- Art and practice of designing and building military works and of building and maintaining lines of military transport and communications.It includes both tactical support (see tactics) on the battlefield, including construction of fortifications and demolition of enemy installations, and strategic support (see strategy) away from the front lines, such as construction or maintenance of airfields, ports, roads, railroads, bridges, and hospitals. Its most notable feat in ancient times was the Great Wall of China. The preeminent military engineers of the ancient Western world were the Romans, who maintained their power by constructing not only forts and garrisons but roads, bridges, aqueducts, harbors, and lighthouses. See also civil engineering.
* * *Introductionthe art and practice of designing and building military works and of building and maintaining lines of military transport and communications. In its earliest uses the term engineering referred particularly to the construction of engines of war and the execution of works intended to serve military purposes. Military engineers were long the only ones to whom the title engineer was applied.The role of the military engineer in modern war is to apply engineering knowledge and resources to the furtherance of the commander's plans. The basic requirement is a sound general engineering knowledge directed to the technical aspects of those tasks likely to be encountered in war. Engineering work is influenced by topographical considerations and in battle also by tactical limitations. At times engineering factors will actually govern the choice of the military plan adopted; a military engineer must, therefore, possess a sound military education so that the best technical advice will be given to the commander.HistoryIn the prehistoric period every man was a fighter and every fighter was to some extent an engineer. Primitive efforts were restricted to the provision of artificial protection for the person and machines for hurling destruction at the enemy. In the earliest war annals it is difficult to distinguish the military from the civil engineer. Julius Caesar referred to his praefectus fabrum, an official who controlled the labour gangs employed on road making and also parties of artisans. The Domesday survey of AD 1086 included one “Waldivus Ingeniator,” who held nine manors direct from the crown and was probably William the Conqueror's chief engineer in England. Throughout the Middle Ages, ecclesiastics were frequently employed as military engineers, not only for purposes of planning and building but also for fighting. One of the best known is Gundulph, bishop of Rochester, who built the White Tower of the Tower of London and Rochester Castle.Thus, in ancient and medieval times the military engineer became a specialist who made and used engines of war such as catapults, ballistas, battering rams, ramps, towers, scaling ladders, and other devices in attacking or defending castles, fortresses, and fortified camps. In peacetime the military engineer built fortifications (fortification) for the defense of the country or city. Because such engineers frequently dug trenches or tunnels as means of approaching or undermining enemy positions, they came to be called sappers or miners. With the invention of gunpowder and the countless other inventions that came in later centuries, the military engineer was required to have far more technical knowledge. He nevertheless remained a soldier and fought side by side with the infantry in many wars.Before the late 17th century the engineers of French (France) armies were selected infantry officers given brevets as engineers; they performed both civil and military duties for the king's service. In 1673 Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban (Vauban, Sébastien Le Prestre de) was appointed director general of the royal fortifications, and it was largely owing to this great designer of fortified places that in 1690 an officer corps of engineers was established. Sapper and miner companies were formed later, although these units were generally attached to the artillery. In 1801 the officer corps of engineers was integrated with the sapper and miner units, and the amalgamated corps served with great distinction throughout Napoleon's campaigns. In 1868 military telegraphists were added to the corps. The first engineer railway battalion was formed in 1876, and a battalion of aeronauts raised in 1904 was the forerunner of the French air force.The first military engineering school was established at Mézières in 1748, and Lazare Carnot, a former graduate of Mézières, moved the school to Metz in 1795, where it was renamed the École Polytechnique (“Polytechnic School”).Military engineering functionsThe functions of modern military engineers vary among the armies of the world, but as a rule they include the following activities: (1) construction and maintenance of roads, bridges, airfields, landing strips, and zones for the airdrop of personnel and supplies, (2) interference with the enemy's mobility by means of demolitions, floods, destruction of matériel, mine fields, and obstacles and fortifications of many types, (3) mapping and aiding the artillery to survey gun positions, rocket-launching sites, and target areas, (4) supplying water and engineering equipment, and (5) disposal of unexploded bombs or warheads. In the British army the Royal Engineers also operate the army postal service.The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is both a combatant arm and a technical service. Alone among the arms and services, it engages in civil as well as military activities. During the 20th century its civil works activities have centred upon the planning, construction, and maintenance of improvements to rivers, harbours, and other waterways and upon flood control. The principal military service performed by the Corps of Engineers in the United States and abroad is the construction and maintenance of buildings and utilities. In theatres of operation in wartime, such construction is carried out by engineer troops. In the United States in peace and