December’s Engineer Moment in History

German movements are denoted by the red arrows, and American defensive positions are in blue.

The “Damned Engineers” of the 291st Engineer Battalion

On 15 December 1944 during a blizzard, the German Army launched a surprise attack against a thinly defended American sector in the Ardennes Forest in Belgium.  History knows this month-long engagement as the Battle of the Bulge.  The Germans ran roughshod over the American forces for the next ten days.  Nevertheless, the spirited American defense of Bastogne helped stall the German advance.  Less well known but no less significant were the countermobility roles played by Engineers in laying mines, erecting abatis, defending roadblocks, and blowing bridges.  One of the key examples of these efforts occurred on 18 December.  A German SS unit commanded by LTC Joachim Peiper tried to cross a bridge over Lienne Creek near Habiemont, Belgium (lower left edge of map).   However, elements of the 291st Engineer Battalion blew the bridge just as the German tanks rolled up.  As one source relates what happened next, a chagrined LTC Peiper “could only sit helplessly, pound his knee and swear, ‘The damned engineers! The damned engineers!’”  This episode on Engineers in the Battle of the Bulge and others like it can be found in the classic book, The Damned Engineers, by Janice Giles.

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