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This Week in Seabee History: February 19-25

Feb. 20, 2024 | By MC1 Adam Brock

Consolidated by U.S. Navy Seabee Museum, Naval History and Heritage Command
February 19

1943: 120th Naval Construction Battalion (NCB) formed at Casablanca.

1944: 10th and 11th Naval Construction Brigades commissioned.

1945: The D-Day assault on Iwo Jima was made by the 5th Amphibious Corps, which included all of NCB 133 and elements of NCB 31. The NCB 133 operated on the Iwo Jima beaches during the initial stages of the assault, acting as a shore party for the U.S. Marines. While operating under heavy Japanese fire, the 133rd had the dubious honor of suffering more men killed or wounded in action than any other Seabee battalion in any previous or subsequent battle.

1966: The Navy began testing of the nuclear powered saltwater distillation plant at McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. The plant was installed and serviced by Seabees.

1968: A small detail of Seabees from Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit (CBMU) 301 distinguished themselves during the tense siege of Khe Sanh, Republic of Vietnam (RVN). On January 21, 1968, the North Vietnamese commenced concentrated rocket, mortar, and artillery attacks in preparation for their offensive to take the mountain outpost. The men of the detail repaired numerous rocket, artillery, and mortar holes in the airstrip. The runway crews exposed themselves to enemy fire during repairs. They learned to take cover whenever an aircraft landed because the enemy gunners exercised maximum effort to disabled planes and helicopters on the ground. The last of the detail returned to base camp on February 19, 1968. Members of the detail have been authorized to wear the Presidential Unit Citation Ribbon for assistance rendered to the 26th Marines during the siege of Khe Sanh.

February 20

1968: CBMU 201 arrived at Davisville, Rhode Island, from Antarctica for reassignment to the 21st Naval Construction Regiment (NCR).

1969: Main body of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 58 departed Davisville, Rhode Island, for Chu Lai, RVN.

Early 1980s

One of the major projects for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command and the major project for the Seabees in the 1970s and early 1980s was the construction of a naval complex on the atoll of Diego Garcia, part of the British Indian Ocean Territory. Diego Garcia, one of the 52 coral atolls of the Chagos Archipelago, was located in the Indian Ocean 960 miles south of India and 7 miles south of the equator. The 6,700 acre, heavily vegetated atoll was horseshoe-shaped with a perimeter of approximately 40 miles and average elevations of 3 to 7 feet. The annual rainfall was approximately 100 inches. In the early 1980s the construction effort at Diego Garcia rapidly shifted from Seabees to private contractors. The last full Seabee battalion, NMCB 62, departed the atoll in July 1982. While Seabees remained in detachments, contractor personnel took over the projects yet to be accomplished on Diego Garcia. Thus, what began as simply a communication station on a remote atoll became a major fleet and U.S. armed forces support base by the 1980s. By 1983 the only Seabee unit remaining on Diego Garcia was a detachment of NMCB 62. The departure of this detachment in September 1983 ended twelve years of priority effort on the island that included some 220 projects for the Navy and Air Force, valued in excess of $200 million. The work the Seabees completed on Diego Garcia since 1971 represented the largest peacetime construction effort in their history.

February 21

1801: The Philadelphia Navy Yard was established after the second of three land purchases, which established the yard.

1944: 28th Special NCB formed at Naval Construction Training Center (NCTC) Camp Peary, Magruder, Virginia.

1972: The NMCB 4 main body of 219 men under Cmdr. J.A. Ruscyk departed Rota, Spain, for Construction Battalion Center (CBC), Port Hueneme, California.

February 22

1943: 86th NCB commissioned at NCTC Camp Peary, Magruder, Virginia.

1968: EON2 H.H. Aguayo was injured when the tractor in which he was riding hit a mine on Route No. 1, south of Phu Bai, RVN.

February 23

1801: The land for the Brooklyn (New York) Navy Yard was purchased and the yard established on this date.

1943: 87th NCB formed at NCTC Camp Peary, Magruder, Virginia.

1968: Cmdr. Paul R. Gates, Civil Engineer Corps (CEC), USN, was relieved as Commanding Officer of NMCB 1 by Cmdr. Thomas J. Mitchell, CEC, USN, at CBC Davisville, Rhode Island.

February 24

1881: The President of the United States conferred relative rank on civil engineers and equal precedence to officers of the line in the Navy for the first time. For the fixed number of 10 CEC officers, one had the relative rank of captain, two with relative rank of commander, three with relative rank of lieutenant commander, and four with the relative rank of lieutenant.

1970: Seabee Team 4004 departed Davisville, Rhode Island, for reassignment to Officer in Charge (OIC) Construction Battalion Pacific Detachment (CBPACDET), RVN, and deployment to Xuan Loc, RVN.

February 25

1944: 137th NCB broken up at Advance Base Depot (ABD) Gulfport, Mississippi, to form CBMU 595, 596, 597, and 598. 25th Special NCB commissioned at NCTC Camp Peary, Magruder, Virginia.

1970: Cmdr, J.J. Godsey, CEC, USN, relieved Capt. C.R. Whipple, CEC, USN, as Commanding Officer, NMCB 3 and Commander, 30th NCR, at a change of command ceremony at Camp Kinser, Okinawa.

1972: Seabee Team 1022 departed CBC, Port Hueneme, California, for duties in the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI).

1972: Seabee Team 1021 departed CBC, Port Hueneme, California, to Guam for duties in the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI).