U.S. THIRD ARMY, E.T.O., 1943-1945

Harbor Docks, Southampton, England, Christmas Eve, 24 December 1944, 2300 Hours. * A company of G.I.'s is waiting to board a transport ship bound for the continent. It is bitter cold and yet to be one of the worst winters on record.  While vehicles are loaded aboard the Liberty Ship S.S. Louis Marshall, a cheery Red Cross girl hands out doughnuts and hot coffee to a thankful group of shivering men.  There is time to reflect and yet, no one seems to notice that it is Christmas Eve. Perhaps it is just the bone chilling darkness, or the uninviting prospects of the ship's steel hold, but likely it is something else. By now all know that a fierce battle is being waged on the snow bound frontier of western Germany and that thousands of Americans are being killed or wounded. Each ponders what the future holds but all determine to do their duty when the time comes. As the line moves forward each man gives his name to a soldier at the gangplank to record on the company roster. One of the young American soldiers on the dreary docks of Southampton that night was my grandfather, William E. Scott, Corporal, 1st Platoon, C Company, 245th Engineer Combat Battalion.

William Emmett Scott of Alexander City, Alabama

Corporal, 1st Squad, 1st Platoon, Company C, 245th Engineer Combat Battalion,

XX Corps, Third United States Army

Germany 1945.

* Note: This is the same time as the "S.S. Leopoldville Disaster". The Leopoldville was a troopship that had left Southampton Harbor Christmas Eve morning loaded with 2,235 men of the U.S. 66th Infantry Division bound for France. This was at height of the Battle of the Bulge and troops were urgently needed at the front. Just before midnight on Christmas Eve 5 1/2 miles from Cherbourg the Leopoldville was torpedoed by the U-486. Chaos ensued and 763 American soldiers lost their lives in the freezing waters of the English Channel. When ships carrying the 245th Engineer Combat Battalion and other units left Southampton on Christmas morning their convoy sailed for the mouth of the Seine River.  The Seine was still strewn with floating mines and wrecked ships and according to the battalion history of the 245th even then some Free French were still fighting with Vichy collaborators in Le Havre. The Louis Marshall slowly threaded its way upriver.  C Company did not get unloaded until the ship docked at Rouen on December 28.  Due to wartime censorship the sinking of the Leopoldville was kept secret until U.S. documents relating to the disaster were declassified in 1959. Official British documents of the sinking were not released until 1996.  

     On December 28, 1944 a British troopship, H.M.S. Empire Javelin, loaded with 1,500 American soldiers (the headquarters element of the new U.S. 15th Army) struck a mine in the English Channel and sank enroute to Le Havre, France.   Company B of the 245th Combat Engineers evacuated their billets in the Chateau D' Arcourt near Le Havre that same day so Empire Javelin survivors would have shelter from the below freezing temperatures.  Private First Class Paul H. Spence of Birmingham, Alabama, who served in Co. B of the 245th Engineer Combat Battalion, remembered giving one of his blankets to a soldier who had lost everything when the ship went down.  The Empire Javelin is suspected to have been sunk by a German magnetic sea mine.  

The 245th Engineer Combat Battalion was activated at Camp Shelby, Mississippi on October 25, 1943. The battalion was commanded by Major John Hall Livingston and consisted of three line companies A, B, & C along with a headquarters/service company. Cadre for the battalion came from Fort Polk, La and enlisted men were sent from Fort Devens, Mass and Fort McPherson, Georgia. Basic training for enlisted men began on December 6, 1943 and was completed on March 6, 1944. On March 13, 1944 the battalion was sent to the Tennessee Maneuver Area for additional training which lasted until May 30, 1944. The battalion was then returned to Camp Shelby for additional training in bridge building, Air/Ground operations, mine fields, antiaircraft firing and small arms. On September 23, 1944 the battalion boarded trains and departed Camp Shelby for the E.T.O. (European Theater of Operations).

