Combat engineer

A combat engineer (also called field engineer, pioneer or sapper in many armies) is a soldier who performs a variety of construction and demolition tasks under combat conditions.

The combat engineer's goals involve facilitating movement and support of friendly forces while impeding those of the enemy. Combat engineers build fighting positions, fortifications, and roads. They conduct demolitions missions and clear minefields using specialized vehicles. Typical combat engineer missions include construction and breaching of trenches, tank traps and other fortifications; bunker construction; bridge and road construction or destruction; laying or clearing land mines; and combined arms breaching. Typically, a combat engineer is also trained as an infantryman, and combat engineer units often have a secondary role fighting as infantry.[1][2][3][4][5]

World War II recruiting poster for combat engineers created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Combat engineers inspect a bridge on Route Arnhem in Iraq
Combat engineers inspect a Bailey bridge erected in Iraq
French army EFA DSC00859
Mobile field-deployable bridge (EFA) of the engineers of the French Army
Rhine River pontoon bridge wwii
Pontoon bridge built in World War II by the 291st Engineer Combat Battalion across the Rhine, downstream from the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen
Combat Engineer depicted in the Vietnam Combat Artists Program
French Foreign Legion sappers in ceremonial dress


A general combat engineer is often called a pioneer or sapper, terms derived respectively from the French and British armies. In some armies, pioneer and sapper indicate specific military ranks and levels of combat engineers, who work under fire in all seasons, may be allocated to different corps, as they were in the former Soviet Army, or they may be organized in the same corps. Geomatics (surveying and cartography) is another area of military engineering but is often performed by the combat engineers of some nations and in other cases is a separate responsibility, as was formerly the case in the Australian Army. While the officers of a combat engineering unit may be professionally certified civil or mechanical engineers, the non-commissioned members are generally not.

  • Sapper:
    • In the U.S., British, Indian, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand armies, is a soldier who has specialized combat engineer training.
    • In the Israeli Defence Forces, Sapper (פלס) is a military profession code denoting a combat engineer who has graduated from various levels of combat engineering training. Sapper 05 is the basic level, Sapper 06 is the general level, Sapper 08 is the combat engineer commander's level and Sapper 11 is the combat engineer officer level. All IDF sappers are also trained as Rifleman 07, matching infantry.
    • In the Canadian Army, is a term for soldiers that have completed the basic Combat Engineer training.[6]
    • In the Portuguese Army, a sapador de engenharia (engineering sapper) is a soldier of the engineering branch that has specialized combat engineer training. A sapador de infantaria (infantry sapper) is a soldier of the infantry branch that has a similar training and that usually serves in the combat support sapper platoon of an infantry battalion.
    • The Italian Army uses the term "Guastatori" for their combat engineers.
  • Pioneer:
    • In the Finnish army, pioneeri is the private equivalent rank in the army for a soldier who has completed the basic combat engineering training. Naval engineers retain the rank matruusi but bear the pioneeri insignia on their sleeves.
    • The German Bundeswehr uses the term "Pionier" for their combat engineers and other specialized units, who are associated with Special Forces to clear obstacles and perform engineering duties. Also the combat engineers in the Austro-Hungarian k.u.k. Forces were called "Pioniere".
  • Assault pioneer:
    • In the British, Canadian and Australian armies, an assault pioneer is an infantry soldier with some limited combat engineer training in clearing obstacles during assaults and light engineering duties. Until recently, assault pioneers were responsible for the operation of flamethrowers.
  • Field engineer:
    • is a term used (or formerly used) in many Commonwealth armies. In modern usage, it is often synonymous with "combat engineer". However, the term originally identified those military engineers who supported an army operating in the field as opposed to garrison engineers who built and supported permanent fix bases. In its original usage, "field engineering" would have been inclusive of but broader than "combat engineering."
  • Miner
  • Pontonier

Practices and techniques

Combat engineers are force multipliers and enhance the survival of other troops through the use and practice of camouflage, reconnaissance, communications and other services. These include the construction of roads, bridges, field fortifications, obstacles and the construction and running of water points . In these roles, combat engineers use a wide variety of hand and power tools. They are also responsible for construction rigging, the use of explosives, and the carrying out of demolitions, obstacle clearance, and obstacle construction, assault of fortifications, use of assault boats in water obstacle crossings, helipad construction, general construction, route reconnaissance and road reconnaissance, and erecting communication installations. Combat engineers build and run water distribution points, carrying out water filtration, and NBC decontamination when necessary, and storage prior to distribution.

