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Railroad Engineers, World War 1

Started by egreis , Mar 10 2011 08:33 AM

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#1 egreis

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Posted 10 March 2011 - 08:33 AM

I am curious to learn more about Railroad Engineer Units in World War 1. My great uncle Elmer E. Gurth served as a Master Engineer duirng the war. He later served as a Civil Defense Warden in World War II. Attached below is his World War 1 picture.

#2 egreis

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Posted 10 March 2011 - 08:34 AM

Army_Picture.jpg

#3 Camp_Kearny

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Posted 12 March 2011 - 04:06 PM

Three types of engineer regiments operated railroads during WWI. There are standard gauge regiments, narrow gauge regiments, and the forestry regiment. The history of the forestry and narrow gauge are documented in the book, "Narrow Gauge to No Man's Land" by Richard Dunn. It is an okay book but it is geared toward model railroad enthusiasts rather than militaria collectors. I'm sure it is out of print but it is probably easy to pick up on Abe.com.

#4 egreis

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Posted 14 March 2011 - 08:43 AM

Very interesting information. I wonder what type my great uncle was. Is there a way to track the rosters of those units?

#5 Camp_Kearny

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 08:41 PM

Not that I am aware of, but perhaps this could help you narrow down your search. The 12th Engineers, Narrow Gauge, were formed near St Louis, MO and served in England, France, and Belgium. The 12th was one of the few American units that fought in the Cambrai Offensive in 1917. The 14th Engineers, Narrow Gauge, was formed near Salem, NH and served in England and France. The 21st Engineers, Narrow Gauge, was formed near Camp Grant, Illionois and was involved in operations in France near the Sorcy railhead. The 20th Engineers, Forestry, was involved in lumber cutting in the Vosges Mountains, France and operated narrow gauge railroads supporting that operation. I also believe that the 20th Engineers was one of the largest regiments in the US Army during WWI.

During the first part of the 20 Century, narrow gauge and short line railroads were extremely important to industry and the Army just adopted this equipment from industry for the World War. Sadly, industrial use of short lines and narrow gauge have nearly ceased with only one narrow gauge railroad left in the US used for industrial work. If you are interested, that last narrow gauge railroad is in Imperial Valley, CA and is owned by United States Gypsum. With the rise in diesel fuel, some of the short lines may come back but I think the era of narrow gauge railroads for anything other than excursion lines are finished.

#6 RustyCanteen

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Posted 09 November 2014 - 01:38 PM

Very interesting information. I wonder what type my great uncle was. Is there a way to track the rosters of those units?

 

 

This is an old thread, but if the OP happens to see it I thought I would add that most of the railway Engineer regiments published their own history books in the early 1920s. Most of the time they included a roster which was more or less accurate. I checked for an "Elmer Gurth" in the rosters of the 11th, 12th, 14th, 18th, and 21st Engineers and did not see him listed. That still leaves many other regiments, but I either do not have the rosters for them, or do not have them handy.

 

RC



#7 RustyCanteen

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Posted 09 November 2014 - 01:50 PM

Not that I am aware of, but perhaps this could help you narrow down your search. The 12th Engineers, Narrow Gauge, were formed near St Louis, MO and served in England, France, and Belgium. The 12th was one of the few American units that fought in the Cambrai Offensive in 1917. The 14th Engineers, Narrow Gauge, was formed near Salem, NH and served in England and France. The 21st Engineers, Narrow Gauge, was formed near Camp Grant, Illionois and was involved in operations in France near the Sorcy railhead. The 20th Engineers, Forestry, was involved in lumber cutting in the Vosges Mountains, France and operated narrow gauge railroads supporting that operation. I also believe that the 20th Engineers was one of the largest regiments in the US Army during WWI.

During the first part of the 20 Century, narrow gauge and short line railroads were extremely important to industry and the Army just adopted this equipment from industry for the World War. Sadly, industrial use of short lines and narrow gauge have nearly ceased with only one narrow gauge railroad left in the US used for industrial work. If you are interested, that last narrow gauge railroad is in Imperial Valley, CA and is owned by United States Gypsum. With the rise in diesel fuel, some of the short lines may come back but I think the era of narrow gauge railroads for anything other than excursion lines are finished.

 

 

While the 12th Engineers were designated as a Light Rail regiment, they also worked on standard guage construction projects during the spring and summer of 1918. A minor detail,  they (along with the 11th Engineers) were present at Cambrai, but there is no real evidence that the 12th Engineers actually fired a shot, much less fought in the battle. Certainly it is possible (and the record seems to imply it) that some men, isolated from the lines could have been in the action, or made their way to the lines seeking action (there is a record suggesting this was attempted by one man) but the only real combat/active battle participation would have involved the working party of the 11th Engineers near Gouzecourt. The 11th took some casualties that day, while the 12th is recorded as having one man wounded in action. Both units were recognized by the US Army as having been in the first campaign of the American Expeditionary Forces.

