The Royal Engineers of 1914-1918

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.

Cap badge 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.

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.

The Royal Engineers in 1914

The officers and men mentioned above in 1914 manned 26 coastal defence Fortress Companies (of which 15 were overseas); 15 Field Companies (2); 7 Signal Companies (1); 3 Survey Companies, 2 Railway Companies; 2 Cable and Airline (signalling) Companies and miscellaneous other units. There were also 9 Depot companies carrying out training and administrative duties, as well as various Schools. The detailed sections below describe how these numbers and types of unit expanded during the war.

The Fortress Companies

Click on the link below for a detailed section on this type of RE Company.
The Fortress Companies RE

The Field and Signals Companies

The most numerous of the RE units, the Field and Signals Companies provided the technical expertise at the front-lines.
The Field and Signals Companies RE
The composition of Field and Signals Companies

The Field Survey units

Knowing the details of the ground on your and the enemy's side is always important in war - but none more so than when you need to be able to identify where your enemy is and lay down fire with pinpoint accuracy. This was the job of the RE Survey units.
The Field Survey RE

The Special Companies RE

Formed following Germany's first strike using poison gas at the Second Battle of Ypres, the RE Special Companies were engaged in deadly chemical warfare.
The Special Companies RE

The Tunnelling Companies RE

As war on the Western Front assumed siege conditions, underground mining operations began and the Royal Engineers organised specialist units to deal with it.
The Tunnelling Companies RE

The Railway and Waterways Companies RE

Although aircraft developed fast during the war, the mass supply of men, munitions, rations, forage and equipment depended heavily on the sea and on railways.
The Railway Construction Companies RE
The Light Railway Companies RE
The Inland Waterways and Docks Companies RE

Other RE functions and units

There were plenty of other duties performed by the Royal Engineers.
Miscellaneous RE