Engineers have always been at the forefront of battle and the burden of death we share is proportionally as high as any other arm.
In these pages, we have gathered just a small sample of the sacrifice by focusing on key battles and operations in our history.
- Mine Dump Explosion on 18 March 1945 Kills Nine Sappers: This story about an incident during the Second World War with the 11th (Lambton) Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers in Germany on 18 March 1945 is a tragic reminder of the hazardous conditions that are part of combat engineering. Nine Sappers of the company, lost their lives in a single incident on that day.
- Tributes to the Fallen Sappers of the Dieppe Raid: 19 August 2017 marks the 75th Anniversary of Operation JUBILEE, the Dieppe Raid. Canadian Sappers suffered 85% casualties that day – the worst of any unit. Of the 71 assault sappers who landed, only ten returned to England and only eight of 98 sappers from the demolition teams returned. In all, 27 died on the beaches, in the boats, later in hospital or in captivity. As part of our activities to recognise the 75th Anniversary of the Dieppe Raid, the CMEA has written a tribute to recognize each Canadian Sapper who died on the Raid or while a Prisoner of War. Take some time to scroll through the list and remember these brave young men of Canada.
- Fallen Sappers in Sicily. Although the landings were almost unopposed, action along the line of march from the beaches at Pachino in the south, over the mountains to the town of Adrano in the north, was hard and deadly. On a man-for-man basis, the RCE took casualties at a rate second only to the infantry. The RCE lost 23 officers and men in the Sicilian Campaign.
Tributes to Fallen Sappers in the Liri Valley: By mid-January, the Allies on the west coast of Italy were entrenched in positions overlooking the Gustav Line blocking the entrance to the Liri Valley, the only viable approach on the Road to Rome. US, British, Indian, New Zealand and Free French troops continued to assault the Gustav Line focussing on Monte Cassino through the early months of 1944 at great cost and little success. Fighting stopped in March to allow time to move the British Eighth Army from the Adriatic to the west to join the US Fifth Army in one determined assault on the Gustav Line to gain the Liri Valley and Highway 6 Road to Rome It was nearly two months later on 11 May that the assault was launched. The battle was won in the last week of May when the 1st Canadian Corps had broken through to the Melfa River opening the Liri Valley and the Road to Rome which fell less than a week later. The fighting was the most intense and costly the Canadian Army had faced thus far in the War costing over 1,000 casualties, The battles cost the Royal Canadian Engineers 27 officers and men. The CMEA has compiled a series of stories about each of these so their sacrifice will not be forgotten.
Juno Beach Tributes: D-Day Fallen Sappers: As part of its activities to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of D-Day in 2014, the Juno Beach Center released a “Tributes” feature to recognize each Canadian Soldier who died on 6 June 1944 during the Normandy Invasion. The initial details in the Tributes were sketchy at best, and mostly incomplete. With the assistance of students from Smiths Falls ON, the 6th Field Engineer Squadron Museum Association in North Vancouver BC and members of the 5th Field Company Veterans Association in Ottawa, the CMEA developed a profile on each of the 18 sappers killed on D-Day, most of whom landed ahead of the assaulting infantry. Sapper casualties, dead, wounded and missing, were proportionately among the highest of all branches. Take a moment to view the tributes to our D-Day sappers who sacrificed their lives. Scroll through the complete set to appreciate the many "Average Canadians" who responded to the call during the Second World War and how each one contributed to the successful D-Day invasion.
Tributes to the Fallen Sappers of the Gothic Line: 25 August 2019 marked the 75th anniversary of the assault of the Gothic Line. With the assistance of Gary Siliker, the CMEA has been able to write short biographies of the officers and men of the Royal Canadian Engineers who made the ultimate sacrifice in the largest operation of the Italian Campaign.
Tributes to the Fallen Sappers of Operation BERLIN – 25/26 September 1944: As a key part of Operation MARKET GARDEN in mid-September 1944, the 11,000-strong British 1st Airborne Division jumped west of Arnhem at 1300 hrs on 17 September 1944. Their task was to capture and hold the Arnhem Bridge for two days until the arrival of XXX Corps. However, after nine days, with little support or reinforcement, only 740 of the 11,000 men had actually made it to the objective. Attempts to link up with the encircled division failed and the only option left was to evacuate those who remained using small boats to cross and re-cross the Neder Rijn at night. Four sapper field companies were tasked for Operation BERLIN: the Royal Engineer 260th and 553rd Field Companies and the Royal Canadian Engineers 20th and 23rd Field Companies. The 1st Airborne Division was the hardest hit among the Allied forces involved in Operation Market Garden. They suffered 1,485 killed and 6,414 captured. Several hundred escaped on their own aided by the Dutch resistance. Operation BERLIN rescued some 2500 airborne troops. 23rd Field Company recovered the majority of the paratroopers by making approximately 150 stormboat crossings. They lost seven killed and 14 wounded. Five were decorated for their heroic actions.
Sapper Bravery and Sacrifice in the Battle of the Scheldt: Between mid-September and 8 November 1944, the First Canadian Army fought to unlock the shipping route to the port of Antwerp and open a vital supply route to support the advance into Germany. Strong defences and the unique geography of the Scheldt Estuary this one of the most difficult battlefields of the Second World War. The Canadians and their allies advanced over a maze of narrow roads, canals, dykes and flooded lowlands. While the ground dictated that the infantry would bear the brunt of the battle, and indeed they did, the ground also dictated that the sappers would be front and centre in every action. Of the nearly 1800 soldiers who died in the Battle of the Scheldt, nearly sixty were sappers.