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The 25th NCR at Normandy

By Steve Karoly

The 25th NCR, as a key member of the joint Army-Navy for Operation Overlord, played a pivotal role in the Normandy landings. Seabees were present in the transport area at 0300 on June 6, 1944. From the first Seabees ashore -- Rhino Ferry No. 10 of 111th NCB at 1230 -- the 25th NCR maintained a presence on Utah and Omaha until trucks bearing the 69th NCB departed Omaha on November 12, 1944.

Seabee role at Normandy

Although the Seabees did not pay a high price in comparative terms -- battalions of the 25th NCR sustained 10 dead, 2 missing and 60 wounded due to enemy action -- their mission was extremely important. The 25th NCR delivered about 35 percent of soldiers and much of vital war machinery to the beach.

Pontoon barges called Rhino ferries, transported thousands of trucks, tanks and artillery pieces from Liberty ships to pontoon causeways. Two large tent cities, one at Utah and the other at Omaha, housed and fed all Navy and Coast Guard personnel working the beaches. Though short lived, the artificial harbor at Omaha gave shelter to numerous ships and small craft.

Commissioning of the 25th NCR

One of two naval construction regiments operating in the ETO, the 25th NCR was formed late in planning process for Operation Overlord. By the commissioning date, allied engineers had made most equipment and tactical discussions. Construction of the artificial harbor and assemblage of the naval lighterage pontoon units was well under way when a small group of Seabees, led by Capt. Clyde W. Coryell, gathered to form the headquarters and command element of the regiment.

The 25th NCR was established in Plymouth, England on April Fools Day, 1944. You might say the joke was on Adolph Hitler as the regiment geared up to conduct operations on the Far Shore. Its mission was to train and organize naval construction units for movement of equipment and US troops over the invasion beaches.

The 81st NCB, 97th NCB (2nd Section), 111th NCB, 146th NCB and CBD 1006 were attached to the regiment upon its formation. In the months to follow, the 28th NCB, 69th NCB, 114th NCB and 30th NCB (Special) would be placed under its command. (The 97th NCB (2nd Section) was redesigned as the 108th NCB on April 27, 1944.)

Headquarters of the regiment were established on Omaha beach in a German bunker on June 16, 1944. On July 2 an advanced group established headquarters at Cherbourg. The move was completed on July 14. The advanced group again moved on September 19, this time to Le Harve. This moved was completed on October 11.

Then as quietly as the regiment was commissioned, it slipped into history on November 30, 1944. In contrast to its peak strength of eight NCBs and one CBD, only two battalions (69th and 114th NCBs) and three maintenance units (CBMUs 627, 628 and 629) remained attached to the 25th NCR. All other units had returned to NCTC Davisville, Rhode Island for eventual transfer to the pacific war.

The 25th NCR followed the all too familiar pattern of Seabee command and control units in World War II: they were established for an immediate mission; and when the mission was complete, the regiment or brigade was disestablished instead of moving it to the forward areas.

Task organization for Far Shore beaches

The 25th NCR was a key component of an extensive joint Army-Navy beach organization. Under command of Rear Adm. John Wilkes, the Navy’s beach organization was formed into the Service Force (CTF 127) of the Western Naval Task Force. Army responsibility for developing and operating its vast shore-based logistical support mechanism was assigned to the engineer special brigades, a new organization in the U.S. Army.

The Army’s beach force was organized into two large composite organizations under the Corps of Engineers: the 1st Engineer Special Brigade at Utah, and the Provisional Engineer Special Brigade Group at Omaha. The Omaha command consisted principally of the 5th and 6th Engineer Special Brigades and the 11th Port.

Generally, the Army controlled operations from the high water mark inland while the Navy directed all activities in the harbor. There were, however, several areas where the Army had jurisdiction over ships in the harbor: ships owned by the Army received their shipping orders from the Army and not the Navy. The Army also operated a flotilla of craft to unload ships. Several units operated the DUWK amphibian truck.

Naval organization for each beach consisted of a large port operation under command of naval officers, Capt. C. Camp at Omaha and Capt. J.E. Arnold at Utah. Called the NOIC (naval officer in charge) these officers directed all naval port operations. Each beach service group was split into port director, ferry control, recovery and repair, POL, construction and beach camp elements.

Although the 25th NCR was recognized as task unit (CTU 127.2.2) at equal command level to the NOICs, the regiment provided much of the labor and equipment required for the beach service group. In this arrangement, common to military and naval operations, the regiment maintained administrative and logistical control over its units while relinquishing operational control.

To illustrate the command relationship between the NOIC and 25th NCR, let us look at ferry control on Utah beach: Ferry Control, a division of the Port Director’s Office, directed movement of all ships and small craft in the harbor. Everything from large Liberty ships to LSTs and LCTs to Rhino Ferries were vying for a berth and place to unload their cargo. Most of the 241 ferry craft and 39 service craft reported directly to the Ferry Control Officer, Lt. V.M.L. Keonig for orders as well as maintenance, rations and pay.

Seabee units did not report completely to Ferry Control. Of the ferry and service craft assigned to Utah, 11 ferries and11 tugs were assigned to Rhino Ferry Group 3 of the 81st NCB. The battalion administered personnel (pay, advancement, discipline, service records maintenance for the crews) and logistical support (supply, rations, gasoline and repair for the barges).

Ferry Control directed operations. Ferry control instructed each Rhino ferry, which ship to unload. Once loaded with trucks, tanks and artillery pieces, the ferry proceeded to the beach. As it neared the beach, Ferry Control told the it which causeway to discharge its load of vital war materials. This scheme was repeated throughout the 25th NCR.

Mission of the 25th NCR

The Seabee mission on the Far Shore consisted of five major elements:

  • Assemble and operate the artificial harbor (Mulberry A) at Omaha. This included the Lobnitz pierheads, Phoenix caissons and Whale floating bridging. Assigned to the 108th NCB.
  • Operate Rhino ferries (RHF), Rhino tugs (RHT), warping tugs (RWT), pontoon causeways, dry docks and Rhino repair barges at Utah and Omaha. Assigned to at Utah and Omaha, 81st and 111th NCBs and CBD 1006.
  • Construct, operate and maintain petroleum, oil and lubricants installations at Utah and Omaha. Assigned to 146th NCB.
  • Construct and operate naval beach camps at Utah and Omaha. Assigned to 81st and 111th NCBs.
  • Provide construction element to Drew units. Drews were special naval base units organized to construct and operate one of the captured ports. Assigned 28th NCB.

This article is found in No. 1 (Winter 1997) of the Seabee Log.

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