies. All were to be Civil Engineer Corps officers. In addition, each battalion was to have two officers of the Medical Corps, one officer of the Dental Corps, two officers of the Supply Corps, and one chaplain.

The battalion was the fundamental unit of Seabee organization, having originally been constituted in such a way as to be self-sustaining in the


field. Seabee recruits were trained in battalions, and ordinarily were sent overseas in battalions. In the beginning, the construction battalion operated overseas as an independent unit, with the battalion officer in charge solely responsible for making all decisions of an engineering and military character.

As the number of battalions in a given area increased and as larger construction projects were undertaken, a higher command echelon was needed to coordinate the work of several battalions in an area, to make work assignments to individual battalions, and to engage in overall planning. As a consequence, naval construction regiments were established to satisfy these requirements.

The first naval construction regiment was formed in Alaska in December 1942 by authority of the Vice Chief of Naval Operations. The duties of the regiment were to coordinate the activities of all the battalions in the Alaskan area and to administer the three battalions operating at Dutch Harbor. Battalions included were the 4th, 8th, 12th, 13th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd, and 32nd. The second naval construction regiment was formed at Noumea a month later, and included the 20th, 24th, 26th, and 27th Battalions, which were operating in that area. The third naval construction regiment, formed at Pearl Harbor, was composed of the 5th, 10th, and 16th Battalions. The first regiment to be formed in the Atlantic area was the 10th, which was formed at Argentia, Newfoundland, and included the 17th, 64th, and 69th Battalions. Altogether, 54 regiments were formed.

Naval construction brigades also were organized to coordinate the work of regiments and battalions in various areas. The first naval construction brigade was organized in Alaska on April 24, 1943, by order of the Commander, Alaskan Sector. The officer in charge of the brigade was assigned command duties for all construction regiments, battalions, and advance base depots, and was made directly responsible for the execution of approved construction projects in the Alaskan sector. The second construction brigade was formed at Pearl Harbor in September to fulfill the same purposes. By August 1944, three brigades were in operation in the Hawaiian area. By August 1945, a total of twelve brigades had been formed, although the 1st and 4th Brigades had been inactivated by that time. No brigade organization was set up in the Atlantic areas because of the relatively small number of battalions assigned there.

Ultimately, it became necessary to establish a command echelon higher than the brigade. This need first became evident in August 1944, at Pearl Harbor, where 34 construction battalions were administered as three independent brigades. Since it was felt this system resulted in inefficiency, it was decided to form the Hawaiian Area Construction Brigade Command, including the 2nd, 7th, and 8th Construction Brigades. This command was inactivated in May 1945, after the 2nd and 7th Brigades had been transferred to Samar and the 8th Brigade had been transferred to Okinawa.

In April 1945, the 2nd and 7th Brigades were transferred from Pearl Harbor to Samar for the construction of Naval Operating Base Leyte-Samar. These two brigades, together with the second section of the 3rd Brigade, were consolidated to form Construction Forces, Samar. The officer in charge had the responsibility of supervising all construction in that area. In this capacity, he was under the administrative control of the Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Area. However, he was responsible to Commander in Chief, Southwest Pacific Area, for operations.

In the organization for the Okinawa movement early in 1945, the commander of the construction forces was also designated Commander Task Unit 99.3.5, with direct charge over all construction troops, including the 8th, 10th, and 11th Construction Brigades, together with all Army Engineer troops, which would have numbered 50,000 if hostilities had not ceased on August 14. In addition, he had slated for his command approximately 15,000 British engineering troops whose mission was to develop B-29 bomber fields at Kume Shima. These were on the water, some at the regulating point at Ulithi, when hostilities ceased. Altogether, approximately 110,000 engineers were involved, and were at the target or enroute when hostilities ceased. This was the largest group of construction battalions assembled for one movement during the war. A similar task unit organization was planned for the invasion of Japan, but its formation was rendered unnecessary by the Japanese surrender.

