The Services 1930 - 1956:
Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers
Prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, the repair and maintenance of vehicles and technical equipment in the British Army was the responsibility of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (R.A.O.C.). The Royal Army Service Corps repaired and maintained their own vehicles. The Royal Corps of Signals maintained their own radio and communication equipment, the Royal Engineers maintained engineering equipment and the Royal Artillery looked after their guns, rangefinders and other equipment.
The British Army was one of the foremost exponents of mechanization, being in many respects the most mobile army in the world in September 1939. The outbreak of the Second World War led to a growth in the number and range of vehicles and technical equipment in use across the British Army. A large proportion was provided by British industry, but increasingly vehicles were purchased from the U.S.A. and Commonwealth nations, in particular, Canada.
The War Cabinet recognised that the increasing quantity and complexity of equipment (including vehicles) required a review of the current arrangements. The demands of the war economy on British industry, plus those of the armed services, led to concerns about the number and skills of the men and women required to meet these demands. A committee was formed, entitled ‘the Committee on Skilled Men in the Services’, under the auspices of the Minister of Labour and National Service, who appointed Sir William BEVERIDGE, an economist, to chair it.
The terms of reference were to: ‘examine, in consultation with the three Service Department the use now made in the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force of skilled men and to advise in the light of operational and maintenance commitments of the three Services.
The R.N. and R.A.F. were perceived to be addressing these issues. Therefore, the report focused on the Army as there were criticisms that skilled men were not being employed in their trade capacities, thus wasting the ‘National Effort’. Conscription exacerbated this, as men were called up from their civilian occupations into the Services. An example was given where a qualified electrician from an engineering firm found himself digging and working in a cookhouse.
The committee concluded that the Army had sufficient skilled men to meet its requirements without the need to supply additional tradesmen from civilian industry and essential services, but that there was ‘ample evidence of failure to use men according to their skill’.
The committee recommended the creation of a specialist corps within the Army to better use the manpower available, thereby ensuring that men with the right skills were employed in the right areas. There was a period of deliberation, but finally in May 1942, the Army Council approved the formation of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (R.E.M.E.). The corps was unique in being granted the prefix ‘Royal’ from its inception. A senior officer of the Royal Army Service Corps, Brigadier E. B. ROWCROFT was promoted to the rank of Major General on being appointed the first director of the new corps.
The restructuring necessary to create the new corps was significant, made even more demanding because of the war. The majority of the men came from the engineering services of the R.A.O.C., with some five-thousand officers and eighty-thousand men transferring across with effect from the 1 October 1942; this being the effective date of the formation of R.E.M.E.. The new corps was deemed to be a tradesman corps, with Private soldiers being termed ‘Craftsman’. At this time, the Royal Engineers retained their responsibility for maintaining their own engineering equipment; and the R.A.S.C. still repaired their own vehicle fleet.
The basic unit of R.E.M.E. was the Light Aid Detachment (L.A.D.), which was responsible for first echelon maintenance. R.E.M.E. provided L.A.Ds. for most battalion and regiment sized units. They came under the command of the unit they served, but for matters of training, technical efficiency and postings, they remained the responsibility of the Commander R.E.M.E..
The functions of the L.A.D. were Recovery of equipment; Repair of equipment by the replacement of minor assemblies; Light running repairs and Maintenance and servicing of the units equipment.
L.A.D. personnel were assisted in some of the above tasks by the unit fitters and artificers and by attached R.E.M.E. personnel. Repairs beyond the capacity of the L.A.D. were undertaken by brigade workshops, although often they would come forward to undertake repairs at the L.A.D. rather than recover the equipment or vehicle back to the workshops.
There were four types of L.A.D., termed Type ‘A’; Type ‘B’; Type ‘C’ and Type ‘D’. Each L.A.D. Type ‘A’ comprised either 14 (non-armoured) or 16 (armoured) personnel. The 16 man detachments were commanded by a subaltern; the 14 man ones by a Warrant Officer Class I. The Light Aid Detachment Type B was the smallest and was used by the greatest number of types of unit. A Type ‘B’ (Armoured) L.A.D. comprised 14 personnel, commanded by a Captain or subaltern; with the unarmoured version comprising 12 personnel commanded by a Warrant Officer Class I. A Light Aid Detachment Type ‘C’ was a detachment attached to units with a large number of armoured fighting vehicles. It comprised 25 men, usually commanded by a Captain. The fourth type of L.A.D. was the Type ‘D’. This was a specialist detachment within the 79 Armoured Division in 21 Army Group.
The second echelon maintenance was undertaken by a brigade workshops. This unit was commanded by a Major, with one workshop allocated to each infantry and armoured brigade in a division. Each workshop comprised a headquarters, with the following sections: Royal Army Ordnance Corps Stores Section; Armament Section; Small Arms Section; Telecommunications Section; Vehicles Section and Recovery Section.
An armoured brigade workshop had an additional tank section. An example of the work of R.E.M.E. is that of the 53 Infantry Division during the campaign in N.W. Europe. The division had three brigade workshops, one light anti-aircraft regiment workshop and eleven light aid detachments.
During this campaign, the L.A.Ds. repaired 19 guns damaged by enemy action, with 300 repairs undertaken for other causes. The brigade workshops repaired 44 guns damaged by enemy action, with 396 requiring repair due to other causes. 555 vehicles damaged by enemy action were repaired by the L.A.Ds, with 6,250 due to other causes. The brigade workshops repaired 238 vehicles damaged by enemy action, with 3,358 repaired for other reasons.
Each division had a Commander, Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (C.R.E.M.E.) as the Commanding Officer of all R.E.M.E. units in that formation. He was responsible for the control and coordination of all R.E.M.E. units and for advising the G.O.C. on repair and maintenance matters. The C.R.E.M.E. held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. In a corps, a Deputy Director of Mechanical Engineering (D.D.M.E.)) held the rank of Colonel, but in mid-1944, this appointment was elevated to that of a Brigadier.
After the Second World War, it was decided to retain R.E.M.E. as a corps, with its responsibilities were enhanced between July 1951 and January 1952. It assumed responsibility for maintenance of equipment at a unit level, so additional L.A.Ds were provided for units that had previously not had them.