The 291st Engineer Combat Battalion in
France, Belgium and Germany

by Col David E. Pergin and Eric Hammel

First Across the Rhine is the first-person narrative by the commander of the celebrated 291st Engineer Combat Battalion, one of the rough, hard-working U.S. Army engineer combat units that literally paved the way from Normandy to the Rhine and beyond.

Landing in Normandy shortly after D-Day, the 291st quickly acquired a reputation as a savvy, can-do engineer combat unit. During the race across France and Belgium in the summer of 1944, the 291st proved itself to be the First U.S. Army’s premier engineer battalion. In December 1944, the lightly armed 291st found itself virtually alone as it stood astride the route of the panzer spearhead charged with leading the northern army group in Hitler’s last-ditch Ardennes offensive—the Battle of the Bulge. Tough and confident, the 291st blew up bridge after vital bridge in the face of the German assault and thus denied Germany her needed victory in the West. Days later, the 291st was selected from among all U.S. army engineer combat battalions in Germany to throw the first bridge across the Rhine River in the face of enormous resistance. It thus built the longest combat bridge in Europe in record time and opened the German heartland to the Allied juggernaut.

Few American combat units have achieved the distinction and recognition accorded the 291st Engineer Combat Battalion. Here, in the words of it’s only combat commander, is the 291st’s recipe for success—stiff training and a group ethos for excellence. This is an exciting, inspiring story about an essential aspect of warfare all but ignored in the thousands of World War II books that have flooded the market over the past half century.