by Jack McKillop
With an area of 5,050-square-miles (13,130-square-kilometers), Samar Island (11°56'02"N, 125°02'19"E) is the third-largest island in the Philippines. The island is separated from Leyte Island by the narrow San Juanico Strait which at it narrowest, is only 1.2-miles (2-kilometers) wide.
There are no high mountains or ranges on Samar, but the terrain in general is rugged. Rainfall averages 12-to-15-inches (30-to-38-centimeters) per month, but the local geological structure makes rainfall relatively harmless. The underlying formation of the southeast peninsula and islands is porous coral; the higher ground carries an overburden of reddish clay mixed with coral and varying in depth from 2-to-40 feet (0.6-to-12-meters). Leaching has produced many chimneys, underground caverns, and sinks. Porosity of the coral causes the static water table to rise only slightly above sea level, and inland wells tend to become brackish under sustained pumping.
History during World War II
The Japanese Army occupied Samar with a small garrison on 21 May 1942. By 1944, many of these troops were transferred to the adjacent island of Leyte. Elements of the U.S. Army landed at the narrow point on San Juanico Strait on 24 October 1944 to prevent Japanese troops transferring between the two islands.
Because rain and mud had stopped the Seabees from repairing the Japanese airfield at Dulag, Leyte for the Army, an area was selected for the Navy base on Samar, near the barrio of Basey (11°16'58N, 125°04'10"E), across San Juanico strait from Tacloban, Leyte. Construction forces were moved to the area, but only a few days' work was necessary to show that this site also would not be practical. After a complete reconnaissance of Leyte Gulf area, the southeastern tip of Samar was selected as best suited to the Navy's needs. The location, near the town of Guiuan (11°01'51"N, 125°43'26"E), 45-miles (72-kilometers) from Tacloban, was not ideal. The nearest water for a fleet anchorage was 20-miles (32-kilometers) away, but it was an area that could be developed rapidly, with room for an airfield for the tactical support of the Luzon push, and there was an adequate amount of coral available for surfacing roads, camp areas, and storage areas. Accordingly, most of the Seabee forces in the Tacloban area were moved to Samar in December 1944.
The naval base was located on a peninsula, 3-miles (4.8-kilometes) wide and 11-miles (18-kilometers) long, and on Calicoan Island (10°59'27"N, 125°48'03"E), which is more than 1-mile (1.6-kilometers) wide and 7-miles (11-kilometers) long, and is separated from Samar by 800-feet (244-meters) of shallow water. Guiuan, site of the headquarters for this area, was in the middle of the peninsula on the eastern shore of Leyte Gulf.
The Navy was tasked with building two runways at Guiuan; the first runway was to be finished as soon as possible for the use primarily of USAAF's heavy bombers. This was Guiuan Field (11°02'04"N, 125°44'24E), now Guiuan Airport.
A survey party arrived at Guiuan on 30 November to lay out the site for the airfield. Seabees landed on the next day, and earth moving was started a week later. All work was maintained on a 24-hour basis; 780 operators and gradesmen were assigned to the runway and 184 to equipment maintenance. The first landings by heavy planes were made on 22 December, just 14 days after the start of construction. The men produced 7,000 feet (2,134-meters) of 100-foot (30-meter) runway with 50-foot (15-meter) shoulders, five alert areas, 5,000-feet (1,524-meters) of taxiways, and 50 hardstands, requiring the movement of more than 344,000-yards (315-kilometers) of muck and coral.
Naval Air Base Samar was established on 23 December 1944 to serve as a base for transients, supply depot and patrol base.
On 31 December, the first USAAF fighter squadron was ordered to the field. Surfacing of the strip with yellow coral was finished on 15 January 1945, and on the next day the first USAAF bomber squadron arrived. After its completion, the strip was used principally by Consolidated B-24 Liberators of the USAAF Fifth and Thirteenth Air Forces.
Facilities were provided for overhaul and repair; gasoline storage for 630,000 U.S. gallons (524,585 Imperial gallons or 2.38 megaliters) and administration buildings were included. Constructed for the aviation-supply depot and auxiliary repair and overhaul facilities were housing and messing facilities for 2,000 men. Construction on the airfield was carried on in the face of heavy rain and frequent night air alerts that delayed progress considerably.
