Seabees at the South Pole 1956-57

Seabee Beginnings at the South Pole

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Task Force 43 represented the U.S. Navy’s contributions to the International Geophysical Year. The four quadrants of the shield depict the Fleet, Naval Air, Seabees and Antarctica.  U.S. Navy Seabee Museum

Seabees began construction on the first South Pole Station during the “Summer Season” of 1956-1957 – almost 20 years before their famous South Pole Dome. Early construction on Antarctica supported the International Geophysical Year (IGY), a first coalition of 39 nations committed to an 18-month systematic investigation of the Earth’s environment using the latest technologies. Along with seven ships from the Atlantic Fleet and an air wing with extreme cold experience, US Navy support of IGY – designated Task Force 43 – included a special unit of Seabees created to build-up the facilities required to do the science. Seabees were specifically tasked with constructing research facilities between the Ross Ice Shelf and the South Pole.

 

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Seabees routinely tested the ice foundations of supply trails as part of convoys across the Antarctic. Crevasses and other dangers could be hidden under a thin sheet of ice, endangering both lives and equipment. U. S. Navy Seabee Museum

Construction on the first Amundsen-South Pole station began in November 1956. Seabees faced unbelievably difficult conditions in Antarctica, which were amplified by the remote conditions of the South Pole. Common Seabee activities, such as transporting simple construction materials or maintaining a runway, became dangerous when crossing a frozen continent to supply the new Station. Blog Antarctica White OutSeabees faced extreme weather, extreme cold, and extreme geographical features such as crevasses, as they sought to make the pole habitable.

 

 

 

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This set of pants and hooded jacket, official known as inclement weather gear, were worn by a Seabee during the 1956-1957 Summer Season. Many of the vehicles were also painted a shade of red to make them easier to spot against the icy blues and whites of Antarctica.  U. S. Navy Seabee Museum

In order to keep Seabees safe while they completed construction, the Navy waived some their standard uniforming and grooming regulations. Seabees could wear almost anything that helped them to work comfortably in the extreme conditions. This included a wide variety of headgear, undergarments, wool shirts and “longer than regulation” hair and beards. In addition, special clothing was issued so that work parties in white out conditions could be easily located.

 

 

Approximately 25 Seabees began construction at the station with Jamesway hut berthing – basically insulated arched tents based on a Quonset hut design. These temporary structures were almost immediately replaced with flat-roof prefabricated Clements buildings. Knowing that the original structures would be buried within years by blowing snow, a second story was added to many of these structures. These buildings, along with pitched roof buildings known as T-5 huts, were used until the iconic South Pole Dome replaced the original or “Old Pole” Station.

The Amundsen-South Pole Station has been in continuous use since the first Jamesway hut was set-up by these intrepid Seabees. Officially commissioned and dedicated on January 23, 1957, the success of the Amundsen-South Pole stations that replaced the first are intricately woven with the Seabee spirit. Their “Can Do” attitude ensured operational stations remained in place since that first winter-over season of 1957, continuing long after Seabees departed Antarctica that final time in 1994.

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The U.S. Navy Seabees who built the first South Pole Station beginning in late November and finishing in late December 1956. Standing: Siple (civilian), Speirs, Williamson, Tyler, Wagner, Bevilacqua, McCormick, Randall, Patton, Roberts, Goodwin, Bowers. Kneeling: Scott, Chaudoin, Hisey, Prescott, Powell, Nolan, Montgomery, Hubel, Woody, McGrillis, Slaton. Not pictured: Tuck. Paul Siple was the chief scientist at the South Pole during the International Geophysical Year (IGY), 1957-1958. U.S. Navy Lieutenant junior grade Richard A. Bowers was the Officer in Charge of construction. Bill Bristol, Navy photographer, took the photo. The shadow of the South Pole marker can be seen down the middle. Photograph by U. S. Navy, NSF

 

 

 

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.

 

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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.

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

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

 

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

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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.

 

 

The Seabees and their “Other Birthday”

By: Julius Lacano

Historian, US Navy Seabee Museum

While the US Navy celebrates its birthday on October 13, did you know that there is a Navy community that celebrates a different birthday? Like the US Navy as a whole, this community was formed out of need and has a storied history of its own.  That community is the US Navy Seabees!

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Ben Moreell, the Father of the Seabees

It all began on December 8, 1941.  The United States was now at war against Japan, across the Pacific, and Germany, across the Atlantic.  Then RADM Ben Moreell, Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks and the Civil Engineer Corps, understood that to sustain a war across such great distances, bases, supply depots, hospitals, and air fields would have to be built to support the Allied advances against the enemy.  Therefore, on December 28, 1942, Moreell requested the authority to recruit enlisted personnel with previous construction experience to form a new naval construction force. This date, December 28, become the first Seabee birthday, and so it would remain for the next twelve years.

