In the days of bow and arrow, pike, sword and battle-axe it was reasonable enough to expect every soldier to be responsible for the upkeep of his own arms and equipment. In fact the Assize of Arms in 1181, which appears to have been the first attempt to legislate for the good condition of Army equipment not only enforced this individual responsibility but also forbade a soldier to sell or pawn his arms and enjoined him to bequeath them to his heirs.
With the invention of gunpowder came more complicated weapons and the problem of ammunition supply. At the same time ordnance and other "engines of war" increased in size and quantity, and the need for a separate authority to provide and maintain them became pressing. This requirement was met by employing civilian tradesmen and by establishing government arsenals and powder factories. Eventually the civilian artificers and armourers became military tradesmen and were combined with the providers of military stores in 1896 into the Army Ordnance Corps.
The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century affected the army and by World War I (1914-1918) had culminated in an identifiably modern force with machine guns, aircraft, motor vehicles, tanks, optical range finders and radios. Responsibility for the maintenance and repair of the varied new equipments was at first accepted, rather naturally, by the arms and services that used them most, and a number of separate repair organisations began to grow up side by side. As a result, by the end of World War I the Tank Corps had its own workshops, the Royal Engineers repaired most of their own specialist equipment, and the Army Service Corps had become generally responsible for the repair of mechanical transport, while it was the responsibility of the Army Ordnance Corps to repair most other equipments, including small arms, guns and instruments. At this time many of these Corps gained their ' Royal ' prefix. There were thus four different repair organisations functioning simultaneously in the Army with many other regiments and Corps having some of their own tradesmen to carry out minor repairs. Not only was this arrangement most uneconomical in manpower and plant, but it also created administrative difficulties for the unfortunate units that had to deal with two or more authorities in order to get all of their equipments repaired.
Many efforts were made between the two World Wars to introduce a centralised and more efficient repair organisation which could deal with all technical equipment. Unfortunately most of these attempts failed either on the grounds of initial expense or because of esprit-de-corps and a strong reluctance on the part of the various arms and services to accept any change that might conceivably weaken their self-reliance. A first major step in the right direction was approved in 1926 when the Engineering Branch of the RAOC was given responsibility for the repair of armoured fighting vehicles and of some of the Army's mechanical transport: but the Royal Engineers, Royal Signals and Royal Army Service Corps were still allowed to retain their separate organisations for repairing most of their vehicles and specialist technical equipment. For the Royal Engineers this mostly applied to civil engineering plant and machinery; for the Royal Signals, radio, telegraph and telephone equipment and for the Royal Army Service Corps (the predecessors of the Royal Corps of Transport), all forms of motor transport. The Royal Tank Corps and many other units still provided their own unit tradesmen for immediate repair tasks.
The Formation of REME
Rearmament and the mechanisation of the Army followed by the outbreak of the Second World War led to further considerable increases in the quantity and complexity of technical equipment. The consequent heavy repair load revealed the weakness of the existing organisation, while the shortage of qualified tradesmen in the Services soon dictated a need for a system which would use the available men more effectively.
In 1941, a Cabinet committee, under the chairmanship of Sir William Beveridge, was set up to investigate the use of manpower in the three services. As a result of one of its recommendations - that the repair services in the army should be rationalised - the Corps Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers came into being on the first of October 1942. The Corps had the rare, if not unique, distinction of being honoured with the designation "Royal" from the day of its formation.
Such a major re-organisation was too complex, however, to be carried out quickly and completely in the middle of a world war. It was decided therefore that the changeover should be undertaken in two phases.
In Phase I, which was implemented immediately, REME was formed on the existing framework of the RAOC (Engineering Branch), strengthened by the transfer of certain technical units and tradesmen from the RE and RASC. At the same time a number of individual tradesmen were transferred into REME from other Corps. The new Corps was made responsible for repairing the technical equipment of all arms with certain major exceptions. REME did not yet undertake:
Those repairs which were carried out by unit tradesmen who were driver/mechanics or fitters in regiments and belonged to the unit rather than being attached to it.
