Naval History and Heritage Command

U.S. Navy Seabee Museum

Special Naval Construction Battalions

As the war progressed and new needs developed specialized types of battalions and detachments became essential. The new specialized units ultimately grew into a sizable force, the largest group being the Special Battalions, used for stevedore duty.

During the late summer and fall of 1942, the Seabees were called to perform another vital function in addition to construction work. Since the war was being fought on various fronts, thousands of miles from the United States, vast quantities of food, ammunition, and other supplies had to be transferred in ships to these distant sites. The nature of the Pacific war made stevedoring at the advance bases as difficult and as dangerous as construction work, especially in view of the fact that a ship being unloaded presented a good target for the enemy.

These special battalions were composed of stevedores and longshoremen who were badly needed to break a bottleneck in the unloading of ships in combat zones. Their officers, drawn largely from the Merchant Marine and personnel of stevedoring companies, were commissioned in the Civil Engineer Corps. The enlisted men were trained practically from scratch, and the efficiency of their training was demonstrated by the fact that cargo handling in combat zones compared favorably to that in the most efficient ports in the United States.