On the Elbe River
On the night of the 11th elements of the Second Armored reached the Elbe south of Magdeburg and the next day the balance of the division pushed on up. Following closely, we moved to the division assemble area at Grass Ottersleben (rD6395) during the afternoon of the 12th.
Upon reaching the area, plans and preparations were immediately begun to cross the river. The 17th Armored Engineer Battalion of the division was to construct a treadway bridge at Wester-Husen. Our Company B was to assist them, by constructing ramps on trucks to haul the floats to the bridge as there was no assembly site nearby. When the ramps were completed the men assisted the inflation and assembly of floats.
Company A reached the site at 1600 hours with assault boats and immediately determined the routes for the assault boat crews. Crossing was initially scheduled for 1800 but was postponed when the Infantry was delayed in reaching the assembly area. One battalion of the 41st Armored Infantry Regiment reached the site and was crossed by Lieutenant Miller and Lieutenant Davison with their platoons of Company A at 2045. There was intermittent fire but no casualties were sustained.
After the assault waves were taken over, amphibious vehicles were used to transport more men and material and Company A remained as guides for this operation.
The bridge construction began shortly after the Infantry had crossed and was proceeding rapidly until 0430 the next morning. At that time the enemy had spotted our activities and began shelling the site. One platoon of Company A was detailed to lay a smoke screen over the site. Construction continued and had nearly reached the far shore but the ever increasing artillery fire became too heavy and at 1300 orders were received to abandon the site. The bridge had received several direct hits.
At 1500 on the same day the battalion was ordered to construct a bridge and ferry across the Elbe at Schonebeck. Plans were to assemble and construct both of them after dark. After reconnoitering the area a site north of the town at rD892732 was chosen for the bridge and an existing ferry site in the center of town for the ferry site. Company C was assigned the bridging operation and one platoon of Company B was to construct the ferry. The other two platoons of Company B inflated and transported pontoons to the bridge and ferry site. Bridge material and technical assistance was furnished by 992d Engineer Treadway Bridge Company. Company A was to salvage remnants of the bridge at Wester-Husen.
By 0430 on the 14th the Infantry had pushed down from their previous position to the north and had secured a bridgehead at the new site. The bridge construction was begun, but by 0730 a counterattack developed on the far shore. From observation posts in the buildings at the site, the ever increasing battle on the east bank of the river could be observed. Enemy troops were closing in on our Infantry and large numbers were forced to surrender. Enemy small arms fire was received by the working parties but no casualties were sustained. Two platoons of Company C were sent to assist Company B in the construction of the ferry.
Though the small arms and artillery fire continued spasmodically, construction continued and at 1400 the ferry was completed. It was powered by two outboard motor boats and rigged to a cable as a trail-ferry. Considerable difficulty was encountered in maneuvering the ferry on the near shore because of the shallow water in places, caused by jetties. It was finally loaded with a D-7 dozer and a working party to improve the far shore for unloading. When the far shore was neared, the ferry grounded and since the bottom and shore was too soft the dozer could not be unloaded An amphibious DUKW was sent to extricate the ferry and return it to the far shore.
On the return trip a direct hit on the cable loosed the ferry and it began to float freely downstream where the far shore was heavily defended by the enemy. The crew rapidly dropped anchors and after floating for 300 yards it was brought under control. All men were evacuated by the DUKW. Enemy resistance was growing all along the east bank and orders were received to abandon all attempts to cross the river.
In the meantime Company A was experiencing innumerable difficulties in their attempt to remove the damaged bridge at Wester-Husen. At first, they progressed rapidly, removing parts from the far shore end of the bridge. As daylight came and the enemy discovered their activities, the artillery began bursting about the men in ever increasing amounts. Six floats and sections had been removed from the far end of the bridge when the fire began.
Since the Infantry that had formed the original bridgehead had largely been moved southward to protect the new sites, the enemy grasped their last opportunity to counterattack in an effort to recross the river. They advanced boldly and rapidly toward the bridge forcing the men of Company A to abandon their work and assume defensive positions on the near shore. Friendly troops on the far shore were driven back to the river's edge where they were evacuated. Their casualties were heavy as the enemy forces outnumbered them and they were without mechanized aid since no bridges had been completed.
All friendly troops had been evacuated from the far shore and there was no danger of firing on them, two platoons of Company A under the command of Lieutenant Miller and Lieutenant Davison, opened fire on them with small arms and directed artillery to drive them back. Until late afternoon the fire-fight continued with the enemy making repeated attempts to break across the river. The men remained in their positions until they were relieved by Infantrymen that evening.
Coordinated with the counterattack near Wester-Husen, the enemy began a build-up of troops in and around Magdeburg so we were ordered to leave our area at Grass Ottersle be n, to allow elements of the Second Armored Division to occupy the position in event of a breakthrough. On the afternoon and evening of the 14th we moved to Langenweddingen (rD6089). Here we gathered the battalion together again and prepared for further advances.
To clean up the pocket around Magdeburg and thereby eliminate the last enemy pocket on the east of the Elbe in this sector, the 30th Infantry Division pushed down from the north and northwest while the Second Armored Division moved in from the south and the southwest. The battalion was assigned the mission of clearing routes through the city in support of the Second Armored Division. Company A began working on the 16th and despite. heavy artillery fire they continued to push through the rubble. Working day and night until the 19th they had cleared a large portion of the city and traffic was flowing to support the troops now in a holding position along the east bank of the Elbe.
Meanwhile, on the 17th we were assigned the maintenance of a bridge across the Elbe in the 83d Infantry Division sector, to the south, at rD896787. Company B moved to Calbe (rD8576) and assumed this task. Considerable work was needed on the approaches and to add to this work a floating mine struck the bridge near the far shore on the 18th, knocking out one float and a trestle.
After Magdeburg was cleared and Company C had cleared road blocks and rubble from the roads in our area, we were relieved of close support of the Second Armored Division and moved on the 20th. Our first stop was at Grass Muhlingen (rD7381) but because of unsatisfactory and a limited number of billets, an area was given us in Calbe and Battalion Headquarters and Headquarters and Service Company moved there. Company A was assigned the maintenance of a bridge at Nienburg (rD7768) across the Salle River and Company C moved to Grass Rosenberg, (rD8576) to maintain and guard a bridge there, also across the Salle.
Several attempts were made to demolish the bridges across the Elbe and every device was used. On the 20th an enemy swimmer floated down near the bridge Company B was guarding, discharged his explosives and swam to shore. Fortunately, the charge made its way under the bridge and did not explode until it was 50 yards downstream from the bridge. No harm was done to the bridge and the swimmer was captured by the guards.
The balance of the month was spent guarding the assigned bridges as well as continuous engineer reconnaissance work and maintenance of two supply routes from the Army supply dumps in the vicinity of Halberstadt and Oschersleben to the Elbe River.
Total battle casualties for the month were three men killed in action one man missing in action, and nine men wounded in action. T/5 William H. Gettleman of Company B was killed in Schladen 11 April when the motorcycle he was riding collided with the Headquarters and Service Company D-7 Dozer and trailer. Private Harris C. Hill was killed on the outskirts of Magdeburg by the enemy on 13 April. He had taken the wrong road from the bivouac at Grass Ottersleben, drove through an enemy outpost and was killed as he started to turn around after discovering his mistake. Pfc William R. Horner, previously awarded the Silver Star Medal for gallantry in action near Gembloux, Belgium, was killed by enemy shelling 13 April while on duty transporting floats to the bridge site at Wester-Husen. Private Edward J. Beall disappeared on the Weser River near Grohnde. Staff Sergeant Lester D. LaPorte, Corporal Wade H. Fleshman, Private Raymond A. Trumble, and Private First Class Paul P. Ingro were wounded during the construction of the bridge at Hameln. First Lieutenant Edwin S. Malesky, Private First Class Manley A. Dickinson, Technician Grade Five Royce A. Wilson, Sergeant Robert W. Snyder, and Private Meridith J. Williams were wounded during the operations along the Elbe River.
and C continued to guard and maintain their respective bridges and the
road maintenance of our assigned sector continued for the first few
days of May. Battalion Headquarters and Company B were still
billeted in Calbe, while Company C remained at Nienburg and Company A
at Gross Rosenburg.
Our war is over
On our immediate front along the Elbe river there was little action except occasional artillery fire and a large number of Germans marching through our lines to give themselves up. This procedure was common all along the front and on the 2d of May all German forces in Italy and part of Austria surrendered to the American 5th and British 8th Armies. On this same day Berlin fell to the Russian armies with the surrender of the garrison of 70,000 Germans there. Admiral Doenitz of the Nazi Navy assumed command of the diminishing Third Reich.
The unconditional surrender of the German forces was signed at Reims, France at 1441 on the 6th of May 1945. Conditions of the surrender called for cessation of hostilities at midnight 8 May, "Victory in Europe Day", for the world at large.
VE Day actually meant little to us since we had previously moved back from the zone of hostilities and our contact with enemy forces in Europe had ceased. It did, however, mean that we had played a large part in one more step an the road to victory.
As previously stated, we had left the zone of hostilities prior to 8 May. We were relieved of our bridge assignments on the 6th and Company B, as a forward element, moved to a former German Luftwaffe Base near Goslar (rC8574), to prepare the area for the rest of the battalion which moved on the 7th. All elements of the 1115th Engineer Combat Group and Group Headquarters moved to this area.
On the trip from Calbe to Goslar in the vicinity of Derenburg, the third platoon's ¼ ton truck of Company B. driven by T/5 Jack A. Lucco, got out of control as it was passing the D-7 dozer. The Jeep collided with the trailer carrying the dozer, throwing it and its occupants over the road embankment. The dozer and trailer-followed and the dozer was thrown from the trailer. As the dozer turned over, the blade struck the left arm of S,/Sgt William T. Hammond necessitating amputation of the arm. Pfc Pasquale C. Verni suffered a dislocated left shoulder and broken right arm, when the dozer fell on top of him, pinning him under the track for an hour and a half before equipment was secured to lift it.
During the redeployment of troops, that followed the surrender, we were assigned to the XIII Corps by TWX from the Commanding General of the Ninth Army on the 8th and remained under their control until later in the month. XIX Corps had been given an occupational zone to the south and moved to this area.
For his heroic actions in the early offenses against Germany in the vicinity of Gulpen, Holland on 9 September 1944, 2d Lt Winfred H. Downs was presented the French Croix de Guerre avec Etoile de Bronze on 7 May 1945 at the Headquarters of XIX Corps, by a delegation from the French Provisional Government and Army. He was awarded the decoration by Decision number 332, Headquarters le President des Government Provisione de la Republique Francaise, Chef des Armees, dated 25 January 1945.
While on reconnaissance for steel for bridges that the battalion was to build, Captain Thomas A. Barry, Battalion Supply Officer, and Private Vincent A. McFadden, his driver, were wounded at the Herman Goering Steel Works in Salzgitten on 9 May. An enemy grenade exploded, wounding Captain Barry about the body and Private McFadden received slight wounds on his face and left log. Both were evacuated but Private McFadden returned to duty the following day. Captain Barry remained in the hospital for operation and further treatment.
Materials were later located for the bridges and on 10 May Company A began construction. Both bridges were in the town of Osterode, southwest of Goslar. Lt Miller and his first platoon constructed a single 30 foot span, steel stringer bridge at rC740508, over an existing arch bridge that had one span demolished. Lt Davison and his second platoon constructed a two span, 49 foot, steel stringer bridge at rC745506.
