1278th Engineer Combat Battalion

Image: U.S. 3rd Army vehicles in the snow
US 3rd Army vehicles in the snow. Photo by US Army Signal Corps

Battalion History, 16 - 24 December 1944

16 December 1944:

The Battalion was alerted at 0100 hours and instructed to carry out Phase 1 of Defence Plan. H&S Company established outposts and air guards in addition to bivouac guard. The bivouac guard was doubled at each post. Armed patrols were dispatched to patrol roads in defence area. Companies "A" and "C" carried out Phase 1 of Defence Plan, which was to patrol assigned roads and be on a vigorous outlook for paratroops.

17 December 1944:

Company "B" was alerted and standing by until 1000 hours when the company was ordered to move. Half of company moved by motor to Jemelle with mission of guarding ammunition and petrol trains. The remainder of the company moved to Marloie with the same mission. Company "C" moved by motor at 2145 from bivouac at Jamoigne to Libramont with mission of guarding ammunition and petrol trains. Headquarters platoon of Company "C" remained at Jamoigne. H&S Company remained at their bivouac at Assenois and Company "A" at their bivouac at Bouillon.

18 December 1944:

H&S Company was ready to move and continued the armed patrol of roads. Company "A" moved by motor from their bivouac near Bouillon to Libramont at 1900 hours. On the way to Libramont the 1st platoon was left at Neufchateau to establish road blocks on N 15 leading from Bastogne to Neufchateau. The 3rd platoon of the company established road blocks on N 26, N 28 and N 46. The 2nd platoon was used to patrol the gap between the 1st and 3rd platoons. Company "B" continued the guard of ammunition and petrol trains at Jemelle and Marloie. Company "C" continued guard of ammunition and petrol trains at Libramont with Engineer Depot 513 (strength 250) acting as reserve under Company "C" command. One squad was sent to Transine and one squad sent to St Hubert to prepare road blocks and defend same when completed. Upon reports of enemy in St Hubert an additional squad was sent to prepare another road block at St Hubert.

19 December 1944:

At 1130 hours a platoon consisting of 1 officer and 22 enlisted men was picked from H&S Company and sent to put in road blocks and prepare bridges for demolition at road junctions south of La Roche. Their mission was completed at 1730 hours when they were relieved by the 299th Engr C Bn. At 1900 hours two additional water points were set up (one west of Neufchateau and one northeast of Neufchateau). The Reconnaissance Section was continuously keeping armed patrols going to determine the whereabouts of enemy activity. Company "A" was relieved of guarding road blocks they had constructed on N 26, N 28 and N46 to construct road blocks between N 15 and N 26 following as a line, a stream, approximately two miles south of N 4 leading from Bastogne at 1300 hours. At approximately 1600 hours the 1st platoon was left to complete this mission with the help of a platoon of the 299th Engr C Bn while the 2nd and 3rd platoons were sent to reinforce Company "C" who were preparing road blocks around Neufchateau. About 2200 hours four men from a Medical Detachment of an Airborne Division reported eight tanks supported by a small group of Infantrymen (number unknown) had attacked their bivouac at the intersection of N 26 and N 4. These men had escaped in a jeep. Upon receipt of this news the guard on the road blocks was intensified with instructions to stop anyone passing through the road blocks. Throuout the night seven suspicious persons were picked up, one carrying weapons and another carrying snapshots of himself in German uniform. These men were turned over to the S-2 section for interrogation. Marloie was cleared of ammunition and petrol trains relieving half of Company "B" of their guard which then joined the remainder of the company at Jemelle. At 1300 hours the company received orders to blow bridges at Hotton and Laroche which were believed to be in enemy hands at that time. Lt. Konsony proceeded with a reconnaissance party to Hotton and Lt. Hanna with a reconnaissance party to Laroche. The company reorganized at Jemelle for combat. At 1600 hours the reconnaissance parties rejoined the company with the information that both Hotton and Laroche were in our hands. The bridge at Hotton was being guarded by the 33rd Engrs. The 1st platoon of Company "B" proceeded to Laroche to reinforce the 33rd Engrs, to patrol south along the river, and to prepare obstacles to prevent enemy tanks from crossing the river. The 2nd platoon proceeded to Laroche to patrol north of Laroche slong the river to Hotton, to prepare obstacles to prevent enemy tanks from crossing the river, and to reinforce the 51st Engrs. The 3rd platoon moved to P-430665 patrolling from there to P-515695 and to prepare obstacles to prevent enemy tanks from crossing the river between these two points. The rear echelon of the company remained at Jemelle. Headquarters platoon of Company "C" joined the company with the exception of three men who were marked "quarters" and were left behind in charge of personal and unusable equipment. One of the two squads at St. Hubert was relieved by the 158th Engr C Bn. 28th Division rear moved into Libramont at approximately 1530 and made their strength and weapons available to Company "C". Defence improved to include material for road blocks.

