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Chapter IX —
The Watch On The Rhine
(December 20, 1918 to June 28, 1919)

Maps / Photos / Misc.


For its stay in Germany, the Second Engineers was given the small town of Engers-on-the-Rhine—6 kilometers up the river from Division Headquarters in Heddesdorf, and 11 kilometers down the river from Coblenz. Engers has a population of about 3000 inhabitants; it is a manufacturing town with several factories, foundries, smelters and brick yards. It is the home of the Concordia Hiitte, a large steel plant employing over 2000 people. This plant, which during the war turned out several thousand shells a day, is now busily employed in making car wheels, stoves and miscellaneous steel castings. It is interesting to note how its industries are co-related. Thus; it makes its own coke, and the gas made by the same operation furnishes the city of Coblenz with more than half its supply; the coke is used in the smelter; the slag from the smelter is utilized to make a slag cement.

The inhabitants of this little town are subdued and quite inoffensive. They seem resigned to the American occupation, particularly as it ensures them the tranquillity which does not exist in other parts of Germany, and because they share in the distribution of American food. The soldiers were made very comfortable — about half sleeping in beds and the other half having good quarters with bunks. All the companies had individual mess halls with seating arrangements, and most of the companies had their own china. The sergeants have separate messes.


Among the first duties required of the regiment was that of making a thorough reconnaissance of the entire 2nd Division area. This area is shown on the attached map, both as it existed while the 32nd Division was in the Army of Occupation and after the latters' departure. Existing maps were checked up and all roads were carefully examined. The roads in the area were found to be in very good condition and required very little attention at first. After our heavy truck traffic had begun to have its effect, the problem was a more difficult one. The work of road maintenance was performed chiefly by the Germans themselves, under the supervision of American officers and non-commissioned officers. The American policy from the start in accordance with the conditions of the Armistice, was to "Make the Boche do it." Thus the road work was handled through the German civilian officials, the road inspectors and road masters, but with the close supervision of our own organization. Labor was not difficult to secure, as there were a number of discharged German soldiers idle in the area. American trucks, and also some German trucks taken over by the Americans, were used in hauling material, since the Germans had little or no transportation.

Instructions from the Army called for the early selection and laying out of a defensive position, involving several successive lines. These lines were arranged to be occupied in the highly improbable case of an advance by the German Army. Their selection and laying out, however, furnished an exercise in fortifications that was of value and interest. Other plans, of more vital significance, provided for a further advance into Germany in case operations should be resumed.

While the regiment was located in Engers, Col. Stuart C. Godfrey was assigned to its command, being transferred from Third Army Headquarters on April 17th. Lieut.-Col. Wm. E. R. Covell, who had commanded the regiment since November 20, 1918, was transferred to the Division Staff shortly afterwards.

Engineer Work.

The American Army believed in making its soldiers comfortable. The billets in the occupied territory, while better than what the men had previously occupied, still left much to be desired. An elaborate construction program was laid out, and this soon became the main activity of the regiment. This construction work, instead of being handled by the companies, was gradually pooled and placed under a central regimental office directed by Major Theodore Wyman, Jr. The principal demands were for mess halls and barracks. The Chief Engineer of the Third Army had made provisions for such demands as far as possible; his office secured by purchases from the Germans and through the S. O. S. several hundred portable barracks, and. best of all, placed in circulation funds which enabled each Division Engineer to make necessary purchases for his own division. With the cordial support of the Chief Engineer of the Army and Corps, this construction work was vigorously pushed. During the spring months about 600 engineer soldiers and equal number of line troops were engaged daily on this work. By the end of May the following structures had been erected:

Seventy-four Mess halls, with a total capacity of 20.900 men.
Forty-one Stables, to care for 3,200 animals.
Three Dipping vats.
Forty-one Miscellaneous buildings.
Twenty Elephant shelters.
A grand stand seating 5,300 people.
A delousing plant.
Fifteen thousand Wooden bunks.

About two and one-half million board feet of lumber were employed in this construction in addition to the portable barracks furnished, and about two and one-half million marks were expended by the Division.

Public Utilities.

An important duty of the Engineers in the Occupied area was to supervise the German Public Utilities. Every power plant required careful oversight by the American authorities. Demands for additional lighting facilities for American troops were heavy, and were carefully checked in order not to over-tax existing circuits. This problem was complicated during the winter by the shortage of coal, which at one time threatened to be serious. Under the rules imposed by the Army of Occupation, the principal problems of this character were taken care of by the Chief Engineer Third Army. The Division Engineers, however, exercised local supervision of the towns in their areas. With the long daylight hours of spring and summer the question of lighting became less troublesome, but the question of water supply assumed increasing Importance. During the dry summer months, existing water supply systems were in several cases inadequate to take care of the double population of Americans and Germans. Measures had to be enforced for conserving the available water, and in some cases new installations were authorized and carried out.


