Cold War: 1950-1966

Fort Bragg | Fort Devens | Germany & Berlin | Vietnam

Reactivation at Fort Bragg

On 18 September, 1950 the 20th Engineer Combat Battalion was reactivated at Fort Bragg, North Carolina under the command of LTC Howard W. Penney. The battalion was a Third Army unit attached to V Corps. The state of the 20th Engineer Battalion upon reactivation was desperate. LTC Penney, in a letter to LTC Joseph O. Killian, wrote:

"The situation in this battalion is probably the same as in other engineer units: short two-thirds of our officers, short one-third of our cadre, short of most of our equipment, in a word - tough. But the 20th likes it tough."

(Penney would go on to become a three-star general and command the Defense Mapping Agency from 1972 to 1974. )

The companies of the 20th were not activated immediately. Headquarters and Service Company was activated 18 September with the Battalion, but the companies were not activated until 1 October 1950 per General Orders 3, 4, and 5 of Headquarters V Corps. The medical detachment was activated on 20 November 1950 per General Order 6. Other sections included a maintenance section and an aviation section.

The companies were filled with soldiers moved from Fort Devens, Massachusetts and Fort Benning, Georgia. Many of the company- grade officers were reserve officers called up for extended active duty. Some of these officers were World War II veterans, and one, CPT Sten Johnson Jr., became the Assistant S-3, the same position he held in the 20th Engineer Battalion during World War II.

The battalion got on with training on the latest techniques of combat engineering. A capstone exercise was conducted from 13 August to 27 August 1951 called Exercise Southern Pine. Exercise Southern Pine included all elements of the 20th Engineers and, according to the Motor Pool's Historical Report of 6 September 1951, the vehicles of the 20th Engineer Battalion logged 95,806 miles during the exercise with no accidents. The companies, including HSC, conducted realistic combat training and smashed road blocks established by the airborne aggressor forces.

In 1951 the V U.S. Corps headquarters was transferred to Germany and the XVIII Airborne Corps assumed command of Fort Bragg. The 20th Engineers were attached to the new corps.

On 08 June 1953, the battalion was reorganized and redesignated as the 20th Engineer Battalion.

Over the next three years the Battalion conducted numerous construction projects on Fort Bragg, then participated in Exercise Flash Burn in 1954. Though no copy of the unit's MTOE from 1954 is available, an organization day program dated 18 September 1954 details the size of the Battalion. Within HSC was an Equipment Platoon headed by a warrant officer. It contained 4 Master Sergeants, 15 Sergeants First Class, 10 Sergeants, 22 Corporals, and 40 enlisted members. Company A had a Captain as commander, two Second Lieutenants as platoon leaders, four Master Sergeants, seven Sergeants First Class, 16 Sergeants, 19 Corporals, and 93 enlisted members. Companies B and C were much the same except they were both commanded by First Lieutenants.

The beginning of 1954 brought many construction projects. The Battalion constructed combat range number 5, DTA range number 10, BAR (Browning automatic rifle) transition range number 2, road repair at Johnson Rifle Road, M-1 transition range number 3, hand grenade range number 1, squad in defense range, platoon in night defense, and hand grenade range number 2. The battalion also worked on the following road projects on Fort Bragg: Washington Road, BAR Transition Road, and Colonel's Creek Road. These projects were assisted by a clay pit operation run by the 20th.

The destruction left in the wake of
Hurricane Hazel at the beaches of North Carolina resulted in the battalion being alerted on the night of 17 October 1954 for hurricane relief efforts along the coast. The 20th Engineers was assigned the mission of clearing sand and debris from the streets of Carolina and Wrightsville beaches and effecting temporary repairs of utilities where necessary. Attached to the battalion were the 66th Signal Battalion, 981st Engineer Battalion Construction, 618th Engineer Light Equipment Company, 64th Engineer Company, 322nd Engineer Topographic Company, and the 37th Transportation Truck Company. Equipment used for the relief effort included: 2 D8 12 yard pans, D7 dozers, MRS with blade, D5 bucket loaders, D4 bucket loaders, mobile crane, grader motorized, 8 5-ton dump trucks, 11 2 1/2 ton cargo trucks, 12 2 1/2 ton dump trucks, 2 5-ton cargo trucks, 1 1200 gallon gasoline tanker, 14 3/4 ton trucks, 15 1/4 ton trucks, 2 air compressors, 1 5-ton wrecker, and 2 flood lighting sets.

