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

We can not allow any to be forgotten!!

U.S. Navy Seabee Museum

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.

Crew 55

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…

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About GP

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GP is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on October 24, 2015, in WWII and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 47 Comments.


    One of the tough, unpublicized jobs of the Pacific campaign has been that of picked teams of Marines and Seabees assigned to mop -up work on the tiny coral islands which surround larger, already captured atolls.
    The assignment calls for many miniature invasions . Like their larger counterpart, each follows a familiar pattern. The islands are shelled in advance; H-Hour sees the initial wave swarming over the beaches, and each Japanese fights to the death.
    “You’ve heard what it’s like to go through an invasion says James R. Williams, CM2c, who Participated in one of these missions, Well, multiply one of them by ten, and youll have an idea of how we felt after the last Japanese outpost was cleaned out.

    “And do our Marines go in for heavy shooting,” the Seabee said sorrowfully, “I know …. I carried the ammunition!


  2. What is not widely known about the Seabees in the Pacific, in the early stages of battle many went in with the first waves dressed in Marine Corps one would tell the difference.



    When tanks were unable to pass through the extraordinarily thick jungle to attack a Japanese force threatening the Cape Gloucester airfields on which the Fighter-Builders were working, dare-devil Seabees solved the problem by driving their bulldozers through the entangled vegetation. As they smashed their way through, Australian and American infantrymen followed up, making a lane for the land battle-wagons.

    The tanks were needed to outflank a strong enemy position within ten miles of the airfields . Japanese forces, recovering from their stunned surprise after the Marines first quick thrust, had regrouped in the hills to the rear of their lost base. Strongly entrenched in pillboxes on both sides of a stream, they were set to inflict severe casualties on any Allied units attempting a crossing.

    Until the Seabee bulldozers swung into action, working around the enemy position had appeared impossible. The battling construction men bulled through the wall of jungle, leading the way for the tanks, and then, as they approached the stream’s west bank, manipulated their bulldozers to shear down steep cliffs like so much paper.

    Under the protection of General Sherman 75mm. tanks, other Fighter-Builders built a bridge across the rivulet, despite withering fire from the enemy ‘ pillboxes. Marines then crossed over and in frontal assaults smashed the formidable Japanese defenses.

    The strong resistance was a surprise in view of the report from prisoners that the Japanese general in command of the area had fled on foot from cape Gloucester to Talasea be cause of the intense American aerial bombardment preceding the Marines’ and Seabees’ initial landing.


  4. Seabee CCM Joseph R. Bumgarner, of N.C. has been commended by Major General Allen H. Turnage of the Marines for risking his life to evacuate Marine and Seabee casualties from a Japanese mortar barrage during the Bougainville invasion.
    According to Marine Combat Correspondent Maurice E. Moran, Bumgarner was in charge of a detail building bridges in advance of the front lines, when the Japs attacked another Seabee road-cutting detail and their Marine security guard, killing seven and wounding 20. Chief Bumgarner went to their rescue and had the injured men brought to safety. The trail which the Seabees were cutting later proved a vital supply route in a ,Marine drive which took an important objective.

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  5. 40th The Seabees at Los Negros – In May 1944, on Los Negros island in the Admiralties, just north of eastern New Guinea, the 40th Seabee Battalion was assigned to the 1st Calvary Division of the Army. Its objective was to put the unused and much bombed Japanese airstrip at Momote into operation. The army captured the airfield, all right, but while the Seabees were at work on it, the Japanese counterattacked in greater force than anyone suspected was present. Two Seabee officers and 100 men took over a sector of the perimeter and occupied a trench that they dug with the battalion’s ditch digger. They armed themselves with automatic rifles and knives, and set up a truck mounted 20 mm gun behind them. Meanwhile other Seabees landed and started to grade and clear the runways and taxiways in the midst of battle. Others drove bulldozers into the jungle to clear fire lanes for Army guns, using the blades now to clear a lane and again raised as a shield, behind which they fired at the enemy. In the Japanese assault, the Seabees distinguished themselves by capturing two machine gun positions and a Bofors gun. They took 47 casualties, with nine killed. General Macarthur awarded them the Army’s Distinguished Unit Badge, and President Roosevelt gave them the Presidential Unit Citation.

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  6. Sent the link to my buddy who’s dad was a Seabee in the SWP.


    • Ms. House doesn’t seem to want to maintain readers by giving a courtesy jump back to those that clicked ‘like’, but it is a great article and it fit into the area I was talking about. I would like to see the museum get more recognition, but she doesn’t seem to want to do the on-line work that it takes.


  7. Landing under fire at Empress Augusta Bay, Bougainville, Seabees first joined with Marines in defending the beaches against counter-attack, then got busy on construction of military roads feeding front lines. The fighting builders ran one of their roads 700 yards in advance of the Marines’ front lines before the Leathernecks yelled for them to hold up a while.


    • John, you sent an outstanding account of the SeaBees in Bougainville – which does not occur for 5 months (this blog’s time), so if I have your permission, I would like to make a post of it’s own (cited word for word) from your comments that would run when we reach that stage of the war? And, do you just want John R. down as the contributor or should I include anything else? I thank you for your interest and contribution.


  8. An excellent read on a piece of Military history, it’s brevity speaks highly of the Seabees achievements, the versatility of the members of this outstanding group is remarkable, and must be recorded in history as one outstanding Unit.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. How wonderful that these men were so versatile! Great photo!


  10. I had the chance to visit the Seabees Museum just as it opened!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. These men were true warriors, not seeking fame or glory just doing what had to be done without fuss or bother.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. My husbands dad was a seabee! In the Aleutian Islands


    Liked by 1 person

  13. Took a close look at the guys. They were all skinny, as reflected by the work they were doing. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

  14. My husband has said that in most campaigns 90% of soldiers were support/ 10% in battle. Everyone was needed and those that did their jobs as instructed are to be honored.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And your husband is quite right. It takes a lot to put the troops in the front line and even more to maintain and keep them there. Quite a domino sequence actually. Thank you for stopping in and commenting, Kay.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I can understand that they would have to wear many hats as there was always so much to do. Great article!


  16. I’ll bet many of them had lucrative careers in the construction business, once the war ended.


  17. It’s amazing how they all did this for love of country, not for fame, acclaim, or anything else. And it felt good to succeed. I want to bottle that feeling.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Thanks for help the cause of remembering these fine soldiers.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Always inspiring to read about those behind the scenes. Without their efforts, the rest of the campaigns would never have been possible.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    • People tend to think of the military as only the front-line soldier, but it takes a lot of other jobs to get him there and keep him going! Thank you for appreciating the other teams, Pete!!


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