German combat engineers have been in the front lines
of every major Nazi engagement of the present war.
They form a very definite part of the German combat
team, which also includes the armored forces, air forces,
infantry, and artillery. The major duty of these engineers
is to keep the German Army moving. They assault
fortifications or other obstacles; they span streams
with everything from log rafts to large temporary
bridges; they go regularly into combat, and under the
most difficult conditions, to clear the way for the echelons
that follow. The success of the Germans through
surprise, deception, and speed has been due in no small
measure to the front-line work of the combat engineers,
who during World War I worked in the rear areas except
when called to the front under rare critical conditions.
2. TRAINING OF COMBAT ENGINEERS
In line with a training principle used throughout the
German Army, 90 percent of the instruction now given
to the army's combat engineers deals with attack problems
and 10 percent with defense problems. Stress is
placed on engineer reconnaissance and on making use
of all means available in the combat area to help the German
forces continue their advance. Army engineering
equipment is used only when local means are not available.
The combat engineers are trained basically as infantry
soldiers, since most of them now advance with the
infantry and other combat troops and engage regularly
German military leaders, however, do not try to turn
a combat engineer into a "Jack-of-all-trades." After
receiving basic infantry and combat-engineer training,
each trainee is assigned to a group which concentrates
on one special type of work. For instance, he usually
qualifies specifically for one of the following tasks:
demolitions, fortifications, storm-troop combat, combat
at rivers, construction of military bridges, emergency
bridge construction, and general obstruction duties.
Some of these different kinds of specialized training
are elaborated briefly as follows:
a. Storm-troop combat, with special equipment for rush assaults.
b. The obstruction service, which prepares obstacles
of all kinds. These men are trained to handle explosives
and mines, as well as to use electric saws and
c. Combat at rivers, which involves the use of rafts
and small assault boats, both in the attack and in the
defense. These men learn how to cross water under all
conditions--in rain, heavy wind, and snow, and especially
d. Construction of military bridges--also, establishing
emergency ferry services, which provide transportation
for men and materiel in motorboats and rowboats
with outboard motors, or on improvised rafts
propelled by these boats.
e. Emergency bridge construction, which calls for
the preparation of many types of bridges, using material
f. Construction of field fortifications, which includes
the building of defense installations of all kinds, large
and small, with special training in the technique of
preparing unusually deep foundations.
Looking over this whole set-up, the American soldier
will see that a combat engineer in the German Army
operates both as a fighter and a highly skilled technical
expert. It may be said that if we destroy a German
combat engineer, we destroy a man who is as useful to
the Axis as any single person on the battlefield. Someone
who is an infantryman--plus.
3. OTHER ENGINEER ORGANIZATIONS
The types of jobs done by combat engineers in World War I are
now done almost exclusively by labor organizations,
which include the so-called Todt Organization.
The campaign in Poland taught the Germans that
motor highways are likely to be more useful transport
routes than railroads. The work of maintaining roads
became so heavy that the government ordered a man
named Todt, inspector of roads in Germany, to form a
special organization for this important duty. The Todt
Organization is composed of specialists and laborers
who repair, construct, and maintain roads and bridges
(with the Construction Engineers) from the rear and
well into the combat zone. Sometimes it also assists in
preparing fortifications (with the Fortification Engineers).
Another organization working with the engineers of
the German Army is the Reich Labor Service. It trains
boys of 17 and 18 to perform many of the tasks which
in the last war were assigned to the regular engineers.
These tasks include:
Constructing and maintaining important highways;
constructing and improving fortifications, bridges, and
airports; salvaging equipment, munitions, and materiel
in battle areas, and camouflaging and sandbagging