Museum Space Reimagined into Changing Gallery-2

In March 2020, the USN Seabee Museum staff installed the G.E. Kidder Smith photograph exhibit. During WWII, Kidder Smith shot approximately 2,000 black-and-white photographs. Under the direction of Ben Moreell, Kidder Smith hand selected photographs to best represent the breadth and complexity of construction completed by the Bureau of Yards and Docks across the globe during WWII. These photos were published in limited edition books; 34 of those images are displayed in this exhibit. The temporary exhibit installed in our Changing Gallery-1, was up for about one week before the museum closed its doors for 15 months and many people did not have the opportunity to view it.

The museum closed, the staff saw this as an opportunity to reimagine a large exhibit space near the CEC 2 gallery for re-exhibiting the Kidder Smith temporary exhibit. Imagining is one thing and making it happen is another. We wanted to create a somewhat simplistic space, meaning that the gallery walls should not take away from or distract from the exhibit but work as a canvas for the exhibit to take shape.

With that in mind, the exhibit team removed all the hardware from the new space’s walls and used a heat gun peeling down an existing mural. We sanded and unscrewed horizontal beams from the walls, spackled more than 500 holes on the walls, and installed corrugated metal where needed. After laying down nearly 20 tarps, over a three day span we powered out three coats of paint on the walls and trim. After which we installed art rails at the top of each wall for mounting photographs.

With the new gallery space ready, we uninstalled the Kidder Smith exhibit from the Changing Gallery-1 all the time numbering with post-its each photograph along with its corresponding label copy. And here was another challenge, the staff initially designed the exhibit’s layout to fit in the Changing Gallery-1 space and now we needed to reimagine that design in a totally new space. We did this by laying each photograph on the floor in its possible exhibit location, and shifted them multiple times until we were satisfied. At last, we reinstalled the Kidder Smith exhibit in our new Changing Gallery-2 near the CEC 2 exhibit. Also at last with museum doors open four days a week, you can come into the museum and enjoy the exhibit.

The Fighting Forty and their Namesake Mission in Los Negros

The pressure to build more infrastructure to sustain the United States military during World War II meant that the war effort looked to the skilled trades on U.S. soil for Naval recruitment. The 40th Naval Construction Battalion (40 NCB) was commissioned on 6 November 1942. On Christmas Eve of that year, after being trained up and prepared for the arduous requirements of building and fighting, they began their travels of upwards of 2,200 miles to the New Hebrides, Papua New Guinea, and Admiralty Islands. These Seabees were especially skilled in clearing and building new airstrips quickly and effectively to aid with the evolving war effort. Their work kept the Navy, Army, and Marine Corps moving through battle lines and gaining precious ground.

The 40th spent seven months at their first assigned base in Espiritu Santo. During this time the United States Army was island hopping through the Admiralties capturing as many airstrips and asserting control of land where they could. The Admiralty Islands were a specific objective for the United States to gain control. The Japanese captured the Admiralty Islands and Bismarck Archipelago during their “great sweep of 1942” and from these islands and airstrips were able to run supplies and orchestrate repairs. The islands remained under Japanese control until March, 1944 when General MacArthur seized the islands during his strategic movement north as a means of isolating the 90,000 Japanese on New Britain, New Ireland, and Bougainville. Notably, after General MacArthur’s seizure of the Admiralty Islands, Momote Airfield on Los Negros Island was now controlled by the United States and, at the time, rivalled that of Pearl Harbor for resupply and shipping.

The Fortieth were stationed in Finschhafen, New Guinea by 22 December, 1943. A month after General MacArthur secured Los Negros Island and Momote Airfield, the Fortieth Seabees were needed for airfield reclamation and repair. On 2 March, 1944, 338 Men and 12 Officers arrived at Los Negros Island with the Army’s 1st Echelon of the 17th Regiment. Seabees were boots-on-ground and fighting within minutes of landing.

Personal reports from Lieutenant (jg) Polson and Warrant Officer Taylor recall the harrowing long hours of March 2nd and 3rd, 1944. Lieutenant Polson’s report begins with the precautionary measures taken to clear the island and airstrip: “as the ships approached the beach, American B-25s were strafing and bombing at all points around the beach, particularly on the peninsula to the north and in the [coconut] grove on the opposite side of the strip.”

After the third piece of machinery was brought inland and driven into position it was met with Japanese sniper fire. The under-fire-Seabee and his machine, a ditcher, paused only to communicate the need for return fire before setting back to digging trenches at the northern terminus of Momote airstrip. This exchange of Japanese sniper fire and Seabee suppressive fire, coupled with the continued B-25 strafing and bombing, lasted into the early hours of the evening setting the tone for the mission: fight to build.

“…the men were getting used to sniper fire and the heavy artillery barrage coming over their heads”

Lt (jg) Polson, Courtesy of the United States Seabee Museum, RG 01, NMCB 40

As night encroached, 50 Seabees tasked with night guard duty crawled into the first eight trenches previously dug at the airstrip, bringing with them “12 air-cooled 30 caliber machine guns”. The Seabees hunkered down in their secondary defensive positions supplementing the Army’s 5th Cavalry on the front lines. Until dawn, spontaneous exchange of fire from the pitch-black coconut groves and the 5th Cavalry echoed across the island.

The invisible foe hidden in the coconut groves, meant that fighting fell second to the work the Seabees needed to complete. Regrading operations began at first light. The operators of the machinery were to be by volunteer only because of the ongoing sniper fire. Apparently, not a single Seabee withheld volunteering for the duty. Each machine had an operator and a rifleman returning fire when fired upon.

Once the day’s work was completed, the men crawled back into their fox holes. At 0100 hours on 3 March, the whole island was engulfed in heavy fire and heavy artillery from the Japanese. As the 5th Cavalry fought hard, some dropped back into the fox holes occupied by the Fortieth, filling the Seabees in on what was happening. 

“As we looked over the edge of our fox hole we could see what we believed to be incendiary hand grenades going out into our lines. Mortar fire from the enemy landed in front and behind our slit trenches”. One soldier said “they’ve got a flamethrower out there and wiped out the machine gun next to me and were going after the other”.

