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555th Engineer Group
Looking for more information from military/civilian
personnel assigned to or associated with the U.S. Army
in Germany from 1945 to 1989. If you have any
stories or thoughts on the subject, please contact me.
Engineer Battalion History
18th Engr Bn
|If you have more information on the history or organization of the 18th Engr Bn, please contact me.
|(Source: Email from
Carroll Ludwick, Co A, 18th Engr Bn)
Back in 1952, I was at Rothwestern, Germany with 1st Platoon, Company A, 18th Combat Engineers. We were on an Air Force base there.
If I recall just one squad of us were there in order to be closer to our targets. The rest of the company was in Kassel, Germany. As you may know Kassel was only a few miles from Rothwestern.
I did not take pictures back in those days and have lived to regret not doing so. But like so many I spent my free time at movies and drinking German beer.
Just wanted to see if I could locate any of the guys who were there with me. After 50 years it will be hard to do.
|(Source: Email from George Currier, H&S Co and later C Co, 18th Engr Bn)
|I was stationed at Rivers Barracks in 1955-56 in H&S Company then was transferred to C Company in Wurzburg 1957.
In Giessen I was assigned to the communication section and became radio sergeant in charge of the radio operators. Strictly CW, we operated two CW nets 24/7.
One net was the Group Net, the other was a Battalion Net which connected each company and the two satellite platoons at the Fulda Gap and Bad Hersfeld.
We used SCR 399’s for the CW nets – going on voice about once a month for practice.
Each platoon was equipped with AN/GRC9s for the CW connections and for alert-field use. Each platoon leader in the line companies were provided the AN/GRC 9s.
We had many ‘visits’ by Soviet embassy agents that would park on the narrow roadway that ran past Rivers Barracks to the town of Giessen taking notes. We were always a unit of interest to them.
I was later assigned to Company C in Wurzburg as NCOIC of the radio section. We lost one man during a field exercise out of Wurzburg – Private Jackson, who was hit by a train on a double-track trellis bridge out of Wurzberg. The demolition people were loading explosives into the bridge caverns when a train passed and Jackson stepped across the double track – right into the pathway of a train going the other way – hidden by the other train. A tragic event for sure.
I revisited Wurzburg and Giessen in the early 1990s and was surprised and disappointed how the areas have grown.
|(A) was our barracks and offices. We used all floors including the attic, which we used for Commander’s Call.
(B) 18th mess hall. (Incidentally, there was a 22 caliber range in its basement. Close quarters – lost some of my hearing there!)
was a shared building with the radio section’s radio (CW-Voice) radios set up. All of our trucks were inside and ready to go in minutes, 24/7. The out buildings that we used had been stables, with wooden block floors. The German 105th Calvary used them up until when they were sent to the Russian front 1940-41 (?). Our long wire antennas were located back there in the field.
(D) represents where the Soldiers Club was. I believe that a couple of days a week that there was a one small room PX there. We would order cigarettes etc. and come pick them up . But I’m not certain about that recollection.
(E) was the road to town.
We shared the Kaserne with the 5th Engineers. As I recall, they were a traditional combat engineer battalion.. I believe that their entire battalion was at Rivers.
There were two large murals depicting the 18th’s history. One in the 1st floor hallway near the battalion headquarter offices – which used the left side of the barracks (with the H&S Company on the right side, nearest the Soldiers Club.) The other mural was in the mess hall. It was of a map of the ALCAN highway – which the 18th was very instrumental in constructing 1942-1943 (?). The map pointed out the various areas that the 18th helped construct as well as the entire length of the roadway.
I don’t recall that there was a theater on site.
We didn’t have a relay site for our main net – however, Fulda gap and the other outlying platoon were only equipped with ANGRC-9s and they would sometimes have to relay through their base company to us at Giessen, as we were net control.
The AN/GRC9’s were less than 50 watts I believe. The SCR 399’s that the main net used were 400 watts. Later we used German Siemens for the group net.
I can’t recall the name of the barracks in Wurzburg – but I’m thinking that it was Larson (Kitzingen).
Section, 18th Engr Bn
submitted by William J. Ennis and originally sent to Hanno Englaender)
|I was stationed
in Giessen, Germany from April 1955 to May 1957. I was assigned to
the 18th Engineer Battalion (C) at Rivers Barracks. My job assignment
was Aviation Officer. The Aviation Section
of the Battalion consisted of a pilot and five enlisted mechanics.
