Coca-Cola and the Art of Seabee “Acquisition”

It’s no secret that Seabees “Can Do”, and during WWII, this extended to Seabee ingenuity with Coca-Cola bottling and bottles. While assigned to the Marianas, J.E. Lerch, a Chief Shipfitter with the 13th Naval Construction Battalion, designed a water carbonating unit after finding an adequate source of carbon dioxide. Lerch used objects he found onsite, a Japanese searchlight, oxygen tanks from a grounded B-25, scrap brass from which he fashioned a piston pump, hoses from a beached landing craft, and a motor from a damaged electric saw.  This fountain was capable of carbonating sixty gallons of water an hour, and was able to produce two thousand Cokes and other favorite soft drinks, a day.

Coke6

Water Carbonating Machine, Tinian Island. U.S. Navy Seabee Museum. 13th NCB Collection.

By the time the U.S. entered WWII, Coca-Cola was an established symbol of American life. To American forces, soft drinks were a simple reminder of home. In an effort to improve troop morale, General Dwight D. Eisenhower requisitioned 3 million Coke bottles to be shipped to North Africa and the equipment to refill them twice a month. This inspired Coca-Cola to create bottling plants throughout the Pacific and Atlantic theaters. Over 5 billion servings of Coca-Cola were distributed to U.S. troops during the war, and true to form, Seabees found inventive ways to make use of the bottles for their projects.

 

Coke9.1

The staff of the Coca-Cola bottling plant established on Saipan. Courtesy of the National WWII Museum.

 

In Milne Bay, New Guinea the 115th Battalion incorporated Coca-Cola bottles into their bus rack construction. This enabled them to use ½” brass pipes as sub-feeders, in lieu of cables, to carry the full capacity of the generators.

Coke8

Coca-Cola bottles used as bus supports. U.S. Navy Seabee Museum, Walsworth Collection.

 

Ernest Schefer, Chief Electrician’s Mate was on Bora Bora in 1942 when he came up with the idea and designs for using Coca-Cola bottles as insulators. Early in his deployment, he observed an electrician-lineman up in a coconut tree, securing the wire with nails. These power lines carried 440-volts, and Schefer identified the current practice as being high risk, but there were limited options to do otherwise, as insulators and other appropriate equipment were not immediately at hand. Soon after, he noticed some Coca-Cola bottles lying along the beach, and began to conceive of a way to use these as insulators. He devised a system of using a metal band to hold wire loops at each ends of the bottle, and soon after, Coke bottles were being converted into insulators. He discovered that hanging the bottles downward allowed for variations, and greater flexibility in the heavy winds.

Coke7

Coca-Cola bottles used as dead end insulators in lieu of porcelain standard insulators for overhead line work. U.S. Navy Seabee Museum, Walsworth Collection.

The Seabee Museum Archive is fortunate to have the Personal Collection of Ernest Schefer, which contains several original drawings for his Coca-Cola bottle insulator. These drawings highlight the ingenuity and “Can Do” spirit of the Seabees.

Coke1

Coke2

Coke3

Coke5

Coke4

May 2, 2004

By: Julius Lacano

Historian, US Navy Seabee Museum

TWiSH-4-30-17-1024x731

Seabees attend a memorial service on May 15, 2004, honoring seven Seabees from NMCB 14 who died as a result of hostile fire on April 30 and May 2. (Photo by PH2 Eric Powell)

Fifteen years ago today, seven Seabees serving in Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 14, a reserve unit based in Jacksonville, FL, were killed in action as a result of a mortar attack. Two days earlier, two Seabees from the same unit has also been killed when a convoy of Humvees en route to a school they were building came under attack.

Continue reading