Engineer Troops

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Engineer Troops


special troops assigned for engineer support of combat action by units of the combat arms. Engineer troops are found in the armed forces of most states and include the following types of units and subunits: combat engineer, road engineer, pontoon and bridge, crossing-landing (amphibious), bridge-building engineer (bridge), position engineer, water supply (field water supply), and construction engineer. Engineer troops are supplied with various types of engineering equipment for digging group and individual trenches (shelters), building (or restoring) roads and bridges, and preparing lumber and structural elements. They have means for crossing water, camouflaging, doing electrical work, freight hoisting, carrying on reconnaissance, securing and decontaminating water, laying and clearing mines, and so on. By organizational affiliation, engineer troop units and subunits are included in the composition of larger units of the combat arms and armed services.

In combat and in normal operations engineer troops are used to perform complex missions of engineer support that require special training of personnel and the use of various types of engineer materiel and ammunition. On the offensive they make passages through obstacles and barriers, clear and lay routes for troop movement, set up and maintain crossings over water obstacles, destroy defensive structures, and wipe out enemy combat materiel and manpower. On the defense they lay minefields and other obstacles, erect complex fortification structures, and dig trenches, communications passages, foxholes, and shelters with the use of machinery. In addition, engineer troops carry out engineering reconnaissance of the enemy and terrain, prepare troop disposition areas and control posts, perform the most important camouflage work, and secure and purify (decontaminate) water. In the armies of some countries engineer troops are assigned to set up airstrips; lay and maintain field pipelines; maintain internal waterways; set up and maintain mobile base points for naval forces; perform topographical, cartographic, and geodetic work; and supply troops with topographical maps.

Even in ancient times troops performed various military engineer missions to support troop combat action. Before the appearance of engineer troops, engineering work, such as building fortifications, preparing routes, laying out crossings, setting up obstacles, and other jobs, was done by the troops themselves, sometimes with the assistance of detachments of skilled workers formed on a temporary basis. Engineer troops appeared in the 17th century (in France), first organized by the well-known French engineer Vauban. In Austria, Germany, and Russia engineer troops were formed in the early 18th century. The date of their formation in Russia is considered to be February 1712, when Peter I ratified the tables of organization of a mine company (which had existed from 1702) and a team of pontoon troops (which had existed from 1704) and formed the “regiment of field engineers.”

Engineer troops developed significantly in the Russian Army during the Seven Years’ War of 1756–63, which demanded engineer preparation for sieges of strong fortresses (Kolberg and others), troop crossings of the Neman and Vistula, and other work. In 1802 the engineering department was formed. In the early 19th century engineer troops consisted of engineer and pontoon regiments (six to ten companies each). In 1816 battalion organization of engineer troops was instituted, with one engineer or one sapper battalion for each corps. In the second half of the 19th century battalions of engineer troops were combined into brigades. In 1870 the first military mobile telegraph companies were formed. In 1876 railroad battalions appeared, and in 1877 came naval mine companies. In 1878 field engineer fleets were instituted. Before World War I (1914–18) the Russian Army had 39 sapper and nine pontoon battalions, 25 pontoon trains, 38 aviation detachments, seven balloon companies, seven signal companies, and several reserve units. The engineer troops of other armies at that time included, in the Germany Army, 19 engineer battalions, one railroad regiment, and one railroad company and, in the Austrian Army, five regiments, including two engineer regiments and one pioneer regiment (with five battalions each), one railroad regiment, and one telegraph regiment. In the early 20th century communications units, railroad troops, aviation, motor vehicle and armored troops, and searchlight and chemical troops gradually became separate from engineer troops in the Russian Army and in other armies. In the 19th century engineer troops constituted about 2 percent of the total composition of the largest armies, but during World War I the number of engineer troops rose to 7 percent, and by the end of 1917 the engineer troops constituted about 12 percent of the English, French, and Russian armies. The increase in the size of engineer troops resulted from the increased scope of operations and expanded scale of engineer support for troop combat action, as well as the appearance of new missions necessitating engineer preparation of theaters of operations and entire areas of a country in the interests of waging war.