 

 

In addition to Richard Dunn's old book (Narrow Gauge to No Man's Land) one of the other books on the subject was Volume II of 'Narrow Gauge at War" by Keith Taylorson. Along with a myriad of smaller publications over the years as well.  While perhaps not 'riveting' to most militaria collectors out there, they may be of interest to railroading buffs. At least one company manufactured scale replicas of the gas trench engines too. At one time I drew up some scale drawings for use in a model layout I considered, but decided to wait until the market brought more variety in the way of rolling stock and power equipment. Very interesting topic nonetheless.

 

RC



#8 ScottG

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Posted 09 November 2014 - 05:09 PM

RC, the 16th Regiment out of Detroit did it all and were in France for 18 + months. On YouTube there is a feature called Michigan's WWI Centennial News Report by Dennis Skupinski. He has a self produced documentary dvd on the 16th and they are featured in one of the shorter news reports as mentioned above. Dennis can be contacted  through his musee skupinski site on Flickr. As I said, the 16th arrived early and did narrow gauge and regular as well as many other construction projects related to the railroads. Hope this helps someone.  Scott.



#9 willysmb44

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Posted 12 November 2014 - 05:15 PM

You might want to look here: http://www.rypn.org/...php?f=1&t=32411&



#10 armartin1992

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Posted 17 November 2014 - 04:40 AM

 

 

This is an old thread, but if the OP happens to see it I thought I would add that most of the railway Engineer regiments published their own history books in the early 1920s. Most of the time they included a roster which was more or less accurate. I checked for an "Elmer Gurth" in the rosters of the 11th, 12th, 14th, 18th, and 21st Engineers and did not see him listed. That still leaves many other regiments, but I either do not have the rosters for them, or do not have them handy.

 

RC

Hi, I am a amateur genealogist and I am researching a fellow that was from California and joined the 18th engineers railway in 1917.  I see in your post, RC, that you may have a published history book?   The name I am researching is William John Shackleton (Private 1st class, Co A, 18th Engineers, US Army) and according to the dates of service on his records he would have been one of the first to sign up (enlisted date was May 17, 1919).  I am also interested in help identifying things like the company/regiment flag or patches - things to help bring him to life again.  I am hoping that collectors on this board may have some tidbits they can share!   :) Thank you so much for your time.   - Amy M.  



#11 RustyCanteen

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Posted 17 November 2014 - 12:56 PM

Hi Amy,

 

 

I found him in the roster, although it does not provide anymore than you already know.

 

roster.jpg

 

Recruiting for the 18th Engineers opened on May 12th, 1917 in San Francisco. Additional recruiting was conducted around Los Angeles, as well as Oregon and Washington states. Over a thousand men attempted to enlist at the San Francisco office, with about 300 making the cut. According to the unit history, companies A and C were mostly recruited through the L.A. office.

 

"Companies A and C were made up of highly qualified men most of whom were volunteers who had been interviewed by recruiting officers in the Regimental Headquarters at 646 Market Street, San Francisco."

 

Men who had been recruited in San Francisco were temporarily billeted in a vacant hotel on Mason Street. No address is given, but the San Francisco Police Department had only recently ordered it vacated prior to the men moving in. Apparently the men believed the hotel might have been haunted. This would have occurred sometime in May-June of 1917. Recruiting in San Francisco ended by the end of June and the men were sent to their new camp, located on the Washington National Guard's training grounds at American Lake, Washington. The camp is described as being located in a scenic area, where at time Mount Rainier could be glimpsed in the distance. Some of the equipment the men were issued was a little old, having been superseded by newer models in the preceding years. They carried M1898 Krag-Jorgenson rifles, instead of the Army-standard M1903 Springfield. Blankets were carried in a roll slung over their shoulders. The men felt they looked ready to fight the Spanish-American War of 1898 instead of the war of 1917!  The 18th Engineers were originally designated the 8th Reserve Engineers, but that designation was changed in mid-July 1917 to the 18th Engineers, Railway.

 

July was spent learning drill and other typical facets of Army life. Interrupted only by a mock battle in mid-July. They also put on a theatrical show in Tacoma, with over one thousand in attendance. August 1st found the 18th Engineers on the move, as men boarded trains to take them New York for embarkation on a troop ship. Their train route took them through Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, etc, before arriving in New York City. There they boarded Cunard Line's RMS Saxonia, berthed at Pier 23. The Captain of the Saxonia on this crossing was a man named Arthur Rostron; none other than the Captain of the RMS Carpathia on a cold April night in 1912, when he rescued the survivors of the RMS Titanic. The men enjoyed the splendor of traveling at sea, at least until their first meal was over. By August 13th the ship had

arrived off Halifax Harbor (only months later the scene of the terrible Halifax Explosion which destroyed much of the city and killed nearly 2,000 people.) where they joined a convoy bound for Great Britain.

 

rmssaxoniacunard.jpg

The R.M.S. Saxonia, of the Cunard Line.

