23 Amphibious Engineer Squadron RE
23 Amphibious Engineer Squadron provides the only wide wet-gap crossing capability in the British Army. The squadron is equipped with the German made M3 Amphibian, which can be used in varying numbers to construct either bridges or ferries up to Military Load Class 100. M3's have been used on several major German rivers including the Weser, Rhine and Elbe as well as in Poland. During the second Gulf War, they were used operationally for the first time on the Shatt Al Basrah waterway.
Part of 28 Engineer Regiment in Hameln, Germany, the Squadron consists of 1 Troop, 2 Troop and 412 Amphibious Engineer Troop RE(V) giving one troop of M3 Amphibious bridging and ferrying equipment for each Brigade in the Division.
Although claiming existence as far back as 1798, the squadron started its present continuous service in 1855, when it was raised at Woolwich as 23rd Company, Royal Sappers and Miners. It was the first mounted unit of engineers, and was known as â€œDriver Troopâ€?, a nickname that is preserved to this day - the Squadron Headquarters still proudly bears the title 'Driver Troop'.
The Company first saw active service service in the Crimea in 1855 where it stayed until sailing for China in 1857. It was however diverted en route to Calcutte on account of the Indian Mutiny, to fight at Cawnpore, Lucknow, Secunderabad and on the Nepal frontier, distinguishing itself as infantry, building floating bridges, demolishing forts and establishing signal communications.
From India the company sailed in 1859 to canton in China and took part in the capture of the Taku Forts and Pekin, serving under Major Graham VC, in a division commanded by Major General Sir Robert Napier, himself a Sapper. On this tour it assisted General Gordon in the removal of the Royal Throne from the Emperor's Summer Palace in Pekin.
Then in 1885 it became the 23rd Field Company RE at Aldershot, earning the nickname 'The Black Horse' from its celebrated black horse teams. Later it became known as the 'Old Battery', and now carries the twin badges of a gun and a black horse to commemorate these old nicknames.
The Company saw more active service in Chatham and Ireland, until sailing for South Africa in 1899. There the Company suffered great privations but distinguished itself as the only RE Company in the siege of Ladysmith. Its tasks included building gun emplacements, erecting barbed wire, building concrete and suspension bridges, operating pontoon ferries, laying an electrical minefield and making roads. The Company then saw further active service in Transvaal, providing water supply and building block houses.
The most distinguished action of the campaign took place at Wagon Hill in January 1900, where Lieutenant Digby Jones of the Company posthumously earned the Victoria Cross for his part in repelling a strong Boer attack. The sixth of January, the anniversary of his death, is still remembered by the Squadron each year.
The period between the Boer War and the Great War was spent at Aldershot where the Company started its long association with the 1st Infantry division, serving with distinction until 1955. During this period of over forty years it was affiliated with the Guards Brigade, the senior brigade of the senior division in the Army, and went into action with the British Expeditionary forces of 1914 and 1939.
The Company was in Flanders between 1914 and 1918. Within three weeks of the outbreak of the war, the company was in action building, and later demolishing, bridges in the retreat to the Marne, at the battles of Loos, Cheluvelt and Ypres. Other work consisted of wiring, the construction of dugouts, mining and supporting the assaulting infantry.
The years 1919 to 1939 saw the Company again at Aldershot, but parting with its black horses and being equipped with mechanised transport. After constructing defence works and laying mines in France in 1939, the Company fought in the withdrawl at Dunkirk, where it built a folding boat equipment bridge to assist the evacuation of the BEF in May 1940.
Between 1940 and 1943 it built coastal defences in England, and worked with the First Army of the North Africa Campaign. In 1943 it fought in Tunisia and Pantelleria, and then landed in Italy. At Anzio in 1944, while fighting as infantry with the Scots Guards, the Company was overun by the Germans and lost half its strength as casualties or prisoners. Finally it fought up to Rome and Florence, until the first division went to Palestine in 1945.
The next ten years were spent in the Middle East, in Palestine, Egypt, Cyreniaca and Tripolitania, with works varying from normal Field Engineering to internal security, and from building to locust control. In 1949 the title of the Company changed to 23rd Field Squadron RE, when it became part of 22 Field Engineer Regiment.
In 1957 the Squadron returned to England from Tripolitania and moved to Chiseldon Camp as part of 22 Field Engineer Regiment. The Middle East emergency of 1958 saw the Squadron once again on the move, this time to Cyprus with the 1st Guards Brigade Group. A period of intense activity ensued with tasks varying from normal field engineering to internal security duties against EOKA. In December 1958 the Squadron returned to Chiseldon Camp as part of the Central Strategic Reserve and eventually as an integral unit of the 1st Guards Brigade Group.
1st Guards Brigade Group became 1st Infantry Brigade Group in 1960 and the Squadron, now 23rd Independent Field Squadron, moved to Tidworth in November 1961 to join other units of the brigade. In 1952 the Squadron disbanded and was reformed as 23 Amphibious River Crossing Cadre. In this way the first British Amphibious Bridging Unit came into being. In August 1963 the Cadre was renamed 23 Amphibious Engineer Squadron and was commanded by a Major for the first time in its present state.
Since August 1963 the build has been continuous and the very small Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers element became 23 Amphibious Engineer Squadron Workshop. In 1971, 23 Amphibious Engineer Squadron then split into troops to form the nucleus of a 3 squadron Amphibious Engineer Regiment, ie 28 Amphibious Engineer Regiment.
From 1971 to the present day, 23 Amphibious Engineer Squadron has been involved on five tours of Northern Ireland in the period from 1978 to 2001, Bosnia during 1994 - 1995 and Kosovo in 1999. The Sqn also took delivery of the new M3 Rig (amphibious vehicle) over the period 1996 to 1999 which replaced the M2 Rig. The Squadron deployed with 28 Engineer Regiment in 2003 on Operation TELIC, the second Gulf War, where the M3 was used operationally for the first time at Crossing Point 'Anna' on the Shatt Al Basrah waterway.