Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers

Columnist Brig (Retd) SHER KHAN writes about a very important service of the army.

In any sphere of human activity, there are the prima donnas, who take the bows and applause, but often forgotten is the fact that large numbers of people behind the scenes toil endlessly, and usually unnoticed, to make the show a success. So too with armed forces: while the fighting arms usually get instant recognition, it is only because of the unremitting toil of the “Services” that the former’s success becomes possible. In the Pakistan Army, the Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (EME), although the youngest of the Services, enjoys a place of unique distinction, in peace and war, to keep the Army’s equipment in a high state of readiness and repair, and to recover and repair battlefield equipment casualties, often under hostile fire so as to make it fighting fit.

As other Services go, EME is relatively young, having come into existence in the British Army in 1942 as REME and the following year as IEME in the Indian Army. Till then, the responsibility for repairs were split between two other Services: the Ordnance Corps (RAOC) took care of armaments, while the Army Service Corps (RIASC) was responsible for the vehicles. With increasing mechanization of the Army, especially as the Second World War dragged on, and sophisticated, state of the art equipment began to get inducted into India and Burma, thanks to the Americans, it became evident that a better and more efficient system of repair was needed to cope with the enhanced work load. The workshop branches of IAOC and RIASC were merged to form the IEME, which officially came into existence on First May 1943. The induction of additional technical manpower posed many problems, mainly due its acute shortage. Nevertheless, the newly formed Corps was not found wanting in meeting the challenges of the war, even though the Indian Army was deployed in several theatres, including North Africa, Italy, Greece, Burma, Malaya, etc. Up until the time of partition of India into two sovereign nations in 1947, IEME was officered by the British, besides the odd native.

Partition saw the emergence of Pakistan EME (PEME), which name it retained till 13 May 1956, when it got designated as EME. Pakistan’s share of EME installations was much less than what India got, because most installations were on the wrong side of the new border. The same too with officers and technical personnel: against authorization of 243 officers, PEME got only 20. A training Centre and School were set up at Quetta in October 1947 by pooling resources from here and there to train officers and men. In the initial years some officers got sent to UK for training, but in a few years, EME became self-sufficient in training facilities. Today, the College of E and ME at Rawalpindi is undoubtedly the best technical training institution of the Pakistan Army, and a “must visit” showpiece on the itinerary of all visiting foreign military delegations.

EME entered the third dimension in 1959 when it took over the responsibilty of maintaining and repairing the aircraft of the Army (AOP, later Army Aviation) from the PAF. The best, most dedicated EME officers, JCOs and NCOs join, or later vend their way into, aviation engineering units, because of the immense challenges (not forgetting some of the rewards that go with the job) that the job demands. The large and diverse fleet of helicopters and aeroplanes, engines, accessories, etc of Army Aviation are maintained, repaired and overhauled by these skilled men, including Alouette helicopters for the PAF and Navy. They form regular members of the flight crews, and well before the pilots arrive to kick the starter, they are at their job preparing for flight, and then remain busy in servicing and repairs well after the pilots have returned from their missions and retired for some well-earned rest. Many have given their lives in the line of duty in war and peace; others remain ready to do so, if called upon (if the reader detects a bias towards these men, it is for a good reason; the writer spent many years in their midst!).

Over the years, as more and more sophisticated equipment has been inducted into the Army, EME has kept pace in acquiring and developing the skills and facilities needed keep the entire gamut of this equipment in a high state of readiness. These skills have been in high demand abroad too, as evidenced by the fact that EME personnel have been seconded for duty with several friendly countries and in UN peacekeeping operations. Officers and men continue to enhance their technical skills throughout their careers; many acquire post graduate, and even doctoral, degrees in country and abroad. On all arms course, such as Staff College, NDC, War Course, etc, EME officers more than hold their own against the pick of the crop from the fighting arms, and are amongst the top graduates from these premier institutions. Many do the parachutists’ course under the Adventure Training Programme; EME has the oldest active parachutist in the country, retired but still jumping in his 61st year, thanks to special permission of General Pervez Musharraf and support of GHQ and SSG. The Corps has produced many distinguished officers, amongst them Lt Gen Saeed Qadir who has held high public office as Federal Minister and Senator stands out.

One thing can be said with certainty: the Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers will grow from strength to strength in the years to come, and will not be found wanting in keeping the Pakistan Army’s equipment in the highest state of battle readiness, as it has done heretofore.

(The Corps celebrates its 9th Reunion in Quetta on 22 September, which the Chief Executive is expected to grace).