1128th Engineer Combat Group

Image: 188th Combat Engineers working to set up a bridge
Men of the 188th Engineer Combat Battalion working to set up a bridge. Photo by Bruce Burdett, 188th ECB veteran.

Action Against Enemy

1128th Engineer Combat Group
APO #230 U. S. Army

SUBJECT: Action Against Enemy.
THROUGH: Army Engineer, First U. S. Army, APO #230
TO: The Adjutant General, Washington, D. C.

On 15 December 1944, one day prior to the initial hostilities involving this unit, the 1128th Engineer Combat Group was located at P 478278 (Habay La Vielle, Belgium). This organization was operating as an Engineer Group, in the First U. S. Army and was in direct support of VIII Corps, which in turn was on the front from approximately L 0496 (vicinity Scheid, Germany), generally along the west bank of the Our River to Echternach (L 0536), thence west along the west bank of the Moselle River to L 0204.

The Group was composed of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1128th Engineer Combat Group, the 158th, 299th, and the 1278th Engineer Combat Battalions, the 467th Engineer Maintenance Company, and the 626th Engineer Light Equipment Company. The three (3) combat battalions were engaged in normal engineer operations including road repair and maintenance, sawmill and logging operations and other routine duties. The maintenance company was performing maintenance of engineer equipment for various First U. S. Army units in addition to providing two (2) contact teams of approximately one (1) officer and seventeen (17) enlisted men each, for the 1102nd and 1107th Engineer Combat Groups respectively. The 626th Engineer Light Equipment Company was furnishing heavy mechanical equipment for the three (3) combat battalions and assisting in quarry and gravel pit operations. All units were generally located in the Province of Luxembourg, Belgium, but were also engaged in engineer operations throughout the southern part of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.

Security plans, briefly discussed herewith, for furnishing protection for the Army rear area were formulated and established in accordance with instructions received from Headquarters, First U. S. Army. Further instructions designated the Commanding Officer of the 23rd Tank Destroyer Group in Commanding Officer, Security Command, First U. S. Army, and the Commanding Officer, 1128th Engineer Combat Group was appointed Area Commander of area number one (1) under this general defense command. Detailed instructions involving the employment and movement of all units in area number one (1) were published by the Area Commander and all matters pertaining to communications were established and coordinated with higher and lower headquarters.

At 160055 A December 1944, a telephone call from Security Command, First U. S. Army, placed this unit on an alert status, "expecting paratroop landings in Army Rear Area". All Sub-area commanders were immediately alerted and within three (3) hours they reported that all units within Area number one (1) had been alerted, observers posted at predetermined positions and guards reinforced in accordance with defense plans. At 0435 hours, the Sub-area "C" Commander, Commanding Officer, 590th Ordnance Battalion, reported fifteen (15) red ground flares seen Northeast of Neuchateau on unnumbered road trom P4344 (Juseret) to N15. Civilians reported that that area was used to land German paratroops in 1940. An armed detachment sent to investigate this report, found nothing. No other activity was reported during the morning.

At 1215 hours a telephone message was received from Security Command, First U. S. Army, stating that the alert was still in effect, but that observation posts and additional guards could be relieved at the discretion of the Area Commander. Sub-area commanders were instructed to inspect observation posts and remove those considered feasible. At approximately 1430 hours, colored troops, previously attached to 1128th Engineer Combat Group to assist in road work, were returned to VIII Corps, at the request of the Corps Engineer, to be used in loading ammunition. At 1500 hours, upon order of Army Engineer, all prime movers, ponton semi-trailers and truck mounted cranes of the 552nd Engineer Heavy Ponton Battalion being used in logging operations were returned to their unit Command Post. At 1600 hours, Captain Gatto, Security Staff Officer for Area number one (1) reported to Area Commander. At approximately 1630, a telephone call from Security Command, First U. S. Army, realerted this unit. All Sub-area Commanders wore again ordered to post their observation posts and reinforce their guards. No further action was reported until 1930 hours at which time a message from the 299th Engineer Combat Battalion reported the town of Diekirch (P 8643) was shelled by enemy artillery intermittently during the day. Shrapnel had cut power lines supplying sawmills in the town, but no personnel of this unit were injured. Six (6) enemy aircraft were over Diekirch during the afternoon.

