In December 1944, the German offensive in the Ardennes known as the Battle of the Bulge came as a rude awakening to the American forces who believed the war to be all but won. The Germans surprised and overwhelmed several units. Among the American units that played a key role in fighting the Germans in the chaotic early days of the offensive were several engineer battalions. By destroying key bridges, creating obstacles, and fighting as infantry, the engineers delayed the Wehrmacht enough for the Allies to organize a counteroffensive. The engineers’ actions were so effective that it led SS-LTC Joachim Peiper to mutter in frustration, “The damned engineers!” after several key bridges were blown before he could cross them.
The 254th Engineer Combat Battalion was one of the engineer units that fought with distinction in the Ardennes. The lineage of the 254th dates back to 8 August 1881 with the organization of the Calumet Light Guard, which was mustered into Michigan state service as Company B, 2d Battalion of Infantry. The unit served as infantry for several years and participated in the Spanish-American War. In 1906, it was converted to an engineer unit and redesignated Company A, Michigan Engineer Corps. Redesignated the 1st Engineer Battalion, the unit was drafted into Federal Service on 5 August 1917. A month later, the battalion was reorganized and redesignated the 1st Battalion, 107th Engineers, and attached to the 32nd Division. During World War I, the 107th participated in five campaigns; Meuse-Argonne, Oise-Aisne; Meuse-Argonne; Alsace 1918; and Champagne 1918.
As the U.S. geared up for World War II, the 107th Engineers was inducted into Federal Service on 15 October 1940. The regiment was reorganized as the 107th Engineer Combat Battalion and assigned to the 32nd Division in 1942. The 107th was inactivated shortly thereafter, then reorganized and redesignated as the 254th Engineer Combat Battalion on 19 August 1943, and assigned to the 1121st Engineer Combat Group, V Corps.
The 254th participated in the D-Day invasion of Normandy by supporting the initials landings of the 29th Infantry Division. After the landings, the 254th cleared mines and booby traps, repaired damaged roads, and built bridges. The battalion’s efforts greatly facilitated the link up of the Utah and Omaha beachheads.
The 254th played an active role as the Allies raced across France. The battalion was one of the first units to enter Paris. It built numerous bridges, removed obstacles and mines, and helped restore mobility to stalled infantry and armor units. On 11 September 1944, while accompanying the 5th Armored Division, the 254th became one of the first American Units to reach German soil. During the assaults on the Siegfried Line, the 254th destroyed fifty-two fortified positions.
It was during the Battle of the Bulge that the 254th experienced its most intense period of combat. On the night of 16 December, the 254th was committed as infantry along the northern shoulder of the Bulge and ordered to form a defensive line south and east of Bullingen, Belgium. At 0600 hours, elements of Kampfgruppe Peiper began assaulting the battalion’s lines with infantry supported by tanks and half-tracks. Despite their lack of heavy arms, the men of the 254th repulsed the first two attacks. A third attack with tanks overran the battalion’s lines, but stiff resistance prevented the supporting infantry from advancing.
Without adequate weapons to combat the German armor, and under heavy artillery fire, the 254th withdrew to successive positions, maintaining a heroic resistance for nine hours until relieved by the 26th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division.
As a result of its stand in the Ardennes, the 254th lost approximately 100 men dead, wounded, or taken prisoner. For this action, the battalion earned a Presidential Unit Citation with a Streamer embroidered “Belgium” and a French Croix de Guerre with Silver Star, Streamer embroidered “Belgium.”
After the Bulge, the 254th continued to serve with distinction until the end of the war. The battalion participated in the Rhine River crossings and constructed the largest tactical bridge in the ETO. It also took part in the liberation of Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, and assisted in the clean up and reconstruction of the city after the end of hostilities. The 254th arrived back in the U.S. in December 1945 and was inactivated on 22 December at Camp Myles Standish, MA.
After the war, the 254th was consolidated with the 107th Engineer Combat Battalion and redesignated the 107th Engineer Combat Battalion. Today, the 107th is currently a Michigan Army National Guard unit headquartered in Ishpeming.
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