The formation of higher-command echelons did not destroy the character of the battalion as an operating unit or as a unit for maintaining discipline and exercising authority in matters relating to general personnel administration. Furthermore, the make-up of regiments and brigades tended to be flexible, since individual battalions were frequently


detached from regimental and brigade administration. This was particularly true in Hawaii, which served as a staging area for battalions being sent to advance areas in the Pacific.

Seabee Training

At the outset it was apparent that the formation of experienced construction workers, averaging more than thirty years of age, into efficient military construction units presented training problems both difficult and unique. Since recruiting was expected to produce a body of skilled tradesmen, there was little need for trade-school training, but the lack of military experience possessed by the new men indicated the phase of training which should be emphasized. In addition the military training which would be required for each Seabee unit, it was felt that training should be provided for small groups of specialists in each battalion on the operation and maintenance of such specialized advance base equipment as NL pontoon gear, stills and purifiers, and mobile generators.

Quonset Chapel at Camp Parks, Calif.
Quonset Chapel at Camp Parks, Calif.

First Seabee Training Camps

Camp Allen. -- It was suggested by the Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks that the entire initial construction force be concentrated at one of the Navy's major training stations during the formative stage and until its units were moved outside continental limits to perform their functions. The training station at Norfolk, Va., was recommended because of the availability of suitable land there which could be used or purchased to permit the construction of the additional facilities which would be necessary to handle such an organization.

The construction of a camp at Norfolk, as requested, was authorized, an on March 26, 1942, the Commandant of the Fifth Naval District announced that the "U.S. Naval Construction Training Center, Naval Operating Base, Norfolk, was placed in commission at 1000 on 21 March 1942." This activity was named Camp Allen, in memory of Captain Walter H. Allen, CEC, USN, who had formed the construction regiment at Great Lakes during the first World War.

While waiting for the completion of Camp Allen, it was necessary that the men be trained elsewhere in order that the first battalion might be ready to leave the continental limits at the earliest possible date. The men of the first three battalions, after completing their recruit training at Great Lakes, Newport, and Norfolk, were sent to National Youth Administration camps for two weeks of military training under Marine instructors. These camps were located at Mattoon, Ill., Litchfield, Ill., Springfield, Ill., Verona, M.J., North Haledon, N.J., Manassas, Va., and Auburn, N.Y. At these camps, instruction was given in military courtesy, weapons handling, military drill, and other subjects commonly included in naval indoctrination training.


Administration Buildings, Camp Parks
Administration Buildings, Camp Parks
The Construction Battalion replacement depot, at Shoemaker, Calif., was established as a rest and recreation camp for Seabees returned from overseas. It also gave advanced and combat training to battalions which had not yet been out of the United States.

These men received their training with advance-base gear at Naval Air Station, Quonset Point, R.I. At this station, material-handlers, excavators, carpenters, mechanics, plumbers, and electricians were schooled in the use of the equipment likely to be employed in the jobs falling within their specialties. Instruction was given by CEC officers, line officers, and civilian contractors' employees. Upon completion of their military and technical training, the men were transferred to the still-incomplete Camp Allen. The first group of men arrived at Camp Allen on March 13, 1942, eight days before the camp was officially commissioned.

During the first weeks in the life of Camp Allen, there were many problems to overcome. The camp was incomplete; it was rainy and muddy; the administrative personnel was new. The first two battalions were assembled and sent out from Camp Allen, and although they received no training there, they did get some actual construction experience by helping with the completion of the camp.

Camp Bradford. -- As the rate of recruitment and induction of members of the construction battalions increased, it was fond necessary to procure additional space for housing and training of new personnel. An additional area of 1,600 acres at Little Creek, in the Norfolk area, was recommended, which with its waterfont on Chesapeake Bay and its isolated wooded terrain offered excellent facilities for technical training. The site belonged to the Bradford estate. It was purchased for the Seabees and named Camp Bradford, becoming a part of the Naval Construction Training Center. The rate of induction more than kept pace with the construction of additional facilities at Camp Bradford, and with the formation of the 6th and 10th Battalions it was again necessary to send the men to NYA camps for their primary military training.