The battalion left New York Harbor aboard the SS Explorer on October 30, 1944 and arrived at Avonmouth, England on November 10, 1944. It was stationed at Camp Seamills near Bristol, England for six weeks of intensive training on minefields and road maintenance. The battalion departed England for the continent on December 25, 1944. It was assigned to XX Corps, U.S. Third Army under General George S. Patton with which it remained until the end of the war. Elements of the 245th Engineer Combat Battalion saw action in support of the 26th Infantry Division, 94th Infantry Division, the 6th, 10th, and 11th Armored Divisions, the 3rd and 16th Cavalry Groups - among others. Beginning with assignment to the XX Corps in the Saar-Moselle Triangle, the battalion's combat activities carried it through central and southern Germany and on into northern Austria. Members of the 245th were frequently called upon to perform dangerous and complex duties which encompassed the spectrum of WW2 combat engineering. They cleared mine fields, maintained roads, built bridges (often under artillery fire), destroyed German fortifications, guarded prisoners, conducted river crossings into enemy held territory, and even fought as infantry. The battalion earned three battle stars for participation in the Ardennes-Alsace, Rhineland, and Central European Campaigns, losing 8 men killed in action. By the end of the fighting in Europe, members of the battalion had earned 73 Purple Hearts, 33 Bronze Stars, 3 Silver Stars, and 2 Soldier's Medals.  It was slated for redeployment to the Pacific Theatre following the surrender of Germany, but the devastation wrought by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought an end to the hostilities with Japan.

* The battle star for the Ardennes-Alsace campaign was not awarded until after the war had ended.  It was based on the 245th's support of the 26th Infantry Division near the end of the Ardennes Campaign.  Many of the battalion's members were never aware of this because they had already been discharged.

Battalion M-1 Garand Qualification Scores from Camp Shelby, Mississippi

Dated January 15, 1944

This 12 page list contains the names, ranks, and serial numbers of battalion members who trained at Camp Shelby.  Obviously there are some members who transferred into the battalion later in the war who aren't found on this list.

Courtesy of Sgt. John Craig Vernon, Company B.


1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12

At Camp Shelby experienced personnel were sometimes transferred out of the battalion as training progressed for service in units with combat priority. 

Blaine Rhodes was a member of the initial training cadre of the 245th at Camp Shelby. 

His wartime experience can be found here - Blaine E. Rhodes. 

Co. A, 245th Engineer Combat Battalion at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, February 24, 1944. The officer wearing the dark uniform in the front row, middle is believed to be Captain Maurice J. Morely, the first company commander. T/5 Will T. Colter of Lafayette, Tennessee has been identified by his family as being 5th from the right in the top row. Signatures on the back of the photograph include 1st Lt George J. Uhron of Indiana, PA, Sgt Robert Baulos of Dorchester, Mass, S/Sgt Ray Martinez of Rapid City, S.D., Wilton Yarbrough of Dover, TN, Raymond Veronneau of New Bedford, Mass, William E. Padgett of Dublin, GA, Milan H McRath of Wilton, N.H., Arthur G Curtis of Norway, Maine, Norman A. Spinney of Cranston, R.I., Charles R. Smith of East Lynn, Mass, Samuel G Moore of Milledgeville, GA, Michael P Maglieri of Hartford, Conn, Robert L. Wright of Covington, TN, L.C. Stewart of Water Valley, MS, Dante Gobbi of Bradford, Mass, Ernest Laliberte of New Bedford, Mass and Horace S. Mason of New Bedford, Mass.

T/5 Will T. Colter of Lafayette, Tennessee posing with an M-1 Garand Rifle at Camp Shelby. Colter was a truck driver in Co. A.

These images are from the wartime collection of T/5 Will T. Colter.

T/5 Henry A Griffin, Jr of South Portland, Maine, circa late 1943 or early 1944 while stationed at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. Griffin was a Electrician in Co. A.

This image is from the wartime collection of T/5 Henry A. Griffin, Jr. Courtesy of his daughter Rosanne Griffin.

On the right is T/5 Henry A Griffin, Jr of South Portland, Maine with an unidentified buddy, circa late 1943 or early 1944 while on leave from Camp Shelby. Image probably made at Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

This image is from the wartime collection of T/5 Henry A. Griffin, Jr. Courtesy of his daughter Rosanne Griffin.

The Saar - Moselle Triangle - Clearing Mine Fields

A mine clearing detail from 1st platoon, C Company, near a knocked out American halftrack near Nohn, Germany on the west bank of the Saar River sometime in February, 1945. T/4 John A. Harper [Jackson, Miss.] and Cpl. William E. Scott [Alexander City, Ala.] are probing for mines with M1 mine probes. Sgt. Carl L. Schultheiss [Cherryvale, Kansas] is operating a SCR-625 mine detector. Another soldier, name unknown and not mentioned in the original photo caption, is standing behind Schultheiss to assist. The white tape hanging from my grandfather's pocket was used to mark the location of suspected mines.  Each Combat Engineer platoon was issued with one SCR-625 mine detector and one M1 mine probe per squad.

