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134th Infantry Regiment

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History of the 60th Engineers Combat Battalion

1943 - 1945

 

60th Engineer Combat Battalion
1943 - 1945
Transcribed by Roberta V. Russo, Palatine, Illinois

The 60th Engineers
Dedication
This book is dedicated to those of the 60th Engineers who did not return to enjoy the world they fought for.

History of the 60th Engineers Combat Battalion

60th! What's in a number? What does it mean? On 29 January 1943, at Camp San Luis Obispo, California, a group of 4 Officers and about 60 enlisted men, mostly from the Middle Western and Far Western States, assembled to make the number mean something in the history of America and World War II.

It was a brand-new number. The Adjutant General stated on 24 February 1943 that "the 60th Engineer Combat Battalion is a new organization and has no historical connection with any former organization. . ." So, at San Luis Obispo, the 60th went out to make its own historical connections, was assigned to the 35th Infantry Division and remained an integral part of this fighting team for the duration of the war.

The 35th or Santa Fe Division served faithfully and valiantly in France in World War I. Its most favored son, a Field Artillery Officer, rose 26 years later to the rank of Commander-in-Chief, Harry S. Truman. The Division was initially mobilized for World War II, 23 December 1940, at Camp Robinson, Arkansas, with a strong nucleus of Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri National Guard. After Pearl Harbor, the 35th was assigned to defend the West Coast.

Soon after the cadre of Officers and non-coms arrived at San Luis Obispo, the enlisted men poured in; battle-hardened veterans from New York City, the Bronx, Brooklyn, New Jersey and lower New York State. The trials and tribulations of an outfit in training commenced immediately with growing pains, including the placing of a few platoons in quarantine for measles.

FALL IN! FALL OUT! COLUMN RIGHT H-A-A-RCH! CONSTRUCT THE BRIDGE! And few and far between were the awaited words of "Take a ten-minute break." So the training started, and gradually the 60th Engineers began to whip into shape and become a fighting outfit; travelling from the sunny shores of California, where it never rains, to Camp Rucker, Alabama, through the muddy and rainy Tennessee Maneuvers of 1943, on to Camp Butner, North Carolina and finally Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. The stepping-off date - 12 May 1944. No one knew where he was going but knew it wasn't for a vacation. Two weeks later, the latrinograms were proved false and the 60th landed in England. Operating from a base camp at St. Tudy, Cornwall, the Battalion prepared for the coming invasion of France.

On 5 July 1945, the Battalion embarked for the beaches of Normandy, loaded into 4 LST's. The Channel crossing was rough but otherwise uneventful. Omaha Beach was reached on 7 July.

Key Officers at the time were: Commanding Officer, Major Edwin C. Pumroy; Executive Officer, Major Thomas E. Virgin; Commanding Officer, Headquarters and Service Company, Capt. Elwyn W. Smith; Commanding Officer, Company A, Capt. Tim Mercer; Commanding Officer, Company B, Capt. Charles W. Jones; Commanding Officer, Company C, Capt. Fred B. Waters, Jr.

Immediately after disembarking, liaison was established with Division and XIX Corps Headquarters, to which the Division was attached. On 10 July, the Division and Battalion started active participation in the battle for St. Lo, about ¼ mile east of Aire and experienced its first enemy artillery fire that night. Thus commenced the travel of the 60th on the European Continent; moving its Command Post 63 times across the face of Europe until finally reaching American shores again in September 1945 via the Queen Mary.

The primary mission of the Engineers is to facilitate the movement of our own troops, impede the movement of the enemy and provide for shelter and comfort for our own troops. To best accomplish this, one Company, A, B, or C, was normally placed in direct support of each attacking Regiment, the 134th, 137th and 320th respectively. What's an Engineering Mission? Well, let's take a road. The Engineers made that road, and there were many of them in Europe, passable to both foot troops and mechanized traffic. In some cases, the 60th built a new road. In almost all cases, a crater had to be filled, to make the road passable. In all cases, the road had to be swept for mines. When mines were found, they had to be cleared. When the Engineers found a road block, it had to be eradicated. When a bridge was out, the Engineers put one in. Making the European roads passable, and they were almost all bad, was done under constant enemy observation and continuous danger. But roads weren't all. There were many rivers to be crossed, and the Engineers manned the boats that took the assaulting Infantry across those rivers. There was water to be supplied to the entire Division - 15,000 thirsty G.I.'s and the Engineers filled the canteen cups. And there were thousands of enemy mines to be found, blown up and deactivated, and C.P.'s to be dug in and defense works to be constructed and demolition charges to be placed, and pillboxes blown up and many friendly minefields to be laid to confound the Nazi. To accomplish all this Battalion inner structure had to run smoothly; supplies had to be gotten and distributed and the motors of ninety-odd vehicles had to be ready to start rolling at a minute's notice.

