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Corps of Engineers

The Corps of Engineers is one of the oldest arms of the Indian Army. The origin of the Corps dates back to 1780 when the two regular pioneer companies of the Madras Sappers were raised. Subsequently, the Group of Madras, Bengal and Bombay Sappers were formed and later merged on 18 November 1932 to form the Corps of Engineers in its present form.

The Corps of Engineers consists of three major constituents namely Combat Engineers, MES and Border Roads. The Corps also provides officers to the Military Survey and Defence Research & Development Organisation.

In war, Combat Engineers provide mobility to own forces by constructing bridges, tracks and helipads; on the other hand the Corps denies the same to the enemy by creating obstacles such as laying mine-fields and demolition of bridges.

The Corps of Engineers is replete with acts of bravery and valour. General PS Bhagat of the Corps remains the first Indian Officer to have won the Victoria Cross in the Second World War. Another first in the same war, Subedar Subramaniam was awarded the George Cross. Later, during Kashmir operation soon after Independence, Major R R Rane was awarded the Param Vir Chakra for making a passage through enemy mine fields while crawling in front of a tank.

Engineer units have been deployed abroad as part of UN Missions. They have brought laurels to our country by constructing bridges, opening lines of communication and executing numerous humanitarian tasks.

The Military Engineering Service, which is an important part of the Corps has played a crucial role in Nation Building. It provides MES cover not only to the three Services, namely, Army, Navy and Air Force but also Defence Research & Development Organisation and Ordinance Factories. A number of prestigious and time bound projects have been completed over the years.

The Border Roads Organisation has made its own contribution to the nation by constructing national highways, airfields, buildings and bridges. The Border Roads, by constructing a large number of roads in once inaccessible areas of the Himalayas, Rajasthan and North Eastern States have contributed significantly to their economic development.

True to the motto SARVATRA, the Corps of Engineers has excelled in multifarious activities in war and peace. In peace time the Sappers have always been in the forefront in rendering aid to the civil authorities during natural calamities such as floods and earthquakes. Engineers' units have also been engaged in the counter insurgency operations in J&K and the North East. The Corps of Engineers has to its credit one Param Vir Chakra, one Ashoka Chakra, one Padma Bhushan, 38 Param Vishisht Seva Medals, two Maha Vir Chakras, 13 Kirti Chakras, three Padma Shris, 88 Ati Vishisht Seva Medals, 25 Vir Chakras, 93 Shaurya Chakras, six Yudh Seva Medals and many other awards.

The need for accurate survey arose before combat engineering. Vast holdings had to be carefully delineated and mapped out, to plan the correct form of commercial extraction. By 1780, serious attention began to be given to the art of sapping and mining.

Forts abound in the subcontinent, and to the forts the main defences withdrew for a protracted stand. On being invested, the siege (heavy) artillery including trench mortars or bombards went at it. The real work, not for the faint-hearted, went to the sappers who had to do the 'sapping' or mining. Sapping is the technique of accurately digging trenches, usually covered or zigzag, to cover one's approach to the point of assault.

Mining involves boring through and placing very large demolition charges for making a breach in the walls of the fort and/or placing the charges under key areas in the fort. The sapping technique has been used to great advantage on modern battlefields as well, Dien Bien Phu (March-April 1954) and Khe-San (1967-68) in Vietnam being notable examples. Of necessity, a sapper must be tough, tenacious, unflappable, and skilled at his job.

They have emerged on today's battlefield as the 'Engineers'. In India, the Engineers were spawned in three groups - the Madras Sappers followed by the Bengal Sappers and finally the Bombay Sappers. They were formed into field companies (a sub-unit organization that exists to this day) grouped into regiments. Till 1911, the Sappers also had the onerous charge of passing battlefield messages. Between 1911 and 1920, they handed this burgeoning task to a batch of their own kinsmen who then formed the Corps of Signals.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:42:19 ZULU