76th SEABEES of World War II

76th Bees - An Untold Story














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76th SEABEEs of World War II

26th Regiment, 5th Naval Construction Brigade

U.S.N.

- LION 6 -

 

-An Untold Story-

 

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This article - Copyright      Patrick L. Thompson 2002

 

(This work is the collaborative effort of the author and the 

WWII 76th Seabee veterans noted within the text.)

 

Marianas Operations (Forager)

10 July - 27 August 1944

 

The Assault on STEVEDORE

(Code Name for Guam)

 

The Battle for Guam’s Liberation.

W-Day, 21 July 1944

(Guam's D-Day)

 

What you are about to read had never before been documented. It is one of those 'little' combat incidents, that was never reported or documented as it was overshadowed by major movements of troops, equipment and supplies.  It was a 'brief episode' in the war, unless of course,  you  where there. 

 

Recorded in Official U.S. Military archives of World War II is the fact that the 3rd Marine Division and Army 77th Infantry Division were the major units which participated in the Battle for the Liberation of Guam  which was waged from July 21 to August 27, 1944.  

 

Within those same archives is this statement,

    "The seizure of the Marianas spelled the beginning of the end for the Japanese. The loss of the islands cut the Japanese line of defense and, even more important, gave the United States an airbase from which bombers could strike at the very heart of the Japanese Empire, the homeland. It was during Operation "Forager," as the Marianas Campaign was named, that the Seabees made one of their most significant contributions in the Pacific Theater of Operations.

     Seabees and Marines landed together on the beaches of first Saipan, then Guam, and finally Tinian. "

Source:

Seabee History: Formation of the Seabees and World War II

DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL  HISTORICAL CENTER

805 KIDDER BREEZE SE -- WASHINGTON NAVY YARD, WASHINGTON, DC 20374-5060

 

What is not generally known or acknowledged is that on a very rainy August 3rd, 1944 a small force of the 76th SEABEES,   26th Regiment, Fifth Naval Construction Brigade, disembarked from the SS (USAT) Hawaiian Shipper and advanced onto the island of Guam at Piti Beach, near Piti Fort, in the 2ND ECHELON, third wave of troops that day.  They landed along with 3rd Marine Division reinforcements  {units comprised of  'Texas'  Marines - so called by the Seabees as most of those Girines were from the great state of Texas}. Initial probes of these beaches by UDT / SEABEE Team 3 (1) showed little resistance from the enemy.  By August 3rd it was believed that most of the Battle had moved inland on the island. On the 3rd of August 1944, the advanced elements of  the 76th Battalion (a portion of CO.’s A and B) disembarked from the USAT (U.S. Amphibious Transport) Hawaiian Shipper into landing craft and hit Piti beach area,  which was to become their base for operations. Their landing was  flanked by  the 'Texas Marines'. As there was (and still is) a sand bar standing off of Piti Point about 100 yards from shore, the landing troops were required to wade into the beach.  Upon dis- embarking from the landing craft, the water was neck deep. Elements of Companies A and B of the 76th NCB experienced only light enemy small arms fire while still approaching the beach. It was not until the landing craft came in for a third time, bearing some of the battalion's equipment and supplies, with the SEABEEs advancing inland about 150 to 200 yards that Japanese forces opened fire on them with small arms, automatic weapons and mortars. General intelligence reports (UDT/SEABEE TEAM 3) for the past few days showed that most of the fighting was now going on inland, and the Piti area was thought to be secure. The intelligence reports seem to have been wrong. Where this Japanese force came from, is still unknown, but the hypotheses was that they had remained hidden in some of the natural caves, or in tunnels that had been built since the Japanese occupation of the island in 1941.  The Piti Point location was an area which had been reinforced by Japanese Imperial Forces in support of  three coastal gun batteries, and likely consisted of at least three companies of Japanese ground forces, both in gun support and active ground combat roles.

 

From their positions about 200 yards from shore the elements of Companies A and B  of the 76th and elements of ‘Texas’ Marines were pinned down into the night, as most of the larger combat force had moved inland days earlier.  ‘Baptism under Fire” was awarded to the 76th CBs  this August day, with a still rainy night spent in a miserable water filled rice paddy.  The men were already exhausted from the daylight neck-deep water landing in full combat gear, and from the attack that greeted them a short time thereafter.  Mortar and small artillery fire destroyed some of the equipment, and constant small arms fired kept them pinned down into the night. A nice, neat little ambush.