The Division was attached to the First Army when a hill at St. Lo appeared over the horizon. Hill No. 122 to the Engineers, who supplied 5 platoons under command of Major Thomas E. Virgin, forming an Engineer Task Force which assisted in its taking. The Normandy hedgerows were an obstacle that the 60th Engineers successfully breached, paving the way for the advance of the tanks and Infantry. Easy to read on paper, but our first heavy casualties occurred in this attack on St. Lo, mostly from Company A, incurred from anti-personnel mines and mortar fire while sweeping for mines. Thus ended the battle for Normandy.

During the attack on St. Lo, the Battalion bivouac area at Villiers Fossard, Manche, was heavily shelled and bombed. However, the casualties were few.

After St. Lo had been captured, the Battalion continued to support the Division in its attack southward towards Torigni-sur-Vire, and on 2 August reached the Vire River, successfully crossed it and Torigni-sur-Vire fell, clearing the Cotentin Peninsula.

The enemy was attempting to break through at Mortain, and on 6 August, the Battalion moved 60 miles to St. Hilaire du Harcourt, where the Division harried the retreating Germans. On 9 August, the second squad, third platoon of Company A was captured in an Infantry Battalion motor pool in the vicinity of Notre Dame du Touchet, when the motor pool was overrun by the enemy. Only two men managed to escape, but the rest of the squad was later freed and returned to the United States after the final capitulation of Germany.

On the 13 August, the Division was detached from the First Army and transferred to the Third, where with the Fourth Armored Division, it led the eastward advance across Northern France.

The 16 August found the Battalion in Theiville, 3 miles south of Chateaudun, where one platoon from Company B was attached to Task Force Sebree, which moved on to occupy Orleans. The water supply in Orleans was kaput, and the civilians faced thirst and disease. The Engineers set up emergency water points and supplied from 60,000 to 80,000 gallons of water per day to the city for civilian and military use.

The advance or rather the race across France continued. On the 17 August, the 320th Infantry moved into Chateaudun through the south. Before they entered, Company C of the 60th passed through the now very fluid enemy lines and entered Chateaudun from the north. They were the first Americans to enter and the reception by the French civilians was, to put it mildly, "terrific." Champagne flowed like water, cases of it and all free the first bubbly water that most of the Engineers had tasted.

In the race from Orleans to Nancy, chasing the fleeing Germans, the Division moved so fast that the only rations issued were K's and ten-in-one's, so that at times, there was much bartering with French civilians for fresh food.

Next stop Artenay on the 19 August; on the 21, Montargis; then to Courtenay and on 29 August, the Battalion was in bivouac 10 miles southwest of Troyes. The jumps became even longer. On 2 September, the Battalion moved 48 miles to Rosnay l'Hopital and on 8 September to Crezilles, a distance of 90 miles; the Division reached Nancy, where the welcome given to the doughboys was that of a minor liberation of Paris.

Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., authorized six to twelve hour passes for soldiers of the Third Army in September for the first time since D-Day and from then on, while in France, the Engineers did their best to cement Franco-American relations with chewing gum, chocolate bars and cigarettes; a not too difficult task.

On 1 September, Lt. Col. John B. Canada was assigned to the unit and assumed command and Major Edwin C. Pumroy became Executive Officer. Capt. Robert W. Johnston became Commanding Officer, Headquarters and Service Company and Capt. Elwyn W. Smith, Commanding Officer, Company B.

