The WWII 300th Combat Engineers

Captured Germans in a 6x6 truck
Captured Germans in a U.S. 6x6 truck

History of the 300th Combat Engineers, 1943 to 1945

Main River just outside of Munich

Ruhr Pocket

When: March 22 to April 18, 1945

Where: Battalion in the Ruhr Pocket in Germany where thousands of Germans were surrounded by Allied forces. Units of the battalion moved to several cities in the region.

Troop Movements:

  • March 22- BNHQ to Rheinbreitbach
  • March 24- Co A to Bruchhausen
  • March 28- Co A to Bellhausen, Co C to Stockhausen
  • March 29- BNHQ to Leidenhofen, Co A to Grosseelheim, Co C to Tries
  • March 30- BNHQ and Co A to Frankenau, Co B to Emdenan
  • March 31- Co C to Geicmae
  • April 1- BNHQ to Schonstadt, Co A to Keddenhan, Co B to Betzibdart, Co C to Burgeln
  • April 4- BNHQ to Sompler, Co A to Sachsenburg, Co B to Samplar, Co C to Munden
  • April 7- BNHQ go Hallenburg, Co C to Roddenau
  • April 8- Co B to Zuscpen
  • April 10- BNHQ to Medebach, Co A to Korhach, Co B to Oberohledorf, Co C to Munden
  • April 12- BN to Bremke
  • April 13- Co A to Lansenhalthansen, Co C to Balve
  • April 14- BNHQ and Co A to Balve, Co B to Allendorf
  • April 16- Co A to Marday
  • April 18- BNHQ, Co B, and Co C to Bremke

The Ruhr Pocket was a large area in Germany where retreating German troops from the Bulge regrouped in almost total defeat.

Ruhr Pocket
An 88 shell hits Co. A-11. Ruhr Pocket, Germany, April 1945. Photo: Albert Stein
The area was in western Germany, north of the Bulge and east of the Rhine River. By early 1945, the Allies had control of the area and essentially had the Ruhr Pocket surrounded. By the end of the battles in the Ruhr Pocket, German prisoners numbered 317,000 and the Americans could only accommodate them with barbed wire enclosures in open fields.

300th under attack in the Ruhr Pocket
300th under attack in the Ruhr Pocket. Photo: Willie Hein
The 300th supported the First and Third Armies in the area of the Ruhr Pocket through March and April 1945 before moving south toward Frankfurt with the goal of reaching Munich. Germans were surrendering in huge numbers. The 300th performed a wide variety of tasks including: capturing prisoners at many locations, operating water points, removing road blocks, maintaining roads, clearing mines, guarding bridges, building a bridge at Menden, Germany over the Honne River and setting up makeshift enclosures for prisoners. Much of their time was considered downtime as 25 of their trucks were being used to transport tens of thousands of German prisoners.


Ben L. White remembers Kilroy:

Ben WhiteAnywhere you went or how quick you got there Kilroy had already been there. We really didn't know anything about it but it was everywhere. After we took Paris I don't care what building you went into Kilroy had done been there. When we got into Germany after the Battle of the Bulge we still saw a Kilroy everywhere. We always thought the Germans had picked it up during the Battle of the Bulge and when they would pull out of a town in Germany they would leave this sign on all the buildings in restrooms and everywhere it was "Kilroy was here." And it was always with the little face that went with it.


This letter from Sgt. Donald Ross from Germany written on April 2, 1945 was sent after the Battle of the Bulge and the retreat and surrender of Germans in the Ruhr Pocket, Germany. (Postmark from envelope that bled through to letter shows arrival in Springfield, MA April 30, 1945.)

Donald RossDear Mom -

A few lines your way tonight while I feel in the mood & have the time, both at the same moment. How are you all back there, I sure hope you are all in good health & getting along O.K.? By the way, how is the financial situation back there? My pay is all taken up now with this Class B allotment (we received notice of it last month) starting up but I have about 10 bucks left & with a few I make in a card game once in a while, I can send it along if you need it. There is absolutely no use for money here, except to buy a few PX Rations once in a while (where they catch up with us) & the ever present dice & card games. For other stuff we need, the Army supplies it or we "requisition" it from the Germans. There is a small box of stuff going your way now, not much, just a few things I have picked up in my frequent travels, a few things mean a lot to me, especially those two flags. Now I am hunting for a German flag to complete the set.