 

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Sleep was not to easy to come by that first night.  It was not easy for the Seabees as the Japanese force in the area had mounted a night incursion into the 76th position at Piti, and some close (in your face) combat ensued, but was successfully repelled. The next morning, the enemy fire renewed and was deemed too heavy for the small force of Seabees. They were pulled back to the shore, where other Seabee units where landing, and away from the Japanese cover positions. The remainder of the 76th  was  back aboard ship.  Additional elements of the 3rd Marine Division, reinforced with flame throwers and tanks, cleared the area of a majority of remaining hostile forces.

 

Companies C and D of the 76th landed at Didi and Agana Beach and encountered little or no hostile action. Full debarkation of the 76th NCB was completed between the 6th and 14th of August 1944 ( Fifth Naval Construction Brigade War Diary states that 70% of the 76th CBs landed on 15 August, 1944, meaning that at least 30%, comprising a portion of the advanced elements, landed earlier. (See "Advanced Naval Base Force"  from 3rd Marine History, below).  

 

 

A portion of that "advanced naval base force", above, was comprised of a portion of Companies A and B of the 76th SEABEES.   SEABEEs and others US forces  encountered enemy weapons fire for most of their stay on Guam as the island was not entirely secured until 1945.  All the projects which were undertaken by the 76th required both working and combat roles on a daily basis.   6 X 6 GMC trucks were used to haul gravel for the Glass Water Break (Harbor project) and other work projects. Every sixth truck of a convoy required an armed SEABEE to ride ‘shotgun’, with most of the convoys' armed men carried Browning Automatic Rifles (BARs).

 

In Camp – A Sniper Cave.

 

Guam was not secured until 1945, making a true liberation of the island a bitter sweet irony until all pockets of Japanese resistance were quelled. The 76th NCB, as well as all U.S. Forces on Guam, experienced enemy fire until well into 1945.  The 76th NCB  suffered “hit the deck” episodes of sniper fire while within their own encampment.  Such was an irritating, frightening, and bewildering experience for all.  From where was this enemy fire coming?  No one knew.  Sniper fire usually erupted upon the camp in early morning and more often at dust, making the search for the snipers difficult.  Then one day near the noon hour, sniper fire erupted as the men were heading to chow, and the sniper was spotted coming out of a palm tree and hurriedly disappearing into a cave near the 76th parade ground.  The cave, it was discovered, was located in a hill just off the parade area, with its trap door entrance camouflaged by a wooden door covered with sod.  The entrance of the sniper cave was ordered sealed. Armed 76th SEABEES, along with comrades proficient in demolition, dynamited the entrance to the cave, with the subsequent explosion moving nearly one half of the hill. The explosion was of such force and magnitude that many of the men headed for cover, thinking it was an enemy attack.  The snipers that inhabited that cave were, obviously, not heard from again. The 76th NCB 'Cruise Book' notes (censured) that many caves were sealed.      

 

    Content of this page was gleaned from recollections of the following 76th Seabee veterans, in interviews conducted between 1999 and 2002, who are:

Carl L. Bates, former Seaman 1st class (S1c), New York., Orbin D. Daraby, former Machinist Mate 2nd class (MM2c), Texas, Donald W. Hoggat, former Carpenter’s Mate 3rd Class (CM3c), Washington, and Kenneth C. Thompson, former Carpenter’s Mate 1st class (CM1c) { promoted to Chief Carpenter’s Mate (CCM) }, Illinois (K.C. Thompson - D. August 9th, 2002,  Navy Honors rendered at graveside). 

 

 

Guardian Angels Kept Their Watch

 

The men of the 76th NCB had at least one Guardian Angel looking over them. Only three made the ultimate sacrifice, and casualties were low. The 76th remained on duty at Guam until the end of World War II (1945), when the entire battalion was shipped home.  Most of the men were given train or bus tickets home and discharged by their local draft boards.  Such was the speed at which the battalions were decommissioned after War’s end.  As a result, the official histories of many of the Construction Battalions are lacking in what really transpired. It was the task of the Commanding Officer of each battalion to enter an official history for his battalion. With the decommissioning of the battalions being so rapid, many details of their respective histories are omitted.

 

 

The 76th NCB Cruise Book bares this caveat:

"this book has been prepared especially for the members

of the 76th SEABEES AND THEIR FAMILIES 

AND FRIENDS. SOME OF THE MATERIAL CONTAINED HERE 

IS NOT SUITABLE FOR GENERAL RELEASE TO THE PUBLIC 

PRESS AND RADIO UNTIL THE END OF THE WAR. IT IS 

REQUESTED THAT NONE OF THE CONTENTS BE MADE 

AVAILABLE TO THE PUBLIC PRESS OR RADIO."  

 

 

Bearing the above caveat in mind, the writer of the 76th's Cruise Book, actually 'sanitized' the battalion's history to the extreme, considering, that the war was well over by the time the Cruise Book was published and distributed to the men. The writer likely thought he was  "doing his duty" to preserve the integrity of the vast number of construction projects on Guam, which were, at that time classified SECRET by the War Department.

   

A Few Construction feats of the 76th NCB

 

Among the feats performed by 76th Seabees on Palmyra Island was the dredging of a channel so that ships could enter the protected lagoon, and the building and maintenance of an airstrip made from coral rubble.  The Airstrip was used for the refueling of transpacific military flights.

 

At Guam, under Island Commander, Major General Larsen, USMC, (see below) the 76th NCB built at least three electric power plants, including rebuilding the Piti Power Plant, and wired nearly one third of the Island of Guam so that electricity was available for the war effort. One of the greatest feats of any single construction battalion, to date, was the huge sea wall which the 76th NCB built at Apra Harbor, moving 2 million cubic yards of dirt and coral blasted from nearby Cabras Island (the break now referred to as the Glass Water Break, or breakwater,  is still present.) Engineers have compared the massive construction at Apra Harbor to digging the Panama Canal and erecting the Great Pyramids of Egypt. The construction of massive floating docks early upon arrival at Guam in 1944 was also performed by the 76th. These docks enabled the Seabee Stevedores to unload ships that pulled into the waters near a then shallow Apra Harbor. The Glass Breakwater  protected Apra Harbor from storm and wind surges and enabled better protection to dredge the harbor floor. Once deepened, larger ships were able to come into the harbor for unloading of war materials.  The entire Apra Harbor project was one of the most important and mighty efforts which contributed to the war in the Pacific. The feats performed by all the SEABEEs at Guam enabled Allied and U.S. Military Forces to take the war directly to the Japanese homeland.  

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-Photo information below-

Image Title: Under the Command of Major General Larsen, USMC, a giant seawall was constructed by Seabees of the 76th Construction Battalion at Apra Harbor, (76th NCB giant earth mover).

Description:  Giant seawall under construction by Seabees of the 76th Construction Battalion at Apra Harbor, Guam. A 30-ton boulder is hauled to dumping spot. 1945. Navy Lt. Commander Charles Fenno Jacobs.  Exact Date of Photo is Unknown NARA FILE #: 080-G-413414 

Source:  National Archives and Records Administration

 

From the 3rd Marine Division History we find this:

Henry L. Larsen, Major General, U. S. M. C. - 

Island Commander, Guam.

"As the assault phase on Guam drew to a close, General Larsen assumed  increasing responsibility for operations on the island. On 2 August, control of Orote Peninsula and Cabras Island passed to Island Command, and on the 7th Larsen took over the operation of all extended radio circuits and a joint communications center. Supervision of all unloading activities was assigned to Island Command on 9 August. As garrison shipping arrived, the number and complexity of troops reporting to the island commander increased steadily.

General Larsen's initial task organization for base development included an advance naval base force, Lion 6, which was hard at work developing Apra Harbor as the center of a vast naval operating base. Airfield and road construction and stevedoring duties were the principal assignments of elements of the 5th Naval Construction Brigade, which included 12 Seabee battalions and 1 Marine and 4 Army battalions of aviation engineers. Supply activities were concentrated in the dumps and salvage and repair facilities developed and manned by the 5th Field Depot. For air defense, Larsen had MAG-21 and four antiaircraft battalions. V Amphibious Corps assigned him the 3d Marine Division for ground defense."

