The Engineer's Notebook Blog

The Engineer's Notebook

The Engineer's Notebook is a shared blog for entries that don't fit into a specific CR4 blog. Topics may range from grammar to physics and could be research or or an individual's thoughts - like you'd jot down in a well-used notebook.

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Military Engineering of WWII: A Veteran’s Day Remembrance

Posted November 11, 2009 4:21 PM by Steve Melito

Today, November 11, is Veteran's Day in the United States. Originally known as Armistice Day, the date commemorates the end of the Great War – a conflict that acquired a number once the world learned that the "war to end all wars" was but an opening act. World War II, a longer and even bloodier conflict, followed World War I all too soon. Once again, military engineers heard the call of duty.

Building Roads through Hell

Military engineering, a discipline which dates back to at least Roman times, was an important part of the Allied victory during the Second World War. In 1942, the U.S. Army began rolling to Alaska on the road that "couldn't be built". In a triumph of men and machines over Mother Nature, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineering finished the Alaska Highway, a 1500-mile stretch of frozen road that connected airfields and radio ranging stations along the Northwest Staging Route (NWSR), a critical national-defense air corridor. Remarkably, the time to complete this "Glory Road to Tokyo" was less than eight months.

The Alaska Highway was an important achievement, of course, but it wasn't the only road through hell that the U.S. Army built. According to Lewis A. Pick, the general who oversaw the building of Burma's Ledo Road, that project was "the toughest job ever given to U.S. Army Engineers in wartime". Designed to re-establish a land supply route to China, the Ledo Road also serviced a pipeline that carried fuel. Through the jungle and over mountains, soldiers struggled to cut a 100-foot path. Surveyors who rode elephants guided bulldozer operators who, when pounded by monsoon rains, joked "that's not a river, it's the Ledo Road."

The World's Largest Office Building

Military engineering doesn't usually include office buildings, but World War II was unlike any previous conflict. On September 11, 1941 – some 60 years to the day before terrorists tried to destroy it – construction on the Pentagon began. Designed to house an army of workers within the U.S. Department of War, the Pentagon would become the world's largest office building.

During the summer of 1941, the head of the Army Quartermaster Corps' Construction Division ordered Lt. Col. Hugh J. Casey to design a 4 million sq. ft. office building - and to have the plans on his desk by Monday morning. With help from George H. Bergstrom, a prominent civilian architect, Lt. Col. Casey worked all weekend and met his deadline. The plans that Casey delivered called for a massive, five-sided, air-conditioned building to sit atop 29 acres in Arlington, Virginia.

Although the Pentagon's original plans called for two floors, the Department of War more than doubled the building's height after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Under the leadership of Gen. Leslie Groves, three crews of 4,000 worked around the clock to finish a building with five floors.

In April 1942, the first occupants moved into the building even though the grounds and exterior were incomplete. Yet even when Pentagon construction was finally finished in January 1943, Groves' wartime work wasn't done. As head of the Manhattan Project, he would oversee the war's most sensitive engineering plan – the building of an atomic bomb.



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Anonymous Poster

Re: Military Engineering of WWII: A Veteran’s Day Remembrance

11/12/2009 11:36 AM

I have believe that GE developed the Amplidyne to aim the guns on battleships. Being able to accurately and quickly rotate to an azimuth gave us an advantage. Also the Britts developed Superhetrodyne for superior radio tuning by employing a beat oscilator and were then able to intercept radio signal from German U-boats operating far from land. The Britts also developed the "Flailing Tank" which cleared mines on the beach during the Normandy invasion. The M1 Garrand called by General Patton the finest ... and many others. The most notable scientific achievement was the Manhattan Project. American and British engineers and scientists definitely helped to win the war.

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Re: Military Engineering of WWII: A Veteran’s Day Remembrance

11/12/2009 1:12 PM

Hello Everyone!

Please don't forget the development of radar by the Brits, followed by it's refinement by US engineers for installation on warships and aircraft! Without radar, the Germans would have won the Battle of Britain, thus leaving no European home base for the US forces to operate from so in order to hit the Axis powers throughout Europe, first by air and sea, then followed by land forces.

As a former US Army Engineer and a Vet of Grenada and Desert Shield/Desert Storm, I salute you Moose for this fantastic posting. It is well written and very informative. and serves as a reminder to the younger generations the contributions that engineers in the service, and well as their civilian counterparts, made towards the war effort. They were indeed invaluable, and without them we probably would have lost the war.

We mustn't forget the contribution of engineers during other later conflicts either, especially those who served during the Korean War, then in Viet Nam and those who supported the both war efforts from Far East bases on Guam, in Thailand, in the Philippines, and in Japan.

Again, thank you! Have a great sunny day!


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Re: Military Engineering of WWII: A Veteran’s Day Remembrance

11/14/2009 1:53 PM

Definitely a well written professional piece Moose, not that less is expected.

Did in fact Lt. Casey design the Pentagon from a Friday, to a Monday?

Would be interesting to know if the plans were "Pets".

Surly the Pentagon shape of the building was genus.

Thing looks like it has always been there.

They could have called it Fort Pentagon.

Obviously a good design even in light of damage done, and people killed in the 9/11 attack.

I myself pay particular attention to those that built airfields in the Pacific Theater under fire.

Heavy dangerous work is hard enough without people shooting at you.

I am not sure if Seabees were part of the Corps Construction Division or not.

The fact does seem to me that the American GI was better individually armed than even the Germans. Without a doubt the MI Garand would have been more desirable than some 5 shot bolt action like the regular German soldier had.

Seems like the German Infantry, and US Infantry had different strategies as far as how to fight around the machine gun.

Apparently Audie Murphy's weapon of choice was the MI Carbine which sort of belies complaints about stopping power.

I'm slightly off track, but we have discussed guns as engineering feats here.

I think some of the fun of work is gone as I feel the era in the US subsequent to WWII.

A certain rigidity eschewing the legacy of the Can Do, as opposed to the inexperienced but perfectly certified seems to have taken hold.

The constant rotations of currently battling veterans put in the face of US citizens an obvious need for reinstating the draft.

(If we are to go on as we have been.)

In a way the soldiers are and have fought to protect the engineers, and builders, and buildings and bridges.

Peace came and in the US roads and airports, schools and more midtown skyscrapers were built.

Complete Victory was the Mall!

I read somewhere that the difference between the Greeks and the Romans, was Greek cities were pedestrian friendly, whereas Roman Cities relied on horse and chariots.

As the megalopalis grows attempts at Greek architectural and infrastructural precepts are revived.

I'm interested in what airports have been built in the course of the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?

The Romans left a lot of roads around, and I wonder what airports the US has left so far?

Since all they can grow in Afghanistan is hashish and opium I recommend separating drug smugglers from weapons smugglers by giving them an airport from which to send their product legally to Amsterdam.

Did you know that your country cannot be a member of the UN if drugs are legal?

We can talk all we want about the role of religious fundamentalism, but the role of the International Drug War probably has more to do with our mired floundering in Afghanistan, that none but veterans have the right to joke about.

Certainly I do emphasis my Class, the Working Class when discussing things.

Whatever Theology I may find comfortable, I know that work, and economics and finances mean that there is common ground that transcends comforting beliefs, like there is an afterlife, better than what's going, to fight for.

WWI's political era, is same as what we have now.

We are back to the future, with better bombs.

I've cried over the tragedies of war.

Torture is what keeps it going, and it is a death of a thousand cuts.

Torture was rare during WWI from what I know.

-At least in the back rooms since you can make a case for gas and chemical attacks as torture.

(I allowed a guy to be punched some after he had beat another guy over the head with lead pipe.) -My hands are not pure.

For Xmas I am making Monster Houses...

You don't get wise because you got old, you get old because you were wise.
Anonymous Poster

Re: Military Engineering of WWII: A Veteran’s Day Remembrance

12/11/2009 5:26 PM

Research: American reminiscences of the Caribbean: 1937-1948/ Walsh & Driscoll construction We welcome any advice, contacts or assistance that you can offer re. our efforts to contact surviving veterans of the American construction industry (white and blue collar) who 'built' the Panama/ Caribbean theatre defences and base facilities in World War II. (We understand that much of this work was awarded to Walsh & Driscoll). My colleague and I are London-based independent producers of educational resources. We are currently gathering eye-witness testimonies regarding the Caribbean 1937-1948. Our current focus is making potential American contributors aware of our project. And passing on our invitation and details so they may add their reminiscences to our research. As I say, we hope to obtain reminiscences from men who built the Caribbean bases - with particular reference to the locations granted as a result of the Lend Lease Agreement (essentially British Caribbean territories) The initial objectives for the material are a book and online resource - for schools and colleges. Our reminiscences to date have come from all perspectives - servicemen, civilians, German U-Boatmen, (international) merchant sailors.... Our search for contributions is all about providing Educators and Learners with as broad and diverse a perspective as possible: We want to gain an impression of the war at sea, we are also gathering memories of the West Indies as bases of operations; what impressions their civilian populations made; how the islands provided for torpedoed merchant seamen; memories of shore-leave... how these events impacted on society, politics and civil rights. It would not have been appropriate to attach a release/synopsis of the project and invitation to contributors. But we will be happy to supply information as required To see the sort of educational resources we make, please visit our website. Alternatively, you can view a short trailer for our recent project for schools and colleges - on the University of Washington's 'Black Past' website: We look forward to hearing your thoughts Best wishes Tony T Rebecca Goldstone Sweet Patootee Ltd 28c Loraine Road London N7 6EZ United Kingdom Tel/lFax: 01144 207 686 5101 Email: Web:

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