SEABEE Combat Handbook Chapter 16: Evasion, Survival and Escape


Chapter 16: Evasion, Survival and Escape

I have always loved the SEABEEs. From the first time I saw Fighting SEABEEs with John Wayne until I got much older and saw some of their handiwork, I was always impressed with the Naval Construction Battalions. To be able to drive a bulldozer while killing the enemy holding a rifle had to be the manliest thing I can imagine.

My Dad was offered the chance to became one in March of 1945 but according to his letter to his Mother, he was reluctant to do so. I never got a chance to ask him why before he passed away.

Letter from John C. MacPherson to his parents on Friday March 30th 1945

Dear Mom and Pop,

I’m sorry I didn’t write yesterday but I know you understand. We didn’t have much spare time. It’s a little cold this morning. Yesterday it was really hot. We had our interviews yesterday. My first choice is basic engineering and second choice is Motor Machinist Mate. They wanted me to go to gunnery school or Armed Guard. Armed Guard is on Merchant vessels and I didn’t want either one. They wanted me to go to the Sea-Bees but I said no. My chance of going to school are pretty slim but that is better than the sea bees. I’ll probably get stationed on a ship. My ship will be a destroyer. Well, we are ready to go on drilling and gun practice this morning. We had anti-aircraft practice yesterday with a 50 caliber machine gun. You get so many live shots and about twice as many tracer bullets. I did very good. I got about 25 hits out of 50 live shots and 100 tracers. Well, I’m beginning to be a real sailor now. Moser went to sick bay yesterday and isn’t back yet. He has a very sore foot. I’m afraid he’s going to get set back. You are allowed to miss only so many days and you get set back from your company. I saw Kreta twice. He is still restricted to his barracks because he is a skinhead. Well, I’ll try and write this afternoon.

God keep you both safe and happy Mom and Pop.

Your son Butch

Author Note:

Dad ended up as a seaman apprentice and eventually became a Storekeeper striker while he was in the Philippines. I never knew until after he passed away that he was almost a Machinist Mate – a rate that both of his sons served as during their careers as Navy men. Interestingly enough, he became a carpenter by trade when the war ended, even though most of his life was spent selling fire apparatus.

Many years ago, I obtained a copy of the Seabee Combat Handbook to add to my collection of Navy materials. This handbook has everything from the history of the SEABEEs to every basic combat skill a person might need in the case of a war. I keep the book with my survival supplies since it gives a lot of useful information on surviving off the land in the case of something really catastrophic. I have enjoyed reading the manual over the years because in some ways it was an extension of my old Boy Scout Handbook. Except the Boy Scout handbook was not very descriptive on hand grenades, land mines and booby traps. I wonder why?


You can read the whole manual here:


Chapter 16 is a particularly interesting chapter since it deals with internal attitude as much as skills. I was thinking this morning how much the public at large could benefit from the part about S.U.R.V.I V.A.L.

That acronym is how the writers described what a person or team needs to get past a major calamity. From the Manual:


The experience of hundreds of servicemen isolated during World War II, the Korean conflict, and the Vietnam conflict proved that survival is largely a matter of mental outlook. The will to survive is the deciding factor. Whether with a group or alone, you will experience emotional problems resulting from fear, despair, loneliness or boredom. Also your will to live will be taxed by injury and pain, fatigue, hunger and thirst. If you are not prepared mentally to overcome all obstacles and accept the worst, your chances of coming out alive are greatly reduced.


The shock of finding yourself isolated behind the enemy lines, in a desolate area, or in enemy hands can be reduced or even avoided if you remember the meaning of the letters in the keyword S-U-R-V-I-V-A-L (fig. 16-4).

  • S – Size up the situation by considering yourself, the country, and the enemy.

When you think about yourself, hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst. Recall your survival training and expect it to work. After all, you have been through this before — the only difference is that this is the real thing. If you think this way, you will increase your chances for success by being confident that you can survive. Get to a safe, comfortable place as quickly as possible. Once you find a safe place, look things over, think, and form a plan. Your fear will lessen; your confidence will increase. Be calm. Take it easy until you know where you are and where you are going.

Part of your fear may come from being in a strange country; therefore, try to determine where you are by landmarks, compass directions, or by recalling intelligence information passed on to you by your leaders.

When you think about the enemy, put yourself in the enemy’s shoes. What would you do? Watch the enemy’s habits and routines. Base your plan on your observations. Remember, you know where the enemy is, but he does not know where you are.

  • U — Undue haste makes waste.

Don’t be too eager to move. It will make you careless and impatient. You begin to take unnecessary risks, and you might end up like the man who rushed ahead without any plan. He tried to travel at night but only injured himself by bumping into trees and fences. Instead of laying low and trying to evade the enemy, he fired at them with his rifle and was caught. Don’t lose your temper. Loss of self-control may cause you to stop thinking. When something irritating happens, stop. Take a deep breath and relax; start over.

Face the facts — danger does exist. To try to convince yourself otherwise only adds to the danger.

  • R — Remember where you are.

You may give yourself away because you are used to acting in a certain way. Doing “what comes naturally” could be the tip-off that you don’t belong there.

  • V — Vanquish fear and panic.

To feel fear is normal and necessary. It is nature’s way of giving you that extra shot of energy just when you need it. Learn to recognize fear for what it is and control it. Look carefully at a situation and determine if your fear is justified. When you investigate, you will usually find many of your fears unreal.

