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Chapter 1 — Preparation.
(April 6, 1917 to May 30, 1918)

Maps / Photos / Misc.

The Formation of the 2nd Regiment of Engineers.

The 2nd Regiment of Engineers was formed from the 2nd Battalion of Engineers, the regiment first coming into existence on July 1, 1916, at Colonia Dublan, Mexico. It joined in the expedition into Mexico after the raid on Columbus, New Mexico, by the Mexican Bandit, Villa. When the American forces were withdrawn from Mexico in February, 1917, the Regiment was ordered to Camp Baker, Texas, near El Paso, where it was stationed when the United States declared war against Germany. The state of war forced the United States to at once increase the regular army to its full strength instead of waiting several years for this authorized increase as was originally contemplated. The 5th Regiment of Engineers was formed from the 2nd Engineers, and the 2nd was promptly recruited by voluntary enlistments to its full strength. Selected officers were sent to it from the engineer training camps and selected engineer non-commissioned officers were given commissions and assigned to the regiment.

Colonel J. F. McIndoe was, the officer selected to command the regiment. He arrived on June 1, 1917, and took command. Colonel McIndoe was a star graduate of West Point of the Class of 1891. He had served alternately with troops and on river and harbor work, and his varied experiences were particularly valuable to the regiment in the varied tasks which it encountered in the American Expeditionary Forces.

On August 22, 1917, the regiment left Camp Baker, Texas, by rail, arriving at Washington, D. C., August 28th. It camped in the suburbs at the American University grounds, now Camp Leach, until September 9th, when it took trains for embarkation at New York City. It left the United States on September 10, 1917, sailing on board the R.M.S. "CARPATHIA" from New York, via Halifax, to Glasgow, proceeding thence by rail to Southampton, England, by boat to Havre, France, and by rail in France to stations at Colombey-les-Belles, Barisey-au-Plain, Vaucouleurs and Uruffe.

Just before leaving Washington, the Regimental Commander was notified of the increase of authorized strength of companies to 250 men and 6 officers (as fixed by Tables of Organizations, "Series A," August 8, 1917). A full quota of officers was assigned before the regiment left the United States, but owing to lack of time the companies remained temporarily on the old basis of 164 men per company, the companies being about full strength on that basis at date of sailing.

The Engineer Train was separated from the regiment at Washington, D. C., and went to Newport News, there to embark for France. At Newport News, it did duty for some time at the Remount Station, then sailed direct to St. Nazaire, and was held there doing various duties until December 23rd. It joined the regiment on January 1st, 1918, just as the latter was going into training as part of the 2nd Division.

The personnel of the regiment on embarkation was unusually good. All of the men were volunteers who had experience or inclination as engineers; the majority had both. Nearly everyone of these men who survived, became a non-commissioned officer and many of them became officers. The officer personnel was also unusually good; so good in fact that many of them were soon detailed to staff work and never returned to the regiment.

The First Problem of the American Expeditionary Forces.

The problem of the American Expeditionary Forces was very simple at that time, simple in decision but difficult in execution. Only 50,000 American Troops were then in France and 2,000,000 were to come; therefore, these 50,000 had to prepare the way for the 2,000,000. Also, they had to incidentally acquire training in trench warfare and in open warfare. As the engineers were better trained in construction work, it was inevitable that they would spend more time on construction work and would acquire less training, in fact only as much or as little training in warfare as could be acquired by seizing every opportunity.

Adrian Barracks
Construction Work.

Upon reaching its first stations, various towns to the north of Neufchateau, Vosges, the regiment was put to work building cantonments for American Troops. The work consisted mainly of the erection of temporary collapsible wooden barracks, of the type known as Adrian. While engaged on this work, the companies operated independently, the regimental headquarters occupying itself mainly with supply of equipment and administration of personnel.

Company "A" built a Camp Hospital and several kilometers of roads, and established a water supply system, with concrete reservoir, at Bourmont. Company "B" did practically the same work at La Fouche. Company "C" built hospitals at Barisey-au-Plain and Colombey-Ies-Belles, and assisted in the construction of an aviation cantonment at Colombey-les-Belles. Companies "D," "E" 'and "F" were engaged in the construction of cantonments, hospitals, roads and water supply systems in Vaucouleurs, Uruffe, Neufchateau, Trampot, Brechinville and Alainville.

Regimental Headquarters was first at Colombey-les-Belles, but later was moved with Companies "C" and "'E," to Longeau, Haute Marne, where more cantonments were erected.

All of this construction work was under direction of the Advance Section, Lines of Communication (later called the Advance Section, Services of Supply), Colonel McIndoe was made Chief Engineer of this department, being temporarily detailed from the regiment, and remained on this duty until February 22, 1918. The Commanding Officer of the 2nd Battalion, Major Fox, was at this time Assistant Chief Engineer, Advanced Section, Lines of Communication, and the Battalion was commanded by Major Snow. The 1st Battalion was commanded by Captain Steiner, with station at La Fouche. Major Brown soon went to the 1st Corps School; upon graduation, he returned to the regiment and was in active command. Although such a shortage of officers was not unusual in the American Expeditionary Forces at that time, it was none the less a disadvantage to the regiment. It had arrived in France with five field officers, 1 colonel and 4 majors. The colonel and two majors had been immediately put on Detached Service, and the other two majors sent to school where they took a five weeks Infantry Field Officer's Course. Upon relief from school, one of these officers was placed on Detached Service, leaving the regiment with but one field officer (Major Brown), and it remained so until February 22nd. This lack of field officers was not much felt while the companies were on construction work, but it was felt after the regiment concentrated to train.

As stated before, the regiment came over with companies at a strength of about 160 men. On December 20, 1917, 400 replacements were received from the 116th Engineers, then Engineer Replacement Regiment for the 1st Corps. These men were sent to Longeau, Haute Marne, which was at that time the station of Regimental Headquarters and Companies "C" and "E." There they were divided into three recruit companies and a lieutenant with three non-commissioned officers and a cook were placed on duty with each. About one third of these recruits had served in the National Guard as Infantry (generally for only a short time), and two-thirds were drafted men who, at the time of their joining the regiment, had had about two and a half month's service. Many of them had never fired a shot before reaching the regiment, and unfortunately the opportunities were very poor for training in rifle firing. Great efforts were made to give these men proper training, but it was not at all as thorough as was desired.

During the latter portion of the time that the companies were on construction work, one hour's drill per day—close order, if possible—was prescribed in order to keep the men in hand. These orders could not be carried out thoroughly in all companies, but the results were good, where the orders were carried out.

Intensive Training.

The regiment continued on this construction work until the companies were relieved on various dates from December 30, to January 14, 1918. By January 14, the entire regiment had been assembled in the area about Bourmont, Haute Marne, (Division Headquarters, 2nd Division) where it went into training as part of the 2nd Division, the 1st Battalion was at Sauville, and the Engineer Train was at Rozieres-sur-Mouzon.

Then followed the longest and almost the only real training which was given to the 2nd Engineers which lasted, for the 1st Battalion until February 26th and for regimental headquarters and the 2nd Battalion until March 14th.

Upon assembly in the training area, drill was by company until all of the companies had arrived, on January 14th. About that time, a schedule was received from General Headquarters for our training. This consisted mainly of Infantry training for about five weeks; but Engineer training was increased as time went on, mainly bridging, wiring, trench layout, and to a small extent trench construction.

Lack of materials and time prevented extensive engineer drill.

Trench Warfare.

On February 27th, 1918, the 1st Battalion was detached from the regiment and sent to the front north of Toul, occupied by the 1st Division, to supplement the 1st Engineers. They were engaged in work at the Engineer Dump, sawmills, and in construction of shelters on lines in rear. Their work was in such localities that they suffered no casualties.

First Battalion Headquarters remained at Boucq during the entire period of its service in the TOUL sector, while the Headquarters of Company "A" was located at Menil-la-Tour, of Company "B," at Boucq, and of Company "C," at Sanzey.

The following engineer duties were performed:

Company "A": Operated Engineer Dumps at Menil-la-Tour, Leonval and Corneville; operated American and French sawmills at Menil-la-Tour; constructed Corps Headquarters in quarry near Menil-la-Tour, and constructed roads at and near Menil-la-Tour. During the construction of the Corps Headquarters, the company manned and operated compressed air drills, electric hoists, and other mechanical mining devices.

Company "B": Constructed Division Headquarters in hill east of Boucq; operated sawmills at Marbache and near Commercy; assisted in construction of army dump at Leonval : and repaired the road camouflage leading to the front.

Company "C": Constructed the greater part of the Army dump at Leonval [sic Liouville] involving the construction of wagon and truck roads, "soixante" and standard gauge railway; constructed platforms and warehouses: built stables at Sanzey, and did concrete work at Fort Gironville.

Through this period, each company incidentally made necessary repairs and improvements of bridges and roads throughout the sector.

On May 9th, 1918, the 1st Battalion moved by truck to Heiltz-le-Maurupt, Marne, where it rejoined the 2nd Division for duty. During its stay in this (Robert Espagne) sector near Bar-le-Duc, it was engaged both in training and in constant railhead and remount work for the 2nd Division.

2nd Engineers at Verdun

On March 15th, 1918, Regimental Headquarters and the 2nd Battalion left with the 2nd Division for a tour of duty with the French in the Sommedieue sector, south of Verdun, where it remained until May 12th, 1918. Here they were engaged mainly in the construction of shelters, operating at first by company, directly under a French officer. This gave an excellent insight into French methods. The control passed gradually into our own hands, in which it rested entirely for the final few weeks. During this time, the battalion used its own tools, but all materials were obtained from the French. The Battalion got its baptism of fire during this tour. Company "D" lost three men, killed by artillery fire, the men being at the time engaged in construction of a shelter for machine gun crew in the support line of the first position. These were the Regiment's first casualties. Names.

The following report of Major Brown shows the work of Company "E" during the month of April, 1918, which is fairly representative of the work of the 2nd Battalion for the month:


1. The company worked throughout the month on four main tasks, each of which was carried on by one platoon and was directly in charge of the Lieutenant platoon commander. General supervision was exercised by the battalion and com­pany commanders. For a part of the month the company had only five officers, but about the 20th, additional attached officers arrived. The second in command in the company then turned over his task to one of these new officers and took up the work of the company office, as, company Gas Officer, and, in general, as assistant to the Company Commanding Officer. This is in. accordance with our plan of employment of the six company officers.

2. Three of the four tasks referred to were in construction of deep shelters of one kind or another, involving both sloping and horizontal work. NO mechanical equipment was in use, though all tasks were in rock; blasting was done with cheddite. Both casings and frames, and sheeting were used, but mainly the latter. That portion of the fourth task carried on in April was a cut and cover affair, the timbering being frames and sheeting. Mining operations to construct underground shelter, in connection with this cut and cover were started at the end of month. Two tasks were dry; the other two were wet, and required much pumping with hand pumps.

3. Either two or three reliefs were employed on all work. Hours of 1st relief were roughly, 4:00 A. M. to 12:00 M.; 2nd, 12:00 M. to 8:00 P. M.; 3rd, 8:00 P. M. to 4:00 A. M. Thus the movement of the 2nd relief to the task and the 1st relief from the task, were the only daylight movements. This was important, as all tasks were on the first position, on or near the line of "reduits" (the line of ultimate resistance). Reliefs rotated weekly, each "gang" however, retaining its own personnel. This arrangement of hours seems very satisfactory.

4. The plan was tried of "detailing" one seventh of the men of each platoon to rest each day, with the idea of keeping the work going continuously so that we might make the most rapid progress possible on tasks where the number of men who could be employed was limited, and also with the idea of not clogging the limited bathing and washing facilities in our camp on rest days. This plan, however, did not work very well. Its main fault is the failure to provide an opportunity for the Commanding Officer to get his entire company together for inspections, for instruction, or even for drills which may at times be necessary either to prevent rustiness on details not covered by the tasks in progress, or to keep the company well in hand. Consequently, it is now planned to stop work from 8:00 P. M. Saturday to 4:00 A. M. Monday each week, and to have all effectives on the job on other days.

