Archivist’s Attic: Conquering the Cliffs of Despair with the Doodlebug in WWII

What do you get when you combine sugar mill parts, a tactical nightmare and Seabee ingenuity?

You get the Doodlebug!

Now don’t be scared the doodlebug is not an actual bug, lay down the pesticides.

The Doodlebug was one of the “secret weapons” attributed to helping the Seabees overcome the supposed impassable coral cliffs of Tinian during World War II.

Tinian, located in the Mariana Islands near Guam, is an island with two small pinhead beaches guarded by the Japanese during WWII. The rest of the water line was marked by jagged coral cliffs ranging up to 15 feet high. This was not a pleasant picture for the tactical experts on Saipan planning the Tinian invasion. Senior leadership decided that in order to gain control of the island, the cliffs would have to be scaled. The problem of how to overcome this natural obstacle was given to Capt. Paul Halloran, commander of the Seabees.

Halloran set about designing and implementing a Land Vehicle, Tracked (LVT) using surplus materials from a Japanese sugar mill on the island, naming it the Doodlebug. A mere 54 hours elapsed between original conception and the first test!

Capt. Paul Halloran's Doodlebug concept.

Capt. Paul Halloran’s Doodlebug concept.

The reason why the Doodlebug worked was that it carried its own ladder with which to scale the cliffs. Four CEC officers and 30 Seabees joined the assault waves on Tinian, scouting the shoreline for points of landings on the cliffs.

Once those points were identified, the Doodlebugs moved in with their tracks gripping the sand to hold them close to the cliff-side. Hooks caught on the cliff-tops and the Doodlebugs were reversed. As they backed out from under the ramps, one end of the ramp would fall into the water to rest on the coral bottoms. Ramp crews leaped out to determine if the ramps were firmly anchored. Once secured, the Doodlebugs rumbled up out of the water and over the cliffs. Seabees remained to maintain the ramps and to assist in building the access roads to them.

The Doodlebug.

The Doodlebug.

As the ramps were put into place and made ready, a flow of amphibious equipment “walked” up the coral barriers behind them. Soon a steady stream of American motorized might was pouring onto the island spreading out and driving the already frustrated Japanese defenders back from their beach positions. This tactical advantage helped the Marines capture the beachhead and soon after, Tinian was under American control.

The Doodlebugs were so successful they were required for only a short period of time. Proving that when faced with cliffs of despair all you need is a little sugar and a little skill, something of which the Seabees on Tinian had plenty!



150225-N-JU810-001Meet the Archivist: Ingi House
Ingi House is originally from Kansas where she got her B.A. in history from K.U. and M.L.S. from E.S.U. After working for the Dole Institute of Politics she moved to the East Coast.  In D.C. she worked at the National Archives and Records Admiration and then at the Defense Acquisition University where she became a Certified Archivist. Her continued enjoyment of military history lead her to switching coasts and coming to work for the Seabee Museum where she is collection manager for the archives and records manager liaison