17th Armored Engineer Battalion, Company “D” construct the bridge with Company “E” equipment and the 82nd Engrs to furnish assault boats for the crossing of Infantry
13-14 april 1945
Build in time:
Two days, unifinshed
Start at 1045 Friday the 13th april
Abort constructing at 1400 on 14th april
Elbe river, at Westerhusen, five miles south of Magdeburg
560 feet of tread way
Article about Co E, 17th Armored Engineer Battalion from Paper Hell on Wheels June 13 1945 Photo.( Courtesy Dave Ketchpaw):
Exeprt from Article:
The next job was the Elbe, and south of Magdeburg Companies “D” and “E” worked under intense artillery fire, well zeroed in, to build 560 feet of bridge and almost reach the far shore before work was stopped
Information from the Unit History
Combat Command “B” was given the mission of making a bridgehead across the Elbe River south of Magdeburg. The city had not been taken, was known to contain numerous AA guns, otherwise was believed to be lightly defended. The site of the bridging operation was decided en, after a reconnaissance by Captains Youngblood (“D” Co.) and McAdams (“E” Co.) at a ferry landing by the town of Wester Husen, five miles south of Magdeburg. The Plan was for Co. “D” to construct the bridge with Co. “E” equipment and the 82nd Engrs to furnish assault boats for the crossing of Infantry.
With the Bridge Co and Bn Hq at Gr Ottersleben, four miles from the site, preparatory work was carried out there the night before the operation: floats were blown up, saddles attached, and were loaded on dump trucks, 15 having ben furnished by the 82nd Engrs, Lt. Col. Correll moved his CP into Wester Husen, all of “D” Co assembled there, and “E” Co moved its equipment into town. During the afternoon of 12 April enemy- artillery began a sporadic shelling of the site which lasted through the night. AA and indirect tank fire, obviously observed, continued harassing, and when the bridging operation began, was intensified.
Assembling of the Infantry (1/41) took more time than had been planned on, and it was 1000 when they began crossing. At 1045 Friday the l3th work began on the bridge. Two raft construction sites were manned by the 1st and 3rd Platoons of Co. “D” plus one squad from the 2nd Platoon; the other two squads, under Lt. Hillenbrand, were at the bridge assembly site. Organization for the job was continually interfered with by the incoming artillery, but the job was gradually reaching out front shore. Work proceeded through the afternoon and night, until 0600 when a heavy barrage forced everyone to take cover. Three floats near shore were completely destroyed, and two hours later, when work was resumed, floats near shore that were destroyed were deflated, removed, and others inserted. Other intense barrages called halts to the work later in the morning. Several of the workers were blown off a float by shell blast, but returned to the job. Probably the most distinguished act of heroism was that of Pfc Leo E. Rinkel of Co. “E” who by himself evacuated several wounded soldiers from the far shore by two trips with the power boat under heavy fire. With the precariousness of the situation fully realized by higher headquarters, when the crews started back to the site at 1400 they were told that the job was called off. By this time 560 feet of tread way had been laid, extending to within a short distance of the far shore, but the finished portion held at least five punctured floats.
Information from intervieuw: 17th Engineer Ralph Kephardt (source: The Courier (Waterloo, Iowa, United States of America) · 15 Dec 2014)
……his closest call came a short time later, when German artillery shot up and sunk their bridge as troops were about to cross the Elbe River. Two companies of U.S. troops who had already crossed had to be retrieved by boat to be saved from the Germans. Many were. Some weren’t. During the artillery barrage,
Kephardt and a buddy, taking cover under their trucks, decided to make a break for a stone house they thought would provide better shelter. “We got to the door of that house, and an explosion blew us both right into the house. In fact, it blew me over the top of him;’ Kephardt said. “We stayed in that house and they hit that house two or three times and we decided we’d better get out of there They and two other comrades taking shelter grabbed a truck and escaped. Kephardt said he took a piece of shrapnel in his head but never sought a Purple Heart. “It didn’t hurt me. It just burned,” he shrugged. “That was the worst deal I ever got into. They just blew hell out of stuff!” His unit withdrew several miles to be reequipped and returned to the same crossing — only to now find it occupied by Soviet troops who had advanced upon the Germans from the other direction…….
Research M. Brandjes 2019