Compiled by Lara Godbille, Director, U.S. Navy Seabee Museum, Naval History and Heritage Command
(First printed in the Seabee News Service on July 4, 1944)
The 81st Naval Construction Battalion marrying up a rhino ferry to an LST during the invasion of Normandy, pictured here June 6, 1944. The battalion was assigned to operate the rhino ferries dispatched to Utah Beach while in tow across the British Channel. They were also charged with operating the rhino ferries and beach camp at Omaha Beach.
The part the Seabees played in landing men and supplies to bolster the Normandy invasion beachhead is becoming clearer as additional dispatches arrive from Great Britain.
“The most difficult phase of the initial operation against the European Continent –that of bridging the last few hundred yards between vessels and the beach,” said the London “Evening Standard,” quoting a United-States-Naval-Forces-in Europe announcement, was accomplished to a large degree through the use of U. S. Navy Pontoons. The pontoons were operated by Seabee-trained British crews and by the Construction Battalion men themselves.
Rough weather made the Seabees’ task extremely perilous. “The biggest fight of all,” wrote Alan Moorehead from the beachhead, “has been with the sea. “The scene off these beaches is fantastic,” Moorehead said. “Among the breaking waves and the high wind hundreds of boats are tossing about as though they were in a [waterfall]. “All yesterday, while the battle raged along the beaches, the men in my ship were trying to unload their vehicles into a barge. The great cumbersome steel raft came smacking against the sides, making dents in the plates. Huge ropes snapped like string. Everything was drenched with flying spray.”
Despite the conditions of weather, the supplies got ashore. The secret of Allied success during the first 48 hours of the invasion, Christopher Buckley estimated in the London “Daily Telegraph,” was tactical surprise. The most important contributing factor, he said, was “the speed with which we were enabled to build up, getting troops and, above all, heavy equipment, ashore during the first few hours at a rate which, according to the evidence of officer prisoners, had simply not been anticipated by the enemy.”
A rhino ferry married to an LST during the Normandy invasion. To provide for the needs at Omaha and Utah beaches, the Seabees at their British bases assembled 36 rhino ferries. In addition, they assembled 12 causeway tugs; 12 warping tugs; two rhino repair barges with a 5-ton crane and toll house each; and 2 floating drydocks with enough capacity to dock an LST.