All these role activities and technologies are divided into several areas of combat engineering:

Mobility Improving the ability of one's own force to move around the battlefield. Combat engineers typically support this role through reduction of enemy obstacles which include point and row minefields, anti-tank ditches, wire obstacles, concrete and metal anti-vehicle barriers, and Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) and wall and door breaching in urban terrain. Mechanized combat engineer units also have armored vehicles capable of laying short bridges for limited gap-crossing.

Countermobility Building obstacles to prevent the enemy from moving around the battlefield. Destroying bridges, blocking roads, creating airstrips, digging trenches, etc. Can also include planting land mines and anti-handling devices when authorized and directed to do so.

When the defender must retreat it is often desirable to destroy anything that may be of use to the enemy, particularly bridges, as their destruction can slow the advance of the attackers. The retreating forces may also leave booby traps for enemy soldiers, even though these often wreak their havoc upon non-combatant civilians.

  • Planting land mines
  • Digging trenches and ditches
  • Demolishing roads and bridges

Explosive material handling The placement of land mines to create minefields and their maintenance and removal.

The IDF Caterpillar D9 armored bulldozer is used for a variety of combat engineering tasks including opening routes and demolishing enemy structures.


  • Opening routes during assault
  • Demolishing enemy structures (using bulldozers or explosive charges).

Defense structures Building structures which enable one's own soldiers to survive on the battlefield. Examples include trenches, bunkers, shelters, and armored vehicle fighting positions.

Defensive fortifications are designed to prevent intrusion into the inner works by infantry. For minor defensive locations these may only consist of simple walls and ditches. The design principle is to slow down the advance of attackers to where they can be destroyed by defenders from sheltered positions. Most large fortifications are not a single structure but rather a concentric series of fortifications of increasing strength.

Equipment and vehicles

Combat engineers employ a wide range of transportation vehicles and equipment, and uses weapons unique to the engineers, including those used in land mine warfare.

Equipment used by combat engineers
IED detonator
IED detonator in Iraq

Basic combat engineering tools include safe use of:

  • driving tools and chopping tools (hammers, mauls, sledges, screwdriver, and bits)
  • cutting tools and smoothing tools (saws, chisels, planes, files and rasps, brush-cutting tools, miscellaneous cutting tools)
  • drilling tools, boring tools, and countersinking tools
  • measuring tools, leveling tools and layout tools (rules, tapes, marking tools, levels, plumb bobs, squares)
  • gripping tools, prying tools and twisting tools (pliers, wrenches, bars)
  • holding tools, raising tools and grinding tools (vises, clamps, jacks, grinders, and oilstones)
  • timber handling tools and climbing tools; digging tools (shovels, posthole diggers, picks, and mattocks)
  • portable power tools and trailer-mounted tools (electric tool trailer and generator, portable power tools)
  • miscellaneous tools.
Armoured front loader
Armored front loader
Dachs - 4
German Army combat engineer vehicle Dachs
Armored bulldozer DSC00856
This EBG combat engineering vehicle is used by the engineers of the French Army (as well as the British army) as for a variety of missions
Obstacle breaching

For obstacle breaching, including minefields, the combat engineers use a variety of vehicles, explosive devices and plastic explosives including:

Combat engineering corps

Buffalo joins full
Buffalo MRAP, a common vehicle used to interrogate IED's by combat engineer units.