Training Program at Camps Allen and Bradford. -- Due to the urgent need for construction battalions in the spring of 1942, a training program of only six weeks was decided upon for NCTC, Norfolk, at best a short period in which to make a sailor out of a civilian. The battalions went through recruit training at Camp Allen. Certain


Exterior of South Drill Hall, Camp Parks
To provide full use of floor space and to assure window installation which would furnish adequate natural lighting, vertical walls were built inside the abutment line of the laminated wood arches.

men were selected from each recruit battalion for specialist training, the purpose being to familiarize them with the type of equipment with which they would have to work at advance bases. It was an early policy that the number of men to be given specialist training would be based upon the battalion outfitting allowance, so that operating and maintenance personnel for full-time operation of all battalion equipment would be provided. Specialist training was given in various fields, as follows: boilers and heating, dynamiting, diesel and gas engines, evaporators and purifiers, generators and electricity, air-raid protection and camouflage, pontoons, propulsion units and drydocks, tanks and radio masts, refrigeration, welding, ordnance, concrete forms and carpentry, diving, excavation and earth moving, and hut erection and fire fighting.

The battalion's advanced training of three weeks was carried on at Camp Bradford, where there were ample facilities for the first battalions to be given technical military training and to engage in actual construction work. Usual assignments included practice landing operations, extended-order drill, quonset hut erection, laying of steel-mat roads, bridge construction, diving, welding, and pontoon assembly. This phase of training, although limited in time, served to "shake down" the construction battalions into organized military units.


Swimming Pool Building, Camp Parks
Swimming Pool Building, Camp Parks

Officer Training. -- Since most of the officers who were to be assigned to construction battalions came into the Navy directly from civilian life, it was necessary to provide for an indoctrination course to acquaint them with the basic requirements of military life. As originally planned, the course covered a period of two weeks, but in practice the training period was varied, depending upon the immediate need for officers in the various battalions. The original course, given at Norfolk, consisted of classes in naval customs and traditions, courts and boards, marksmanship, physical training, naval correspondence, camouflage, chemical warfare, and military drill. The new officers completed the indoctrination course at approximately the same time that the men completed their basic

Interior of South Drill Hall, Camp Parks
Interior of South Drill Hall, Camp Parks


Boiler Room in 40-by-100-foot Quonset Hut, Camp Endicott
Boiler Room in 40-by-100-foot Quonset Hut, Camp Endicott

training, and were assigned to specific battalions to begin advance training at Camp Bradford.

Upon completion of training at Camp Bradford, the construction battalions were transferred to advance base depots for outfitting and further transfer to their overseas destinations.

The Advance Base Depots. -- The first advance base depot was established at Davisville, R.I., on February 27, 1942. In May 1942, a similar activity was established at Port Hueneme, Calif., and a third was established at Gulfport, Miss., on June 2, 1942. The establishment of advance base receiving barracks for transient Seabee personnel was authorized for these activities on October 23, 1942. These barracks were named Camps Thomas, Rousseau, and Holliday in honor of outstanding Civil Engineer Corps officers who were no longer living. A fourth advance base depot was established at Tacoma, Wash., in 1944, but no facilities were provided for transient Seabees.

Later Seabee Training Camps

Camp Endicott. -- Successive directives issued by the Chief of Naval Operations providing for the construction, maintenance, and operation of bases outside the continental limits made a further expansion of the training facilities for the construction battalions necessary. As a consequence, the Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks, made a recommendation to the Secretary of the Navy urging the expansion of Naval Advance Base Depot, Davisville, to provide additional training


facilities for construction personnel. This request was approved, and a camp was established on June 27, 1942. It was named Camp Endicott in honor of Rear Admiral Mordecai T. Endicott, the first Civil Engineer Corps officer to be appointed Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks.

