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This Week in Seabee History (November 18 – 24)

Consolidated by Dr. Frank A. Blazich Jr., Historian, Naval History and Heritage Command

Seabees working at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, while an aircraft lands. Beginning in 1955, Seabees began deploying yearly to the continent of Antarctica. As participants in Operation Deep Freeze, their mission was to build and expand scientific bases located on the frozen continent. The first “wintering over” party included 200 Seabees who distinguished themselves by constructing a 6,000-foot ice runway on McMurdo Sound. Despite a blizzard which once destroyed the entire project, the airstrip was completed in time for the advance party of Deep Freeze II to become the first men to arrive at the South Pole by plane. The Seabees next assignment was to build a permanent scientific base on the continent. Over the following years, and under the most adverse conditions, Seabees added to their list of accomplishments such things as snow-compacted roads, underground storage, laboratories, and living areas. One of the most notable achievements took place in 1962 when the Navy’s builders constructed the continent’s first nuclear power plant at McMurdo Station. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

November 18

1942: 38th NCB commissioned at Camp Allen, Norfolk, Virginia. 46th NCB formed at Camp Endicott, Davisville, Rhode Island. 50th NCB commissioned at Camp Bradford, Norfolk, Virginia.


November 19

1945: 2nd NCB inactivated. 19th NCB inactivated on Okinawa.

1963: Reconstruction of ammunition magazines and permanent camp facilities and roads at Vieques Island of the U.S. Naval Station, Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, was commenced by NMCB 7.

1965: Capt. Harold F. Liberty relieved Cmdr. C.F. Mobley as officer-in-charge, Construction Battalion Base Unit, Port Hueneme, California.

1967: Firefighters from NMCB 9 and neighboring Marine units waged a successful day-long battle to contain a fire which threatened to destroy major exchange facilities at the Freedom Hill Recreation Center near Da Nang, RVN. Despite the combined efforts of Marine and Seabee units, a post office, warehouse, and several small shops were lost. The task of cleaning debris from the twisted metal remains of two 40 x 200-foot buildings began immediately as part of the effort essential to reconstruct the devastated facilities.

1967: Seabee Team 0912 departed the main body at Da Nang, RVN, via C-118 aircraft for the 31st NCR to commence military and technical training.

1969: Main body of NMCB 53 arrived at Davisville, Rhode Island, from Da Nang, RVN.

1971: Cmdr. P. Oliver Jr., commanding officer, NMCB 1, relieved Cmdr. D.W. Urish, commanding officer, NMCB 40, as island commander, Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).

2004: Reserve Seabees assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion Two Three (NMCB-23), poured concrete as they work to complete an extensive repair job which included making permanent repairs to 39 swimming pool-size impact craters on different sections of the Al Asad, Iraq airfield runways. The craters, a result of bombing during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, have left the airfield inoperable for more than a year. (Courtesy of U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

November 20

1943: 18th Special (Naval Construction Battalion (NCB) commissioned at Naval Construction Training Center (NCTC) Camp Peary, Magruder, Virginia.

Nov. 20-28, 1943: During World War II, the island campaign of the Central Pacific began. Tarawa, Makin and Apamama in the Gilbert Islands fell between Nov. 20-28. The toughest objective was the fortress of Betio, main island of the Tarawa Atoll. A savage air and naval bombardment razed the above-ground defenses, but the well dug in Japanese defenders took a toll of nearly 1,000 American dead in one of the costliest island seizures of the Pacific War. D-Day plus 4 saw the first echelons of the 74th and 98th NCBs come ashore at Tarawa. The big problem was cleaning up ravaged Betio Island. As a base, it has been wrecked. Ruins, decaying food dumps, thousands of dead from both sides and chaos met the occupiers. The Seabees had to clear and grade virtually every square foot of the island, and put Tarawa’s Japanese airstrip in use less than a day after landing. Keeping it in continuous operation, they resurfaced and lengthened the runway to 6,000 feet. In addition, they erected a fuel farm and housing facilities, and inventive Seabees used Japanese materials to rebuild Tarawa’s principal dock.

1945: 19th Naval Construction Regiment (NCR) inactivated. 88th NCB inactivated at Samar, Philippines. 94th and 128th NCBs inactivated on Guam.

1956: The Seabees had long been used to working tropical jungles and even in the extreme cold of Alaska, but Operation Deep Freeze took them to the coldest and most desolate area on earth. On November 20, eight Seabees and 11 dogs were landed by plane near the geographical South Pole to begin construction of South Pole Station, the first permanent camp at the South Pole. Thanks to the Seabees, Antarctica was later able to boast snow-compacted roads and runways, underground storage and comfortable living areas. Read “Rendezvous with Penguins: Seabee Construction of the South Pole Dome” on SEABEE Online.