 

The voyage was mostly uneventful, although there was one false sighting of a supposed submarine which turned out to be a wooden barrel. The dangers of crossing were not lost upon the men, who were instructed in the use of their life jackets and ordered to keep them nearby at all times lest a real submarine be sighted. August 23 found land, the first to be seen since leaving Halifax. After docking in Liverpool the men left the ship and the next morning set off for Camp Borden. Camp Borden was a British Army training center which did not endear itself to the majority of the American Engineer regiments who passed through it's gates during in the weeks before them. The unit sailed for France aboard two vessels. Company A crossed the channel aboard the Marguerite. The 30th found them in an estuary of the Seine where they had their first look at France. After this they spent time in various camps before they arrived in Bordeaux, on the coast. Here they were assigned to construction of the docks and railroads at Bassens. Vital for establishing a supply port for incoming American transports and freighters. The 18th Engineers had been assigned under the Line of Communications, the Transportation Department, and finally to the Department of Construction and Forestry in March 1918. Most of the book includes anecdotes of their daily life, and work in France. They moved around the coastal areas, eventually being based in La Rochelle by the latter part of 1918.

 

Company A constructed railway lines around Bordeaux during 1917, before moving to the building of warehouses for the port. There is mention of Company A having been assigned to the Alsace-Lorraine district, and wearing the Advanced Section shoulder sleeve insignia in January 1919.

 

 

post-565-128339220618th.jpg   18thpatch.jpg

This is the 18th Engineer's shoulder sleeve insignia, as posted by member Mort (Left); and the same patch on an officer's uniform in 1919 (Right).

 

However, Company A was operating forward of most of the unit and wore this patch:

advancesectorGarth.jpg

Advance Section (Credit GarthT).

 

 

 

Now the book does have a short chapter following Company A's time in France, but I did not see any mention of Mr. Shackleton in it. Mostly it detailed construction projects, movements to different towns, and many short anecdotes regarding funny or memorable occurrences.

 

A.jpg

Company A on the Texan, which carried them back to the United States in April 1919.

 

The 18th Engineers is noted for it's own regimental newspaper; 'The Spiker', which can be found from time to time for sale. It was published from 1917 until they sailed home in 1919.

 

I hope that helps,

RC



#12 unclegrumpy

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Posted 17 November 2014 - 03:04 PM

Amy,

 

Here is the information for the 18th Engineer's WW I unit history...maybe you are close to a library that has it:

 

The Eighteenth Engineers : A.E.F. France, 1917-1919.

Author: Hugh Wiley

Publisher: Berkeley, California, Gillick Printing, Inc., 1959.


Edited by unclegrumpy, 17 November 2014 - 03:31 PM.


#13 RustyCanteen

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Posted 17 November 2014 - 03:53 PM



Amy,

 

Here is the information for the 18th Engineer's WW I unit history...maybe you are close to a library that has it:

 

The Eighteenth Engineers : A.E.F. France, 1917-1919.

Author: Hugh Wiley

Publisher: Berkeley, California, Gillick Printing, Inc., 1959.

 

 

Good idea, here is a picture of the cover. It's about a half inch thick with 130 pages. I should probably add that the 18th Engineers history is much lighter on photos than the earlier books published by the other regiments. This is likely due simply to the passage of time between the 1920s (when most of the units had theirs published) and 1959 when this was published. Still a good book with hard to find information on their work during the war.

 

18thb.jpg

 

182.jpg

 

RC



#14 RustyCanteen

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Posted 17 November 2014 - 03:55 PM

RC, the 16th Regiment out of Detroit did it all and were in France for 18 + months. On YouTube there is a feature called Michigan's WWI Centennial News Report by Dennis Skupinski. He has a self produced documentary dvd on the 16th and they are featured in one of the shorter news reports as mentioned above. Dennis can be contacted  through his musee skupinski site on Flickr. As I said, the 16th arrived early and did narrow gauge and regular as well as many other construction projects related to the railroads. Hope this helps someone.  Scott.

 

 

Thanks, that sounds interesting. I will have to check that out.

 

 

You might want to look here: http://www.rypn.org/...php?f=1&t=32411&

 

 

Thanks Lee. It looks like it was an interesting project (if a bit ambitious) that has sadly faded away? I tried the link to the 14th Engineers (Re-enacted) but it seems their website is gone.

 

RC



#15 armartin1992

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Posted 17 November 2014 - 06:32 PM

Thankyou so much for taking the time to provide me with the information!   I will look for a copy of the book - never know maybe I'll get lucky.    I guess since I know that Wm John made it home I will assume his face is in that photo.   I leave it up to the gene-gods nows.  :rolleyes:



#16 RustyCanteen

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Posted 17 November 2014 - 06:36 PM

Thankyou so much for taking the time to provide me with the information!   I will look for a copy of the book - never know maybe I'll get lucky.    I guess since I know that Wm John made it home I will assume his face is in that photo.   I leave it up to the gene-gods nows.  :rolleyes:

 

 

Hi,

 

I did a search and see one listed for sale, I'll send you a PM with the details.

 

RC



#17 unclegrumpy

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Posted 18 November 2014 - 10:45 AM

Thankyou so much for taking the time to provide me with the information!   I will look for a copy of the book - never know maybe I'll get lucky.    I guess since I know that Wm John made it home I will assume his face is in that photo.   I leave it up to the gene-gods nows.  :rolleyes:

I am not sure where you live, but the book was also in several big West Coast libraries.  

 

This link should get you to one:

 

http://www.worldcat.org




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