20 December 1944:

At 1630 hours Headquarters and H&S Company moved to Habay-la-Neuve to establish a forward Battalion C.P. A squad was left at the old bivouac in Assenois to guard the equipment left behind including heavy equipment and office equipment not essential for combat operations. These men had instructions to destroy all equipment they could not transport when they were ordered to join the forward echelon. Company "A" picked up two more men at 0800 hours and turned them over to the S-2 for interrogation. The Company was ordered to leave a minimum of men at the road blocks and move to the vicinity of Neufchateau. The company moved to Suxy and opened a C. P. at 1200 hours. At 1500 hours all men were recalled from the road blocks and the company joined Battalion Headquarters at 2200 hours. A rifle platoon from the 626th Engineer Light Equipment Company was attached to Company "A". The 3rd platoon was given the mission of establishing CP's across the Battalion front. The 1st platoon of Company "B" was assigned the area between P-525733 and P-515695 for reconnaissance. The 2nd platoon was assigned the area between P-525733 and P-458782 for reconnaissance and the 3rd platoon the area between P-515695 and P-440662 for reconnaissance. The 2nd platoon after completing it's reconnaissance returned to the Company C. P. at Laroche. The 1st platoon prepared and blew the bridge at P-525733 when an enemy patrol approached from the east. Three men stationed on the enemy side attacked the enemy with hand grenades and rifle fire with unknown results. One scout car was knocked out by fire from our .50 cal. Machine guns. The men on the enemy shore forded the stream and made their way to their platoon C. P. at Orthe. The 3rd platoon completed their reconnaissance after having blown all bridges in their area returned to their C. P. at Orthe. At 1800 hours the 1st and 3rd platoons established a C.P. af Hives with the 129th Ordnance Maintenance Company, and attached units who were stationed there for the defence of the area. During the engagement with the enemy at the bridge at P-525733 the three men on the enemy side of the bridge threw three hand grenades into a personnel carrier. All three grenades exploded with unknown results. Company "C" moved to Leglise opening a C. P. at 1450 hours. Closed C. P. at 1855 and moved to Habay-la-Neuve for orders. After receiving orders the company left Habay-la-Neuve and opened a C. P. at Witry at 2355 hours. Preparations were then made to attack the village of Martelange, which was in enemy hands.

