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Rich Anderson Articles
US Army in WWII

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US Army in World War II
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 or army.

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 American Army.
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 in Europe.
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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 military campaigns.

Published online: 2000.
Last Modified: 02/11/2007.

* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MHO.
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