Combat engineers are a key role in all armed forces of the world, and invariably found either closely integrated into the force structure, or even into the combat units of the national troops. In many countries, combat engineers are members of broader military engineering corps or branches. However, some nations have distinct combat engineering corps or branches which are separate from other types of military engineers. The Danish military engineering corps is almost entirely organized into one regiment of combat engineers, simply named Ingeniørregimentet ("The Engineering Regiment"). During the War in Afghanistan and the 2003–2011 Iraq War the US Army tasked its combat engineers with route clearance missions designed to counter rising threats of IEDs. To increase the effectiveness of these units EOD and mechanic teams are typically embedded with the combat engineer platoon. Due to rising IED threats US Army sends some combat engineers rank specialist or higher to complete Explosive Ordnance Clearance Agent training to familiarize themselves with types of unexploded ordnance.[8].

Historical publications

The Basic Field Manual, Engineer Soldier's Handbook, 2 June 1943 (FM 21-105) was written to provide guidance to a new combat engineer in the United States.[9]

See also


  1. ^ U.S. Army Field Manual 3-34, Engineer Operations, page 1-10
  2. ^ III, Major Francis M. Cain (15 August 2014). "1111th Engineer Group In The Bulge: The Role Of Engineers As Infantry In Airland Battle". Pickle Partners Publishing – via Google Books.
  3. ^ U.S. Field Manual 100-5, Operations, page 2-24
  4. ^ Pike, John. "FM 5-71-2 Chapter 7 Engineers in Close Combat".
  5. ^ U.S. Army Training and Evaluation Program 5-437-10-MTP, Engineer Platoon, Engineer Company, Engineer Combat Battalion, Corps, page 1-12
  6. ^ "Sapeur / Sapeuse de combat". Forces.Ca. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  7. ^ French EFA Archived 13 December 2004 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ "Explosive Ordnance Clearance Agent" (PDF). US Army.
  9. ^ Engineer soldier's handbook

External links

1st Combat Engineer Battalion

1st Combat Engineer Battalion is a combat engineer battalion of the United States Marine Corps. The unit, nicknamed "The Super Breed", is based at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California and falls under the command of the 1st Marine Division and the I Marine Expeditionary Force.

1st Combat Engineer Regiment (Australia)

The 1st Combat Engineer Regiment (1 CER) is a combat engineer regiment of the Australian Army. Based in the Northern Territory and attached to 1st Brigade, it is a Regular Army unit of the Royal Australian Engineers and is tasked with providing mobility and counter mobility support.

20th Engineer Brigade (United States)

The 20th Engineer Brigade is a combat engineer brigade assigned to the XVIII Airborne Corps of the United States Army stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Although the brigade was identified as an airborne unit, not all of its subordinate units were airborne qualified—despite the airborne tab as part of the unit patch. Soldiers of the 20th Engineer Brigade provide various supportive duties to other Army units, including construction, engineering, and mechanical work on other Army projects.

Though its predecessor units have lineage that dates back before the American Civil War, the formation was not formally designated as the 20th Engineer Brigade until its activation on 16 August 1950, at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Deploying overseas in November 1952, it supported construction projects in southwestern France until its return to the US on 10 September 1954. From then until its inactivation on 12 December 1958, it provided support to XVIII Airborne Corps.

Reactivated on 1 May 1967, at Fort Bragg, the brigade deployed to Vietnam where it supported American forces for several years and a dozen campaigns. The brigade was deactivated on 20 September 1971, as American forces withdrew from the country.Reactivated as an airborne brigade on 21 June 1974 at Fort Bragg, NC, the unit has since seen numerous overseas tours, including to Kuwait during the Gulf war, Kosovo, Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom, and Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn. It has also independently conducted various humanitarian missions in the United States and in other nations throughout the world.

2nd Combat Engineer Battalion

2nd Combat Engineer Battalion is a combat engineer battalion of the United States Marine Corps . They are based out of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina and fall under the command of the 2nd Marine Division and the II Marine Expeditionary Force.

2nd Combat Engineer Regiment (Australia)

The 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment (2 CER) is an Australian Army combat engineer regiment located at Gallipoli Barracks in Brisbane, Queensland. It is part of the Australian 7th Brigade, attached to Forces Command (Australia).

2 CER's lineage is formally traced to 4th Field Company (4 Fd Coy) Royal Australian Engineers, which was raised in the early stages of World War I. Renamed 7th Field Company (7 Fd Coy) in 1915, the unit was renowned for its service in France and Belgium at the Battle of the Somme, Menin Road and on the Hindenburg Line. During World War II, 7 Fd Coy fought the Japanese at Kokoda and on Bougainville.

