Curator’s Corner- Artifact Spotlight: Trench Art Shot Glasses

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Trench art, 20mm brass shot glasses, donated by SF1c Ralph E. Nichols of the 73rd Naval Construction Battalion (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

The men of the Naval Construction Battalion (NCB), better known as the Seabees, are known to have collected and brought home many souvenirs and war trophies from WWII. The Seabees of the 73rd NCB were no different. They spent most of their time during WWII on the islands of Munda and Peleiu in the South Pacific, known only as Island X to their loved ones back home. They worked on projects such as malaria control, road construction, construction for beach landings and airfields, and built camps including housings, hospitals, churches, and mess halls.

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Seabees from the 73th NCB playing baseball or watching a boxing tournament in their free time (73rd Seabees cruise book, U.S. Navy Seabee Museum Archives)

Nights the Seabees were not in foxholes being bombed by “Washing Machine Charlie” (a term given by U.S. allied forces to Imperial Japanese aircraft that performed nighttime missions and bombings over allied occupied islands in the South Pacific), they would enjoy recreational activities such as watching movies and participating in sporting events such as boxing tournaments, baseball or basketball. Many of the men also began to create trench art in their spare time. The Seabees have always been noted for their ability to improvise and make something out of any pile of scrap.

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Trench art souvenirs illustration from the 73rd Seabees cruise book (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum Archives)

The souvenir craze first hit the 73rd NCB on Guadalcanal with the abundance of Imperial Japanese shells, sea shells, and grass skirts. As they island hopped around the Pacific Ocean to Roviana, Sasseville, Munda, Banika, and Peleiu, they kept the desire for souvenirs with them. With projectile casings all around them as they worked, they spent their down time collecting them and crafting trench art.

Ship Fitter First Class (SF1c) Ralph E. Nichols of the 73rd NCB donated his collection of memorabilia to the museum in the 1970s which included a set of 6 trench art brass shot glasses made out of 20mm projectile casings from cannon shells. The bottom of each shell casing is marked “S.M.C. 1943 20mm M21A1”. They were most likely manufactured by the Symington Machine Corporation in Rochester, N.Y. Each shell casing measures a height of 2 inches.

Each shot glass is marked inert which means they are chemically inactive. As material potentially presenting an explosive hazard (MPPEH), every piece of ordnance donated to the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum must go through the process of becoming inert certified before being displayed in the museum.

Come visit the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum for the grand opening of two new exhibitions, WWII Pacific Theater and Cold War on Saturday January 21, 2017 and see the different types of trench art and trophies the Seabees brought home with them.

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Meet the Curator: Robyn King is pursuing her master’s degree in Museum Studies and Nonprofit Management through Johns Hopkins University. She earned her Bachelors in History and Anthropology from the State University of New York at Oneonta. She has experience working at state museums, historic sites, the National Park Service, and most recently the Navy. She is an expert in collection management, and has worked closely with both natural and cultural collections. Robyn loves all museums and sharing her love of history. When she is not working, she is volunteering her time with the National Peace Corps Association, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from West Africa.

Curator’s Corner- The W. Reynolds Collection

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Trench art coconut lamp, made out of three coconuts and inert ammunition (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum

 

The U.S. Navy Seabee Museum will be officially opening the WWII Pacific Theater Exhibit in January 2017 to kick off the Seabees 75th Anniversary. Among the new exhibits will be a World War II trench art exhibit.

The Seabees are known to have created unique examples of trench art during WWII. Trench art, or decorative items made by soldiers during times of war, were created by Seabees during their off duty hours while deployed to pass their time. Seabees used the materials around them to create trinkets for them to send home as gifts and to remind them of their time as Seabees.

Many unique examples of trench art have been donated to the Seabee Museum. W. Reynolds, a Seabee who served in the Pacific Theater, handmade many pieces of trench art which have been donated to the museum by his family. A few examples from his collection include a handcrafted coconut lamp made from three coconuts and inert ammunition, and a cigarette holder and letter holder made out of Imperial Japanese shell casings and hammered brass. The museum unfortunately has very little information regarding the donor’s battalion and where he was deployed.

Come visit the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum and see W. Reynolds collection and an array of trench art on display throughout the museum.

photo of robyn for curator's corner.pngMeet the Curator: Robyn King is pursuing her master’s degree in Museum Studies and Nonprofit Management through Johns Hopkins University. She earned her Bachelors in History and Anthropology from the State University of New York at Oneonta. She has experience working at state museums, historic sites, the National Park Service, and most recently the Navy. She is an expert in collection management, and has worked closely with both natural and cultural collections. Robyn loves all museums and sharing her love of history. When she is not working, she is volunteering her time with the National Peace Corps Association, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from West Africa.

