Civil Engineer Corps Bulletin - June 1949.
"Action At Peleliu"
Commander P. Corradi's story of how the 33rd Seabees hit the beach and built a landing strip during the attack on Peleliu.
D-day - the first Seabees went ashore early this morning. They've been on barges at the reef all day, transferring beans, bullets, and men from the assault boats to the amphibious tractors that are being used as ferries between the reef and the beach. Mortar shells are dropping all around them, and disabled amtracks are piling up pretty fast. None of the transfer barges which are manned by the seabees have been hit.
It's amazing that there is any fight left in peleliu's defenders. For days the big guns of the pre-invasion bombardment force have been pouring heavy shells into the island. Since before dawn this morning, strike after strike of carrier planes have strafed and bombed the beaches. The LCI's have been whizzing 5-inch rockets into shore defenses all morning but still the Japanese mortars make the stretch from reef to beach deadly. The beach itself is a bedlam of gear, wrecked equipment, and pinned down marines and Seabees.
About noon, Freddie Davis, and Obie Obrien, went ashore with two hundred more Thirty-Thirders to join the shore party and help unscramble the beach.
D+1- we were to start work on the airfield today, but intense fighting is still going on at the southeast portion of the airdrome. The northwest portion is still in Japanese hands. The thirty-thirders are engaged entirely in shore party operations. Casualties amongst the aid parties have been extremely high, so our people have taken over stretcher bearer's assignments. We started a cemetery at orange beach today.
D+2- fighting has moved up to the northwest end of the airdrome. The skipper and hank auch (lt herman h. Auch, cec, usnr) made a reconnaissance of the airfield with colonel francis fenton, the division engineer, first marine division. There isn't much left of the Japanese strips. The pre-invasion bombardment and the fighting of the past two days has left them hardly recognizable as air strips. The plan is to repair one strip as a fighter field and to completely rebuild the other thirty five hundred foot strip as a bomber strip, extending it to 6,500 feet.
D+3- the mortar fire is too heavy at the reef to risk beaching the lst's hence no equipment is available to start the airfield work. We are going to work like the japs undoubtedly did- with pick and shovel. Lt walter suydam and fifty more of the battalions men were landed today with a supply of hand tools. A human chain was formed across the area where the Japanese strip had been, and we started to comb the place for shrapnel, unexploded bombs, booby traps, etc. Chief carpenter's mate, salvatore impelletteri, and his boys were kept busy disarming and disposing of the bombs and booby traps. A mound of heaped up pieces of shrapnel soon began to form. Impelletteri's crew dug up a Japanese torpedo war head that had been rigged with a pressure tripping device. The easterly end of the former strip had been cleared by dark.
D+4- filling in the holes at the east end of the strip was begun at dawn. The work is hot and slow. Crockford was killed. The battalion command post was moved up to the strip from the beach. Dugouts were excavated to replace the individual fox holes. A battery of 155-mm guns was set up in our bivouac are. The pontoon causeway sections were launched form our lst's and some of the heavy equipment was transferred from the tank decks to the pontoons via the bow doors. This had to be done outside the range of the shore guns in deep water. When the tractors, shovels, trucks, etc. Had been moved onto the pontoons, the causeways were tied up alongside the lst's for the rest of the night.
D+5- the 155's fired over our heads all last night. After the sound had been likened to a subway express by a few former denizens of new york, little further note was taken of them and we even managed to sleep while the guns pumped shells all night into bloody nose ridge. One loaded causeway section was beached and we now have 2 trucks, 3 graders, and a dozer with scraper. Repair work on the fighter strip really speeded up with the acquisition of this equipment. A damaged fighter plane landed on our partially completed strip this afternoon. Our rubber tired motor graders were practically immobilized by the many bits of shrapnel that still cover the field. Efforts were re-doubled to clean up the remainder of the steel fragments. Snipers still cause work stoppages. The carpenter crew that started erection of the flight operations tower, which lt cambell and wo hynes had prefabricated back in the russells, was twice stopped by sniper fire.
D+6- more equipment was landed over the pontoon causeway today. Twenty three officers and six hundred and seventy three men are now ashore with the battalion. Enough equipment is at hand to start construction of the bomber strip. Freddie davis shore party group has rejoined the battalion foor the airfield work. More dugouts were excavated and tarps were stretched over them to keep out the blistering sun and, alternately, the pouring rain. A squadron of our fighters landed on the strip this afternoon. We started the fighter taxiways. We had our first hot meal today.
D+7- heavy rains today. We concentrated on removal of wrecked equipment from around and in the airfield. Someone counted over one hundred enemy aircraft that we had hauled to a central dump. The borrow pit for coral is in full operation. No one thought thought the one and one half cubic yard shovel would ever make it over the floating pontoon causeway which is only two pontoons wide. The heavy equipment crew moved it safely, however. Fighting continues on the northwest edge of the airdrome. Chief Strasser was killed today.
D+8- unloading the construction equipment has finally been completed. We now have our own distillation units. One was put into immediate operation. We had been drinking water that was hauled ashore in steamed out oil drums, but its taste was horrible. Work is proceeding on the bomber strip taxiways. We tried to make better time by working after dark tonight, but the marines shot out our lights which were silhouetting their troops on the slope below bloody nose ridge. We worked for awhile by moonlight. The heat and the flies are bad. Doc york and doc geer are busy with their numerous dysentery patients.
D+9- impelletteri's crew has all mines, duds, and booby traps cleared from the airfield area but they can't be everywhere. Chief Pellissier and Gene Yuettner were wounded by a booby trap today while attempting to salvage some enemy gear. One Japanese roller has been reapaired and was put into service on the taxiway today. Grading continues.
D+10- the coral pit is really producing. Surfacing of the bomber strip has been started. The argus 20 radar installation was completed today. The crew that has been trying to put in the avgas spillway on the west road has not been able to get back to location as fighting has broken out there again. Attempts to drill wells for fresh water have been unsuccessful. Since brackish water is the best we can bring in, myron watson (ccm, cec, usnr) is hooking up the intake to the distillation units to the best of the brackish water wells. Today we have a gang shower piped up from the well. What a joy!
D+11- we worked all night last night hauling coral. The moon was bright and the star shells over bloody nose ridge gave an almost continuous bright light. Today, work was resumed on the avgas spillway. The temporary camp is well along. We have cots set up in the dugouts, dormitory style. The ga;;ey tent is serving hot meals continuously.
D+12- thew enemy resistance has been pretty well localized on bloody nose ridge. Our fighter planes are taking off almost continuously from the strip we put into operation just a few days ago. They are strafing and bombing the enemy on the ridge about a thousand yards yards to the north of the strip itself. The skipper took a reconnaissance trip in a piper cub today. He reported that the marine pilot who flew him took along a supply of hand grenades which he tossed out at likely targets. As a result of this and other reconnaissance it was decided to locate the proposed hospital up the west coast of the island on land which has not yet been secured. Lt bety was assigned the job of following up on the hospital.
D+13- work progresses on the bomber strip. Planes continue to pile in and emphasis has shifted to providing taxiways and dispersal areas for them. Twenty four hour operation has been approved and coral hauling help from other units obtained. There was a rumor that the japs had surrendered today, but the intense firing on the ridge continues. Bell and bartlett were killed.
For this, the Thirty Third received a Navy Unit Commendation, while the shore party who landed on D-day was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation.