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U.S. Army Combat Engineers place satchel charges and detonating cord, preparatory to demolishing a railway bridge during the Korean War, 30 July 1950

Combat engineering is a combat arms role that falls within the scope of military engineering. It involves using the knowledge, tools and techniques of engineering by troops in peace and war, but specifically in combat. A combat engineer, in many armies also called pioneer or sapper, is a military specialist in using the tools and techniques of engineering under combat conditions, who may perform any of a variety of tasks.

Such tasks typically include constructing/breaching trenches, tank traps and other fortifications, bunker construction, bridge and road construction or destruction, laying or clearing landmines and general engineering tasks under fire. More generally speaking, the combat engineer's tasks involve facilitating movement and support of friendly forces while impeding that of the enemy.

Usually, a combat engineer is also trained as an infantry rifleman, and combat engineer elements often have a secondary role fighting as formed infantry. Beyond self-defense, combat engineers, infantry and assault troopers from Armored Corps units are generally the only troops that engage in the assault while dismounted. This role is limited by a lack of organic fire support (such as that obtained by Infantry units from their mortars), however combat engineers typically do have extensive anti-armored capability in their infantry fighting role.



A general combat engineer is often called a Pioneer or Sapper (the word itself is derived from the French and British armies, and refers to the origin of combat engineering). In some armies the term Pioneer or Sapper is a term that indicates a specific military rank and level of training. While the officers of a combat engineering unit will generally be professionally-certified civil or mechanical engineers, the non-commissioned members are generally not.

Relevant terminology includes:

  • Sapper is a term that is used for soldiers in the United States, British, Canadian, New Zealand and Australian armies that have specialized combat engineer training.
  • In the Israeli Defence Forces, Sapper 07 ( פלס 07 ) is a rank denoting a combat engineer who has graduated basic general engineering training.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The term field engineer is generally used to refer to specialists with training as mechanics or technicians.
  • The term military engineer encompasses both combat engineers and construction engineers. In some armies the two are allocated to different Corps, such as the former Soviet Army. Geomatics, or surveying and cartography is another area that sometimes is integrated into military engineering, and in other cases is a separate responsibility, as was formerly the case in the Australian Army.

The design and development of military equipment is generally not the province of the military engineer, although they can be involved in such design engineering when the technology in question has a military engineering application.


"Combat Engineering" is a relatively modern term, but the concept can trace itself back to early integration of military engineering capability directly into fighting formations.

By the 18th century, regiments of foot (infantry) in the British, French, Prussian and other armies included pioneer detachments. In peacetime these specialists constituted the regimental tradesmen, constructing and repairing buildings, transport wagons, etc. On active service they moved at the head of marching columns with axes, shovels and pickaxes clearing obstacles or building bridges to open the way for the bulk of the regiment to move through difficult terrain. The modern Royal Welch Fusiliers and French Foreign Legion still maintain pioneer sections who march at the front of ceremonial parades, carrying chromium plated tools intended for show only. Other historic distinctions include long work aprons and the right to wear beards.

At the end of World War I, the standoff in the Western Front caused the Imperial German Army to gather experienced and particularly skilled soldiers to form "Assault Teams" which would break through the Allied trenches. With enhanced training and special weapons (such as flamethrowers), these squads obtained some success, but too late to change the outcome of the war. In early WWII, however, the Wehrmacht "Pioniere" battalions proved their efficiency in both attack and defense, somewhat inspiring other armies to develop their own combat engineers battalions. Notably, the attack on Fort Eben-Emael in Belgium was conducted by Luftwaffe glider-deployed combat engineers.

The need to defeat the German defensive positions of the "Atlantic wall" as part of the amphibious landings in Normandy in 1944 led to the development of specialist combat engineer vehicles. These, collectively known as Hobart's Funnies, included a specific vehicle to carry combat engineers, the Churchill AVRE.

During the 20th century, combat engineers gained vast knowledge and experience in explosives. They are tasked with planting bombs, landmines and dynamite.

Modern combat engineering still retains the Roman role of building field fortifications, road paving and the breaching of terrain obstacles. A notable combat engineer task was, for example, the breaching of the Suez Canal during the Yom Kippur War.

