By Chief Steelworker Bill Hines, USN
Reprint from CEC Bulletin April 1951
On D-2 day, 17 September, a small boat pulled alongside the Seabee's pontoon dock a "Charley Pier" in Inchon Harbor. All hands came to attention as a tall, strong-jawed man leaped lightly onto the dock and gave a quick glance around the harbor. General Douglas MacArthur had lauded at Inchon!
Slightly more than 5 weeks before, the dock on which General MacArthur strode ashore existed only as a pile of individual pontoons in a store yard at the Naval Amphibious Base, Coronado, Calif. The story of how these pontoons, along with some 250 Seabees from the 104th NCB stationed at Coronado, reached Korea in time for our first amphibious landing is a real saga-a Seabee saga. And it is worthy to stand alongside the best of the Can-Do stories from World War II.
Things were pretty quiet at the Coronado Base on Saturday morning, 24 June 1950. A few Seabees were in classes; a few more had the duty; most of them were preparing for a weekend in San Diego. None knew that at this precise moment, the massed armies of the People's Democratic Republic of Korea were smashing their way across the 38th parallel into the South Korean Republic. However, the reverberations of the incident would soon be felt.
Next day, Sunday, Secretary-General Trygve Lie called together an emergency meeting of the Security Council, and it became apparent that the United Nations was going to act. At Coronado, the 104th Seabees swung into a readiness program in anticipation of an early alert. Mechanics worked far into the night overhauling equipment. Supply personnel also burned midnight oil ordering spare parts and supplies.
This state of readiness proved invaluable later on, for when the alert came, early in July, there was no frenzied activity. They merely worked a little longer-and a little harder. Carpenters boxed and crated tools. Steelworkers checked their equipment. All hands turned to on final check-ups and repairs.
A detachment was formed and divided into two companies: (1) a Pontoon Company of 4 officers and 127 men; and (2) a Construction Company of 2 officers and 115 men. The Construction Company was to support and reinforce the Pontoon group, set up a central camp, and maintain security. Also, they would be available for miscellaneous assignments.
It took only a few days to get the equipment rolling. On 13 July Seabees deck-loaded two3 by 12 self-propelled pontoon barges, along with a crew of 1 CPO and 13 men, aboard the Yancey
. Two days later the AKA Alshain
departed with two more barges and a pontoon crew of 7 men.
On 26 July, they loaded LSTs 1123 and 1138 with two causeways and one warping tug each, the causeways for sidecarry and the tugs deck loaded. Operating crews accompanied their pontoon equipment as the two ships stood out for Port Hueneme. There they took on additional equipment, and on 28 July set sail for Yokosuka.
On 7 August two more 2 by 30 causeway sections were loaded sidecarry on LST 845. With this shipment, the entire Pontoon Company was embarked with all equipment and en route to Yokosuka, Japan.
At Coronado, the Construction Company was hurriedly equipping and making ready for embarkation. On 14 August they went aboard the U. S. S. General William M. Weigel. The next day, along, with elements of the 1st Marine Division, they hoisted anchor and were off for Kobe, Japan.
The first to leave were the first to arrive. En route to Japan, the two AKA's were diverted to Pusan, Korea., where two of the barges were off-loaded and transferred to LSD Ft. Marion
for transportation to Yokosuka. They arrived on 7 August, the first unit to reach, Japan. The crew immediately set to work repairing and equipping the barges, and salvaging three old causeways for unloading and loading the LST's. They also set up pontoon assembly ways and a storage yard for supplies and equipment, and made all preparations for unloading material as it arrived. On 20 August, the other AKA arrived with its two barges and crews, who at once turned to with the first group.
The three LST's had a rough time of it. A typhoon and several minor storms tossed them about during their crossing, and the crews worked round the clock to keep causeway lashings secured. In spite of their caution, one of the causeways shifted forward about 50 feet out of the hinge, but none were lost.
arrived at Yokosuka on 25 August; the 1123
, the next day. All hands went to work at once on an 8 and 8 schedule, unloading equipment and begi1ming construction of pontoon strings on the launching ways. For a week there was no liberty, and then it was only a 9-hour pass. But it was relaxing and very welcome. LST 845
arrived at Kobe on 28 August, but did not come on to Yokosuka. The next time Seabees saw her was on the beach at Inchon.
Last to arrive was the General William M. Weigel
, docking at Kobe on 29 August. Next day the Construction Company debarked and boarded a train while an Army band played Anchors Aweigh. At 0430 on 31 August, the train pulled into Yokosuka. There was a quick breakfast at the Yokosuka Receiving Barracks for the Construction Company and a happy reunion with their buddies. Then at 0700 they all turned to on the assembly of pontoon strings to be made into docks and causeways.
Combat loading back onto the LST's began on 30 August. Three LST's carried the causeways and barges sidecarry, with cranes, dozers, and other miscellaneous equipment on the tank decks. The warping tugs and new dock sections were made up into two tows, handled by ATF's 98
with operating crews aboard the oceangoing tugs.
