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Brendan

1173 Engineer Combat Group - Researching my great grandather

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Hello all,

My name is Brendan and I am the great grandson of Wilbur B. McAllister, a combat engineer who served in WW2.  Having heard stories of his service from my childhood I have always been interested in knowing more.  Unfortunately, I never had the chance to meet my grandfather and what I quickly learned from family is that he never spoke a word about his service and would typically leave the room if such conversation came up.  This left a large blank space as to his experience in WW2.  My goal from the start has been to uncover more about his service, primarily to share with my grandfather so he can finally know what his dad did in the war.

Before I was born, my great grandfathers uniforms were donated to a local historical society.  As the story always went, the uniforms and 'a medal with a star' were donated. Unfortunately after several months of display outside of a case, with easy public access, the 'medal with a star' was stolen.  As years passed and the historical society moved, all hope seemingly was lost that the uniforms had been preserved.  After months talking with the historical society... 3 uniforms from my great grandfather have been found and they have been the source of more questions than answers.

As for information, I am attaching a few pieces to start with.  Some of the uniform and some of paperwork found in storage. I have not been able to reclaim the uniforms at this time, so I am working solely with photos they provided. 

A brief overview of information I have so far is..

  • He served in Europe with the 1173 Engineer Combat Group as an officer.
  • 3 uniforms have been located.
    • One early jacket (field jacket?) displays a First Army patch and a VIII (8 Corp) patch. Hash marks are present on sleeve. No other pins, patches, etc.
    • One dress jacket displays engineer collar pins, 3rd army patch, hash marks on sleeve, ribbon rack of WWII Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-african-middle eastern campaign medal with 4 bronze campaign service stars, American Defense Service Medal & Silver Star.
    • One tan dress uniform. Displays First Army Patch on one shoulder and 3rd Army Patch on the other. Hash marks and ribbon rack representing all medals listed previously. I had been told this uniform is what he wore while heavily involved in retired officer activity.  
    • Military Certificate of Service from 1946 only lists 2 campaigns and doesn't mention the silver star. 

What I am currently trying to determine is what campaigns did he take part in and what are the circumstances of the silver star.  I sent out a request for records last year, only to hear the ever so common 'the records were destroyed in the fire'.  I sent a separate request recently requesting history of medals.  Any information would be EXTREMELY helpful. All my research of engineers has been a huge learning experience and I know there are many differences that come with researching their service.  

Thank you all!

McAllister_Jacket.thumb.jpg.289dbcac33f7fe6433485df37d2a2865.jpgIMG_7783.thumb.JPG.445170b5228addf0065c4e6d519779c6.JPGIMG_7787.thumb.JPG.4daa042b9cbb49122272e89e8dc2e149.JPGIMG_7730.thumb.JPG.427ca28099500985ac6d8543c7430bb4.JPGIMG_7731.thumb.JPG.2ea5ef768da7894e6fd2bb8f28b74574.JPGIMG_2238.thumb.jpg.cfd6c726248b77463e4bed3fd1c0c36f.jpgIMG_2239.thumb.jpg.10a7434a59afc028531ff9e268f93109.jpg

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Hi..

1.  While Your GGF's records may have been destroyed in the St. Louis fire, the UNIT records are located in College Park, MD.  I suggest you contact the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) via the internet and ask for unit records that match the dates on his discharge...arrival in the TO and departure from the ETO.  the records usually include S-3 journals (message and incident logs), After Action Reports (monthly summaries) and other things.

2.  I suggest you also try the VA.  Their records are sometimes distinct from the Military's.  The files focus on health related issues:  and every time a solder transferred units, he got a physical and a dental check up.  Using that information, you can trace your GGF from unit to unit.    sometimes the discharge record lists the most recent unit the soldier was in, not necessarily the one in which he spent most of his time.   So,  the VA records noted above might shed some light.

3.  According to the discharge and to the Campaign & Citation Register, he earned credit for Northern France and the Rhineland Campaigns.  The Discharge also notes he entered service via the National Guard.  So, he served in more than one unit before getting to the 1173rd.  I suggest you contact the State (where he was living at the time) National Guard HQ and see what they can tell you, if anything. 

4.  If you not already done so, I suggest you check out the US Army's WWII history series, "the Green books."  There are two volumes covering the Engineers listed in the "Technical series" sub-set and a number of campaign volumes in the ETO sub-series covering the actions of the Third Army.  The volume "The Last Offensive" by Chas. MacDonald lists the VIII Corps in the index.  I THINK these books are all on-line with free access.

5  Finally, if you haven't tried it, I suggest you look at the options Ancestry.com offers.  You can check veterans records for free, if I am not mistaken.

 

Remember that any Engineer Combat Group was an umbrella headquarters that controlled a group of Engineer smaller units, Company and Battalion sized.  Engineer Groups were usually controlled by the Corps Engineer...and could be used near the Front or behind it, supporting combat operations.  These Groups managed the smaller units necessary, like truck companies, engineer (C) Battalions, bridging companies etc...and were then attached to whatever Divisions in the Corps that needed these units.  Oftentimes, Combat Battalions maintained roads, cleared minefields etc, built bridges or defensive positions too.