At the moment the guys & I are pumping a bit of water & things are rather slow now, we've got a chance to rest up a bit, now & then, & get cleaned up, in fact, this afternoon I had a nice sponge bath, & clean clothes on & I feel pretty good now, had a good night's sleep last night, Scoop & Kal got up & started things rolling & later on when I got up, the C.O. was out here to pay us off. We've taken over a civilian house to live in (just tell the people to move out), we got electric lights & a radio, its warm & dry, & although it may only be a short spell before we hit the pace of the last couple of weeks, or three, or four - it all seems like a nightmare, & no matter how short our stay is here it is most welcome to all of us.

About news over here, I can't say much, but most of it is in the papers & on the radio - However here's one little thing that I think will pass an O.K. & that is that all the boys won't put money on the fact that this fracas over here will last much longer. We hope to roll out some morning & find everything quiet & peaceful.

Things on the mail situation are kind of messed up again, & it finally caught us this morning, I got 4 letters & a package. This is the first letter I've wrote in a month, I guess, but while I have the time I think I shall write quite a few tonight. I had a letter from Alec quite some time ago but haven't heard from him lately.

When you send any more packages, leave out the clothing (except for a few handkerchiefs) & all smoking materials as I have plenty on hand & plenty available. I think I'll start eating on the latest package. I received Granny's package the other day just as I was leaving camp again.

Reconstruction detail
300th on reconstruction detail in Germany. Photo: Jimmie Lee

Well, Mom, keep things moving & maybe we'll manage to make the grade one of these days & see "Miss Liberty" again. The further on we go the quicker it will be. How are the animals, these days - we've got a little dog - Chubby - brown & white & a bit of black - he's a cute little devil, belongs to the guards that go with the unit all the time now.

Signing off now, going to get a bite to eat. Bye & give the family my love. Tell Jimmie E [Egan] to let me know how things are going at the Local [the plumbers union back home of which he was a member before enlisting in the Army].

Love, Don

P.S. Received your pictures today, also, in my pocket now. D.

Cowboy Morris talks about a "happy" front in Germany:

Someone in Co. A-31 killed the Kaiser's buck
Someone in Co. A-31 killed the Kaiser's buck. Ruhr Pocket, Germany, April 1945. Photo: Albert Stein

Kenneth MorrisThis town of Marburg, it had a big, big warehouse. We saw them people [local Germans] coming out of there. One guy had a bicycle and shoes tied [to the bicycle] so you couldn't see the bicycle. They were raiding this warehouse - clothes, shoes and everything. So we got in there and found where all the liquor was stored. The company commander said, "You take the truck and load it full of those cases. Whatever you think you can drink." We had a happy front there for a while. One [German] plane came over strafing around there and old Swartz [commanding officer] was shooting at the plane with a .45 pistol! So you think he wasn't drunk?!

The following is from the Journal of Dale Williams as he traveled through Germany toward the end of the war:

Dale WilliamsLicktenbuch (Feb. 10th)
The border, one foot in Germany another in Belgium.

Roentgen (Feb 24)
In the passing I find that I should have seen Charles H. Benson had he been in resting.

Abendeen
A big fire and what a night, but funny later.

Euskirchen
This was a real set up but the war moved out and Army headquarters takes over.

Berkem (March 10)
The barn where I sleep was for me the first few nights, and then the war turns and comes to the old guy, and I go to his house and he takes the barn.

Rheinbrictback (Mar. 24)
a very nice set up complete with Lookout and all. Found more electric wire the and I knew what to do with.

The most fun overseas was following the Seventh Armored, as more excitement than we had seen in months. However, before we crossed the Rhine we were Ninth Armored so we played a part in the famous Remagen Bridge, so we did not have to put up a Bailey but only take off and roll - we did.

We were in Bremke on 14 April after the pocket was over we had already been up in the vicinity of Kassel and had finished our part of the pocket so we think we get a rest and we do. We go to the Third Army and I almost get in the vicinity of Stephen Bader the first move.

While following Beder's outfit, which was the 14th armored, we had quite a few experiences and one was a bridge that the "C" Company put across the Izar River. This bridge had lots of brass watch its construction and one was Gen. Bradley himself.

The most excited I have been was when I put up a water point because I happened to be the only one around and that night we were attacked by ten Jerries and it so happened I went to bed with my clothes on so I came out of bed firing and I would say I really warmed ole Betsy up as I put through quite a few rounds in a hurry because I did not know what was to follow. Anyway, the next morning comes after sitting out the sham battle in open field as I lay there all night waiting for morning. We find that apparently all were wounded as there was lots of blood and we had evidence that one did not get away.