It was on the road outside of Nohn while supervising the clearing of a minefield at night that Lt. Thomas R. Matthews of 1st Platoon, Company C, lost his left foot when he stepped on a wooden schu mine on February 23, 1945. Lt. Matthews was awarded the Silver Star for meritorious and courageous service.

German minefields along the Siegfried Line were often mixed antipersonnel/antitank fields. These nasty devices were often made from metal, wood, and sometimes even glass or concrete.  This variation in materials necessitated both probing and electronic detection by the engineers.  In addition, the mines themselves were frequently boobytrapped to prevent easy removal.  Minefields and other battlefield obstacles were typically situated where they could be covered by weapons from nearby German positions.  Among the most deadly and fearsome antipersonnel mines was the S-Mine, or "Bouncing Betty" as my grandfather and the G.I's called it, not to mention the ubiquitous  "Schu" mine.   On the night of February 13-14, 1945, the 1st Platoon of B Company suffered several casualties while clearing mines adjacent to the Saar River near Fremersdorf, Germany.  Lt. Robert A. Oler [hometown unknown], Pfc. Edwin E. Hebb [Framingham, Mass.] and Medic Moncreath Kennedy [hometown unknown] were seriously wounded.  T/5 William O. McCarthy [Mooreville, Miss.], Pfc. Philip J. Ciaramicola [Milford, Mass.], Pfc. James R. Pratt [Pope, Miss.] and Pfc. Morris Itzkowitz [Brooklyn, N.Y.] were slightly wounded.  


Pfc. Edwin E. Hebb's narrative of the night of February 13-14, 1945 when he was wounded by a "Bouncing Betty".

The Saar - Palatinate Triangle - Under fire on the Kyll River at Ehrang, Germany.

The treadway bridge site on the Kyll River at Ehrang, a suburb of Trier, Germany about March 7, 1945. The 245th Engineer Combat Battalion was operating in support of Combat Command B, 10th Armored Division. The D7 dozer on the far bank is awaiting an O.K. from the mine detecting team before proceeding with clearing an exit ramp.

Assault crossing on the Kyll River - March 6, 1945

The day before this photo was taken, a short distance upriver from this site, 1st and 2nd Platoons of B Company assisted two companies of  infantry in making a forced crossing of the river.  After their wooden assault boats had been destroyed by German mortar barrage on March 5th, two companies of the 20th Armored Infantry Battalion, 10th Armored Division, aided by the engineers, resumed their attack on March 6.  Thirteen rubber rafts were found by Lt. Walter R. Hofman of the 245th and brought forward but all but one was quickly rendered useless by German mortar fire.*  Faced with the daunting task of ferrying some 200 infantrymen across the swift little river with only one 3 man reconnaissance raft, 2nd Lt. Walter R. Hofman [Pittsburg, Pa.] and Sgt. John Craig Vernon [Fairfield, Iowa] waded out into the water. Tying a rope to each end of the raft, the two engineers worked it back and forth across the river for the next four hours until the mission was accomplished.   All of this was done while under enemy fire and standing chest deep in freezing water.  Sgt. Vernon received the Bronze Star for valor.  Lt. Hofman was later killed in action near Bad Sulza, Germany on or about April 11, 1945. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his actions on the Kyll River.  In 2007 John Vernon described the March 6, 1945 crossing of the Kyll River near the Burg Ramstein. "Ehrang was basically a one street town. We were quartered about a long block from the [Kyll] river. After moving into the house we discovered that the cellar had been heavily reinforced with timber supporting the first floor. It was in effect a bomb shelter. The house faced south onto the street. We never went down to the river as we were under constant artillery fire. To meet our infantry group we went out the backdoor of the house and up the hill into the woods and met them. The assault crossing was supposed to be that night but the shell fire had damaged the boats so we sat around and waited while there was still occasional incoming fire. We waited all night until late morning when Lt. Hoffman came with the rubber recon boats and the rest is history. The assault: generally we came down out of the trees and crossed the tracks onto the flat area before the river. When we came out of the trees the enemy really poured on the artillery and mortars. Most of the casualties were in the initial surge. Across the river was a long upward slope, no trees but pasture like. The slope was up for about half a mile and on the horizon were some trees and I believe a small out building."

