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The 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion

by Les Hughes

©2005 by author

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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The unit

The association of the 307th Engineer Battalion and the 82nd Division dates to the battalion's formation in August 1917 at Fort Gordon, Georgia, at which time it was designated part of the 82nd Infantry Division.  During the Great War, the battalion participated in the St. Mihiel, Lorraine, and Meuse-Argonne campaigns.  During the latter campaign, the battalion's defense of the Division's right flank against a numerically superior enemy force earned it the motto "I Maintain the Right."  Upon its return from Europe, the 82nd Division was demobilized and moved to reserve status, which status it retained until March 1942, when it was reactivated. 

In August 1942, the 82nd was designated an "airborne" unit, and the 307th Engineer Battalion became the 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion, the first engineer unit to carry the designation Airborne. In February 1943, the division structure of two glider and one  parachute regiments was reversed, and Company B of the 307th joined Company C as parachute qualified. On April 29, 1943, the division disembarked from New York on a journey that would take it to Berlin and to fame.

On 9 July 9 1943, Company B of the 307th parachuted into Sicily as a component of the 505th Regimental Combat Team (505th PIR, 456th PFAB), reinforced by 3/504 PIR, as part of HUSKY I. The following night, HUSKY II was mounted, dropping the balance of the 504th PIR, the 376th PFAB, and Company C of the 307th. Following operations in Sicily, the 504th Regimental Combat Team (RCT) was formed from the full 504th PIR, the 376th PFAB, and Company C of the 307th. The 505th RCT was kept intact. These two companies remained components of the two RCTs until war's end.

In September 1943, on only eight hours notice, the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 504th and two platoons of Company C of the 307th were dropped as reinforcements for the Salerno beachhead forces. The following night, the 505th and Company B of the 307th followed. At the same time, the first platoon of Company C of the 307th jumped with the 509th PIB near Avellino. In November the 82nd Airborne Division, less the 504th RCT, was sent to Ireland to prepare for the invasion of France. The 504th RCT remained in Italy. Following combat in the Venafro area, the 504th RCT was tapped for participation in Operation SHINGLEthe amphibious landing at Anzio. In April 1944, the 504th RCT departed Italy for England to rejoin the 82nd. In need of a refitting, replacements, and R&R, the 504th RCT was held out of Operation NEPTUNE, the airborne operation that kicked off the Allied invasion of France. Companies A and B of the 307th, however, both participated in NEPTUNE.

On 17 September 1944, the 307th, as part of Operation MARKET GARDEN, jumped for the first time as a complete battalion. The primary objective of the 82nd Airborne Division in MARKET GARDEN was the securing of bridges over the Maas and Waal Rivers and the Maas-Waal Canal. When a heroic effort by the 505th PIR failed to dislodge the German forces defending the Waal River Bridge at Nijmegen, the 3/504th supported by Company C of the 307th was ordered, on 20 September, to cross the river in daylight in twenty-six British 19-foot canvas boats and outflank the bridges’ defenders. Despite not having been trained in the use of the boats, and under heavy fire (half the boats were lost on the first crossing), the men of the 307th made five crossings  in ferrying the entire assault force across the river. The paratroopers were able to outflank the bridge's defenders, leaving many trapped on the bridge. When the bridge finally fell to the Americans, 267 enemy dead were found on it. But the river crossing and the subsequent battle for the bridge was expensive for the Americans, too, with the 504th alone suffering 200 killed. The commanding officer of Company C of the 307th, Capt. Wesley D. Harris, was awarded the DSC for his role in the Waal River crossing.

Following the collapse of the "Ruhr Pocket," during which a squad from Company C of the 307th and a company from the 504th conducted an assault across the Rhine near Hitdorf, the 82nd made its eleventh and final bridgehead assault, across the Elbe River near Bleckede. The unit is credited with occupation duty from 2 May to 31 October 1945.

The 307th was the first Engineer battalion to serve in an airborne capacity. During the war, various elements of the 307th participated in a total of six assault landings and eight campaigns: Sicily, Naples-Foggia, Anzio, Rome-Arno, Normandy, Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace, and Central Europe. Distinguished Unit Citations were awarded to Company A (Normandy, Holland), Company B (Normandy, Holland), Company C (Holland), and to the 2nd Platoon of Company A (Italy). 

In 1948 the 307th was withdrawn from the Organized Reserve Corps and allotted to the Regular Army. In 1957 the unit was reorganized and redesignated the 307th Engineer Battalion. Company C of the 307th received a Meritorious Unit Citation for its service in Vietnam for the period 1968-69.

