The WWII 300th Combat Engineers

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Engineers of the 82nd Battalion Division clear road block felled by Nazis attempting to hamper attack on Herresback

What They Did

German tank damaged in the Battle of the Bulge
Sgt. Randy Hanes stands next to a German tank damaged in the Battle of the Bulge Photo: Randy Hanes

Building & Removing Obstacles

The Germans left behind many different kinds of obstacles on the roads, bridges and in the fields. The combat engineers were kept busy removing these obstacles to clear or reconnect supply lines critical to the advancing liberation forces.

WWII provided an array of equipment and methods to combat enemy-made obstructions. The tank dozer, for one, could clear almost anything. Using a medium Sherman tank, a heavy duty bulldozer blade was attached to the front. This not only facilitated the clearing of obstacles and dangerous mines and explosives but provided a means for combat engineers to repair roads while under fire. The tank dozer excelled at clearing invasion beach obstacles.

General Eisenhower thought highly of them and said: "Some imaginative and sensible man on the home front, hearing of this difficulty, solved the problem by merely converting a number of Sherman tanks into bulldozers. These tanks were impervious to all types of small arms fire... from that time on our engineering detachments on the front lines began to enjoy a degree of safety that actually led them to seek this kind of adventurous work. None of us could identify the individual responsible for developing this piece of equipment but had he been present he would have, by acclamation, received all the medals we could have pinned on him."

The 300th removed a pillbox (a small concrete emplacement for machine guns and anti-tank weapons) near Osmanville, France; removed road blocks in the vicinity of Emdenau and punched a hole through the famous Siegfried Line on Germany's frontier. The Siegfried Line was a German defense system stretching more than 392 miles with more than 18,000 bunkers, tunnels and tank traps. It went from Kleve on the border of the Netherlands along the western border of the old German Empire to the border of Switzerland.

There were not many examples of American combat engineers building obstacles because once D-Day had begun the First Army was on the offensive with the only major exception being the Battle of the Bulge; and that was only temporary. The engineers arrived in Europe with full training and skill to build field fortifications. They could build one-man prone shelters, modified shell holes, fox holes (open, shallow and standing type), .30 caliber machine gun emplacements and 37 mm antitank emplacements. They could set up as many miles of barbed wire fences as they cut through. Combat engineers were trained specialists of camouflaging techniques; using natural components or building a garnished net to cover trucks, camps and emplacements.

Removing German Tanks by Sgt. Randy Hanes

The biggest tank battle between the Germans and Americans was at St. Vith during the Ardennes campaign. The Germans had the Mark IV and Mark V Panthers and a few Mark VI Tiger Tanks. They were all superior to our Sherman and Grant tanks. Our tanks were faster and more maneuverable but their fire-power was superior. Even so, many German tanks were destroyed or disabled and blocked the roads. The main roads were so glazed over with ice and treacherous to travel on, especially for tracked vehicles. It was absolutely necessary to keep the main routes open for our offense and defense. Under desirable conditions, our D-8 CATS would just muscle the crippled vehicles off the road but the ice-rink conditions afforded no traction for the dozers' steel track treads.

Here is what we did. All of our 2½ ton trucks had a powerful winch on the front. We would back the truck across the road, lash the trailer-hitch to the nearest tree with 1" hemp hawsers with about six loops around the tree and then hitch it. We would run the steel cable from the winch, across the road, and above the stricken tank, lash it to a pulley as high as we could on the nearest tree. The higher the pulley the greater the lift. We would run the cable through the pulley, take it over the tank, and down as low as we could to the track or chassis. The tanks, being so heavy, made it impossible to drag so we had to lift it on its side, get it high enough to topple on its own. Sometimes, depending on the slope of the shoulder, they would roll completely over with "tracks to the sky." The most hazardous part was that if a cable snapped it could kill several people standing too close.