war and overseas in peacetime, such construction is usually accomplished by private industry under contract to the Corps of Engineers.Ed.Additional ReadingMuch of the history of military engineering is traced in the development of military architecture, both the building of defenses and the changes that were necessitated by the increasing power of artillery; these developments are chronicled in Ian V. Hogg, Fortress: A History of Military Defence (1975), from hill forts to the end of World War II; Quentin Hughes, Military Architecture (1974); Christopher Duffy, Fire and Stone: The Science of Fortress Warfare, 1660–1860 (1975, reissued 1996), and Siege Warfare, 2 vol. (1979–85), covering the period 1494–1789; and Simon Pepper and Nicholas Adams, Firearms & Fortifications: Military Architecture and Siege Warfare in Sixteenth-Century Siena (1986). The classic work on artillery history is A.R. Hall, Ballistics in the Seventeenth Century (1952, reissued 1969). Robert V. Bruce, Lincoln and the Tools of War (1956, reprinted 1989), discusses the deployment of armament and equipment in the American Civil War and U.S. President Abraham Lincoln's role in their use. Geoffrey Parker, The Military Revolution: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West, 1500–1800, 2nd ed. (1996), chronicles the change from medieval to modern methods—i.e., from decentralized to centralized forces, especially fortress construction. It may be supplemented by Clifford J. Rogers (ed.), The Military Revolution Debate: Readings on the Military Transformation of Early Modern Europe (1995). The supply aspect of military engineering is detailed in John A. Lynn (ed.), Feeding Mars: Logistics in Western Warfare from the Middle Ages to the Present (1993). Todd Shallat, Structures in the Stream: Water, Science, and the Rise of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (1994), chronicles the early history of this military and civil engineering group. Ed.Introductionthe art and practice of designing and building military works and of building and maintaining lines of military transport and communications. Military engineering is the oldest of the engineering skills and was the precursor of the profession of civil engineering.Modern military engineering can be divided into three main tasks: (1) combat engineering, or tactical engineer support on the battlefield, (2) strategic support by the execution of works and services needed in the communications zones, such as the construction of airfields and depots, the improvement of ports and road and rail communications, and the storage and distribution of fuels, and (3) ancillary support, such as the provision and distribution of maps and the disposal of unexploded bombs, mines, and other warheads. Construction, fortification, camouflage, demolition, surveying, and mapping are the province of military engineers. They build bases, airfields, depots, roads, bridges, port facilities, and hospitals. In peacetime military engineers also carry out a wide variety of civil-works programs.Classical and medieval eras.Evidence of the work of the earliest military engineers can be found in the hill forts constructed in Europe during the late Iron Age, and later in the massive fortresses built by the Persians. One epic feat of ancient military engineering was the pontoon bridge built by the engineers of the Persian king Xerxes across the Hellespont (modern Dardanelles), which, according to Herodotus, was accomplished by a mile-long chain of boats, 676 in all, arranged in two parallel rows. The greatest ancient defensive work ever built is the Great Wall of China, which was begun in the 3rd century BC to defend China's northern frontier from its barbarian neighbours. Counting its tributary branches, the Great Wall is about 6,400 km (4,000 miles) long and dwarfs any other set of fortifications ever built.The Romans were the preeminent military engineers of the ancient Western world, and examples of their works can still be seen throughout Europe and the Middle East. The Romans' castra, or military garrison towns, were protected by ramparts and ditches and interconnected by straight military roads along which their legions could speedily march. Like the Chinese, the Romans also built walls to protect their empire, the most famous of these being Hadrian's Wall in Britain, which is 73 miles (117 km) long and was built to protect the northern frontier from Picts and Scots. The troops and engineers of the legions built many of the greatest works of the Roman Empire, including its extensive network of roads; the watchtowers, forts, and garrison towns manned by its troops; the aqueducts that brought water to cities and towns; and various bridges, harbours, naval bases, and lighthouses. The Romans were also masters of siegecraft who used such devices as battering rams, catapults, and ballistae (giant crossbows) to take enemy fortifications.The Byzantine Empire, India, and China continued to fortify their cities with walls and towers, while in Europe urban civilization collapsed with the fall of the Roman Empire and the ensuing Middle Ages. One sign of its revival was the motte-and-bailey forts that sprang up on the continent in the 10th and 11th centuries AD. These basically consisted of a high mound of earth (motte) encircled by wooden palisades, ditches and embankments (the bailey), with a wooden tower occupying the central mound. They were replaced from the 11th century by stone-built castles that served as both military strongholds and centres of administration. (See castle.) Medieval engineers became proficient at mining operations, by which tunnels were driven under the walls of castles and their timbering set afire, causing the masonry overhead to collapse.The Renaissance and after.The development of powerful cannons in the 15th century brought about a reappraisal of fortification design and siege warfare in Europe and parts of Asia. In China and India the response to the new siege guns was basically to build fortifications with thicker walls. Sixteenth-century Europe's response was the sunken profile, which protected walls from