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October, 1775 and the Birth of the US Navy

By: Julius Lacano

Historian, US Navy Seabee Museum

On this day, October 13, the US Navy celebrates its 243rd birthday! Did you know the US Navy is actually older than the United States? The story of the birth of the US Navy was one borne out of necessity and fraught with challenge.  In 1775, England’s American colonies were in an uncertain place and a debate was raging on what their place in the world should be.  While men such as John Adams and many of his New England brethren rallied around the cause of independence, many of the foremost men in the colonies were more hesitant and called for reconciliation with England and a reestablishment of their position within the British Empire.

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Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of John Adams.  Adams is considered, along with Commodore John Barry and Captain John Paul Jones, the “Father of the United States Navy”

With an economy based on trade, the colonies, especially those in New England, feared the might of the Royal Navy, which was at the time the largest and most powerful navy to ever sail.  While individual colonies were outfitting small ships to defend their coasts from British raiders, there were few in the Continental Congress besides John Adams who pushed for the establishment of a Continental Navy.  All of that would change in the first week of October, 1775.

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The Seabee Museum Pushing Forward ACB to UCT

As we move into fall, the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum staff reflects on the year—(what did you do over the summer?). Earlier this year we opened a new exhibit in the Changing Gallery: The Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Celebrating the Seabees 75 years through 75 objects. Then over the summer we finished a complete renovation of the Humanitarian exhibit with artifacts and a storyline describing the many different aspects and time periods in which Seabees have provided humanitarian assistance while traveling the globe. Moving forward, the museum staff recently renovated the Amphibious Construction Battalion (ACB), and Underwater Construction Team (UCT) exhibits.

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Humanitarian exhibit

During the simultaneous renovation of both exhibits: we elaborated on the ACB and UCT storylines, added new and enhanced exhibited artifacts with new cases, and relocated artifacts. Relocating most of the artifacts took one, maybe two staff members, though day- one of the overhaul included the staff pushing and pulling a 2,000-pound T-6 Pontoon from the WWII Atlantic Theater Gallery across the Grand Hall and placing it in the middle of the ACB exhibit. Moving the pontoon into the exhibit area enabled us to tell a more complete ACB story with text panels and a 12-foot long timeline detailing their history from WWII to the present, and the transformation of pontoons and lighterage.

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With a more complete story, we highlighted the scientific part of ACB beginnings and continued that into the Underwater Construction Teams’ story and their contribution to the Ocean Facilities Program and the Naval Civil Engineering Laboratory (NCEL). Within these stories, we showcase NEMO (Naval Experimental Manned Observatory), underwater construction tools, and the transition of diving masks and tools from WWII to the present.

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UCT exhibit

Present plans as we head into winter: the Morgan Wilbur OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom) Seabee art exhibit will be closing in 2-months during the first week of December and heading back to the East Coast. The Exhibit Team is preparing to move the Transition Years (1975-2001) exhibit to North Gallery and refresh the Civil Engineer Corps Gallery with new panels, artifacts, and interactive programming.

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Three of the paintings included in the Morgan Wilbur OEF exhibit.

 

What is a pontoon and what are they used for?

What percentage of the Earth is covered with water?

The oceans hold what percentage of the Earth’s water?

 

Seabees in Thailand: Helping Others Help Themselves

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January 1967: Signs erected by the BPP at the entrance to 0405 camp area.

In June 1962, the first of the Seabee Teams stationed at the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Port Hueneme began training for their new assignment.  The mission of these State Department sponsored 13-man teams was to deploy to underdeveloped and emerging nations in Southeast Asia, and provide on-the-job training in construction projects to benefit the community, and medical assistance. Seabee Teams began their work in Thailand in May of 1963, and until June 1966 they worked under the Accelerated Rural Development (ARD) program, teaching Thai nationals construction equipment operations and maintenance, dam and bridge construction, and road surveying.

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November 1966: 0909 Team and counterpart Border Patrol Police Team.

In the fall of 1966, this mission changed to unite these Seabee Teams with their new counterparts, the Border Patrol Police (BPP) officers of the Royal Thai Government. The focus of this program was to develop remote border areas in Thailand, as these areas represented the first line of defense against the political unrest and hostile forces from Communist agitators and terrorists. The program also had the aim of extending the lines of Thai government presence, and establishing more of a connection and greater support between the remote villages that otherwise had little to no contact with the government.

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UT1 J.C. Storer of 0806 instructs BPP in the proper operation of the water purification unit.

