Operation Crossroads and the 53rd NCB

53rd-logoThe 53rd Naval Construction Battalion (NCB) was established on December 22, 1942 and served throughout the remainder of WWII, primarily on the Pacific Islands of Guadalcanal, Bougainville, and Guam. As post-war activities were nearing completion, the battalion was scheduled for inactivation on March 1, 1946. The inactivation was cancelled when the unit was selected to participate in Operation Crossroads, a series of nuclear weapon tests conducted by the United States at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, in mid-1946. Operation Crossroads was the first test of a nuclear weapon since the Trinity nuclear test in July 1945, and the first detonation of a nuclear device since the atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. Its purpose was to investigate the effect of nuclear weapons on naval warships, equipment, and material.

The 53rd NCB arrived at Bikini Atoll on March 13, and then transferred to the USS St. Croix, which was anchored in the atoll lagoon. This ship served as the battalion headquarters throughout the Bikini operation. Drawing on their wartime experience in fast construction, nearly 1,000 Seabees with the 53rd NCB transformed Bikini Atoll into a huge laboratory where instruments and structures were set up to record the blast.

The composite battalion of stevedores, pontoon builders, and construction men began the main construction projects which included the erection of several 90-foot towers and protected steel huts for housing the instruments used for recording the blast data, the day after they arrived on site.

Bikini6

Offloading of supplies and equipment

Heavy equipment, to include bulldozers, trucks, and cranes were brought by LST, along with more men and supplies arriving from Pearl Harbor and Port Hueneme, CA.

Bikini5

Seabees with the 53rd NCB constructing a tower to hold automatic camera as part of Operation Crossroads. The towers were built on an island near Bikini Atoll to document the Atomic Bomb explosion.

Seabees built 15 steel towers for photographic observation, several wooden frame towers, and advanced base magazines measuring 20 feet by 20 feet.

Bikini1

The Bikini Atoll is comprised of 30 islands, and Seabees completed projects on 9 of these. Among these projects were demolition operations to remove coralheads to enable LSTs and small craft to land on the beaches, along with the construction of recreational facilities for 35,000 men, to include baseball fields, basketball courts, tennis courts, and an archery range. Construction efforts were made extremely difficult by the constant churning of the black, sandy soil on the beach, which became choking dust clouds as vehicles were transported back and forth. DDT, then unknown to be hazardous to health, was sprayed repeatedly from low-flying planes to combat the hordes of flies that were constantly plaguing the Seabees as they worked.

Bikini4

Aerial view showing one of the many construction sites operated by the 53rd NCB at Bikini Atoll

Operation Crossroads5

The Baker Day explosion of the fifth atomic bomb, Bikini as recorded by an automatically operated camera on a nearby island. Characteristic atomic clouds forms, altered by steam from sub-surface detonation

Operation Crossroads consisted of two detonations, each with a yield of 21 kilotons of TNT (96 terajoules): ABLE was detonated at an altitude of 520 feet (160 m) on July 1, 1946; BAKER was detonated 90 feet (27 m) underwater on July 25, 1946. A third burst, CHARLIE, a deep underwater detonation planned for 1947 was canceled due to the inability to decontaminate the target ships following the Baker test.

With the completion of Operation Crossroads, the battalion was inactivated on August 3, 1946 after 38 months of continuous overseas duty. Some battalion members were transferred back to the United States for separation from the Navy, while others remained onsite for cleanup and restoration duties on Bikini. These members were assigned to the newly activated Naval Construction Battalion Detachment 1156.

American Archives Month at the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum

October is American Archives Month, when archivists nationwide highlight their collections and remind the public that their history is being preserved. The U.S. Navy Seabee Museum’s archive selects, collects, preserves and displays materials that highlight the history of the Seabees. The archives primarily consist of:

-Newsletters                                                                      -Ephemera

-Photographs                                                                    -Maps

-Deployment Completion Reports                               -Monthly Reports

-Rosters showing the movement of personnel

These were all meant to be temporary records, but have been retained by our archive, as they reflect the history of the Seabees from 1942 to the present. They’re important because of real property and land ownership issues and questions that arise and also because of the details of the construction and humanitarian aid that Seabees have accomplished.