It was recorded that at one point, Warrant Officer Taylor told Lieutenant Polson, when Polson questioned about retreat, “Where the Hell are you going to go?” And so, entrenched in a fiery battle with few options, 40 NCB Seabees helped the 5th Cavalry hold their defensive front line.

By 0400, Soldiers and Seabees were returning fire on the Japanese making incremental headway in the complete darkness. At 0630, with the sun having yet emerged, a sit-rep (situation report) indicated that most of the 50 caliber and 30 mm machine guns were either destroyed or severely malfunctioning. The men dug in their heels and defended with everything they had left.

At long last the sun began to shed some light on a morbid scene; men, machinery, and mortar damage scattered across the airstrip and beach. Approximately 150 Japanese were killed of which 7 were found to have breached the defensive lines. 

As the combat zone at the north of the airstrip began to calm, a bigger picture of the damage began to take shape. Enemy mortar fire had hit much of the camp in the middle of the night wounding many and taking numerous lives. In total, the 40th NCB suffered the losses of the following courageous men: E. J. Alvarado, D. W. Andeen, R. L. Convirs, W . F. Fendsack, W. Frandsen, F. H. Gable, M. L. Gavin, L. S. Harris, J. A. Hermesdorf, E. B. Holland, H. U. Hufford, W. A. Hughes, R. D. Hutchins, P. P. Karaiwu JR., D. A. Katalinich, J. G. Lozada, D. B. Mathis, P. O. Maus, L. W. McCaslin, T. W. Milliken, O. T. Page SR., J. A. Peightal, P .A. Prince, S. R. Roberts JR., G. Rossetto, E. H. Shields, W. E. Tooker, T. Urbanek JR., and H. A. Wiechmann.

The following days after 3 March, 1944, spontaneous moments of enemy fire upended the work 40th NCB had begun. In true Seabee fashion and despite all odds, the 40th NCB completed the airstrip only eight days after landing on Los Negros Island. They had won their battle and completed their mission.

The 40th NCB Seabee posing with rifle and sign, Courtesy of United States Seabee Museum, Digitized.

Their new name forever honoring their legacy, the Fighting Forty were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation in September, 1944 for their courageous efforts on Los Negros Island – a recorded first for any Construction Battalion for fighting on infantry front lines.

(2) History of Los Negros, Courtesy of United States Seabee Museum, Digitized.
(3) Personal Record of 2 and 3 March, 1944, Lieutenant (jg) Polson, Courtesy of United States Seabee Museum, RG 01, 40 NCB 40, Digitized.
(4) Person Record of 3 March, 1944, Warrant Office Taylor, Courtesy of the United States Seabee Museum, RG 01, 40 NCB, Digitized.

By: Kimberlee Roberts

Welcome to the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum, Gerard Foxler!

Gerard Foxler, a San Nicolas Fox, is sporting a summer coat. He was named by both a curator and archivist on staff.

In February 2020, NBVC Environmental Division transferred several San Nicolas Island Fox specimens to the Seabee Museum for use in our STEM programs. The museum staff looked at this as an opportunity to make them educational ambassadors in our Flora and Fauna exhibit where visitors learn about the local Channel Islands.

We decided one fox would be in the exhibit case while the other two would help us later with hands on educational experiences (when we are not social distancing). Then we searched the galleries for an exhibit case for him; that was actually the easy part. Case chosen, we needed to decide how our new friend would look when he met his public. I know this may sound funny, but we choose how our mannequins look and Gerard Foxler definitely needed a certain appearance. (By the way, all of the museum’s mannequins have names too.) Gerard should not appear fierce. He should not seem passive. He should look curious! That decided, Gerard was on his way to the taxidermist and ambassadorship.  

Over the past year, we communicated back and forth with the taxidermist between suppling case dimensions, showing her pictures of the case and its location which all enabled her to position Gerard just right for viewing and fitting in case. The taxidermist, located in Orange County and noted for her work for natural history museums, exhibits, and teaching, explained that creating taxidermy or removing the specimen’s skin can be much like peeling an orange as long as you don’t puncture anything. After visiting her amazingly clean studio and noting the care she gives when handling all of her feathered and furry visitors, this makes sense.

Back to the case of the exhibit case. We had no problem deciding on a backdrop–a flora picture from the Channel Islands, or deciding on painting the exhibit case base black, but then we anxiously awaited Gerard’s return and he was not even named Gerard yet. As businesses locked their doors in 2020, and the museum locked theirs, we waited most of last year and part of 2021 for his return. We could do absolutely nothing to his new home until he reentered the museum except gather supplies: spray foam and glue, paint, rocks, dirt, plants, more dirt, and then freeze everything that was organic (from the garden). Freezing helps keep the bugs out of the exhibits and out of the museum.

Fast forward to Gerard back in the building. It was time to create his habitat! First, we cut a piece of plywood the size of the exhibit base to build the diorama on. Then painted the edges to match the exhibit base. Next, we outlined the placement of Gerard and few rocks we were including in the exhibit. After which we applied spray foam to the plywood base, sculpted the dried foam with an electric knife, and then fitted Gerard and the rocks on the base. Afterward we made adjustments by trimming away foam, and then painted the foam with three different colors of brown. Following this, we applied our previously frozen dirt to the foam and rocks. Excited as we were to finish, we needed to let the painted and glued foam base off-gas (air out the possible harmful fumes) before enclosing Gerard in the case. Once this was done, we introduced our new ambassador to his new digs and then spruced it up with a little flora. You can visit him in our Civil Engineer Corps 2 gallery.

Gerard Foxler in the Civil Engineer Corps Gallery Flora and Fauna exhibit space, June 2021.

Alaska’s 1964 Megathrust Earthquake and the Best Seabees for the Job

On the evening of 27 March, 1964 a fault line located between the Pacific and North American tectonic plates fractured. At 5:36 pm Alaska standard time, a magnitude 9.2 earthquake devastated much of south-central Alaska lasting 4 minutes 38 seconds. The earthquake remains the most devastating earthquake in North American history and second worldwide. Tragically, following the destruction of the earthquake, numerous tsunamis rattled what was left of Anchorage, Kodiak, and the Knik Arm.