A 2014 view looking southwest across open ground that was covered by German mortar and artillery fire on March 6, 1945. The Kyll River is on this side of the railroad tracks and the Ramstein castle ruins can be seen lower down the wooded ridge slope to the right. The photographer is facing in the general direction from which the engineers and infantry carried their rubber boats through the barrage of mortar fire to the crossing site. The railroad embankment provided at least some measure of cover from direct small arms fire during the daytime approach. It provided no protection from observation by German forward observers on the heights on the far side of the river. The crossing was originally intended to have taken place at night. Today this locale and Burg Ramstein are the site of a recreation area and popular restaurant. Image taken by a friend of John Vernon. Used with permission.

Corporal Daniel Sweeney of Little Neck, Long Island, N.Y. is shown first on the left holding a mess kit. He was wounded in the left shoulder by shrapnel from a mortar shell during the assault crossing of the Kyll River below Ramstein Castle on March 6, 1945. Years later Sgt John Vernon remembered Sweeney's rifle being blown from his hands and his scream of pain. The other men in this image are unidentified but are presumed to be other members of Sweeney's squad from 3rd Platoon, Co. B, 245th Engineers. This image was made during training at Camp Shelby ca. 1943 or early 1944. Sweeney recovered from his wound and after his discharge took a job with General Motors in New York City from where he retired at age 65. He passed away in 2005. Daniel Sweeney was survived by his wife Doris, three children and nine grandchildren. Photograph and information courtesy of his son Bill Sweeney.


Sgt. John Craig Vernon, Co. B, 245th Engineer Combat Battalion


2nd Lt. Walter R. Hofman's Silver Star Citation, 245th Engineer Combat Battalion

* Per Ralph Horchler, Jr. of Volant, PA. June 2, 2008 - "My grandfather, Fred M. Horchler of New Castle, PA., served with Company "B", 20th Armored Infantry Battalion, 10th Armored Division and received the Silver Star and Purple Heart for his actions at Erhang, Germany on March 5, 1945.  He rescued his comrades from the river when their boats were sunk by enemy mortar fire.  He carried them over 500 yards to safety." 


Pvt. Fred M. Horchler's Silver Star Citation

Co. B, 20th Armored Infantry Battalion, 10th Armored Division

Pfc. Paul H. Spence [Geraldine, Alabama] of 1st Platoon, B Company recalled his part in the Kyll River action years later:

"The [Kyll] river was no wider than a big creek, and there was a footbridge across the river which we could see had been damaged by a hit.  I was told to go and see if it could be used by the infantry for a foot crossing.  I walked down to the bridge and up to the center and was jumping on it to see how strong it was when a sharpshooter in a church steeple on the east bank of the river started shooting at me.  All I could do was drop into the river.  I crawled by the east bank where he couldn't hit me but every time I tried to get away he would start shooting again.  I was in the freezing water for a long time but finally our troops were able to hit the church steeple with a mortar and I could swim back to the west bank where our troops were."


Pfc. Paul H. Spence's Wartime Photographs, Co. B, 245th Engineer Combat Battalion

That same day [March 6, 1945],1st Lt. Lawrence H. Anderson [Providence, Rhode Island] B Company Commander and 2nd Lt. Francis C. Thomas [St. Joseph, Missouri] leader of 3rd Platoon, B Company, attempted another assault crossing near Ramstein im Kyll, a short distance upriver from Hoffman's and Vernon's site.  Anderson and Thomas had their men quickly begin construction of a makeshift wooden raft, but as with other crossing points on that stretch of the Kyll River their efforts were under German observation.  A German mortar shell exploded killing both officers.  Lt. Anderson had previously seen combat as a Sergeant on Guadalcanal and in the China-Burma-India Theatre before returning stateside and officer candidate school. Lt. Thomas had just reported for duty with the 245th and was on his first mission. 

 The fierce German response with machine gun and mortar fire caused heavy casualties in Thomas's platoon and brought a halt to the ferrying effort - survivors took shelter in the basement of a nearby house.  Seriously wounded by enemy fire were 1st Sgt. Cecil E. Platz [Brashear, Missouri], S/Sgt. Paul J. Koop [Covington, Kentucky], Pfc Kenneth H. Juhnke, and Pfc. John J. Wagenbach.  Major Fredrick W. Thompson, Battalion Executive Officer, Tech 5 /Medic Kenneth J. Kuhn [Hundred, West Virginia] were slightly wounded.  

