THE FIRST SEABEES
The name Seabees is derived from these first construction units, or construction battalions (CBS) as they were called. Officially, permission to use the name "Seabee" was granted on 5 March 1942. Each year March 5th is observed as the anniversary of the Seabees.
Figure 1-1.-Seabees going over one of the obstacle courses during combat training at Camp Endicott, Davisville, Rhode Island, during World War II.
Because of the urgent need for these men, the first Seabees had no time for military training. They were given medical shots, handed equipment, and sent off to pick up where the civilian contractors left off. One month after the first units were organized, Seabees were at work constructing roads on Bora Bora, one of the Society Islands, thousands of miles out in the Pacific Ocean.
Little time was given to training the next group of recruits, who were old hands in the construction trades, averaging 31 years of age. Since they were experienced in their respective skills, they needed and received mostly military training. Some additional instruction in technical matters peculiar to the Navy, such as pontoon assembly, was also given these men.
Throughout World War II the Seabees were without construction ratings as we know them now. They were given the most appropriate existing Regular Navy rating on the basis of their civilian vocation and experience; for example, an experienced steelworker or plumber who had achieved a position of responsibility-perhaps as a foreman or owner of a small business-was rated first class or chief Shipfitter. Seabees who held this and other ratings, such as Boatswain's Mate, Machinist's Mate, and Electrician's Mate, were easily distinguished from those who held corresponding shipboard ratings by the Seabee insignia shoulder patch. This now famous insignia consists of a flying bee-fighting mad-with a "white hat" on his head, a spitting "tommy gun" in his front hands, a wrench in his middle hand, and a carpenter's hammer in his rear hand.
Soon the Seabees had grown enough to have their own stations, such as Camp Endicott, Camp Allen, and Camp Bradford. Camp Peary, near Williamsburg, Viginia, became the receiving and training station for the Seabees. At these camps, they learned such things as combat formations, combat signals, fire control, combat orders, first aid, use of various weapons, and military courtesy. Instruction was also given in trail cutting and jungle warfare.
After boot training, the new Seabees were assigned to construction battalions and advanced training began. They learned air raid protection, earthmoving, Quonset hut erection, and dry refrigeration. Crosscountry marches, sleeping in the open, obstacle courses (fig. 1-1), and simulated combat exercises toughened them up.
After this advanced training, battalions were ordered to an-advanced base depot, such as Port Hueneme, California, or Davisville, Rhode Island, to await transportation overseas. Again, training continued while they were being outfitted with the tools, construction equipment, and materials needed to build advanced bases and facilities. In addition, they took on stores of ammunition, food, and medical supplies; in fact, everything necessary to make them self-sufficient. By 1943, the training period for Seabees had expanded to about 3 months. However, in the spring of 1945, a major change in their training took place.
Training of organized construction battalions was halted, and emphasis was placed on training individuals to replace the battle-weary veterans due for discharge or rotation back to the States. Even then, time did not permit extensive trade school training for the younger, unskilled Selective Service inductees. As a result, experienced personnel in the field had to augment meager stateside training with a lot of on-the-job training.
Seabees served with the assault forces in almost every major invasion in World War II, going ashore, in most cases, with or directly behind the first wave of troops. Such names as Guadalcanal, Los Negros, Tarawa, Munda, Saipan, Tinian, Attu, Iwo Jima, Guam, Samar, Okinawa, Salerno, Sicily, and Normandy will forever be associated with the Seabees, just as Montezuma and the Shores of Tripoli are symbolic of the traditions associated with the Marine Corps. Looking back, some of the jobs accomplished by the Seabees in World War II seemed almost impossible. But they were done-efficiently, effectively, and quickly! Undoubtedly, these accomplishments provided the basis for the Seabees' famous quotation: "The difficult task we accomplish right away, the impossible may take a little longer!" The Seabees' official motto is "Construimus-Batuimus."
Literally this means "We Build-We Fight." Even engineers who were used to visualizing large construction projects were amazed at the Seabees' ability to improvise and build. In the first 2 years of the war, more than 300 advanced bases of various sizes and kinds were constructed by the Seabees.
In addition to earning the Navy's traditional "WeIl done!" for construction work and defensive combat, the Seabees also earned well-deserved recognition in other capacities. The now famous Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs) were composed largely of Seabees. One large group of Seabees, called Naval Construction Battalions, Special, functioned as stevedores, loading and off-loading cargo ships. Other groups included automotive repair detachments, pontoon assembly detachments, pontoon operating battalions, and construction maintenance units. The latter maintained existing bases, releasing full battalions for building new ones.