The insignia

In July 1995, after the publication of my article "Cloth Airborne Insignia of WWII: A Primer" in the January-March issue of ASMIC's quarterly journal The Trading Post, ASMIC member Bruce Brooks alerted me to the existence of an airborne-related jacket badge that was unknown to me and, I suspect, to many other collectors.  As this is largely Bruce's story, let me quote from his letter.

"I realize you chose to ignore the exotic and often undocumented theater made patches for this [the above mentioned] article but I hope you will still consider future articles that deal with such exotics in issues to come if provided information.  I have information I would like to share that I hope you could use for article.

"In June of last year, after returning from a STATIC LINE tour with veterans of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions in Europe, I was asked by a WWII veteran friend of mine to help him with a 50th anniversary project that he wanted to undertake.  ...he was with 'C' Company, 307th Engineer Battalion, 82nd Airborne Div. as a private who made the combat jump in Holland during Operation Market Garden and was involved with the crossing of the Waal River and capture of the Nijmegen bridge.  His request of me was to produce a plaque to commemorate the 50th anniversary of that crossing in September 1944 and to honor their KIAs and WIAs.  He asked that I duplicate a pocket patch that was used by officers of 'B' and 'C' Companies during the war.  He showed me a pocket patch that he had acquired from one of the officers in the unit sometime after the war. It had been designed by one of the officers in the unit, who I have been asked not to identify, and made in Naples, Italy, after the battle at Anzio, for the officers of the two companies. I have enclosed a photo of the badge that I took before he contributed it to the 82nd airborne Museum at Fort Bragg, NC, for future display."

Bruce went on to provide a brief description of how the patch came to be made, a photocopy of a certificate of participation issued to personnel of Company C at war's end at the top of which was a rendering of the patch's design, and photos of the bronze plaques of the memorials to the 307th at Fort Bragg and at Groesbeek, Holland.

The patch in the photo accompanying Bruce's letter was certainly one of which I was unaware, and in probing the knowledge of several other collectors of airborne insignia, I gathered that I was not alone in my ignorance.  I decided to try to learn more about the patchits history and its useand, perhaps, to locate and acquire one of the patches myself.

I went in search of veterans of the WWII-era 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion.  I was fortunate early in my search to find a former officer of the battalion who provided me with a list of all of the who were with the unit at war's end.  I set out to locate everyone I could whose name was on the list.  It took only a few weeks to locate one of the patches; it took over seven years to acquire it.

In the course of contacting former officers of the 307th, I had learned the identity of the gentleman who had designed the patch, and I had contacted him.  In a letter to me, he recounted how the patch had come into existence, a story that was essentially the same that Bruce had relayed in his letter.  This gentleman, a former officer in Company C, wrote: "Another officer of the 307th and I were walking through Naples after our return from the Anzio beachhead in February 1944.  We found a small embroidery shop and asked the lady if she could make up an insignia.  When she said yes, I went back to our base and made this design.  I think we had 10 of them made (for very little money!)  And we pasted them on our leather jackets.  We weren't supposed to have flight jackets, nor were we supposed to use an unofficial insignia, but it was wartime and I don't suppose anyone cared."

After having spoken with this gentleman and with a number of other former officers of the 307th, I concluded that the distribution of this patch was limited to the officers of Company C.  That is not to say that one or two might not have made their way into the hands of officers in other companies. In fact, Bruce told me of a collector who had acquired one of the patches from an officer of Company B. I subsequently found a photo of a group of 10 Company B officers, all identified, taken in England in 1944 during the run-up to D-Day, several months after the patches were made. Five of the officers, including the one from whom the collector Bruce named obtained his patch, are wearing leather flight jackets. And each jacket bears only oneand in each case the samepatch: that of the 82nd Airborne Division on the left breast pocket. This supports my view that while one or two of the patches made have made their way into the hands of officers in other companies, the patch was essentially worn only in Company C. (Later, I obtained a photo, taken in Holland, of the Company C officers.  The patch is not in evidence, which leads me to believe they were worn only on A-2 jackets, when worn at all.)

There is a patch, illustrated near the beginning of this article, depicting a parachuting Native American and bearing the word "Injuneers" that is attributed by some to the WW2-era 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion. After first posting this article, I received an email from 1 SGT(ret.) Andy Andersen, a past national President of the 82nd Airborne Division Association.  He wrote: "I was in the 307th Engr. Bn., Co A, from 1957 to 1959, rank of SP/4 . In this time frame the round 307 Injuneers patch surfaced.  It was designed and painted by a SP/4 Robert Covington (a native American) and was approved by our Bn. Cdr. Lt Col. Horace Crouch (Bn. Cdr. Jan 1958- Sept 1959).  I assume it went up to division headquarters for approval. We all wore that patch on our left shirt pocket as part of our daily uniform."

Reference

USA Airborne 50th Anniversary, Turner Publishing Co., 1990.