Waterbeach Barracks Denny End Road Waterbeach
In 1813, the Corps of Royal Military Artificers was re-
The rank and title of ‘Sapper’ is derived from the action of ‘sapping’, that is, digging an open or covered trench (a ‘sap’) to a fortifications wall in order to undermine or blow up the structure.
The rank ‘Sapper’ is the same as Private, Trooper, etc, but all members of the Corps are generically known as ‘Sappers’, irrespective of rank.
39 Corps Engineer Regiment was formed at Crickhowell, Wales, in 1950 and served in Kenya, East Africa, from 1953 to 1955 during the Mau Mau campaign. The Regiment then returned to the UK and was disbanded in February 1956, before being re-
HQRE (Airfds) was formed in June 1966 in Waterbeach. On this formal change of name from ‘RAF Waterbeach’ to ‘Waterbeach Barracks’, some RAF officers and other ranks took the option of transferring to the Royal Engineers. The Regiment was based in Waterbeach until July 2012, when it went north to Kinloss in Scotland.
The secondary role of the Regiment -
39 Engineer Regiment (Airfields) was not the only regiment stationed at Waterbeach, although it was the only one to remain there from 1966, when the RAF handed it over to the army, until 2012, shortly before the Barracks closed in 2013. Other regiments stationed at Waterbeach were 12 Engineer Brigade/Group (1981 – 2013), 23 Engineer Regiment (Air Assault) (2003 – 2005), and 25 Engineer Regiment (2007 – 2012).
As well as airfield operations, the Regiment was tasked with much other construction work overseas, such as road, school and other infrastructure projects like those carried out by 48 Field Squadron in Malawi, and in Kenya in 1983. Royal Engineers have also been deployed to various parts of the Middle East ever since the Regiment was formed in 1966, and that continues until the present day.
From 1970 until the late 1990s Squadrons from the Regiment at Waterbeach were regularly deploying to Northern Ireland. That campaign was and is the longest in the Corps’ history.
Squadrons from Waterbeach were not involved in the 1982 Falklands War, but after it ended, they rotated through 4-
Waterbeach squadrons were involved in the Iraq War -
After the collapse of the Taliban-
More information about the Royal Engineers at Waterbeach can be obtained from the booklet “Sappers at the Beach”, available at the Museum shop. See below for an extract from that book:
Royal Engineers squad outside J hangar at Waterbeach Barracks
The origins of military engineering can be traced back to 1066 when Humphrey de Tilleul, William the Conqueror’s engineer, brought a pre-
In 1415 Henry V raised a permanent ‘Office in Ordnance’ which included engineer and gunner officers. Subsequently renamed the ‘Board of Ordnance’, it remained in being until 1855, and was the source of military engineering officers for engineering works in both peace and war.
A ‘Corps of Engineers’ was established in 1716. Members were all deemed to be officers, but were not, until 1757, given military rank as such. So this officer-
On 25 April 1787 the Corps of Engineers -
After the abolition of the ‘Board of Ordnance’ in 1856, the soldiers of the Royal Sappers and Miners were combined with the Royal Engineers into the ‘Corps of Royal Engineers’, hence combining both officers and soldiers and creating the Royal Engineers as we know it today.
The operational role of the Regiment once formed was to ensure the survivability of the four major airbases in Germany, and support at Royal Air Force (Germany) HQ in Rheindahlen. Airfield support was first known as Rapid Runway Repair (RRR). So the major duty, the primary operational role, of the RE at Waterbeach right from its formation was to develop the methods and skills to carry out its role of immediately repairing, in war-
By the early 1970s, when air forces started having cluster bombs (large bombs spraying out many small ‘bomblets’), repair of smaller scab-
In the early 1920’s, electrical and mechanical elements of the Royal Engineers, led by Major John Mizen of 39 Engineer Regiment, clearly showed how airfields could be put out of action by the destruction of electrical installations and circuitry, or by damage to major mechanical equipment, fuel pumps, fuel supply lines, or indeed key buildings such as the Combat Operations Centre. It was following this analysis, that the role of 39 Engineer Regiment was redefined as Airfield Damage Repair (ADR). Training on Waterbeach airfield and barracks, and in the wartime locations of the Squadrons, reflected this shift in emphasis; indeed, the organisation and staffing of the Squadrons and Regimental headquarters were accordingly enhanced by adding Officers, Warrant Officers, Senior NCOs and craftsman from electrical and mechanical backgrounds; a Fd Sqn Airfields had eight officers, including at least 5 majors/captains and a large number of Warrant/Senior non-
In 1984 there came a sudden order from BAOR, the British Army of the Rhine for all ‘medium-
Each ADR Squadron had an effective and close affiliation with its war-
In its war establishment the Squadrons and Regimental HQ had considerable reinforcement from other Regular and Territorial Army (TA) units; for example, each Sqn took under command a Specialist Team (Bulk Petroleum). A further Field Squadron (Airfds) also came under command of the Regiment-
War Establishment (Order of Battle, or ORBAT) said to be over 2,100.
For five years from 1977 the operational role of 39 Engineer Regiment changed to support of 7 Field Force based at Colchester, but in 1982 the Regiment, less 34 Field Squadron, reverted to its role of support to the RAF,
with combat engineering as its second role.
Liaison with the RAF locally also remained very close: utill the closure of nearby RAF Oakington in the early 1970s, the main runway at Waterbeach remained active, along with its control tower, and was a relief landing ground for Varsity aircraft used in the advanced pilot training role; there was also use by helicopters and by Vertical/Short Take-
always attracted huge crowds.
One element of support to the RAF was the installations of Rotary Hydraulic Arrester Gear (RHAG) on airfields; this was a rather specialist aspect of Squadron training. Other less conventional tasks added to the variety: for examples, a short take-
On several occasions there was recovery of various crashed aircraft in UK.
The secondary role of the Regiment, combat engineering, as carried out by other Sapper front-
for simulated demolition, while keeping the road open.
Crater left after being blown up. Photo D M Adamson
Equipment for runway repair. Photo D M Adamson