The 85th in Germany

Historical Overview

The old bridge tower at Worms, Germany was a source of sniper fire against the 85th

In order to set foot firmly on German soil the 7th Army would have to cross the Rhine. For the assault across the river Gen. Gar Davidson once again called upon his experienced engineer regiments. One such was the 540th to which the 85th Heavy Ponton Battalion was attached. The specific mission was to transport and erect the divisional 49 ton ponton bridge assisted by Co.A of the 2833rd Engineer Battalion and to provide 16 storm boat operators. The 85th was attached to the 3rd Division (Audie Murphy's division) for the actual assault river crossing.

Initial plans were to cross the Rhine before the new year. But the massive German counter offensive in the Ardenne (Battle of the Bulge) put the plans on hold. And so as winter drew on the 85th engineers concentrated on maintaining their equipment until it could be used in the Rhine crossings. The equipment numbered 96 assault boats, 188 assault craft, 6 rafts, 400+ outboard motors, 1 heavy ponton bridge, and 150 DUKWs. All this was mounted on wheels and the entire collection was stored for the winter in covered areas, factories, and forests around Luneville, France.

On the morning of March 25, 1945 a reconnaissence party from the 85th was sent to the proposed bridge site on the Rhine near Worms. Their purpose was to select the specific location of the near and far shore bridge site, a crane site, and six raft sites. It was reported that enemy snipers were prevelant on the far shore.

At 2300 hrs on March 25 the 85th started placing storm boats on the bank of the Rhine. Operation Rhineland was underway. Heavy enemy artillery fire made this an arduous task. But by the time an Allied artillery barrage began at 0200 hrs on March 26th, the men had managed to get 21 of 22 storm boats to the bank. At 0210 hrs the infantry had assembled at their respective boats (7 infantry and 2 engineers per boat). All during this time the men were under small arms and machine gun fire from the right flank. At 0205 hrs a terrific enemy barrage began and caused some casualties. At 0225 hrs the boats were placed into the water. At 0230 hrs the first wave of boats crossed the river to establish a bridgehead. At this time 6 tanks with 105mm guns moved to the river bank and fired across the river to eliminate snipers in the tower on the far shore. Enemy shelling continued through to early morning and did not cease until 0605 hrs when a flight of 4 Thunderbolts appeared overhead.

The storm boats would make several crossings during the course of the morning. When one of the storm boats failed to return it was later discovered that the operator, Pfc. Joseph J. Prusasky, was sprawled on the far beach with a serious head wound. He died 3 days later. Two other 85th engineers were wounded during the storm boat crossings, Pfc. John P. Anich and Pvt. Samuel P. Christine.

Joseph J. Prusasky was the 85th's only combat death in Germany. Shown here in happier days at Plattsburg barracks
the Alexander Patch Bridge across the Rhine was completed in 9 hrs 12 mins and was 1047' long

At 0500 hrs the 85th was notified that the bridgehead had been established and that bridge construction could begin. At 0600 hrs construction began. In spite of sniper fire which harassed the 85th, especially from the ruins of the old Ernst Ludwig Bridge, the Alexander Patch Bridge across the Rhine was completed in 9 hrs 12 mins and was 1047' long. During its first 24 hrs of operation 3040 vehicles crossed. A few short miles from the bridge a German Panzer counter attack was repelled and the Patch Bridge continued to pour supplies and men into Germany. Audie Murphy's 3rd Infantry Division would cross here courtesy of the 85th Engineers.

During its first 24 hrs of operation 3040 vehicles crossed. A few short miles from the bridge a German Panzer counter attack was repelled and the Patch Bridge continued to pour supplies and men into Germany.

On March 29th, Gen. Davidson again ordered the 85th into action, this time to build a bridge across the Rhine for tanks. The site was at Ludwigshafen on the opposite bank from Mannheim. Construction began at daybreak March 30th and was completed at 3pm. The 85th engineers dubbed the bridge the Gar Davidson Bridge to honor the commander of the 7th Army Engineer. It was 893' long and 3823 vehicles crossed in the first 24 hours.

The Gar Davidson bridge was 893' long and 3823 vehicles crossed in the first 24 hours.