5. Auxiliaries were obtained from the Infantry - French or American - who were employed for the evacuation of excavated earth and bringing up of materials, which were done at night. Our aim was to use our men to the best advantage on the actual mining and placing of timbering, while non-technical work was done by non-technical help given us. Auxiliaries are not available from the day before a relief to the day after; and, with our plan for no work on Sunday, will generally not be needed on Sunday nights.

6. Various small tasks were undertaken in addition to the four main ones mentioned. Upon assignment of, or request to perform any work not thoroughly defined, an officer was sent first to make reconnaissance. On the day of his detail, he would gather together the necessary party, that night he would haul his material, and the next morning the work would begin. Requests were received from Infantry and Artillery Commanding Officers to do certain work connected directly with their positions or camps, and not with the special mission assigned to the Engineers. In such cases an officer would be sent to make reconnaissance; based upon this, we would send a few men - or an officer and a few men as the additional officers were attached to the company - to render "advice and technical assistance."

(Signed) CAREY H. BROWN,
Major, 2nd Engineers.

Just when the Regiment was leaving the Bourmont training area for its tour in trench warfare, two officers and several men of the Camouflage service were attached. Nearly all of the officers of the Regiment had already been through the course at the 1st Corps Schools, and there had received instructions in camouflage, among other things. The principles learned were put into effect on all our work at the Front, the Camouflage Officers visiting all different tasks to give them expert advice and assistance. The enlisted men of the camouflage service were assigned to the tasks where especial technique was required. Our Camouflage Detachment was also called on by the various units of the Division, especially the Artillery. Our Engineer Officers, however, were, according to the Camoufleurs, much more careful and effective generally in their camouflage than were those of any other branch of the service. This shows the advantage of a general training of all Engineers in camouflage so that the divisional Camouflage Section itself can be devoted to the more highly technical features.

Intensive Training at Bar-le-Duc.

The German drives of March and April caused conditions to become quite serious, and the 2nd Division was needed near Paris. The 1st Division was preparing to win the battle of Cantigny on May 28, and it was decided that the 2nd Division could help in that vicinity. Accordingly, the tour of the trenches was discontinued and the whole 2nd Division was assembled May 10-12 for rest and training in the vicinity of Bar-le-Duc. Here we spent about eight days in cleaning up, equipping, drilling, rifle firing, etc., in a beautiful part of the country, with the idea that we were bound for the Somme. We then moved by rail, with two or three day's march at the end to the region of Chaumont-en-Vexin, northwest of Paris. Here another week was spent in training. Orders were received for the Regiment to move toward Montdidier with the evident purpose of joining or relieving the 1st Division; but in the afternoon of May 30th, these orders were changed and the whole of the 2nd Division was diverted to the Chateau Thierry front to stop the new German drive in that direction. How we stopped them will be shown in the next chapter.


Up to the last day before going into battle, in fact even after the battle, the 2nd Engineers was not satisfied in the matter of equipment and supplies. In general, these difficulties were unavoidable because the articles were not available; but in some cases, the changed conditions of this war had not been fully anticipated at home and consequently the necessary preparations had not been made.

The necessity, or at least the general desirability, of having truck transportation with the regiment, became apparent early in our experience. The quick moves called for, and the inability to accomplish them with wagons demonstrated this necessity. The modern war cannot be fought with the old transportation; and the more one sees of the modern war, the more one realizes the great importance of the motor vehicle.

During our training and tour of service in trench warfare the regiment had never been fully equipped with Engineer property. It came over from the States with two Brown tool wagons per company, and that was all the special tool wagons it ever had. Some picks, shovels, axes, etc. - heavy tools - had been obtained in addition to these which the two Browns per company could carry, but these had to be left with the Engineer Train, which was just at this time getting the last of its transportation. Orders from the Chief Engineer, A. E. F. during the first part of our tour, and for some time afterwards, were that all Engineer Supplies should be obtained from the French depots. The Train therefore had plenty of transportation, as it did not have to carry the prescribed loads of materials. It acted at that time to some extent as a miscellaneous depot for the regiment, which was short of transportation. For example, in addition to the tools mentioned above, the train carried our packs, during the time that we had no pack mules.

