Dedicated to all the Tigers -- living and dead -- who served so gallantly in World War II
55th Armored Engineer Battalion
by Major Morris Weintraub
The 55th Armored Engineer Battalion (AEB) was activated as a part of the 10th Armored Division some time in June 1942. The original commander was Colonel Daniel Spengler, a great trainer and leader. On its activation, there was originally a cadre of battalion officers and enlisted men with the rank of staff sergeant and above.
During July 1942, I was one of the 20 shining new second lieutenants who arrive from Fort Belvoir, Virginia Officers Training Center. The battalion consisted of a cadre of officers and a cadre of enlisted men trained together for over two months in preparation for new recruits to be sent to our battalion.
We received the recruits directly from induction centers some time in October. I was assigned as personnel officer to work with the Division personnel officers. We ought to note that the recruits came from all over the country. By November, we started our basic training.
Purpose of TMO:
General organization of Battalion - vehicles and materials it carried to help the Division to keep moving.
Headquarters company serviced the Battalion headquarters and supported combat companies with material when needed - lumber, wire, cement, sand, mines, booby traps, TNT, etc. Vehicles were jeeps, a command half track, crane, roadgrader, bulldozer, dumb trucks, communication trucks, and equipment. Also, responsible to support combat company with food, clothing, tents, blankets, ammunition, etc.
Combat Armored Engineer Company consisted of a Headquarters section responsible for feeding the whole company - platoons and squads. The First Sergeant controlled the company; the mess sergeant took care of supplies, such as clothing, blankets, ammunition, etc. The motor sergeant was responsible to see that all vehicles kept moving, including a bulldozer.
Officers who ran the combat company were a captain of the company and a first lieutenant who was the executive officer.
The platoons consisted of a lieutenant and a staff sergeant who controlled the platoon through three squads headed by sergeants and corporals.
The vehicles for each squad were a half-track and jeeps and trucks.
Example of Typical Unit Operation and Combat Methodology:
The general breakdown of our battalion was as follows:
At Division Headquarters the Battalion Commander was considered the Division Engineer and worked closely with the Division Commanding General and his staff.
The Division in combat was broken up into three commands:
Combat Command "A"
Combat Command "B"
Combat Command "R" (Reserve)
The Battalion Commander placed each company under a combat command.
"A" Company was under Combat Command "A"
"B" Company was under Combat Command "B"
"C" Company was under Combat Command "R"
In the Combat Command, the captain of the Engineers worked close to the general and his staff and was known as the Combat Command Engineer.
In a normal attack of the Combat Command, they would set up two combat attack forces and a Reserve force. The company then was broken up into assignments of a platoon with each combat attack force, and the third platoon was assigned to the Reserve Force. The Headquarters group and the company commander worked with the Command Command Headquarters.
A combat attack force was usually commanded by an Infantry battalion commander or Tank battalion commander. The platoon leader was the combat attack force engineer. In each combat attack force, when they moved out to attack, the point party of the attack was usually set up this way:
In this operation, the infantry and the engineer squad rode in half-tracks. It was important because the rumble of tanks always brought artillery fire on it.
This can be described as typical unit operations and combat methodology of the 55th AEB.
Example of Unit Operation as Related to 10th Armored Division Combat History:
When we moved out of Normandy after finally getting all our equipment, we came under the command of 3rd Army. I remember meeting General Patton when he welcomed to his command the entire Division in an open field.
I have two examples of unit operations as related to the 10th Armored Division's Combat History.
First, when in our initial operation, we stopped from entering into the Saar-Moselle Triangle - we were pulled back to regroup. We were in rest for about two days, when on evening, we suddenly received orders to load up and to literally follow the vehicle in front of us. We noticed that we were going north, but we did not know where or why.
The next morning, we were called together by the Battalion Commander and informed that the Germans were attacking. Again, we were broken up into combat commands. Combat Command "A" with Company "A" of the 55th AEB was sent north of Luxembourg to prevent the Germans from breaking south through Luxembourg. Combat Command "B" was sent straight north to help stop the Germans from breaking too far west.
