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The 244th Engineer Combat BN Website

This page is dedicated to the memory of my father,
T-5 Emanuel A. Kaufman (1922-2014), who served with the 244th in
World War Two 

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WHAT'S NEW:
Over 30 photos added to the PHOTOS page

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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is one of the oldest branches of service. Engineers are responsible for various types of construction projects, both during war and in peace time. (1) These projects include construction of bridges, mine clearing, debris removal, building and airfield construction, and performing as infantry in defending their projects or as necessary. (2)

Combat engineers are one of the separate elements that make up the corps. As their name implies, many of their missions consist of projects charged in combat conditions. In WW II, the Table of Organization determined that combat engineer battalions were 800-man units. The battalions consisted of a headquarters and service company, three lettered companies (A, B and C), and a medical detachment. The 244th Engineer Combat Battalion was activated at Camp Shelby, MS 25 Oct 43, with a cadre from both the 4th Armored Engineer and 8th Armored Engineer Battalions. In a peculiar situation, the GIs assigned to this battalion were either from New England or the Southeast. The first battalion CO was Maj. Frank E. (Rusty) Stevenson.

March 1944 found the unit engaged in the Tennessee Maneuvers. Heavy rains washed away the accumulated snow still laying on the ground. A valuable lesson during these maneuvers was learned by those members of the battalion who neglected to bring their gas masks. A sobering lesson was learned when 21 GIs drowned in swollen rivers.

The battalion returned to Shelby by 3 June 44. Personnel losses due to transfers began to shortchange the 244th. A large group went to cadre another battalion and an even greater number were sent to the 69th Infantry Division, which itself had been raided for replacements. By 31 Jul 44, battalion replacements brought the TO back up. Training the replacements began in earnest, as did preparation for overseas deployment.

On 22 Oct 44, the battalion received its orders for deployment, the next day, it was on a troop train to an unknown destination. When the unit arrived at Camp Kilmer, NJ, the main Port of Embarkation for the ETO, the GIs has their first clue as to their destination. On 29 Oct 44, the battalion set sail in a convoy on the S.S. Explorer. The EM were assigned bunks, stacked four high, and all members were given instructions for procedures in the event of aerial or submarine attack. The men kept their thoughts to themselves as the Statue of Liberty grew smaller in the distance.

The first few days of the crossing were uneventful, and then powerful winds began buffeting the sea and, of course, the ship. Fish were fed quite well until the men learned not to eat in these conditions. The battalion gratefully landed at Avonmouth, England 10 Nov 44. Combat training began on an accelerated schedule. PT, drill (the staple of military training), mines and booby traps, machinegun drills and long, longer, and longest hikes were all part of the training. LTC Stevenson was relieved of command – well aware of his reputation, he had expressed some reservations concerning his safety en route – and a temporary CO, Maj. Freij, took over. The Battle of the Bulge broke 16 Dec 44 and the battalion was slated as reinforcements.

This change of leadership disrupted the plans that SHAEF had for the deployment of the 244th. The battalion languished in England while reports were generated and a suitable CO was located. While significant to the battalion, this series of events, when compared to the fluid, confusing and explosive situation in the Ardennes for the totally unprepared SHAEF was of little significance to them. Major Thomas Bowen, who had been XO, was promoted to LTC and took command of the battalion. It wasn’t until 24 Dec 44 that the battalion sailed for France and the ETO, arriving on Christmas in the early evening. The men nervously noted the numerous mines floating in the water. Little did the battalion know, nor did anyone else, that at 1800 hours, the S.S.Leopoldville, carrying troops from the 66th Infantry Division, would be torpedoed just off the French coast, following the 244th’s route. Nearly 900 officers and EM were lost, as the civilian crew abandoned ship, without giving instructions, radioing for assistance or lowering lifeboats. No one was wearing life belts on the doomed vessel nor was anyone in the 244th.

After the engineers landed safely in France, they were fed only Spam for three days straight and then ordered to give up their bivouac and shelter to the survivors of the 66th torpedo attack. Most people are familiar with the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes, which was a familiar route of attack (except apparently to U.S. Army intelligence) throughout the long history of Europe. This attack route was one of two meant to cut Allied supply lines enabling the Germans to retake the port of Antwerp. The other German route of attack was farther north in the Colmar region, where the 244th was committed. Rushed northward by train, the engineers were given their first combat assignment 14 Jan 45 – the mining of a snowy field as a blocking action for the 100th Infantry Division near the crossroads town of Bitche, east of Metz. The 244th was headquartered near Hirschland, where -26o temperatures greeted the engineers.