Archivist’s Attic: The Fastest Seabees – The Forgotten Fifty-five

In 1943, the Navy was buzzing around the top coast of New Guinea on their way towards the Philippines. At Mios Woendi the Navy ordered a PT-boat Base to be built. Lieutenant Harold Liberty handpicked fifty-five of the best construction men who were experienced in all phases of construction and eager to work hard.

“Each man had a place in at least three operations,” Liberty explained “The cook could drop his skillet and run a winch or string a pipeline. The hospital corpsman didn’t tie his last bandage and go to bed – he manned a crane or drove a truck.” And each one of them was a potential gunner. Each man could pick up and do another man’s job and do it well.

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Just like a swarm of bees, everyman also knew his position and what was expected of them the second they hit the ground. There was no fumbling, no lost motion. Like bees building a hive, the men went in and began going through the hard work of base building.

And build they did, they worked so well together that they started setting records! The Mios Woendi base was built in just 21 days. That feat set the pace for the rest of their operations; soon the detachment was zigzagging from island to island building entire Naval Operating Bases in just 20 days.

With all this speed one wonders, how could they ever be forgotten!? The answer is the same as the question, speed! The outfit moved so quickly, so many times and to so many different places that the men hardly ever got any mail. Forgotten! More like the fast-fifty five or the flashing forward fifty-five.

Whatever you want to call them the Fifty-five lived up to the Seabee standards of Can Do! They just flew by faster than anyone could see them!

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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.

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!

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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

Curator’s Corner: Ship-to-Shore Part 2, Marston Matting

Section of Marston Matting in the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum Collection.

Section of Marston Matting in the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum Collection.

Have you ever enjoyed a day at the beach having to carry your chair, umbrella, and cooler; only to struggle with dragging your cooler across the sand because the wheels are digging in?

On a much larger scale, this was a major dilemma for the Seabees when it came to their ship-to-shore responsibilities of getting troops, their equipment, and vehicles off ships, across pontoon causeways, and on to a beach. This concept is also known as an amphibious landing.

The ability to move heavy vehicles and equipment across the short distance from a landing craft ramp or pontoon causeway to solid ground was crucial to the success or failure of a landing force in gaining a foothold on the enemy shore.

One of the complications connected with amphibious landings during WWII involved moving heavy equipment across mushy beach sand. Tires mired in and cut deep ruts in the sand, stalling equipment and making some exits from the beach impassable.

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Seabees bringing supplies off a pontoon causeway onto a beach landing using Marston Matting and DUKW’s (“Ducks”). (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum Archives)

Two amphibious vehicles- the amphibious tractor and the DUKW (also known as a “Duck”) were designed to overcome these complications, and were relatively successful. But even equipment with sufficient traction to plow through the soft, spongy earth was slowed down, greatly increasing the time required to get supplies ashore.

The question came down to this: How to achieve a hard beach surface in minimum time, at minimum cost, with minimum equipment and personnel, and with material which would not be in critically short supply during war time?

One of the creations during the war to overcome this obstacle was called Marston Matting, also known as Pierced Steel Planking or PSP. It became the standard steel matting utilized by the Seabees to construct not only sand beach landings, but also to build airfields and temporary roads.

It got its name from the town of Marston, NC where the invention, by a Pittsburgh steel specialty engineer named Gerald G. Greulich, was tested.

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Marston Matting being quickly assembled to construct an airstrip in the Pacific Islands. (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum Archive)

Marston Matting had many advantages. A single piece measured 10 feet long and 15 inches wide. The hole pattern for the sheets was 3 holes wide by 29 holes long resulting in 87 holes per plate. The circular holes allowed the planking to be laid on top of a surface that has been roughly graded.

Marston Matting allowed rapid construction; it was pre-fabricated and fit together quickly. It was lighter and required less cargo space than other matting, and could be used in all-weather conditions because it was highly resistant to corrosion.

Seabees were fond of Marston Matting because it enabled them to do their jobs quickly and efficiently.

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Amphibious landing utilizing Marston Matting to move heavy machinery across the beach. (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum Archives)

Often, Seabees were subject to enemy fire while laying down the matting. The benefits of using this matting were substantial when in the course of it being subject to enemy fire and destroyed as a result, the sectional matting could be quickly replaced.

The creation of Marston Matting helped the Allies transport their equipment faster from ship-to-shore, build roads on any terrain necessary and fastened together quickly to construct airstrips. It gave the Allies an advantage in Normandy on Omaha Beach, and throughout the Pacific Theater.

Marston Matting helped win the war.

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150225-N-JU810-010Meet the Curator: Robyn King
Robyn King earned her Bachelors in History and Anthropology from the State University of New York at Oneonta. She has experience working at State Museums, Historic Sites, the National Parks Service, and most recently the Navy. She’s an expert in collection management, and has worked closely with both natural and cultural collections. Robyn loves all museums and sharing her love of history. When’s she not working, she’s volunteering her time with the National Peace Corps Association, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from West Africa.