Repairs of RASC-operated vehicles, which remained the responsibility of the RASC; thus each RASC Transport Company had its own workshop.
Repairs of RE specialist equipment, which remained the responsibility of the RE.
In Phase II, which was postponed until conditions were more suitable for a further major change, it was agreed that REME should take over all unit repairs and, in the case of the RASC, field repair as well.
In 1942 the Mechanical Engineering Directorate at the War Office was established under the Director of Mechanical Engineering (DME), Major-General E B Rowcroft (later Sir Bertram Rowcroft). A plan for the subsequent development of the Corps was drawn up in three stages of nine months each, and in almost every detail planned target dates were achieved. In India the IEME was formed; separate from REME since at this time the Indian Army was a separate organisation although many officers and technical personnel were British. HQ REME Training Establishment was formed at Arborfield to control REME technical training. The repair system in the field was reorganised so that repair could be carried out as far forward as possible. The takeover from RAOC of responsibility for scaling of spares was completed. Long term plans for a REME Benevolent Fund, REME Association, REME Band, Officers Club (later the REME Institution) the ' Craftsman ' Magazine and Sports Association were made. DMEs and deputies were appointed to all major headquarters of the field army and deputy directors were appointed to all static command headquarters. Commanders REME were appointed to divisions and Brigade EMEs to brigades.
Almost at once the new organisation was tried out and proved successful at the Battle of Alamein, the first major operation after the Corps was formed. The re-organised recovery and repair system was thoroughly tested during the remainder of the war, during which REME grew to be the largest technical corps, extending its activities to include the manufacture of spare parts and special equipments on a large scale. In addition to its uniformed tradesmen the Corps employed thousands of civilian tradesmen of many different nationalities in its static workshops throughout the world.
REME reached its maximum strength in May 1945, approximately 8000 officers and 152,000 other ranks. The Indian EME, East and West African EME Royal Canadian, Australian, New Zealand EME, and South African Technical Service Corps (TSC) totalled another 185,000. Some 130,000 civilians were employed in EME Services in all parts of the world.
Development after World War II
In the years immediately following the war, the Army in general and REME in particular lost many of their best tradesmen to civilian industry. At the same time equipment was becoming even more complex and the time was clearly ripe for further rationalisation of the systems of repair so as to eliminate waste and to make best use of the technical skill available.
In 1949 therefore, it was decided that "REME Phase II" should be implemented. This decision was published in Army Council Instruction 110 of 1949, and the necessary re-organisation was carried out in the various arms and services in three stages between July 1951 and January 1952. The main changes were:
The transfer to REME of most of the unit repair responsibilities of other arms (Infantry, Artillery, Armoured Corps etc).
The provision of light aid detachments for certain units that had not possessed them under the old organisation.
The provision of new REME workshops to carry out field repairs in RASC transport companies and to vessels of the RASC fleet.
In the interests of individuals, and to preserve esprit-de-corps, the transfer of tradesmen to REME from other arms was made a voluntary matter. Men who wished to do so could remain with their parent regiment or Corps until they left the Army, after which they would be replaced by REME tradesmen. It is also important to realise that, from the point of view of units of other arms, Phase II introduced no basic changes in the recovery and repair system previously in force; REME LADs and attached tradesmen were still integral parts of the units they supported and worked under the direct command of the unit Commanding officers. They simply wore a different cap badge to the parent regiment. Some repair functions still remained with ' user ' Corps, notably Royal Engineers and Royal Signals.
The Army Air Corps was formed in 1958 and it became the task of REME to provide the field repair support for all aircraft used. Despite the short time available for preparation and training, support was in position on time. Since then the "light blue beret" element has grown and matured and now forms some 9% of REME strength.
In February 1964 the Report of the Committee on the Review of the Q Services (the Mcleod Committee) was issued. This reaffirmed the principle of having a single ' Repair Corps '. The recommendations were gradually implemented and the resulting changes were:
1965. REME assumed responsibility for unit repair of A and B vehicles of RE units, and for repair support to the ex-RE Transportation units which had been transferred to RCT, thus introducing REME to railway repairs.
