Army Troops Company Royal Engineers

This article will look at army troops companies of the Royal Engineers during the Second World War. It is one of a series of articles to help you research both units and soldiers who served in the British Army during the war:

I also offer a Second World War Soldier Research and Document Copying Service.

Army Troops Companies of the Royal Engineers

Army troops companies were war-raised units of the Royal Engineers which carried out engineering work on the lines of communication. That is, away from the front line. Army troops companies shouldn’t be confused with army field companies, as they were two different types of unit. The companies began to be formed shortly after the outbreak of war but weren’t given a block of numbers like other types of war-raised Royal Engineers’ units. Instead, they were given a wide range of numbers, which means you can’t identify army troops companies from their number alone. For example, there are the 103rd, 104th, 212th, 218th, 551st, and 569th Army Troops Companies. They served in most theatres of war and the Indian Army also raised their own army troops companies.

The companies were usually found serving as lines of communication troops, often administered by a Commander Royal Engineers, rather than with a formation, e.g. a corps or division. A great variety of work was undertaken by army troops companies, as the following extracts from the war diary of the 551st Army Troops Company from February 1941 shows. At the time, the Company was operating in Egypt and Libya.

Matruh: 1 February: General repairs for camp accommodation at Mersa Matruh. One officer and 42 other ranks proceeded on detachment to Mersa Baggush on salvage operations.

Matruh: 2 February: Splinter proof protection to tents in Company area.

Matruh Headquarters: 3 – 28 February: Pipeline construction from harbour to main reservoirs. Pipeline construction from Charing Cross to Hukuma. Pipelines to be maintained in Matruh Area and from Matruh to Charing Cross. Maintenance and operating pumps for various waterpoints. Maintenance of 7 pumps on sand dunes; now under repair. Repairs to Roman aqueducts. Running lighting set for Brigade Headquarters. Construction of end loading ramp for railway. Investigation and clearing of minefields. Repairs to huts for occupation by Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes.

Baggush: 3 – 28 February: Running Workshop Lorry. Maintenance and running of local pumps. Salving machinery and stores under own transport arrangements. Control of native labour for maintaining of Royal Engineers Stores. Loading salved stores on to rail.

The War Establishment of an Army Troops Company

Army troops companies initially used a war establishment which had been “Notified in Army Council Instructions for the week ending 23rd March, 1938″. It was given the designation IV/1931/6/2 and was in use for most of the war. The war establishment wasn’t replaced until  IV/6/3 was “Notified in Army Council Instructions 5th January 1944”. This war establishment kept the same structure and had a very similar composition. It is possible that there were additional war establishments for an army troops company which replaced IV/6/3. As the 1938 establishment was in use for most of the war, it is recorded below. The title page of the war establishment recorded its structure:

  • Company headquarters, including a workshop.
  • An electrical and mechanical section of 36 working men, capable of division into two sub-sections.
  • Four works sections, each of 31 working men, for general engineer work.

An army troops company contained 7 officers and 281 other ranks. A Major commanded the company, with a Captain as second-in-command. Both officers served with the headquarters, which also contained 38 other ranks. With a total strength of 40, the headquarters was the smallest part of the company. Each section was commanded by a subaltern, either a Lieutenant or Second Lieutenant. The electrical and mechanical section was the largest part of the company, as it contained 64 soldiers. Each of the four sections was commanded by a subaltern and had a total strength of 46 other ranks. Of the other ranks who served with an army troops company, 220 were tradesmen having passed a trade test in a specific skill. If a soldier passed a trade, it should be recorded in their service record along with their skill level. The following trades were represented:

  • 11 Blacksmiths
  • 12 Bricklayers
  • 43 Carpenters and joiners
  • 3 Clerks
  • 10 Concreters
  • 1 Draughtsman (architectural)
  • 2 Draughtsmen (mechanical)
  • 25 Electricians
  • 3 Engine artificers
  • 16 Engine hands Internal Combustion
  • 28 Fitters and turners
  • 8 Masons
  • 5 Painters and decorators
  • 23 Pioneers Royal Engineers
  • 10 Plumbers and pipe-fitters
  • 6 Stokers, stationary engine
  • 5 Surveyors (cadastral and engineering)
  • 6 Tinsmiths
  • 2 Welders, oxy-acetylene

Then there were fifty non-tradesmen who were all Drivers Internal Combustion (I.C.). These soldiers drove and maintained a unit’s vehicles. Six of them acted as batmen-drivers I.C., another as a batman, one was on sanitary duties and one was on water duties. For transport, a unit had:

  • 8 bicycles
  • 6 motorcycles
  • 1 4-seater car
  • 6 2-seater cars
  • 11 15-cwt 4-wheeled trucks
  • 11 3-ton 4-wheeled lorries
  • 1 3-ton 6-wheeled machinery lorry
  • 2 3-ton 6-wheeled machinery lorries (electrical and mechanical)
  • 1 15-cwt 2-wheeled water tank
  • 2 air compressor trailers

For weaponry, an army troops company had fifteen .38-inch revolvers, 273 Lee-Enfield rifles, six Rifle, Anti-Tank, .55in, Boys and six light machine guns. The latter would probably have been First World War vintage Lewis guns early in the war, rather than the Bren guns.

Researching an Army Troops Company

The most important document to research an army troops company is its war diary. This was written by one of its officers and recorded its location and activities. They often contain appendices in the form of reports, maps, orders, and field returns of officers and other ranks. War diaries are held at the National Archives in London and I offer a document copying service for them. Army troops companies aren’t always labelled as such in the catalogue, so it’s best to search their number followed by Royal Engineers in the relevant series. Another possible source of information is the war diary of the formation, area, commander royal engineers, etc. under which an army troops company was serving. The extract below was taken from the last war diary of the 551st Army Troops Company which provided a summary of its service throughout the war. As you can see, the Company served under a variety of armies, districts, divisions, areas, and Commander Royal Engineers Works. They will also have war diaries which you can consult for further information but you may only get snippets. Commander Royal Engineers, area, etc. war diaries are of most use if the army troops company you’re researching has very poor war diaries, otherwise, they usually won’t add a lot of information.

Army Troop Company FormationsAn extract from the war diary of the 551st Army Troops Company showing the wide variety of armies, districts, divisions and Commanders Royal Engineers it served under.