At Crezilles, preparations were made to cross the Moselle River which was successfully crossed on 11 September in the vicinity of Grevechamps and the Meurthe River at Rosieres aux Salines, when 2 platoons of Company B seized the bridge intact.

On 15 September, the Battalion moved forward to Rosieres aux Salines and moved again on the 18th to Gallencourt. The 27th, the Battalion moved to la Candale Farm, 10 miles northwest of Gallencourt, which became an almost permanent home, in comparison to previous bivouac areas and the future unforeseen ones. La Candale Farm is remembered by the Battalion chiefly because of the seas of mud. It was nicknamed Mud City. At one time, all the vehicles of Company C were stuck in the mud, and to make matters worse, the bulldozers were deeper than the trucks.

The race across France was over, and there followed a period of "static" warfare, which at times was more wearing than a very active offense. Defensive works were continually being constructed and improved; bridges prepared for demolition; and almost nightly patrolling. The Battalion laid more mines during this period than at any time in the ETO.

On 22 September, the Battalion suffered a great loss when Major Edwin C. Pumroy was killed in action while leading a patrol in the vicinity of Champenoux. On 2 October, the Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. John B. Canada, became ill and was evacuated and Major Philip Botchin assumed command of the Battalion. On 17 October, Capt. Louis H. Johnson was assigned to the Battalion as Executive Officer and 1st Lt. Charles W. Harris was made Commanding Officer, Headquarters and Service Company.

During the defensive operation in the Foret de Gremecy, it became apparent that the enemy could, at will, destroy the earthen dam at the north end of the Lindre Lake, southeast of Dieuze, and flood the Seille River valley. This action by the enemy could isolate the front line regiments from the rest of the Division and cut off supply and communication lines across the river valley. To neutralize this threat, it was decided to destroy this dam by dropping high explosive bombs after all necessary dykes and improvements were made. A great deal of planning went into this operation and it was finally estimated that if the dam was completely destroyed, the valley would be flooded to a depth of five feet and that the river would not recede to its former level for another ten to fifteen days. To protect the road from Aboncourt to Alincourt, Companies A and C constructed a dyke between the road and the river. The regimental C.P.'s were reassured that they would not be flooded, and after all foreseen preparations had been made. Thunderbolt planes skip-bombed the dam on 20 October. The river rose five feet in three days and remained at that level for five days before gradually receding. Although the river rose to the level of the dykes, they adequately protected the roads and bridges.

From 20 to 31 October, Company C constructed a corduroy road near Chambrey for use of ammunition trains of the 216th Field Artillery Battalion. The road they built is probably the longest corduroy road ever constructed in the European Theatre of Operations, using over 10,000 rough timbers and had the added distinction of having a "Y" junction.

On the red side of the ledger, Company B suffered the loss of a platoon on 10 October, when approximately 1500 mines exploded as the men were engaged in a night mine laying operation just north of Ajoncourt. The exact cause of the explosion was never determined, though it was thought that the explosion was caused either by a defective mine exploding or a mortar shell landing in a truck full of mines.

The XII Corps planned to attack to the north and east across the Seille River on 8 November. Standard bridging being limited, it was necessary to bridge the river using local material. Each crossing site was reconnoitered at night and accurate measurements obtained. Built-up wooden treadways were constructed in the Battalion bivouac area for each site; the size and capacity of each being determined by the distance to be bridged and the loads to be carried. The Jallaucourt ramp was a class 60 ramp, 15 feet long and the Mallaucourt ramp was class 40, 20 feet long. On the night of 7 November, Companies B and C cleared numerous gaps in the mine fields and the barbed wire on the main line of resistance so that the infantry regiments could attack through our own defenses. At 0600 the following morning, the Division attacked successfully to the north and east. The squad from Company A encountered machine gun and rifle fire as they attempted to launch the Jallaucourt ramp and it was necessary to use covering fire of assault guns on the tanks that were waiting to cross. The treadway was launched at 1030 and ready for use in 20 minutes. Immediately after launching, tanks successfully crossed the ramps. At the Mallacourt site, the enemy artillery fire was so intense that it was impossible to approach the site with truck and trailer. The ramps, weighing approximately one ton, were carried to the site on a 2 ½ ton trailer, pulled by a jeep and by hand. The casualties incurred in these crossing of the Seille River were quite heavy. The same day, the Battalion moved to Gremecey and on 19 November, the Battalion moved to a bivouac area one mile northeast of Morhange.