21 December 1944:

A platoon of 22 men from H&S Company was alerted and prepared to take up CP's on the Battalion front. This group was not called as the Battalion moved from Habay-la-Neuve to Fontenoille for an overnight bivouac. Company "A" was given the mission of patrolling the Battalion area. The 2nd platoon was given the mission of establishing road blocks throughout the Battalion area with the aid of the 626th rifle platoon. The enemy was encountered by the patrols but some small arms fire was heard. The rifle platoon from the 626th brought in stragglers from Company "C" and some from the 299th Engr C Bn. The company prepared to move at approximately 1400 hours. C. P. was opened at 1930 hours at ??? where the company bivouacked for the night. The 1st and 3rd platoons of Company "B" prepared all roads around Hives leading south with road blocks under the direction of the CO of the 129th Ordnance Maintenance Company. The 129th and attached units prepared to defend the area against an expected tank attack. A message from CO, 1278th Engr C Bn directed Company "B" to obtain relief from the assignment and return to Battalion Headquarters. The 2nd platoon blew two railway bridges at P-454785 and P-447781 and then moved to Battalion Headquarters at Habay-la-Neuve arriving at approximately 1500 hours. The 1st and 3rd platoons were attached to the 129th Ordnance Maintenance Company by order of Colonel Adams (CO, 7th Armored Division Trains). They moved to Jemelle at approximately 1500 hours. Company "C", less two squads, formed a line of departure in conjunction with Company "B", 299th Engr C Bn. (depleted) at the western edge of the village of Martelange, Belgium. Illustrative sketch drawn to the best of Capt. Sullivan's (CO, Co. "C", 1278th Engr C Bn) memory is attached as ANNEX 2. Capt. Manion (CO, Co. "B", 299th Engr C Bn) ordered reconnaissance patrol to investigate railway bridge at approximately 0400 hours. This patrol was fired on and returned to line of departure. Germans put flares into the air at regular intervals. Capt. Manion asked that one platoon be placed on south side of river at approximately 0545 hours. Platoon leader (S Sgt Pennington) was instructed to go west on Highway N 46 and cross the river at a known wooden bridge, some ¾ mile distance unless it could be crossed at a closer point. Further, that the platoon would signal Capt. Sullivan by flashlight upon reaching a point on the designated line of departure. Further, that he would move into town and that the company would reassemble there. Both companies were to attack the town at daybreak under command of CO, Co. "B", 299th Engr C Bn. From the west. It had been stated that a similar force, plus tanks, would attack from the south on N 4. The 3rd platoon, Company "C", 1278th Engr C Bn (less two squads) under S Sgt Swiderski was designated as reserve to act under direct command of Capt. Manion. The 1st platoon, Company "C", 1278th Engr C Bn. under S Sgt Anopach was to move directly into the village along N 46. Capt. Sullivan was to move in with this platoon. Lt. Christie and Lt. Zelazny had been relieved from the battle formation at approximately 0600 hours. Lt. Christie with injuries received in a jeep accident enroute to the line of departure and Lt. Zelazny with what appeared to be lumbago. The attack was begun at 0745 hours. The 1st platoon Company "C" was in the centre of village (at site of 1st bridge) at approximately 0800 hours. Movement up to that point was fast, yet deliberate, and without incident. At 0800 hours, what later proved to be a Jerry, shouted a question at Capt. Sullivan from behind a building on the East side of the river. Capt. Sullivan did not understand him but replied "Com bien". He repeated his question. Capt. Sullivan repeated his reply hoping he would expose himself. Capt. Sullivan and the Jerry were about 30 paces apart. Immediately thereafter a shell was fired at the corner of the building "X" (see Annex 2) behind which Capt. Sullivan took cover. Shell presumably was fired from camouflaged tank at "Y" (see Annex 2). Following this incident there was heavy exchange of fire during which all men improved their positions. A .50 cal. machine gun was brought up to "X" and riflemen were deployed. .50 cal. gunner and ammunition carrier became casualties along with several others including CO, 1st Platoon, Company "C". After approximately 20 minutes of maneuvering by both sides, heavier gubs were introduced by the enemy. At this point Company "C" forces on the North side of the river withdrew and took all around defensive positions at "Z" and firing continued. Plans were made to make a second attack, this time one squad coming in on the left flank. 88's and mortars were brought into use by the enemy and Company "C" forces North of the river were forced to retire to the line of departure. At this point Capt. Sullivan learned from Capt. Manion that Company "C" transportation had been captured. Company "C" joined Capt. Manion in cover on hill #1. Very shortly after this Capt. Sullivan took patrol to go for reinforcement. Remainder of forces were said to have left hill #1 at approximately 1430 hours. The company infiltrated back to the Battalion C. P. in small groups. Four members of Company "C" were killed in this engagement and 15 are missing (includes 2 officers).

22 December 1944:

Headquarters, H&S Company, and Company "A" entrucked for move at 1000 hours arriving at Malonne at 1810 hours. Men picked up by the Battalion from Company "C" also moved to Malonne. Stragglers were picked up by the trucks sent back for that purpose. The 2nd and 3rd platoons of Company "B" were still attached to the 129th Ordnance Maintenance Company. The 2nd platoon of Company "B" joined the Battalion at Malonne at 1830 hours.

23 December 1944:

H&S Company sent two trucks and a five man detail to pick up the water points. One had to be destroyed because of imminent enemy capture. Two of the enemy were killed by this party. The other water point was brought back to the Battalion C. P. at Malonne. The Battalion started the process of reorganizing and reequipping.

24 December 1944:

The Battalion continued reorganizing and reequipping. The 1st and 3rd platoons of Company "B" were released by the 129th Ordnance Maintenance Company and arrived at the Battalion C. P. at 1000 hours.

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