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Units & Formations 1930 - 1956:

Engineer Battalions and Companies

The Corps of Royal Engineers (whose mottoe is also ‘Ubique’) provided several different types of units to provide the range of engineering services for the British Army. Units of the Royal Engineers formed part of Divisional, Corps and Army Troops.

The principle functions of the Divisional Royal Engineers were bridging, demolitions, creation and clearance of obstacles or roadblocks, concrete and semi-permanent defences, development and maintenance of water supplies, and disposal of unexploded bombs.

A Lieutenant Colonel was appointed as Commander, Royal Engineers (C.R.E.) to command and control all the Royal Engineer assets and units within that division. In addition, he acted as the engineer adviser to the divisional commander. Under his command, usually he had three field companies and one field park company (known as squadrons in armoured formations). Often, a field company would work alongside a specific brigade, thereby increasing understanding and cooperation between the Arms. The field park company provided a workshop, stores and bridging platoon for the division, but in June 1943, the bridging platoons became independent of the field park company, although still within the command structure of the C.R.E.. For the latter part of the Second World War, the personnel, structure and organisation of a Headquarters, Divisional Engineers was set by War Establishment II/118/2, issued in December 1943.

The Field Company was the standard unit of the Royal Engineers within any infantry division during the Second World War, with its equivalent in an armoured division being an field squadron. Each infantry division had three Royal Engineers field companies on its establishment. Usually, a field company worked with one of the three brigades, hence the reason there were three field companies in the divisional Royal Engineers. The field company provided the pool of trained engineers (or sappers) to undertake tasks as directed by the Headquarters, Divisional Royal Engineers, or by the brigade with which they were operating, with the field park company (and later the bridging platoon) providing additional and specialised equipment.

War Establishment II/194/2, issued in January 1944, determined the structure and personnel within a field company during the campaign in North West Europe in 1944 and 1945. It was modified slightly in March 1945 by the issuing of War Establishment II/194/3. The changes introduced in March 1945 amounted only to a 3 ton 4 x 4 lorry general service being replaced by one equipped as a mobile office; two 4 x 2 15 cwt lorries being replaced by 4 x 4 versions, and one of the Army Catering Corps cooks being promoted to corporal.

A Major commanded each field company, with a Captain as his second-in-command. There was a small company headquarters, including the company serjeant major and company quarter-master-serjeant. Each company or squadron comprised three platoons; each platoon consisting of a headquarters and four sections commanded by a subaltern. Each section had a corporal or lance serjeant as the commander, and eleven other sappers. The nature of the trades held by the sappers within each section was variable and determined according to the tasks to which they were allocated. Each section was issued with one Bren gun, one Sten gun (usually carried by the section commander), and ten Lee-Enfield rifles.

The Field Park Company provided the workshop and stores elements of the engineer provision for an infantry division during the Second World War, with its equivalent in an armoured division being a field park squadron. Each infantry division had one Royal Engineers field park company on its establishment, which provided the heavy equipment, workshop and stores provision for the division as a whole. War Establishment II/195/2, issued in January 1944, determined the structure and personnel within a field park company during the campaign in North West Europe in 1944 and 1945. It remained consistent throughout the campaign.

A Major commanded each field company, with a Captain as his second-in-command. There was a small company headquarters, including the company serjeant major and company quarter-master-serjeant. Each company or squadron comprised three platoons; each platoon consisting of a headquarters and four sections commanded by a subaltern. Each section had a corporal or lance serjeant as the commander, and eleven other sappers. The nature of the trades held by the sappers within each section was variable and determined according to the tasks to which they were allocated. Each section was issued with one Bren gun, one Sten gun (usually carried by the section commander), and ten Lee-Enfield rifles.

The Bridging Platoon was part of the divisional field park company until it became a separate unit in July 1943. It was responsible for the loading of the equipment, checking and maintaining it. The platoon would take the equipment to where it was required, but the user unit (a field company) was responsible for unloading and constructing the bridge. Usually, the bridging platoon would not remain during the construction of the bridge, but return to the field park to reload the vehicles in case of further requests for bridging equipment. War Establishment II/196/1, issued in June 1943, determined the structure and personnel within a bridging platoon during the campaign in North West Europe in 1944 and 1945. It remained consistent throughout the campaign.

A Subaltern commanded each bridging platoon with a serjeant as his second-in-command. There were thirty-two other ranks within the platoon, and a cook from the Army Catering Corps attached. Each platoon was issued with one Bren gun, one PIAT anti-tank weapon, nineteen Sten guns, and twelve Lee-Enfield rifles. The subaltern was issued with a .38 pistol.

My grateful thanks to Mike SIMPSON, aka Trux, for his generous gift of the War Establishments used as the primary sources for this document.

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