I am now gathering information at an exponential rate thanks to the ever-increasing sources that include but are not limited to the Army Corps of the Engineers, Department of the Army, WWII sites, technical books, magazines, WWII engineers and other veterans, forums, new friends on the Internet and NARA. To be honest, I never expected that this much would be available to me and I'm just sitting here grinning from ear to ear.
In August of 2004, I received hundreds of pages of documents from Michael Brodhead, Office of History Army Corps of Engineers. Michael took the time to painstakingly copy 540th Engineer records that include, a short history, a complete lineage and honors account, the order of battle, a summary of historical dates and events, a roster of enlisted men and officers who received honors, awards and decorations, a roster of battle casualties of enlisted men and officers, a great pictorial (it reminds me of a scrapbook) with captions of their tour of duty in France, a complete history with a forward from Colonel Marvin, their commanding officer and more...
As a favor to Michael, he asked if I would mind being the contact for anyone seeking knowledge on the 540th Combat Engineers and wondered if he could direct them to me because his office simply lacks the time and resources to handle many requests. So I have happily taken on that assignment and will be more than willing to share what I have, should someone desire copies, etc.
In November of 2005, I hired a great private researcher, Carolyn Billups, who painstakingly began copying thousands of pages of documents from the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. These documents include daily, weekly and monthly journals, private entries by 540th officers, lists of awards and decorations, etc. As you can imagine, I have burned some midnight oil and have a lot of work ahead of me. I have yet to acquire the morning reports from National Archives in St Louis, but I hopefully will add those records to my collection by this summer.
My goal is to provide a concise history of the 36th, 39th and 540th combat engineers and to present it in a manner that is both educational and easy to read. Now I just have to order up 48-hour days to get this accomplished, while not neglecting my husband, my job and the rest of my life. So bear with me while I try to compile the ever-growing stacks on my desk. Essayons!
Photo courtesy of Peter Heckmanns - In Honored Glory - Thanks dear friend
Who They Were and What They Did
I am asked all the time, "What did combat engineers do?" Here is a brief, yet concise picture of "our boys" and the part they played in the war.
By WWII the Army Corps of Engineers had almost 150 years of experience in national wars and non-military civil works projects. But when faced with the events in Europe in the spring of 1940, it became necessary for the engineers to adapt to the ever-changing technology and the new tactics employed by the German Army. This was made easier at this point in time by Congress' appropriation of more funds for our national defense that allowed the army along with the engineers to expand their growth and prepare for a new and accelerated kind of warfare.
The primary mission of combat engineers is to KEEP THE ARMIES MOVING TO ATTACK, AND IMPEDING THE ENEMY. The engineers' functions included, but weren't limited to:
- Bridge (mobile, floating, fixed), rail, & road construction, maintenance and yes, destruction/demolition!
- River crossings by ponton/raft, motor-powered assault boats
- Port & harbor rehabilitation (clearing, re-opening)
- Landing & maintaining a beachhead on a hostile shore
- laying beach roads for vehicles
- unloading/loading supplies, vehicles & personnel from transports & liberty ships
- Specialized work on camouflage
- Water supply and sanitation
- Map production
- Maintenance of vehicles
- Mine warfare (laying and removing/diffusing)
- Administrative work necessary to support combat forces
- Establishing & maintaining supply/ammunition dumps
- Building barracks, depots, and similar structures
- To function as infantry when and where needed
- Rescue & road patrols, bridge and road reconnaissance
- Clearing of rubble, debris/wreckage & entanglements/obstructions
In the late 30's the army was revising its basic organization of the infantry division and using three instead of four infantry regiments, creating a more flexible and maneuverable force. The typical setup included having an engineer battalion that was permanently assigned to a division, with three companies per battalion.
There were also engineer regiments, such as the 36th, 39th and 540th combat engineers, that survived and operated as separate entities and were attached to field armies (the 5th and 7th Armies) or to corps headquarters (such as VI Corps). These units usually acted on their own or were sometimes "attached" to divisions such as the 3rd, 34th, 36th and 45th Infantry Divisions, when the need arose. The 36th, 39th and 540th also served as infantry units and all saw action in the ETO campaigns.
The 36th Combat Engineers consisted of three battalions, while the 540th and 39th consisted of two battalions. Because of this, the 36th saw more action as infantry because they could be used as a typical regiment in combat with two battalions up front and one in reserve.
The engineers' role in amphibious warfare was not considered until shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. It was then taken into consideration that an advancing army would have to move across vast expanses of water and the ability to seize beaches would be a key requirement. It was apparent in the 1940's that the Axis controlled almost every major port in Europe, making this a critical Allied concern. By mid-1941, the Corps of Engineers embarked upon an aggressive program of revising its military units and equipment, and although not fully ready for the fight, they had done much to adapt to the new demands of modern combat.