After suitable arrangements had been made to transfer nucleus personnel for station operation from NCTC, Norfolk, the first battalion started training at Camp Endicott on August 12, 1942. The capacity of the station provided for ten battalions in training, totaling approximately 350 officers and 15,000 men. This capacity was reached early in November 1942. Both primary and advanced training were given at Camp Endicott.

Camp Peary. -- As the Seabees proved their value in war operation, their authorized strength continued to increase. By August 1942, it became evident that Camp Allen, Camp Bradford, and Camp Endicott would not be sufficiently large to take care of the training of the rapidly expanding organization. Accordingly, it was decided to build a new camp on the York River, near Williamsburg, Va., to house 50,000 men. This vast training activity was officially established on November 4, 1942, and was called Camp Peary in honor of Rear Admiral Robert E. Peary, CEC officer of polar-expedition fame. The camp covered an area of about 11,000 acres and was a large edition of Camp Allen and Camp Bradford. It was divided into an administrative area and four regimental areas, each capable of housing ten battalions, and an officers' training area. A ship's company nucleus for the new activity was provided from the personnel at Camps Allen and Bradford. On December 1, 1942, steps were initiated to disestablish Camps Allen and Bradford, a process which was officially completed on March 17, 1943.

Later Training Programs and Facilities

With the establishment of Camp Endicott, primary and advanced training were increased to four weeks each, assuring at least two months of training for all Seabees before shipment overseas. The original plan for emphasizing military training and providing specialist technical training for all battalions continued to be the basis of the training program.

After Camp Peary began operation, the training program for Seabee personnel assumed a standardized pattern. Throughout 1943 and during the first half of 1944, the Seabees were given their primary training at Camp Peary. They were then shipped to Camp Endicott, where they received six weeks of technical and military training, and were permanently assigned to a battalion. The technical training at Camp Endicott was included in 27 courses in which skills ranging from diving to bulldozer operation were taught. Military training at Camp Endicott included judo, close-order drill and the manual of arms, and the use of various weapons. As battalions completed their training, they were sent to one of the advance base depots, where training facilities were provided to enable them to carry on tactical training while awaiting shipment overseas.

Officer training expanded in proportion to the enlisted training to meet the requirements of a corps projected to number around 10,000 officers in early 1945. When NCTC, Norfolk, was disestablished, officer training was transferred to Camp Peary where a large area was set aside for this purpose. Battalion officers were given approximately four weeks of indoctrination, four to six weeks with the "boot" trainees, and then were assigned to six weeks of battalion training.

Due to decreases in recruiting, Camp Peary was abandoned as a Seabee training center on June 10, 1944; thenceforth, all Seabee training, including officer training, was carried on at Camp Endicott.

Throughout the critical period of recruitment and development of construction battalions, the training of personnel came under the cognizance of the Bureau of Yards and Docks. however, in August of 1944, all Seabee training was placed under the cognizance of the Bureau of Naval Personnel.

The spring of 1945 proved to be a turning point in the basic concept of Seabee training. At that time the training of organized construction battalion units ceased and emphasis was placed on the training of individuals for replacements. The men received for training as replacements were generally young, Selective Service inductees. Due to their prevailing lack of construction experience it was felt that there was little to be gained by giving them short, specialist, training courses. The urgent requirement for replacements in the field did not allow time for extensive trade-school training to make up for the inexperience of the recruits; furthermore, it was possible to give effective "in service" training to the unskilled because of the large number of experienced personnel in the field. Consequently,


Liberty Ship Mock-up, Camp Endicott
Liberty Ship Mock-up, Camp Endicott
Special battalions of Seabees were trained in cargo-handling duties on this shore-borne ship.

many of the specialist technical training courses were discontinued and elementary military training of approximately four weeks was given.