At 171100 A December 1944, the Army Engineer ordered close liaison between 1128th Engineer Combat Group and the VIII Corps Engineer giving them [VIII Corps] all assistance possible. With continued reports of enemy threats from the east in the vicinity of Bastogne, at 1600 hours this date, upon the request of the Engineer, VIII Corps, the Group Commander gave the 158th Engineer Combat Battalion the mission of preparing a defensive line from P 526623 (Foy) southeast to P 588582 (neffe) to protect the VIII Corps Command Post. The 158th was instructed to have the ground occupied by dawn 18 December 1944. The 35th Engineer Combat Battalion received a similar mission on the right flank of the 158th Engineers. At 1700 hours a phone call from VIII Corps reported the enemy threatening Wiltz (P 706536), headquarters of the 28th Infantry Division. Also at 1700 hours this date, the Group Commander gave the 1278th Engineer Combat Battalion orders to have one company guard VIII Corps ammunition trains at P 274808 (Marloie) and one (1) company guard ammunition trains at P 306492 (Libramont). At 1510 hours, the 158th Engineer Combat Battalion started moving out to their assigned defensive position, and the Area Security Officer of Area two (2) reported to the Commanding Officer of the 51st Engineer Combat Battalion who then became Area Commander of Area Number Two (2). At 1730 hours, the 626th Engineer Light Equipment Company was directed to withdraw all equipment from forward positions to locations behind the VIII Corps rear boundary and the 299th was directed to evacuate sawmills at Diekirch and Junglinster and salvage all equipment possible.

At 1800 hours a one-hundred (100) man enemy patrol was reported to have infiltrated to the rear of the 28th Infantry Division Command Post at Wiltz. At 1900 hours, the 299th Engineer Combat Battalion reported the enemy to be entering Diekirch as their last men were withdrawing from the sawmill.

At 2130 hours, the Army Engineer ordered all combat battalions assembled immediately for combat; heavy equipment to be left in vicinity of battalion headquarters. The 299th Engineer Combat Battalion and remaining elements of 1278th were immediately assembled; the 158th being already committed on line. All troops so assembled stood by for orders during the remainder of the night. At 180220 A December 1944, the Army Engineer reported 500 Germans located at K 8213 on highway between Malmedy and Eupen. At 0240 hours this date, the 1102nd Engineer Combat Group reported an unknown number of paratroops reported to have dropped at Manhay (P 5390) at approximately 0030 hours. From 0300 hours until 0500 hours enemy planes were reported over vicinity of Arlon (P 615223). One (1) vehicle of the 158th Engineer Combat Battalion was strafed near P 586732 (vicinity of Steinbach). At 0700 hours, the 158th Engineer Combat Battalion completed organization of the ground on their defensive position northeast of Bastogne and were digging in their positions until 1300 hours. A total of 950 antitank mines were sent to the 158th Engineers by the 299th and 1278th Engineer Combat Battalions. At 2200 hours, the Group Commander ordered the 1278th Engineer Combat Battalion to establish a barrier line from P 311486 (Libramont) to P 444482 (Vaux les Rosieres) and the 299th to do the same from P 444482 (Vaux les Rosieres) to P 466390 (Martelange). The establishment of the barrier lines consisted of bridges and craters prepared for demolition and a few mines laid. Patrols were sent out during the early morning of 19 December to investigate reports of enemy tanks and infantry threatening Ourthe River bridges, and were instructed to get behind the enemy at points where he had crossed the river and blow the bridges behind him.

