Engineering Units That Served With The 7th Armoured Division
During its history the 7th Armoured Division many different Engineering units served with the Division and its Brigades. I have tried to include as many as possible with as much information as possible, but I apologise is I have omitted any.
This will include theRoyal Engineers and Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. This page will provide more details of the history of the two Corps, rather than individual units
4th Field Squadron RE
21st Field Squadron RE
621st Field Squadron RE
141st Field Park Troop
2nd Field Squadron
143rd Field Park Troop
THE ROYAL ENGINEERS MUSEUM
PRINCE ARTHUR ROAD
TEL: 01634 406397
The story of the Corps of Royal Engineers covers over nine hundred crowded years and cannot be rivalled by any other Arm or Service. The Corps can claim direct descent from the military engineers brought to England by William the Conqueror and an unbroken record of service to the Crown since then.
The Corps has no battle honours, its motto 'Ubique', awarded by King William IV in 1832, signifying that it has taken part in every battle fought by the British Army in all parts of the world. As well as gallantry in war, their skills are in even greater demand in peace, where Sappers have built the infrastructure of civilisation, wherever British interest have led.
THE BOARD OF ORDNANCE
With the development of cannon, an Office of Ordnance - later, the Board of Ordnance - was set up in Gundulph's Tower in London to control the King's cannon, arsenals and fortifications. The first Master of Ordnance was Nicholas Merbury who had been Chief Engineer to Henry V at Agincourt. Until its abolition in 1855, the Board held all Gunners and Engineers on its permanent establishment, in effect a private army.
Young Engineer Officers were sent to the Continent to study fortifications and siege warfare since there was no facility in England until the establishment of the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich in 1741. It was the construction of saps or trenches to enable the enemy fortifications to be assaulted, which gave the Corps its nickname of 'Sappers'.
On 26 May 1716 a Royal Warrant of George I authorised the Royal Regiment of Artillery and the Corps of Engineers as separate entities. In 1787 they were granted the title Royal and Engineer officers were styled Royal Engineer. Commissions were awarded on merit, unlike the cavalry or infantry, where they were purchased. Engineer and Gunner officers received rigorous professional training at the Royal Military Academy, at Woolwich.
The Engineer workforce was recruited from civilian tradesman as required for particular campaigns but this system faltered in Gibraltar. After several sieges the Chief Engineer, William Green, persuaded the Ordnance Board in 1772 to allow him to recruit some soldier artificers, skilled tradesman who would wear uniform and be subject to military discipline. The Soldier Artificer Company was so successful during the Great Siege of 1779-1783 that in 1787 a similar unit, the Royal Military Artificers, was formed in England for service worldwide.
The Peninsular Wars against France showed the need for a trained body of field or combat engineers. In 1812, on the authority of the Duke of Wellington, Major Charles Pasley RE set up a school for this purpose at Chatham. It continues today as the Royal School of Military Engineering (RSME). The first trainees were in action in Spain in 1813 and in 1814. The Engineer soldiers were re-titled as the Royal Sappers and Miners.
After the Napoleonic Wars, the Royal Engineers and Royal Sappers and Miners were employed around the world both on active service and in the peaceful development of the Empire. Tasks were many and varied. Campaigns in North and South America, Africa, China, Australia and New Zealand all had Engineer support.
The Ordnance Survey of Great Britain and Ireland was staffed by these men who also carried out the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India and set out the international boundary between Canada and the United States of America. Throughout the Empire, towns were set out and public buildings, roads, canals, railways and water supply systems designed and built.
In 1856 after the Crimean War the Board of Ordnance was abolished, control of the Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers being vested in the Commander-in-Chief of the Army. In the same year the Royal Sappers and Miners were incorporated into the Royal Engineers and the officers and soldiers served under the same cap badge.
The Royal Engineers were responsible for the introduction of much new technology to the Army - telegraphy during the Crimean War of 1854 - 1856, photography in the Abyssinian Campaign of 1867 and steam road traction in the Ashanti Campaign of 1873.
With their expertise of firing explosive charges underwater the Royal Engineers became responsible for harbour defences, using submarine mines in conjunction with searchlights. Indeed, the Submarine Mining Service grew into a major specialisation and was not handed over to the Royal Navy until 1905.
The ultimate development in this field was the Brennan Torpedo, which was launched from a base on shore and could be steered to its target up to 11/2 miles away. In service from 1890 until 1905 it was regularly demonstrated although never once fired in anger.
Operational diving was introduced in 1839 and Royal Engineers became involved in flying at the time of the American Civil War. This speciality led from balloons, airships and man-lifting kites to powered flight and the formation of the Air Battalion Royal Engineers which became the Royal Flying Corps, precursor of the Royal Air Force in 1912.