During the spring thaws the road problem had assumed an increasing importance. As the work carried on by the local German authorities was not entirely satisfactory, the performance of the work was to a considerable extent taken out of their hands and was performed largely by German laborers employed directly under our own supervising officers. The problem of securing labor was made easier by the authority secured from the Army to give these laborers an American ration as a part of their wage. After the departure of the 32nd Division, in April, had resulted in increasing the area assigned to the 2nd Division, this regiment inherited some roads located in broken and hilly country and much more difficult to maintain than the old ones in its old area close to the Rhine. During May, when the road work was at its maximum development, over 900 Germans were employed in this area, 4 steam rollers were at work and about 40 trucks were used in hauling metal from the railheads and quarries.

Military Duties.

During the spring, little drilling could be accomplished, due to the heavy demands of construction work, and the many details on special duty. Each morning at reveille, a half hours infantry drill was prescribed for each company. Reviews and ceremonies were held at fairly frequent intervals. Notable among the Division Reviews were two by General Pershing and one by Secretary Daniels; and (for the regiment alone) a review by General Langfitt, Chief Engineer, A.E.F. Upon each of these occasions decorations were presented by the reviewing officer. General Pershing decorated the Colors of the regiment with eight battle ribbons. There were numerous other ceremonies for the presentation of individual medals. Target practice was begun early in the spring and competitions were held for the selection of rifle and pistol teams to enter in the competitions at Le Mans, France. The teams which represented the regiment made splendid records and assisted very materially in winning this meet, and also the later competition at Wehr, Germany, for the 2nd Division. The target practice for the regiment as a whole was continued, under difficulties, through May and June, about 35% of the regiment qualifying as Marksmen or better.


On May 12th, a detachment of 200 men from "D" and "F" Companies was sent to the Corps Ponton School at Honningen. This school had been established by the Chief Engineer of the III Corps, and had been operated by the Corps Engineer Regiment, who had thrown one bridge entirely across the Rhine. The 2nd Engineers, after a 10 day period of training and with the assistance of 200 additional men, sent there 3 days previously, bridged the Rhine on May 25th. This bridge, which contained 95 bays and was 1440 feet long, was completed in 58 1/2 minutes. The current of the river at this point is about 4 1/2 miles an hour. The bridge was built from both ends by the method of successive pontons, using the German one-piece steel boats, which were taken over from the Germans in this vicinity. The bridge was thoroughly completed and was crossed in both directions by "B" Battery of the 12th Field Artillery.

In accordance with the plan of educational instruction throughout the Army, the Division Engineer School was organized under the supervision of the 2nd Engineers, and included courses in the following: Carpentry, Surveying, Road Construction, Photography, Mechanical drawing. Lithography, Painting. This school was attended by an average of 150 men who showed a very intelligent interest in the work. All courses were practical in scope and the maps, signs, buildings, roads and drawings which the students themselves produced were not only of value for instruction, but served a useful purpose in the Division. The class was organized as an infantry company and was given a certain amount of drill each day.

Welfare Activities.

Welfare activities in the Third Army played a prominent part in adding to the pleasure and contentment of the men. Shows were provided almost nightly in the local theater. The Y. M. C. A. provided an attractive assembly room, a well assorted library, canteen and dance hall, where two dances a week are given and well attended. The K. of C. established a very pleasant garden on the Rhine, where refreshments were served and frequent concerts are given. Athletics were encouraged and results were very favorable. The Regimental Track Team was the winner in the Divisional meet. The Regimental Ball Team, which was a member of the Division Major League, was one of the best in the Division. Each company. Headquarters Detachment, the Engineer Train, the Band and the R. S. 0. also had bail teams which formed a Regimental League. The baseball field in ENGERS was one of the best in the Bridgehead, and was named the "General Mclndoe Field," In memory of the Regiment's former commander.

Engineer Training.

After June 1st, with the completion of the authorized construction program, the Regiment was able to devote some time to engineer drills. Company "B" completed a suspension bridge. Company "A" erected two piers of heavy frame construction, and put in place two 3-ton 40-foot lattice girders, designed to take a load of a 30-ton tank. Some interesting road work was commenced, which was to involve the construction of several short stretches illustrating the various types of roads used in civil practice. This road work and the carpentry work involved in the bridges was utilized for the instruction not only of the Regiment, but also of the students of the Division Engineer School. These engineering drills, and the target practice that was going on simultaneously, were suddenly interrupted in the middle of June by orders to move forward.

