The Royal Engineers built Mulberry Harbour, prefabricated in Britain and towed across the Channel on D-Day to provide logistic support for the Allied invasion force.
The Royal Engineers, or Sappers as they are known, have blazed a trail of innovation and achievement through history. The term Sappers originates from the trenches or 'saps' which engineers were employed to build towards enemy positions to allow the placing and detonating of explosive charges.
Originally called Sappers and Miners, the name Sappers has stuck with the Royal Engineers throughout their history.
From the earliest developments in military aviation, signaling and and tank warfare to the very latest bridging systems and map making techniques, the Sappers have operated at the cutting edge of technology and frequently in the most inhospitable conditions.
That commitment to ingenuity and the problem solving of practical problems is as strong today as it has ever been and the Sappers continue to fulfil an essential role all over the world.
A Brief History of the Royal Engineers
In its 900-year history the Royal Engineers has been involved in every major conflict the British Army has fought, as well as carrying out humanitarian roles such as providing clean water and building schools.
The Corps of of Royal Engineers has a long heritage that not many corps can rival - it can claim direct descent from the military engineers that William the Conqueror brought to England. Since then it has lived up to its Motto 'Ubique' ('Everywhere'), having had a significant presence at every large-scale battle the British Army has ever fought.
Early Tank DevelopmentThe Royal Engineers have introduced new technology to the British Army throughout their history including diving, telegraphy and the development of the tank.
Corps formed from the Royal Engineers
Many new Corps and organisations have been formed from the origins of the Royal Engineers including:
1912 - Royal Flying Corps, later the Royal Air Force (RAF)
The Royal Engineers' interest in aeronautics began in the 1860's when they explored the possibilities of using air balloons for aerial observation purposes. This interest developed into an interest in fixed winged aircraft. In 1912 the Royal Flying Corps, the fore runner of the Royal Air Force (RAF), was formed from the Royal Engineers.
1920 - Royal Corps of Signals (from the Telegraph and Signal Service)
The Royal Engineers interest in military communications began during the Crimean War (1854-56), when they were given an opportunity to use telegraph equipment. In the 1860's the Royal Engineers developed a system of flag and lamp signaling for use on military campaigns. By the end the First World War the Royal Engineers (Signal Service) had so developed and expanded that it was decided that it should become a corps in its own right - the Corps of Royal Signals formed in 1920.
Other Organisations that originated with the Royal Engineers
Survey, began in 1747, was the first of the Royal Engineers 'specialist' activities. Between 1820's-1856 soldiers of the Corps of Royal Sappers and Miners assisted officers of the Corps of Royal Engineers in survey duties in the British Isles and elsewhere in the British Empire. Today's Ordnance Survey was developed from the early Royal Engineers survey activities.
Royal Navy Divers
RE Divers 1902 Diving as one of the Corps 'specialist' activities was introduced in 1838 by Colonel (later General Sir) Charles Pasley (1780-1861). In the early days both Royal Engineers and Royal Sappers and Miners trained as deep water divers. Shallow water diving capabilities were developed in the 1950's. The Sappers taught the first Royal Navy divers.
How many British Army units and Corps can claim to have won the FA Cup? The Royal Engineers can!
The Sappers win the FA Cup (Picture right): The Royal Engineers won the FA Cup at the Kennington Oval, London, on 16 March 1875. They were also runners up in 1872, 1874 and 1878. Read the Cup Final Statistics on www.thefa.com website that shows when the Royal Engineers won the FA Cup.
1871 Scotland versus England rugby union match (Picture bottom): Two Royal Engineers, Lt C W Sherrard RE and Lt C A Crompton RE, both members of Blackheath RFC, became the first soldiers to gain the distinction of playing Rugby for their country ( England ) in the first ever international game. The Scotland v England match was played at Raeburn Place in Edinburgh on 27 March 1871 in front of a crowd of 4,000. Scotland won by one goal and one try to one goal, the teams were 20-a-side and Halves were 50 minutes each! The following year in 1872 they were followed by Lt F T Maxwell RE and Lt H W Renny Tailyour RE, who were capped for Scotland. Of note, Lt Renny Tailyour also played cricket and football and was a member of the Sapper Football team that won the FA Cup in 1875.
Royal Engineer Museum
900 years of history cannot be condensed into just a few pages. If you would like to delve deeper into the history of the Royal Engineers you should visit the RE Museum in Kent. The museum achieved Designated status in 1998 and is one of only 43 Museums in the country to have achieved this certification.
Institution of Royal Engineers (InstRE) website.
The history of the Corps is currently contained in eleven volumes, with Volume 12 covering the years 1980-2000 due to be published in early 2008.
The Institution of Royal Engineers has painstakingly converted each volume of the Royal Engineers history archive into electronic documents, available for you to view and search on a new CD-ROM. The CD ROM is available to purchase on their website.
The Corps History could fill numerous books. Several books are available to purchase from the Institution of Royal Engineers (InstRE).