The Corps of Royal Engineers in the First World War

This section of the Long, Long Trail will be helpful for anyone wishing to find out about the history of the units of the Royal Engineers.

The war of 1914-1918 relied on engineering. Without engineers there would have been no supply to the armies, because the RE’s maintained the railways, roads, water supply, bridges and transport. RE’s also operated the railways and inland waterways. There would have been no communications, because the RE’s maintained the telephones, wireless and other signalling equipment. There would have been little cover for the infantry and no positions for the artillery, because the RE’s designed and built the front-line fortifications. It fell to the technically skilled RE’s to develop responses to chemical and underground warfare. And finally, without the RE’s the infantry and artillery would have soon been powerless, as they maintained the guns and other weapons. Little wonder that the Royal Engineers grew into a large and complex organisation.

France. c. 1918. British Army Royal Engineers building a new railway. (Donor British Official Photograph D360). Australian War Memorial image H08925

France. c. 1918. British Army Royal Engineers building a new railway. (Donor British Official Photograph D360). Australian War Memorial image H08925

The units of the Corps of Royal Engineers

Royal Engineers’ depots and training units

Field Companies

Signal Companies (Divisional)

Signal Companies (Army Troops, Territorial Force)

Fortress Engineers

Field Survey Engineers

Special Companies (Poison Gas Engineers)

Tunnelling Companies (Underground Warfare Engineers)

Artizan Works Companies

Railway Construction Companies

Light Railway Operating Companies

Army Tramways Companies

Other miscellaneous units of the Royal Engineers

 

Manpower: how big was the RE?

On 1 August 1914, the RE consisted of 1056 officers and 10394 men of the regular army and Special Reserve, plus another 513 and 13127 respectively serving with the RE of the Territorial Force. By the same date in 1917, it had grown to a total manpower of 295668. In other words, it was twelve times bigger than the peacetime establishment.