The WWII 300th Combat Engineers

T1E3 Mine Exploder
Mine exploder, T1E3

What They Did

Sweeping for mines
Sweeping for mines

Laying & Clearing Mine Fields

One of the most dangerous missions performed by the 300th was clearing mine fields left by the Germans and laying minefields to protect Allied troops. The deadly task of laying and clearing mines fell on both the individual infantryman and in greater scale, on the combat engineers.

By February 1942, the Army was ready to produce a "small but important piece of equipment, the SCR-625 mine detector." The detector was composed of a six-foot exploring rod attached to a pie-shaped search coil mounted under a wooden disk 18 inches in diameter. Strapped to the operator were dry cell batteries that "induced a magnetic field around the search plate and amplifier... the resonator was attached to the operator's shoulder." The SCR-625 detected metallic mines six to twelve inches underground and were infinitely more effective and safer than probing with bayonets and surpassed the effectiveness of the "Scorpions" - flailing chains attached to drums that were pushed by the tanks.

For engineers under fire, the SCR-625H contained a shorter probing arm. It was actually attached to the arm for exploration while prone or kneeling. The SCR-625H was designed so that the engineer could feel for trip-wires with one hand while sweeping for mines with the other. This advanced tool was not always effective. North Africa, where it was first tested, contained fairly pure sand and soil. Europe's soil, as in Italy, was ore rich and filled with shrapnel and debris, often confusing the detectors and necessitating "keen eyesight and bayonets."

Another common means to eliminate mines was the use of the Bangalore torpedo, an explosive-filled tube that was pushed into a minefield and then exploded, creating a safe path through a minefield. Tank dozers were also used to clear mines. They could scoop them up without detonation and dispose of them in safe areas.

Just after they landed in Normandy, the 300th laid a three mile stretch of deliberately camouflaged mines between the 101st Airborne Division and the enemy lines. They also cleared mines in the vicinity of St. Lo and Villers - Fossarel. Once inside Germany, elements of the 300th attached to the 14th Armored Division cleared mines in the Emdenau area.

Sergeant Randy Hanes, a veteran of the 300th, Co. C, at times had the responsibility for plotting and laying mine fields. He provided the following detailed description of how they laid mine fields in Normandy shortly after D-Day and how to deactivate them.

There are two kinds of mines, deliberate and hasty. Hasty is laying them down, pulling the pin and running like hell. Hasty are used when you are retreating and you want to slow down or stop the tanks or whatever is chasing you. So, they are above ground but you have pulled the pin so they are active.

A deliberate mine field is one that is camouflaged and it's much involved. You start with a grid. We made our grids with cloth tape on a reel. The tape is measured along the way so you know how many feet you have laid out. You have to have a set pattern. If you had a pattern running like rows in a flower garden, they would just straddle them. So you have to have an interlocking, criss-crossing grid pattern. I was the gridder that plotted the mine field.

Then the mine laying men came in. A mine goes wherever the grid tape crosses. The men then come out with a mine. You can kick them or bounce them as long as the firing pin is in it - the safety pin. A mine weighs about five pounds. You take the mine and lay it on that spot and take out your bayonet or ditching spade to cut the sod around the mine.

You move the mine out of the way and take your bayonet or spade to go underneath the sod making a nice little grass pie. This is set aside on the grass. Then you take a burlap bag and dig enough dirt out of the hole putting the dirt in the bag so you do not leave evidence that there are mines there. The proper depth is about 4½ inches. Next you set the mine in the hole you just scooped out. You need to make sure it can't move around in the hole. A butterfly or tripper ring pivots on the firing cap in the center post. The mine is set with TNT below so this ring, anywhere it is touched, will activate it if the pin's out.

Now comes the difficult part. You slide that pin out, the safety pin and you put it in your pocket - you don't want to leave it lying around. The most dangerous thing now is to put the sod back on top of that tripper and then kind of squeeze the grass together to cover up any cut edges that would give away the mine location. It's scary damn business! The last thing you do is take up the tape and you can't tell it's a mine field.

It took about a day and a half to lay the mines at Carentan, about 7,000 of them. It takes about four minutes to lay one mine. It's serious business and another thing to add to the spooky part was when we started the mine field at midnight so we had nothing to go by except the moon until daybreak and then we could pick up speed.

When you deactivate a mine field, the engineers give you a map of the grid. The General Service engineers did the deactivation of the mines. You start on one end at a corner. You have the tape that tells you it is so many feet apart in each direction.

When you have the location, you probe with your bayonet at an angle and you carefully go until you meet something. You move around and locate the width of the mine and start carefully, with the bayonet, to get underneath it. No downward pressure and then carefully lift the sod off. Gently, lift it off and set it aside. You take the pins that originally were pulled out to activate it and horizontally slide that pin back in. Now you can stomp on it. That's when you start breathing. It's faster to deactivate a mine but just as deadly as laying the mine field. Either way, it ain't no fun!