The Soviet engineer troops were created when the Red Army was organized. According to the 1918 table of organization, divisions were to have an engineer battalion (1,263 men), rifle brigades were to have a sapper company (361 men), and rifle regiments were to have a sapper team (60 men). In 1919 special engineer units (pontoon and electrical engineer battalions and detached camouflage companies) were formed. During the Civil War more than 100 soldiers from engineer units were awarded the Order of the Red Banner for heroism. The engineer troops were led by the inspector of engineers at the Field Headquarters of the Republic (A. P. Shoshin from 1918 until the end of 1921), by the chief engineers of fronts and armies, and by division engineers. Command cadres were trained at the Military Engineer Academy (which reopened for classes in 1918), three schools, and eight military engineering courses. In 1921 engineer troops constituted 2.7 percent of the Red Army; in that year their leadership was assigned to the Main Military Engineering Directorate (which was formed in June 1918 but until 1921 was in charge only of engineer supply to the Red Army), and the position of inspector of engineers was abolished. As a result of the 1924—25 military reform engineer troops received new tables of organization, according to which corps had sapper battalions (two sapper companies and an engineer unit), divisions had a separate sapper company and an engineer unit, and rifle regiments had an engineer camouflage platoon. In 1929 there were regular engineer units and subunits in all the combat arms. The engineer troops gradually began to be supplied with new engineering equipment.

Soviet engineer troops acquired a great deal of experience during the Soviet-Finnish War of 1939–40 in the breakthrough of the strongly fortified defensive zone of the Mannerheim Line and in performing the missions of engineer support to Red Army offensive operations.

In 1941 the engineer troops consisted of troop, army, and district units; in addition, the Reserve of the Supreme Command had two battalions and one company of engineer troops. In early 1941 the district and army engineer units were reorganized into engineer and pontoon regiments. Early in the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45 (October 1941) combat engineer armies were formed to carry on engineer preparation of defensive lines (by January 1942 there were ten armies). In February 1942 five of the combat engineer armies were inactivated, and the others were made subordinate to fronts and later also abolished. From 1942 the basic organizational form of engineer troops in the Reserve of the Supreme Command became engineer brigades (assault, combat engineer, pontoon-bridge, and others); in 1944 they were included in the composition of the fronts and armies.

In November 1941 the headquarters of engineer troops for the Red Army and headquarters of engineer troops in the fronts and armies were established, and the position of chief of engineer tfoops for the Red Army was instituted. This position was held by Major General of the Engineer Troops L. Z. Kotliar from November 1941 until April 1942, when he was replaced by Major General of the Engineer Troops M. P. Vorob’ev. The position of deputy front (or army) commander-in-chief of front (army) engineer troops was instituted. During the Great Patriotic War engineer troops built fortifications, set up obstacles, mined terrain, supported troop maneuvers during offensive operations, carried on engineer reconnaissance, made passages in enemy minefields, supported the surmounting of enemy engineer obstacles and crossing of water barriers, participated in assaults on fortifications and cities, consolidated captured territories, and participated in counterattacks and counterstrikes. For heroic services during the Great Patriotic War more than 600 persons were awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union, and 266 were awarded the Order of Glory of three classes. Many units of the engineer troops received the guards title. In the postwar period chiefs of the engineer troops have been Marshal of the Engineer Troops M. P. Vorob’ev (until May 1952), Colonel General (as of 1961 Marshal of the Engineer Troops) A. I. Proshliakov (until February 1965), and Lieutenant General of the Engineer Troops (as of 1966, Colonel General) V. K. Kharchenko.

Engineer troops have continued their development in the postwar period with the appearance of new means for making passages through enemy obstacles, highly productive road and earth-moving machineiy, prefabricated fortification structures that can be erected quickly and then dismantled, modern pontoon trains and self-propelled crossing-landing equipment, highly effective obstacle methods, and special machinery for laying mines during combat action. Engineer troops have done a great deal of work on clearing the country’s territory of explosive objects; more than 58 million mines and more than 122 million aerial bombs and artillery shells have been found and destroyed. More than 8,000 members of the engineer troops have been awarded orders and medals of the Soviet Union for courage and valor shown during this work.

The increased scope of engineer work in present-day combat and in normal operations, the necessity of greatly increasing the speed of this work, and the need for rapidly setting up obstacles and shelters against weapons of mass destruction have all contributed to increasing the requirements made on the engineer troops; their role is becoming ever more significant.


Aleksandrov, E. V. Kratkii istoricheskii ocherk razvitiia inzhenernykh voisk russkoi armii.Moscow, 1939.
Voenno-inzhenernoe iskusstvo i inzhenernye voiska russkoi armii.Moscow, 1958. (Collection of articles.)
Inzhenernye voiska v boiakh za Sovetskuiu Rodinu.Moscow, 1970.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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