All three line companies were busy constructing treadway and Bailey bridges; removing bombs, road blocks and enemy mine fields and filling craters. The enemy had adequately defended the sector with engineering works and the task of demolishing these enemy barriers was tremendous. Mine sweeping was extremely difficult, due to the dampness and muddy roads, in addition to shrapnel which littered the roads and made accurate reporting difficult.

WOJG George O. Huff, Headquarters and Service Company, Battalion Automotive Officer, foreseeing the serious jeopardy to motorized warfare caused by the high tire mortality rate in forward combat zones, designed and constructed an electro-magnetic road sweeping device, called in the Battalion the "scabber-snatcher," which was used in sweeping the large quantities of shell fragments, splinters and other metal from the roads in heavily shelled areas. The use of this device reduced the number of flats by fifty percent and the number of tires salvaged by twenty-five percent. Mr. Huff was later awarded the Legion of Merit for his invention.

Major Botchin was promoted to rank of Lt. Col. on 1 December and on 15 December, Major Alexander G. Sutton, Jr. was assigned to the unit as Executive Officer, Capt. Charles W. Jones assumed command of Company B and Capt. Frank G. Rennis assumed command of Company C.

The 1 December found the Battalion at Erstroff, France, preparing for the drive to the Saar River. The Division reached the Saar on the fifth and the Battalion moved to St. Jean Rohrbach and on the sixth to Heckenransbach, where preparations were made for crossing the Saar. The infantry regiments assaulted the Saar River on the eighth. Immediately after, construction of necessary supporting bridges was begun. Companies A and B constructed a steel treadway over the canal at Sarreinsming and construction of Bailey bridges was started by supporting engineers at this point, Sarreguemines and Wittring. At Wittring, although the river was less than 100 feet wide, it required 290 feet of bridging; a 130 foot class 40 Bailey bridge over the railroad, a 60 foot Bailey over the canal and a 100 foot Bailey over the Saar itself. Yet another river appeared - the Blies - which was successfully crossed and a bridgehead established in Germany on 17 December. The Battalion had crossed the Division over three rivers in a period of eight days; the Moderbach, Saar and Blies Rivers, but the cost was heavy, probably the most trying period in the history of the Battalion. Seven men from Company A received the Presidential Citation for action with the 134th Infantry Regiment in the assault on the Blies River.

Relieved by the 42nd Infantry Division, the 35th (minus it Artillery) moved to Metz on 24 December, the first rest period since landing in Europe and spent Christmas in Metz. The next day, the Battalion left for the north to counteract the German counteroffensive, having been assigned to the Third Corps. The following morning, the Division attacked to the north along the Belgian-Luxembourg border to aid in the rescue of the 101st Airborne Division in Bastogne. Again supporting the advancing doughboy, Company B constructed two bridges across the Sufbach River and Company C built a footbridge over the Sure River. After the river crossings, stiff enemy resistance was encountered and the bridges over the Sure were wired for demolition in case of an enemy breakthrough.

Defensive measures were maintained by the Battalion until 18 January and during the last ten days of the Engineers' stay in the Ardennes sector, heavy snow and ice necessitated 24 hour operation of dozers, snow plows and patrols, sanding icy spots on the road in the Division sector. In addition to the ice, the usual hazard was present - mines, which had to be cleared.

On 19 January, the Division less one Regiment returned south to Metz and preparations were made for training in the assault of land fortifications. One platoon of Company A remained behind with the 134th Infantry at Bastogne.

Training schedules were thrown aside when movement orders were again received and the Division moved into the Vosges Mountains to assist against another threatened enemy breakthrough. The Division was now attached to the XV Corps, Seventh Army.

During this holding position, the Battalion spent most of its time organizing defensive positions and removing surplus demolition charges placed by previous units. The mess sergeants hunted for deer, to provide some venison relief from the constant diet of dehydrated foods.