Our base of operations was at the Giessen Army Airfield which was
located on the north side of the Qartermaster Depot on Licher Strasse
towards the east side of Giessen.
The airfield itself was approximately 1100 ft of pierced-steel-planking
(PSP). We had an asphalt aircraft parking area. There were two hangars
- one steel framed and one wooden. The wooden one was a hangar used
by the German Air Force during WW2. Apparently the field was originally
a bomber base. Our unit was in the wooden hangar and was shared by
the 594th Artillery Battalion. They had
two pilots and several enlisted mechanics. The hangar housed three
Cessna L-19s. The steel hangar was used by the 5th
Engineer Battalion (C) which had one pilot and three enlisted
mechanics. Their aircraft was a Bell H-13 helicopter. There was a
small sports airfield located nortwest of the west end of our landing
strip. They flew only gliders which were launched from a large ground
winch. I watched them many times.
The mission of the 18th Engineers was the demolition of all railroad
bridges and tunnels in the north half of the American Zone of Occupation.
This was to be done if the Russians crossed the border and after the
14th Armored Cavalry Regiment pulled out. It was estimated that our
unit would sustain a 95% casualty rate. Our headquarters was at Giessen,
but we had our line of companies at Kassel, Fulda and Wuerzburg with
seperate platoons at Kitzingen and Bad Kissingen. My job entailed
flying staff personnel to these outlying units. The airfields at Kassel
and Kitzingen were old Luftwaffe bases. The installation at Kitzingen
was used by both the Army and the Air Force. I was only there a few
times and do remember seeing the field used by C-123's. I also remember
how wide the runway was and how undulating it was and how difficult
it was to take off and land in a L-19. The ones at Bad Kissingen and
Fulda were new. The landing strip we used at Wuerzburg was a 12 ft
wide street in the middle of a housing project. I remember it very
well as it usually took at least two passes to land because of the
Seeing that you (Hanno Englaender) live in Cologne reminds me of several
flights I made there following the Lahn river from Giessen. Navigation
was difficult as it was done at low level and by landmarks, railroads
and roads. Our altitude was limited to 3000 ft above sea level. All
airspace above 3000 ft was restricted and rigidly enforced. Many times
flying over the Taunus Mountains at 2950 ft and being buzzed by an
F-86 that was checking me out. It turns you every which way but loose.
Once we used an old Me109 base which was on the west side of the Rhine
and south of the Mosel. There were no buildings or facilities of any
type. I remember it well as when my passenger, Major Cannon returned
from his meeting, my battery was dead and I had to hand prop the L-19.
It was no easy task.
One other experience I had and enjoyed very much was a special flight
we set up as a reward for the "soldier of the month". The flight left
Giessen and followed the Autobahn south to Frankfurt picking up the
Rhine near Ruedesheim. We would follow the Rhine north to Cologne
and back to Giessen. I had obtained a pictorial pamphlet of all the
castles and points of interest. At one time I knew all the names and
pertinant facts of all the castles and towns. All that escapes me
now but I do have the pamphlet in my scrapbook.
I have flown to many other fields, such as Bamberg, Hanau, Wertheim,
Stuttgart, Bad Kreuznach, Bad Nauheim and one on the west side of
Frankfurt near the Autobahn. It was used by another Engineer Battalion
in our Engineer Group. It was the 299th I believe. I also landed one
time on the "marble runway" at Nuremburg where Hitler held his mayor
rallies. It was a thrill.
William J. Ennis
Aerial view of Giessen AAF, mid 1950s
hangar used by the 18th Engr Bn
3. PSP runway
4. Ennis at Giessen
Army Engineer, Sep-Oct 2002)
Note: Some corrections will be made by the authors of the article
in the next few days as the article, as originally published, contained
some errors and omissions.
Article written by COL Ray S. Hansen (USA, Ret.) and BG Robert M.
Wilson (USA, Ret.)