When you are injured and in pain, controlling fear is difficult. Pain sometimes turns fear into panic and causes a person to act without thinking. Panic can also be caused by loneliness. It can lead to hopelessness, thoughts of suicide, and carelessness — even capture or surrender. Recognition of the effect of fear and its results helps you overcome panic.

  • I — Improvise.

You can always do something to improve the situation. Figure out what you need; take stock of what you have; then improvise. Learn to put up with new and unpleasant conditions. Keeping your mind on SURVIVAL will help. Don’t be afraid to try strange foods.

  • V — Value living.

Conserve your health and strength. Illness or injury will greatly reduce your chance of survival and escape. Hunger, cold, and fatigue lower your efficiency and stamina, make you careless, and increase the possibility of capture. Knowing this will make you especially careful because you will realize that your spirits are low because of your physical condition — not from the danger. Remember your goal — getting out alive. Concentrating on the time after you get out alive will help you value living now.

  • A — Act like the local populace.

“At the railroad station, there were German guards,” one escapee related. “I had an urgent need to urinate. The only rest room was an exposed one in front of the station. I felt too embarrassed to relieve myself in front of all the passersby. I walked throughout the entire town stopping occasionally and inquiring if a rest room was available.” This man was detected and captured because he failed to accept the customs of the locals. When you are in a strange situation, accept and adopt local behavior. In this way, you avoid attracting attention to yourself.

  • L — Learn basic skills.

The best life insurance is to make sure that you learn the techniques and methods of survival so thoroughly that they become automatic. Then the chances are that you will do the right thing, even in panic. Work on the training you are given because it may mean saving your life. Be inquisitive and search on your own for any additional survival knowledge.


You and your entire squad, platoon, or group must make your reactions to survival situations automatic. The best chance for survival belongs to the group that works TOGETHER and has a leader who fulfills his responsibilities to the group. If the group remembers the following factors while evading capture, their return to friendly forces should be successful.

Group survival activities should be organized. Group survival depends largely upon the organization of its manpower. Organized action by group members who know what to do and when to do it, during ordinary circumstances and during a crisis, prevents panic. One technique for achieving organized action is to keep the group well informed. Another is to devise a plan and then stick to it.

Assigning each man a task that fits his personal qualifications most closely is another way of organizing a group. If one man feels he can fish better than he can cook, let him provide the fish. Always determine and use special skills of members of the group.

Panic, confusion, and disorganization are lessened by good leadership. It is the responsibility of the senior member of a group to assume command and establish a chain of command that includes all members of the group. Make certain that each man knows his position in the chain of command and is familiar with the duties of every other man, especially your duties if you are senior. Under no circumstances should leadership of the group be left up to chance acceptance by some member after a situation arises.

If senior, lead your men. Group survival is a test of effective leadership. Maintain respect for your leadership by using it wisely; be the leader, set the example. Watch out constantly to prevent serious arguments. To keep troublemakers from attracting undue attention, to keep those who may “crack up” from disrupting the group, and to prevent carelessness caused by fatigue, hunger, and cold are important parts of your job. Know yourself and your men and be responsible for each individual’s welfare.

Develop a feeling of mutual dependence within the group by stressing that each man depends on the other men for survival. Emphasize that wounded or injured men will not be left behind— that each member’s responsibility is to see that the group returns intact. This attitude fosters high morale and unity. Each member receives support and strength from the others.

No matter what the situation, the leader must make the decisions. Because he needs intelligence upon which to base his decisions, he should ask for information and advice from other members of the group — much as a general uses his staff. Above all else, the leader must, at all times, never appear indecisive.

Situations arise that must be acted upon immediately. The ability to think on your feet usually determines successful survival. Consider the facts and make decisions rapidly.

Looking at all of these tips, I am reminded how many of them apply to our day to day existence in an ever changing world. I know that in business, many of the leadership skills and personal attributes served me well as I navigated through my second career. To be honest, there are a few times when having that mortar or grenade available may have actually been the preferred method to solve some of the issues I encountered. But surviving means you learn to use the tools available and overcome and adapt as needed.

The most important tool of all is the one between your ears.

Mister Mac


3 thoughts on “SEABEE Combat Handbook Chapter 16: Evasion, Survival and Escape

  1. I grew up in Gulfport, Mississippi not too far from the SeaBee base. During Mardi Gras parades, they had a float with a large SeaBee holding the various items in its bee appendages.

  2. Hi Bob, as you know I was in the SEABEES during the Cold War, from 1959 – 1963.  My 1st major deployment was to Scotland in 1961 to help erect the floating dry-dock, AFDB-7 LOS ALAMOS in the Holy Loch, on which you served.  The 2nd major deployment was to Marathon, Greece to erect a 100 tower communication station as part of the worldwide communication system at the time (before satellites) . And, of course, I also had 3 tours at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, getting to see BOB HOPE CHRISTMAS SHOW on the 1st one. 

    I was only issued the Bluejackets Manual, and Steelworker Manuals.   I thank you for your thinking of me and making me aware of this article as I had never heard of the Seabee Combat Handbook until until receiving your  email.

    I’ve  found on a Navy website the following:         (not checked it our yet)

    To download or print the Seabee Combat Handbook, volumes one and two (NAVEDTRA 14234A/14235A), visit After entering the NRTC site, click on the Student Services tab and then the Course Registration tab to the left of the page. In the Search for course block, enter Seabee Combat Handbook to be taken to listings for volumes one and two. Click on the course title and the .pdf files are available on the right side of the page. Each volume is listed separately.

    Thanks My FRIEND, and may God Bless & protect you and your family.

    Norman Rachels

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