DEFENCE NOTES

The Electrical & Mechanical Engineers
- A Brief History


An old footslogger salutes the Corps of EME
Part III (Concluded)


Columnist Capt (Retd) AA JILANI writes a fascinating account (THIRD PART) of a SERVICE not normally recognized for their actual worth

The 1970s - Emphasis on NATO

During the 1970s the Communist bloc remained the main military threat. In 1974 the Turkish Army invaded Cyprus to protect the Turkish minority population and in the process occupied large areas of the Island which were previously inhabited by the Greek Cypriots. The British troops had to prevent Turkish incursions into British Sovereign Base Areas.

As Guatemala began to make claims on the neighbouring British Honduras (later re-named BELIZE), British troops with EME support were sent there to discourage any attempted incursion. The REME Workshop there was equipped with a World War II Scammell recovery vehicle which was later on preserved in the REME Museum.

The sectarian clashes in NORTHERN IRELAND developed into a terrorist campaign which spread over to the UK mainland. The REME was involved in the development of special internal security equipment including the remote controlled 'Wheelbarrow'. REME Workshops from UK and the Continent took turns in ending reinforcements to the troubled province.

Regarding electronic equipment, guided missiles were replacing light air defence and anti-tank guns. New vehicles were usually diesel which changed the emphasis in vehicle mechanical training. The REME Technical Group was broken up, its separate component units being controlled by the head of the Logistic Corps who assumed the designation of Director-General. During the 1970s full employment became a thing of the past and the Services were under constant pressure to reduce in size and consequently the size of REME was reduced.

The 1980s and the Falklands War

British forces were increasingly centred on NATO as other conflicts were considered less likely. The Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982 led Britain into war in which the REME supported the fighting forces with unit repair teams, LADs and Workshop detachments. The REME lost 4 men killed and many others wounded. Improvisation was again a major element for keeping the equipment in working order which was complicated by inhospitable terrain in mid-winter far from base repair facilities. Army helicopters were safely flown after improvised repairs that normal peacetime servicing would not permit. The Swedish built Volvo oversnow vehicles proved ideal for the boggy terrain and the REME experience of these vehicles (gained from previous Norwegian exercises) proved invaluable. After the war, as the garrison force gradually reduced, the REME element became part of a joint Army/Air Force Workshop.

The IRA terrorist threat was now re-shaping Army lifestyle with a return to enclosed barracks and increased security measures. The financial and manpower economies combined with detailed time accounting was eroding the REME ability to help other units with non-essential work. Manpower in static civilian Workshops was reduced by increasing civilian contracts for work. Emphasis was placed on repair with replaceable sealed components which were generally too sophisticated for minute repair other than in specially equipped base Workshops.

The modern equipment coming into service included new REME recovery vehicles with hydraulic-powered winches and cranes and useful remote control equipment for operators. The trend was to mount machinery in demountable containers which were not immobilised by breakdown of the vehicle but could be carried on any suitable truck or trailer. Mobile lightweight repair and test equipment for electronics and weapon systems enabled repairs to be carried out on the spot.

The 1990s and the Gulf War

Britain responded to the Iraqi invasion of KUWAIT by joining a US led and UN sponsored international force to liberate KUWAIT from occupation. The British Army contingent of one Brigade was soon increased to Division strength and the REME support formed about one-tenth of this force. REME soldiers needed to up-date their combat and chemical defence skills while at the same time the equipment had to be prepared for desert warfare prior to shipment to the Gulf. On arrival in the Gulf, REME personnel were involved in the modifications required to improve the capability of equipment to meet desert conditions. In the short fighting phase the equipment stood up well to the terrain and to intensive use.

The war emphasised that tradesmen were also soldiers even for front-line operations. Two REME soldiers were killed in action and one REME Officer died in an accident. Among REME awards in the Gulf War were two Military Medals and one Queen's Gallantry Medal.

After the war the Government initiated measures for reduction of the Armed Forces which involved major reductions in the fighting units. The REME would also reduce in direct proportion to the units which it supported but the strength remained about one-tenth of the Army. The designation Director-General REME was changed to reflect his greater responsibilities which now extended well beyond the repair of equipment. With effect from 6 April 1992 the DGEME became the Director-General of Equipment Support (Army). However, in our own country we are still adhering to the old designation DGEME which could now be reviewed in accordance with the changing times of the new century.

The programme of up-dating the Army equipment proceeds. Challenger-II has been selected as the new tank and the Vickers self-propelled 155 mm gun has been selected for the Artillery. REME repair training continues to adapt, covering both these new additions and also the older equipment. The REME seeks to incorporate design improvements in the development stages of each new vehicle or weapon system. In spite of reduced defence budgets the REME remains in control of the overall husbandry of Army equipment and continues to provide direct repair support to the Army.

The REME in the Gulf War

The first REME tradesman arrived in SAUDI ARABIA less than one month after Iraq had invaded Kuwait. From that day on, through the peak of activity, 3,700 REME soldiers were deployed in that theatre until the departure of the last men with the Logistic Support Group in July 1991. The Corps of REME was intimately involved in the preparation and modification of equipment for desert warfare, repair support during the land war and finally recovery of the Force back to Europe. Without the dedicated commitment and the high level of technical skill demonstrated by all the REME personnel, tired vehicles and other vital equipment would have ground to a halt, the logistic stocks would not have been out-loaded and the Division could not have taken part so effectively in Operation 'DESERT STORM'. The Division was able to advance 290 Km in 66 hours with remarkably few equipment casualties against a numerically superior enemy. There is no doubt that the support provided by the REME played a vital role in keeping the Force moving inexorably towards final victory.

CONCLUSION

This brief outline history of the EME is just a layman's effort to highlight the true value and the glittering performance of a Service which has generally been under-estimated. The aim of the Ex has been to explode that myth about the EME personnel being NCEs because these personnel were amongst the first ashore on the Normandy beaches and the Falkland Islands beachheads in addition to many other front-line campaigns. Long ago in 1942, at the peak of World War II, Major-General Sir Bertram Rowcroft (DME), an Officer of the ASC, was the brains behind the organisation and formation of a new Corps of EME and his illustrious name will be perpetuated as the Godfather of the Corps of EME. The depth and the breadth of his brilliant skills in the enlightened proposals which he set forth for the formation of a new Corps provided a very firm and promising foundation for the future of EME which has been enriched by his foresight. Finally, one would like to think that some of our senior and eminent EME stalwarts would come forward to compile the detailed history of EME operations during the 1965 and 1971 wars - a task which of course is far beyond my own amateur limitations.

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