Within hours Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion Nine (NMCB-9) were airlifted by jet from Point Mugu, California en route to Kodiak, Alaska. One hundred fifty-two men comprised “Det Mike” under the command of Captain Perkins and arrived on 28 March prepared to provide aid as it was needed.

NMCB-9 Seabees focused immediately on restoring utilities and rebuilding roads for better dissemination of emergency supplies and emergency responders. Recovery teams included Constructionmen, Utilitiesmen, Builders, Equipment Operators, Steelworkers, and headquarters personnel. The Seabees restored power plant generators and installed seven large boilers airlifted from Port Hueneme, California. Seabee cranes and tanks helped clear the debris from the devastation.

The quick action of NMCB-9 and their multitudinal abilities in response to the disaster of Kodiak led to Rear Admiral James R. Davis, CEC, USN, Commander Naval Construction Battalion Pacific (COMCBPAC), to dub NMCB-9 the “Best of their Type”. 

To learn more about NMCB-9 and view their cruisebooks, please visit the Seabee Museum website:

Related Resources:

Building the Navy’s Bases in World War II

History of the Bureau of Yards and Docks and the Civil Engineer Corps, 1940-1946 · Volume 1

by: Kimberlee Roberts, Seabee Museum Archivist

Builders for Battle: The Strategic Importance of U.S. Navy Bases to Operation OVERLORD

by Gina Nichols, Head of Collections/Supervisory Archivist

Prior to the invasion of Normandy, the U.S. Naval Construction Force, better known as the Seabees, and naval contractors constructed a series of U.S. Navy bases throughout the United Kingdom (UK) to protect Allied shipping lanes; provide repair and refueling facilities; and build training facilities essential to victory on D-Day. Begun in mid-1941, the US and Britain strategically positioned the initial bases throughout the North Atlantic shipping lanes to protect Allied ships, submarines, and merchant vessels.  The US and Britain agreed to construct two naval bases in Northern Ireland and two in Scotland for destroyers, submarines and seaplane squadrons patrolling the North Atlantic. These bases proved key during the Battle of the Atlantic to maintaining essential supply lines between North America and Europe.

Shortly after the Quebec Conference in August 1943, Allied forces concentrated in Southern England and Wales to prepare for Operation OVERLORD. A major aspect of the joint American-British battle plan included building bases to house and train forces, provide areas to test equipment and materiel, and consolidating supplies. The U.S. Navy bases built throughout the UK played a strategic role in Operation OVERLORD and have been a long-overlooked part of D-Day planning and execution.

North Atlantic Trade Routes

By summer 1940, the British Commonwealth and Empire stood alone in Europe against the Axis powers with limited support provided by the US. A key component to winning the war rested on maintaining open trade routes to replenish British supplies and armaments lost to German U-boats. To accomplish this, Britain approached the US with a request that both nations work collectively to maintain Atlantic trade routes and escort supply convoys by air and sea. Britain sought to take advantage of Hitler’s effort to maintain US neutrality until it collapsed under the weight of Germany’s campaign. British leadership believed that Hitler’s desire to avoid an all-out war with the US left American forces free to patrol and protect the sea-lanes without German interference.[1]

In early 1941, the US and Britain convened to create a common strategic plan in case war with Germany and Japan broke out. As a result of the meeting,[2] the U.S. Navy undertook partial responsibility to protect the shipping lanes. The mission included two basic elements – the preparation and outfitting of naval forces, and the construction of bases to support the operation.[3]

Both countries agreed to jointly fund construction and provide personnel and equipment necessary to patrol the sea-lanes. In April 1941, under the Lend-Lease agreement, the US and Britain agreed to build four naval bases located in Londonderry and Lough Erne in Northern Ireland and Rosneath and Loch Ryan in Scotland to keep sea-lanes open and supplies flowing into ports bordering the Irish Sea. Londonderry and Rosneath, designated Base “One” and “Two” respectively, were destroyer and submarine bases designed to provide repair and fueling facilities, ammunition storage, and barracks for shore personnel. Lough Erne and Loch Ryan, designated Base “A” and “B” respectively, were air stations principally used as operation centers for seaplane squadrons.[4] To expedite construction, the Bureau of Yards and Docks (BuDocks), hired East Coast Contractors to build the North Atlantic bases.

These four bases represented the first major attempt by the U.S. Navy to use portable structures, mechanical equipment, and utilities adapted for advance bases. The bases consisted of mobile standardized building units, shipped in, and erected without reliance on local material and labor. In order to increase base construction and develop portable materiel, BuDocks developed standardized plans with engineer specifications allowing manufacturers to mass-produce items tailored to the new expeditionary forces.[5]

The 29th Naval Construction Battalion (NCB)[6] became the first Seabee unit to see duty in Britain in late fall 1942. The Seabees arrived at Base TWO in Rosneath assigned to complete an extensive submarine base and industrial area. In less than two months, the Seabees completed base construction that included a tank farm, marine railway, and hundreds of Quonset huts.[7] The Seabees proceeded to Northern Ireland to complete construction of Naval Operating Base Londonderry to build a tank farm, three pumping stations, and laid all fuel lines to support convoys and seaplane squadrons.

Logistical Dilemma

President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill met with the Combined Chiefs of Staff at the Trident Conference in May 1943 to set a tentative date and narrow down locations for the invasion. Two stretches of the northern coast of France were chosen as possible landing locations with a tentative invasion date of May 1, 1944.[8]

The joint strategic plan required a maximum concentration of armed forces invading simultaneously to ensure a decisive, speedy victory. This required assembling significant numbers of US, British, and Canadian forces in Southern England and Wales; bases to train, support, and house personnel; and assembling massive quantities of equipment and materiel. The U.S. Navy required amphibious, air, supply, and training bases for an estimated 28,000 personnel.[9] An estimated 12,000 tons of materiel and 2500 vehicles per day would be needed by the US for the first 90 days to support the forthcoming amphibious operations.[10] The problem became where to train and house a large diversified force, build all essential lighterage, and store enough supplies to maintain the proposed momentum.

