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Aviation Engineer Battalion

When the 857th Engineer Aviation Battalion arrived at the city of Port Moresby, New Guinea on April 8th 1943, the war in the Pacific was in full swing.   U.S. and Australian soldiers had recently thwarted an advance by the Japanese military to take this vital port.   Now, the allied forces began preparations to drive the enemy out of the rest of New Guinea.   To accomplish this difficult assignment, the military depended on units like the Engineer Aviation Battalions(E.A.B.) to set up bases and build airfields.   Fighter pilot Col. Carlos Danacher who would later in his career become the Commander of the 40th Fighter Squadron recalled.

“The Aviation Engineer Battalion, was an unheralded unit designation, but one so essential to the war in the Pacific area. My first experience with them was the 808th Engineers which built all the airdromes around Port Moresby, New Guinea. They had all the machinery and all the saw mills, and if one wanted to enhance his tent for better living conditions, he had better grab a 6x truck and head for the sawmill in the boondocks and have something to trade with the sergeant in charge. But mainly, after the island to island campaigns got going every landing featured the engineers in the first wave. I don't know where we got all those people, but they just kept on coming. My impression was that when the first sergeant hollered, they all jumped and got things done. They first worked on runways that were narrow and about 5000' long. These would accommodate P-39s which I first flew in New Guinea. Later on we got P-47s and flew from wider, steel planked dromes which accommodated the bigger bombers in the jungle area.”

equipment operator
An Engineer Operates a D-8 Dozer on an Airfield
In fact, it was the segregated 857th E.A.B who were tabbed to relieve the 808th E.A.B. at Port Moresby.   Many of the E.A.B.s in the Pacific theater where segregated units, made up of white officers and black soldiers.   These units proved to be up to the task.   The Corp of Engineers had made every effort to get well qualified candidates for these units.   Albert Keys, Technician Forth Grade of Company A, was one of these black engineers.   His proud son recalls “In Mississippi as an 11 year old kid, he was known to be able to ‘fix anything’ that was needed to run a farm”.   The soldiers had also been trained at Fort Eglin under the expert eye of then Lt. Everette E. Frazier.   Frazier would have a distinguished career becoming instrumental in planning airdromes and bases for the USAAF while reaching the rank of Lt. Colonel.   Frazier was the right man for job, besides being a skilled engineer he was sympathetic to the problems the black soldiers faced both in the segregated military and the country at large.

Slowly United States and Australian military forces pushed their way from their toehold at Port Moresby.   The allied forces were able to win a series of battles across New Guinea, against a tenacious foe, and often very difficult conditions.   Following each military operation the E.A.Bs would soon arrive to set up bases.   These bases where vital for supplying the war effort and keeping the allied military juggernaut moving.   For two solid months, starting in late May of 1944, the allied forces waged a hard fought campaign to take back the Schouten Islands in Netherlands New Guinea (now part of Indonesia).   As clean up activities were still in progress in late July, the 857th arrived on Noemfoor(Numfoor), a small island in the Schouten chain, to begin preparing for the push to the Philippines.   With another decisive victory at nearby Sansapor a few weeks later, New Guinea, which had nearly been lost to the Japanese military, was finally in allied hands.

Less than a month after the critical Battle for Leyte Gulf (October 23-25 1944) the 857th reached the town of San Pablo on the Island of Leyte in the Philippines.   Again in the Philippines they were called on to build airstrips and bases to support General MacArthur who had kept his promise and return to the country he had to leave in 1942.   MacArthur himself knew the importance of units like the Engineer Aviation Battalions. He once referred to WWII in the Pacific as an "engineer's war".   Most critial to the war effort at this time was the work the unit performed to get the Tanauan air strip ready for the Mindoro operation in December.   Eight officers and sixteen enlistees would later be recommended for the Bronze Star medal for meritorious achievement as a result of their efforts.   Following more important projects on Leyte the 857th would move north to the island of Luzon, first to the province of Pampanga, and finally arriving in Manila in late April of 1945.   Here, their main duty was to build the General Headquarters for the staff.   It would also be in Manila, when the 857th received word that the titanic struggle of World War II had finally come to an end.