Camp Lee-Stephenson. -- In the fall of 1943, it was necessary to establish another training station to take care of the overflow caused by the rapid influx of Seabee trainees into the camps then established. Consequently, on October 2, 1943, a new Seabee training activity was established on the site of a former NYA camp at Quoddy Village, Maine. This camp was named camp Lee-Stephenson,4 in memory of the first two Civil Engineer Corps officers to lose their lives in World War II. Training at camp Lee-Stephenson was limited in scope. Most of the men sent there had already been given their full quota of training and were awaiting shipment to an advance base depot. By 1944, Camp Lee-Stephenson's main value lay in its facilities for rest and rehabilitation of Seabee personnel returned from overseas.

Camp Parks. -- At the close of 1942, a new Seabee activity was announced for the West Coast -- a replacement and recuperation center for battalions returning from overseas. This activity was Camp Parks,5 which was officially established on November 26, 1942. It was located near Livermore, Calif. Although Camp Parks was conceived as a station to be devoted primarily to the handling of personnel


returning from overseas, in practice the major service rendered there was the tactical training of organized CB units transferred from the East Coast for embarkation. As a matter of fact, camp Parks was called upon from time to time to provide all phases of primary military and technical training for Seabee units.

Additional Seabee Groups

The advance bases which served as stepping stones to the final defeat of Japan were built by the regular construction battalions, the organization and training of which have been discussed. But as the war progressed, new needs developed, and specialized types of battalions and detachments became necessary. The new specialized units ultimately grew into a sizeable force, the largest group being the Special Battalions, used for stevedore duty.

Special Battalions. -- During the late summer and fall of 1942, it became apparent that the Seabees would be called upon to perform another vital function in addition to construction work. Since the war was being fought on various fronts, thousands of miles from the United States, vast quantities of food, ammunition, and other supplies had to be transferred in ships to these far-distant points. Unloading these ships presented a major problem at most places because there were not enough trained men to handle the work. The nature of the Pacific war made stevedoring at the advance bases as difficult and as dangerous as construction work, especially in view of the fact that a ship being unloaded presented a good target for the enemy.

The Seabees were called upon to perform the desperately needed stevedoring. Authority for the organization of a number of special-duty battalions, composed of personnel well qualified in cargo handling and ship loading, was granted on September 18, 1942, and recruitment of personnel began immediately. The Bureau of Yards and Docks contacted the country's leading steamship and stevedore companies in search of men of the type required. An agreement was reached under which these companies released twenty percent of their trained men to the Seabees for organization into special stevedoring battalions for overseas duty.

Although the recruits for these battalions already were skilled in cargo handling at the time of their enlistment, they were sent to a stevedore training school at the Naval Construction Training Center, Camp Peary, where they were drilled in the methods they would employ while stevedoring for the Navy. To make the training as realistic as possible, a mock Liberty ship was built on dry ground and equipped with standard cargo-handling gear. The trainees practiced loading and unloading cargo under the direction of officers who themselves had been recruited from civilian stevedoring agencies.

On January 26, 1943, the Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks reported to the House Naval Affairs Committee that there were approximately 5,500 officers and men assigned to these special battalions, most of them then in training, although a few were already overseas. By August 1945, about forty of these battalions had been commissioned and were either in the forward areas or on their way there. These battalions were organized along the same lines as the regular construction battalions in that they had one headquarters company and four stevedoring companies. Each stevedoring company included one construction platoon in its complement, since it was assumed that the battalions would be required to erect their own living accommodations at their destinations. The officers of each battalion, numbering 32 in all, included 4 construction officers, 2 doctors, a dentist, 2 supply officers, and a chaplain, in addition to the 22 stevedore officers.

The training of special battalions organized for stevedoring duty was carried on at Camp Peary until that activity was discontinued as a Seabee training base. Stevedore training was then transferred to Camp Endicott, together with the other branches of Seabee training. The Camp Peary Liberty ship mock-up was moved to Davisville. Another station, Camp Rousseau, at Port Hueneme, also had a Liberty ship mock-up.

The CBMU's. -- Another important type of Seabee special unit was the Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit (CBMU). These units consisted of approximately one-fourth of a construction battalion and were organized to take over the maintenance of bases on which the major construction had been completed, thus freeing full construction battalions for further moves forward. As the war progressed and some of the bases outlived their usefulness, the maintenance units were employed to dismantle the installations.