Our records are mainly used for:

  1. VA Claims: veterans contact us to obtain documentation that they were in a certain place at a certain time. They may have been exposed to something or experienced a traumatic or physically damaging event that still affects them today, and they need proof that they were at a location and with a unit, in order to receive VA benefits and services.
  2. Environmental Cleanup: various governmental and private agencies contact us to see what kinds of projects were happening in specific locations, in order to address environmental concerns in those areas.
  3. National Landmarks: people contact us in order to receive more information about a specific place and the events that occurred there, to see if those locations may be eligible to be added to the register of National Historical Landmarks.
  4. Individuals looking for information about their family. We often receive questions from people looking for information about their fathers or grandfathers service. Often these family members didn’t talk much about their service, so they want to find out more information. We tell them that although we don’t keep records of individual men, we do have unit records. From these, they can find out where their family member was stationed, and what they may have experienced while there.
  5. Governments trying to determine what happened and where. For example, the Japanese government recently contacted us to see if we had specific information about where their cemetery was located on the island of Peleliu.

While we have collections that researchers typically expect, such as records for specific units and commands, there are also uncommon collections, such as our back wall of geographical and subject files. These files were compiled by past historians and give a quick glimpse into certain aspects of Seabee history. They are organized by units, subjects, geographical location, and also contain personal collections and files for certain CEC officers and Seabees. Often these files can provide insight into a subject that will lead the researcher to other paths of inquiry that they may have not previously considered.

 

Backwall

The files that line the back wall of our archive contain documents, photographs, newsletters, clippings, ephemera, and correspondence. Scanning the back wall files can yield surprising finds.

Reagan

From the Honorary Seabee File, a 1967 clipping naming California Governor Ronald Reagan as Honorary Seabee.

Seabee-Float

From the Anniversary, Seabee – Rose Bowl Float File, a photographs of the 1967 25th anniversary Rose Parade Seabee Float

 

Drawing

From the personal collection of Seabee Donald Taylor of Pontoon Assembly Detachment 2, a sketchpad with drawings

Korea-Train

From the geographical files for Korea, a clipping detailing the Great Train Robbery of 1953

This collection provides a way for people, who may not know a great deal about their research question, or who may not usually interact with a military archive, to connect with the materials and explore different avenues of Seabee history that they may not have considered exploring.

 

 

Archivist’s Attic- Seabees, Classifications, & Life Skills during WWII

With the formation of the newly created Naval Construction Battalions in 1942, Civil Engineer Corps (CEC) officers needed to create new qualifications for each Seabee rank and rate in order to recruit civilians into the force.  When recruited, men were recommended for a certain rank and rate based on age, education, previous experience, and hobbies: CPO Draftsman, minimum age 32; CBM (Diver), must be a diver with considerable experience on waterfront work; Navy Mail Clerk, must be trustworthy; Carpenter’s Mate, related civil job–cabinetmaker; musician, etc. While recruits had a general idea of what they rated, “[t]he day following a recruit’s arrival at Camp Peary’s Seabee training center (opened in 1942) a trained interviewer reclassified by them.”

 

While at Camp Peary, the interviewer asked the recruit a series of focused questions and information requests specific to certain duties and jobs/ranks such as: MM1c (Bulldozer Operator), Milling Machine Operator, Carpenter’s Mate… which needed filling for Seabees.

 “Would you be able to pull a 3 foot diameter stump with caterpillar 60, and how would you set the machine to do so?”

“What do you call the circle on a dividing head that you use to turn the work a definite amount?”

 “Name two knots used to tie together the ends of ropes to make a safe hitch for scaffolding.”

recruit

Seabee Recruiting Cruiser Contingent in Parkersburg, West Virginia, October 1943. (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum archives)

While in the Seabees during WWII, enlisted men between the ages of 17 and 50 earned from $54.00 to $126.00 a month depending on rate and rank.

seabee~graph

Statistical Report/graph of CB personnel, 1942 through 1945. (U.S.Seabee Museum archives)

The first Seabee Detachment departed the U.S. January 27, 1942. In November that same year, President Roosevelt authorized the Seabees be expanded to 210,000 men from the initial force of 99 men nearly a year earlier. By the end of the war, more than 325,000 Seabees served on 6 continents and 250 islands.