artillery bombardment, and the bastioned trace, a series of projections from the main fortess wall to allow both direct and flanking fields of fire against attackers. This system was brought to a peak of sophistication in the 17th century by Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban (Vauban, Sébastien Le Prestre de) of France, whose fortifications and siege-warfare techniques were copied by succeeding generations of military engineers. The system perfected by him did not change until the second half of the 19th century, when breech-loading artillery and the use of high-explosive shells called for drastic alterations in the design and construction of defenses.The 19th century.Technological advances changed the nature of military engineering in the century following the Napoleonic Wars. British and French military engineers first used the electric telegraph in the Crimean War (1853–56). With the spread of railways, military engineers became responsible in theatres of war for the construction and maintenance of railway systems and the control of the rail movement of troops and military matériel. Military engineering schools offered the finest technical training in Europe well into the 19th century, and their graduates were among the technical elite of industrialized nations. As European countries colonized vast portions of Africa, Asia, and Australia, military engineers were often given responsibility for the exploration and mapping of these regions and for the construction of public buildings and utilities, roads, bridges, railways, telegraph networks, irrigation projects, harbours, and maritime defenses. In the United States, the Army Corps of Engineers led the way in developing the West; they explored, surveyed, and mapped the land, built forts and roads, and later assisted in building the transcontinental railway. The corps later specialized in improving harbours and inland waterways and constructing dams and levees.The 20th century.The protracted trench warfare of World War I called upon all of the traditional siegecraft skills of the military engineers. Trench tramways and light railways were built for the maintenance of forward troops. Large camouflage projects were carried out to screen gun positions, storage dumps, and troop movements from enemy observation. Mining and countermining were carried out on a scale never before attempted. The greatest achievement was the firing in June 1917 by British sappers of more than 1,000,000 pounds (450,000 kg) of explosive, placed in 16 chambers 100 feet (30 m) deep, which completely obliterated Messines Ridge in Belgium and inflicted 20,000 German casualties.The scope of military signaling increased enormously and reached such a size and complexity that, when World War I ended, military telecommunication engineers became a separate corps in all armies. New techniques were developed for fixing enemy gun positions. Mapmaking by the use of aerial photographs (photogrammetry) developed. Field printing presses were set up to provide vast quantities of maps of the fighting areas, and a grid system was introduced for maps covering the whole theatre of operations.In the 1930s French military engineers designed and constructed the Maginot Line, a supposedly impregnable defensive system protecting France's common frontier with Germany and Luxembourg. The military engineers of World War II faced and solved problems on a scale and of a character not previously experienced. Because of the importance of air power, hundreds of airfields and airstrips had to be built, often in great haste and while under fire. Amphibious operations, involving the landing of troops on a hostile shore, involved a host of engineering problems, from the underwater demolition of obstacles to the rapid construction of open-beach dock facilities, such as the prefabricated Mulberry Harbour used to maintain the Normandy landings in 1944. Special equipment, including armoured engineering vehicles that had to be capable of wading ashore from landing craft, was developed for the Allies' amphibious operations. Inland, new and stronger types of temporary bridges were developed to support the passage of tanks and other heavy armoured vehicles.Minelaying is a subspecialty of military engineering that acquired increased importance in the 20th century. Floating submarine mines were first used to destroy ships in the 19th century and came into wide use in World War I during the Battle of the Atlantic. Antitank mines came into wide use in World War II and became the principal obstacle to the movement of armoured forces. Special techniques and equipment were developed for minelaying, mine location, and the breaching and clearing of minefields.One of the most extraordinary feats of military engineering during the war was the building in 1944 by Allied forces of a supply road from Ledo, India, to the Burma Road at a point where the road was still in Chinese hands. This Stilwell (Stilwell Road) (originally Ledo) Road opened in January 1945, was 478 miles (770 km) long, and twisted through mountains, swamps, and jungles. The most important fortifications of the war were those built by Germany along the coast of northern France in 1942–44 to resist an Allied invasion across the English Channel. The largest task carried out by military engineers in World War II, however, was the Manhattan Project, which produced the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Civilian scientists as well as engineers were recruited in large numbers for this mammoth project, whose success made it a model for later large-scale government efforts involving many scientists and engineers from different disciplines.In the latter part of the 20th century military engineers were responsible for the construction of command and control facilities such as the granite-delved complex at Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado Springs, Col., U.S., which houses the operations centre for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (better known as NORAD) and other aerospace units.
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