The Royal Engineers in Wartime

Service in North West Europe during the Second World War

7th September 2017

A hardback Royal Engineers Battlefield Tour book was a recent donation to the Tank Museum’s Archive. The Donor’s father, a Royal Engineer, had been briefly posted to Bovington Camp and asked for the volume to be donated to the Museum. Titled ‘The Seine to the Rhine Volume I’, the book was published in February 1947 under the direction of the Chief Engineer British Army of the Rhine Brigadier W M Bromhall. The Volume is a summary of the Royal Engineers war time service, focusing on the 1940 Flanders Campaign and the 1944/45 North West Europe Campaign.

Alongside short chapters on Royal Engineers service supporting units, the volume includes photographs, plates, personal accounts and reference maps. What is particularly interesting is just how basic Royal Engineer’s equipment was during the Campaign in France 1940. As wireless was not available for divisional engineers, dispatch riders were used for all inter-communication, while the principal explosives used were Guncotton and Ammonal as plastic high explosives was not yet in wide use by the Army, with the limited supply available reserved for special purposes.

Dunkirk map RE

The two images above and below are photographs of two of the fourteen fantastically detailed pull-out maps included in the book. The first, somewhat topically, shows Dunkirk or Operation Dynamo, marking out the British and French Sector, Final Withdrawal Routes and labelling the Corps beach positions and the Mole. During the retreat from R Escaut to Dunkirk, Royal Engineers recorded the demolition of 621 bridges and sabotaged abandoned equipment. Once on the beaches, they constructed improvised piers to assist with the evacuation of troops.

The second map covers Operation Plunder and the crossing sites over the Rhine. Clearly marked in black dash are the LVT and DD tank routes across the Rhine. The Royal Engineers duties ranged from the vital task of surveying, installing insulated cable and the construction of raft ferries. 

All the maps included in this document are to be scanned in the near future.