 

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4 hours ago, theron said:

Hi..

1.  While Your GGF's records may have been destroyed in the St. Louis fire, the UNIT records are located in College Park, MD.  I suggest you contact the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) via the internet and ask for unit records that match the dates on his discharge...arrival in the TO and departure from the ETO.  the records usually include S-3 journals (message and incident logs), After Action Reports (monthly summaries) and other things.

2.  I suggest you also try the VA.  Their records are sometimes distinct from the Military's.  The files focus on health related issues:  and every time a solder transferred units, he got a physical and a dental check up.  Using that information, you can trace your GGF from unit to unit.    sometimes the discharge record lists the most recent unit the soldier was in, not necessarily the one in which he spent most of his time.   So,  the VA records noted above might shed some light.

3.  According to the discharge and to the Campaign & Citation Register, he earned credit for Northern France and the Rhineland Campaigns.  The Discharge also notes he entered service via the National Guard.  So, he served in more than one unit before getting to the 1173rd.  I suggest you contact the State (where he was living at the time) National Guard HQ and see what they can tell you, if anything. 

4.  If you not already done so, I suggest you check out the US Army's WWII history series, "the Green books."  There are two volumes covering the Engineers listed in the "Technical series" sub-set and a number of campaign volumes in the ETO sub-series covering the actions of the Third Army.  The volume "The Last Offensive" by Chas. MacDonald lists the VIII Corps in the index.  I THINK these books are all on-line with free access.

5  Finally, if you haven't tried it, I suggest you look at the options Ancestry.com offers.  You can check veterans records for free, if I am not mistaken.

 

Remember that any Engineer Combat Group was an umbrella headquarters that controlled a group of Engineer smaller units, Company and Battalion sized.  Engineer Groups were usually controlled by the Corps Engineer...and could be used near the Front or behind it, supporting combat operations.  These Groups managed the smaller units necessary, like truck companies, engineer (C) Battalions, bridging companies etc...and were then attached to whatever Divisions in the Corps that needed these units.  Oftentimes, Combat Battalions maintained roads, cleared minefields etc, built bridges or defensive positions too.

 

Theron,

This is immensely helpful. I have reached out to the archives for unit records and will be follow up with some of the other methods suggested.  

In regards to the hierarchy, I have a few clarifying questions... 

  • Would an engineer combat group serve as part of the same corp for the duration of the war?  Or would they shift?  
  • As a member of the engineer combat group, rather than one of the smaller groups making it up, how would your actual job differ?  I'm assuming it would be more logistics and planning oriented?

I was previously able to find 3 engineer battalions that served under the 1173rd.  They were the 20th, 1340th & 146th combat engineers.  In November of 1944 they were committed as Infantry and tasked with operations in the Hürtgen Forest.  It seems as though that at the very least would be providing reason for Rhineland campaign accreditation.

It seems like finding unit records specific to the 1173rd would be a step in the right direction for learning more.  

I am also including another record of service document we found. 

  IMG_2244.thumb.jpg.13ae6b8780bc2c513e06c5e529fc3625.jpg

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Welcome to the forum. Wow, you've had quite a journey so far, relocating his uniforms, etc.  Glad you were able to solve some of the mystery so far.

An engineer group/regiment/company, often were attached to various other units during the war. For instance, my dad (the 540th Engineer Regiment), were at times attached to (or in support of) the 82nd Airborne and the 36th Infantry Regiment, just to name a few. They went where they were needed. They served under either a Corps or an Army, such as the 5th Army, the 7th Army, or VI Corps. This was very common for "bastard" units, meaning they fought independently. Let me explain further... There were engineer units such as the 10th Engineer Regiment, who were a permanent part of the 3rd Infantry Division. They fought as a whole. Units such as your grandfather's were independent and not part of a division, thus they could be attached where needed.

Of course when you receive the history of the unit from Maryland, then this will become self-evident.

Hope that helps a bit. :blink:

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A reference in a book

I would also suggest getting in touch with the Army Corps of Engineers Office of History. They were integral in aiding me in my research for my father's unit, among others. Their contact info is listed here, along with other research assistance.

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Marion,

Very helpful! It has been a learning process for military organization as a whole, being someone who hasn't served.  I did speak with the Army Corp of Engineers a little while back and I quickly learned that the same 'rules' didn't apply to how the Engineers were organized.  Unfortunately they were not able to provide any information on the combat group specifically.  

I am anxiously awaiting my response from Maryland as the online directory does show a unit records file for the 1173rd.

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Excellent. I can't wait to see what transpires. I'm excited too, as I love being able to share info on "new" units.

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Fantastic news. Congrats. I know the feeling well! :clappin2:

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Received the duplicated files for the 1173rd combat group from the National Archives.  They found two folders, both relatively small, and sent my copies.  While learning a bit more about the unit, I unfortunately still lack clarity on the context of my great grandfathers Silver Star, the type of operations that were conducted or the units comprising the combat group.

What I learned...