Please see our Links Pages for further information on the Army Corps of Engineers.
History of the 179th Engineers - part one / History of the 179th Engineers - part two - added 01-19-2014
Inscription from Niers Canal Bridge - 251st Engineer Combat Bn - added Jan 17, 2014 - Thank you Phyllis Setzer
251st Engineer Combat Bn - Address Roster - CO C - added Jan 17, 2014
1251st Engineer Combat Bn - Roll Call - many thanks to veteran Dick Deise, for supplying this info - added 07-19-13
1251st Bn Log - Map - added 07-19-13
1340th - After Action Report - 2 December 1944 - added 01-30-13
Engineer Distinctive Unit Insignia (DUI) - compiled by the American Society of Military Insignia Collectors - added 09-07-12
Builders and Fighters: US Army Engineers in World War II - The Volturno River Crossing - added 02-10-12
Builders and Fighters: US Army Engineers in World War II - Engineers in Sicily - added 02-10-12
3rd Army Crossing of the Rhine - info thanks to Don Prasse - added 01-23-11
Derrick of Dauntless - History of the 324th Engineer Combat Battalion - Col J R Neale
Derrick of Dauntless - History of the 324th Engineer Combat Battalion - part two
Spotlight on the 291st Engineer Combat Battalion - as featured in National WWII Museum's V-Mail Newsletter - Spring 2011
A Brief History of the 207th Engineer Combat Battalion - info thanks to Jim Benz - added 07-05-11
Please see individual engineer pages
for specific info on each VI Corps unit
344th Engineer General Service Regiment part 1 - info thanks to Richard Elverson - added 06-23-11
344th Engineer General Service Regiment part 2
344th Engineer General Service Regiment part 3
344th Engineer General Service Regiment part 4
344th Engineer General Service Regiment part 5
344th Engineer General Service Regiment part 6
344th Engineer General Service Regiment part 7
344th Engineer General Service Regiment part 8
The Role of the American Engineer in WWII - Eugene Reybold - The Military Engineer February 1945 - added 04-18-11
The Bailey Bridge - John A Thierry - added 04-18-11
Engineer Branch History - Dr. David Ulbrich - added 04-18-11
Engineer Unit Types - a database I compiled on engineer units in WWII - updated 9-30-08
A Brief History - US Army Corps of Engineers - link updated 04-25-2012
Corps Traces a Long History - Taken from US Army Corp of Engineers
Background of Amphibious Operations - mentions 36th & 540th
The United States
Army in WWII - Engineers - by Rich Anderson
History of the Chief of Engineers' Golden Castles
History of the Tank Dozer - an Army Corps of Engineers Invention
Oldest US Army Office to Serve in WWII was an Engineer
Engineering the Victory - The Story of the Corps of Engineers
3rd Div's 10th Engineers - Point Calava, Sicily 1943 - by Ernie Pyle - added 07-16-06
(Marion's note: I would like to thank Tom Ricks, Washington Post Military Correspondent, for confirming my suspicions regarding missing paragraphs in this article. I am trying to find a complete copy.)
Mapping and Engineering the War - by Ernie Pyle - added 11-06-06
Engineers in North Africa - mentions 36th & 540th - added 11-06-06
Bailey's Bridge - added 05-13-07
Amphibian Engineers in World War II - added 05-13-07
Aviation Engineers in the Southwest Pacific, WWII - added 05-13-07
Engineers as Infantry or 'The Long Way Around' - added 05-13-07
Training in World War II: The 51st Engineer Combat Battalion - added 05-13-07
Cleanup in the Aleutians - added 05-13-07
Inseparable Bonds of Engineer Service - by Col Mike Morgan (with great help from Mari Ippolito, Marion Chard and Gene Kuentzler - added 06-09-07
Engineers in the New Army - added 08-19-07
208th Engineer Archived Journal - (thanks to Floyd Mock, member of this unit) - added 06-08-09
US Army Corps of Engineer History - Vignettes - added 06-12-09
Launching a Bailey - T/3 Ludwig Mactarian (provided by A. Kincer)
I had always assumed that the WWII posters featuring the men and women who fought for our country, were just artist's renditions, but I found out quite differently after receiving an email from a daughter of Master Sargeant (Ret) Vincent G Leckey.
She also sent me this photo of the mural that was displayed in Grand Central Station during the war. Vincent is pictured on the left.
I am honored to feature Vince on my site - added 08-15-05
Pick and Shovel Man - submitted by Al Kincer - 48th Combat Engineer
Here is an email I received from Al Kincer:
Plaque located at The Engineer Center honoring Sgt. Joe Specker, 48th Combat Engineer. Joe was the only Engineer of WW11 awarded The Medal of Honor.
I'd like to thank my friend "Moose" for supplying me with the following cartoon.