 

head shot bio

 

 

 

 

Archivist Attic – “Acey Bone” Serves Steaks on Planes

In 1952 Wonsan, a key supply and transportation center for the enemy, fell back into the hands of communist Korea. While fighting to regain essential territory, severely damaged naval aircraft were being forced to either ditch at sea or land behind enemy territory. The Navy need to locate a safe place for them to land. Just as luck would have it “Acey Bone” (ACBONE), the familiar name of Amphibious Construction Battalion ONE, was on the job! They managed to build a lifesaving airstrip quicker than you can cook dinner.

Emergency landing strip on Wolmi Do Island.

Emergency landing strip on Wolmi Do Island.

Carrier-based Navy aircraft, making daily attacks on the city of Wonson, were frequently damaged to the degree that pilots had to choose between ditching at sea or landing in enemy-held territory. These losses made finding a safe solution in Allied territory imperative. In June 1952, Vice Admiral P.R. Briscoe directed “Acey Bone” to construct an emergency air strip on Yodo Island in Wonsan Harbor. The small, hilly island had remained behind enemy lines after the Wonsan evacuation, but appeared so unimportant that the North Koreans never took it over. Within easy shelling range of the mainland, it was the perfect place for the Seabees to build the much needed air-strip.

Another view of the landing strip on Wolmi Do Island

Emergency landing strip on Wolmi Do Island from the side.

A rapid survey showed that there was only one possible location for the airstrip, a low level area used by the Koreans for rice paddies. After bringing in equipment and supplies “Acey Bone” started construction. Drilling, blasting, filling and grading of the hilly area took just nineteen days to complete. The brand new airstrip was 2,400 feet long and went from one side of the island to the other.

On the twentieth day the code message the “Steak Is Ready,” was declared signaling that the airstrip was ready to be used.. This pre-arranged signal was acted on immediately by no less than nine Corsair pilots who all landed on the new field the very first day it was completed.

ACB-1 after the invasion

Photograph of members of Acey Bone (ACBONE), the familiar name of Amphibious Construction Battalion ONE, after the invasion.

Despite the ease with which the island could be shelled and the constant need for filling shell holes in the airstrip, operations continued for a year. The airfield was named “Briscoe Field” in honor of Vice Admiral P.R. Briscoe. During this time, Navy and Air Force aircraft, valued at over ten million dollars, were saved by utilizing the emergency airstrip and over sixty pilots were spared the choice between capture and ditching at sea.

Once again “Acey Bone” showed the true Can Do! Spirt of the Seabees by not only providing a place to land, but doing so in style!

 

Ingi Face

Meet the Archivist: Ingi House

Meet the Archivist: Ingi House

Ingi House is originally from Kansas where she got her B.A. in history from the University of Kansas and M.L.S. from Emporia State University. After working for the Dole Institute of Politics she moved to the East Coast. In Washington D.C. she worked at the National Archives and Records Administration and then at the Defense Acquisition University where she became a Certified Archivist. Her continued enjoyment of military history led her to switching coasts and coming to work for the Seabee Museum where she is collection manager for the archives and records manager liaison.

Archivist Attic – Acey Bone at Incheon

In September 1950 the personnel and equipment of Acey Bone (ACBONE), the familiar name of Amphibious Construction Battalion ONE, participated in the invasion of Inchon, Korea. This decisive victory turned the tide in favor of the United Nations and enabled the recapture of Seoul, South Korea, a few weeks later. Acey Bone was able to set up piers, a tent city, and even provide entertainment, quicker than you can get through your holiday celebrations!

Seabees at Wolmi Do during Inchon Invasion.

Seabees at Wolmi Do during Inchon Invasion.

On the morning of September 15th, the Marine Landing Force made its assault at Inchon. The Seabees were right on their heels and one and a half hours after the first waves hit the beach the Seabees had the pontoon cause way launched, assembled, and ready for beaching.

Natural obstacles proved the biggest test for building the harbor. Tidal flats and extreme tides led to maximum tidal currents against which the causeway could not be maneuvered. Working against time and tide, the pier was installed after two unsuccessful attempts. Placement of the pier had to be carefully planned in order to provide constant accessibility during both high and low tides.