1966: Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 62’s advance party of 6 officers and 109 men arrived at Phu Bai, RVN, to begin the Battalion Equipment Evaluation Program (BEEP) and prepare to relieve NMCB 7.

2010: Seabees assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 3 filled a dump truck with dirt from a project in Bastion, the British base connected to Camp Leatherneck, for a project in Camp Leatherneck. NMCB-3 was part of the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command warfighting support elements providing construction operations and security in support of overseas contingency operations. (Courtesy of U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

November 21

1945: 21st NCB inactivated on Okinawa.

1965: NMCB 9 named its camp in honor of Steward 3rd Class Restituto P. Adenir, who was the first member of NMCB 9 killed in Vietnam (October 28, 1965).

1967: Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) requests that the Commander, Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) be advised by naval commands and project offices engaged in oceanographic and deep sea development and/or operational activities for which facility/construction requirements may be generated or required of program developments on a continuing basis “in order that the advancements in NAVFAC and Seabee underwater construction capabilities are matched to emerging operational requirements.”


November 22

1960: During the summer, an unusual rainfall caused Lake Miragoane, near Mira, Haiti, to rise and virtually isolate the southern tip of Haiti. Haitian Army engineers called on the United States to help. A Seabee detachment from Amphibious Construction Battalion (ACB) 2 was sent to the area. The detachment constructed a bridge and improved six miles of road leading to it. On November 22, the bridge and road were dedicated. The dedication ceremonies were attended by the U.S. ambassador to Haiti and numerous Haitian government officials.

1969: NMCB 121 relieved NMCB 8 on board Camp Haskins South, Da Nang, Republic of Vietnam (RVN).

Nov. 22-26, 1969: NMCB 8 main body deployed from Camp Haskins South, Da Nang, RVN, to Construction Battalion Center (CBC), Port Hueneme, California.

1971: NMCB 5 completed its deployment to the Western Pacific (WESTPAC).


November 23

1942: 39th NCB commissioned in Norfolk, Virginia (exact location unknown).

1943: ACORN 14 and ACORN 17 arrived at Tarawa. (In World War II, Navy ACORN units, composed of Seabees and other components such as aircraft maintenance units, etc., were put together to design, construct, operate and maintain forward landplane and seaplane bases and operational facilities.)

1943: ACORN 16 arrives at Apamama Atoll, in the Gilbert Islands, Kiribati.

1945: 45th and 53rd NCRs inactivated. 148th NCB inactivated on Okinawa. 12th Special NCB inactivated at Okinawa.

1965: Advance party of NMCB 4 arrived at Camp Shields, Chu Lai, RVN.


November 24

1944: The necessity of building an airstrip on Samar Island in the Philippines became evident even before American forces landed there, so three Seabees and a geologist were landed to make a survey under the very noses of the Japanese. Led by Cmdr. Bradford Bowker, officer in charge (OIC), NCB 61, the group boarded a Landing Craft, Mechanized (LCM) on the night of Nov. 23, and silently stole ashore the following morning. Any thought of a secret landing was dispelled, however, as the small group reached shore. There, 5,000 cheering Filipinos stood to greet them. Instead of a sneak survey, the adventure turned into a wild party of eating, drinking and dancing. It seems that Bowker, a tall man with a hawk-like profile, was mistaken by the natives for Gen. Douglas MacArthur and nothing the commander could say convinced them otherwise. The next day, the “secret” survey was made and three days later the Seabees left the island with the location of the future airstrip determined.

1945: 44th NCR inactivated. 17th NCB inactivated and personnel transferred to 58th NCB on Okinawa. 101st NCB inactivated on Okinawa.

1967: Second increment of NMCB 58’s advance party arrived at Da Nang, RVN.

1992: The U.S. formally turned over the naval installations at Subic Bay and Cubi Point to the Republic of the Philippines, ending almost half a century of Seabee construction and maintenance at both installations.

2012: Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 27 and peacekeepers at the CREOMPAZ military base in Coban, Guatemala poured a concrete pad as part of a renovation project in support of U.S. Southern Command’s Global Peacekeeping Operations Initiative. The Seabees from NMCB 27 were forward deployed throughout South and Central America in support of U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet peacekeeping, multinational partnership, and humanitarian assistance missions. (Courtesy of U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

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Consolidated by Dr. Frank A. Blazich Jr., Historian, Naval History and Heritage Command