From midnight until dawn, the 158th Engineer Combat Battalion, on line northeast of Bastogne, received some small arms fire and at 0800 hours were hit hard by enemy infantry and armor, resulting in several casualties. Between 1330 and 1830 'hours, elements of the 101st Airborne Division arrived and moved up to relieve the 158th Engineers. Co. "A" then moved to Chene (P 440428), H & S, B and C companies moved to St. Ode (P 414665), where the battalion received orders to guard the Ortheuville bridge, P 430663, and establish road blocks in the vicinity. During mid-morning, enemy pressure from the east was increased and additional men were committed all along the barrier lines to accelerate construction of defenses. Just prior to noon this date, Company "B", 299th Engineer Combat Battalion, made contact with small numbers of enemy paratroopers and tanks south of Bastogne. Enemy air activity was increased and several convoys were strafed through-out the area. At approximately 1830 hours, Army Engineer advised that Germans were impersonating American soldiers and were wearing American uniforms. complete with identification tags, and were infiltrating through our lines in attempts to destroy bridges and communications.

By late afternoon enemy tanks were active southwest of Bastogne and their 88's were causing considerable damage to engineer personnel, weapons, and equipment. At approximately 1930 hours, work was begun on mining all roads leading to St. Hubert (P 3162) as enemy tanks were reported southwest of Houffalize (P 6172) moving in the directions of Marche and Bastogne. At about 2300 hours, the bridge at P 433620 (Sprimont) was blown when threatened by the enemy. During the early hours of 20 December 1944, continued.contact with the enemy was made by units in all sectors as the enemy had apparently fanned out south and west of Houffalize with infantry and armor closely supported by artillery. Several additional bridges and road blocks were blown in the face of the enemy. All engineer units of this Group were heavily engaged in defense of roadblocks and along barrier lines during the night. Unit CP's were moved about as the tactical situation required, to be in the best position to control the troops on line. Close liaison was maintained with the 1102nd and 1107th Engineer Combat Groups who moved to the vicinity of the 1128th Engineer Combat Group Command Post approximately 200400 A December 1944. By 0600 hours this date, enemy tanks and infantry were in vicinity of Hollange (P 530472) and Hubermont (P 457593) and were reported to be in St. Hubert (P 565390) during the morning. Patrols were dispatched to various points to gain additional information on enemy strength and activity on request of Army G-3.

All information received during the day was immediately passed on to Army by telephone. By 1200 hours, reports from both the 158th and 1278th Engineer Combat Battalions indicated pitched battle in progress between these engineer troops and the enemy at various points from Bastogne (P 555580) to La Roche (P 460780) and southwest to St. Hubert (P 308612). Engineer troops were engaging enemy infantry with rifles and automatic weapons; mines and bazookas were used extensively on enemy armor. The exact number of enemy tanks and half-tracks knocked out is unknown, but several of each were definitely destroyed by the combined efforts of these engineer troops, elements of the 7th Tank Destroyer Group and Ordnance personnel manning tanks. The 299th Engineer Combat Battalion laid a hasty minefield at P 516279 at 1430 hours to stop enemy armor. At 1600 hours the VIII Corps requested the barrier line be held, especially around Martelange, forty (40) hours until assistance could arrive. At 1610 hours, enemy tanks reported in Martelange (P 565390), and the bridge on N 4 at that location was blown. All roads in vicinity of 1128th Engineer Combat Group were guarded and roadblocks were prepared for demolition. At 1645 hours, three (3) officers and one-hundred thirty-three (133) enlisted men of the 467th Engineer Maintenance Company were moved to Hachy (P 520250) and attached to the 299th Engineer Combat Battalion for a mission of Infantry reserve.

Friendly patrols were active in woods north of Habay La Vielle (P 478278) and preparations were made to tighten defenses around this bivouac area against enemy armor reported approaching from the north. Elements of the 341st Engineer General Service Regiment, operating under Commanding Officer, Area one (1), had established and were defending roadblocks generally east and south of Martelange (P 565390) along the highway N 4 towards Arlon (P 615224). At 1845 hours, elements of the 25th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron arrived and established patrols southeast of Martelange (P 565390), which was receiving a heavy concentration of German 88 fire. At 1900 hours, the 467th Engineer Maintenance Company reported members of their unit operating with the 1107th Engineer Combat Group, attacked by enemy armor earlier in the evening at Gouvy (P 720778). One (1) detachment of one (1) officer and ten (10) enlisted men was reported missing. Through-out the night all units reported contact with varying sizes of enemy infantry and armor. At 2100 hours, the Group Commander ordered additional defenses of Habay La Vielle prepared. Tanks were reported breaking through barriers north and east of Arlon (P 615224). At 2200 hours, elements of the 626th Engineer Light Equipment Company were employed as local security in vicinity of Habay La Neuve.