George Garrison and the school kids:

George GarrisonThere was a little town after we crossed the river and it was pretty well torn up. The first building you came to at the edge of town was a school building. You could tell it was an elementary school. They had grenades there and all of the things you would fight a war with they had in that classroom. These kids were eight or ten years old. I couldn't believe that they would teach these kids this young about war. This was the same thing they taught us in basic training. There were two or three kids around all these things and one said in English, "Yes, I know what they are -- they use these to teach us in school. I said, "Where did you learn to speak English?" He said, "They taught us in school. They taught us English because you were coming over to help us run our country."

George Garrison returns to France:

We went on back to France. We were going and there was a T in the road and we had to turn right to go west back to France. There were four trucks of us and we had a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on the back of the truck that I was on. We were the main supply trucks to haul explosives. There were three people on my truck. I was the assistant driver on it and James Murphy from Tyler, Texas was the regular driver and Robert Speer kept up all the equipment in the back and was the assistant machine gunner. We were the fourth truck and the only one to have a .50 caliber machine gun. When we went to turn on that road there was a German Tiger Tank up there not far up the road. When he saw us he swung around that turret and pointed it at our truck. Why he didn't shoot I still wonder. We drove off and he never did a thing. We got into France and it was night and we went up to the Replacement Depot. We went up to the door and they stopped us and wanted the password. We were nasty and dirty and unshaven so we understood why they would ask.

We were cleaning up towns in the Pocket. We would go into the town and asked for the Burgermeister who was the mayor. So he would come out and we would tell him to tell everyone in town if they had any weapons that they bring them and turn them in. And they would do that. And if there were any soldiers or anyone connected with the military, we gave them a white flag and showed them the road west until they got to where they were taken care of as prisoner. We would stay in the basements. I never will forget the first one and there were three or four of us that stayed in the basement. The fellow had six 100 pounds sacks of sugar in the basement. It was beet sugar but it was sugar. They would just as nice as they could be to us.

Ben L. White talks about the nurse and the cane during his time in the Rhur Pocket:

We were down there in that Pocket in Germany and we were cleaning up after the Germans had left. We were on a bridge and I think we were attached to the 299th infantry division. This car came down the road and this old boy was on guard at the bridge and the car didn't stop so he pulled his pistol out and shot through the back of the car and he hit the driver in the neck. The car went off the road and come to find out the driver was a woman nurse. We got up to her and got her out of the car and she told us that she was a German nurse. She was bleeding a little bit and we took her up to this house that had a light in it. So we got the medic there and he got the bleeding stopped and doctored her up pretty good. And we made her take her clothes off to prove to us that she was a woman nurse. I guess that if someone did that today in the Army they would probably get court-martialed.

Later on when we were up in Germany there was this pretty nice house and I got talking to this old guy that lived in the house. He could talk very good English and he was interesting to talk to because he knew all about Hitler and everything else. His family owned a gun factory and in World War I. The factory made guns for the Army. When Hitler took over he took over the gun factory to make guns again for the German army. He didn't think much of Hitler. He was a really nice fellow and I really liked to listen to him tell his stories about things that happened over there. He always had this walking cane. So one day we was sitting at the table and drinking a little bit and he laid that cane up on the table. He said he had it quite a while and he asked me if I wanted to look at it. So I did look at it and it was was a little bit heavy but as far as I could tell it was nothing but a walking cane. Before Hitler took over some of the men in the gun factory made it for him. And so he started fooling with it and he took it apart and it was a gun. As much stuff as I stole over there I just could not that away from him. I told him that I wanted it pretty bad. So he said, "You seem like a pretty nice boy." So I said to him, "Don't you ever show that to anybody because they would knock you in the head and take it away from you just to have it as a souvenir." I said I would like to have it myself but I probably couldn't get back to the states with it. He was a real nice person.

Ben L. White recalls Capt, Swartz:

Swartz [Capt. Carlyle Swartz] got drunk in Germany about the time the war was over. He got a Jeep with a machine gun on it and we were in this little old village there in Germany. I don't remember who the driver was it might've been that loudmouth Morris from East Texas. The old boy we called "Cowboy." So Swartz had that machine gun and he was shooting into the buildings up pretty high. He drove through the street shooting down one side then turned around and come back and shoot up the other side. The civilians they were kind of scared. So I said, "Captain, you don't want to kill those Germans this wasn't their fault. I know you can talk German and I know you can tell them in German what it's all about." So he started telling them it was not their fault. They transferred him out of A Company and that's when Lt. Taylor took over A Company. And I don't know where Swartz went to but he stayed in the service and retired out of the military.