Naval Amphibious Bases

By summer 1943, the Seabees redeployed to the southwest coast of Britain to build a series of new naval amphibious bases. BuDocks assigned the 13th Naval Construction Regiment (NCR) with operational command of all Seabee units[11] in the UK.[12] The 13th NCR coordinated construction of thirteen advanced amphibious bases at scattered points along the southwest coast, often utilizing towns with developed port facilities.[13] Wherever practical, the Seabees converted existing houses, shops, hotels, warehouses, and docks into naval facilities. Any new base construction used temporary advanced base materials.[14]

The largest base built by Seabees in Britain was the US Naval Amphibious Supply Base Exeter. The British government had to choose between the base being built on a golf course or farm land. The choice seemed easy and the Seabees built the base on nine holes of a country club under the icy stares of local golf players. However, the golfers proved to be of the die-hard variety, learning to chip shots over a cement mixer or around bulldozers. Golfers regularly climbed to the hangar roof where the 14th tee was formerly located, planted one foot on either side, and teed off.[15] Though the animosity continued, the golfers learned to tolerate the Seabees as their beautifully cropped greens and fairways became warehouses, supply yards, and mud pits.

While combatting their worthy golfing foes, the Seabees constructed the base road system and built hundreds of buildings during the rainy season when knee deep mud became the chief obstacle.[16] The base remained the only US naval amphibious supply base in Britain, maintaining supplies for all ship or shore work as well as significant supplies and equipment destined for the far shore.[17]

Two additional supply bases were built in Heathfield and Hawkerland Valley. Construction Battalion Depot Heathfield served as a hub to receive, inventory, store, service, and issue construction equipment and special materiel for all Seabee units.[18] Six miles southeast of the Exeter base, ten acres in Hawkerland Valley were utilized to store ship equipment and construction supplies. These supplies formed the core of the materiel stock sent to France in the months following the invasion. During the decommissioning of amphibious bases, building materials and furnishings were sent to Hawkerland Valley where they were repaired, recrated, and bundled for shipment to the far shore.[19]

Minding our Forces

To handle the influx of personnel, U.S. Navy bases were built near available civilian docks, quays, and yards. In the months proceeded the invasion, the southwest coast of Britain remained partially restricted and civilian travel into the area prohibited.  As many towns were British seaside resorts, the U.S. Navy leased vacant hotels and large private homes. The U.S. Navy used the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth as its principal office and housing space and utilized housing British Army camps.[20]

To minimize concentration and disperse men in case of enemy bombing, Seabees built several Quonset hut camps away from the waterfront hotels and separate from each other. Most amphibious bases in the area consisted of one or more camps on the edge of town away from the docks and ship repair yards. Buildings were camouflaged using a mix of dull green, gray, and brown to confuse military structures with civilian buildings.[21]

To serve the large number of men assembled for the training and invasion, a significant number of hospitals and dispensaries were built using existing hotels and large homes with alterations made to convert them into hospitals. Quonset hut annexes were built to supplement the hospital if the available buildings were inadequate. Hospitals proved essential during and after the invasion as wounded were transferred to specialty landing craft, which were staffed by physicians and corpsmen, before being taken to a naval hospital.[22]

Training Bases

The U.S. Navy assigned Commander Eleventh Amphibious Force to manage all amphibious training of U.S. naval forces and any Army divisions assigned by Commanding General, 1st Army. [23] The U.S. and Britain developed identical amphibious training programs to ensure crews scattered throughout the country acquired the same skills.[24] A comprehensive training program was created, which included landing and assault; amphibious communications; movement of supplies from ship to shore; proper loading of landing craft and transports; training Naval Combat Demolition Units; and training in all elements of naval gunfire support. [25]

In order to train various amphibious forces using similar weather and shore conditions, the U.S. Navy reactivated the Rosneath base and opened bases in Devon and Cornwall for use as amphibious training facilities. All locations provided sandy beaches with similar tides to Normandy, allowing amphibious crews to train; construct and deconstruct artificial harbor elements; and test various equipment.[26]

On April 1, 1944, several Seabee units reorganized under the 25th NCR,[27] a newly created regiment tasked to train, organize, and plan for all Seabee related invasion duties.[28] The 25th NCR reallocated Seabees to training crews from existing units, as lighterage and MULBERRY elements were completed and readied for use. Men were chosen depending on physical fitness and stamina, qualifying experience, and general adaptability.

Every operation anticipated on the far shore was simulated in the training program and definitive techniques developed to solve a variety of potential glitches. To provide crews with valuable knowledge in maintenance and repairs, the men assisted in the fabrication of MULBERRY equipment and lighterage.[29] The massive joint training program included three full-scale rehearsals in late April and early May 1944, in which men embarked on and from the same ships and ports they were designated to leave from as part of the invasion.[30]

Lighterage to the Rescue

Early on, invasion planners realized conveying men and equipment ashore quickly was imperative. The problem of how to unload LSTs arose as the normal method, where men and vehicles discharge under their own power over a bow ramp, was precluded due to the extremely flat beach and tidal range on the targeted far shore. There were not enough LCTs and other small landing craft to handle the amount of materiel needed to offload each day in support of the objectives. Leadership approved five ways to bridge this gap, two of which used the newly developed Navy Lightered (NL) pontoon to build causeways and lighterage to convey equipment and materiel from ship to shore.[31]

In late 1943, Seabees were designated to take part in Operation OVERLORD to construct MULBERRY A as well as perform lighterage and causeway duties.[32] Seabees established pontoon assembly yards to mass produce pontoons into causeways and various lighterage assemblies. The first yard opened at Falmouth in late November 1943, where Seabees with the 81st NCB began assembling pontoon strings for Rhino ferries and, later causeways. Within weeks, two other assembly yards were established at Plymouth and Dartmouth to speed up production and compensate for tidal issues at Falmouth.[33] The Rhinos, causeways, and WHALES were key to offloading tons of materiel essential to maintaining forward momentum on D-Day and beyond.