Material salvaged from the destroyed rail yard at Ehrang are used to build a piling in the middle of the swift moving Kyll River. Lt. Ralph D. Johnston [Philadelphia, Penn.] is seen in this image directing the work of the 1st Platoon, C Company. On March 7, 1945 Lt. Col. John Hall Livingston and 1st Lt. D. E. Soderquist of 2nd Platoon, C Company were inspecting this site when fired on by the enemy from the opposite bank.  Rushing for cover, Lt. Soderquist stepped on an schu mine and was seriously wounded.  Lt. Col. Livingston, less than two steps away, was slightly wounded in the face by the explosion.  As Livingston continued supervising the work on the bridge site, more German shells fell in the area.  Years later, Lt. Col. Livingston recalled,  "the shelling was so fierce I dived under the water-clothes, guns, and all. I do not recall the ice cold water as being cold that day."  Construction of a treadway bridge was hampered for three days until the area was cleared of German troops and enemy fire suppressed. A number of American infantrymen were reported to have been killed or wounded during this operation.

[Note: If anyone has additional details or insight on any units involved {American or German} in the fighting along the Kyll River in and around Ehrang and Riol, Germany please email me!]

The finished treadway bridge at Ehrang. The bridge was inspected by General Walton B. Walker, Commander of the XX Corps, Third Army on March 9, 1945.


On the 11th of March, 1945 the 1st Platoon, "C" Company of the 245th was attached to the XX Corps 3rd Cavalry Group. On March 12th the reinforced 3rd Cavalry Group captured the little village of Riol a few miles northeast of Trier and the high ground surrounding it. 

Note: Although Riol is the spelling used in the 245th's battalion history book, it has also been noted on period maps Rohl, Germany.

From page 231 of The History Of The 245th Engineer Combat Battalion is quoted the following:

"The "Fool'em" 2nd squad, as well as the other two squads, drew "hot" assignments, while attached to the 3rd Cavalry in March. One day they were pinned down in the Church in Riol by enemy mortar fire for eight hours. During such time and while the "Krauts" reloaded, Rapheal [T/5 Joseph C. Rafael - Fairhaven, Mass.] would play a song on the organ. Joe was no musician but those notes were quite the thing then. All their prayers were answered because they all came out alive, and when they returned to the Company only Stull [PFC John H. Stull - Los Angles, Ca.] and Underwood [George E. Underwood - Huntersville, West Va.] were slightly wounded.

That night the "fearless" 3rd squad took off about midnight to put a treadway bridge across an antitank ditch at Riol, which was beyond the Cavalry forward C.P. and mightly close to the front line. It was so dark that night that Silevitch [PFC Harry Silevitch - Dorchester, Mass.] thought the white star was gone off the hood, but was amazed in the morning when he found it still there. Lt. Kessler [Lt. Leo Kessler], fresh from a "Reppo Deppo", was in charge, and even though it was a cold night he showed signs of perspiration. "Von" Neely [T/5 Harold N. Neely - Loysville, Penn.] took him back to the C. P. at a rapid pace in "Champs". "Red" was going so fast that Lt. Kessler could not tell him in time about the dead horse around the corner, and when they felt the bump they knew "C" 13 had sped over the old nags windpipe. "Jerrie" was not far away, but the Schultheiss [Sgt Carl L. Schultheiss - Cherryvale, Ka] crew, knowing that "Dead-Eye" Bolbach [PFC Edwin H. Bolbach - Lancaster, Pa.] was on the outguard, felt safe and completed the job schnell.

The first squad returned to the Cavalry that morning and had some real excitement when they helped the Cavalry take the high ground overlooking Riol. They were Combat Engineers, sure, but made very good Infantrymen that day. While hopping from one hole to another, one house to another, etc., they were happy to be Engrs. instead of Infantry. That hill, where Scott [Cpl William E. Scott - Alexander City, Ala], Magnant [PFC Theodore A Magnant - New Bedford, Mass], Bohanon [PFC George E. Bohanon - Waltham, Mass] and Floyd [Laurel E. Floyd - Bloomfield, Ind.] blew the soot out of their M-1's, was christened "Hill No. 9". The other one where the whole squad battled was known as "Hill No. 10", to the "Fighting First". It was a rough contest with the enemy letting everything go at them but V-bombs. The worst break to come our way was the losing of two tanks, but the mission was accomplished as usual."


