The WWII 300th Combat Engineers

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The 300th at war.

Newsletters: Special Edition 2010

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Reenacting the 300th

by Brad Peters and Jan Ross

The 300th Engineer Combat Battalion is now represented at various WWII reenactments! We were contacted early in January by this group asking if they could represent the 300th in their WWII reenactments. They wanted to represent an engineer battalion as there were no engineers presently at their reenactments. The group believes the engineers were a critical element in the Allied victory.

We travelled to Bedford, PA this past weekend to see them in their first reenactment as the 300th. The reenacted battle was in a village near the Elbe River in Germany after the Battle of the Bulge. They had clothing for us so we blended in except for our cameras and we followed them throughout the day. There were 250 or so reenactors representing the U.S., British, Russians, Poles and of course those Germans. The authenticity of everything they brought with them was amazing.

There was a good amount of snow on the ground and it gave us better understanding of what conditions might have been like in 1945. The group billeted in one of the historic buildings at Old Bedford Village. This is an important historic landmark in the Bedford area. They slept on the wood floor or on stretchers from the jeeps. They cooked their bean stew in an old iron pot that hung over the fire and ate it using authentic WWII Army mess kits. There was no running water or sanitary facilities. We closed our eyes and tried to imagine just what your conditions were like.

Saturday was the battle. For four hours, the "battle raged on" with 50 cal. jeep mounted machine guns, 30 cal. Thompson machine guns, M1 rifles, pistols, German anti-tank launchers, etc. and many more weapons we don't know. By the end of the battle, the Germans were defeated.

We asked the reenactors why they chose the 300th. They said there were several reasons. They already had restored WWII vehicles, actual clothing and weapons. The 300th web site gave them plenty of information and photographs to be as accurate as possible. In the reenactment groups, no one else was reenacting a combat engineer unit and they felt the engineers were not as appreciated for their contributions as they should be. Most importantly, it was an honor for them to recognize the service of the 300th in WWII.

300th in combat, from a presentation by Colonel Riel Crandall at a 300th Reunion in 1996:

The Germans poured in [German offensive in Battle of the Bulge] right past where our men were going. Our communications got disrupted so I climbed in my car and got one of the best Christmas presents I ever had. I knew we had two companies on the river and I couldn't get word to them to blow the bridges and get out of there. Fortunately, someone in those two companies had sense enough when they saw what was going on and that the Germans were already here on the other side so they blew all the bridges and assembled on their own. I pulled into a little town in Belgium after swinging around and we spotted the two companies of the 300th and all assembled. They had done their job and nobody had suffered a single scratch. It was on the 24th of December and I considered it a real nice Christmas present.

Randy Hanes recalls a German pilot and Christmas Day:

We had a massive Engineer dump, mostly bridging equipment, stretching almost a mile from the Chateau Modave to the highway. A German ME 109 fighter plane kept circling the dump flying quite low and slow. After several flyovers, Mr. Rickard, our Warrant Officer, and I, exited the chateau through the dungeon area below and up the stone stairs that led outside.

The plane made another wide circle and flew back towards us, still low and not real fast. He flew directly over us and attempted to gain altitude. Less than 300 yards away, the pilot bailed out and slowly drifted down. We jumped in a jeep, following his descent, and arrived just seconds after he landed. Guns at the ready, we approached him as he extended his arms skyward.

He had one bullet hole in his leg and spoke a little English. His first words were, "Thank you!" We both asked why. He replied, "My war is over." We treated his wound as best we could and drove him back to the chateau where the medics could treat him more thoroughly. Being Christmas Day I guess this was his Christmas present. We drew high cards for the 'souvenirs' – flight boots, gloves, cap, and flight jacket. I drew a four of clubs – got nothing.

Warren Chancellor recalls a wounded German pilot:

The German plane was shot down near the chateau by a P-51. The pilot was shot through the ankle and the bone was shattered pretty bad. Dr. Wild, Hoyt Neill and I treated the wound. We then placed a full leg splint on him to immobilize his leg. He kept saying something like "Moostang" (Mustang). We then took him to the nearest evacuation hospital which was located near Huy. The pilot's name was Heinrich Brandt. I always wondered if his ankle could be repaired.

Contact From B-24 Pilot

The following e-mail came to the web site from Jim Keeffe of Fall City, Washington:

My dad, Lt. Jim Keeffe, Jr., was a B-24 pilot in the 566th Bomb Sq. 389th Bomb Group and was shot down the 8th of March '44 during a mission to Berlin. He spent five months evading capture in Holland with the Dutch underground, was eventually captured and spent the rest of the war in Stalag Luft III and Stalag VII A where he was liberated.

The day after liberation (April 30, 1945), my dad walked through Moosburg and stopped to chat with some army fellows who said they were waiting for a bridge to be built across the Isar River because the Germans had blown the main one. One of the soldiers gave my dad a camera with which he took some photos back in the POW camp. [Two photos were sent with the e-mail]. I've attached a couple for you. The one titled 'Keeffe with soldiers' shows him with the soldiers who gave him the camera. The other photo shows him and another POW, Andy Anderson, demonstrating their Kriegie stove next to their tent (they built a tent out of barracks doors and blankets because the barracks were so filthy). My dad is still alive at 86 and we're excited about finally getting his story together. Today when I showed him the pictures on your web site he was pretty excited and I could tell he was rethinking those days long ago.

Jim has agreed to share some photos with us for the web site including the ones mentioned above. He intends to publish a book about his father's experiences in Europe especially his five months with the Dutch underground. We will keep you posted on that development.