The Formation of REME
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
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.
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
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
As a direct result of this success, REME continued to expand
throughout the remainder of WW2 and soon became the biggest
Corps in the British Army, reaching its maximum personnel
strength of 160,000 all ranks in May 1945. Another result of the
successful transition of the new Corps was the appearance of
identical Formations within all Empire and Commonwealth Armed
forces, modelled exactly on the original REME concept.
In 1949, Phase two of the reforms was implemented and this was
completed by 1952.
This saw all Regimental light repair facilities come under REME
aegis and all workshops and vessel repair facilities of RASC
vehicle and boat Company's under REME control.
In 1958 the RAF relinquished control of Army Light Aviation
repair and maintenance to REME.
After a slow start, the Army Air Corps component of REME stands
today at 9% of total personnel.
types of recovery vehicles were also used and the picture shows
two Ward La France heavy 6x6 wreckers with Gar Wood jibs, in use
by the British during a recovery operation in North Africa, with
a Scammell Pioneer in the background.
Gradually all other
repair and maintenance facilities, with the singular exception of
the RE's Construction plant, have come under REME's umbrella. So
today's Craftsman may be a Technician in the Information Technology
field, or a Locomotive Engineer, Vehicle Mechanic of various sorts,
Airframe/Engine Technician, even a Maritime Tradesman. Clerks and
Storemen play vital roles too, as do Armourers and Instrument
Technicians, Radar Tech's, Recovery Mechanics and so on.
The Royal Electrical &
Mechanical Engineers encompasses as wide a range of Trades and
skills as does any comparable organisation in the World. It was and
is, without a shadow of a doubt, the driving force behind the
British Army as we know it today.
recovery vehicles included winch equipped lorries for lighter duties,
such as the Morris CDSW 6 x 4 breakdown truck seen here. This was a
development of the CDSW gun tractor, fitted with a 4 ton power winch.