The Battalion again moved on the 30 January, this time back north and into Holland in preparation for the Battle of the Rhineland. The move this time covered nearly 300 miles. Here the Division was assigned to the XVI Corps of the Ninth Army, which was under Lt. Gen. William H. Simpson, who commanded the Santa Fe Division from October 1941 to the spring of 1942.

On 4 February, the 35th Division relieved the 52nd British Infantry Division at St. Geertruid, Holland. The area had been extensively mined, and preparations were made to clear the roads for the Division's role in the Ninth Army's assault of the Roer River. Known as "Operation Grenade," the assault of the Roer was scheduled for 10 February. An attack by the First Army in the south caused the enemy to open two of its largest dams across the Urft River, a tributary of the Roer, and 160 million cubic feet of water poured into the Roer Valley, postponing "Operation Grenade" until 23 February, 1945.

Until the crossing could be effected, the Battalion was engaged in extensive road maintenance due to spring thaws. Company A conducted an assault school for infantry personnel of the 134th Infantry; Company B personnel attended a school on enemy mines and booby traps and Company C constructed a Bailey bridge over the Wurm River north of Dremmen and prepared it immediately for demolition in the event of a German breakthrough.

"Operation Grenade" went off as scheduled at 0330 hours 23 February and Companies A and C, with supporting engineer combat battalions facilitating the advance of the 134th and 320th Infantry Regiments. The now familiar story repeated itself on different territory - mines, road blocks, bridges. Swinging north along the east bank of the Roer, the Division then turned to the east and the rapid advance of Task Force Byrne found the 35th near Lintfort. The Division then pushed to the west bank of the Rhine River on 11 March, occupying the sector extending roughly near the towns of Rheinberg and Ossenberg northward to the town of Wessel.

On 12 March, the Division was relieved by the 75th Infantry Division, having suffered rather severe losses in the fighting across the Roer to the Rhine River. The Battalion moved by motor convoy southwest to Heibenend, southeast of Venlo, where the outfit had the first extended rest period since landing in Europe - two weeks. Ample advantage was taken of passes to Brussels, six hours from Venlo by 2 ½ ton truck.

Early on the morning of 25 March, the Rhine River was crossed by the 75th Division and the following day, the Battalion moved out to cross the Rhine and enter the final stage of the war in Europe. The Battle for Central Germany had begun.

For the first time, the Americans met civilians who were hostile, and although there were no outward signs of hostility, the German civilians did not "welcome" the conquerors as had the French and Belgians. There were no wild celebrations in the streets of the ruined towns, but very quiet and hostile stares and the white flags appeared from every window, even before we entered a town. The only persons to welcome us were the thousands upon thousands of freed slave laborers - French, Polish, Russian, Yugoslav, Dutch, all the peoples of Europe that Hitler had forcibly transferred into Germany. But fraternization with civilians, German or otherwise, was not condoned by the Division, as everyone in Germany was regarded as an enemy, whatever the nationality.

The Division entered the line in the industrial heart of Germany, the Ruhr. On 31 March, the Battalion moved to Gladbeck and the Companies continued to clear communication lines and removed more road blocks, both on the German Superhighway - the Autobahn - and on approaches to the Autobahn.

Early in April, the Division swung to the South. The mission was a holding one along the Rhine-Herne and Emscher Canals - the northern line of the Ruhr pocket. Engineer material was scarce. To save bridging, preparations were made to destroy various locks on the canals, thus draining them so that culverts and fills could be used when the Division attacked. After determined efforts by the Germans to prevent destruction of the locks had been repulsed, the line Companies succeeded in destroying all locks except one in the Division sector. Of 5 April, Company A constructed a footbridge across the Emscher Canal which was used by infantry patrols.

On 9 April, the 134th and 137th Infantry Regiments attacked to the south and Company A constructed an expedient footbridge over the Emscher Canal which was used by assaulting troops. Northwest of Herne, Company B decked a railroad bridge over both canals which allowed vehicular traffic to cross in close support of the infantry. Company B also constructed two expedient footbridges over the locks of the Rhine-Herne Canal at Horsthausen. Company C, in Battalion reserve, maintained guard over several hundred allied nationals in the vicinity of Drewer Mark, cleared demolished bridges on the Autobahn and mined a cache of cognac.