From Carolina Beach, the 20th Engineers removed 89,000 cubic yards of sand and debris, and from Wrightsville Beach the battalion removed 32,000 cubic yards of the same. Mayor Michael C. Brown of Wrightsville, NC wrote, "without the help of the 20th Combat Engineers, we would probably at this writing be far from having any semblance of order in our community."

For the rest of 1954 and 1955, the Battalion was involved in construction and general engineering projects at Fort Bragg, NC and Fort Jackson, SC. The battalion constructed the Fort Bragg Post Hospital parking lot and combat range number 4, close combat range number 3, M-1 transition range number 4 and confidence courses for the 506th and 502nd Division Artillery at Fort Jackson.

Transfer to Fort Devens

On 22 April 1956, the Battalion was relieved from assignment to the XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg, NC, and assigned to 1st Army with new duty station at
Fort Devens, Massachusetts.

At Fort Devens, throughout 1956, the battalion conducted minefield testing for the Continental Army Command, then went on to support National Guard and Army Reserve training at Camp Drum, NY. The support at Camp Drum included construction, rehabilitation, and maintenance of a heavy equipment pool in conjunction with other post units, the operation and maintenance of all ranges and training facilities, and the operation of the bridge section.

The battalion also supported the Hungarian Refugee Program at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, after the collapse of the Hungarian Revolution in the face of Soviet tanks.

Over the next few years, the battalion went through a cycle of working during the winter months at Fort Devens and during the summer months at Camp Drum. Each April, the Battalion moved from Devens to Drum for a period of 160 days to support National Guard and Army Reserve training programs there.

From 1957 to 1959, the battalion commander was Lt. Col. Edward E. Bennett.

Berlin Crisis

In October 1961, the battalion was placed on alert in response to the Berlin Crisis and was rotated to Germany.

The Battalion, minus Companies B and C, was attached to the 11th Engineer Group in Germany. Headquarters and Headquarters Company was located at Giessen, while Company A was attached to the Berlin Brigade. The mission of the 20th was to provide combat engineering in the defense of Europe. While in Germany, the 20th participated in a Battalion ATT [Army Training Test] and two Seventh Army FTXs [Field Training Exercises] (Exercise Grand Slam and Exercise Fallex).

On 15 March 1963, by General Order Number 13 from Seventh Army, the following provisional redesignations took effect: Company D, 547th Engineer Battalion became Company D, 20th Engineer Battalion; Company E, 547th Engineer Battalion became Company E, 20th Engineer Battalion; and Company D, 299th Engineer Battalion became Company F, 20th Engineer Battalion.

Companies D and F and HHC were co-located with the battalion Headquarters at River Barracks, Giessen, Germany, and Company E was stationed at Taylor Barracks, Mannheim, Germany.

Click the picture below for more information on the 20th Engineers in Germany during the Berlin Crisis.

Return to Fort Devens

Headquarters and Headquarters Company returned to Fort Devens in September 1963. Company A was reconstituted at Fort Devens and Headquarters assumed control of the line companies, including B and C, in September 1963. The units resumed garrison and field training activities. As part of its mission of general engineering support, the battalion planned and constructed the post golf course, which remains in use today.

The 507th Engineer Detachment (Utility) and 553d Engineer Detachment (Utility) were attached to the 20th Engineers during this period.

In the fall of 1965, the battalion was alerted for movement to the Republic of Vietnam.

Preparation for Vietnam

On 05 December 1965, the equipment of the 20th Engineers was loaded on the USNS Lt. James E. Robinson at the Boston Army Terminal. On 14 December, an advance party of the battalion left Fort Devens on C-130 aircraft and arrived in Vietnam on 18 December. The balance of personnel were flown to Oakland, California, where they boarded the USNS William Wiegel and sailed for Vietnam on 09 December. On 01 January 1966, the battalion arrived at Cam Rahn Bay, Vietnam, and were attached to the 35th Engineer Group to conduct operations in the areas of I and II Corps.

Click the streamer below to go to the Vietnam era of the 20th Engineers