Even with all the Seabee ingenuity, tidal conditions continued to limit operations. To combat this, small crafts were employed to maintain a constant flow of materials across the pier. The combination of pier work and small craft permitted 24-hour utilization of the vital links.

Smoke during naval bombardment on Incheon, Korea

Smoke rises from fires and explosions caused by pre-invasion naval bombardment on Incheon, Korea.

While pontoons were being placed in the harbor, the beach conditions were also being improved in order to make a workable base. A tent city was constructed while drivers improved roads improving the flow of materials. Seabees with railroad experience also brought Korean locomotives through enemy mortar and fire to supply the troops. They manned this equipment for the duration of their stay. Their fortitude and unusual skill provided unexpected service in support of the logistic operations.

All work and no play makes even the best military cranky. No problem with that though, the Seabees took care of that when they installed a theater. The theater proved so popular that once again, the traditional “Courtesy of the Seabees” sign was displayed on a beachhead.

Seabees at Incheon Harbor, Korea

Seabees are pictured leaving Incheon Harbor, Korea during the successful redeployment of UN troops to Incheon.

Consolidation and improvement operations continued until October 1950, by which time the preliminary work was done and the Base Development phase commenced. In just three short weeks the Seabees had built a pontoon cause way, installed a tent city, worked on making a railway functional, and provided entertainment for the troops! All because Seabees Can Do!

 

Ingi Face

Meet the Archivist: Ingi House

 

Meet the Archivist: Ingi House

Ingi House is originally from Kansas where she got her B.A. in history from the University of Kansas and M.L.S. from Emporia State University. After working for the Dole Institute of Politics she moved to the East Coast. In Washington D.C. she worked at the National Archives and Records Administration and then at the Defense Acquisition University where she became a Certified Archivist. Her continued enjoyment of military history led her to switching coasts and coming to work for the Seabee Museum where she is collection manager for the archives and records manager liaison.

Archivist Attic – WWII and the Voting Seabees

World War II made it harder for people to do things, such as find fresh food, buy gasoline and get new clothes. Things were even harder to get if you were in the Seabees, where even cigarettes were rationed. But one thing that every commander tried to provide Seabees was the ability to exercise their right to vote.

A 1945 voting broadsheet with information and instructions.

A 1945 voting broadsheet with information and instructions.

Broadsheets were set up in various locations advertising that the Navy would “bring you timely information on elections” and instructions on how to get the necessary information needed to vote.

A memo, circa 1944, instructing the 7th Naval Construction Battalion on the proper distribution of voting cards.

A memo, circa 1944, instructing the 7th Naval Construction Battalion on the proper distribution of voting cards.

After a Seabee was signed up to vote, they voted using voting cards. Instructions were given to the voting officer, who distributed to the rest of the battalion. Making sure that it was as easy to vote as possible was his job.

A voting area created out of a tent, October 3, 1944.

A voting area created out of a tent, October 3, 1944.

Once everyone had their voting cards, they needed a place to vote. Using Seabee ingenuity, they made voting places and booths.

Special instructions on the censorship of voting ballots,  Hawaiian Area, Naval Construction Brigades, October 3, 1944.

Special instructions on the censorship of voting ballots, Hawaiian Area, Naval Construction Brigades, October 3, 1944.

Voting was taken so seriously that special instructions were sent out making sure that “ballots shall not be censored.” This insured that the normal protocol for censoring mail would not be applied to the ballots. These measures made it as easy as possible for our service men and women to vote in various elections even as the world was engaging in World War II.

Meet the Archivist: Ingi House

Meet the Archivist: Ingi House

Ingi House is originally from Kansas where she got her B.A. in history from the University of Kansas and M.L.S. from Emporia State University. After working for the Dole Institute of Politics she moved to the East Coast. In Washington D.C. she worked at the National Archives and Records Administration and then at the Defense Acquisition University where she became a Certified Archivist. Her continued enjoyment of military history led her to switching coasts and coming to work for the Seabee Museum where she is collection manager for the archives and records manager liaison.