1966. REME took over the unit repair of all telecommunications equipment other than that owned and operated by R Signals (on the recommendation of the Odling Committee). Thus for the first time, the LAD Commander was responsible for the repair of ALL his parent unit's equipment.
1968. REME became responsible for the complete range from unit to base repair of all equipments in RE hands, except construction plant.
In the last twenty five years REME has undergone many changes but its structure has remained much the same. The Professional Head of the Corps was initially entitled DME (later DEME). He became a Director General (DGEME) in 1977 and his headquarters became part of the Logistic Executive (Army) within the Quartermaster General's Department of the Ministry of Defence with increased responsibility for the management of the higher technology Army equipment. Consequent upon the Logistic Support Review his responsibilities increased considerably on the creation of the Equipment Support Organisation which encompasses the traditional repair, recovery, modification and examination roles of REME and now the management of all Army equipment and the procurement and management of supporting spares. In 1992, DGEME became the Director General of Equipment Support (Army) (DGES(A)) within Headquarters Quartermaster General at Andover. On the formation of the Defence Logistics Organisation (DLO) in 1999, his post was re-designated Director General Equipment Support (Land) and the management of ammunition was added to the portfolio. His staff were reorganised into Integrated Project Teams (IPTs) responsible for the management of all Land equipment operated by the three services and its major overhaul. Equipment support planning for the Army aircraft was transferred to DGES(Air). At the same time the duties of the Professional Head of the Corps was transferred to a new post entitled Director Electrical and Mechanical Engineering (Army) (DEME(A)) with his Headquarters located at Arborfield.
As equipment has become more complex so many changes have been made in the trades of the Corps and their individual responsibilities, while economies have dictated that the Corps must carry out its tasks with fewer personnel. The Corps total strength remains at about 10% of the Army's total.
Operationally the Corps has continued to give technical support to units in the Army in all the wars, anti-terrorist campaigns and peace keeping operations since 1945; including Palestine, Korea, Kenya, Malaya, Suez, Aden, Cyprus, Borneo, Belize, the Falklands, Lebanon, the Gulf War, Angola, Rwanda and Sierra Leone. Currently many members of the Corps are engaged on operations in Northern Ireland and the Former Yugoslavia.
The bulk of the Corps workshops and tradesmen now serve in the United Kingdom or Germany as Great Britains forces form a major part of the NATO Allied Command Europe (ACE) Rapid Reaction Corps. It is here that experiments and trials of organisation, field repair techniques and equipment give pointers to the REME of the future. A recent example was the formation of REME battalions structured to provide both close and general support. At the same time the DLO maintains the Army Base Repair Organisation (ABRO) a defence agency responsible for carrying out complete overhauls of equipment from tanks to radios and for other repair support both in house and by contract.
REMEs combined military and civilian strength is approximately 17,000. Over 4,000 volunteers in the Territorial Army wear the REME cap badge and, in so doing, make up individual and unit reinforcements to complete the NATO ACE Rapid Reaction Corps.
REME officers are trained in engineering disciplines, usually mechanical, electronic or aeronautical whilst soldiers are trained in a number of trades designed to support the vast range of equipment used by the Army. Before they become engineers and tradesmen all REME personnel undergo basic military training and it is impressed upon them that they are soldiers first and foremost. They must therefore be fully capable of operating as infantrymen in defence of their own workshops and light aid detachments. They thus undergo continuation training in military subjects throughout their careers as well as progressive training in their particular technical fields.
The REME Task Today
With minor exceptions only, REME is now responsible for the examination, modification, repair and recovery of all mechanical, electronic, electrical and optical equipment of the Army beyond the capacity of unit non-technical personnel.
In addition REME officers and soldiers, as part of the DLO, are responsible for the provision of technical advice on the design of equipment before it is manufactured to ensure ease of maintenance; for investigating defects in equipment in service and designing modifications to overcome them. Other responsibilities include the cataloguing and scaling of spares (forecasting the rate at which parts will wear and thus the quantity of replacements needed over a given period of time), the provision and management of technical publications and the management of all Army equipment and its associated spares.