Eniwetok Atoll, in the Marshall Islands
With the capture of Eniwetok Atoll on February 20, 1944, control of the Marshall Islands, which had been in Japanese hands since 1914, passed to the United States. The atoll was to be developed principally as a Navy and Marine air base and a fleet anchorage, with no shore facilities other than a recreational area.
Eniwetok Atoll, consisting of 30 small islands of sand and coral, lies about 326 miles northwest of Kwajalein. The circumference of the atoll is 64 miles and the maximum elevation is 15 feet. There are three entrances to the lagoon.
Eniwetok Island is two miles long and one-quarter of a mile wide. Engebi Island is triangular, each side measuring one mile, and has a good landing beach on the lagoon side. Parry Island is two miles long and very narrow, with a sandy beach on the lagoon side.
The 22nd Marines and elements of the 106th Infantry captured Eniwetok Atoll in a swift amphibious operation that lasted less than five days, landing February 18, 1944, on five small islands in the atoll, just southeast of Engebi Island. Engebi, forming the northern tip of the atoll, was the site of an airstrip, the most important installation on the atoll. Bombardment of Engebi continued throughout the day and night, and the following morning the assault began. Our forces moved rapidly inland, and the island was in our hands by late afternoon. While mopping-up continued in the northern section of the atoll, other Army and Marine units, on the morning of the 20th, landed on Eniwetok Island, the southeastern anchor of the atoll and the largest island of the group. By late the next morning, enemy forces had been eliminated. On the morning of the 22nd, our forces landed on Parry Island, site of a seaplane base, northeast of Eniwetok, and by evening that island also had been captured. No Seabee units participated in the initial assault.
Echelons of the 110th Battalion arrived at Eniwetok between February 21 and 27, 1944, and immediately began clearing for a bomber strip. On March 11, the first plane landed and on April 5, the first mission by permanently based bomber squadrons was flown from Stickell Field. The completed field, 6,800 feet long and 400 feet wide, had two taxiways, facilities for major engine-overhaul, and housing for aviation personnel in quonset huts.
As activities increased, land area became insufficient to support these activities properly. To overcome this difficulty, quonset huts were erected atop one-story buildings, a measure which proved very practical.
On Parry Island, the 110th Battalion developed a seaplane base, using the existing Japanese ramp, and provided a coral-surfaced parking area, and shops for minor aircraft and engine overhaul. This base was capable of supporting one squadron of patrol bombers, but activities were limited by the eistence of only one ramp and by tides which were unfavorable to beaching activities.
Wrigley Airfield, on Engebi Island, was built to support four squadrons of Marine fighters until sufficient space at Eniwetok became available for their operation. The 126th Battalion arrived at Engebi on March 11, 1944, and took over development of this airfield from the 47th Army Engineers. Aviation facilities, when completed, included a fighter strip, 3950 by 225 feet, taxiways with 150 hardstands, and engine-overhaul shops.
A tank farm of twelve 1,000-barrel tanks, with piping, a floating pipe-line, 1,200 feet long, and a tanker mooring, was completed for aviation gasoline on Eniwetok Island by May 1944. Completion had been delayed by the explosion of an LCT in March, which reduced the status of completion of the farm from 80 to 30 percent. An aviation-gasoline tank farm, with a capacity of 146,000 gallons and all appurtenances, was also erected on Engebi.
Two coral-fill piers, one 80 and the other 150 feet long, were built on Eniwetok Island, and two beaches were developed for LCT's. Small-boat-repair shops were also built, and a floating dock for small ships was assigned to the base. At Parry Island, a marine railway was installed on an existing Japanese pier, and boat-repair shops were also erected. The Seabees repaired a 30-by-150-foot Japanese pier at Engebi, with timber piling, to accomodate small craft, including LCM's.
Medical facilities were provided by three dispensaries with a total capacity of 200 beds, one each at Eniwetok, Engebi, and Parry islands. Quonset huts and tents were erected for base storage and housing.
By June 1944, the major work projects on Engebi had been completed and CBMU 594 reported to take charge of maintenance activities. The 126th Battalion, pending its departure in October, was assigned to small projects on several islands in the atoll, including construction of a fleet recreation center on Hawthorne Island. CBMU 608 arrived in
Quonset Hut Variation at Eniwetok
Operations building, showing quonset huts erected atop one-story buildings
August 1944 to relieve the 110th Battalion, which left in September. The air base on Engebi was decommissioned on September 18, 1944, and by May 1945, all activities except a token garrison had been transferred to Eniwetok.
In June 1945, the 67th Battalion reported at Eniwetok, to build a fleet recreation area for 35,000 men and to extend carrier-aircraft service-unit facilities at Parry Island. V-J-Day found the 67th and CBMU 608 still stationed at Eniwetok.