Source: Hyperwar in the Pacific, Central Pacific Drive, USMC Operations http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USMC/III/USMC-III-VI-6.html

 

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Additionally the 76th helped the 4 Army Battalions assigned to the Fifth Naval Construction Brigade to build a badly needed air strip on Guam. Fighter and transport aircraft used this new airstrip on a daily basis. Too, with war supplies being unloaded readily from ships by Seabee stevedores, using the floating docks constructed by the 76th, the Battalion received orders to construct three huge wares houses “in short order”,   that were completed in only a matter of days. They also built a Navy Officer’s Club/recreation area (rec area).  Once the Officer Club/rec area was completed, the Seabees were handed an insult by the Officers, being directed to place a sign at its entrance declaring “NO SEABEES ALLOWED”.  A bit ironic since it was the ‘men’ who built it that were deprived of its use, and thereafter the rec area was considered “that dirty bit of business”.

Guam was an U.S. protectorate prior to WWII, having been claimed for the U.S. during the Spanish-American War, but the island had been over-run by Japanese Imperial forces in 1941, just days after Peral Harbor was bombed, and retaken by U.S. military force in 1944.  There were still both major and minor pockets of Japanese hiding in the many caves on the island after the U.S. regained possession. Periodically acts of sabotage and sniper attacks being somewhat frequent on the U.S. troops stationed on the island.  76th Seabees were detailed to blast shut many cave openings to prevent enemy intrusion into the U.S. Military camps.  

 

Realization by the American public for the cost of retaking Guam was greatly under exaggerated.  This is due to two nearly simultaneous events; the D-Day invasion at Normandy and the U.S. Forces  breakout in France. 

  

 

THE GRAVEL CONVOY

 

Gravel used for paving and the making concrete structures on Guam was taken from a pit on the island. Cabras Island was important to the building of the breakwater at Apra Harbor. First a road was constructed in the ocean from Cabras to the main island of Guam, then much of Cabras Island was blasted away for gravel, rock and coral, and then hauled to Apra Harbor to build the Glass Breakwater (or Glass Water Break), situated eastward of the natural reefs at the harbor. Loading and transport of gravel, rock and rubble for various construction projects required a large crew of 76th Seabees to run dozers,  front loaders,  giant earth movers, and man a convoy of dump trucks.  The crews assigned to the production of gravel often encountered enemy sniper fire, though much of the daily routine, void of enemy incursions, was considered hot, boring labor.

   

HOLLYWOOD FAME – “THE FIGHTING SEABEES”

 

A portion of the men assigned to the 76th were enlisted "tradesmen" originally formed into the 39th Marine Replacement Draft, and placed in the 1st Marine Amphibious Corps. These men were given extensive Marine combat training in anticipation of assaults on the Japanese home islands, and would have been under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, Commander in the Pacific. 

A portion of these ‘Marine’ tradesmen were diverted to the 53rd and 76th Naval Construction Battalions. Most of these men were classified as USNR (Naval Reservists), as were the latter 53rd and 76th Officers of the Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps (CEC).  From 1943 to 1944 many of these men were repeatedly transferred  between the Marine Corps and the Navy.  Some of these unit transfers, in order were, the 5th Marine Division, Navy 5th Brigade, 39th Marines, Navy 2nd Construction Brigade, the 4th Marines, 36rg Marine Replacement Draft, then 1st Marine Amphibious Corp (never actually connectng with the 1st MAC). In 1943 many of the men (USMC)  later assigned to the 76th NCB were detailed to work with Republic Pictures, as was the 53rd NCB, in the production of the now classic motion picture entitled, “The Fighting Seabees”.  The scenes in the movie, depicting combat training of the troops, and engineering feats are REAL Seabees / Marines.   As with all motion pictures, scenes end up on the cutting room floor, and most of those cuttings were of our troops.  The name and rights to the original Republic Pictures has been bought by another company, the current management of Republic Pictures has not responded to queries about whether the out takes and cuts of the original film still exist. If such do exist, their location may be  unknown.  Perhaps one day the old film footage will surface and we may be able to see some ‘REAL’ SEABEE FILM FOOTAGE.  Hence the 2 Seabee Battalions of FIGHTING SEABEE fame are the 53rd and 76th U.S. Naval Construction Battalions (men  who were transferred to the 76th from the 1st Marine Amphibious Corps). The film honors have previously been claimed solely by the 53rd.