One of the earliest US additions to the newly-bom NATO was the unusual
18th Engineer Combat Battalion.The Army
created and fielded it almost overnight to help cope with its European
forces' major strategic need of the day: buy time. For many years
its records were classified, some very highly, but now the story can
In August 1950 the fierce battles on the Korean peninsula were demanding
the majority of the attention and resources of our limited post-WW2
armed forces. Communist North Korea's attack, with Soviet involvement,
also raised broader strategic concerns. Could this be a feint for
a Soviet onslaught upon Western Europe while the forces of the United
Stares and others were tied down in Korea? Might nor the unstable
Stalin, whether or not the USSR had instigated North Korea's attack,
seize this opportunity for a massive assault across Europe?
NATO allies were ill prepared to resist such an attack, if it came.
Germany was still an occupied country, and had no armed forces. British,
French and US units in Germany had been organized for occupation duties
and not for defense against a former ally. The only major US units
were the 1st Infantry Division, the US Constabulary, and the 6th Infantry
Regiment in Berlin. The Constabulary was a light three-brigade force
designed for reconnaissance and overseeing boundaries. Engineer field
units were the 1st Engineer Battalion of the 1st Infantry Division,
and the 54th and 547th Engineer Combat Battalions. These, and similarly
small British and French forces, desperately needed augmentation to
defend against, even slow down, an assault. The still powerful Red
Army had kept 20-plus divisions in East Germany, with ten more behind
those and a total force of two and a half million.
The situation was urgent, but reinforcements would take time. It was
essential to establish a credible defense plan from existing forces.
A defense at the border could not be expected to succeed, but a fighting
delay while withdrawing to rearward defensive positions might gain
enough time for reinforcements to arrive. lt was imperative that the
Soviets not be allowed to cross the Rhine River.
It was known that the Soviets relied heavily on rail for logistics
and heavy equipment. Massive interdiction of West Germany's east-west
rail system would be required to impede movement of bridging equipment
for Soviet crossings of major rivers such as the Main and the Rhine.
For this vital mission, the Pentagon ordered two units specially created
and deployed. The first, the 18th Engineer Combat Battalion, was organized
from scatch in West Germany in August 1950. The authors of this article
were members of the 18th from its activation to 1953. While we are
writing primarily about our own unit much of the information herein
also applies to the second (and similar) unit, the 485th
Engineer Combat Battalion. The 485th was called
to active service from the Army Reserve a month later, in September.
It was reorganized at Fort Belwir, VA, and arrived in Germany February
The Army activated the 18th on 15 August 1950 at Fliegerhorst Kaseme
in Kaufbeuren, Germany. It was attached to the 555th
Engineer Combat Group, which gave it this order. "Your mission
is to train your battalion so that it is prepared to participate in
sustained combat operations. Emphasis will be placed on demolitions
and bridging, with priority to the former."
The starting point for the organization was the standard army-level
engineer combat battalion. To adapt it to its mission, major increases
were made in personnel strength, transport, and communications. Line
companies received a fourth platoon. Motor transport was almost doubled.
Squads were given two 2½-ton dump trucks with cargo trailers and a
jeep with trailer. Platoon headquarters had a 2½-ton truck and trailer,
a ¾-ton truck, and a jeep with trailer. Overall, the battalion had
Powerful communications equipment was added, for the battalion would
be widely dispersed. Battalion headquarters and companies were equipped
with the SCR 399, a long-range CW (Morse Code) radio, van-mounted
on a 2½-ton truck.
Companies and platoons communicated with the ¾-ton truck-mounted SCR
193 (also CW, for long-range reliability). Platoon leaders and squads
had the AN/VRC-2, a jeep-mounted voice set similar to those used by
Military Police. A fixed-wing aviation section augmented communications
Heavy equipment and its operators were omitted, except for truck-mounted
air compressors. Squads and platoons retained their pioneer, carpenter,
and of course demolition sets.
Before dawn one snowy day in early February 1951, the 18th formed
its convoys and moved to the permanent stations shown in Figure
1, centered on the "Fulda Gap." Battalion headquarters went to
Giessen, A Company to Kassel, B Company to Fulda, and C Company to
more demolition targets existed in the northern portion
of the battalion sector, one platoon of C Company was
permanently attached to A Company. Also, in order to locate
demolition teams as close as possible to assigned targets,
especially those near the border with East Germany, each
company had one platoon stationed at an outlying location.