The Division reached the Ruhr River and on 12 April was pinched off, no longer in contact with the enemy. At this time, the mad dash of the Armies to the banks of the Elbe was on and on the 13th, the Engineer Battalion covered 220 miles to the village of Bahrdorf, arriving there the next day. The Division was assigned to the XIX Corps for operations and on the 15th, was attached to the XIII Corps in the drive on the Elbe River.

The 15 April found the 60th at Sandbeindorf and virtually on the banks of the Elbe north of Magdeburg. By the 22 April, the Division had cleared a sector from organized enemy resistance, about 40 miles wide and 70 miles deep, fronting on the Elbe River; the nearest any American Division came to Berlin. On the 24th, Companies A, B and Headquarters Company, working in conjunction with one Battalion of the 134th Infantry Regiment, cleared the woods northeast of Colbitz, but found no enemy troops.

On the 26th, the Engineer Battalion moved west with the Division and the Battalion took over the task of occupying and governing the city of Hanover. The Battalion was helped in guarding the city by about 150 liberated French prisoners of war. One of the chief difficulties was controlling the thousands of liberated peoples, who, giving vent to their hatred of everything German, went around the city in bands and attacked their former masters, who fled to the American soldier for protection. May Day in Hanover was a tremendous holiday and it seemed that all over the city every one of the estimated 80,000 displaced persons and liberated prisoners of war was waving a red flag. German civilians were almost non-existent in the streets on the first of May. The holiday continued for the next three weeks.

On 6 May, the Battalion was transferred south of Hanover to govern a sector in the vicinity of Eldagsen. Displaced persons were everywhere, tramping the roads on the way back to their homes or what remained of them. Military Government teams were established by the 60th to rule the area and rout out all Nazis. V-E Day found the Battalion in Eldagsen.

Then the Division began the move back to France, and home. 19 May, the Battalion was back in the Ruhr, assembled east of Recklinghausen. Ten days later found the Battalion in the vicinity of Koblenz at Winningen and Kobern on the Moselle River. The Division was now attached to the XXIII Corps of the Fifteenth Army. The first real vacation and rest that the 60th Engineers had had since landing in Europe occurred while in the Moselle River Valley. There, passes to Paris, the Riviera, England and Brussels were plentiful and those that were not on pass, played softball, went swimming, drank Rhenish and Moselle wines and fought against temptations of fraternizations.

The Division was scheduled to fight again in the Pacific and just before the Battalion left for Camp Norfolk in the Assembly Area Command near Rheims, 13 July, all those Officers and men who were eligible for discharge under the point system and who wished to leave the Army, were transferred to the 81st Engineer Combat Battalion, attached to the 106th Infantry Division. Their places were filled with low point Officers and men from the 81st and other engineer units. Most of the men who had been with the Battalion from the very beginning of its existence left at this time and the 60th Engineers, though still in top fighting condition, was definitely not the same one that had landed on Omaha Beach on 7 July 1944.

V-J Day found the 60th at Camp Norfolk. A few days later, the outfit was shipped to Camp Lucky Strike and then to Tidworth Barracks, England, where after a few days of Piccadilly Circus, came the Queen Mary and Camp Kilmer, New Jersey and joy of joys, the Separation Centers. The few remaining Officers and men not eligible for discharge, assembled after their recuperation furloughs at Camp Breckinridge, Ky., and were transferred to other units prior to the deactivation of the 60th on 21 November 1945.

Although heroism and valor cannot always be measured by medals and honors, members of the 60th Engineer Combat Battalion received the following awards:

Distinguished Service Award - Headquarters and Service Company
Bronze Stars - 85
One Cluster to Bronze Star - 5
Two Clusters to Bronze Star - 1
Silver Star - 19
Legion of Merit - 1
Soldier's Medal - 1
Purple Heart - 210
One Cluster to Purple Heart - 24
Two Clusters to Purple Heart - 3
Certificate of Merit - 33

The 60th Engineers had a short-lived but very active and prominent career in defeating the Nazi. It is hoped that this concluded the history of the 60th Engineer Combat Battalion and that the need for its mobilization never again arises.


Transcribed by Roberta V. Russo, Palatine IL

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