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Patton's Fighting Bridge Builders

Company B, 1303rd Engineer General Service Regiment

Edited by Joseph C. Fitzharris; Foreword by Earl E. Hall

Publication Year: 2007

These words may seem to have been written by an advance infantry unit or a combat brigade, carrying out an assault against entrenched enemy troops. Instead, this hair-raising narrative comes from the diary of “B” Company of the 1303rd Engineer General Service Regiment, a “non-combat” unit attached to Patton’s Third Army during his epic pursuit of the retreating German forces across France during August, 1944. Though the 1303rd (called “the thirteen-third” by its soldiers) was supposed to perform its duties outside the zone of armed conflict, these men found themselves acting as the southern flank of Patton’s rapid advance. More than once, they had to re-build bridges the Germans had hastily destroyed in order to permit the continued advance of American troops—often doing so under enemy fire. Twice they were called upon to deploy as infantry in holding back German attacks. Careful editing and annotation by military historian Joseph C. Fitzharris corrects occasional lapses in the diary, clarifies references, and provides important context for following the movements and understanding the importance of Company B, the 1303rd, and its sister regiments. Patton’s Fighting Bridge Builders rewards its readers with a new understanding of both the messiness and the bravery of the Second World War.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

Maps

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pp. xi-

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Foreword

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pp. xiii-

Joe Fitzharris has taken the complete diary of Company B, 1303rd Engineers and annotated and expanded it with information from U.S. Army archives in a fashion that each man of the company can appreciate. As an officer of the unit from its activation until it was effectively disbanded, I want to thank Joe for the excellent work he did. He got it right! This unit was made up of men from all walks of...

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Preface

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pp. xv-xviii

Company B and the 1303rd Engineer General Service Regiment (EGSR) were unique World War II units. EGSRs were supposed to function well behind the area of combat, yet the 1303rd (called the “Thirteen Third” by its soldiers) was in the combat zone from 28 July 1944 until the end of the war in Europe. Twice it guarded the right flank of Lt. Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army, first as it moved ...

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1. Introduction to Company B of the Thirteen Third

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pp. 1-3

This is the diary of Company B, 1303rd Engineer General Service Regiment. It was activated at Camp Ellis, Illinois, on 15 July 1943. The 1303rd is unusual in being a supposedly noncombat unit that served in the combat zone with the Third Army for its entire time in Europe. The diary tells Company B’s story from activation through its ending in occupied Japan. In England they built facilities for airborne ...

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2. Forming the Unit at Camp Ellis, July 1943–March 1944

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pp. 4-16

Camp Ellis had its beginnings in September 1942, when the army purchased over seventeen thousand acres of relatively flat land in Fulton County, southwest of Peoria, in west central Illinois and began demolishing farmsteads. Within seven months the first servicemen arrived at the new unit- training center for Army Service Forces. In time, Ellis came to have more than two thousand buildings, railroad ...

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3. England, March–July 1944

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pp. 17-24

In March 1944, as the SS Argentina and its convoy crossed the Atlantic, the crews of the escorting ships worried over their charges, moving no faster than the slowest merchantman, and searched anxiously for lurking U- boats. The Battle of the Atlantic had reached its worst point a year earlier, but German submarines were still a menace. The soldiers, at least those not below decks heaving up their break-...

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4. Normandy and Brittany, July–August 1944

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pp. 25-36

When the 1303rd landed in France on 24 July, Patton himself had only been ashore eighteen days. In another four days Bradley would decide to unleash Patton and the Third Army. Becoming operational on 1 August, the regiment was just in time to be involved in the German attack at Mortain—Operation Lüttich. As the 1303rd came ashore and moved inland to its first bivouac site, passing Ste. Marie Eglise ...