The minefield, defensed with anti-tank mines, was prepared near the fortifications of the Maginot Line, which proved fortuitous. German positions were only 1,500 yards away, and they began shelling the 244th. The engineers scurried to the safety of the blockhouses, each of which was approximately 400-1,000 feet apart. This potentially deadly game of cat and mouse continued whenever the engineers were observed during their continuous mining efforts. Oftentimes, to avoid German scrutiny, the engineers prepared the minefield at night. During all these artillery bombardments, the battalion had only one casualty, an officer who went to the aid of a casualty form another engineer unit. Battalion equipment wasn’t as fortunate. An accident occurred within A Co, when Pvt John T. Mathis, a new replacement, inadvertently set off a mine which killed him and seriously wounded another engineer. The A Co. medics froze, not willing to venture out in a snow-covered minefield. A C Co. medic raced out through the minefield to treat and retrieve the wounded GI. The medic then retraced his steps and recovered the remains of Pvt. Mathis.

Even though the artillery shelling was somehow erratic, and casualties were so light, it was difficult to get food up to the engineers. Hunting parties for the small European deer which lived in the area were encouraged and successful. The hunters soon learned that armor-piercing rounds did not leave much meat. Another problem was the weather. The winter of 1944-45 was one of the coldest on records, with continual lows in the -20s, and the battalion lacked proper protective winter clothing. Shoepacks, woolen long johns and gloves were not available to the engineers, or to many frontline troops. The rear echelon personnel were helping themselves. When the clothing finally arrived – it was spring. In mid-February `45 the 244th was dispatched for road repair in the vicinity of Dieuze, Belgium. In support of 7th U.S. Army operations, and without the encouragement from enemy artillery, the battalion worked seven days a week. Armor troops let their appreciation be known. Morale improved, especially in the areas being worked by B Co. Two enterprising engineers, Wilber and Weed, successfully scrounged or requisitioned enough scrap wood and other materials and built showers.

Road repair continued well into March, but the engineers maintained their infantry skills with rifle and automatic weapons training. In mid-March 1945, the 244th Engineer Combat battalion was transferred to the 9th U.S. Army, which was actually under command and control of the British 21st Army Group, and operations in Germany. On March 19th, the battalion entered Germany. Many of the engineers were surprised at how little was left or Aachen, a major city that arrogantly resisted American efforts toward its ultimate surrender. It seemed that the tallest building was knee high to those who got out to stretch their legs. The famous Siegfried Line was equally devastated in the area. Fanning out for shelter away from the Aachen city limits, the 244th took over German homes, and the men were pleasantly surprised at how superior the German homes were, in soundness, structure and amenities, when compared to the French. On March 24th, the battalion was assigned to the assault crossings across the Rhine River in the vicinity of Wallach.
 

The mission of the 244th was the construction of road approaches to both ends of a 1,760 feet long floating Bailey bridge. Crossing the Rhine, thought by the Germans to be their national and historical boundary, with a defense expected equivalent to its psychological value, was expected by the Allies to be an exceedingly dangerous operation. This German defense, unlike in the previous months, was anticipated to be organized, directed, static and fierce. Beginning at 0200 hours in a drizzling mist – which turned the dirt surfaces to mud – the engineers began dumping truckload after truckload of rocks. Bulldozers began pushing them into place. A few remaining German aircraft continued an aerial assault against the crossings, but accurate AAA fire, working closely with searchlight units, kept knocking them down. Tracers of all calibers were flying – and they are the only bullets which could be seen. German artillery had been forced to retreat out of range. A light treadway bridge had already been erected by armored engineers, but 9th U.S. Army wanted the stronger and longer Bailey to support U.S. medium and heavy tanks as Allied forces exploited the river crossing. Once the bridge was built, the 244th took a short break and crossed the Rhine themselves at Wesel on a British-built bridge. With Germany collapsing, there were no real front lines, and no real organized German defense.

