U.S. NAVY OFFICER CIVIL ENGINEER CORPS SOFT EPAULETS

The United States Navy Civil Engineer Corps (CEC) has understandably seen its largest periods of growth during wartime. But the exigencies of armed conflict, particularly on a far-flung global scale, also led to the CEC to develop groundbreaking technologies and entirely rethink the way it accomplished mission objectives.

With the entry of the United States into World War II, the United States Navy to rapidly expand its fleet in order to deploy American troops to France and to provide merchant and troop convoys with protection against German U-boats. To handle this increased demand in production, the Bureau of Yards and Docks spent over a third of a billion dollars on shore facilities, including the construction of nearly three dozen naval training bases, submarines bases both in the continental U.S. as well as Hawaii and Panama, and a string of Naval Air Stations in the United States, England, Europe, and Ireland. Naturally, existing shore facilities also were improved and expanded dramatically during this period. Much of that work was done by civil engineers, albeit under the command and control of Reserve officers in the CEC.

The attack on Pearl Harbor and the need to wage a war against the Japanese that would be almost entirely dependent on Naval power of one form or another meant a period of incredible expansion for the CEC. For third-party construction contracts and architectural and engineering fees alone, for instance, the Bureau of Yards and Docks spent nearly twenty-five times as much during World War II as it had for all its outlays in the First World War.

Of that money, three-quarters were devoted to building new bases and improving and enlarging old ones; by the end of the war, the network of Naval shore facilities had grown by roughly 14 times its size in the year that World War II erupted. Overseeing the mammoth building program were CEC Reserve officers. In fact, almost all of the work was supervised by the some 10,000 Reserve officers who had been called up for active duty, as opposed to just a couple of hundred of career active-duty officers in the Staff Corps at the war’s end.

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