As Allied Forces moved forward to engage the German Army, the U.S. Navy bases were dismantled and all construction materiel and huts were ordered recrated and prepared for transfer.[34] Any US naval facility no longer needed was decommissioned, and either dismantled and the materials transferred to the far shore, back to the US, or turned over to the British.[35]

Whether leapfrogging across the Pacific or supporting fleet operations throughout the Atlantic, the US Navy Seabees used their amazing construction skills and ingenuity to build the Navy’s advanced bases and served as a major cog in the Allied strategic machine. The UK bases played an essential part in preparation for D-Day and maintaining the necessary forward momentum to supply and reinforce Allied forces. They served as major supply hubs; provided housing and training stations for personnel; and were used to test and perfect essential equipment used on D-Day. Throughout Britain and beyond, Seabees exhibited their unique “Can do!” skills, no matter the obstacle, challenge, or golf course they encountered on the way.

[1] Churchill, Their Finest Hour. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1949), 563.

[2] During January to March 1941 U.S. and British military officials met secretly in Washington, DC to develop the ABC-1 plan, outlining a common strategy for World War II.

[3] Base Maintenance Division, Office of Naval Operations. The Logistics of Advance Bases. (Washington, DC: Office of Naval Operations, 1946), 19

[4] Bureau of Yards and Docks, Building the Navy’s Bases in World War II, Volume II, (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1947), 61.

[5] Bureau of Yards and Docks. Building the Navy’s Bases in World War II, Volume I, 115; Bureau of Yards and Docks. Construction Department. “Description of USN Advance Bases to be visited by the Truman Committee.” July 17, 1943, 1, Seabee Museum Archives.

[6] The 29th Naval Construction Battalion was replaced by the 97th Naval Construction Battalion in December 1943.

[7] Barlow, “Seabee Story,” 1944, 3, Seabee Museum Archives.

[8] Samuel Eliot Morison, History of the United States Naval Operations in World War II: Volume Eleven – The Invasion of France and Germany: 1944-1945 1957, 20.

[9] John Wilkes, December 18, 1943, “Project OVERLORD, construction of U.S. MULBERRY Seabee personnel requirements.” 13 NCR Official Collection, Box 15, Folder A16-3 Warfare Operations, 1944, Seabee Museum Archives.

[10] Morison, History of the United States Naval Operations in World War II: Volume Eleven – The Invasion of France and Germany: 1944-1945 1957, 25

[11] Seabee units assigned in Britain prior to the invasion included the 28th NCB, 29th NCB, 81st NCB, 97th NCB, 108th NCB, 111th NCB, 146th NCB, 10th Special NCB, CBD 1005, CBD 1006, CBD 1048, and CBD 1049.

[12] 13th Naval Construction Regiment, Construction Battalion Activity in the United Kingdom: a History, Seabee Museum Archives.

[13] The Seabees constructed Advanced Amphibious Bases in Falmouth, Fowey, Plymouth, Salcombe, Dartmouth, and Teignmouth on the southwest Channel coast, and Milford Haven and Penarth in Wales. Smaller bases were built at St. Mawes, Saltash, Calstock, Weymouth, Poole, Southampton, and Instow (known as Appledore) utilizing already developed port facilities.

[14] Bureau of Yards and Docks. Building the Navy’s Bases in World War II, Volume II, 97; 13th Naval Construction Regiment. Construction Battalion Activity in the United Kingdom: a History, 24, Seabee Museum Archives.

[15] C.T. Barlow, “Golf vs. Seabees,” Seabee Museum Archives.

[16] 29th Naval Construction Battalion, Monthly Report: January 1944, Seabee Museum Archives.

[17] 13th Naval Construction Regiment, Construction Battalion Activity in the United Kingdom: a History, 27, Seabee Museum Archives.

[18] Bureau of Yards and Docks. “Construction Battalions in the Invasion of Normandy,” 1945, 8, Seabee Museum Archives.

[19] 13th Naval Construction Regiment, Construction Battalion Activity in the United Kingdom: a History, 28, Seabee Museum Archives.

[20] 13th Naval Construction Regiment, Construction Battalion Activity in the United Kingdom: a History, Seabee Museum Archives.

[21] 13th Naval Construction Regiment, Construction Battalion Activity in the United Kingdom: a History, Seabee Museum Archives.

[22] Andre B Sobocinski. Remembering Navy Medicine at Normandy. [Internet online]; available from: [26 June 2019].

[23] Earnest J. King, Commander in Chief, US Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations, March 8, 1943. “Memorandum of Agreement of the Chief of Staff US Army and the Commander in Chief, US Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations.” 13 NCR Official Collection, Box 15, Folder A16-3 Warfare Operations, 1944.

[24] J. J. Manning, March 26, 1944, “Training of CB Personnel for Participation in MULBERRY “A”,” 13 NCR Official Collection, Box 15, Folder A16-3 Warfare Operations, 1944, Seabee Museum Archives.

[25] A.G. Kirk, 1943. “Directive for Amphibious Training.” Commander Task Force ONE TWO TWO, December 17. 13 NCR Official Collection, Box 15, Folder A16-3 Warfare Operations, 1944, Seabee Museum Archives.

[26] Samuel Eliot Morison, The Two-Ocean War: a short histroy of the U.S. Navy in the Second World War, (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1963), 391.

[27] Seabee units reorganized under the 25th Naval Construction Regiment included 28th NCB, 81st NCB, 108th NCB, 111th NCB 146th NCB, and CBD 1006.

[28] J. J. Manning, March 26, 1944, “Training of CB Personnel for Participation in MULBERRY “A”,”  Seabee Museum Archives.

[29] J. J. Manning, March 26, 1944, “Training of CB Personnel for Participation in MULBERRY “A”,”  Seabee Museum Archives.

[30] Morison, The Two-Ocean War: a short histroy of the U.S. Navy in the Second World War,  391.

[31] Bureau of Yards and Docks. “Construction Battalions in the Invasion of Normandy.” 1945, 8, Seabee Museum Archives.

[32] C.R. Johnson, December 9, 1943. “Memorandum to Commander, Landing Craft and Bases, Europe: Installment of Seabees to Project OVERLORD including installation of US Mulberry.” 13 NCR Official Collection, Box 15, Folder A16-3 Warfare Operations, 1944, Seabee Museum Archives.

