The Fighting Seabees

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The Fighting Seabees
Fighting Seabees 1944.jpg
theatrical poster
Directed byEdward Ludwig
Produced byAlbert J. Cohen
Written byBorden Chase
Aeneas MacKenzie
StarringJohn Wayne
Susan Hayward
Music byWalter Scharf
Roy Webb
CinematographyWilliam Bradford
Edited byRichard L. Van Enger
Republic Pictures
Distributed byRepublic Pictures
Release date
  • January 27, 1944 (1944-01-27) (Los Angeles, California)
  • March 10, 1944 (1944-03-10) (United States)
Running time
100 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1.5 million[1]

The Fighting Seabees is a 1944 war film starring John Wayne and Susan Hayward. The picture portrays a heavily fictionalized account of the dilemma that led to the creation of the U.S. Navy's "Seabees" in World War II. The supporting cast includes Dennis O'Keefe and William Frawley, and the movie was directed by Edward Ludwig.


Wedge Donovan (John Wayne) is a tough construction boss, building airstrips in the Pacific for the U.S. Navy during World War II. He clashes with his liaison officer, Lieutenant Commander Robert Yarrow (Dennis O'Keefe), over the fact that his men are not allowed to arm themselves against the Japanese. When the enemy lands in force on the island, he finally takes matters into his own hands, leading his men into the fray. This prevents Yarrow from springing a carefully devised trap that would have wiped out the invaders in a murderous machinegun crossfire, with minimal American losses. Instead, many of Donovan's men are killed unnecessarily.

As a result of this tragedy, Yarrow finally convinces the US Navy to form Construction Battalions (CBs, or the more familiar "Seabees") with Donovan's assistance, despite their mutual romantic interest in war correspondent Constance Chesley (Susan Hayward). Donovan and many of his men enlist and receive formal military training.

The two men are teamed together on yet another island. The Japanese launch a major attack, which the Seabees barely manage to hold off, sometimes using heavy construction machinery such as bulldozers and a clamshell bucket. When word reaches Donovan of another approaching enemy column, there are no sailors left to oppose this new threat. In desperation, he rigs a bulldozer with explosives on its blade, intending to ram it into a petroleum storage tank. The plan works, sending a cascade of burning liquid into the path of the Japanese, who retreat in panic, right into the sights of waiting machine guns. However, Wedge is shot in the process and dies in the explosion.


USN Composite Squadron 68 aerial and rearming sequences, Lt. Raymond Anderson, Flight Leader


The film had the biggest budget in Republic's history, $1.5 million.[2]

The bulk of the outdoor location footage for The Fighting Seabees was filmed on the Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif., widely considered to be the most heavily filmed outdoor filming location in the history of the movies and television. The production took over virtually the entire 500-acre location ranch for a period of time in 1943, constructing extensive sets on both the Upper Iverson and the Lower Iverson. Palm trees were brought in to transform Iverson's rocky Western landscape into a version of the Pacific islands where the movie's action was set. A massive landing strip was constructed on the Upper Iverson to simulate the takeoffs and landings of warplanes, as well as enemy bombing raids on the U.S.-built installation. On other parts of the movie ranch Quonset huts, observation towers, large fuel tanks and other props were built, with the construction process in many cases filmed and featured as part of the movie. Graphic scenes depicting tank battles, sniper attacks and hand-to-hand combat were filmed in the Iverson Gorge, Garden of the Gods and other sections of the movie ranch, in one of the largest productions in the ranch's history.

William Frawley, who later portrayed "Fred Mertz" in the television series I Love Lucy, appears in The Fighting Seabees as Eddie Powers.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Screen News Here and in Hollywood: Republic will make the 'Fighting Seabees,' its most ambitious film, with Navy help; 'Air Force' in 9th week continues at the Hollywood; 'Happy Go Lucky' is among three pictures held over". The New York Times. New York, NY. March 31, 1943. p. 23.
  2. ^ "Rep Budgets Seebees Epic at $1,500,000". Variety. 150 (4): 6. April 7, 1943.

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