Leading up to Veterans Day, NCCER highlights the Navy Seabees, who combine the combat effectiveness of the military with the craft skills of the construction industry. This is part two of a five-part series, focusing on the Seabees’ activities during World War II. As the dust and smoke finally began to clear from the bombings at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States found itself amid what would become history’s deadliest war. Troops from across the nation began to gear up and deploy to Europe and the Pacific. But infantry alone could not win the conflict — core infrastructure such as advanced bases and airfields across the war-torn landscape were also required. The Naval Construction Battalions, known as Seabees, were the answer to this problem. Armed with both combat and construction training, more than 325,000 Seabees entered the fray to build the much-needed support for American military operations. EARLY SEABEES WWII-Training-1-sm Seabees at Camp Allen in 1942. Photo from the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum. The first Seabees were voluntary enlistees. The men who helped build things like national highways and the Boulder Dam brought honed skills and extensive construction experience to the Navy. When the draft was instituted, many new Seabees were younger and less experienced in the skilled crafts. During boot camp at both Camp Allen (Norfolk, Pennsylvania) and eventually Camp Peary (Williamsburg, Pennsylvania), the recruits were taught construction techniques and the use of light arms. After basic training, battalions were formed and sent to either Davisville, Rhode Island, or Port Hueneme, California, for advanced training. WWII-Training-2-sm Seabees are taught how to build a POL (petroleum-oil-lubricant) tank in 1943. Photo from the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum. MAJOR PROJECTS DURING WWII Across both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters, the Seabees constructed more than 400 bases and countless other projects during the Second World War. Along with work in active combat zones, the Seabees ensured that a network of strategic emplacements around the globe were maintained and operating smoothly. Here are just a few of the important projects the Seabees worked on during World War II: Bora Bora Fueling Stations The first Naval Construction Battalion was dispatched to Bora Bora, a small island in the Pacific Ocean, in January of 1942. This unit, who called themselves “Bobcats” after the code name given to the island, needed to construct refueling stations for ships and planes crossing the Pacific on their way to battle. Despite severe environmental adversity and the lack of basic existing infrastructure, the fueling stations were built and became a critical stop on the Allied supply line to the Pacific theater. Storming of Normandy The Seabees were a crucial part of the Allies’ invasion of Normandy on D-Day, being one of the first units to go ashore. Their first task, along with the U.S. Army Engineers, was to demolish barriers that the Germans had set up to slow the attackers. After destroying the barriers, the Seabees continued to pave the way by building causeways for pontoons and larger ferries to bring troops and supplies ashore. All this work happened under enemy fire, resulting in heavy casualties, but the heroism of the Seabees opened necessary holes for the invading forces. As the Allies began to establish control of the beaches, the Seabees constructed a makeshift port area using a variety of different materials. This unique harbor became known as Mulberry A, which would go on to help bring ashore a million Allied soldiers during the month following D-Day. Cherbourg and Le Havre Harbors Although the ingenuity of Mulberry A became legendary, it was always just a temporary port. =When the Allied forces liberated the French cities of Cherbourg and Le Havre, the Seabees were tasked with repairing the cities’ large harbors which had been decimated by the Germans before retreating. Within days, the ports were back into service. Restoring operations to these strategic harbors was critical to Allied victory in the Atlantic theater. Panama Canal With battles being waged in both the Atlantic and Pacific, the interconnecting Panama Canal became one of the most critical chokepoints of the war. To protect against German U-boats from feasting on easy military and civilian targets, the Seabees built protective bases ringing the canal’s openings. Tinian Harbor and Air Bases Tinian-sm Tinian Island became home of the largest air base in the world, built by the Navy Seabees. Photo from the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum. Tinian Island, a small island about 1,500 miles south of Tokyo, became one of the most important strategic holdings for the U.S. in the Pacific. Due to its accessibility by sea and its proximity to Japan, Tinian was the perfect staging area for U.S. bombers. When Tinian had been secured, the Seabees went to work building harbors and airfields. Within two months, Tinian became the biggest air base in the world. Tinian was chosen as the operation base for the United States’ atomic bombing of Japan. The USS Indianapolis ferried in the components for the bombs, and scientists along with Seabees assembled the weapons inside of sheds the Seabees had built. On August 6, 1945, a B-29 bomber called the Enola Gay took off from the Tinian runways carrying the “Little Boy” bomb which was dropped on Hiroshima later that day. On August 9, another bomber launched with the “Fat Man,” with the target Nagasaki. A few days later, Japan surrendered and World War II was over. DEMOBILIZATION Following the end of the war, the Seabees along with most other military units began to demobilize. Active duty Seabees were reduced to 3,300 by 1950, although they would soon rise up again for the next conflict. Click here to read part three of our Seabees series to learn about some of the projects and missions the Seabees undertook during the Cold War. EARN NCCER INDUSTRY-RECOGNIZED CREDENTIALS Like the Seabees, many military veterans have acquired craft skills during their service. These skills and experiences are a great asset when looking for a career after being discharged. By applying your skills and earning NCCER credentials, you can show potential employers what you know. Click here to learn more about NCCER’s Hard Hat Heroes program.

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  1. David Applegate | Nov 09, 2018
    My grandfather, Clarence Rogers was in the Navy Seabees in 1942. He was in the Pacific Theater and helped build the actual bomb bay for "Little Boy", while the Enola Gay was flown over and awaited her cargo. I have some tremendous pictures of some of those scenes back then, glorious and tragic. The Seabees had their own air force to fly them all into where ever they were going to build. They were a well armed building force. Thanks to all who served and paid the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.

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    About NCCER

    NCCER develops standardized construction and maintenance curricula and assessments with portable credentials. These credentials are tracked through NCCER’s National Registry which allows organizations and companies to track the qualifications of their craft professionals and/or check the qualifications of possible new hires. The National Registry also assists craft professionals by maintaining their records in a secure database.