Malariology Units in the Navy

(Published: May, 2008, Volume 8, Number 2, Issue #25) (Table Of Contents)
(Author: Kelly Horn)

In addition to the malaria work conducted by the US Army during WW II, there were Navy malaria units (Figure 1). The book Skeeter Beaters (Cline and Michel, 2002) discusses the work of Malaria Control Unit (MCU) Cactus, which was attached to the 1st Marine Division that landed on Efate and Guadalcanal.

A member of MCU Cactus was Ensign Kenneth Knight, the first Navy entomologist to work in a combat zone.2 Later, Dr Knight became the head of the entomology department at North Carolina State University, a position he held while I was a graduate student there. Unfortunately, my interest in malaria covers began long after graduate school and I never got to talk with Dr Knight about his work during WW II.

The Navy malaria control unit consisted of 1 officer, an entomologist, and from 3 to 5 enlisted men. The Navy malariology teams were often broken up and assigned to Army-Navy or all Navy groups to meet the needs of a particular situation, whereas the Army units were assigned intact.

Navy_malariology unit #87

Figure 1. From Ens(ign) J. P. Secrest of Malariology Unit #87 illustrating a cover from a Navy malaria control unit. NAB=Naval Amphibious Base

Each Marine division was provided with a larger navy malaria control team (called an epidemiology unit) of 3 officers (a malariologist, an entomologist, and a parasitologist) and 12 enlisted men,3 which was just like the Army malaria control units. By 1944, there were 122 epidemiology units and by the end of the war there were approximately 150 units with 900 personnel and 200 entomologists. The V-mail in Figure 2 discusses more men in a malaria group, which indicates that the soldier, Doug Dunbar (PhM 3/c), was working in an epidemiology unit.

V-mail_malariology#116_6th Marine Div

Figure 2. V-mail from D. M. Dunbar, Malariology Team #116, 6th Med(ical) Ba(ttalion), 6th Marine Div(ision) describing his arrival in the South Pacific.

Dunbar writes, "Malaria is well under control but there is always maintenance and extension of the control to be done…. We have a 12-man team plus 4 officers, 4 of the men are epidemiologists & 8 are malaria men. It makes an ideal setup and the government sure does a swell job in equip(p)ing us. Everything under the sun."

Dunbar's equipment was probably better designed than what appears in the photo from May 1943 (Figure 3), which shows malaria unit personnel with a sprayer attached to the jeep. The idea of covering up while dispensing the chemical, which could have been DDT, apparently was not enforced.

Malaria control_jeep_sprayer_Guadalcanal

Figure 3. Marine "peep" mounted sprayer used to spray oil or insecticide on mosquito breeding areas. A small gasoline compressor powered the 15-gallon sprayer. Photo was taken on Guadalcanal, 25 May 1943.

The cover from Lt Graham to Professor Carl Drake (Figure 4) has a very indirect tie to me because Dr Drake was the world's authority on lace bugs, the family of insects that I studied all through my graduate school career.

Malariology Unit 54

Figure 4. From Lt(jg) Lewis T. Graham, Malariology Unit 54 to entomology professor Dr Carl Drake. NOB=Naval Operating Base

  1. Cline D, Michel B. Skeeter beaters. Memories of the South Pacific 1941-1945. DeForest Press, Elk River (MN). 2002

  2. History of Navy Entomology. Armed Forces Pest Management Board.
    [cited 2008 May 05]

  3. Coates JB, ed. Preventive medicine in World War II. Volume VI. Communicable diseases. Malaria. Office of the Surgeon General. Medical Department, United States Army. Washington, DC. 1963.