[33] 13th Naval Construction Regiment, March 26, 1944, “MULBERRY Training – Progress of,” Seabee Museum Archives.

[34] Twenty-fifth U.S. Naval Construction Regiment, Report of Activities of Twenty-Fifth U.S. Naval Construction Regiment, 19, Seabee Museum Archives.

[35] 13th Naval Construction Regiment, Construction Battalion Activity in the United Kingdom: a History, Seabee Museum Archives.

Project Titicaca: Humanitarian Action Two and a Half Miles Above Sea Level

In 1972, the Navy called the Seabees into action to assist Bolivian civilians living in remote areas around Lake Titicaca, 2½ miles above sea level, in the Andes. In January 1972, the Bolivian Government requested assistance from the US to build a hospital barge on Lake Titicaca to serve the neglected rural citizens living in the mountains and villages. The US Navy and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) worked with the Bolivian Navy to bring the project to fruition and assist rural Bolivian citizen in desperate need of medical services.

Project Titicaca

Part of the Bolivian Navy’s mission is to promote socio-economic development through military civic action. To meet this mission, Dr. Luis Kushner, director of medicine for the Bolivian Navy, developed the idea to create a hospital vessel on Lake Titicaca to visit rural villages and help citizens desperately needing medical and dental treatment. Project Titicaca provided medical services to over 200K Aymaran people living in inaccessible villages in the Altipano region. The Bolivian Navy, with the assistance of the Bolivian Ministry of Public Health, sponsored the project with the support of the US Navy and USAID.

The US Navy used personnel, expertise, and surplus materials to assist the Bolivians in achieving their goal. Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) designed the hospital barge using an AMMI pontoon system and a prefabricated building, and order a Seabee Team be formed to construct the barge in Bolivia. Surplus hospital supplies and equipment from hospital closures and modernization were located and made available for the hospital barge project.

In March 1972, the Commanding Officer of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion Seventy-four (NMCB-74) received orders to establish and deploy Seabee Team 7412 to Puerto Chaguaya, Bolivia to construct the hospital barge. This included erecting a prefabricated building and installing electrical power with generators, potable water and fuel storage; berthing and medical treatment spaces; and propulsion and anchor system.

The US Navy did not accomplish this assistance effort alone. They collaborated with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) who has the mission to help rural citizens in underdeveloped and emerging nations with humanitarian aid and public health assistance. USAID Bolivia Mission took part in the project by procuring construction materials and supplies.

Barge Construction

Seabee Team 7412, consisting of nineteen members, arrived at La Paz, Bolivia, 2 June 1972, to finalize preparations before traveling 100 miles northwest to the construction site near the small mining town of Puerto Chaguaya on 4 June. A tent camp, which consisted of three “strong back” tents were set up and the matting foundation for the launching ramp laid. From 6-10 June the timber and steel pipe launch ramp was constructed.

Work began on 11 June to build the 90 ft. by 28 ft. AMMI pontoon barge. Pontoons damaged in transit required considerable repairs before assembly could begin. On 11 July, the pontoon was completed and a D-6 dozer and front-end loader pulled the barge down the ramp and into the water.  The Seabees built a prefabricated Lewis building on the barge to serve as the dispensary. Powered by two diesel outboard engines, the barge contained all the basic hospital and dental facilities of a small hospital.

One of the more rewarding aspects of the deployment was the contact the team had with 15 Bolivian sailors who worked part-time as construction trainees and another 15 who served as port and camp security. From the day the Seabees arrived at Chaguaya, the sailors and Seabees hit it off, and the sailors seemed fascinated by the Seabee’s ability to build anything with their strange assortment of tools and equipment. The team provided vitally needed training in welding, diesel engine mechanics, and general construction skills, while the Seabees received valuable peacetime training in remote-area construction.

The Lake Titicaca surface elevation is 12,507 ft. (3,812 m) making it the highest navigable lake for commercial craft. The elevation caused minor medical issues among the team including altitude sickness, waking up feeling near suffocation, nightmares, and difficulty concentrating due to low oxygen levels. Others had severe abdominal issues and severe bacterial infections even if it was a minor scratch when not treated immediately. This prohibited the corpsman from leaving the job site and performing normal deployment MEDCAPS services.

The Seabees completed the hospital barge on 6 September 1972 and turned it over to the Bolivian Navy after sea trials and training. On 15 September, the Bolivian Navy took the barge, christened the JULIAN APAZA after an early Aymaran leader, from Puerto Chaguaya to Copacabana where the final turnover ceremony was held.

Project Titicaca displayed the Seabee’s abilities to assist emerging nations wishing to improve the socio-economic conditions for broad segments of their citizens. The US Navy’s assistance to the Bolivian Navy in Project Titicaca carried special significance. The use of Navy resources to advance humanitarian causes in direct support of US foreign policy objectives was an embodiment of the post-Vietnam “swords to plowshares” concept. The interagency approach with USAID, augmented with assets donated by the private sector, provided a valuable example for future programs and projects that worked toward a common national objective.

Pacific Naval Air Bases: Pearl Harbor under Attack

by Gina Nichols, Supervisory Archivist

Pearl Harbor circa 1941, prior to the Japanese attack. Aerial view of the Naval Operating Base, Pearl Harbor, looking southwest on 30 October 1941. Ford Island Naval Air Station is in the center, with the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard just beyond it, across the channel. The airfield in the upper left-center is the Army’s Hickam Field. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.
Catalog #: 80-G-182874

The story of Pearl Harbor’s aftermath tells of tremendous accomplishments of naval and civilian personnel involved in saving lives, rebuilding the bases, and the rehabilitation of the shattered Fleet. However, the story of the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard and new naval bases throughout the Pacific begins in August 1939, when the Navy Department, the Bureau of Yards and Docks (BuDocks), and Navy contractors worked strenuously to develop dry dock, repair facilities, and airfields to prepare for a possible conflict with Japan.

When the Pacific Fleet began using Pearl Harbor as an operating base in 1940, many deficiencies became apparent and immediate steps were undertaken to remedy the situation. A conglomerate of contractors, named Pacific Naval Air Bases (PNAB), were tasked to build new facilities and additional bases throughout the Pacific.

Dry dock No. 1 and cranes at Pearl Harbor Navy Yard, circa 1944.

The two-year period between the start of construction in the fall of 1939 and the outbreak of war with Japan was one of intensive and sustained activity. Major additions were made to industrial facilities in the navy yard, including additional dry docks, power plants, shops, storehouses, piers, wharves, barracks, office buildings, cranes, mechanical equipment, and various utilities. The projects at the yard were usably complete by 7 December 1941, including the completion of Dock No. 2, during the week prior to the Japanese attack, to a stage, which permitted the emergency docking of the cruiser Helena, which was torpedoed during the attack.

Construction of naval stations began at Kaneohe and Barbers Point on Oahu, as well as operating, air, and submarine bases on the islands of Maui, Midway, Guam, Wake, Johnston, Palmyra, and Samoa, and at Cavite in the Philippines. All these facilities, except those at Samoa and Guam, were in use before the attack. A new supply depot on Kuahua Island, a tremendous underground fuel-storage project, a new hospital, a new radio station, extensions to ammunition storage, and an extensive dredging program were also in progress at Pearl Harbor.

Control Tower and hangars at Naval Air Station Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, circa 1944.

On 7 December 1941, when Japanese bombs started to fall on Pearl Harbor, BuDocks was managing a major construction program to turn the small naval base into the “Gibraltar of the Pacific.” Immediately upon receiving news of the attack, BuDocks placed at the disposal of the Commandant of the 14th Naval District all personnel, machinery, and supplies of the contracting organizations working under its cognizance.

The wrecked destroyers USS Downes (DD-375) and USS Cassin (DD-372) in Drydock One at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard, soon after the end of the Japanese air attack. Cassin has capsized against Downes. USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) is astern, occupying the rest of the drydock. The torpedo-damaged cruiser USS Helena (CL-50) is in the right distance, beyond the crane. Visible in the center distance is the capsized USS Oklahoma (BB-37), with USS Maryland (BB-46) alongside. Smoke is from the sunken and burning USS Arizona (BB-39), out of view behind Pennsylvania. USS California (BB-44) is partially visible at the extreme left. This image has been attributed to Navy Photographer’s Mate Harold Fawcett. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.
Catalog #: 80-G-19943

Even before the bombs had stopped falling, civilian employees of the Navy itself and its contractors worked to care for the casualties, fighting fires, removing debris, and erecting emergency shelters against shrapnel and bomb splinters. All of the civilians displayed extreme gallantry in their disregard of personal danger, and their attempts to help salvage aircraft and put out fires.  In the aftermath, the contractors worked to salvage and rehabilitate the shore structures and services including filling in bomb crates in roads and runways, and the replacement of glass in buildings, and replacing badly damaged hangars. They voluntarily undertook to repair electrical line, water mains, and utilities at Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station, which were only out of commission for a short while.

The civilian employees, engineering staff, and supervisors of PNAB deserved the highest tribute for their untiring and effective assistance on and after 7 December 1941. The Navy and civilian personnel of the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard worked in fourteen plus hour shifts in muddy, heavy oil slicks, and debris of salvaged vessels in an effort to save lives and refit the Fleet as quickly as possible. Without the personnel, the engineering skill, and equipment of these contractors it would have been impossible to complete the massive salvage job, which confronted them without the loss of many vital months in Fleet rehabilitation and emergency defense measures. Following this period, however, the program went forward with renewed vigor and at the same time expanded immensely beyond its pre-war dimensions.

Naval Air Station Ford Island after Japanese attack, 7 December 1941

Although the Navy suffered immense losses during the attack, the military and civilian personnel demonstrated their ability to carry whatever load they might be required to bear, no matter the obstacle or tragedy they encountered.

Electric Shop Tool Room at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard, circa 1944
Power plant and machine shop at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard, 1944.

Prelude to War

Pearl Harbor Attack

Attacks on Philippines, Guam and Wake

Pearl Harbor Remembrance

What do Seabees have in common with Ancient Egyptians?

Left – A Quonset hut in Korea, circa 1953.
Right – An Ancient Egyptian pyramid, circa 2600 BCE.

If your answer to this question is, “I plumb do not know.” You might be onto something…

Let me give you another hint. This week at the US Navy Seabee Museum, I am cataloging objects on display in our Tools of the Trade exhibit. Cataloging objects: to measure, photograph, name, describe, and give each object/artifact its own identification number. Museum staff catalog every object that is on and off exhibit. For the Seabee Museum staff, this adds up to over 14,500 objects and ID numbers that we keep track of and over 500K  photographs that must be identified, described, and tracked. The numbers attached to each artifact include the year the object was donated, when it was donated that year and then its special ID number on top of that totaling about 12 digits long. It can be plumb challenging to keep number combinations straight.

To be perfectly straight with you, sometimes the simplest tool may be one of the best tools. The plumb bob:  is a weighted objected tied to the end of a string/cord or piece of leather that is used to gain a vertical reference line when surveying sites, as wells as planning and performing construction. While the plumb bob dates back to at least the time of the Ancient Egyptians and the building of pyramids, there are three plumb bobs/plummets on exhibit in the Seabee Museum. They are on display in the: Civil Engineer Corps exhibit, the Pacific WWII tools, and in the Grand Hall at the Tools of the Trade exhibit displaying the types of tools Seabees use (including the plumb bob) based on their rate or job in the Navy.

Lee James Higgins used his plumb bob while surveying sites from Pearl Harbor to Sasebo, Japan during his time with the Seabees during WWII.
Robert E. Peary, RADM, CEC, USN used this plumb bob for a straight vertical line while performing surveys in the Arctic region, circa pre-WWII.
Plumb bob on display in the Tools of the Trade exhibit.

What are We Doing at the Seabee Museum?

Though we may be temporarily closed, the Seabee Museum’s staff are busy taking care of Seabee and CEC history. As many of you may know, the mission of the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum (USNSM), a Department of the Navy museum, is to ensure that the construction and engineering accomplishments of the Seabees and the Civil Engineer Corps are not forgotten, remain relevant, and inspire as many people as possible.