Royal Engineers were also trained in architecture and building construction for fortifications and public works. They introduced the use of cast and wrought iron, used in the huge covered slipways of the Royal Naval dockyards. Sappers designed the Royal Albert Hall and Pentonville Prison and were closely involved with the buildings for the Great exhibition of 1851 and the museums in South Kensington, London.
THE FIRST WORLD WAR
With huge armies in the field, the Royal Engineers expanded and raised many specialist units to undertake work normally done by civilians. Engineer units built and maintained camps, stores and depots, provided water and sanitation, supplied timber and stone, built and operated docks and railways and manufactured many items required by the Army.
Responsibilities included gas and chemical warfare, air defence searchlights, tunnelling, mining, meteorology, postal services and wireless communications. This last became so large that in 1920 a new Corps was raised for the purpose - the Royal Corps of Signals. Sappers also contributed significantly to the tank
THE SECOND WORLD WAR
Once again there was an enormous expansion of the Corps. Responsibilities, too, changed. Air defence searchlights were handed over to the Royal Artillery. Mines and booby traps were extensively used. Whilst every soldier needed to know something about them, Sappers led the way in breaching enemy minefields
The Luftwaffe blitz early in the war brought a new responsibility - bomb disposal, a field in which 55 officers and 339 soldiers were killed and 13 George Crosses were won.
Royal Engineers were closely involved in the development of airborne forces and played an important part in many of their operations.
In the planning of the Invasion of Normandy Royal Engineers took part in the hazardous business of conducting reconnaissance of the enemy-held beaches and produced the essential maps. During the invasion, specialised engineer tasks led the assault, breaching the sea wall and opening routes inland. After the assault, one of the greatest military engineering feats ever was the construction and operation of the Mulberry Harbour. Prefabricated in Britain in a matter of months, its components were towed across 100 miles of open sea and installed on the Normandy coast, an artificial port to re-supply the armies ashore, bring in reinforcements and evacuate the wounded.
A particular challenge during the advance into Germany was the number of major rivers and waterways that had to be crossed. Fortunately the need for a simple and versatile bridging system had been foreseen by a brilliant civilian engineer, Mr (later sir) Donald Bailey. He sketched out the basic details on the back of an envelope during a train journey and the Bailey Bridge came into service in 1942. Its versatility is legendary. Multiple span dry bridges, even suspension bridges were possible. Its success is emplefied by the enormous bridges built over the Rivers Rhine, Maas and Elbe and the longest floating bridge of the war, 1000ft, over the River Chindwin in Burma.
Field and Field Park Squadrons (Companies)
The British army had two main types of Royal Engineer units in the field and these were Field Squadrons (or Companies) and Field Park Squadrons (or Companies). The two types did perform different functions.
Field Squadron/Field Company
These were the units that went onto the battlefield and did activities (mostly under fire) like building bridges, laying or removing mines, repairing roads, demolishing roadblocks and other general tasks in combat.
Field Park Squadrons/Field Park Company
These were the units that were the supply point for all materials and engineer stores, used by the Field Squadrons/Field Companies and only occasionally did they become involved with combat.
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Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers
22nd Armoured Brigade Workshop, REME
131st Brigade Workshop, REME
15th Light AA Regiment Workshop
7th Armoured Troops Workshop, later re-designated 812th Armoured Troops Workshop (28th September 1944)
In the days of bow and arrow, pike, sword and battle-axe it was reasonable enough to expect every soldier to be responsible for the upkeep of his own arms and equipment. In fact the Assize of Arms in 1181, which appears to have been the first attempt to legislate for the good condition of Army equipment not only enforced this individual responsibility but also forbade a soldier to sell or pawn his arms and enjoined him to bequeath them to his heirs.
With the invention of gunpowder came more complicated weapons and the problem of ammunition supply. At the same time ordnance and other "engines of war" increased in size and quantity, and the need for a separate authority to provide and maintain them became pressing. This requirement was met by employing civilian tradesmen and by establishing government arsenals and powder factories. Eventually the civilian artificers and armourers became military tradesmen and were combined with the providers of military stores in 1896 into the Army Ordnance Corps.
