79th USN Construction Battalion

79th Detachment at Cold Bay, Aleutians:

During their first tour of duty in the Aleutians, a Detachment of the 79th NCB served at Cold Bay, located near the end of the Alaskan Peninsula and 432 air miles from Kodiak. Commissioned July 14, 1943 as a Naval airfield for coastal defense of the main base on Kodiak Island, Cold Bay, originated during World War II as Fort Randall Army and was changed to a Naval auxiliary air facility on April 1, 1943.  Annual snowfall at Cold Bay is 55 inches with wind speeds commonly 30 miles per hour.

Cold Bay Naval Auxiliary Airfield (NAAF) included two 150 X 5000-ft asphalt-surfaced runways, a gravel-surfaced satellite field of the same size, and twenty-eight 25,000-gallon tanks for Aviation gasoline storage along with distribution tank trucks.  Quonset buildings housed 500 officers and men as well as offices, communications, refrigerator and general storage.  Other construction included an Army T-type 66x810-foot wharf, with small craft repair facilities.  65,000-gallon capacity tanks stored diesel-oil.  These outer defense positions were constructed by Seabees for the Army's usage.  A radio range, radio and radar beacon as well as a weather-observation station were located 50 miles south of Cold Bay at Sanak and Caton Island.

Initial construction at Cold Bay had been accomplished by a detachment from the 8th Battalion and a company of the 23rd.  That work was completed in May 1943.  CBMU 510 took over the maintenance, later being relieved by a detachment of the 79th Battalion. NAAF Cold Bay was decommissioned on November 7, 1944 and a few necessary services turned over to the Army.  The site was abandoned in 1950 although structures, pipelines, tank farms and some support facilities were left standing and Cold Bay was not incorporated as a city until 1982.

Often hampered by mists, fog, ice, cold and howling williwaws, Liberty ships provided food, ammunition, guns and other logistical support for the recapture of the Aleutians from the Japanese and further defense from reoccupation by the Japanese.  Williwaw -- an Aleut word meaning sudden, strong, violent winds that sweep through the Aleutians, occurring frequently.  Cold Bay was one of the sailings logged by the Liberty ship SS DANIEL L. LAMONT, recorded in 1943:

Feb. 10--Vessel rollling heavily.  Wind force 6.
Feb. 11--Snow squalls.  Very rough sea.  Wind force 7-8.
Feb. 12--Wind force 7.  Overcast with rain and rough sea.
Feb. 19--Freezing weather.  Snow storm.
March 1--Rough head sea.  Thick rain and mist.  Very poor visibility.
March 26--Wind lauled from SE to SW, reaching hurricane force with rain squals.  Reduced speed to 50 rpm.  Driving rain and snow.

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Photo: The scene is of a 79th Battn. Seabee of Co. A-6 going to the Chow Hall in the center of the picture on a cold, snowy day.  The building to the right is of Co. A-6 and A-5 barracks.

"Up where the Williwaw whips with bone piercing chill,
and the skies are eternally gray"

                   - From Victory at Sea, "The Magnetic North"

Any information on participation of the 79th Naval Construction Battalion or other Seabee Battalions at Cold Bay during World War II will be greatly appreciated. Please contact:

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Email:  JWinter588@aol.com

References to the Seabees at Cold Bay, Aleutians in World War II:

  • Building the Navy's Bases in World War II History of the Bureau of Yards and Docks and the Civil Engineer Corps 1940-1946 Volume II United States Government Printing Office Washington 1947 The Advance Bases Bases in Alaska and the Aleutians Pages 168-174 Kodiak Sector

  • 79th NCB records - CEC, Seabee Historical Center, Port Hueneme, CA


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