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A military engineer is a soldier who's occupation involves Military Engineering. According to NATO, "Military Engineering is that engineer activity undertaken, regardless of component or service, to shape the physical operating environment.' Military Engineering incorporates support to manoeuvre and to the force as a whole, including military engineering functions such as engineer support to Force Protection, Counter - Improvised Explosive Devices, Environmental Protection, Engineer Intelligence and Military Search. Military Engineering does not encompass the activities undertaken by those 'engineers' who maintain, repair and operate vehicles, vessels, aircraft, weapon systems and equipment."

The military engineer is primarily responsible for the design and construction of offensive, defensive, and logistical structures for warfare. Other duties include the layout, placement, maintenance and dismantling of defensive minefields and the clearing of enemy minefields and the construction and destruction of bridges. In some cases an engineer may be required to destroy something that that same engineer designed and constructed. In many armies the military engineers are also called pioneer or sappers. There are also many modern armies that use the term combat engineer to describe the military engineer well forward in battle and under fire. For more modern aspects of military engineering and tools of the combat engineering corps, see combat engineering. The construction, management and maintenance of infrastructure is another responsibility associated with the military engineer.

In some countries, the modern military may comprise engineering units in weapon design or procurement, or of non-military civil engineering (e.g. flood control and river navigation works) which are not covered by this article.

Origins of military engineering

The term engineering is derived from the word engineer, which itself dates back to 1325, when an engine’er (literally, one who operates an engine) originally referred to “a constructor of military engines.” In this context, now obsolete, an “engine” referred to a military machine, i. e., a mechanical contraption used in war (for example, a catapult).

Later, as the design of civilian structures such as bridges and buildings matured as a technical discipline, the term civil engineering entered the lexicon as a way to distinguish between those specializing in the construction of such non-military projects and those involved in the older discipline. As the prevalence of civil engineering outstripped engineering in a military context and the number of disciplines expanded, the original military meaning of the word “engineering” is now largely obsolete. In its place, the term "military engineering" has come to be used.

Military engineering in ancient warfare

Perhaps the first civilization to have a dedicated force of military engineering specialists were the Romans, whose army contained a dedicated corps of military engineers known as architecti. Roman military engineering was pre-eminent amongst its contemporaries, and the scale of certain military engineering feats, such as the construction of a double-wall of fortifications long in total (both walls combined total) in just six weeks to completely encircle the besieged city of Alesia in 52 B.C. Such military engineering feats would have been completely new, and probably bewildering and demoralizing, to the Gallic defenders. The best known of these Roman army engineers due to his writings surviving is Vitruvius.


Defensive fortifications are designed to prevent intrusion into the inner works by siege infantry. For minor defensive locations these may only consist of simple walls and ditches. The design principle is to slow down the advance of attackers to where they can be destroyed by defenders from sheltered positions. Most large fortifications are not a single structure but rather a concentric series of fortifications of increasing strength. Fortified cities would typically include an inner "old town"' within walls. Should the city be attacked, those residing outside the walls would enter the inner city. Within this would be a redoubt, or citadel, to which defenders could retreat should the walls or gates be breached.

The placement of mines to create minefields and their maintenance and disassembly is another defensive task.

When the defender must retreat it is often desirable to destroy anything that may be of use to the enemy, particularly bridges, as their destruction can slow the advance of the attackers. The retreating forces may also leave booby traps for enemy soldiers, even though these often wreak their havoc upon non-combatant civilians.


In ancient times, fortifications were assaulted by siege engines. These could be projectile throwing devices or simple moving towers that could allow attackers protection while positioning them above the top of the fortification's walls.

The undermining of the defender's walls by tunneling is called mining. With the military use of gunpowder this explosive could be placed in tunnels to explode directly under the walls. The most spectacular use of this technique in the 19th century was during the United States' Civil War.

The clearing of enemy minefields is another offensive task.

Often the defender in retreat will destroy bridges to impede the attacker. These must be quickly replaced by the attacker in order to retain offensive mobility. In World War II a short portable bridge called the Bailey bridge could be quickly placed by a specialized transporter vehicle. Pontoon bridges have long been used as temporary replacements for destroyed river crossings.

Famous Military engineers

See also

Some military engineering projects of World War II:

Military engineers


  1. Oxford English Dictionary
  2. Engineers' Council for Professional Development definition on Encyclopaedia Britannica (Includes Britannica article on Engineering)

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