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Combat Chronicle 1st Engineer Special Brigade

by Hugues Potdevin

A summary of the operations executed by the 1st Engineer Special Brigade during WWII

The 1st Engineer Special Brigade was created on June 15, 1942, from its main original element, the 531st Engineer Shore Regiment.

The shoulder insignia of the Engineer Special Brigade is composed of an eagle, an anchor and a submachine gun to show the three responsibilities of these amphibious brigades, ‘air’ with the aviation engineers, ‘sea’ with the beach battalions and other units maintaining contact with the Navy, and ‘ground’ with the Combat Engineers, Quartermaster, Medical and other logistical units. The background of the insignia is blue for Army.

The main difference between the 1st ESB designed to work on Utah Beach and the 5th and 6th ESB that landed on Omaha Beach, is that it kept its core regiment, the 531st Engineer Shore Regiment with its strength of 2,500 men.

An Engineer Special Brigade is a composite unit, consisting of several battalions and various companies, each having their own specializations. The mission of the Brigade is, at first, to assist and support the first infantry units during the initial stages of a landing, and thereafter, to organize, to give and to insure the full logistical support needed by the army forces progressing inland is working.

The 1st Engineer Special Brigade was experienced because it had already landed in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy. It particularly distinguished itself when it put the port of Napoli, Italy, back into service in a very short timeframe.

On December 11, 1943, 3,346 men of the 1st ESB were transferred to England to prepare for the invasion of France. The 1st ESB trained mainly with the 4th Infantry Division.

On April 28, 1944, the 1st ESB participated in Operation Tiger, a full scale landing exercise, including live ammunition, at Slapton Sands, an English beach quite similar to the future beach name coded Utah. During Exercise Tiger, a convoy of LSTs was attacked during the night by German torpedo boats. Two LSTs were sunk and a third seriously damaged. Some 638 soldiers and sailors were killed or missing after the attack. Of the 441 Army casualties, 413 were members of the 1st ESB.

Just before the landings in Normandy, the 1st ESB received two new battalions to replace those that sustained heavy casualties in the German attack.

The strength of the 1st ESB working in Normandy reached some 15,000 men.

From June 6, 1944, to October 23, 1944, the 1st ESB assumed all the logistics on Utah Beach. On June 17, it had already assured the landing of 110,227 men, 14,097 vehicles and 42,298 tons of supplies.

At the beginning of November 1944, the important intercontinental port of Antwerp (Belgium) again became operational. Not only was this port far closer to the front line, but it had the capacity to sustain the operations of 60 divisions, compared to 30 in the port of Cherbourg. So, it was no longer necessary to bring all the supplies from the Normandy beaches. Nevertheless the port of Cherbourg itself continued its activities.

The major part of the 1st ESB left France in December 1944, but several of its components were transferred to the 9th US Army who fought at the Dutch border.

Thereafter the 1st ESB was transferred to the Pacific Theatre of Operations where it participated in the biggest amphibious operation of WWII, the landings on Okinawa.

Following is a list of the units that made up the 1st Engineer Special Brigade. The names are engraved on the monument dedicated in June 1945 on Utah Beach to the 1st Engineer Special Brigade:

1st Engineer Special Brigade 531st Engineer Regt 286 Sig Co 261 Med Bn 449 MP Co 33 CML Decon Co Det A HQ Co 1st ESB 191 Ord Bn 3497 Ord NAM Co 625 AM Co 161 Ord Platoon 24th AMPH TRUCK Bn 462 Co 478 Co 479 Co 306 QM Bn 556 RND Co 557 RND Co 562 RND Co 3939 QM GAS SUP Co 577 QM Bn 363 SV Co 3206 SV Co 3207 SV Co 4144 SV Co 244 QM Bn 552 QM RHD Co 3878 QM GAS SUP Co 23rd Ord BD Sqd 308th QM RHD Co 52 FIN DISB Sec Co D 783 MP Bn 4132 QM SV Co 815 Amph Trk Co 816 Amph Trk Co 817 Amph Trk Co 818 Amph Trk Co Det A HQ 11th Port 3516 Ord MAM Co 1605 Engr Map Sec 1217 Engr FF Plat 1218 Engr FF Plat Det 3rd AUX SURG Gp Det 3111 SIG SV Bn 3877 QM GAS SUP Co Det 501 MED COL Co Det 602 ENGR CAM Bn 301 MP Escort GD Co 595 MP Escort GD Co 38th Engineer Regt 490th Port Bn 226 Port Co 227 Port Co 228 Port Co 229 Port Co 518 th Port Bn 278 Port Co 281 Port Co 298 Port Co 299 Port Co 300 Port Co 301 Port Co 519th Port Bn 279 Port Co 280 Port Co 302 Port Co 303 Port Co 304 Port Co 305 Port Co 537th QM Bn 3683 QM Trk Co 3684 QM Trk Co 3692 QM Trk Co 4002 QM Trk Co 4041 QM Trk Co 262d QM Bn 4061 QM Sv Co 4083 QM Sv Co 4088 QM Sv Co 4090 QM Sv Co 4092 QM Sv Co 4190 QM Sv Co 237th Engineer Combat Bn 2nd Naval Beach Bn USN Det E 165th SIG PHOTO Co Det GLM 175th SIG REP Co Det 2 245th SM DEP Co Det 999th SM SV Co Det Co C 6901st ECA Regt Det A 8th Air Force INT DEP Co 1st Plat 440 ENGR DEP Co 1st Plat 607th QM GR REG Co 4th Plat 607th QM GR REG Co 1st Plat 467th ENGR MAINT Co 2nd Sec Adv Sup Plat 1st Med Dep Co Assault Force U Western Naval Task Force USN

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