Role, practices and techniques

The combat engineering role includes practices and techniques of camouflage, reconnaissance, communication methods and enhancement of survival by other troops. Combat engineering also includes construction of roads, bridges, field fortifications and obstacles. In their role, combat engineers use a wide variety of engineer hand and power tools. They are also responsible for construction rigging, use of explosives and causing demolitions, camouflage, field fortifications, obstacle clearance and construction, assault of fortifications, bridge erection, use of assault boats in water obstacle crossings, expedient road and helipad construction, general construction, engineer route and road reconnaissance, and erecting communication installations. All these role activities and technologies are divided into several areas of combat engineering:

Equipment and vehicles

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

IED detonator in Iraq

Basic combat engineering tools include safe use of: Driving and Chopping tools (hammers, mauls, sledges, screwdriver and bit, chopping tools); Cutting and Smoothing tools (saws, chisels, planes, files and rasps, brush-cutting tools, miscellaneous cutting tools); Drilling, Boring and Countersinking tools; Measuring, Levelling and Layout tools (rules, tapes, marking tools, levels and plumb bobs, squares); Gripping, Prying and Twisting tools (pliers, wrenches, bars); Holding, Raising and Grinding tools (vises, clamps, jacks, grinders and oilstones); Timber Handling 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
German Army combat engineer vehicle Dachs
This EBG combat engineering vehicle is used by the engineers of the French Army 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:

Specific corps

The combat engineer role is a key one 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.





The Danish military engineering corps is almost entirely organized into one regiment, simply named "Ingeniørregimentet" ("The Engineering Regiment"). The core of the Danish combat engineers are the so-called armored engineers. These units usually work in separated squads, each under the command of an infantry company, and equipped with an M113. Their roles are combat demolition, minefield clearing, basic minelaying and EOR. They are also extensively trained as infantry, to support the ordinary troops in combat. Besides these units, the regiment has the different workfields of combat engineers (construction, EOD, CBRN) spread out over different companies.


IDF Caterpillar D9.
Armored bulldozers are standard combat engineering tools, as they can perform construction, destruction and EOD missions under heavy fire.

In the Israeli Defence Forces the combat engineers are organized under the Combat Engineering Corps (Hebrew: חיל ההנדסה הקרבית‎). In addition to IEC sappers, each infantry brigade has an engineer company trained with basic engineering and EOD skills. IEC sappers are often attached to other units (such as armored divisions or infantry) in order to help them breach obstacles and handle explosive threats. The IEC operates advance engineering tools such as the Caterpillar D9 armored bulldozer, IDF Puma armored CEV, bridge-laying tanks, armored engineering vehicles, EOD robots and electromagnetic mine-detectors. Their main role is enabling Israeli forces to advance (breach the enemy's obstacles), stop the enemy's movement, handle explosives and perform construction and destruction missions under fire. The Israeli engineering corps is also responsible for counter-NBC warfare (i.e. defending troops against unconventional weapon and clean infected areas). The IEC has a special unit, called Yahalom (in Hebrew it means "Diamond" but also abbreviation of "Engineering Unit for Special Operations") which handles EOD, commando, engineering recon, advance robotics, tunnel warfare, maritime breaching, counter-NBC and other classified tasks.

The Israeli combat engineer Corps motto is "Rishonim Tamid" Hebrew: ראשונים תמיד‎, meaning "Always first".

Soviet Union/Russia

Soviet engineers were typically armed with the RPO-A Shmel (Bumblebee) rocket launcher to destroy fortifications.

United Kingdom

United States

The motto of the US Army Corps of Engineers is "ESSAYONS," from French "Let us try." In the United States Army, the four tasks of combat engineer units are mobility, countermobility, survivability, and general engineering.

  • Mobility: improving your own force's ability 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 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 landmines and anti-handling devices when authorized and directed to do so. Explosive Ordnance Disposal units in the U.S. Army employ ordnance personnel.
  • Survivability: building structures which enable one's own soldiers to survive on the battlefield. Examples include trenches, bunkers, shelters, and armored vehicle fighting positions.
  • General Engineering: general engineering sustains military forces in the theater through the performance of facility construction and repair, and through acquisition, maintenance, and disposal of real property.

See also the United States Navy's Seabees and United States Air Force's RED HORSE.


FM 5-5 11 October 1943 Engineer Field Manual, Engineer Troops
FM 5-5 C-1 31 March 1944 CHANGES No. 1} FM 5-5, 11 October 1943 is changed as follows:
FM 5-5 C-2 10 May 1944 CHANGES No. 2} FM 5-5, 11 October 1943 is changed as follows:
FM 5-5 C-3 5 July 1944 CHANGES No. 3} FM 5-5, 11 October 1943 is changed as follows:
FM 5-5 C-4 11 October 1944 CHANGES No. 4} FM 5-5, 11 October 1943 is changed as follows:
FM 5-5 C-5 28 December 1944 CHANGES No. 5} FM 5-5, 11 October 1943 is changed as follows:
FM 5-5,C1..C5
  1. Engineer Units with Army Air Forces
  2. Engineer Units with Army Service Forces
    1. port repair ship
    2. port construction and repair group
    3. special brigade
  3. Engineer Units, SERVICE, with Army Ground Forces
  4. Engineer units, COMBAT, with Army Ground Forces
    1. airborne battalion
    2. combat battalion
    3. light ponton company
    4. heavy ponton battalion
    5. treadway bridge company

See also

External links


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