Work on the second 7,000-foot (2,134-meter) runway was suspended after 2,000-feet (610-meters) had been completed, but was resumed in May. Excessive coral formations made excavation difficult and required a great deal of blasting. Equipment on this job required an abnormally amount of maintenance and repair. The major accomplishment on the project was excavation through a coral hill for 200-feet (61-meters) which required a maximum cut of approximately 26-feet (7.9-meters). Practically every yard of the hill was solid coral, and shovels could remove only that which was blasted loose. Extensive hardstands, taxiways, and parking aprons completed the field installations.
In August 1945, the following Navy units were based at Naval Air Base Samar:
Commander Aircraft Seventh Fleet,
Two patrol bomber squadrons with Consolidated PBY-5A and -6A Catalinas,
One patrol bomber squadron with Lockheed PV-1 Venturas,
Three utility squadrons, and
Two carrier aircraft support units (CASUs).
An aircraft pool was also established at Guiuan Field and contained 302 fighters, 80 torpedo bombers, 52 scout bombers, 15 observations aircraft and nine patrol bombers in early August.
Headquarters for the naval station was located within the boundaries of Guiuan. Office space was provided by renovating a schoolhouse and various other buildings and by erection of Quonset huts and tents. The same type of structures provided quarters and messing facilities for 5,500 men.
Naval Air Base Samar was decommissioned on 3 June 1947.
A 3,000-bed fleet hospital was constructed about 5-miles (8-kilometers) north of Guiuan. Wards, built in an H-shape, consisted of 311 prefabricated buildings and 14 Quonset huts, with a floor area of 320,000-square-feet (29,729-square-meters). The main messhall, of frame construction, had a capacity of 3,000 men. Construction began in April 1945, and 1,500 beds were ready for occupancy by 2 July. By 8 July, another 500 beds were available, and the entire unit was completed by 15 September.
Northwest of the hospital a small ammunition depot was built. Personnel facilities and a barge pier were included in the work, also about 20-miles of roads leading to, and within, the site.
A seaplane base was built on Jinamoc Island (11°15'42"N, 125°04'43"E) located 5-miles (8.0-kilometers) east of Tacloban, Leyte, in San Pedro Bay. Work was started in December 1944 on the grading for a ramp. When the subgrade was finished, a pontoon barge was floated into position and submerged. The ramp was first used on 14 January 1945, when a scout plane was hauled from the water. When it was decided that the base was to be the permanent one for operations in that area, it was thought that the pontoon ramp would be inadequate, and in May construction was started on a steel and pre-cast concrete ramp. The final installation was 220-feet (67-meters) long. The water surrounding the island was deep enough to be used for runways without the necessity of dredging. Taxiways and hardstands were graded and surfaced. Living facilities for both base and transient personnel were provided in 75 Quonset huts. Construction included a-mile and a half of access roads, a 200-bed dispensary, water supply, and utilities.
In August 1945, a detachment of a patrol bomber squadron equipped with Martin PBM-3D Mariners and a CASU were based here
Tubabao Island (11°02'44"N, 125°42'15"E) a triangular shaped island in Leyte Gulf, lying west of Guiuan and separated from Samar by a narrow strait, was selected as the site for a receiving station. A Quonset city, including messhalls, recreation facilities, and utilities for 10,000 men, was erected. Tubabao was connected to Samar by a timber bridge, 515-feet (157-meters) long and 22-feet (6.7-meters) wide, with a 58-foot (18-meters) clear span in the center of the channel.
A major destroyer repair base and a ship repair unit were built on Manicani Island (10º59'28"N, 125º38'12"E), 8-miles (13-kilometers) west of Guiuan. This project included wharves, berths for several large floating drydocks, administration buildings, shops, water and steam lines, power system, and fire protection system.
Construction of a pier to accommodate vessels of 45-foot (14-meter) draft required 100-lineal-feet (30-lineral-meters) of coral fill and a timber approach, 40-feet (12-meters) wide. A 1,500-by-80-foot (467-by-24-meter) pier was built, using one floating and two skid rigs for driving 3,400 piles, up to 100-feet (30-meter) in length. Many of the piles were spliced. Despite a delay of approximately six weeks due to lack of long piles, the project was completed in four and a half months. A pontoon pier and a jetty for landing ship tanks (LSTs) were constructed in the northwest cove.
Ship-repair facilities were housed in 80 Quonset huts and 150,000-square-feet (13,935-square meters) of large timber trussed structures. When completed, the repair unit had facilities for the repair and maintenance of any ships of the fleet, from battleships to landing craft, mechanized (LCMs). Coincident with this work, 25,000-feet (7,620-meters) of lines were installed for a salt-water fire-protection system, sanitation, fresh water, and steam systems. Numerous power stations, each consisting of approximately two dozen 75-kilowatt generators and all necessary distribution systems, were provided for the entire area. At least six floating drydocks, including the giant sectional Advance Base Section Docks (ABSDs), were brought to Manicani Island.
Water for this activity was obtained from a water shed 0.5-miles (804-meters) wide and 0.75-miles (1,207-meters) long. The water was pumped from the collection point to a water treatment plant having a capacity of 840,000 U.S. gallons (3.18 megaliters) per day.
Personnel housing and messing facilities for 10,000 men were constructed with tents and frame huts. Approximately 150 acres (61 hectares) of swamp land were converted to hard ground to accommodate the construction, 150,000-cubic-yards (114,683-cubic-meters) of the coral being excavated from the bay. Harbor improvement at this activity included the moving of approximately 5 million yards (4.5 million meters) of material by blasting and dredging.
Motor Torpedo (PT) Base 17
at Bobon Point (12º31'41"N, 124º33'52"E) became the biggest and most complete PT base in the world. A small bay on Leyte Gulf provided a harbor for PTs, and auxiliary craft. This base had all the necessary facilities for the overhaul and repair of 25 boats, in addition to administration and operations buildings.
Drydocking for the PT boats was provided by three floating pontoon drydocks, moored to a pontoon pier. Other waterfront development consisted of a loading pier of two 4-by-18-foot (1.2-by-5.5-meter) pontoon strings, a pier for handling torpedoes, and one catwalk pier capable of mooring 30 boats. Large Quonset-type buildings were used to house the torpedo overhaul department, ordnance department, and an engine repair unit. Water for this activity was obtained by damming a stream and storing the water in fifteen U.S. 5,000-gallon (4,163-Imperial gallon or 18,927-liter) wood-stave tanks. Housing was at first provided in tents, but Quonset huts were erected to house 3,000 men. The camp contained supply, dispensary, dental, and recreational facilities.
A tank farm was erected near Bulusao (11°07'45"N, 125°15'39"E), on the southern coast of Samar, 35-miles (56-kilometers) northwest of Guiuan. Initial plans called for the erection of 55 42,000 U.S. gallon (34,972 Imperial gallon or 158,987 liter) oil tanks, but change reduced the number to 31. The Seabees started construction, which included earth moving, piping, erection of a fueling pier, and driving of dolphins, on 12 May 1945. By August, all earth work was finished, piping was 30 per cent complete, and 19 tanks had been erected. Rain and lack of heavy equipment caused considerable delay in the early work.
A ship-watering facility was built on the Bulusao River, near the tank farm. Installations consisted of a pumphouse, 1-mile (1.6-kilomters) of 6-inch (15-centimeter) supply pipelines, a 42,000 U.S. gallon ((34,972 Imperial gallon or 158,987 liter) storage tank, mooring dolphins and catwalk, a personnel camp, and a signal tower and shelter. This activity was placed in operation on 10 February. Water could be supplied to two landing ship tanks (LSTs) and two landing craft infantry (LCIs) daily.
One of the most necessary activities from a construction standpoint was the sawmill at Balangiga (11°06'39"N, 125°23'10"E), east of Bulusao on the south coast of Samar. This mill, operated by 3 officers and 132 enlisted men of the 12th Regiment, aided by 145 civilians, supplied lumber used in the construction of the naval facilities at Leyte Gulf. Lack of heavy equipment and sufficient water transportation handicapped the operations. The first mill was opened in February, and the second in March. The amount of lumber cut increased from 126,000 board-feet of rough lumber sawed in March to 325,000 board-feet of lumber in May.
Wharves for cargo vessels were constructed on the Leyte Gulf side of Calicoan Island (10°44'22"N, 125°42'47"E), rather than in the vicinity of Guiuan, where there were reefs and shallow water. Supply facilities on Calicoan Island were built as near the wharves as possible.
The naval supply depot on Calicoan Island was established to provide for storage and issue of general provisions. It was also to act as a spare parts distribution center for the fleet and the surrounding shore-based activities. Facilities for storage of ship's stores, dry provision, oxygen, acetylene, carbon dioxide, perishable goods, and cement were provided.
Quonset warehouses were built in groups of twelve, the ribs of adjacent buildings overlapping about 1-foot (30-centimeters) to make a warehouse 120-feet (37-meters) wide and 300-feet (91-meters) long. Because of the shortage of cement, it was necessary to finish all except five of the warehouses with coral floors, using concrete for foundations only. Three frame buildings were constructed for sorting and transit sheds, and twenty-four 6,800-cubic-foot (193-cubic-meter) refrigerators were set up.