We did not know it at the time, but it was the very beginning of the Battle of the Bulge. "A" Company of the 55th AEB was given responsibility of blowing all bridges coming south toward Luxembourg. They did an excellent job in that not one German or German unit got into Luxembourg.
Combat Command "B" with "C" Company of the 55th AEB moved north - ran into no resistance and bedded down for the night. Suddenly, all hell broke loose as the Germans surprised the unit and almost decimated it. However, many of the men kept fighting and the unit ended up in Bastogne.
When the Battle of the Bulge was contained, the Division and the 55th AEB were sent to the town of Metz to reorganize and receive replacements as the Division and the 55th AEB as whole was badly mauled.
The second incident I want to tell you about came after we moved out of Metz when the Division was given the mission to take the area called the Saar-Moselle Triangle. We were successful in taking the area. However, we were now facing one of the largest cities in Germany - the city of Trier. There was one problem - we had to cross the Saar River and the Siegfried line faced us on the other side.
To make the river crossings, there were two divisions - the 10th Armored Division and the 94th Infantry Division, and they were given a sector. "B" Company of the 55th AEB had the responsibility to deliver boats to both divisions and to supply the men to row the boats up and back. "A" Company of the 55th AEB was given the responsibility to supply the Engineers to go along with the 10th Armored Division infantry to carry explosives and support the infantry in blowing up the fortifications. "C" Company of the 55th AEB eventually handled motor boats and a ferry they had built. The first truck loaded with dynamite was taken across and the Engineers were able to make the Siegfried line inoperative as we entered into and captured the city of Trier. Our division was the first unit to get into Germany through the Siegfried Line.
Unit Citations and Performance Record:
Any citations given to the Division reflected a great deal to the help of the 55th AEB. Many Silver Stars and Bronze Star medals were won and there were many purple hearts.
You must recognize that in all combat, the 55th AEB was always broken up among the various operations of the 10th Armored Division and their combat commands. Therefore, if there were any special citations given to these combat commands, these citations were also given to the 55th Armored Engineer Company, platoon, or even battalion. For example, any citations given to units in the Battle of the Bulge by Army or Corps must have been given to "C" Company of the 55th AEB who was caught up in Bastogne and "A" Company who supported Combat Command "A" in preventing the Germans from coming south into Luxembourg or into France by blowing up so many bridges.
Outstanding Unit Achievements:
The Outstanding Unit Achievements were cited in paragraph #12 of my report. The job done by the 10th Armored Division in the Battle of the Bulge and the river crossing at the city of Ayl and the breakthrough of the Siegfried Line and the capture at the time of one of the largest cities in Germany, "Trier," were two incidents which units of the 55th AEB were major factors in insuring the success of the 10th Armored Division combat missions.
Memorable Individual Performances and Decorations:
As you can see from the many operations in combat that units of the 55th AEB were in, many awards and decorations were given to a great many officers and enlisted men in the 55th AEB. Surely, there must be some official records of who the recipients were and what the awards were for. I, myself, humbly state that I was honored and privileged to receive the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Silver Star. I am especially proud of the Silver Star which was awarded to me as S-3 of the 55th AEB for supervising and personally delivering the first truck load of TNT across the Saar River at the city of Ayl under heavy enemy artillery. This TNT was used to blow up the fortifications so the the Division was able to capture the city of Trier.
As to a memorable posthumous deed of bravery, I would like to bring attention to Lieutenant Colonel J. Wadsworth Clapp who, as Battalion Commander of the 55th AEB, realizing the difficulty of the river crossing at the city of Ayl, went there personally to insure its success. While there, Lieutenant Colonel Clap was killed. Needless to say, this was a great loss to the Battalion.
Transcribed from "The Tigers, History of the 10th Armored Division, Turner Publishing, 1988
Above, soldiers of Company C, 55th Engineer Battalion