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OLD MEN OF THE SEABEES

 

WWII SEABEEs, in general, were older than their counterparts in other branches of the U. S. military and the rest of the Navy.  These men were, moreover, experienced tradesmen who had been working in their fields for a decade or more.  Later battalions were formed with younger men, as Navy age restriction came into play. The early Seabees were recruited from the civilian construction trades and were placed under the leadership of Officers of the Navy's Civil Engineering Corps. Emphasis was placed on experience and skill level rather than on physical standards, so the average age of  SEABEEs during the early days of the war was 37 years.  Some SEABEEs were over 45 years of age, and some had even “sneeked in” that were over age 60.  One of the ‘old guys’ of the 76th was Kenneth Crain Thompson (CM1c, later Chief) born in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, on October 24, 1912. Another ‘ancient’ 76er had actually served as a Dough Boy in the U.S. Army during World War I (his identity is unknown at this writing).  One of the Older Officers, a USNR CEC engineer was Lt (jg) Ralph Atwater born 1913.

 

While their official published history mentions nothing about major combat, the Secretary of the Navy  authorized the 76th U.S. Naval Construction Battalion the honor (well earned) of wearing a Bronze Engagement (Battle) Star on their Asian Pacific Medal. It seems strange the Battalion's  "official" records state so little regarding the events of the Guam Landing and the combat that ensued, the heroism of its men, and the harassing enemy fire they endured until 1945; yet the Battalion was awarded that Star, in a separate dispatch message to Commanding Officer, 76th Naval Construction Battalion,  for its combat operations.  Such an honor was bestowed upon only to those units which actually participated in combat action for the dates enumerated.  It seems the 76th was left out of the first dispatch authorizing the Engagement Star for Seabee units at Guam.  

Source: Battle Star Dispatches:  CEC/Seabee Archives, 76th NCB records-1945, WWII, Port Hueneme, California. 

Source2: http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USN/ships/dafs/BattleStars.html

 

REST IN PEACE

 

Three USNR enlisted men of the 76th NCB paid

the ultimate price during the war. 

 

They are remembered here.

Petty Officer  J. A. Gillespie, Sr., CM2c   (Carpenter’s Mate 2nd Class)  

Petty Officer  J. R. Thomas, GM1c    (Gunner’s Mate 1st Class)   

Petty Officer  H. H. Richardson, CM1c     (Carpenter’s Mate 1st Class)

 

 

Most of the Officers and Men of the 76th NCB

are no longer with us.

 

They were part of America's Greatest Generation, and they did amazing things!

 

Corroborating Sources:

-76th NCB Cruise Book History

-History of UDT / SEABEE Team 3

-Hyper War Website, History of the U.S. Marine Corps Operations in World War II,

     Historical Branch, G-3 Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps (3rd Marine Division History)

-3rd Marine Division History

-77th Infantry Division History

-National Archives and Records Center (76th Seabees Photo)

-Navy Archives

-CEC/SEABEE Archives,  Port Hueneme, CA., 76th NCB records, WWII

-Fifth Naval Construction Brigade War Diary 1944-1945 (inclusive), Officer-In-Charge, W. O Hiltabidle.

-Destiny's Landfall by Dr. Robert Rogers

-Interviews with the 76th Seabees herein named and honored.

-Records of NAVAL TASK FORCE 53, Code Name "FORAGER"  for Operation Stevedore (Guam Invasion, 1944); SS (USAT) Hawiian Shipper - assault vessel -  for 76th NCB.

-76th NCB Archived Record - See Archived Record page - this website.

1- UDT/SEABEE Teams were the founders of what was to become the World renown US Navy SEALS.

NOTE: The account you have just read appears nowhere in recorded SEABEE HISTORY.

 

 END of article

 

Where credit is due, GIVE IT.

 

My utmost thanks and appreciation to 25th Battalion Seabee, Alfred Don, for his contacts in the CEC/SEABEE Community, his encouragment and  help, without which this story could not have been written in detail.

 

My thanks, also, to CEC/SEABEE NAVFAC Command Historian, Dr. George W. Shannon, Jr., Naval Construction Battalion Center, Port Hueneme, CA. 

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