“Keeping the punch in the Army’s fist”
This was how Monty described the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers in North Africa.
At the outset of WW2, the maintenance and repair of equipment was largely in the hands of individual Regiments and several of the then extant Corps. Such as the Royal Army Ordinance Corps, the Royal Army Service Corps, Royal Engineers and so on.
This led to much conflict of interest, some ridiculous and very ingenious indenting for spares and tools and very disparate standards of efficiency from Unit to Unit. It was almost impossible to enforce best practices under such circumstances and efficiency was falling off rapidly at a time when a uniformly high standard was desperately needed.
As a result of decisions made by a Cabinet Committee formed to overcome this problem, chaired by Sir William Beveridge. It was decided that a single Corps should be set up to deal with maintenance and repair of all Army equipment. To that end, the nexus of the Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers was formed in 1942. From the very beginning the newly formed Corps was designated Royal, a significant honour and indicative of the faith engendered in it’s innate ability to deliver the goods as required.
Many Tradesmen from the RAOC, RASC and the RE’s were transferred to the newly minted REME, immediate steps were also taken to provide trade training and even Apprentice facilities for the new Corps. Because of the exigencies of the War and the difficulties in separating everything at once, with resultant chaos and resentment from established chains of command, it was decided to implement the changeover in two phases.
Initially, in Phase one, each Regiment kept a small cadre of personnel on strength to do running repairs to vehicles and equipment. RASC Transport Company’s kept, for the time being, their own Base Workshops and the RE’s continued to maintain their own specialised equipment such as Construction plant and Railway Rolling stock. All Regiments and other units were affiliated to a Field or Base Workshop run by REME for their secondary and major repairs.
They also carried out the recovery of knocked out tanks from the battlefield and to do this they eventually were equipped with Armoured Recovery Vehicles (ARV) which were versions of the basic tank, with no main armament, a dummy turret and with a crane and winch attached. This shows a Churchill ARV, which remained in service until the 1960’s.
REME’s first test came in the form of the Battle of El Alamein and it’s ability to rapidly restore damaged vehicles and equipment to battle readiness was sorely tested but emerged triumphant. This was instrumental in enabling Monty’s lads to keep up the pressure that soon broke the Afrika Korps and the Italian Army’s ability to stand and slog it out. REME’s policy of providing repair facilities, known as Field Workshops, as close to the “Front” as possible was a great success
This year one member of our group will be celebrating the 75th Birthday of the REME during numerous shows.
Here are some pictures of the R.E.M.E, in North Africa repairing the equipment of the British 8th Army, circa late 1942