2nd Foreign Engineer Regiment

The 2nd Foreign Engineer Regiment (French: 2e Régiment Etranger de Génie, 2e REG) is one of two combat engineer regiments in the French Foreign Legion. The regiment provides the combat engineering component of the 27th Mountain Infantry Brigade. Stationed, since its creation in 1999, on the former site of the French Strategic Nuclear Missiles at Saint Christol, Vaucluse, southern France.

31 Combat Engineer Regiment (The Elgins)

31 Combat Engineer Regiment (31 CER or "The Elgins"), is currently a combat engineer regiment of the Canadian Armed Forces, supporting 31 Canadian Brigade Group of the 4th Canadian Division (formerly Land Force Central Area). It consists of two squadrons: 48 Engineer Squadron in Waterloo, Ontario, and 7 Engineer Squadron in St. Thomas, Ontario. The Elgins existed before the Confederation of Canada, tracing their origin to 1866 when the Militia Act officially created the 25th, Elgin, Battalion of Infantry from five local militia companies.

32 Combat Engineer Regiment

32 Combat Engineer Regiment (32 CER) is the Primary Reserve (Militia) unit of the Canadian Military Engineers in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It is assigned to 32 Canadian Brigade Group, part of 4th Canadian Division.

The unit parades Friday evenings at the Denison Armoury. It was formerly known as the 2nd Field Engineer Regiment (2 FER) before being renamed in 2006.

3rd Combat Engineer Regiment (Australia)

The 3rd Combat Engineer Regiment (3 CER) is an Australian Army modular engineer regiment trained for sapper/combat engineer operations. The unit is based at Lavarack Barracks in Townsville, Queensland and is part of the 3rd Brigade. It has deployed to the Solomon Islands under Operation Anode, and has also served in Timor-Leste, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Regiment consists of:

• Regimental Headquarters

• 16 Combat Engineer Squadron

• 18 Combat Engineer Squadron

• 25 Support Squadron

• Operational Support Squadron

41 Combat Engineer Regiment

41 Combat Engineer Regiment (41 CER, French: 41e Régiment du génie) is an Army Reserve (militia) unit of the Canadian Military Engineers/Royal Canadian Engineers (RCE) in Alberta, Canada. The unit consists of:

Regimental Headquarters (RHQ),

25 Engineer Squadron (25 Engr Sqn) in Edmonton,

33 Engineer Squadron (33 Engr Sqn) in Calgary, and

Administration Squadron (Admin Sqn).The unit parades on Wednesday evenings and Saturdays at the Lt-Col Philip L. Debney Armoury in Edmonton and at the General Sir Arthur Currie Building in Calgary. 41 CER is allocated to 41 Canadian Brigade Group, which in turn is part of 3rd Canadian Division.

4th Combat Engineer Battalion

The 4th Combat Engineer Battalion (4th CEB) is a combat engineer battalion of the United States Marine Corps Reserve. The headquarters is in Baltimore, Maryland and have units in West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee. They belong to the 4th Marine Division of the Marine Forces Reserve.

5th Engineer Regiment (Australia)

5th Engineer Regiment is a Reserve unit of the Royal Australian Engineers. Originally raised as the "5th Combat Engineer Regiment" in 1995 from the 4th Field Engineer Regiment, it is based in Holsworthy, Sydney, with one of its sub-units based at the multi-user depot HMAS Harman, in Canberra and another at Orchard Hills in western Sydney. Some of the unit's subunits draw lineage from the 4th and 5th Field Companies, which were raised for service during World War I.In late 2013, the regiment was reorganised, when two sub-units – 101st Construction Squadron and the Littoral and Riverine Survey Squadron – were transferred from the 21st Construction Regiment, following the decision to disband that unit. The regiment subsequently assumed the designation of the "5th Engineer Regiment". The LRSS was transferred to the School of Military Engineering in January 2016, and as of 2017 was being utilised to evaluate several new capabilities as well as running several courses and camps.In November 2017, the regiment subsumed the disbanded 8th Engineer Regiment. This resulted in the transfer of the 6th and 14th Combat Engineer Squadrons, and the 102 Construction Squadron to 5 ER. As a part of this amalgamation, the 14th Combat Engineer Squadron was transferred from 8 ER intact, to be based at Adamstown, while the 6th Combat Engineer Squadron was reduced to a troop at Dundas, and the 102nd Construction Squadron also became a troop, subordinate to the 101st Construction Squadron.

