PHOTOS: In WWII, Seabees built dozer radiators and a lot more out of fuel drums to keep Navy equipment going

Updated Jun 9, 2015
Seabee fuel drum dozer square

Given the harsh conditions of the Pacific Theater of World War II, ingenuity wasn’t so much a skill developed by the U.S. Navy on those small hellacious islands, as it was a tool carried into battle. And much of that ingenuity came thanks to a group of sailors known as the Seabees.

The Navy’s Construction Battalions (shortened to CBs, and then Seabees) had quite a bit of equipment to take care of in just about the worst conditions imaginable. But they were so good at it that eventually they took on “repair work from the Army and marines, and were even repairing planes,” during WWII, according to the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum’s book Seabees in Action: World War II to Vietnam.

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As you can see in the gallery above, Seabees were able to do more things with 55-gallon fuel drums than was ever intended. The Seabees regarded the drums as one of their “most useful…construction materials,” the book says.

“With the ends cut out and welded together, thousands of drums were converted into culverts. Split down the side and flattened, they made excellent roofing material. One group of Seabees even manufactured a sightseeing canoe from fuel drums.”

By far the coolest photo of the bunch above is the replacement dozer radiator Seabees built to keep the machine in service. Dozers were an indispensable tool for Allied forces during the War and keeping them in service on the beaches of those Pacific islands were of the utmost importance.

But drums weren’t the only MacGyver-like ways Seabees kept their fleets going. The book continues:

“Lacking a replacement for a blown out bulldozer head gasket, Seabees in the Ellice Islands fashioned a replacement from thin sheets of metal and paper, and quickly put the dozer back into service. A Seabee chief on Samoa manufactured a replacement condenser out of waxed paper, tinfoil from cigarette packages and an old beer can in order to keep one piece of equipment operating. On Guadalcanal another Seabee petty officer kept captured Japanese trucks in operation by improvising replacement radiators out of metal ammo boxes, a method that was soon being used all over the Pacific. … Worn out tires that would no longer hold inner tubes were kept in service by filling them with a mixture of palm tree sawdust and cement.”

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On this Memorial Day we remember the Seabees and all heroes and veterans of the United States Armed Forces and salute them for the bravery, genius and heart required in protecting freedom.