The Story Of Pfc James F. Thomas, Jr.

Troop B, Reconnaissance Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Group [Mechanized]


Zeitz, Germany was known to have one of the heaviest concentrations of flak artillery in the Third Reich.*  Allied bomber aircrews had learned this the hard way during numerous missions to attack the important synthetic oil plants in the area.  As the U.S. Third Army rolled up to the city it became apparent that the German garrison was not going to give up easily.  On April 13, 1945, Co. A of the 245th Engineer Battalion was called upon to assist Co. C, 25th Armored Engineer Battalion, 6th Armored Division, in constructing a Bailey Bridge across the Weise Elster (White Elster) River. (Referred to in wartime American documents as the Saale River of which it is indeed a tributary.) The main bridge across the river had already been blown by German forces.  A heavy duty Bailey Bridge was needed for the drive to push on through the city.  Early on the afternoon of Friday, April the 13th, Company A arrived on site and dimounted from their trucks.  A well coordinated barrage of flak artillery fire from the Luftwaffe antiaircraft batteries ringing the city and mortar fire from the German lines soon fell on the engineers.  The following quote is from the 245th's battalion history book:

"The first shell landed in the sugar factory to our rear and we paid little attention to it. However, the next one was a direct hit among some men on the far shore near the bridge abutment. After that everything was a nightmare and few could recall exactly what happened."

Company A lost one man killed and eight wounded: Pfc. A. M. Mathews [KIA], Capt. Andrew J. Somiak, company commander [SWA], Pfc. D. V. Coates, Medic [SWA], S/Sgt. W. C. Noecker [SWA], Pfc. J. R. Goodrich [SWA], Pvt. M. Linscott [SWA], Sgt. D. S. Adams [LWA], Pfc. J. W. Brock [LWA] and Pvt. Intravia [LWA].

Capt. Andrew J. Somiak [Pennsylvania], 1st Lt. Everett E. Findley, Jr. [West Virginia], 1st Lt. Henry N. Lane [Illinois], T5 Medic Charlie B. B. Spinner [Virginia] and Pfc. Medic Daniel V. Coates [Virginia] were all awarded the Bronze Star medal for heroic service at the Saale River on April 13, 1945. Per General Orders No. 93, Headquarters XX Corps, 8 June 1945.

Company C, 25th Armored Engineers, 6th Armored Division, lost three men killed and thirteen wounded.  One soldier from the 777th Antiaircraft Artillery, 6th Armored Division was killed.  An American infantry officer from an unknown unit was also killed during the murderous barrage. Due to the heavy casualties all attempts to construct the bridge were abandoned until the next day but the fighting to take Zeitz continued.  Making a last stand of their own, Luftwaffe aircraft continued to strafe the area throughout the night and the men of the 245th spent most of it in their foxholes.  Two German planes were shot down, one which crashed in a field near the 245th's bivouac. Three Luftwaffe crewmen and a civilian were killed by the crash. 

The following morning Company A, reinforced by Company B, 245th Engineers attempted to resume the effort to cross the Weise Elster.  The flak batteries were still manned and operational and the engineers received the same well-directed barrage of artillery as the day before.  The fire was so accurate that it was thought it was being directed by German observers hiding with civilians in the town.  Heavy fighting by infantry continued at a officer candidate barracks in the southeastern part of town.

On April 15th, 1945 Zeitz was taken by an attack from the south and the Weise Elster bridge was no longer a tactical priority.

Captain Andrew J. Somiak's Bronze Star Citation.

All photographs and citation courtesy of his daughter Diane Somiak Thacher.

Captain Andrew J. Somiak, circa 1945.

Captain Andrew J. Somiak, circa May, 1945, probably made at Vocklabruck, Austria.

Wartime Photographs of Captain Andrew J. Somiak


Wartime Photographs Of The Destroyed Inn River Bridge At Braunau, Austria

Taken By Jaroslav Smejkal Of Czechoslovakia, May 2, 1945.

Bridging the Inn River at Braunau am Inn, Austria.