 ,What little defense was sporadic and uncoordinated, sometimes fierce, sometimes face-saving. Germany was not able to slow down the flood that was the advance of Allied ground forces from the west or from the east. The 244th was in this flood, and really had no time to unpack, let alone do any work. In mid-April, the battalion set up in Fallersleben (current headquarters for Volkswagen) which was, at the time, the home of Kraftwagen Werks, the largest builder of the German jeep, or Küblewagen. Fallersleben, east of Munchen-Gladbach, was a typical German village. Villagers were neither friendly nor outwardly hostile. As they had done in other locations, the battalion put out road and bridge guards. The atmosphere of the occupation of Fallersleben began to change to one of uneasiness and foreboding. The German villagers began avoiding the GIs, became recalcitrant at curfew – and then all seem to have disappeared. Battalion operations were increased in size and the numbers of GIs assigned to them. Co B. was assigned to guard the town and its immediate approaches, Co. A was in reserve, and Co. C was guarding the canals and a possible enemy escape route. It became known that there was a sizable force of German armored infantry troops and their tanks may be in the area. Intelligence reports had it that the U.S. 5th Armored Division bypassed them en route to another location. Battalion reconnaissance failed to turn up anything, and the townspeople certainly had nothing to offer. They remained hidden. The 244th began preparing reinforced defensive positions and determining possible enemy routes of attack.

Early in the morning of April 21st, the sounds of a moving armored force were heard. Battalion HQ determined that it was German. Reconnaissance reports indicated that there were several tanks and perhaps 400 supporting infantrymen. Once the German forces met the outposts, the battle was on. The attacking Germans forced the overwhelmed OPs back into the village. German troops, welcomed into the village, fought from inside homes and other buildings. The battalion regrouped and fought back with an organized response. The GIs managed to knock out three tanks and forced the accompanying infantrymen to flee or to surrender. There were more than 30 German killed in their assault. The engineers handed over more than 150 POWs to the 102nd Infantry Division. The battalion had six EM KIA (five from Co. B) and ten WIA. Subsequent battalion patrols partnered with the 102nd Infantry Division netted many more German POWs in the next few days. The battalion had little time to mourn or receive replacements, as they had new orders to move up to the Elbe River, to a point that is approximately 30 miles south of Hamburg. That point was the city of Bleckede, and the mission was to build a bridge across the Elbe. The result was arguably the battalion’s greatest accomplishment in WW II, they received a letter of commendation from Lt. General James M. Gavin, commander of XVIII Airborne Corps. Please see the attached story in this web site about that specific mission.

Following the end of the war in the ETO, the battalion built an Army rest camp near Saalsee at Zarrentin, in Germany. Following a short occupation in Germany, the battalion was transferred to France and began preparations for the upcoming invasion of Japan. The battalion learned that it would be glider-borne in an aviation assault later that year. The atomic attacks against Japan brought an end to WW II and an end to glider-training. At Camp Chicago (near Laon, in the Oise region), the battalion was engaged in building the remainder of the camp, which included Neisen, Romney, Swiss, American Stee huts and several other buildings. The most popular may have been the NCO Club, and then the PFC Club. The engineers also built several athletic fields for regiment-sized and battalion-sized teams. The battalion was also sending out work details throughout France that lasted for weeks to months. Replacements continued to come in. When engineers returned back to battalion, they sometimes didn’t recognize anyone. It was at Camp Chicago when the engineers learned that a new round of discharges was coming forth. The 244th also learned that the 277th Engineer Combat Battalion, which had gone overseas at the same time as the 244th, was not only taking the 244th veterans home, but was going home AS the 244th Combat Engineer Battalion. This caused many GIs left behind on occupation duty to notify family and friends it was not THE 244th coming home. This unit identity switch also caused a great deal of confusion with official Army records. In any case, the remainder of the original 244th Engineer Battalion returned home by early 1946.

(1) In WW II, units as diverse as engineer petroleum distributing companies, base utility detachments, topographical engineer (map making) battalions, and engineer fire fighting platoons were included in the corps of engineers.
(2) ",The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had the following types if units during WW II:

 

©2005-2013 David Kaufman
All Rights Reserved
Updated: 17 July, 2015
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