Editor's note: This is Part Two in the series about how the Seabee's were created. Read Part One here.
From 1940-1941, BuDocks used contractors to develop and construct outlying bases on territories owned or governed by the United States. But, after the attack on Pearl Harbor
, the Bureau of Yards and Docks
(BuDocks) could no longer utilize service contractors or their civilian employees in combat zones. Under military law, contractors and their civilian labor force could not offer resistance when under attack. Any civilian bearing arms would be considered a guerilla and would be liable to summary execution if captured. Civilian labor also lacked the military training to defend themselves or their facility. This hard lesson was learned when the naval bases at Wake, Cavite, and Guam
were overtaken by the Japanese in December 1941, and the surviving men
, whether military or civilian, were either executed or taken prisoner.
The Need to Build AND Fight Becomes Evident
RADM Ben Moreell
, Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks, decided that the only satisfactory solution to continuing construction in potential war zones would be to use military personnel under military command to complete the projects. In response, BuDocks created the Naval Construction Battalions, better known as the Seabees, to build the Navy's advance bases around the world. Shortly after Admiral Ernest King
requested the War Plans Division recommend a base to establish a fueling station in the South Pacific, BuDocks developed the 1st Naval Construction Detachment, the first Seabee unit, known as the Bobcats
for the island's codename. The Bobcats were formed around the newly created 1st Headquarters Construction Company (HCC) which was trained and equipped for assignment in Iceland, but had not left the U.S. yet.
HCC consisted of the Coral Sea, and Midway led the U.S. to move forward much sooner than it had originally intended. Initially, the U.S. planned to hunker down on early island bases to support the fleet and armed forces with supplies, hospital beds, and fuel. Before all projects could be completed, the Bora Bora base became obsolete and was well out of the war zone. By April 1, 1944 the base was placed in reduced status and the airfield maintained only as an emergency landing field. As the U.S. drove farther across the Pacific, the Seabees played a vital role in constructing essential air, submarine, and supply bases. The magnitude and importance of advance bases in the Pacific and European Theaters and the prominent role the Navy played in these operations were essential to winning the war.
Bureau of Yards and Docks. . Bobcat. Unpublished, Bureau of Yards and Docks. Bureau of Yards and Docks. [circa 1945]. Bora Bora. Unpublished, Bureau of Yards and Docks. United States. 1947. Building the Navy's Bases in World War II: History of the Bureau of Yards and Docks and the Civil Engineer Corps, 1940-1946. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office.