The Korean War presented a major challenge to military engineers because of the nature of the terrain. Korea was a land of mountains interlaced with rice patties in the valleys and there were few roads capable of carrying sustained heavy military traffic. The area was also subject to heavy monsoon rains that seemed to destroy roads and bridges annually. In 1950, 57th Independent Field Squadron was the first of the Royal Canadian Engineer units of the Canadian Army that was thrust into the centre of these problems as part of the 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade Group.
Conquering the terrain would depend on earth-moving equipment and the Canadian heavy equipment capability within 57th Independent Field Squadron was a “Park Section” that comprised equipment such as dozers, face-shovels, cranes, graders, and dump trucks. When the 1st Commonwealth Division was formed from the elements of Australia, United Kingdom and Canada, our engineers joined with 28th Field Engineer Regiment, Royal Engineers. The heavy equipment elements from the three countries combined their capabilities within the Park Troop of 64 Field Park Squadron, RE.
While the similar engineer elements among the Commonwealth brigades were brought together into a divisional unit early in the conflict, the mixture of equipment and a supply system that used both American and British channels presented its challenges. The good Canadian training, ingenuity and initiative, however, was instrumental in keeping the heavy equipment operational. Eventually, the Canadian equipment became primarily of US manufacture and the main source of spare parts was through the US Army.
The tasks faced by the Engineers were formidable. Roads had to be built and maintained over what seemed to be bottomless rice patties and up steep mountain slopes; timber was cut for defensive positions; river ferries were operated; airfields were constructed; tunnels were driven for defensive works. Along with the other “normal” engineer tasks, this meant that there was little rest for the sappers.
All these tasks required heavy equipment to complete and the demands were ever-increasing. The divisional staff was successful in acquiring the additional equipment and that meant more operators were required. The Canadian sapper proved very adept at the operation of heavy equipment and the Royal Canadian Engineer unit was frequently raided for more potential operators. The Canadians soon became the backbone of plant operators in the regiment.
57th Field Squadron was replaced in succession by 23rd Field Squadron and 59th Field Squadron in rotation after one year of service. Just as so many times in the past, “the muddy old engineers” proved to be full value for their service in Korea as their equipment operating capabilities help overcome the challenges of the Korean terrain and the enemy action.