These were at Rothwesten (1st PIat, A Co), Bad Hersfeld
(4th Plat, B Co) and Bad Kissingen (1st PIat, C Co). Even
with these deployments, a number of squads or platoons
had to travel east to reach their first targets.
Shortly after arrival, the battalion HQ, line companies,
and separate platoons opened communications nets that
would operate round-the-clock for many years. The unit's
entire mission hung on having instant knowledge of alert
The 485th Engineer Combat Battalion was organized and
equipped similarly. It too staged through Kaufbeuren,
about a month after the 18th departed. Within another
month it moved to its permanent stations to the 18th's
right flank. Its battalion HQ was in Regensburg, and its
line companies across north-eastern Bavaria, on a line
generally from Erlangen to the Austrian border at Passau.
Webmaster Note: STATION LIST for 15 Dec 1952, indicates
the following dislocation for the 485th:
485th E Bn - Regensburg
Location of separate platoons not indicated.
The 555th Engineer Combat Group prepared the Strategic
Railway Denial Plan and assigned missions to the
two battalions. In December 1950, ground and air teams from the group
and battalion staffs began reconnaissance to identify bridges and
tunnels that could meet the strategic criteria. Upon deployment, the
battalion headquarters made target assignments to companies, and they
were further allocated to specific platoons and squads. Platoon leaders
and NCOs immediately became familiar with their targets, routes, and
other bridges and tunnels in their areas.
targets were identified to form four successive "barrier
lines." Not lines of obstacles in the normal sense, these
were barriers to rail movements. They were laid out to
ensure every rail route from the east to the Rhine would
be cut by at least four targets. Figure 2 is schematic
of the concept. The four barrier lines in the 18th's sector
included a total of 64 targets. Later, 7th Army added
twelve targets not on railways.
Bridge demolition required more than just dropping a span.
It was essential to create a gap of at least 200 feet.
Tunnels had even greater potential to be major obstacles.
To ensure that they would, 7th Army directed that the
standard tunnel charge be 8000 pounds. Not only would
the Soviets have to make major repairs in at least four
bridges or tunnels, they would have to make them sequentially,
When the battalion was first deployed, and US troop strength
in Germany was still low, no requirement existed to coordinate
target destruction with any other unit. In the event of
a "Reinforced Alert" -- a warning of an expected
Soviet attack -- we were to prepare our initial targets,
take up defensive positions, and stand by to execute.
For a "General Alert" -- meaning an attack had actually
occurred ("when the balloon goes up") -- we were to execute
all targets without further ado.
For most targeted bridges, getting a 200 foot gap meant taking out
at least two piers and making steel cuts in two places. Figure
3 shows what had to be done on a typical steel girder bridge.
NOTE: Figure 3 is incorrectly captioned. The "conventional"
method of blowing a bridge is to drop one span, for that is enough
to delay the enemy's vehicles. Also, we may have to repair it later
ourselves. For the railway denial mission, it was necessary to carry
out much more extensive demolition, as portrayed in the sketch, to
cause a protracted delay in enemy rail movements.
sizes, initially, were enormous. Tamping was not practicable.
Demo loads left no space for carrying pre-filled sandbags,
and tight schedules left no time for digging earth. For
example, a reinforced concrete pier with 10' x 30' cross
section required two 2,000-pound charges at its base (each
with the volume of five footlockers). Placing these charges
was a daunting task, not to mention that they often had
to be manhandled down a muddy riverbank To reduce these
quantities to practicable amounts, the battalion requested
chambers be constructed in about 75 percent of the targets.
Higher headquarters approved, and arranged for construction
by German contractors. Bridge chambers were recessed into
piers, covered by padlocked metal doors.
Reductions in charge sizes were dramatic. For the pier
mentioned above, having three chambers each with 100 pound
charges reduced the total explosives from 4000 ponds to
For tunnels with convenient overhead access, a manhole-like
chamber was built from the overhead surface down to just
above the tunnel lining. An alternate chamber arrangement,
for a tunnel with convenient access to a portal, was as
in Figure 4 (sketch from a member of the squad
responsible for that target). The 7th Army-prescribed
charge, 8,000 pounds tetryrol, continued to be used.