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5. The Rush across France, August–September 1944

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pp. 37-48

After getting away from the beaches and out of the hedgerows, Patton’s forces moved into Brittany. Very quickly Bradley and Patton determined that they did not need the entire Third Army to clear the Germans from the peninsula and the major ports of Brest, Lorient, and St. Nazaire, the U- boat base. Wheeling south and then east, the Americans began their movement into the heart of France, with ...

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6. Building Bridges, September–December 1944

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pp. 49-80

The 1303rd EGSR had moved a long way from Ducey in about a month. Now the men would spend more time building bridges than moving. Many of the spans built by Company B would be permanent timber- trestle bridges that replaced a tactical Bailey Bridge. Whether other engineer units used the same method or not is unclear, but the bridge builders of B Company built their timber trestles underneath ...

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7. Luxembourg, on the Flank of the Battle of the Bulge, December 1944–March 1945

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pp. 81-116

In the fall and winter of 1944–45, Allied armies were at the end of a very long and thin logistical line. Operation Dragoon’s opening of Marseilles and the use of French railroads in the south and east helped compensate for the devastation of northern France’s transportation network. Allied air power, helped by the French Resistance, had so destroyed the railroads, bridges, and other infrastructure that ...

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8. Germany, Victory, and Frustration, March–June 1945

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pp. 117-153

By the time they entered Germany, the men of Company B were seasoned bridge builders, highway demudders, and scroungers. They had built bridges in and over flooding rivers, under fire, and under heavily traveled temporary bridges. They thought that they knew that the Germans did not fight wars as Americans did. But now they were to see just how differently. Perhaps it is the behavior of a people ...

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9. On to Japan, June–November 1945

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pp. 154-177

The men of the 1303rd were not appreciative of the honor implicit in their being chosen for high- speed transfer to the Pacific theater. Nonetheless, behind this movement was the recognition that their unit was a good veteran regiment. Only three general service regiments served in the combat zone in Europe, all in Third Army: the 1301st, 1303rd, and 1306th EGSRs, sister regiments that had ...

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APPENDIX ONE: Types of Units

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pp. 179-182

Soldiers doubtless find the names of various units precise and clear; civilians are confused enough by “company” or “regiment.” What was a “Light Equipment Company” and how did that differ from an “Engineer Special Service Regiment,” and what does it mean that the 1303rd was an “Engineer General Service...

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APPENDIX TWO: Ranks and Command

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pp. 183-185

Soldiers are classified as enlisted men, warrant officers, and commissioned officers. Enlisted personnel are either privates and privates first class or noncommissioned officers (corporals and sergeants). Warrant officers are specialists who have a “warrant” from the secretary of war rather than a commission; while they...

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APPENDIX THREE: Training the Soldier

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pp. 186-188

A new recruit for any of the services began his training at a reception center, where he got a range of mental, physical, and aptitude tests and interviews; inoculations; a haircut; and an issue of basic equipment. Army enlistees were then sent to a replacement depot, where they received additional equipment and were as-signed to a barracks and effectively quarantined for two weeks. During this early ...

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APPENDIX FOUR: Equipment, Bridges, and Rations

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pp. 189-193

Equipment, bridges, and rations are almost equally familiar and unknown to most readers. Some equipment is rather commonplace—the “jeep” or 1 / 4- ton truck, for instance. Others are possibly familiar—for example, the D- 4 and D- 7 tractors by Caterpillar are still made, though they have changed dramatically over the years; the R- 4 is the internal- combustion- engine version of the small tractor...

Notes

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pp. 195-215

Index

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pp. 217-238


E-ISBN-13: 9781603445047
E-ISBN-10: 1603445048
Print-ISBN-13: 9781585445509
Print-ISBN-10: 1585445509

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 39 b&w photos. 9 line art. 12 maps. 3 figs.
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Williams-Ford Texas A&M University Military History Series

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Subject Headings

  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Engineering and construction.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Regimental histories -- United States.
  • United States. Army. Engineer General Services Regiment, 1303rd. Company B.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Campaigns -- Western Front.
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