More than 100 of these units, variously constituted,


Seabees in Training
Seabees in Training
This demolition unit is shown practicing landing operations at Camp Peary, near Williamsburg, Va.

had been commissioned by August 1945. Some of them were trained and initially formed at the primary training camps, just as the regular construction battalions were. Others were taken from regular battalions, either at advance base depots in the United States, or at advance bases beyond the continental limits. By V-J Day, many had been inactivated or had merged with other CBMU's or with regular construction battalions.

The CBD's. -- In addition to these units, other groups were constituted, ranging from 6 to 500 men. These units were designated Construction Detachments (CBD's) and were sent into the field to relieve, replace, or strengthen regular construction battalions. In most cases, the CBD's were formed at Camp Peary and Camp Endicott. Some of these units were formed to perform a specific function. Thus, CBD 1059 had as its principal task the operation of a large tire repair and recapping shop on Guam; CBD 1068 was commissioned at Guadalcanal to operate a Seabee dredge on that island.

Other Seabee Units. -- Several other types of Seabee units were formed, some of which required highly specialized training in preparation for the performance of their functions. Pontoon assembly detachments of about 500 men manufactured the pontoons from plates and shapes which were sent to the forward areas where those detachments (PAD's) were established.

Also organized were pontoon operating battalions, composed of 24 pontoon operating platoons, each platoon capable of handling a pontoon causeway and maintaining it in service during an assault. Their garrison-phase function was to operate the assembled pontoon barges, pontoon piers, and warping tugs. There was sufficient personnel in the organization to operate upward of 200 barges on a 24-hour basis.

Truck Operating Battalions were established, at least one of which had 2,800 men. These battalions helped speed the flow of materials and supplies at large bases. Advance Base Construction Depot Units, varying in size form a full battalion down to units of 175 men, handled the warehousing and distribution of spare parts, supplemental equipment and materials at advance bases.

Other Seabee detachments overhauled critical items of construction equipment, conducted extensive


dredging operations, conducted oil explorations, and erected large diesel-electric generator plants. Still other detachments, trained at the factories where the generator sets were made, operated the electric plants.

The problem of spare parts distribution to the construction battalions was greatly aided by the creation of Spare Parts Units. These units carried stocks to keep a battalion supplied with spare parts for 120 days, of two-shift operation, after they began their work. When a battalion landed, it had with it a supply of spare parts sufficient to take care of the anticipated needs of the first 45 days of two-shift operation. Each battalion also had an automotive parts common and supply kit for each company. After a battalion was in working position, all parts were pooled to stock a battalion spare parts depot. Training for the personnel of the spare parts units took place at the Central Spare Parts Warehouse, at Joliet, Ill. The number of officers and men assigned to spare parts duty ranged from 15 to 130.

Seabees carried out one of the most dangerous assignments of the war as members of special Navy underwater demolition teams. These groups helped clear enemy beaches in front of troops making assault landings, by blasting paths through coral formations and mined barriers. Their work was responsible for the success of many landings and as such was an outstanding contribution to the successful prosecution of the war.

Seabee Units Attached to Marine Divisions. -- Three construction battalions were attached initially to Marine divisions in the capacity of combat engineers. These battalions took their primary training at Norfolk, and received their tactical training with the Marines at Marine training bases.

Seabees in the Forward Areas

Before the first regularly constituted construction battalion was organized and trained, it was necessary to establish a fueling station on the supply line to Australia. Borabora, in the Society Islands, was selected as the site and coded BOBCAT. A group of approximately 250 naval construction men was assembled at Quonset Point, R.I., organized hastily into a construction detachment, and shipped to Charleston, S.C., on January 17, 1942. The BOBCATS, as this group later was called, after being reinforced with an additional fifty men at Norfolk, left Charleston on January 27, and arrived at Borabora on February 17. They were the first group of naval construction workers to go overseas. Not too well provided with food, clothing, housing, medicine, or construction equipment, the detachment set to work. Weather conditions were bad, and the threat of enemy action was constant. Nevertheless, in three months the group had completed a seaplane ramp, emplaced heavy guns, cleared a landing strip for the Army, and -- most important of all -- installed and camouflaged the oil storage tanks which formed their original assignment.

The first battalion to work under combat conditions was the 6th, the first contingent of which went ashore at Guadalcanal on September 1, 1942. Work was begun the next day on lengthening and maintaining Henderson Field and on the construction of three adjacent fighter strips. Units of this battalion also engaged in waterfront construction, road and bridge construction, electric power installations, and tunnel construction on Guadalcanal.

Seabees Take Over From The Contractors

While the first four Seabee units were being rushed to the forward pacific areas, other battalions were being readied to take over naval construction projects begun by private contractors. The first battalion to function in this capacity was the 4th, commissioned in May 1942. This battalion left Seattle on June 27, 1942, and arrived at Dutch Harbor on July 5.

The first battalion to be sent to the Atlantic area was the 9th, commissioned on June 6, 1942. This battalion departed for Iceland on August 5 and took over contract work on a Navy fuel depot, a fleet recreation area, ammunition storage facilities, a fleet air base, and an Army airfield at Reykjavik.

Other battalions relieved the contractors at Trinidad, Bermuda, and in the British Isles.

The 29th Battalion, the first Seabee units to arrive in Europe, was commissioned on October 4, 1942. It left the United States for the United Kingdom in two sections. The first section arrived at the U.S. Naval Base, II, Rosneath, Scotland, on November 30; the second section soon followed.

While some battalions took over the construction work begun by private contractors, other Seabee units went to work on new construction all over the world. Through the combined efforts of all


Figure 4 (Chart): Navy Construction Enlistment Program -- Seabees
Figure 4. -- Seabee Enlistment Curves
Showing total enlistments, number completing training, number in service outside the continental limits of the United States.


Training Schools, Camp Endicott
Training Schools, Camp Endicott
The many special trades in which the Seabees excelled were taught in 40-by-100-foot quonset-type warehouses.

the Seabee battalions and specialized units, an unparalleled record of military construction and maintenance was accomplished, contributing in large measure to the successful conclusion of the war.


Demobilization of the Seabees followed the same rapid pattern as that which characterized other Navy personnel. From a Seabee strength of 8,000 officers and 238,000 enlisted men on V-J Day, organized into 9 brigades, 31 regiments, and 338 battalions and smaller units, the number decreased to a total of 400 officers and 20,000 enlisted men, organized into 2 brigades, 2 regiments, and 40 smaller units, on June 30, 1946.

On V-J Day, there were four Seabee training centers still in an active status -- Camps Endicott, Parks, Rousseau, and Lee-Stephenson. By the end of 1945, all Seabee activities had been transferred to Port Hueneme, with the exception of the officers' training school at Endicott, which was likewise transferred to Port Hueneme, during the sumer of 1946. The Construction Battalion center, Port Hueneme, consisting of the Advance Base Depot and the Training and Distribution Center (formerly Advance Base Receiving Barracks) was established in December 1945 as the center for Seabee activity in the post-war Navy.


Weasel Used by the Point Barrow Expedition
Weasel Used by the Point Barrow Expedition


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1. For a discussion of this organization see the article by Commander Walter H. Allen, "The Twelfth Regiment (Public Works) at Great Lakes" in Proceedings, U.S. Naval Institute, vol. 47 (1921) p. 367ff.

2. BuDocks ltr. OB(9)/A1-1 dated December 28, 1941.

3. SevNav ltr. to BuNav, BuDocks, BuSandA, BuMed, ComUSMC, OE/P17-1(420312)/Ca-1b, dated March 19, 1942.

4. Lt. Irwin W. Lee and Lt. (jg) George W. Stephenson.

5. Named for Rear Admiral Charles W. Parks, chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks in World War I.

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation