Amphibian Engineers

A site dedicated to the soldiers of the six
Army Engineer Special Brigades.

This page has been developed as an introduction to the service record of the 6 Engineer Special Brigades which served in Africa, Europe and the Southwest Pacific Area during World War II. Please also visit the 594th EB&SR site for more information on ALL 6 ESB's.

To the Amphibian Engineers who served in The Sixth Army in the Southwest Pacific with sincere regards and best wishes Walter Krueger General, US Army

Dave Markowitz, 3497th Ordnance MAM Company 1st ESB, at 1st ESB Monument, Utah Beach, Normandy
and with pet cat near Cherbourg near the end of the war.

One of Jack Booth's comrades in the 3497th Ordnance MAM, 1st ESB

Uniform of 2nd Lt. Manke who was a beach director for the 1st ESB at Normandy.
(Photo courtesy James Wescott)

T/Sgt Virgil S. Kruse, Evanston, IL, 336th Engineer Battalion, 5th Engineer Special Brigade.
(Photos courtesy Lt. Col. Terry Carlson)

Page one of the first edition of the 336th Reporter , newletter of the 336th Engineer Battalion, 5th Engineer Special Brigade. It features an article by T/Sgt Virgil Kruse who returned to Omaha Beach, Normandy for the dedication of the 5th ESB Monument.
(Photos courtesy Lt. Col. Terry Carlson)

Origins of the Engineer Amphibian Brigades

1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th and 6th Amphibian Engineer Units
from “Surf and Sand”
Robert Amory Jr.

544th EBSR information.

The fortress island of Corregidor quivered under the relentless pounding of the Jap bombers and the heavy batteries massed on recently subdued Bataan. The weary defenders, safe only in the depths of its tunnels, knew they could not hope to repulse the final assault that would strike them any day. The last effective barrier to complete Japanese conquest of the Philippines was doomed. A tiny Aussie garrison in the mountains above Port Moresby, the last impertinent Allied foothold on the second largest island in the world, wondered when the Japs on the north coast of New Guinea would decide to rub them out.

The bitter rear-guard action in Burma was drawing to an ignominious close as the remnants of the British, Indian, and Chinese forces stumbled over the trackless mountains into India, and the victorious Japs seized the Burma Road and pressed on into isolated China.

Between New Caledonia and the Solomons roamed the scouting planes of a small American naval task force seeking to locate the Japanese fleet that was about to sally forth for an attack on the Australian mainland.

On the other side of the world, Germany and her satellites bestrode Europe unchallenged from Gibraltar to the North Cape, from the Channel Islands to the African desert. The Russian winter counteroffensive, having hurled the Germans from the suburbs of Moscow, had bogged down in the ooze of spring. The Germans were attacking at Kharkov and in the Crimea, and their Afrika Korps was coiling for a deadly lunge at Egypt. German submarines stalked ships in the delta of the Mississippi and within sight of the New Jersey coast.

So began the month of May, 1942.

In these darkest moments of World War II, the Allied Combined Chiefs of Staff were nevertheless grimly preparing offensives to regain the ground lost and bring the Axis ultimately to abject surrender. One fact stood out: there was no land route of approach, and so the British and American forces could come to grips with the Germans and Japanese only by amphibious attack. Not only would strong armies have to be raised, trained and equipped, but those armies would also have to be provided with ships and boats and trained beach parties in order to assault the fortress of Europe and the vast island empire of Japan.

Both the British and American navies were doing all they could to procure ships and small landing craft and to train crews for them, but the U.S. Navy in particular was necessarily preoccupied with meeting the menace of German submarines in the Atlantic and the threat of the now superior Japanese naval forces in the central Pacific. In order better to distribute the burden of preparing the amphibious forces, the Joint Chiefs of Staff assigned to the Army the task of creating a major amphibious training center and of recruiting and training specialized units capable of operating landing craft and handling the engineering work on beachheads.

This decision was reduced to orders on May 9, 1942 directing General Somervell, commander of the Army Service Forces, to establish an amphibian training center at Camp Edwards, and to procure equipment and personnel for the specialized amphibian units.