Canadian Army

The Canadian Army (French: Armée canadienne) is the command responsible for the operational readiness of the conventional ground forces of the Canadian Armed Forces. As of 2018 the Army has 23,000 regular soldiers, about 17,000 reserve soldiers, including 5,000 rangers, for a total of 40,000 soldiers. The Army is supported by 3,000 civilian employees. It maintains regular forces units at bases across Canada, and is also responsible for the Army Reserve, the largest component of the Primary Reserve. The Commander of the Canadian Army and Chief of the Army Staff is Lieutenant-General Jean-Marc Lanthier.

The name "Canadian Army" came into official use beginning only in 1940; from before Confederation until the Second World War the official designation was "Canadian Militia". On 1 April 1966, as a precursor to the unification of Canada's armed services, all land forces were placed under a new entity called Mobile Command. In 1968 the "Canadian Army" ceased to exist as a legal entity as the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), Canadian Army (CA), and Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) were merged to form a single service called the Canadian Armed Forces. Mobile Command was renamed Land Force Command in the 1993 reorganization of the Canadian Armed Forces. In August 2011, Land Force Command reverted to the pre-1968 title of the Canadian Army.

Canadian Military Engineers

The Canadian Military Engineers (CME) is the military engineer branch of the Canadian Armed Forces. Members of the branch who wear army uniform comprise the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers (RCE; French: Corps du génie royal canadien).

The mission of the Canadian Military Engineers is to contribute to the survival, mobility, and combat effectiveness of the Canadian Armed Forces. Their roles are to conduct combat operations, support the Canadian Forces in war and peace, support national development, provide assistance to civil authorities, and support international aid programs. Military engineers’ responsibilities encompass the use of demolitions and land mines, the design, construction and maintenance of defensive works and fortifications, urban operations (hostile room entry), breaching obstacles, establishing/maintaining lines of communication, and bridging. They also provide water, power and other utilities, provide fire, aircraft crash and rescue services, hazardous material operations, and develop maps and other engineering intelligence. In addition, military engineers are experts in deception and concealment, as well as in the design and development of equipment necessary to carry out these operations.

The official role of the combat engineer is to allow friendly troops to live, move and fight on the battlefield and deny that to the enemy.

FV180 Combat Engineer Tractor

The FV180 Combat Engineer Tractor or C.E.T. is an amphibious specialist armoured vehicle of the British Army and has been in general service since 1976. A tracked, lightly armoured vehicle, with amphibious capability, the CET is used by Royal Engineers in ground preparation for bridge construction and towing activities in the front line of battle, such as digging vehicle fighting pits, constructing earthen barriers, repairing roads, recovery of disabled vehicles from water and other obstacles, preparing riverbanks for vehicle crossings and clearing obstacles.

List of units of the Canadian Army

The following is a list of units of the Canadian Army as of 2014.

M728 Combat Engineer Vehicle

The M728 Combat Engineer Vehicle (CEV) is a full-tracked vehicle used for breaching, obstacle removal, transportation of demolition teams, and pioneering operations. Production commenced in 1965 and ceased in 1987. A total of 312 of all variants of these armored engineer vehicles were produced.

Military engineering vehicle

A military engineering vehicle is a vehicle built for the construction work or for the transportation of combat engineers on the battlefield. These vehicles may be modified civilian equipment or purpose-built military vehicles.

South Hingham Camp

South Hingham Camp is a former infantry battalion coastal defense base camp that existed from between May 1942 and November 1943 in South Hingham, Massachusetts. It was headquarters of the 3rd Battalion of the 181st Infantry Regiment, as well as companies I, M, and "B" Company of the 132nd Combat Engineer Battalion.

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.