Sabotage to chambers did occur, but overall rarely. Targets
were inspected weekly. Former squad leader Sergeant (Iater
CW03) Charles B. Wright recently recalled: "One day, we
discovered the lock broken and chamber door hanging open
on one of our largest chambers. Inside was stuffed with
barbed wire, a real pain to clean out. We got a stronger
padlock for it, never had any more problem."
Each bridge and tunnel had a comprehensive "target folder."
It contained maps and sketches of exact location, and
charge details such as size, placement and finng mechanisms.
Individually classified CONFIDENTIAL, and as a group SECRET,
they were kept in company safes. Company commanders or
duty officers would rapidly issue them to squad leaders
in event of alerts or exercises, also routinely make them
available for study by platoon leaders and all platoon
and squad NCOs. We suspect most squads could do their
jobs from memory. To our knowledge the battalion never
had a security incident.
The quantity of explosives in basic loads approached 100 tons per
company, like a Class V depot on wheels. We used three kinds of explosives.
The bulk of it was tetrytol ("M-1 demolition Block"). It came in satchels
of eight 2½ pound blocks strung on a line of detonating cord running
down the center of each block. For cutting steel, basic loads included
Composition C-3 ("plastic"), in 2½ pound blocks, 16 to a box. We also
had considerable quantities of TNT for training.
Explosives were kept combat loaded on vehicles at all times. Before
loading the tetrytol, we rook the satchels out of the wooden boxes
they were was packed in, and threw the boxes away. We were authorized
to overload vehicles. One 2½-ton truck in each squad was loaded to
4 tons. Each squad's two cargo trailers carried 1½ tons, bringing
the total for each squad to 7 tons. Blasting caps were carried in
jeep trailer. This degree of delegation would blow the mind of an
over-management, over-control type of boss!
Most squads could transport sufficient explosives for all of their
targets. But additional demolition resupply points were available
at Wetzlar, Hanau, and Münster.
Explosives-loaded trucks, about half of all vehicles, were parked
at an off-post site, in a row of open sheds out in the middle of a
nearby agricultural field. It was a do-it-yourself operation, no MP's
nor high-tech surveillance gear. To provide for unit continuity, as
well as training in leadership and discipline, guard duty was rotated
one squad at a time and one week at a time. Security fencing was ordinary
tactical barbed wire. Later, explosive storage areas were upgraded
to include commercial fencing and revetted parking stalls. One company
commander remembers his security concerns as something between constant
headache and recurring nightmare.
In addition to the periodic 7th Army alerts, the battalion, companies
and platoons conducted their own exercises. Occasionally an entire
mission would be practiced, unannounced. A unit would go to each assigned
target in succession, simulate its destruction, and proceed along
the prescribed route all the way to its designated assembly area near
the Rhine. These comprehensive exercises were at platoon or squad
level, to minimize readiness impact.
On 17 March 1951, 7th Army issued an order prohibiting practice on
actual assigned targets. Neither real nor dummy explosives were to
be placed, even under cover of maneuvers. Targets could be measured
or sketched only by small parties under cover of maneuvers. The purpose
was to enhance security and avoid public alarm. This restriction seriously
impacted the squads' ability to prepare for their missions. Some targets,
which during early reconnaissance had seemed easy, were actually proving
extremely difficult to load.
The Battalion S-3 at the time, Major (later Colonel) Robert P. Graves,
recently wrote: "...one squad was going to load little boats, paddle
out to the pier, then string cable, etc. But they would not have been
able to control those little boats in the current -- never reach the
pier. One squad had to load a RR tunnel with 8000 pounds. To get there,
they would have to climb a steep face, walk a couple of hundred yards.
Well, there was no way they could do this in the time allowed. We
also found that some chambers in piers were way too small for charges.
JD [the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel (later Colonel) Jesse
D. Kelsay] and I violated those roles, to get them blown in time.
Live explosives, however, were never loaded. With practice, each squad
developed ingenious methods that they knew would really work.
To our knowledge the battalion never had a serious explosive incident,
despite years of bouncing those huge loads over the then mostly cobblestone
roads. Explosive materials proved exceptionally stable. But there
were some scary moments. A former squad leader describes one of them:
"...we were in convoy going through Gelnhausen and trying to maneuver
through those narrow streets when we lost sight of the other trucks.