On May 30, 1945, the 1173rd was given orders to move from Rheinhausen back to Epernay, France where they were initially activated in September 44.  This provides a bit of context as to where the unit was to earn Rhineland campaign accreditation.  Unfortunately, this is the earliest document and the period from Sep 44 activation through May 45 remains a void.

Just over a month ago I received confirmation from the National Archives that they had my medal/awards inquiry.  That is my next hope for gaining clarity, because unfortunately his records were destroyed in the fire and the certificate of service I have, does not document the silver star.

While somewhat discouraged with the documents I received, I am still pressing onward!  It did provide some interesting pieces to combine with the rest of what I know.

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You have mentioned a silver star, but I see no indication of it on his DD record, nor see it on any of his jackets. Guess I am confused. I only see campaign stars. If he received a silver star it would be duly noted on his record of service. 

As far as more research, I would also contact the Eisenhower archives

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On 12/3/2018 at 7:32 AM, Walt's Daughter said:

You have mentioned a silver star, but I see no indication of it on his DD record, nor see it on any of his jackets. Guess I am confused. I only see campaign stars. If he received a silver star it would be duly noted on his record of service. 

His uniforms bear a ribbon for a silver star, in addition to the campaign stars on his European-African-Middle Eastern campaign medal.  The other discrepancy being the 2 campaigns listed on his DD record (Northern France, Rhineland), but the 4 campaign stars on the uniforms.  I was always told there was a corresponding 'star medal in a blue box' which was donated to the historical society with the uniforms.  It was stolen before I was born, but the ribbons on the uniforms corroborate with it being a silver star.

Image result for silver star ribbon   Image result for silver star ribbon

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The best way to find out is through morning reports.

 

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Just for personnel records, you can also check with his county. All returning soldiers were supposed to file a copy of their discharge records with the county in which they resided. Also the local (state) Veteran's Admin would have a copy of his records on file. That is how I retrieved my father's DD's. 

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4 hours ago, Walt's Daughter said:

Just for personnel records, you can also check with his county. All returning soldiers were supposed to file a copy of their discharge records with the county in which they resided. Also the local (state) Veteran's Admin would have a copy of his records on file. That is how I retrieved my father's DD's. 

Unfortunately no success with the town clerks office or state Veterans office.  

On 12/4/2018 at 1:26 PM, Walt's Daughter said:

The best way to find out is through morning reports.

Through just a bit of research, that seems like a fantastic resource.  Accessing these reports can only be done in person or by a hired researcher, is that correct? Some of the researchers offerings seemed very enticing for gathering these reports as well as any unit rosters, etc to try and piece together my great grandfathers day-to-day, month-to-month. 

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I hired a great guy who was very reasonable. Just got my morning reports within the last year. They were helpful and exciting for me. My dad passed when I was twelve, so every little tidbit is a blessing. I can give you the researcher's name if you wish. 

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On 12/5/2018 at 5:56 PM, Walt's Daughter said:

I hired a great guy who was very reasonable. Just got my morning reports within the last year. They were helpful and exciting for me. My dad passed when I was twelve, so every little tidbit is a blessing. I can give you the researcher's name if you wish. 

That would definitely be helpful to have.  Right now I am waiting on a medals and citations request with the national archives.  I am told I should have a verdict by January 1st on whether or not they located appropriate documentation.  Once there is a verdict on that, I likely will go the morning report route to learn more.

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Sounds great. Keep me updated and Merry Christmas. Good luck!

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Update after quite some time.

My medals and citations request through the national archives was responded to a few months back and replacement medals will be issued!

  • WWII Victory Medal
  • American Campaign Medal 
  • European-african-middle eastern campaign medal
  • American Defense Service Medal

Unfortunately, the Silver Star still remains a mystery. I need to reference the National Archives letter to see how many campaign stars they are issuing on the replacement European-african-middle eastern campaign medal as well, since that was another discrepancy between the paperwork and the uniform.  It seems like morning reports may be the best bet now!

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Hey Brendan,

I missed this string before and am just catching up. I notice that you have been focused on his time in the engineering unit. He only started that in early summer, 1944. Until then, he was with artillery units as he was, actually, a trained artillery officer. Your Record of Separation (ROS) mentions Construction Engineer in block 27, but he wasn't trained as such - at least not by the Army or officially. He may have been a civil engineer in civilian life (as was my grandfather before the war) but he went through artillery school in 42-43 (58 years before I did). Even prior to that, he was serving in Field Artillery (FA) units. I would do the same research but with the 172nd FA (Regiment) and the 941st FA Battalion and see what you get there. He only did the engineer thing for the last 5 months of the war. The ROS just recorded his last known gig, if you will.

I noticed he would have been in his forties during the war. They must have thought of him as the grand old man of his artillery battalions! In my battalions (very different time and make up, of course) there were maybe only a handful of folks over 40. CO, SgtMaj (maybe) and some of the master sergeants/first sergeants (E8s) (maybe).

And what did he do in Honduras? (Block 12 on the pink form). Seems he spoke a smattering of Spanish (block 18), so that ties back into spending so time in Honduras. Was there a job there he did?

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