The WWII 300th Combat Engineers

Many of the 300th were experienced divers

What They Did

Removal of a Bailey Bridge
Removal of a Class 40, 120 foot double, single Bailey Bridge over the Roer River at Zerkall, Germany, 4 March 1945. Note men moving explosives on the bridge near the center of the photograph. The bridge was built by 51st Engineer Combat Battalion on 28 February 1945. The removal of the bridge was completed by 300th Engineer Combat Battalion on 5 March 1945. Photo: Riel Crandall


Some of the engineers were trained in explosives that were used in demolishing structures such as bridges which might later be used by the enemy. The explosives also were used to remove obstacles placed by the Germans. For the 300th Engineers, demolition was not their primary mission but they were trained in demolition techniques. They used that training and explosives to accomplish many of their missions. In the Battle of the Bulge, the 300th blew up bridges to delay the German advance. In some cases, they built the replacement bridges for bridges they had already blown up.

Another use of explosives was in providing water for troops and civilians. They used explosives to blow a deep hole in a small stream that created a sump and enabled them to pump to the nearby water purification station they had set up. The 300th Engineers also used explosives to blow up defensive obstacles placed by the Germans that included barbed wire entanglements, felled trees, disabled equipment and whatever else the Germans improvised to slow down Allied advances.

Explosives were used to remove the German pillboxes. The 300th enlisted rifle-grenades, bazookas and machine guns chipping away at the gun ports to silence the pillbox defenders. Once the pillbox was not returning fire, the 300th stacked TNT against the steel door of the pillbox and blew it open. Once inside, they detonated any remaining gun power with their explosives so the guns could not be used again.

So crucial is this aspect of engineering that the Basic Field Manual of June, 1943 states specifically that "Demolitions are usually ordered at critical times; and the failure of a single demolition could cost the lives of hundreds of men. YOU MUST NOT FAIL." According to US Army Corps of Engineers historian, Dr. Larry Roberts, engineers used "TNT, Composition C, Composition C-2, and regular dynamite. On occasion, engineer units would use captured enemy explosives... "

Men of the 300th performed a wide range of demolitions according to Randy Hanes, veteran of the 300th:

We used explosives many times: blowing bridges in the Bulge, blowing deep holes in small streams, forming a sump, to pump water for our Water Purification Stations and blowing defensive obstacles put up by the Germans, such as barbed-wire entanglements. Pillboxes were not "removed", we just blew the hell out of them, and we used rifle grenades to chip away at gun ports, also bazookas and machine guns. After silencing the defenders we stacked much TNT at the steel doors [and] blew them open.

Engineers prepare explosives for demolition
Engineers prepare explosives for demolition, possibly for the tower in the photos that follow. Photo: Riel Crandall
Tower prepared for demolition
Tower prepared for demolition during reconstruction in Germany after V-E Day. Photo: Riel Crandall
Tower is ready to be blown
Tower is ready to be blown. Note the explosive charges at the lower part of the tower. Photo: Riel Crandall
Tower is gone
Tower is gone. Photo: Riel Crandall