The 636 foot M-2 Treadway Bridge over the Inn River between Simbach, Germany and Braunau, Austria built by the 245th Engineer Combat Battalion with assistance from the 179th Engineer Combat Battalion and the 995th Treadway Company.  It was built on May 3 & 4, 1945 in just seventeen hours during adverse weather conditions. This was the first bridge built by U.S. Army Engineers across the Inn River from Germany into Austria.  The above image, from the 245th battalion history book, is looking across the river from Braunau towards the Simbach and was probably taken not long before the bridge washed away on May 12th.  The span has clearly begun to bow in the middle as a result of the river current and there appears to be erosion of the river bank at the bridge abutment.


This is a small personal photograph taken by Staff Sergeant Joseph S. Miller of Co. A, 245th Combat Engineer Battalion and shows the Inn River bridge as it appeared a few days after construction.  In this image the middle of the span is bowed upriver and tied off on the wreckage of the original bridge to help stabilize it against the current.  This photograph was taken from the high bank on the Braunau, Austria side of the river.  The buildings on the far bank are in Simbach, Germany.   Courtesy of his son, Bruce D. Miller.


An American unit of the 80th Infantry Division (probably the 80th Reconnaissance Troop - M8 Greyhound Armored Car about to cross the bridge) crossing the Inn River on the 245th's newly completed M-2 Treadway Bridge at Braunau, Austria on May 4, 1945.  An excellent view of the German demolition work on the Inn River bridge.  Several members of the 245th Engineer Combat Battalion are in the foreground.  In this image you can see the lines attached to the pontoon bridge which were tied off on the destroyed bridge wreckage up river.  Courtesy of Lt. Don Richards, HQ Company, 317th Infantry Regiment, 80th Infantry Division.

On May 5th 1945, the eve of the end of the war in Europe, two combat engineers from Company B of the 245th, Corporal Clifford G. Barry [Marblehead, Massachusetts] and Private First Class Richard L. Felt [Waltham, Massachusetts] drowned while attempting to maintain the bridge. Corporal Barry and PFC Felt were both awarded the Bronze Star Medal posthumously.  The current of the Inn River, raging at this time due to the spring snow melt from the Austrian and Swiss Alps, was reported as 10 feet per second.  The bridge was eventually destroyed by the swift river on May 12, 1945.


A soldier's personal photograph of the bridge sign on the north bank of the Inn River taken by an unknown member of the 744th Field Artillery Battalion. 

 "You are Now leaving Germany.  Thank God.  Through the courtesy of the 245th Eng. C. BN."

The "You Are Now Entering Austria" sign on the Braunau am Inn riverbank. Early May, 1945. Photograph taken by T/5 Henry A. Griffin, Jr. Courtesy of Rosanne Griffin.

A excellent perspective of the bridges at Braunau am Inn. Early May, 1945. Photograph taken by T/5 Henry A. Griffin, Jr. Courtesy of Rosanne Griffin.

What appears to be a combat engineer element moving across the Inn River pontoon bridge. Early May 1945. Photograph taken by T/5 Henry A. Griffin, Jr. Courtesy of Rosanne Griffin.

A U.S. Army staff car crossing the Inn River pontoon bridge from Braunau to Simbach. The car is reportedly carrying General George S. Patton, that a jeep with a possible security detail is following close behind would seem to corroborate this statement. Patton is known to have personally used a variety of vehicle types during the war. Note the American flag on the flag pole on the Braunau riverbank. Photograph taken by T/5 Henry A. Griffin, Jr. in early May, 1945. Courtesy of Rosanne Griffin.

Florian Kotanko, a local historian from Braunau am Inn, Austria is seeking information on Cpl. Clifford G. Barry of Marblehead, Massachusetts and Pfc. Richard L. Felt of Waltham, Massachusetts, who lost their lives at the Inn River bridge at Braunau on May 5, 1945.  In addition, Kotanko is also interested in the activities of other 3rd U.S. Army units who were located at, or passed through, Braunau at the end of the war such as the 13th Armored Division and the 80th Infantry Division.  He is also trying to determine the identity of an U.S. Army Captain from this time period whom locals now refer to as the "town commander" and whose last name may have been "Cax" or Cox. He was likely a member of a civil affairs or combat unit of Patton's U.S. Third Army.

Florian Kotanko may be contacted via email at florian-kotanko@aon.at

Tank Destroyers of an unidentified armored unit in southern Germany. Unit markings on the sides of the TD's have been retouched by a censor to prevent identification, but they are probably from the 13th Armored Division. My grandfather's handwritten caption on the back identifies the dirt road in the foreground as having been built by his squad. Spring, 1945.