As had been its lot throughout its long history, the U.S. Corps of Engineers received this new and unique assignment. After a brief period of study, the Engineer Amphibian Command was activated on June 5, 1942, with the mission of organizing, equipping and training eight engineer amphibian brigades, each capable of transporting and supporting a reinforced infantry division in a shore-to-shore amphibious attack. Colonel Daniel Noce, an engineer who had had much to do with the organization of the original air-borne units took command, and opened his headquarters at Camp Edwards, on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Ten days later the 1st Engineer Amphibian Brigade was activated, using two engineer combat regiments as its nucleus. Five days later the 2d Brigade came into being.

To procure personnel with appropriate civilian background as officers and noncommissioned officers for this work, an intensive recruiting program was inaugurated with headquarters in Washington. Employing extensive publicity and cooperating with the U.S. Power Squadrons, yacht clubs, and other organizations concerned with maritime activities, this drive resulted in many hundreds of civilians being enlisted or commissioned during the summer of 1942.

Procurement of boats was handled through the Navy Bureau of Ships in order not to duplicate effort. In accordance with the decision of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the engineer amphibian units were restricted to craft less than 100 feet long, on the general theory that these would be adequate for the short distance across the English Channel, where the brigades were initially expected to be employed.

Each day brought a fresh influx of personnel and equipment to Cape Cod. Veteran Coast Guard and Marine officers, battle tested Britishers with experience in commando raids, experts in civil engineering, navigation, boat repair, and communications formed the nucleus of the training command at Edwards. Camps were opened at Waquoit and Cotuit, and docks were built to provide appropriate training bases for the boat units.

During June and early July 1942 the Allied situation throughout the world grew more perilous. The Afrika Korps routed the British Eighth Army and reached within striking distance of the Nile; von Bock's great group of armies started its 1000-mile plunge from Orel to Stalingrad; and the Japanese, despite the naval battles of the Coral Sea and Midway, still threatened Australia.

To the Combined Chiefs of Staff, meeting in London early in July, the most serious danger appeared to be that the German summer offensive would succeed in knocking Russia out of the War. In order to do what little they could to relieve the pressure on the hard pressed Red armies, they agreed to launch, if necessary, a crosschannel invasion of France, even though the forces at their disposal were pitifully small. To do this they would need more landing craft and crews than were available in the British Isles; so the 1st Brigade on July 23 was ordered to England as fast as it could be moved. The Brigade was in a sad state of confusion, with almost no equipment and all ranks barely oriented as to their technical missions and training objectives. Nevertheless, equipment was rushed from all parts of the country to the Brigade, and it was brought to full strength and sailed from New York on August 5th. Hardly had it debarked in England when it became apparent that the German drive was slowing down in the Caucasus and was being fought to a standstill at Stalingrad, and that it would not be necessary to launch the major attack across the channel during that year. Given this breathing spell, the navies of both Great Britain and the United States set about reversing the decision made in May to have the Army run the small landing craft, and in England they actually took away the 1st Brigade's boats.

Back in the United States a bitter wrangle ensued, and the understandably inexpert performance of some of the engineer boatmen in their first maneuvers lent weight to the Navy's argument that only 'boys in blue' could satisfactorily handle boats. Colonel Arthur Trudeau, the Chief of Staff of the Engineer Amphibian Command, made a flying trip to visit General MacArthur in Australia during the early part of October to see if he was interested in continuing the development of the amphibian brigades. Just at this time MacArthur was engaged in his "Battle of the Marne" in the passes of the Owen Stanley Mountains and in the steaming jungles and plantations of Milne Bay. Though he had been successful in driving the Japanese back toward their bases on the northeast coast of New Guinea, lack of water-borne transportation had caused him to rely almost exclusively on his pitifully few airplanes, and he was, necessarily, in a most receptive mood. He promptly informed the War Department that he would like one engineer amphibian brigade immediately, to be followed in 1943 by a second one. The War Department, therefore, reduced the number of brigades to be created by the Engineer Amphibian Command to three.

Thus, the Navy's campaign to keep the Army out of the boat business succeeded to the extent that the amphibians in the European theater were henceforth to be nothing more than shore party engineers, while in the portion of the Pacific under Admiral Nimitz's control there would be no specialized amphibian engineers at all. Only in the Southwest Pacific were the amphibian engineers to be given a chance to operate in the manner originally contemplated in the dark days of May, 1942.

Return to EB&SR Page Additional information on the other Engineer Special Brigades may be found at the 594th EB&SR website.
This page established 11/11/98
This page updated 3/3/00