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Those who have attempted to describe in a simple phrase the tactics of the most complex war in history refer to World War II as "an air war," "a mechanized war," "an amphibious war," and most inclusively, "a mobile war." Because its military campaigns accented movement, whether by air, by sea, or by land, and because the primary combat mission of the Corps of Engineers is to aid or impede movement, World War II has also been called "an engineer's war.” The far-flung deployment of American troops and the global nature of the conflict placed a premium on logistics. As a consequence the engineer mission of building military bases and routes of communication took on added significance. Although arrogating to the engineers an exclusive title to the war would indeed be to lose perspective, merely noting that the claim was made attests to the importance of the engineer role.
Zealously, but not always successfully, the Corps of Engineers asserted its prerogative as an organization of experts to define its mission, to determine the quantity and quality of its members, to choose its equipment, to decide how it must be organized and trained. In defining and redefining its tasks, in adjusting to the new Army and to the demands of global warfare, the Corps exhibited an admirable degree of flexibility, imagination, and ingenuity. The ease with which the Engineers took hold of amphibious doctrine and carried it beyond the training of boat crews to the development of shore parties is but one instance of a ready assumption of new duties. In the performance of more traditional functions the Corps displayed no less ability. Mapping, for example, was approached in full realization of the limitations as well as the potentialities of aerial photography. That the Engineers handled with distinction many assignments both new and old was owing largely to the high caliber of its officers. In the future as in the past, the preparedness and effectiveness of the Corps of Engineers will depend primarily upon the ability of its officers to provide the necessary bridge between the latest developments in civilian engineering and the most advanced techniques in warfare.
The world-wide operations of the U.S. Army in World War II involved an enormous amount of construction and the performance on a comparable scale of many other missions by the Corps of Engineers. This is the first of four volumes that will describe the participation of the Engineers in the war and the contribution they made toward winning it. Better known to the public in peacetime for its civil works, the Corps by the time of Pearl Harbor had turned almost its full attention to military duties. At home the Engineers took over all military construction, and prepared hundreds of thousands of Engineer troops for a variety of tasks overseas. These tasks included not only construction but also a number of other duties more or less related to engineering both in rear areas and in the midst of battle. In performing these duties in World War II the Army Engineers gained a proud record in combat as well as in service. This first volume tells how the Corps organized and planned and prepared for its tasks, and in particular how it trained its troops and obtained its equipment. The volumes still to be published will describe the huge program of military construction in the United States, and Engineer operations overseas in the European and Pacific areas. One of the objectives of the technical service volumes of the Army's World War II series is to capture the point of view of the service concerned. In doing so the authors of the present history, by thorough research and diligent solicitation of assistance, have also brought to their story a broad perspective, and they have told it with a felicity that should make their work a valuable guide to the Army as a whole, to the thoughtful citizen, and to the Engineers who served and who continue to serve the nation in war and in peace.