Finally, on 6 September, the Construction Company boarded an LST combat loaded with cranes, dozers, and miscellaneous cargo-the Sea bees were ready for action. In slightly more than a week, Seabees had off-loaded all cargo, made up new equipment, and then cargo-loaded it back onto the LST's. In addition, they built two 5 by 30 and one 5 by 15 dock sections and made then up into combat tows. Now he convoy moved slowly out of the harbor, bound f or the invasion beaches of Inchon. Behind them, in Yokosuka, they left a pay clerk and 11 men to receive other supplies en route from the States.
As the convoy arrived off Inchon, combat ships were bombarding Wolmi Island and the port city. Carrier aircraft were pouring bombs and rockets into the well-prepared positions of the North Koreans. For hours the shelling and bombardment continued, and a heavy pall of dust and smoke hung over the entire area. Even though they were several miles out, the decks of the convoy ships vibrated from the concussion.
Then came the order. At 1500 on 15 September, Seabees broke their tows and readied the pontoon dock sections for landing on the beaches. A 5 by 30 clock section was needed off the west side of Wolmi. Twice the swift-running tide swept the section away before it could be anchored. A last desperate try was successful, but the 4-knot tide caused them to abandon the idea of using the section for an LST landing.
Connected to the beach by two 2 by 30 causeway sections, this pier as put to immediate use by LSU's, LCVP's and LCM's for landing troops, vehicles, ammunition, and supplies. Seabees securing the causeway and dock were too busy to notice that they were under continuous fire.
These causeways were of utmost importance at Inchon, and they were in use 24 hours a day. .All other beaches were secured about 10 hours a day because of the high tides. At low tide the main channel into Inchon Harbor becomes no more than a small creek, leaving vast mud flats across which it is impossible to move vehicles.
On D-1 day, another dock section was brought into Inchon Harbor to be used as a tide-level landing at Charley Pier. It was over this section that General MacArthur strode ashore on D-2 day.
Seabees soon set up a camp on OPAL Beach on Wolmi Island, directly across from Inchon. In
8 hours they cleared the debris, leveled a site, and erected 50 tents, a galley, a mess hall and a head. Water was the most critical item, and had to be transported from a point 5 miles away in water trailers and cans. The first galley burned down. But Seabees are never ones to be without a galley, and it was rebuilt in time for the next meal. For chow they had "C" rations, seasoned and heated. When flour was available, they had biscuits. Crackers were always on hand.
Inseparable from a Seabee camp is the theater, and it was not long before a small outdoor one was set up. Originally planned to seat about a hundred spectators, the theater was soon showing to about a thousand-soldiers, sailors, and marines. Morale rose sharply.
Mail conditions were deplorable and very little was received at Inchon. One delivery had to be recovered from the sea bottom-by which time it was so water-soaked it could not be read. Twice Seabees got a beer ration from the fleet. Another morale booster was the payday held one night at 2100.
At GREEN Beach, Seabees widened the roadway to accommodate three-lane traffic around the west side of Wolmi to the Inchon causeway. Warping tugs went to work clearing the harbor of sunken vessels and salvaging small craft.
On 21 September, six chiefs and four men who had previous experience with steam engines volunteered to go to Yong Dong Po to recapture and return to Inchon eight, railroad locomotives. All returned safely, in spite of intense mortar and sniper fire. Three of the locomotives were at the Kirin Brewery and 15 kegs of beer were discovered on them after their return to Inchon. However, the beer was not issued because of danger of contamination. This crew of railroaders continued to assist Army engineers in operation and maintenance of engines and track.
The Construction Company had the job of operating security patrols for all of Wolmi Island. In addition, they buried about 30 bodies of enemy dead and blasted closed some 75 caves. Carpenters set up range towers and repaired the command post at Charley Pier, while electricians put in temporary wiring. On D-4 day Seabees built a Y-shaped pontoon pier on OPAL Beach with the 2 by 30 causeway sections and one 5 by 30 dock section. They off-loaded the truck cargo of one LST in 47 minutes.
On 28 September Rear Admiral J. H. Doyle inspected the detachment, awarding a Bronze Star to Officer-in-Charge LCDR M T. Jacobs and giving a Well Done ' to the entire unit. On this same day Seabees set up a fleet recreation area, and cleared another area, for Fleet Officers' recreation.
In the meantime, ground troops pressing inward from Inchon had captured Seoul on the 26th, and by the 30th had driven the North Koreans back over the 38th parallel. On 1 October, Seabees began to combat-load in preparation for the next operation-the landing at Wonsan.
In slightly less than 3 months, this small group of Seabees had reestablished themselves as the Navy s Can-Do boys. In the words of Secretary of Navy Matthews, they have assured their permanent and irreplaceable role in the Navy.