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The Fighting Seabees

theatrical poster
Directed by Edward Ludwig
Produced by Albert J. Cohen
Written by Borden Chase
Aeneas MacKenzie
Starring John Wayne
Susan Hayward
Dennis O'Keefe
Music by Walter Scharf
Roy Webb
Cinematography William Bradford
Editing by Richard Van Enger
Distributed by Republic Pictures
Release date(s) March 10, 1944
Running time 100 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Fighting Seabees is a 1944 war film starring John Wayne, Dennis O'Keefe and Susan Hayward. It portrays a heavily fictionalized account of the dilemma that led to the creation of the U.S. Navy's "Seabees" in World War II.



Wedge Donovan (John Wayne) is a tough construction boss, building airstrips in the Pacific for the US 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. Unfortunately, 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, but Donovan is killed by a sniper before he can jump off the bulldozer.


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