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US Army

398th Engineer GS Regiment

 

398th Engineer GS Regiment
 
By way of prologue, our unit, the 398th GS Regiment, was more at home building roads, training facilities, assisting in rebuilding the docks in Cherbourg to provide supplies for the men at the front (for which we received a Meritorious Unit Award) and to prepare hospitals for their recovery when wounded.  Perhaps, in our youthful exuberance, we may have wishes to be where the "action is," but by the luck of the draft, we were not. 
 
Then the unthinkable happened.  Field Marshall von Rundstedt’s December 16th breakthrough into Ardennes gave the European war picture new significance.  What had begun just as another counterattack was developing into threatening proportions.  The Nazi army was staking all in an apparent gamble and it was up to the Allies to match their stakes or lose.  What followed then was best told by Colonel Karl Detzer, taking an excerpt from his The Mightiest Army.

"As the situation on the front became more desperate, General Eisenhower called General Lee and asked whether he had any units or any men he could spare.  General Lee called General Plank and General Thrasher.  Did they have anyone they could throw into the lines to back up the infantry?

"Anyone, Hell, yes!  They had thousands of the best damn soldiers in the world. Maybe they weren't all you could ask for physically and they hadn’t trained for combat but by damn!, you could count on them to stand up and fight.  So they formed battalions and companies of this collection of pen-pushers and truck drivers, of grocers and laundry operators and shoemakers and sent them forward toward the approaching battle line. "

We were alerted at 1500 hours, December 22nd.  Two hours later, construction projects had been shelved, our tools were put away.  We were on our way.  As with most units, we had no winter clothing.  We were equipped with 1903 Springfield rifles.  We later received M1’s and winter clothing.  Although considerable enemy air activity was observed during the moves, no enemy fire was directed at the convoy. 
 
Upon arrival in Luxembourg City, XII Corps Headquarters was consulted and learned the 398th had been attached to Task Force Reed, XII Corps, Third Army. 
 
Task Force Reed was composed of the Second Cavalry Group, Second Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, 808th Tank Destroyer Battalion (less one company), 276th Field Artillery Battalion (105’s), 398th Engineer General Service Regiment and 372nd General Service Regiment.  This task force was divided into two units: Combat Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, Company “A” of 808th Tank Destroyer Battalion. 
 
The mission of Combat Team Costello was to relieve elements of the Fourth Infantry Division in sector extending from Ehnen to Mertert inclusive, and to defend and repel any crossing of the Moselle River attempted by the enemy, and to prepare alternate delaying positions. 
 
"This flank had been a constant concern to General Barton during the 4th Division battles and had absorbed Battalions of the 22nd Infantry badly needed on the fighting line." 
 
Immediately following a reconnaissance made by battalion and company commanders in conjunction with Second Cavalry Troop commander, defensive positions were agreed upon and we began "digging in."  By 1800 hours on December 24th (Christmas Eve) the 4th Infantry was relieved of responsibility on this front of approximately 15 miles from Ehnen to Mertert, along the Moselle River.  Regimental Headquarters and H&S Company took up positions in Biwer, adjacent to Wecker.  First Battalion Headquarters were at Niederdonven and Second Battalion Headquarters were at Matemach.  Company A’s Headquarters were at Lenningen, while its platoons were at Ehnen, Lenningen and Oberwormldange. Company “B” was held in reserve at Gostingen, with Company “C” at Oberdonven and Companies “D”, “E”, and “F” were located in Mantemach.
 
Christmas Day found us improving and shifting always closer to the Moselle, with an eye toward clearing its west shore of enemy troops.
 
On December 31st, a platoon from Company “C” and from Company “B” failed to dislodge an enemy force from the 212th Volksgrenadier Division, occupying Mactum. At 1900 hours, a 12-man patrol crossed the thinly iced Moselle in the Wincheringen area.  Here they encountered a nest of five enemy machine guns.  Four men of the patrol (three from the 398th) were cut down.  The fur who had been shot down were beyond reach and evacuation was impossible.  Later we learned only one man survived.
 
Earlier in the day, efforts were begun to dislodge enemy holdings within Machtum.  Friendly artillery laid down a moving barrage on the town and followed with Second Cavalry light tanks.  A 398th platoon occupied a hill down a moving barrage on the town and followed with Second Cavalry light tanks.  A 398th platoon occupied a hill overlooking Machtum at 1630.  Meanwhile the Second Cavalry forces withdrew from the town.  A 398th Squad attacked an adjacent hill overlooking Machtum and removed an enemy strong point.  The Germans then laid down a 3-hour 88mm and mortar barrage, pinning down the squad, and followed it up with attacks by three patrols.  At 0300 hours the 1st of January our squad withdrew because of lack of sufficient tank support for they were unable to maneuver steep slopes near town and had to be withdrawn.  However, the 398th suffered no casualties during the operations.
 
"On December 31, 1944, and New Year’s Day, 1945, there occurred one of the war’s unpredictable situations when, on the last day of the year, American B-17’s roared over...and dropped approximately 150 demolition and several incendiary bombs on the western edge of Wecker, Luxembourg (about one half mile from our Regimental Headquarters).  We sustained some damage in our Regimental Headquarters area but fortunately there were no casualties.  Shortly thereafter, headquarters moved to Bucholz.”
 
At 1100 hours, two 398th platoons, supported by a platoon of Second Cavalry light tanks again attacked the enemy’s hill position outside of Machtum.  An undetermined number of Germans were killed and wounded.  The position was overtaken and 398th personnel manned former German installations from that time onward.  Our casualties during the mission numbered nine wounded, seven seriously.
 
During patrol operations across the Moselle on the night of January 2nd, another 398th man was wounded and listed as "missing in action."
 
Another German patrol operated within our lines on January 6th and attacked one of our company’s machine gun positions, killing two 398th men and seriously wounding a third.
 
Elements of the 398th participated in creating a diversion in the vicinity of Ehnen to Ahn to assist in simulating preparations for crossing the Moselle River.  This sham was aimed at diverting the 11th Panzer Division, which was somewhere in the Saarburg locality, to this area, and away from the drive being prepared for the north front at Echternach.  Various amplified sounds of starting tank motors, grinding gears, running vehicles, recorded on records were thrown across the river.  Our attempts to manufacture a "dry-run" assault were successful and the 42nd Division made its northward drive.
 
Until we were relieved by the 1252nd and 1258th Engineer Combat Battalions on January 23rd after 31 successive days on the line, activities were becoming commonplace as compared with what had already gone before.  No longer were we "green," to which we have the tutelage of the Second Cavalry to thank.
 
Through our "baptism of fire," we learned a greater appreciation for those men who were constantly in these cir­cumstances.  We learned the hardships and uncertainties of battle and the loss of friends and comrades.  Like the little Dutch boy who had plugged the hole in the dike with his finger until help could arrive to seal the breach, we had filled a niche that was surely needed and we felt the satisfaction of a job well done.
 
We went back to doing that which we did best, ultimately building the camps for our fighting men to be processed for their return to home and family.  At last, we realized the full import of our regimental motto, "Factum Est," or "It Is Done!”
 
Source: The Bulge Bugle May 2010

By Harvey Clyde WALTON

 

"H&S" Company,

398th Engineer GS Regiment

 

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium