History of the 333rd Engineer S. S. Regiment
(June 1945 to January 1947)
The following notes cover the activities of the 333rd Engineer Special Service Regiment from June 1945 to the date of inactivation, 20th January 1947, and supplement the combat history of the Regiment as contained in “A Short History of the 333rd Engineer SS Regiment - March 1942 to May 1945”.
In late May 1945 the Regiment, which had been actively engaged in the Rhine-River crossing and pursuit of the defeated German Army as far as Leipzig, was hastily recalled to Oise Intermediate Section to take over the construction of 8 redeployment camps from various other engineer special and general service regiments that were being redeployed. The Regiment C.P. was established at Nourmelon Le Grand, about 20 kilometers from Rheims, headquarters of Oise intermediate section, and the center of gravity of camps to be constructed. Immediate work was commenced, 4 camps being assigned to each Battalion. A number of combat engineer battalions being redeployed were attached from time to time to the regiment which had a group status. Numerous supply dumps, gravel pits etc. were set up and operated. Several thousand German prisoners of war were employed on unskilled and semi-skilled labor under the supervision of enlisted personnel. The camps were completed on the scheduled deadline of October 1st. Each camp had a capacity of from 15 - 17 thousand officers and men and were capable of housing an infantry division while it was being processed for embarkation. Five of the camps were winterized with pyramidal tents on concrete floors for troop housing, plus necessary temporary housing for messes, ablutions, supply, administration etc. Three of the camps were winterized with most of the facilities under canvas. The Regiment completed eight of the seventeen redeployment camps, considerably more than any other engineer unit accomplished.
The bulk of officers and men comprising the Regiment, perhaps 75% of whom were original members, were scheduled for return to the United States for discharge in October or November. It was therefore decided to reconstitute the regiment with lower point personnel selected from the remnants of the various combat battalions with which the regiment had been associated in the construction of redeployment camps. A mass transfer of personnel was made during the three days, September 19, 20 and 21, when 1100 officers and men of the regiment were transferred into the 277th, 279th and 1343rd combat Battalions, each of which furnished replacements man for man. The 277th battalion, company for company, generally manned the new first battalion of the 333rd Engineer SS Regiment. The 279th Combat Engineer Battalion manned the second battalion and the 1343rd manned Headquarters and Service Company. A number of additional specialists were obtained from the engineer training center at Epernay, and the reorganization was complete by the 25th of September.
Colonel Heath Twichell, who had commanded the 390th General Service Regiment during combat, was assigned to command the 333rd Engineer SS Regiment, relieving Colonel Guy S. Langstroth who had commanded the 333rd since before Cherbourg. Colonel Langstroth and most of the key members of the staff departed for the United States in September or October.
The new personnel of the Regiment was excellent, coming from combat engineer battalions with good war records, and maintaining the morale and espirit of their former units. A leaven of experienced construction men was present. The only adverse factor was a general desire on the part of all concerned to go home, as the bulk of the new officers and men were scheduled for redeployment within four months.
On September 26th the Regiment received the mission of returning to Germany to take over from the 343th Engineer General Service Regiment the construction of the vitally important military bridge across the Rhine-River at Mainz. The original structure there, the famous Pousflehy bridge, constructed during the assault crossing by Group B Adsec of which the 333 was then a part, was reportedly in danger from impending floods and ice. This bridge, located immediately below the wreckage of the original structure, was also an obstacle to navigation, and had a bad west approach. The early replacement and removal of this bridge therefore, was vital to maintaining military communication between the main body of the American Army in Germany and there ports of embarkation and bases in France and Belgium, as the port of Bremerhaven was not yet in full operation.
The original deadline of November 1st set for completion of this bridge in July when project was conceived, was impossible to meet. The 343rd Engineer General Service Regiment, a veteran bridge building organization, was decimated by redeployment, losing practically all of its Engineer personnel and officers, and replacements were generally unskilled. The advance party of the 333rd made contact with the 343rd on September 26, and billets were selected in and around Mainz at the closest location to the job possible. The newly reconstructed Regiment, complete in three trucks convoys, left Mourmelon on the morning of September 29th and arrived at Mainz on September 30th, stopping over night at Metz. Company "A" of the first Battalion was billeted in bombed-out headquarters at Mainz. Companies "B" and "C" and regimental motor pool and heavy equipment shop were located at a bombed-out ordonance depot at Mainz-Kastel, these units being reasonable close to the work. Battalion Headquarters, First Battalion, was located at Mainz within walking distance of the job. The First Battalion was commanded at this time by Major, later Lt Colonel, A.J. Bonar. The Second Battalion, commanded by Major, later Lt Colonel, E.H. Smith jr., had its companies located at a greater distance, originally in Gross-Gerau and Buettelborn, later in Bischofsheim and Gustavsburg. Regimental Headquarters was located in the technical high school in Gross-Gerau, a distance of 18 kilometers from the job.
The work was taken over from the 343rd immediately and steps were taken to acquire additional equipment from depots in France, Belgium and Germany and from engineer organizations being inactivated. Much of this equipment was transported on trailers or floats for seven or eight hundred miles. By October 15th enough equipment had been collected to push the job, and it was not until early November before all of this had been assembled in working units. Second Lt, later First Lt, Hadfield with the assistance of M/Sgt William Witsman, did a stupendous job in rounding up supply and maintaining some 300 pieces of special engineer equipment, including at one time 15 floating 2 yard cranes.
The First Battalion was assigned the construction of the Mainz side of the bridge, the Second Battalion, the Gustavsburg side. Company "B" acted as supply company for the First Battalion; Company "D" for the Second. Driving wood piles and concrete operations were started immediately on the Gustavsburg side where a long land approach facilitated early progress. The Second Battalion's mission also included the erection of the 54 meter R-type navigation truss - a ticklish engineering job due to the fact that navigation through the narrow opening below, in the Rossevelt bridge, could not be interrupted. The First Battalion was assigned the construction of the Mainz side and had the bulk of the river work. Its initial progress therefore was somewhat behind that of the Second Battalion, due to the necessity of assembling much floating equipment. Work was put on a seven day week, three shift basis on critical operations such as welding, pile driving, concreting etc. It was soon apparent that the bridge could not be completed untill late November or early December, due principally to rate of receipt of tubular steel piling which was being rolled by mills in the British Zone. Operations were favored by generally mild weather during the fall which permitted practically un-interrupted work.
The principal difficulty was the location and transportation of the large amounts of wide flange beams, tubular steel piling, timber, ties and rails needed. In order to insure the receipt of these materials, a special expedition section was set up under the direction of CWO Walter A. Lemme, who was assisted by numerous especially qualified enlisted men. This section performed yeoman service in locating, guarding and delivering these critical construction supplies. Despite the hazards of the work, the bridge was completed without a fatal accident to American personnel. The first train was run over the bridge on December 19th.
During October the 343rd Engineer General Service Regiment, which had been concentrating on the completion of the highway bridge at Mainz, was assigned general area responsibilty with its Regimental Headquarters at Kastel. Arrangements were made to take over the completion of the Highway bridge job by November 1st, at which time the progress chart showed 16% completion although actually a great deal more had been done in the way of preparation, assembling equipment etc. Major Carl O. Addison, formerly of the 1057 P, Q and R Group and a superbly qualified heavy construction man, was placed in charge of this highway bridge and was given a small cadre of qualified construction officers and enlisted men. The German personnel on the job consisted of about 350 unskilled laborers and technicians, plus an equal number of prisoners of war organized as the 500th General Service Unit. This unit, the former First Battalion of the First German Rail Engineers, had been captured intact with its equipment in Italy and had been given special status, working with nominal guard. It was commanded by Mr. Hans Balke, former adjutant of the unit. This unit, which was especially trained in the use of German bridge equipment and methods, proved valuable in this and later operations, doing the bulk of the river work of the highway bridge. The principal difficulty with the highway bridge was in cutting and transporting approximately one million board feet of green lumber. The highway bridge, while not so vitally important as the railroad bridge, nevertheless had a high priority, as the temporary highway bridge constructed about 500 yards upstream, resting on the debris of the demolished highway bridge, was being undermined and was almost certain to be taken out by ice. The highway bridge was completed early in January 1946 and was dedicated by Lt General Geoffroy Keyes, commanding General of the 7th Army, with appropriate ceremonies on January 19th, 1946.
On December 19th, Colonel Heath Twichell departed for the United States on leave and was succeeded in command by Lt Colonel E.H. Smith. Captain, later Major, R.J. Sieder, Regimental S-3, became Executive Officer. The Regiment took a long-deserved break during the Christmas Holidays which were appropriately celebrated including giving Christmas parties to several hundred local German children.
Following the holidays plans were made for the ceremony that was to be held on January 19 for the dedication of the bridges. These ceremonies, which were most impressive, received world wide publicity, including radio, newsreel and paper accounts. The ceremony started with the dedication of the highway bridge which was named in honor of General Patch, former commander of the 7th Army. General Keyes cut the tape, assisted by Major Addison, M/Sgt Reiter and M/Sgt E.P. Jones. Following dedication of the highway bridge, a ceremony was held in Mainz at which M. Rene Schmitt, Mayor of Cherbourg, presented Lt Colonel Smith with the Regimental Colors on which the Cherbourg coat of arms had been embroidered. Following this, General McNarney drove the golden spike on the railway bridge which was named for General Marshall. General McNarney then drove the first train officially across the bridge to Gustavsburg where the party dismounted and had dinner at the Regimental Officers' Club. Many distinguished American and French officers attended as guests and the ceremony was a memorable one.
Following the ceremony, emphasis was placed on helping the MAN company to complete the highway bridge over the Main river at Kastel so as to eliminate a military ferry that was being operated by the Regiment there. This job was completed in early February, a most welcome relief to the men of the regiment occupied in the brutal job of running landing craft in icy weather. On February 10, Major General Cecil R. Moore, Theater Chief Engineer, presented decorations and awards to approximately 125 officers and men of the Regiment at a special ceremony held at Mainz-Kastel.
By mid February the Regiment was commencing to suffer from the effects of redeployment. Most of the men who came to Germany in October had left or were scheduled for early departure. Replacements, few in number, were generally unskilled and of low calibre. This was the situation when Colonel Heath Twichell returned from leave in early March, permitting Lt Col Smith, to return to the United States for discharge. Prior to Col Smith's departure however, a plan was formed and approved in the theatre, for a special recruiting drive in the states to again reconstitute the regiment as a Special Service unit. The elements of this plan was, that returning officers, of whom Lt Col Smith was one, would spend a short period of detached service in the United States prior of final discharge, to recruit specially qualified construction men. This plan, which received the approval of the Chief of Engineers and the War Department, was initiated by Lt Col Smith who remained in the service until mid July. He was assisted in this task by Captain Will Kaplan and M/Sgt Fred Klunder. Lt Col Smith was replaced in this recruiting drive by Captain, later Major, Marcus F. Sauls, who was in the United States on TDY. Major Sieder also spent several weeks prior to discharge on this project. As the net result of this effort, about 400 highly qualified construction, administrative and supply personnel were recruited, packaged and shipped to the Theater. Most of them eventually reached the unit. The effect of this improved personnel was soon felt, and by mid summer the Regiment was well on its way toward recovery from redeployment. In the meantime however, from March until July, the Regiment was at low strength and reduced effectiveness, although morale continued to be good. During the period from September 1945 to July 1946, the turn-over of enlisted men was 261%; officers, 170%. This rapid turn-over complicated all supply and administrative matters and by mid summer the supply records of the Regiment were thoroughly disorganized and it was some months before this matter was corrected.
During the Fall and Winter of 1945-46, plans were made by the Engineer Third US Army for the military community construction program, work on which was scheduled to commence in May 1946. The 7th Army which was inactivated on 1 April was succeeded by the Third Army, which moved from Bad Tölz to Heidelberg and took over 7th Army functions. The Regiment was given an area commission under Third Army including all engineer construction activity in Greater Hesse, with the exception of Air Corps installation and the Frankfurt and Wiesbaden enclaves. This mission envolved construction of numerous military communities of ground forces installation in Greater Hesse. During March, reconnaissance and plans were made, and operations were commenced early in April, well ahead of schedule. This work was under the general supervision of Major Sieder, capably assisted by Captain King, field expeditor, and Captain John T. White, Operations. Captain White organized the local German Reconstruction agencies so that they were able to give effective help in locating materials and personnel to start the jobs. The principal centers of work were at the communities at Kassel, Fulda, Wetzlar and Darmstadt, with considerable construction in the satellite communities at Eschwege, Rothwesten, Alsfeld, Hersfeld, Buedingen, Neustadt, Gelnhausen, Marburg, Wildburg, Wiesbaden, Bensheim, Gross-Gerau, Ruesselsheim and Pfungstadt.
In view of the general lack of skilled construction personnel in the Regiment, emphasis was placed on training truck drivers and motor maintenance personnel, and transportation of construction material was the principal activity of the Regiment during this period. Special emphasis was placed on operation and condition of motor vehicles and a special plaque, bearing the regimental seal and wreath, was awarded to outstanding drivers. This plaque came to be known in the Theatre as the sign of a good vehicle and a good driver.
By May construction operations were in full swing and the deadline of getting the newly activated Constabulary units into housing by 1 July was met. Dependents who commenced to arrive in April were adequately housed on arrival and the construction of essential facilities such as Post Exchange, Commissaries etc., generally kept pace with requirements. The work consisted principally of the rehabilitation and repair of bombed out kasernes to provide troop housing, including plastering, painting, plazing, roofing and replacing electrical, water, and heating systems, most of which had disappeared. A large amount of new construction or alteration was also necessary to provide PX's, Commissaries, Schools, Churches, Filling Stations, Class I and III Storage Depots, Fire Stations and all the multitudinous accessories for a community of from five to ten thousand people. To this list could be added some road and railway construction, newspaper plants etc. At tje peak of operations about 8000 indigenous labor was employed, making a total labor force approaching 10,000. A large number of Class IV trucks were assigned to the Regiment, which at one time operated some 400 vehicles. It is estimated that had this housing program been paid for in American dollars it would have been a 50,000,000 dollar job. An essential factor in the success of this housing program was the operation of the Mainz-Kastel Engineer Construction Material Supply Depot under the supervision of CWO Lemme. Starting from scratch in bombed out buildings, Mr. Lemme gradually built up a superb organisation. The timely completion of this housing program, which paralleled that in progress elsewhere in Germany, was a large factor in the improvement of morale and discipline in the Theater which resulted from better living and housekeeping conditions. This effect which commenced to be seen in late Summer 1946 is still being felt. Generally speaking this housing construction was a thankless and unsatisfactory job. No one seemed to appreciate the tremendous difficulties in overcoming the shortage of material, the lack of transportation and the lack of skill. Nevertheless, a good job was done which reflected great credit on the Regiment.
On the first of April 1946, Regimental Headquarters moved from Gross-Gerau to Ruesselsheim, Hq and Service Company occupying technical highschool there, which was vacated by the Signal Corps "Barn" Troops. Regimental Headquarters moved into a vacant headquarters building, originally constructed as a Nazi district headquarters. This building, reconditioned and painted, became one of the outstanding Headquarters in the Theater.
Mrs. Amos L. Wright, the first dependent, arrived in May and others followed. By the winter of 1947, there was a total of 40 families in Ruesselsheim and outlying sub-satellites. These included families of officers, civilian employees and enlisted men. A splendid community was set up which enjoyed the respect of the local inhabitants and built up a good will by actively participating in the German Youth Program and other similar activities.
On May 13th, 1946, a regimental party was held at Assmannshausen on the Rhine, a noted German resort, to celebrate the inpending departure of Captain Sauls, Major Sieder, Captain White and other short time officers. This party, a weekend affair, was attended by approximately 125 guests, including Waes, Nurses and civilian employees, and was the first of a series of fine parties for which the Regiment came to be noted.
On the first of June, Lt General Geoffrey Keyes, Commanding General of the Third US Army, dedicated the Karl Schurz Autobahn Bridge over the Neckar river near Mannheim. This bridge, which eliminated a long detour through Mannheim and from 20 to 30 minutes travel time, became of importance after the death by accident of General Patton in making this detour focused attention on this condition. Appropriate ceremonies were held, attended by many notables. The bridge was accepted by Dr. Rheinhold Meyer, representing the German government of Wuerttemberg-Baden. The name, Karl Schurz, was suggested by Dr. Hans Balke, whose organization, non-civilian, was employed on this work under the direction of Captain Andrew Psillos, commanding Company "E". The bridge, of all welded steel and wide flange beam construction, was built largely from material salvaged from the Rhine River bridges at Oppenheim and Mainz, removal of which was done by Company "F". The remaining companies of the Regiment, A, B, C and D, were still employed on the community housing program.
In September, Colonel Heath Twichell, accompanied by 1st Lt James F. Postelwate, 1st Lt Cornellison and M/Sgt Harlow, the only remaining members of the original 333 Engineer SS Regiment, journeyed to Cherbourg to receive a special flag embroidered with the Cherbourg coat of arms, presented by the citizens at a simple but effective ceremony in the town hall.
In the late August, Companies D and F moved from Gustavsburg and Wetzlar to the vicinity of Karlsruhe to assist Military Government in the reconstruction of demolished autobahn bridges between Karlsruhe and Stuttgart, to eliminate bad detours and congestion. The work envolved a total of five bridges, two minor, three major with a total length of about 800 meters. The largest construction bridge, No. 4, near Pforzheim, had a demolished length of 210 meters and a height of 135 foot. This bridge was constructed on the ruins of a concrete arch bridge, eight piers of which had been demolished. This involved removing, largely by bulldozer, 15,000 cubic meters of concrete or rubble and construction four spans resting on pendulum-type piers, the highest and heaviest ever constructed. Particular care had to be given to the stability of the end arches which theoretically should have failed. These were braced or tied back by cable.
Bridge No. 8 at Grunwettersbach, a two-span R-type truss resting on LST piers was constructed largely by Balke’s outfit. Bridge No. 9 at Karlsruhe a 250 meter, four-lane continuous steel girder bridge was rebuilt for a two-lane traffic way, using the good portions of the old bridge. This job which involved a multitude of cutting, lifting and patching operations was done by contract labor with assistance of military equipment.
Companies D and F were employed at the beginning of this project but as the strength of these units decreased due to the approaching inactivation of the Regiment, the size of the detail on the job was decreased until January, when it was down to about 40 officers, civilian employees and men, mostly equipment and heavy engineer vehicle operators and mechanics. Captain Carl F. Baswell who commended Company F did a splendid job in furnishing assistance to Military Government contractors, and maintained his outfit at a high state of efficiency, discipline and morale. Major Carl Addison, now a civilian, returned to the organization as principal engineer in December, and was of invaluable assistance in the completion of these bridges due to this thorough knowledge of construction methods.
The work continued without interruption during the coldest winter in German history, and no disabling accidents occurred on the whole job, a notable feat considering the construction hazards.
In November information was received that the Regiment, along with all other Regiments of like kind in the Theatre, would be inactivated in January. Plans were made to consolidate units, the First Battalion concentrating at Fulda, the second at Bretten, Regimental Headquarters at Ruesselsheim. The inactivation of the Regiment proceeded smoothly. Surplus men were generally placed to advantage with the Constabulary, community post engineer detachments or with other engineer units. After keeping a highly selected cadre for the 1103 Composite Service Group, the succeeding organization, about 400 qualified men, permanent personnel, were thus transferred to other units, including to Berlin, Bremerhaven and Frankfurt Engineer Districts, Continental Base Section, Regensburg and Erlangen Area Engineers and the Theatre Engineer School.
During the Fall and Winter, a healthy program of social activities was continued. Work was pushed on the completion of an enlisted men’s club on the Main River at Ruesselsheim, which became a show place, together with an equally attractive officers’ club. Work was continued at Mainz-Kastel to provide housing and storage facilities for the supply and maintenance detachment which eventually was quartered there. A building adjacent to Headquarters building was reconditioned, and housed Community Headquarters, the Post Exchange and other activities. About 40 sets of quarters for dependents were also reconditioned.
A community housewarming party attended by many friends was held in July and a general Regiment get-together was held every two or three months. A party was held on Halloween featuring an abandoned castle adjacent to the Officers’ Club, dating back to medieval times. At Christmas a children’s party was held in the Headquarters and Service Company barracks and several hundred town children attended, each of whom received gifts made by the women of the community and the men of the Regiment.
The Winter of 1946-47 was most severe and matters were made worse by an acute shortage of fuel which necessitated greatest economy. The Rhine River which froze over early and remained frozen late, was closed to coal shipment for about three months, and the Regiment had the job of cooperating with the Rhine engineering establishment to do everything possible to speed the opening of the traffic. This included technical advice and assistance in demolitions including operation ice breakers etc. This work was under the direction of Mr. Emile V. Becker, a native of France and a construction engineer who rendered invaluable service during this period and later. Due to his efforts the Patch and Marshall bridges sustained heavy ice floes without damage.
The Regiment was inactivated on the 20th of January, 1947, and on the 1st of February final inactivation rites were hold, commencing with an appropriate ceremony in the Ruesselsheim Theatre attended by men of the Regiment plus invited guests. Letters were read from General Moore, Colonel Herb and other friends, and the main address was given by Colonel Twichell. Following this the invited guests proceeded to the Officers’ Club, nowly completed for the occasion, where a wake was hold out of respect for the predominantly Irish origins of the original 333rd. Included in this was a very lifelike corpse which was carried in by pall bearers and who participated in the general festivities.
The functions of the 333 Engineer SS Regiment were taken over by the 1103 Composite Service Group, which included personnel from the 41st General Service Regiment, also inactivated about that time. This new organization effectively continued the work and carried on the tradition of the Regiment and completed the autobahn bridges, Karlsruhe to Stuttgart, which were dedicated with the appropriate ceremonies on the 15th of May. These bridges which carry appropriate plaques with acknowledgement to the 333 Engineer SS Regiment, were named in honor of Bunsen (scientist), Roebling (engineer) and Schurman (diplomat). Thus the tradition, commenced with the Karl Schurz bridge, of naming these structures for illustrious characters of German descent was carried on.
The 333 Engineer SS Regiment was among the last of the old engineer organizations active in the Theatre. By May of 1947, personnel of the following engineer outfits had been merged with the 555 Composite Service Group with Headquarters at Ruesselsheim, successor to the 1103 Composite Service Group and the 333 Engineer SS Regiment:
41st Engineer General Service Regiment
1349 Engineer General Service Regiment
343 Engineer General Service Regiment
346 Engineer General Service Regiment
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MORE (Thanksgiving 1946)