The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century affected the army and by World War I (1914-1918) had culminated in an identifiably modern force with machine guns, aircraft, motor vehicles, tanks, optical range finders and radios. Responsibility for the maintenance and repair of the varied new equipment was at first accepted, rather naturally, by the arms and services that used them most, and a number of separate repair organisations began to grow up side by side. As a result, by the end of World War I the Tank Corps had its own workshops, the Royal Engineers repaired most of their own specialist equipment, and the Army Service Corps had become generally responsible for the repair of mechanical transport, while it was the responsibility of the Army Ordnance Corps to repair most other equipments, including small arms, guns and instruments. At this time many of these Corps gained their 'Royal' prefix. There were thus four different repair organisations functioning simultaneously in the Army with many other regiments and Corps having some of their own tradesmen to carry out minor repairs. Not only was this arrangement most uneconomical in manpower and plant, but it also created administrative difficulties for the unfortunate units that had to deal with two or more authorities in order to get all of their equipment repaired.
Many efforts were made between the two World Wars to introduce a centralised and more efficient repair organisation that could deal with all technical equipment. Unfortunately most of these attempts failed either on the grounds of initial expense or because of esprit-de-corps and a strong reluctance on the part of the various arms and services to accept any change that might conceivably weaken their self-reliance. A first major step in the right direction was approved in 1926 when the Engineering Branch of the RAOC was given responsibility for the repair of armoured fighting vehicles and of some of the Army's mechanical transport. However, the Royal Engineers, Royal Signals and Royal Army Service Corps were still allowed to retain their separate organisations for repairing most of their vehicles and specialist technical equipment. For the Royal Engineers this mostly applied to civil engineering plant and machinery; for the Royal Signals, radio, telegraph and telephone equipment and for the Royal Army Service Corps (the predecessors of the Royal Corps of Transport), all forms of motor transport. The Royal Tank Corps and many other units still provided their own unit tradesmen for immediate repair tasks.
The Formation of REME
Rearmament and the mechanisation of the Army followed by the outbreak of the Second World War led to further considerable increases in the quantity and complexity of technical equipment. The consequent heavy repair load revealed the weakness of the existing organisation, while the shortage of qualified tradesmen in the Services soon dictated a need for a system that would use the available men more effectively.
In 1941, a Cabinet committee, under the chairmanship of Sir William Beveridge, was set up to investigate the use of manpower in the three services. As a result of one of its recommendations - that the repair services in the army should be rationalised - the Corps Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers came into being on the first of October 1942. The Corps had the rare, if not unique, distinction of being honoured with the designation "Royal" from the day of its formation.
Such a major re-organisation was too complex, however, to be carried out quickly and completely in the middle of a world war. It was decided therefore that the changeover should be undertaken in two phases.
In Phase I, which was implemented immediately, REME was formed on the existing framework of the RAOC (Engineering Branch), strengthened by the transfer of certain technical units and tradesmen from the RE and RASC. At the same time a number of individual tradesmen were transferred into REME from other Corps. The new Corps was made responsible for repairing the technical equipment of all arms with certain major exceptions. REME did not yet undertake:
These repairs which were carried out by unit tradesmen who were driver/mechanics or fitters in regiments and belonged to the unit rather than being attached to it.
Repairs of RASC-operated vehicles, which remained the responsibility of the RASC; thus each RASC Transport Company had its own workshop.
Repairs of RE specialist equipment, which remained the responsibility of the RE.
In Phase II, which was postponed until conditions were more suitable for a further major change, it was agreed that REME should take over all unit repairs and, in the case of the RASC, field repair as well.
In 1942 the Mechanical Engineering Directorate at the War Office was established under the Director of Mechanical Engineering (DME), Major-General E B Rowcroft (later Sir Bertram Rowcroft). A plan for the subsequent development of the Corps was drawn up in three stages of nine months each, and in almost every detail planned target dates were achieved. In India the IEME was formed, which was separate from REME since at this time the Indian Army was a separate organisation although many officers and technical personnel were British. HQ REME Training Establishment was formed at Arborfield to control REME technical training. The repair system in the field was reorganised so that repair could be carried out as far forward as possible. The take-over from RAOC of responsibility for scaling of spares was completed. DMEs and deputies were appointed to all major headquarters of the field army and deputy directors were appointed to all static command headquarters. Commanders REME were appointed to divisions and Brigade EMEs to brigades.
Almost at once the new organisation was tried out and proved successful at the Battle of Alamein; the first major operation after the Corps was formed. The re-organised recovery and repair system was thoroughly tested during the remainder of the war, during which REME grew to be the largest technical corps, extending its activities to include the manufacture of spare parts and special equipment on a large scale. In addition to its uniformed tradesmen the Corps employed thousands of civilian tradesmen of many different nationalities in its static workshops throughout the world.
REME reached its maximum strength in May 1945, approximately 8000 officers and 152,000 other ranks. The Indian EME, East and West African EME Royal Canadian, Australian, New Zealand EME, and South African Technical Service Corps (TSC) totalled another 185,000. Some 130,000 civilians were employed in EME Services in all parts of the world.
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