US Army in World War II
Engineers and Logistics
by Rich Anderson
It was perhaps fitting that the U.S. Army, with an officer corps heavily
influenced by the teachings of the United States Military Academy (which was
the first engineering school in the United States), should be lavishly equipped
with engineer troops and equipment. The divisional combat engineer battalions
were capable of performing most engineering tasks (including demolitions,
obstacle emplacement, fortification, and light bridge building) for the
division. Additional battalions from corps or army augmented divisional
engineers for more extensive tasks. Corps battalions were assigned to the
command of an engineer group headquarters, which consisted of an H&H
Company and an engineer light equipment company. Normally there were between
three and six battalions in an engineer group and one or two groups per corps
Combat engineer battalions tended to have high esprit de corps; they rightly
considered themselves to be elite specialists. In a pinch, combat engineers
also could act as infantry and did so frequently. In the Battle of the Bulge, a
handful of engineer battalions proved to be a vital asset to the beleaguered
In addition to the combat engineer battalions there were in the Army a number
of other general engineer units. The Engineer Amphibian Brigade was designed to
support amphibious operations and included an H&H Company, three
boat-and-shore regiments, a boat maintenance battalion, a medical battalion,
and a quartermaster, ordnance, and a signal company. A single amphibian brigade
(with naval support) was capable of transporting and landing an infantry
division. Later, the brigade was strengthened and re-designated as the Engineer
Special Brigade. Six Engineer Special Brigades, numbered 1st to 6th, were
eventually formed. The 1st served in the MTO, ETO and PTO, the 5th and 6th
served in the ETO, the others all served in the PTO.
Engineer aviation regiments and battalions were designed to construct and
maintain air bases. Aviation engineers included engineer airborne aviation
battalions, which were designed to be air transportable; so as to repair
airfields captured by airborne forces.
Engineer bridging units included heavy ponton (the word pontoon is properly
pronounced ponton, and beginning in World War II, that is the way it has been
spelled by U.S. Army Engineers) battalions (nineteen formed, allotted usually
one to three per army), light ponton companies (usually one per engineer
group), and treadway bridge companies (usually one per armored division, but
held at corps).
Engineer general service regiments and battalions performed construction,
repair, and maintenance duties of all kinds behind the front lines. Many
general service battalions were formed as pools of unskilled labor troops,
usually African-American, and later were organized as regiments. Fifty-five of
the 103 general service regiments that were formed were Colored units.
Engineer special service regiments (seven formed) contained highly skilled
construction personnel and had a large allotment of heavy equipment. The
remainder of the engineer corps was made up of various specialist units,
topographic, water supply, railway, oil field, railway operating, and
camouflage battalions. In addition, there were large numbers of separate
companies and even specialist engineer detachments consisting of a few officers
and men. Over 600 battalion-size engineer units were formed during the war.
Curiously, only the engineer combat regiments were broken up into separate
battalions as a part of the pool concept in 1943. The H&H Company of the
engineer combat regiments were re-designated as engineer combat groups in 1943.
The other specialized engineer regiments were retained to the end of the war.
Transportation and Logistics
The U.S. Army transportation and logistic network performed prodigious feats in
World War II. Millions of tons of food, weapons, and equipment, and millions of
men were transported to every corner of the globe. Supplies were moved by ship
to ports in the war zones and then to forward supply bases. Quartermaster units
attached to the armies then moved the supplies forward to corps supply dumps.
Divisional quartermaster units then, in turn, moved the supplies forward and
distributed them to units. Ground transport was by railroad, truck, and, in
many theaters, mule-pack and man-pack. Ammunition supply was performed in a
similar manner, except that it was the responsibility of the Ordnance Corps.
In general, most types of supply were plentiful. Food, clothing and general
equipment items were usually plentiful. However, gasoline (petrol), oil, and
lubricants (called POL, a term inherited from the British) and ammunition
tended to be in short supply at many times in most theaters of war. POL could
be difficult to get forward, container trucks and trailers worked well for unit
distribution, but were inefficient for long hauls, as was the case in Europe.
The solution in Europe was PLUTO (for pipeline under the ocean), a POL pipeline
(actually a number of separate pipelines) laid across the English Channel and
with a terminus that eventually reached to Belgium. In the Pacific, it was
often a simple matter of tying up a tanker to a pier and pumping fuel directly
into trucks on the dock.
Ammunition, particularly artillery ammunition, tended to be a much more
pernicious problem. In the early stages of the Army's expansion there were
plans calling for a high priority in the production of 105mm shells of all
types, inasmuch as these were the standard, general-support divisional field
piece. Ammunition for heavier guns was accorded a lower priority, under the
assumption that mobile warfare would reduce the utility of large, unwieldy and
relatively immobile large artillery pieces. Unfortunately, a number of factors
then intervened. First, congressional criticism was raised over large over
stocks of all types of artillery ammunition that had accumulated in Tunisia in
1943. The Army was pressured to scale back production, particularly of 105mm
ammunition. Secondly, the perceived need for an expansion of the heavy and
medium artillery was mirrored by an expansion of the production facilities for
the heavier types of shells. The expansion in heavy shell production was
facilitated by converting light ammunition production to heavy. Thus, by late
1943 priorities had shifted radically. Many plants were retooling for other
production, while some 105mm plants were closed completely. Events in France
and Italy in mid 1944 then changed all the assumptions again. The fierce German
resistance in the bocage of Normandy and in the Appenine Mountains of Italy
placed a premium on all types of ammunition - just as stocks of 105mm
ammunition began to shrink. Rationing was instituted (and extended to most
other types of mortar and artillery ammunition), and captured German weapons
and ammunition were utilized against their former owners. By 1 January 1945 the
entire ETO stock of 105mm ammunition was reduced to 2,524,000 rounds, a
twenty-one-day supply according to War Department planning factors, which were
widely acknowledged to be too optimistic. The poor flying weather encountered
in Europe in the fall and winter exacerbated this near-disastrous situation:
Allied airpower was not always available to take up the slack. Although
emergency measures in theater and in the U.S. improved matters, artillery
ammunition shortages were to remain a chronic problem until the end of the war
Copyright © 2000 Rich Anderson.
Written by Rich Anderson. If you have questions or comments on this
article, please contact Rich Anderson at:
About the author:
Richard C. Anderson, Jr. works as the Chief Historian at the The
Dupuy Institute (a non-profit organization dedicated to scholarly
research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict
and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides
independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern
Published online: 2000.
Last Modified: 02/11/2007.
* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent
those of MHO.