Both bridges were over a small stream in the mountainous country and provided the only thorough transportation in the town. Because of other details, Company C assisted Company A on the 12th and both bridges were completed on the 13th.
The mission of salvaging the bridge equipment used by the 17th Armored Engineer Battalion in their attempt to cross the Elbe River at Wester Husen, was given the battalion and on 11 May Company B moved back to the river to begin operations. The company was given six extra dump trucks, a crane, two air compressors, and a dozer to supplement their own equipment on the job. All of the bridge had broken loose from the original site and floated two miles downstream. After three days work, all of the bridge had been salvaged and turned in. The company returned to bivouac with the battalion on 14 May.
The entire 1115th Engineer Combat Group was relieved from attachment to the XIII Corps on the 14th of May and reattached to the XIX Corps. We immediately began preparing for the move to the new area and on the 15th left our present station. The trip required one day of travel and ended with Battalion Headquarters, Headquarters and Service Company , and Company B at Katzenfurt (wG4344) and Companies A and C at Ehringshausen (WG4623).
The following day parties were sent out through the vicinity on road and bridge reconnaissance while the remainder of the battalion performed usual duties and maintained vehicles and equipment. Company A also repaired a Prisoner of War stockade at Oerlinghausen.
The athletic program started earlier in the month at Calbe and Goslar was continued upon arrival in the new areas. Company B led the battalion in softball all through the month.
With the increasing need for railroad locomotives and rolling stock as well as other materials, we were called upon to locate railroad and engineer material and other materials that we could find. On the 23d several parties were dispatched to reconnoiter the area and on the 24th we started loading boxcars with lumber, picks, shovels, wire cable, and other equipment to be used by the army.
On the 26th of May we were relieved from assignment to Ninth Army and attachment to XIX Corps and assigned to Normandy Base. The remainder of the month was spent preparing to move back to France to perform newly assigned duties.
Decorations for the month were as follows:
SILVER STAR MEDALS
Major James L. Morris O-453277, per General Orders Number 118, Headquarters XIX Corps dated 22 May 1945.
1st Lt Henry B. Nicolai O-1111809, per General Orders Number 117, Headquarters XIX Corps dated 21 May 1945.
BRONZE STAR MEDALS
Per General Orders Number 106, Headquarters XIX Corps dated 10 May 1945:
S/Sgt William C. Rains 38341399
Sgt John J. DiAntonia Jr 32733892
5gt Arthur C. Mitchelltree 33451791
Sgt Raymond I. Rubin 17000660
Sgt Anthony J. Tardio 33423742
T/5 Alex Kolanik 32884626
Pfc Gonzalo Barrera 38438436
Pfc Joel H. Butler 33539801
Pfc Michael Schovel 33427866
Per General Orders Number 109, Headquarters XIX Corps dated 13 May 1945:
1st Lt John J. Donnelly O-1557834
2d Lt Chester M. Davison Jr. O-1645742
2d Lt Ollie Miller O-1996617
T/5 John F. Gallagher 32787639
T/5 Norris H. Lewis 32830707
Pvt Lloyd B. Kenyon 32734049
Personnel gains for the month of May were two officers and sixty-three enlisted men. Of the officers, Captain Henry E. Kipps was transferred to us from the 234th Engineer Combat Battalion per paragraph 2 Special Orders No 71, Headquarters 1115th Engineer Combat Group dated 25 May 1945 and S/Sgt Lester D. LaPorte received a battlefield appointment as Second Lieutenant, CE, on 27 May 1945. Losses were three officers and sixty enlisted men. Second Lieutenant Clarence J. Wright O-544304 was transferred to the 978th Engineer Maintenance Company and Second Lieutenant George E. Wagner O-1312496 was transferred to the 1104th Engineer Combat Group. Captain John E. Tracy O-405751 was lost to the hospital 14 May. Battalion strength as of 31 May 1945 was 29 officers, 2 warrant officers and 604 enlisted men.