Preparations for the Further Advance Into Germany.

Several weeks before the culmination of the peace negotiations the Second Division was informed of what its mission would be in case the Allied Forces should advance further into Germany. This permitted the preparations for this advance of eighty kilometers to be carefully studied and worked out. The following were the principal plans made by this Regiment:


The Second Division required two roads for the advance of its two brigade columns. The axial road assigned the Division was unquestionably a good one, as the maps clearly showed. This road was also to be traversed by the First Division. For the second road, it was by no means clear from the best available maps, what roads would be chosen from the net-work of second and third-class roads in the Second Division area of advance. The Engineers, by making reconnaissance as far to the front as the conditions of the Armistice permitted, assisted in the tentative selection of these routes. In addition, several hundred arrows were lithographed to be used in posting these roads during the advance.


The railroads had little significance for the Second Division Engineers, since the only railroad of any tactical importance lay in the zone of operations of the First Division, and its Engineers were charged with the proper functioning of the same. Some plans were made in connection with the seizure of a short section of railroad, a branch of the main line, that lay to the immediate front.


The plan of advance contemplated that the Second Division should follow the First Division and the Second French Cavalry Division. However, it seemed quite probable that after the first day's advance on foot, the same trucks that were used to transport the First Division might be available for the advance of the Second Division, at a more rapid rate, through and beyond the cavalry. It was not deemed advisable, then, to depend solely upon the French for the reconnaissance to the front. In order to be prepared for this situation, an engineer reconnaissance section was organized, consisting of ten of the best trained men in the Regiment. This section was "mounted," not on horses, but on motorcycle side-cars. They were given special instruction in the kind of report desired, and practice in operating in this way. Blank forms for these reports were prepared, and outline maps lithographed to designate the routes; locations were given by co-ordinates. As a result of these provisions, it was expected to cover the entire 80 kilometer zone of advance in one day.

Engineer Material.

The simplest way for the Germans to impede the advance of the Division would have been to destroy the bridges along the highways. For this reason, it was particularly desired to have available a supply of dimension timber for heavy bridge work. An advance dump of such material was established close to the outpost lines. This contained a large proportion of 3" planking, in addition to the heavier material for stringers and trestles. This material was all furnished from the Corps Engineer Dump.


On June 18th and 19th, the Second Division executed a movement of concentration which brought it into the position from which it would "jump off" in case of an advance. Each unit was given its location in the three columns; thus, one company of Engineers was attached to each of the two brigades, to operate near the heads of those columns. The rest of the regiment and the Second Engineer Train constituted a part of the Division Reserve, marching in a third column behind the brigades. Ten trucks were assigned to the task of hauling bridge material; two of these trucks, loaded chiefly with planking, were to accompany each advance guard, and the remainder were to be with the Engineer Regiment. Other trucks, including some from the Engineer Train, were to be available in case of need. Four dump trucks were being used on the roads in the area and were also available; these were loaded with road metal and given a place in the column.


On June 28th, 1919, the Treaty of Peace was signed. The following day the Regiment returned to ENGERS. The movement of concentration had been most beneficial for all concerned. During the ten days in camp, drills and manoeuvers [sic] had been held in which the whole Regiment participated. Most of the men and officers lived in shelter tents during this time. Major General Summerall visited the camp and addressed the men outdoors in the forest, paying high tribute to the Second Engineers. He also presented the prize money which had been won by members of the Regiment in the Third Division Rifle Competition at WEHR, At this competition, our Regimental Rifle Team had won the first place, the "F" Company, 2nd Engineers, Team had won third place in the Company Competition, and Sgt. 1cl. E. V. Cullar, Company "F," 2nd Engineers, had won the highest individual honors, receiving himself more prize money than the entire First, Third or Fourth Divisions.

On July 5th, the Division was turned over to the S. 0. S. and received orders to prepare for its movement. The first train left on July 15th. Companies "D," "E" and "F" were moved to the three entraining points—RHEINBROHL, NIEDER-BIEBER, and ENGERS—and there took charge of the fitting up of the trains and the entraining of the organizations. The First Battalion, 2nd Engineers, pulled out from ENGERS on the morning of July 20th, and the remainder of the Regiment followed on the afternoon of July 21st.

DECEMBER 19, 1918 TO JULY 21, 1919.


  Officers Enlisted Men Total
Morning Report of December 19, 1918 54 1586 1640
Losses by transfer, evacuation, etc 44 264 308
Gains by transfer, replacements, etc 52 247 299
Morning Report of July 21, 1919 62 1569 1631
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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