On April 14, 1945 the 85th received a letter of commendation from the Commanding General of the 7th Army Alexander M. Patch. It stated that the building of the Patch Bridge across the Rhine was a "major contribution to the crossing of the Rhine by the 7th Army." Of thirty three bridges across the Rhine only three were built within ten hours. "Your battalion is one of this select group."

letter of commendation from the Commanding General of the 7th Army Alexander M. Patch
On April 26th Company A, 85th Engineers would bridge the Danube near the town of Schweizerhof

Breaking out from the Rhine bridgehead the 7th Army advanced rapidly. By April 20th it had reached Nuremburg. On April 26th Company A, 85th Engineers would bridge the Danube near the town of Schweizerhof. Construction of the 230' bridge began at 0800 hrs and was completed at 1530 hrs. In the afternoon of construction the men would experience the most severe artillery barrage of the war. One casualty was sustained - Pfc. Harry Maxwell. Over this bridge the 42nd Rainbow Division would cross the Danube thanks to the 85th.

On the 27th of April Company B cleared a mine field and constructed a 330' Class 40 Heavy Ponton Bridge across the Danube in the vicinity of Bertoldsheim.

That same month elements of the 7th Army would meet up with elements of the 5th Army coming up from Italy. German resistance was quickly dissapating. The end of hostilities in Europe on May 8, 1945 found the 85th guarding and maintaining the Danube bridge.

Construction of the 230' bridge began at 0800 hrs and was completed at 1530 hrs

The 85th would make its way to Salzburg, Austria and from there elements would make runs into Berchtesgaden, the site of Hitler's famous Eagle's Nest retreat.

From Salzburg the 85th would make its way back to France beginning the trip on June 5, 1945 and arriving at Stenay, France on June 19. On June 14 the Battalion was awarded "The Meritorious Service Unit Plaque" for superior performance of duty in France and Germany from October 1, 1944 to April 10, 1945. On June 21, 1945 the Battalion was relieved from assignment to the Seventh Army. On June 24 all vehicles departed for Brussels, Belgium to be turned in. On July 11 the Battalion traveled to Camp Twenty Grand near Le Harve, France. On July 17 they departed from Camp Twenty Grand and traveled to the port of Le Harve, France where at 1300 hrs the unit boarded the S.S. Santa Maria. On July 18 the ship sailed for the port of Boston. Rough seas led to much seasickness but morale remained high, and on July 27 the ship docked at Boston, Massachusetts. From there it traveled by rail to Camp Miles Standish, Massachusetts.

Throughout the entire time the 85th was engaged in the campaigns overseas it was commanded by Lt. Col. Leonard A. Perdue. The XO was Major Raughley L. Porter. H&S Company was commanded by Capt. Sylvester F. Brand. Company A was commanded by Capt. Luther E. Hunt. Company B was commanded by Capt. Robert R. Parker.

The following awards were made to the following members of the 85th: THE LEGION OF MERIT was awarded to Lt. Col. Leonard Perdue; THE CROIX DE GUERRE was awarded to Lt. Col. Leonard Perdue; THE BRONZE STAR was awarded to the following: 1st Lt. Jacob M. Isenberg, Sergeant Charles Opaska, and Sergeant William S. Hahlbohm.

The 85th Engineer Heavy Ponton Battalion was redesignated the 85th Engineer Ponton Bridge Company at Camp Swift, Texas on November 15, 1945. The unit was inactivated on January 31, 1946.

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W. Michaal Nawrath | Reply 23.06.2018 09.59

A great piece of Worms-American history. Are you aware of any colmpilation of the
different American units stationed in Worms over the years?

Rod 23.06.2018 12.25

Sorry, my focus has been on the 85th only.

Steve Gerrard | Reply 27.11.2017 11.38

I was finally able to get photos! What email would you like them sent to?

Rod 23.06.2018 12.24

Steve,

My computer crashed and I lost the info you sent. Can you resend?

Thanks,

Rod
Webmaster
85th Engineers

Rod 30.11.2017 18.03

Send photos to rodbobarr@icloud.com

S Gerrard | Reply 19.08.2017 06.37

My friends grandfather was of the 85th and was awarded The Bronze Star also. I have the original certificate. Can we update the info on the site?

Rod 02.09.2017 22.27

Be glad to. Just send name, reason, and any other related info. Photo of soldier and or of certificate.

Nick Aldape | Reply 13.05.2017 19.49

Great History my dad was there from North Africa on.

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Latest comments

03.07 | 13:43

Adam and and Hopkins are also listed in Leonard's book.

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03.07 | 13:29

My Uncle was MH and my dad ML. They were twins.

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03.07 | 13:09

Rod, in Leonard's service book he listed his buddies.M.H Obarr, box 393 Cullman, Alabama, along with M.L. Obarr same address.your relation?

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03.07 | 11:11

Thank you sir! He deserves a special tribute.

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