Work on a 3,600-man camp, which included offices, a 14-bed sick bay, post office, and theater, was started on 18 April 1945. By June, the entire site was cleared of all temporary quarters, and 90 per cent of all grading was complete. By August, all the huts were completed. Two 126,000-U.S. gallon (104,917 Imperial gallon or 436,962 liter) steel tanks, a pumping station, and gathering lines were constructed to collect rainwater.
To handle the cargo shipped into the supply depot, three 500-foot (152-meter) timber piers and one 500-foot (152-meter) pontoon pier for seven cargo ships, and one jetty for five landing craft tanks (LCTs) were constructed.
The total area for the advance base construction depot on Calicoan Island covered 80 acres (32 hectares). Seventy acres (28 hectares) of this area consisted of hard coral with very little top soil and with coral heads projecting 3-to-8-feet (91-to-244-centimeters) higher than general level. The entire plot was covered with thick brush and large trees. Work was started on this project 5 March 1945. The brush and smaller trees could be cleared with bulldozers, but the large trees had to be cut and the stumps dynamited. In order to dynamite the coral heads and to level them with bulldozers, it was necessary to maintain five drilling and shooting crews seven days a week. By the end of April, 30 acres (12 hectares) had been cleared; the project was completed in June.
Sorting and transit sheds, warehouses, and administration buildings were erected. The warehouses consisted of approximately 40 Quonset buildings; the sheds for sorting and transit were of frame construction. These buildings were erected on a platform raised to truck height. A retaining wall was erected to enclose a 4,000-yard (3.7-kilometer) fill on which the concrete floor was laid. The work also included construction of water-supply facilities, fuel storage and distribution facilities, quarters, roads, waterfront developments, floodlighting, and 4,500-feet (1.4-kilometers) of underground power distribution.
Other facilities constructed on Calicoan Island were an automotive and construction equipment parts depot which supplied parts to the entire Philippine area, a pontoon assembly depot, a radio sound pool, and medical and ordnance depots.
Construction of a water-supply system had high priority throughout the work. The Samar water distribution and pumping system was completed in 90 days. All right-of-way clearing for the 12,000-feet (3.7-kilometers) of 12-inch (30-centimeter) water main, running from the hospital area to the filter plant north of Guiuan, was completed in June. Approximately 8,000-feet (2.4-kilometers) of pipe were installed during this period. The entire line was placed in operation in July.
In addition, 20,000-feet (6.1-kilometers) of 12-inch 30-centimeter) line were laid north of the hospital area to Salcedo. The feeder lines [one 6 inches (15-centimeters); the other 8 inches (20-centimeters)] were laid in the Mercedes area with the 8-inch (20-centimeter) line connected to the PT boat well and placed in operation. Access roads for the Salcedo pumping station and the Salcedo River pumping station were well underway by July. By August, the 12-inch (30-centimeter) main from Salcedo to Mercedes had been completed and tied into the water system which supplied the naval station and north Calicoan.
At the Tubabao receiving station, 15,000-feet (4.6-kilometers) of 12-inch (30-centimeter) welded-joint pipe were laid for the Guiuan filtration plant. Of this, 12,000-feet (3.7-kilometers) of pipe were welded together on the Samar shore and floated across the bay, to be eventually sunk and anchored to the bottom of the bay.
Water supply to the Samar boat pool was completed during September 1945, sources being either deep wells or surface water. Erosion at one time so muddied the surface sources that filter facilities were heavily loaded.
Many primary and secondary highways and roads were necessary. Among the primary roads was the Mercedes highway, running north from Guiuan for 20-miles (32-kilometers). Another main road was the Guiuan-Calicoan highway, which stretched from Guiuan, eastward past the airstrip, south across a causeway between Samar and Calicoan, and across Calicoan for 2.5-miles (4.0-kilometers) to the south end of the island.
This continuation of the Calicoan highway involved a considerable amount of blasting, as at least 75 per cent of it had to be blasted through solid coral. Sand excavated in the supply depot area was used by the Seabees for rough grading; well-compacted rolled coral was used for surfacing.
Huge holes in the coral formations, some of them big enough to swallow a large tractor, hampered operations, damaged equipment, and made efficient dynamiting difficult. By August 31, when the project was completed, the 5th Battalion had used a total of 150 tons of dynamite for grading and quarry work.
Access roads for all activities were constructed. All roads were surfaced with coral which made an excellent all-weather road when the Japanese surrendered.