And speaking of Swartz he almost got himself shot. We had this old boy in our company and we called him Lum because he sounded like Lum on the radio show Lum and Abner. He was a cook. He and Capt. Swartz got into it and they were both drunk and Lum was going to kill him. And he probably would have if someone had not hit the barrel of the gun and it missed him. So he was sent out for a general court-martial and that is the highest court-martial that you can get. And so a few weeks after that here come old Lum up the road with his full field backpack and everything. So I went over there and I said, "What in the world happened?" So he said, "They give me a general court-martial." And I said, "You are back in the company?" He said, "Yeah," he kind of laughed and he said, "One day they just lined us up and this old general come up and asked us what we were court-martialed for and he came up to me and he wanted to know what I was charged with. I told him I tried to shoot the Captain." And so the general said, "Send him back to his outfit." And so he got his stuff and he went back to A company. But he said he could never be promoted, he would be a private forever and would be confined to hard labor, I think he said, but that really didn't mean anything. And that's just something that the army does.

Ben L. White remembers German experiences:

I have to admit that when we were in Germany we liberated some things and we even stole some cars once we got in Germany. And there was this vest and it was a really nice sheep-lined vest and it fit me real good. I guess I liberated that from someone over there. I stole a car and we fixed it up but we were riding around. And so we met this Air Force lieutenant and some of his guys and when I wasn't looking they took the vest. So then I said, "That's my vest," and he said, "Okay I'll give it back" and I laughed and said, "No that's okay because I stole it anyway." So I asked the lieutenant where they were going and he said that they were trying to get to Paris. So I said "Since you stole my vest I'll just give you this car and it has some gasoline that will get you to Paris."

I also remember that there was this place that had all these horses. They were all white horses and I just had to stay there and see them. Me and some of the other boys played around with the horses. There were a lot of them. I don't know how many he had but they were very high-priced horses.

I remember seeing those German prisoners, SS troopers they called them. I don't remember how many of them there were but there will quite a few of them. I tell you what they would just look at you and I was afraid of them. I was always afraid that they will going to run up and grab a hand grenade and blow themselves up and kill whoever was around them. They just looked at us like they hated our guts which I guess they did really. We had to keep them for two or three days there and I was afraid of them.

Ben L. White and the German Gals:

And when we were in Germany in the pocket we had taken this town and there was some really good looking gals in that town. And I was talking to one of them who could talk good English and she was blonde haired and green eyed and stacked up real good. And she told us how the German soldiers came in there and they would breed them and they would have kids for Hitler. She said that she had three kids. She said that the soldiers always wore masks. The soldiers had to have a high IQ and muscled up real well and just so tall and weighed just so much. And I don't think she ever got to see those kids. She said she fed them for so many days and they put a hood over her head so that she could not see the babies. And I went back into that town a few times and saw her again and talked to her. They were all good looking gals in that town.

The gals over there they would go swimming naked with us but they wouldn't undress in front of us. They would go well behind the bushes and take their clothes off and come on in swimming naked. We always thought that was kind of funny. They said that was just the way they felt and I never did really understand it but that's the way it was. And these were older gals not young ones. We would go swimming in our shorts and we didn't go swimming naked. And somebody got hold of some blue material and it was pretty heavy and they made all of us boys swimming suits so we didn't have to go swimming in our shorts. We had a lot of fun and I don't know of anyone who was mistreated. I guess we respected them enough.


HEADQUATERS
300th ENGINEER COMBAT BATTALION
APO 290

Germany
1 March 45

TO ALL MEMBERS OF THE COMMAND

Today we are two years old. Though there are only two men (Capt. Armstrong and Lt. Spencer) still in the organization who were present at Camp White, Oregon when the 300th Engineer Combat Battalion was activated, the past two years bring a lot of memories to most of us. I can remember Camp White, the Oregon Desert, (Camp Shelter – Half and Maneuvers – the Little Deschutes River was always cold), Devizes and Camp Chiselden, France, Belgium and now Germany.

During these two years, even though you have added premature gray hairs to my head and will probably add more, you have all worked very well for me. Now that it appears that we are entering the final phase of the war against Germany, I appeal to every one of you to do your very best to do your job, no matter how unimportant or insignificant that job may appear to you. If every one of us obeys all orders instantly and does his very best, we can help materially to hasten the end of this war and bring more credit to ourselves.

RIEL S. CRANDALL
MAJOR, CE
COMMANDING


Belgium USO show
Mobile Battalion HQ was a captured German van, Far left: Lt. Charles Spencer; center rear: Mjr. Riel Crandall; second from right: Mjr. Herman Miller; far right: Mjr: Leslie Gates; bottom right: Lt. Charles Shoop. Photo: Randy Hanes