Tech 5 William G. Shaw [Hempstead, New York], C Company driver with an unnamed soldier of the Allied Polish Army somewhere in southern Germany or northern Austria in the spring of 1945. Photograph courtesy of his son, Larry Shaw.

Sgt Joseph S. Miller, Co. A, on leave in Paris at American Legion Post No. 1. Photo courtesy of Bruce Miller.

Grandfather’s Squad. Cpl. William E. Scott is second from the right in front. The soldier standing third from the left is believed to be Pfc. John F. Benevento [per his son, Charlie Benevento, Boston, MA].  I believe this photograph was made either at Simbach, Germany or Seeon, Austria in May or June, 1945.

T/5 Henry A. Griffin, Jr of Co. A, 245th Combat Engineer Battalion posing in front of a photographer's backdrop in Austria June 6, 1945. He is wearing his Good Conduct and ETO Campaign ribbons. Courtesy of his daughter Rosanne Griffin.

American soldiers touring the "Eagle's Nest" or "Kehlsteinhaus" that is above the site of Hitler's home at Obersalzburg after the end of the war. Summer, 1945. Photo taken by T/5 Henry A. Griffin, Jr. Courtesy of Rosanne Griffin.

T/5 Henry A. Griffin, Jr of Co. A, 245th Combat Engineer Battalion posing in front of one of the buildings at Hitler's residence at Obersalzburg after the end of the war. Summer, 1945. Courtesy of his daughter Rosanne Griffin.


A slave labor camp at Ebensee, Austria that provided labor for tunnel construction where components for an advanced Nazi intercontinental rocket were intended to be manufactured.  It was liberated by the 3rd Cavalry Group, U.S. Third Army May 6, 1945.  Photographs of this camp are in the 245th Engineer Combat Battalion's history book.  Members of the battalion were at the camp shortly after it was liberated.  1st Sgt. Paul Q. Lipman of Co. A, 245th Engineer Combat Battalion, a Jewish-American from Chicago, Illinois, took pictures of some of the horrors of Ebensee. They can be seen at the Jewish Virtual Library at the following link:

1st Sgt. Paul Q. Lipman's Ebensee Photographs





ISBN 1-879991-17-9

The historical information on this site was found in the following:

245 ENGINEER COMBAT BATTALION - ITS HISTORY AND ACHIEVEMENTS Written and edited by members of the battalion. 264 pages. Printed by Knorr & Hirth, Munich, Bavaria. 1945. My grandfather's copy.

THE XX CORPS - Its History and Service in World War II Written and edited by XX Corps Personnel. 408 pages. Published by the XX Corps Association ca. 1946. Printed by the Mainchi Publishing Co., Ltd. Osaka, Japan. Copy in my collection.

Personal wartime photographs of Jaroslav Smejkal, Czech Republic.

Personal wartime photographs of William E. Scott, Corporal, 1st Platoon, C Company, 245th Engineer C. Bn.

Personal wartime photographs of Henry A. Griffin, T/5, A Company, 245th Engineer C. Bn.

Personal wartime photographs of Andrew J. Somiak, Captain, A Company, 245th Engineer C. Bn.

Personal wartime photographs and unpublished private narrative of the wartime experiences of Paul H. Spence, Pfc, 1st Platoon, B Company, 245th Engineer C. Bn.

Unpublished private manuscript of the wartime experiences of John Craig Vernon, SSgt, 2nd Platoon, B Company, 245th Eng C. Bn.

Unpublished private narrative of the wartime experiences of Edwin E. Hebb, Pfc, 1st Platoon, B Company, 245th Eng C. Bn.

Recommended Reading

PATTON'S GHOST CORPS-CRACKING THE SIEGFRIED LINE, Nathan N. Prefer, 243 pages, Presidio Press, Novato, CA. 2000.  IBN 0-89141-708-7

Some Of My Favorite Web Links

The Sinking of the SS Leopoldville

80th Infantry Division

94th Infantry Division

13th Armored Division

VI Corps Combat Engineers of WWII - A good source for information on U.S. Army Engineer organizations in Europe during WWII.

General George S. Patton - A good biographical article at Wikipediia on General George S. Patton, commander of the U.S. Third Army during WWII.



The information on this site is meant to be used for historical and educational purposes only.  Obviously this is not a complete history of the battalion during WWII, but I am working on developing other sections on their activities as available details and time permit.