The 13-man structure of the Seabee Teams remained the same, while the BPP teams consisted of 15 men organized into a BPP Construction Platoon. These platoons preferred to be called Thai Seabees, and were broken down into 5 basic construction trades and the medical profession. Seabee Teams instructed their counterparts according to their assigned trades, to include working with construction materials, maintenance and repair of small engines, operations and maintenance of generators, plumbing, sanitation and other water related trades, and surveying. Two of the BPP men were assigned as medics and were trained by their Seabee counterparts on how to conduct sick calls, treatment of ailments, and establishing preventative health programs within the villages.

 

The Seabee-BPP program was considered “for and with the villagers”, and centered around active cooperation and participation of the local population in completing projects to benefit their village.

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March 1967: UTC Wesley W. Page and BUR2 David E. Snay of 0405 pour first section of culvert in town as a demonstration for the villagers. From then on the villagers poured their own sections.

Thais were trained by the Seabee-BPP Teams to construct things they needed and wanted, using tools and materials that were available to them in their remote environments. The medical portion of the team provided sick call visits to the villages, but only with the support of the village Chiefs, who were required to be present in the village to show their active support of the BPP team. Medics provided basic first aid training to the villagers and education about simple illnesses and the availability of free care provided by Government facilities in nearby cities, to support more serious ailments.

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January 1967: UTA2 Holloway of 0909 observing local villagers while they are dragging a log which will be used for post on water wheel rice pounder.

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January 1967: Local BPP and villagers placing rope handles on suspension footbridge built by Seabee/BPP team 0909 and villagers. The old bridge can be seen at the right. The new bridge will endure the rainy season because it is constructed with 3 cables.

The first Seabee-BPP teams, 0405, 0806, and 0909 arrived at the Bangkok headquarters of COMCBPAC Detachment RVN/THAI in early November 1966. Among the projects they completed were water purification and well construction, building of sanitary latrines, and construction of suspension bridges. They helped the villages to identify and put together long range plans for community development, along with providing instruction on practical application of those goals. Seabee Teams also built new schools, provided playground equipment, established dispensaries, constructed dams, and built airstrips.

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Local mother brings her sick infant for medical care provided by 0405 medic.

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December 1966: Children attending classes at Ban Nong Chok school. As soon as the villagers get the required lumber cut, this school would be enlarged under the guidance of the Seabee/BPP Team 0806.

The BPP program was phased out starting in 1970 as a new program in support of the Royal Thai Marines under the sponsorship of the U.S. Military Assistance command, Thailand (MACTHAI) was instituted.

Learn more about Seabee Teams on our Online Reading Room: https://www.history.navy.mil/content/history/museums/seabee/explore/online-reading-room/Publications/commander-construction-battalion-pacific-reports.html

 

 

The “Large Slow Target”

Off the shore of Normandy, France during the D-Day invasion, June 1944 an enemy mine hit and sunk LST (Landing Ship Tank) 523. Known as the “Large Slow Target” by servicemen as LSTs traveled at 12 knots under a load of 2,100 tons its design fulfilled a critical need in WWII.

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Troops and equipment load aboard a Seabee Rhino ferry from LST at Normandy, June 1944.

During WWII, Allied forces needed an ocean-going ship capable of shore-to-shore delivery of vehicles, tanks, and cargo. With that goal in mind, the British began development of such a craft. In meeting with Americans November 1941, U.S. Navy’s Bureau of Ships (BuShips) agreed to design and build LSTs for Allied use. The LST vessel with its flat bottom, large ballast system, 14-foot wide ramp enabled Seabee Special battalions to drive tanks, vehicles, and unload construction equipment directly onto beaches or causeways. Normandy invasion forces needed an estimated 12,000 tons of daily supplies and 2,500 vehicles were needed for the first 90 days of combat operations.

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Seabees with the 1006th Naval Construction Battalion Detachment offloading equipment from LSTs on Utah Beach, June 1944. When high tide comes, the ships retreat from the beach.

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The LST-523 model made of balsa wood on display in the Atlantic Theater WWII gallery at the Seabee Museum in Port Hueneme, CA. Scale of model: 1 inch equals 6 feet (1:72).

By the war’s end, BuShips built more than 1,050 Landing Ship Tanks. However, only 26 LSTs succumbed to enemy action and a further 13 were lost to weather or accidents. A model of the sunk LST-523 at 1:72 scale and 56” long sits proudly on display in the Atlantic Theater WWII gallery at the Seabee Museum, in Port Hueneme, CA.

Today, a WWII Landing Ship Tank is still in service as a Long Island Sound ferry for passengers and vehicles.

 

Questions:

What role did the Seabees play in off loading the LSTs?

How does 12 knots compare to land speed?

When and where did D-Day take place?