Prior to midnight, during action an all sectors, several tanks employed by the enemy were identified as American Sherman Tanks bearing the "Swastika". At midnight 202400 A December 1944, the 158th Engineer Combat Battalion was reported cut off from Bastogne (P 555580) and the enemy breaking through their flanks, The Group Commander then directed the Commanding Officer, 158th Engineer Combat Battalion, to leave Ortheuville, as it was too large for him to defend with his limited force, retiring in St. Hubert where one (1) company of the 35th Engineers held road blocks. Shortly after midnight, elements of the 10th Armored Infantry Battalion, 8th Tank Battalion, and the 704th Tank Destroyer Battalion were reported in the vicinity of Leuftement (P 4834) and Leglise (P 4136). At 210112 hours, a counter attack was launched against Martelange from the west and south by two (2) task forces made up of elements of the 299th and 1278th Engineer Combat Battalions and the 341st Engineer General Service Regiment. Other friendly armored units arrived in vicinity and active tank battles were in progress north and west of Bastogne. All three (3) battalions of this Group were heavily engaged in defense of barrier lines; the 158th Engineer Combat Battalion withdrew the majority of their forces southwest of Ortheuville to St. Hubert.

Enemy armor and infantry were very active throughout the morning and in Martelange. Patrols of the 1278th Engineer Combat Battalion reported enemy tanks and small arms in the vicinity of Fauvillers (P 512412) and Witry (P 473423) prior to 1200 hours. The 299th Engineer Combat Battalion contacted and captured three (3) enemy paratroopers in vicinity of Fauvillers. Road blocks and abates were prepared for demolition at RJ N 46 - N 15. Elements of the 552nd Engineer Heavy Ponton Battalion and the 511th Engineer Light Ponton Company, attached to the 1102nd Engineer Combat Group, defended road blocks in the vicinity of Witry (P 475423). At 1430 hours, orders were received from the Army Engineer directing the movement of the 1128th Engineer Combat Group and all units to vicinity of Namur (J 960010). All units were notified to assemble troops and prepare to move. At 1530 hours, the 1128th Engineer Combat Group Command Post closed at Habay La Vielle (P 478278) and reopened at 1700 hours at P 140210 (Les Amerois). All three (3) combat battalions were assembling and moving in accordance with this order during the remainder of the day.

The 467th Engineer Maintenance Company located at Redange (P 627067) was ordered to remain at present location till further orders. At 220930 A December 1944, the 1128th Engineer Combat Group closed at P 140310 (Les Amerois) and opened at 221800 A December 1944 at Malonne (J 913082). All battalions were enroute to new destination during the day and by 1800 hours the 299th and 1278th Engineer Combat Battalions opened new Command Posts at Malonne (J 913082). At 1800 hours, the 158th Engineer Combat Battalion opened new Command Post at Floreffe (J 888082). All Battalions were engaged in reorganization and resupplying their units, as stragglers continued to arrive from various points. The two (2) separate companies were ordered to make reconnaissance in vicinity of Namur for bivouac areas and prepare to move up for reorganization 23 December 1944.

During this seven (7) day period the telephone communication was excellent although telephone lines ran through an area occupied by enemy patrols. Telephone contact was lost with the 158th Engineer Combat Battalion for a day and a half and with the 1278th Engr C Bn for three hours when the lines were cut. Fortunately, radio contact was possible when the phone was out leaving us one channel of communication. Radios were not kept in operation throughout the entire period due to the failure of the power supply. The generator supplying power broke down and the supply of charged batteries became exhausted due to large number of messages being sent. Messenger traffic was continuous and handled an extremely large volume of business.

(S) George C. Reinhardt

Colonel, 1128th Engr C Gp.,

Source: By courtesy of Mr. William Zion, Sr.