The class of tool wagons which were to be issued to the regiment was in doubt. Tool carts (6 per company) were prescribed at one time, and later tool wagons of limber and caisson type. Our experiences led us to the belief that if four tool wagons per company were to be supplied, as provided by the latest Tables of Organization (i.e. May 15, 1918) it would be well to keep the two Browns with their special construction to hold various articles, and to have in addition two escort wagons, which could be used as necessity required for general hauling of materials, and supplies. Steps were taken to complete our transportation in this manner.

About this time, too, we were getting various ideas as to how we should be equipped. The Unit Accountability Equipment Manual had been made up from contemplation of our wars in Cuba, the Phillipines, and Mexico, and other wars, while we were from experience beginning to learn our actual needs. The Chief Engineer also at this time told us not to go blindly by the Manual, but to requisition what we needed. Even so, it is remarkable how satisfactory and complete we found the unit equipment. The Company photographic equipment was one thing we decided we could do without. Regimental Headquarters seemed able to look out for all photography. The reconnaissance equipment seemed unnecessarily large, as all France had been so thoroughly mapped and maps were available; so the companies were directed to requisition no more than enough to keep each company supplied with two sketching sets complete. Odometers and pocket sextants were dispensed with. Thus efforts were made to lighten the loads and make the requisitions cause no unnecessary difficulties.

The necessity for mobility also became more and more apparent. The regiment was continually getting rid of articles formerly deemed necessary. When it first arrived in France, each company (a typical regular engineer company) needed, in addition to its wagons, about three boxcars. By May 30, 1918, if a company in addition to its two wheel ration cart had two escort wagons for rations, baggage, etc., it had "lots of room."

  Officers Enlisted Men Total
Morning Report of April 6, 1917 25 675 700
Lost by transfer, evacuation, etc. 63 581 644
Gain by transfer, replacements, etc. 92 1448 1540
Morning Report of May 30, 1918 54 1542 1596

The prescribed equipment was excellent for the purpose, and the few necessary changes were quickly made. After every new campaign, many critics appeared with suggestions for change, but the old equipment was retained, and the suggestions were always different after the next campaign which was always under different conditions. It was seen that our needs were different in each campaign, but that our regular equipment was generally suited for all campaigns.

The regiment had very little training, but it seemed that it could not be increased, as it was necessary that it do the construction work for which no other troops were suitable and available, and for which laborers could not be obtained.

The prevalent opinion that sapper regiments acquire training from construction and road work is all wrong. A sapper regiment has certain duties in war time, and it is no more trained in these war duties by construction and road work than an infantry regiment would be trained in its war duties by construction and road work. The 2nd Engineers was not a trained engineer regiment when it went into battle at Chateau Thierry; far from it. All through this history, it will be noticed that the regiment spent a day here and a few days there in training while the other regiment of the 2nd Division were resting during these pauses in the operations. The regiment could never rest; it had not been given a fair chance to train because military necessity required that it spend its time in construction work, so it had to seize every opportunity to improve. It was supposed to know certain things, and yet it had never been taught these things. Before its first battle, it had never laid out a quick fortification line; never built a standard trestle bridge, foot bridge or ponton bridge; yet during active operations of the next six months, it had to do and did do these things, after previous drill in every case except that of the ponton bridge. Even though it had so little training, the 2nd Engineers went into its first battle against Germany 's best troops (and held its own against them) although its active training for combat had lasted only some eleven weeks and its training in trench warfare had lasted only ten weeks. Truly, the remarkable personal qualities of its officers and men were all that enabled it to perform its duty so efficiently.

United States, and W. A. Mitchell. 1920.
The Official History Of The Second Regiment Of Engineers And Second Engineer Train, United States Army, In The World War.
[San Antonio]: [San Antonio printing Co.].
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