Well the driver speeded up and we were zipping along pretty good until
we rounded a curve and found the convoy had stopped and smacked right
into the trailer loaded with explosives. There was tetrytol all over
the place. We cleaned the place up and managed to get the trailer
going again and made it back to Fulda."
Individual training continued too. There was a requirement to have
two trained demolition specialists in every squad. But everybody participated
in the training: computing charge sizes, assembling ring-mains, and
placing and detonating charges both dummy and real. Other mission-essential
subjects included map reading, convoy discipline, vehicle maintenance,
communications procedures, and small unit defense. Everyone was trained
on bridging, especially the Bailey Bridge and steel treadway floating
bridges. Most training was decentralized to platoons, putting a heavy
load on platoon and squad leaders but paying dividends in small unit
team-building and developing leadership skills.
The story of the 18th offers several examples of organizations and
individuals stepping up to extraordinary challenges in unique circumstances:
An Army doing what it can with what it has, despite tremendous
Within months, transforming a strategic concept into forces on line,
equipped and trained.
Key role of the Engineer Group HQ in planning, support and leadership.
Round the clock communications watch, continuously for years, from
Army Headquarters dowb to company and separate platoon level.
Complete absence of security incidents or accidents involving eplosives,
despite frequent handling and transport.
Extreme decentralization of operations, reliance upon squad teams
for critical action.
As US and NATO troop strength grew, problems developed with the concept
of an essentially separate unit on a separate mission. Some targeted
bridges were needed by tactical units, requiring close coordination
with affected tactical commanders. It became necessary to obtain clearance
for use of certain roads. Demolitions had to be coordinated with non-combatant
evacuation plans. Over time, the distinction between strategic demolition
of the rail system and conventional tactical demolitions became blurred.
By 1957, NATO had become an impressive, functioning alliance. The
US had four additional divisions in West Germany, with armored cavalry
regiments deployed along the border with East Germany. Allied forces
had been similarly reinforced. A new German army had been organized.
The US 7th Army had a full complement of engineer units that could
take on demolition missions. It was now possible to conduct an effective
defense well east of the Rhine. Immediate destruction of the rail
system at outbreak of conflict was no longer a strategic need.
The 485th was released from active service in 1955. On 7 June 1957,
the 18th Engineer Combat Battalion, the first and last of the Destruction
Battalions, also retired its colors.
ADDENDUM: When 485th was released from active service, concurrently,
the battalion was re-designated the 237th Engineer Battalion, by a
flag change in place. The 237th had the same organization, equipment
and mission as the 485th. We believe, though we are not sure, that
at about the same time that the 18th Engineer Battalion was inactivated
in 1957, the 237th was re-organized as a conventional Army-level engineer
combat battalion. The 237th remained in Germany, part of the 7th Engineer
Brigade of VII Corps.
In the section on Organization, some of the vehicle descriptions were garbled. The explosives-carrying vehicles in the squads were 2 ½ ton trucks with 1 ton trailers. The company and platoon communications vehicles were a 2 ½ ton truck and a ¾ ton truck, respectively.
Figure 3 is wrongly captioned. The “conventional” method of blowing a bridge is to drop one span, for that is enough to delay the enemy’s vehicles. Also, we may have to repair it later ourselves. For the railway denial mission, it was necessary to carry out much more extensive demolition, as portrayed in the sketch, to cause a protracted delay in enemy rail movements.
Near the end of the article is the sentence, “The 485th was released from active service in 1955.” While that is correct, the battalion was re-designated the 237th Engineer Battalion, by a flag change in place. The 237th had the same organization, equipment and mission as the 485th. We believe, though we are not sure, that at about the same time that the 18th Engineer Battalion was inactivated in 1957, the 237th was re-organized as a conventional Army-level engineer combat battalion. The 237th remained in Germany, part of the 7th Engineer Brigade of VII Corps.
The photograph below shows actual demolition chambers, in a railroad bridge over the Main River near Aschaffenburg.
1. One of the Main River bridges on the list
|The above article
has been posted with the permission of the AEA. Anbody
interested in knowing more about the AEA may contact them at -
Army Engineer Association
P.O. Box 30260
Alexandria, VA 22310-8260
COL J. B. O'Neill, USA (Ret),
PHONE: (703) 428-6049