The WWII 300th Combat Engineers

repairing a piling
Sgt. Thomas Rents (left), PFC Lynn Frilanbon (center) and Cpl Edward Celestine (right) of the 300th Engineers repair the under piling of a bridge destroyed by enemy fire along the Carentan - Cherbourg Road in France - June 30, 1944.

What They Did

working on a bridge
Bridge construction

What It Means to be an Engineer

You are an engineer. You are going to build bridges and blow them up. You are going to stop tanks and destroy them. You are going to build roads, airfield, and buildings. You are going to construct fortifications. You are going to fight with many kinds of weapons. You are going to make sure that our own troops move ahead against all opposition, and you are going to see to it that enemy obstacles do not interfere with our advance. You are an engineer.

You and Your Job

You have been chosen to be trained to do a man-sized job for the Army and for your country. To do it well you must keep your eyes and ears open, your mind alert, and be in top-notch condition. You must become physically tough and an expert at your job. Whether or not our Army succeeds depends a lot on how much better you are at your job than the enemy engineer is at his.

That's a large order. The Army knows it is: but the Army also knows that if you give the best that is in you, you will do the job well. You will build, tear down, and fight better than any other soldier in the world. You will be an American engineer.

- Engineer Soldier's Handbook, 1943

What They Did describes the variety and complexity of the tasks the 300th performed in Europe. The U.S. military mission in WWII depended on, more than any other time in history, the efforts of combat engineers. Tanks, artillery and infantry were only as mobile as the roads they traveled on, the bridges they crossed and the obstacles they overcame. The 300th Engineers themselves performed a variety of tasks. Building bridges and maintaining roads were their specialty but they also operated gravel pits and saw mills, constructed overpasses and roundabouts, repaired buildings, cleared debris from combat and bombings and removed wrecked (German) tanks from roads along with snow and ice. The historic race to the Rhine River in World War II pitted the might and wits of German and American/Allied engineers against each other. While German engineers were frantically blowing or rigging charges on bridges over the Rhine, Allied engineering battalions, like the 300th, were busy preparing to build makeshift bridges, make repairs or defuse set charges. Combat engineers in WWII may have been the most highly and diversely trained as any U.S. troops. They prided themselves on their ability to build or fix anything anywhere using what was readily available to them.

battalion diagram