- Guy Rittmann -

857th Engineer Aviation Battalion Tour of Duty
The 857th E.A.B. was credited with participation in the New Guinea, Leyte and Luzon campaigns
Dates Site Battalion Notes
Nov 15th 1942 Elgin Field, Florida 857th E.A.B is formed.
  Commanding Officer Major William Hotchkiss.
  Executive Officer Captain Frank Ritchie.
  Operations and Training Officer Lt. Everette Frazier (retired Lt. Col Frazier).
Feb 26th 1943 San Francisco, California Soon after arriving at Camp Stoneman, the 857th ships out on USS Republic(AP-33), a refitted luxury liner(formerly called the USS President Grant).
Mar 23rd 1943 Brisbane, Australia 857th arrived in Australia for brief stop over.
Apr 8th 1943 Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea 857th arrived in New Guinea and replaced the 808th E.A.B who went for R&R in Sydney Australia.
Maintained the Jackson airdrome (7 Mile Drome) including constructing revetments, taxiways, roads and built half of a 5000 foot black-top runway.
Made the airdrome at Kila Kila (3 Mile Drome) operational by correcting severe drainage problems and adding a runway approach.
Built surfaced road from Kila Kila airdrome to a fueling station and bivouac area. Reduced grade change in another road at opposite end of drome.
Built standpipes for aviation fuel at both Jackson and Kila Kila dromes.
Built heavy bomber revetments and hardstandings at Wards Airdrome (5 Mile Drome).
Built 16 hardstandings at Berry Drome (12 Mile drome).
Laid concrete foundations for 2 radio towers on Daugo Island.
Sep
Sep
15th
29th
1943
1943
Oro Bay, Papua New Guinea Company "A" assembled pontoon barges used later as floating docks at Lae and Finschafen.
Sep
Dec
30th
12th
1943
1943
Lae, N.E. New Guinea Along with 836th E.A.B. the 857th repaired priority roads and bridges to Nadzab.
Facilitated the unloading of 100 octane gas from LCVs.
Prepared beaches for landings.
Dec
Jan
12th
23rd
1943
1944
Nadzab, N.E. New Guinea 857th prepared airfield, including 2 runways at strip #2, taxiways and hardstandings.
Built headquarters, housing and storage facilities.
Built and maintained roads.
Cleared area of brush and kunai grass.
Installation and operation of water points
Feb
Jul
3rd
16th
1944
1944
Finschhafen, N.E. New Guinea 857th built a huge Base Ordnance Depot.
Built hutments with concrete floors.
Built coral roads including one leading from Dreger Harbor.
Built a base garbage dump.
Jul
Nov
28th
10th
1944
1944
Noemfoor, Netherlands New Guinea 857th worked on and finished the Kornasoren airdrome which had been partial constructed by the Japanese.
Noemfoor becomes an important staging area for the USAAF preparing to retake the Philippines.
Company "B" constructed and operated water point no. 5.
Bob Hope and the USO entertain the troops.
Nov 19th 1944 San Pablo, Leyte, Philippines 857th arrived in Philippines.
Nov
Mar
24th
20th
1944
1945
San Joaquin, Leyte, Philippines 857th constructed the northern half of air strip at Tanauan Air Field, while the 1897th E.A.B. worked on southern half.
Established a rock quarry. Then went on to repair several roads by leveling, widening, and improving drainage.
Constructed a public water point in southern San Joaquin.
Constructed four, 5000 sq ft each hardstandings for an ordnance ammunition dump, and three more 5000 sq ft hardstandings at a storage area for aviation gasoline.
Laid some 6 miles of aviation gasoline pipe lines.
Repaired and enhanced operations building at the 27th radio receiver site.
Constructed 15 huge ward floors for the 133rd General Hospital.
Mar
Apr
25th
26th
1945
1945
Angeles, Luzon, Philippines While serving at Clark Field the 857th constructed the east runway.
Reconstructed and maintained a 7 mile stretch of road from Angeles to Porac
Apr
Aug
26th
15th
1945
1945
Manila, Luzon, Philippines 857th served at Nielson Field.
Built comfortable living quarters for General Headquarters(GHQ) personnel, including lighting systems, water and sewer pipelines, showers, latrines, wash basins and side walks.
Cleared area between Nichols Field and Fort Mckinley for construction of some 20 type "C" hutments.
On August 15th 1945 the 857th E.A.B. was inactivated.

Gun Installaion
Preparing an Anti-AirCraft Gun

Credits for Web Pages on the 857th E.A.B.

Harbor Preparations
Unloading Cargo in the Pacific
Thanks to all who contributed to the pages on the 857th E.A.B.   All sketches on these pages were by Lt. Karl R. Rittmann of the 857th while he was stationed in the Pacific theater during WWII.   Assigned as a platoon commander, Lt. Rittmann later also served as the personnel adjutant for the 857th.   The battalion notes on the Tour of Duty table are in large part from the monthly reports submitted by Lt. Rittmann and others for the battalions commanding headquarters.   The dates and sites for the Tour of Duty table came largely from the records of Lt. Robert Goligoski of the 857th E.A.B.   After basic training and Officers Canidate School Lt. Goligoski reported to Eglin Field on November 20th 1942 where he served as an Administrative Officer.   Lt. Goligoski become a platoon commander in March of 1943 and would serve with the 857th throughout the war.   During his service he also filled in as a company commander for 2 months.   Following his military date of separation in 1946 Lt. Goligoski would return to the Midwest, where he would marry, help raise a family, and become a successful businessman.

I have received a couple of emails from sons of 857th veterans.   The quote on Technician Forth Grade Albert Keys was from his son, Albert L. Keys who emailed me about his father and his service with the 857th.   Likewise, Rob Hackney emailed me about his father Lt. Bob Hackney.   Rob sent the image of his father, done during the war, on the previous page.

I have greatly appreciated the correspondence with fighter pilots Carlos Danacher and Rip Collins of the 35th Fighter Group, 40th Fighter Squadron.   The journey of the 857th EAB and 40th FS placed them at many of the same locales during the war including Port Moresby, Nadzab, Noemfoor, and Manila.   Col. Danacher's colorful quote on his experiance with the EAB's gives one a first hand account of their role.   Rip Collins first verified that the P-47 fighter plane on the previous page was from their fighter squadron.   He also shared many of his observations and experiances during the war.   This included seeing the Nagasaki bomb at impact while returning from a bombing escort mission.

The information on Lt. Col Frazier was from the research of art gallery owner Mike Breslin.   Mike talked with Lt. Col Frazier and sent me a summary of the book Frazier wrote about his war experiance called "Saga of Tsili Tsili".   Tsili Tsili, New Guinea was where a critical airdrome and base was planed by Frazier.   The first part of the book is devoted to the training of the 857th at Eglin Field and follows them to New Guinea.   Frazier's account of the 857th EAB ends at Port Moresby, as he was summoned by the brass for his new assignment.   Finally, I would like to thank the Corp of Engineers - Office of History for their help and resources.

- Guy Rittmann -

Related Links
The Army Air Forces in World War II - Aviation Engineers in the War with Japan
Wright Patterson Air Force Museum - Engineer Aviation Battalions
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Office of History
Black units in WWII by Bennie J. McRae

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Site Developer (Guy Rittmann)