Compiled by Lara Godbille, Ph.D., Director, U.S. Navy Seabee Museum, Naval History and Heritage Command (First printed in the Seabee News Service on September 19, 1944)
Celebrating their 3rd year, Seabees of the 111th NCB take pride in their many accomplishments, including building an artificial floating harbor and mobile ship repair on large pontoons.
Proving their previously untried-in-combat Rhino ferries and barges, Seabees of the 111th Naval Construction Battalion (NCB) triumphed over a D-Day storm to unload tanks, armament, vehicles, personnel and ammunition in France, accomplishing their mission through mine-infested waters, despite intense enemy fire.
A report by Capt. C.W. Coryell, CEC, USNR, officer in charge of a construction regiment, revealed how the Seabees succeeded in their D-Day objective – although the condition of the sea and wave action had previously been considered too rough for operation of the pontoon equipment. During the critical 10-day period following D-Day, Coryell reported that the battalion went on to unload 16,000 vehicles, 25,000 tons of ammunition and supplies and 32,000 troops – a total of approximately 138,000 tons – all urgently needed on the expanding beachhead. The Rhino crews, many of whom remained on duty for as long as 90 hours, four without relief, also distinguished themselves by rescuing wounded and drowning Soldiers at great risk to themselves. The open decks of the Rhinos were constantly exposed to enemy shell fire and flak splinters.
“The danger to the crews,” Coryell declared, “was great at all times. A number were wounded as the result of mine explosions and some deaths resulted.
“All Rhino ferries,” he continued, “were navigated to successful beach landings with skill and fearlessness…despite much damage to the units due to the shell fire and mines, the crews worked continuously at their stations through long hours, contributing immeasurably to the success of the invasion …”
Rhino ferry powered by outboard motors. The ferries are formed of 30 pontoons in length and are equal in strength to a civilian highway bridge.