The combat engineers of the American army were one of the main protagonists in Ardennes, December 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge. In fact, the outcome of this battle could not really be understood without the important contribution of these specialised troops.
During the first moments of the offensive Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein (Operation Guard on the Rhine), utter chaos took over the Allied front. Some of the American troops deployed on the border with Germany began to withdraw in confusion towards the west to escape the German advance. As a result, the narrow Belgian roads were completely collapsed by large motorised columns, mainly logistical service units. In addition, the first ice in December and the huge mudflats caused by the heavy rains also played their part.
In action in Ardennes with the Combat Engineers, December 1944
Meanwhile, groups of officers were trying to organise defence points in towns, road crossings and bridges over rivers. It was necessary to delay as far as possible the advance of the vanguard panzer units. And it is here, where small detachments of American combat engineers played a fundamental role, by managing to delay the spearhead of the German attack, the Kampfgruppe Peiper. This powerful armoured unit operated in the northern sector of the front, under the command of the 6th Panzer Army of the SS-Oberstgruppenfürer “Sepp” Dietrich. In conclusion, the grenadier panzers, Panthers and Tigers II, veterans of the Leibstandarte division and experienced on the Russian front and in Normandy, lost precious time trying to overcome the obstacles deployed by the American sappers. For instance Stavelot, or the Trois Points and Neufmoulin bridges, witnessed their determination and courage.
Numerous units of combat engineers also acted in the Ardennes in 1944 deployed in the same role as infantry. As the only resources available, they covered defensive positions on the flanks or directly on the front line, for example in the Schnee Eifel or St Vith.
Combat Engineer Squad in 20mm
The American Army’s Combat Engineer squad in 1944 was composed of ten soldiers: squad leader (sergeant), assistant squad leader (corporal) and 8 riflemen. They also had specialised equipment and weapons for their specific tasks such as mines, explosive charges, flamethrowers, mine detectors, Bazookas, etc. These units were motorised, either in 2.5 ton and 4 ton trucks, or on M3 half-tracks.
For our sappers squad of the 3rd Armoured Division, we have selected figures from the American Late Infantry ranges of the Blitz, Battlefield and Wartime/Simons Soldiers brands. A figure from Britannia Miniatures has also been added.
To give greater firepower to the unit, a rifleman has been replaced by a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) gunner.
An attempt has been made to reflect the various winter uniforms worn by American troops in 44-45: coats, winter jackets, M43 green or M37 mustard brown trousers.
Britannia Miniatures’ figure has been replaced by a new head provided by a crew member of the PSC M3. A scarf has been sculpted with a little green putty, and with some strips of tin the helmet straps have been reproduced.
M3A1 half-track in kit
The squad motorization is carried out by the famous M3 half-track of the White Motor Company. In this case, an M3A1 that distinguished itself from the M3 series by incorporating a pulpit on the right side for a Browning .50 cal heavy machine gun. The kit is from Hasegawa, a model with around 45 years on the market.
Although sold as a 1/72 scale, the model is clearly over-dimensioned. Somewhere I read that its real scale is around 1/68. The kit has been widely surpassed by the Academy M3, also in plastic.
The model has been practically assembled as indicated in the instructions, including the canvas tarpaulin. Only three modifications have been made to the original model:
- The headlights have been replaced by a model more like the real M3, which comes from some spare parts of the GMC from Pegasus Hobbies.
- The heavy machine gun has been replaced by a metal model from Skytrex.
- The width of the side shelves for stowage has been reduced, as the originals are exaggeratedly wide.
Customised stowage for the M3A1
The American vehicles crossed Europe overloaded with material and supplies, which travelled hanging outside. For this reason, one of the most fun parts of assembling these models is customising the vehicle by adding all kinds of stowage outside it.
In addition to the anti-personnel mines that were on the external shelves, we have added to our M3A1 different ammunition boxes, various pouches, rolls of canvas and a chain on the front bumper roller. At the rear, original PSC M3 stowage racks have been added, one folded and one extended with ammunition boxes.
M3A1 Camo pattern for Ardennes, 1944
As a rule, American vehicles in Europe remained painted in the original olive green. The camouflage of vehicles was not considered a priority, as the casualty rate was very high. When it was considered necessary, branches and foliage were applied instead of a painted camouflage scheme.
Some armoured formations decided to paint their vehicles with camouflage schemes instead. The patterns used were based on different types of schemes painted in black, sometimes with a spray gun and sometimes with a brush.
In our case we have selected an airbrush striped pattern that covers the whole vehicle, including the canvas tarpaulin. A good scheme to hide the vehicles of the combat engineers inside the forests of the Ardennes, in the winter of 1944.
The M3A1 commander of the Combat Engineers
For the figure of the vehicle’s commander, we have selected the miniature of the PSC M3 machine gunner. We have transformed his M37 uniform into an M43, again with the help of some green putty. We have also added a pistol holster for his Colt 1911. The arms come from a figure of the M7 Priest self-propelled gun from Italeri..