The Royal Engineers were heavily involved in the development of the tank during the Great War, and Sapper officers were among those who led the first tanks into action. At the outbreak of the Second World War there were no Sapper units equipped with tanks. In 1940, however, as the British Expeditionary Force withdrew into the Dunkirk perimeter, tired Sappers on foot and unprotected vehicles took heavy casualties as they tried to blow demolitions in the face of the enemy. It was then recognised that Royal Engineers in the forefront of battle needed protection and mobility similar to that of the formations they supported.
Three years after the evacuation from Dunkirk
, it was decided to form special assault units protected by armour to overcome the considerable obstacles facing any possible invasion of Fortress Europe. In April 1943, 79 Armoured Division was formed from both Royal Engineers and Royal Armoured Corps units to lead the D-Day assault in Normandy. A range of heavily modified tanks was quickly developed and used to great effect on the invasion beaches and beyond. The first village in occupied Europe to be liberated on 6 June was captured by a troop of AVREs (Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers) of 77 Assault Squadron. 79 Armoured Division supported the thrust out of the Normandy beach head and on to Germany and ultimate victory.
Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVRE) as a Scissor Bridge 1980’s After the end of the Second World War, 79 Armoured Division was disbanded. The remaining 32 Assault Engineer Regiment was disbanded in July 1957 and briefly reformed as 32 Armoured Engineer Regiment in 1964 before a further reorganisation in 1969 reduced the Armoured Engineers to one squadron. However,
In 1980 32 Armoured Engineer Regiment was again reformed and has now grown to be the largest tank regiment in the British Army. The Regiment is the only unit equipped with specialist Sapper tanks and is very much the heir to the great traditions of all past assault and armoured engineers. The regimental crest includes the bull’s head device of 79 Armoured Division.
32 Armoured Engineer Regiment has three squadrons each of 4 troops, a total of 72 tanks. Each troop has 3 AVREs and 3 AVLBs (bridge layers). The AVRE has a wide range of capabilities including launching fascines (large pipe bundles) into anti tank ditches, laying trackway, clearing mines, dozing and destroying enemy strong points. The bridge layer can lay a scissor bridge over a gap up to 23m wide or a fixed bridge over smaller gaps up to 12m. The complete launching sequence takes less than five minutes. Larger gaps can be crossed using bridges in combination.