A letter of commendation was received from Colonel H. S. Miller, Corps Engineer of XIX Corps and read as follows:
HEADQUARTERS XIX CORPS
Office of the Engineer
21 May 45
TO : C.O., 82d Engineer Combat Battalion.
1. I wish to highly commend the 82d Engineer Combat Bn., for the overall excellence of your performance in eleven months of continual combat. This covers operations in four countries, France, Belgium, Holland and Germany and an advance from the Normandy coast to the Elbe River.
2. You have performed every type of combat engineer mission with outstanding efficiency. You have crossed a large number of rivers, breached the Siegfried line, laid mine fields and removed them, maintained roads, supplied water, fought as infantry both defensively and offensively, cleared the way through bomb destroyed cities and performed innumerable other missions. You have been commended often in writing and verbally. You have supported some of the Army's most famous Divisions and earned their unlimited, respect and praise. You have taken your full share of casualties, earned many decorations and have been recommended for a Presidential Citation.
3. Now, upon the total defeat of Germany, I commend you, not for one mission, but for your long sustained superior overall performance. This record is based on sound principles, your ready, aggressive spirit, your “can-do” attitude and your whole hearted cooperation with other units. I have never seen a better team spirit than you have developed with the supported divisions and other Corps units. This is based upon mutual respect and has played a large part in the success of the XIX Corps. You have fought the European war to a finish in a unit of which you can always be proud. That is the greatest personal satisfaction a combat soldier has.
/s/H. S. Miller
/t/ H. S. MILLER
CERTIFIED TRUE COPY
/s/ Gerald J. Williams
/t/ GERALD J. WILLIAMS
1st Lt., CE201.22 1st Ind
HQ. 1115TH ENGINEER COMBAT GROUP. APO 339, U. S. ARMY 23 May 1945.
TO: COMMANDING OFFICER, 82d Engineer Combat Battalion, APO 339.
I take great pleasure in forwarding this commendation.
/s/ G. H. Hodges Jr
/t/ G. H. HODGES JR
HEADQUARTERS, 82D ENGINEER COMBAT BATTALION, APO 339, U. S. ARMY,
25 May 1945.
TO: Officers and Men of the 82d Engineer Combat Battalion.
1. This message from the Corps Engineer is a personal one to each of you, for it is only by the efforts, the sweat, the brains, and the “do or die” determination of each one of you that the 82d Engineers have achieved their place in the history of this
2. Let me cite a few of the “statistics” that go to make up the record commended by the Corps Engineer. Each of them will bring to mind countless pictures that you will never forget.
a. Your trucks hauled 16,000 loads of rock, cinders, gravel, and rubble and you put it on roads to keep the fighting troops going from Normandy to the Elbe - 40,000 tons of material.
b. You laid 2600 mines and removed 2800 enemy mines.
c. You used your dozers and other borrowed equipment a total of 2000 hours; buried 142 head of livestock, removed 105 road blocks, dug 142 head of livestock, removed 84 vehicles from roads.
d. You captured 469 prisoners.
e. You distributed over 2,500,000 gallons of water under all conditions.
f. You constructed 26 bridges for a total length of more than 2200 feet, and, with fully as many heartaches, you removed seven bridges.
g Over 5200 feet of snow fence and 6000 feet of concertina was erected, most of it in “rotten” weather.
h. You destroyed 145 pillboxes.
i. You used over 64,000 pounds of explosives.
3 No matter what the future holds, you, who have memories of Vire, the Roer, and the Elbe as well as countless others, can have no fear of your ability to meet and conquer any situation.
4. In the temporary absence of the Battalion Commander, Major
Morris, I take great pleasure in forwarding this commendation.
/s/ E. L. Green
/t/ E. L. GREEN
CERTIFIED TRUE COPY
/s/ Gerald J. Williams
/t/ GERALD J. WILLIAMS
1st Lt., CE