How are we doing that (caring for objects, as well as sharing and protecting history) during this social distancing time?

We are working on bringing exhibits digitally to you.

What does this involve?

Our team is researching different types of software that is easy for everyone to use. Software that will smartly display both archival material (documents, photographs), and artifacts (3-dimensional objects). During the process, we have experimented with turning PowerPoint slides into movies, as well as taking panoramic and spherical gallery photos where we layer closer views of objects on top of the photos. While doing this we are also conversing in online talks with museum educators and curators from across the country.

This challenging time has encouraged us to add more tools to our previous toolbox, where we are working towards building new as well as familiar exhibits to share online with you.

While we are working on this…Did you know?

During the time we are closed, objects (artifact and archival material) get a break from those museum everyday lights. That’s right, little social distancing can also actually be good for objects and lengthen their lifespan! While we work towards keeping gallery lighting soft on the objects, there’s nothing like a bit of no light, to give them a breather from being on display. That’s why sometimes you can’t find your favorite object on display.

That gets us back to what the museum staff is doing while we’re closed. We’re working on rotating objects off exhibit to bring out new ones, answering historical requests, a bit of housekeeping (yes, you read that right, Houskeeping), and of course those future digital exhibits.

The BEES Swarm Inchon

At the end of World War II, the Seabees, which had been a temporary reserve force created for wartime, reduced in number from over 250,000 at the height of the war to less than 10,000 by the end of 1946. What was once a force of over 500 units diminished to three Naval Construction Battalions and 26 Construction Battalion Detachments spread out across the globe. Two battalions evolved to construct bases and perform pontoon operations with one battalion located on each coast. It was from this diminished stance that the Seabees swarmed into action to take part in the Invasion of Inchon on 15 September 1950.

Origins of War

The Korean War began after years of violent altercations along the border that escalated to war. On 25 June 1950, approximately 75,000 soldiers from the North Korean People’s Army crossed over the 38th parallel between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the north and the Republic of Korea to the south.

Seabees deployed with ACB-1 working on pontoon causeways, circa fall 1950.
Seabees deployed with ACB-1 working on pontoon causeways, circa fall 1950.

Shortly after the Surrender of Japan at the end of WWII, the US and Soviet Union agreed to divide the Korean Peninsula, which had been a Japanese possession, at the 38th parallel with the Soviet Union administering the north and the United States administering the south. In 1948, the north became a socialist state under the control of Communist leader Kim Il-Sung, while the south became a capitalist state under the presidency of Syngman Rhee. Both leadership parties claimed to be the sole legitimate party of all Korea, with neither accepting the border as a permanent divider.

The United Nations Security Council denounced the invasion by North Korea, authorized the creation of a UN Command, and approved the dispatching of forces to defend South Korea. Twenty-one countries joined the UN force with the US providing approximately 90% of the military personnel.

The Seabees Swarm Again

In August 1950, the personnel and equipment of the 104th Naval Construction Battalion, soon to be re-designated Amphibious Construction Battalion One, embarked aboard transports for Yokosuka, Japan. The Seabees spent months assembling pontoon formations and staging equipment for the invasion. In early September, the Seabees embarked on amphibious assault ships as part of the Task Force assigned to take part in the Inchon landing.

Causeways and barges were loaded “side-carry” on LSTs and heavy-duty cranes, bulldozers, and equipment were loaded onto the ships. Crews linked warping tugs and dock sections into long tows for the voyage. Within 8 days, the Seabees were underway headed for Inchon.

Invasion of Inchon - photograph from the water inland, circa September 1950.
Invasion of Inchon – photograph from the water inland, circa September 1950.

Invasion of Inchon

On the morning of 15 September, the Marine Landing Force made its assault at Inchon. An hour and a half after the first Marines hit the beach, Seabees hurriedly laid down a 400-foot pontoon pier and causeway that enabled amphibious troops and their equipment to pour ashore.

Seabees working on a Rhino Ferry near pontoon causeway, Inchon, circa 1950.
Seabees working on a Rhino Ferry near pontoon causeway, Inchon, circa 1950.

Seabees dodged intermittent rifle fire from snipers while setting to work installing causeways and piers. All the while straining against a four-knot current and a tremendous thirty-foot tidal range, which made linking the causeways together challenging.

Seabees survey area surrounding Inchon, Korea, circa 1950.
Seabees survey area surrounding Inchon, Korea, circa 1950.

Once the causeways were installed and in working order, the construction company from the 104th NCB worked to build a camp on Opal Beach consisting of 50 tents, a galley, a mess hall, and head, all built in eight hours. Builders set up range towers on Wolmi-do to guide ships navigating in the unknown harbor. Another group of Seabees installed temporary wiring, hauled water from 8-miles away, and set up a theater for 1000 men.

Seabees with ACB-1 in newly built bunker, Inchon, circa 1950.
Seabees with ACB-1 in newly built bunker, Inchon, circa 1950.

The Great Seabee Train Robbery

In one of the Seabees most infamous actions, on D-Day plus seven, a patrol of six chiefs and four enlisted men with railroad experience volunteered to go inland to locate several locomotives located at the Kirin beer station. Making their way to the station under sniper fire most of the way, the Seabees recaptured eight locomotives – and possibly fifteen kegs of Korean beer – which they procured to take back to Inchon in an effort to move quickly supplies and equipment inland to awaiting forces.

During the Korean Conflict, the Seabees earned the Presidential Unit Citation, nine of the ten authorized Korean engagement stars, and the Korean Presidential Unit Citation. The Seabees deployed with the 104th Naval Construction Battalion, re-designated Amphibious Construction Battalion One in October 1950, showed once again that Seabees are ready, anywhere, anytime and always demonstrate their CAN-DO spirit, ingenuity, and expertise no matter the task at hand.

CBD 1804 offloading supplies in Pohang Harbor, circa fall 1950.
CBD 1804 offloading supplies in Pohang Harbor, circa fall 1950.
Seabees help recover damaged aircraft, fall 1950.
Seabees help recover damaged aircraft, fall 1950.
Seabees leave Inchon, circa 1950.
Seabees leave Inchon, circa 1950.