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Royal Bombay Sappers and Miners

This article is about BEG - Bombay Engineering Group. For other uses, see BEG.
Bombay Engineer Group
Active 1780–present
Country India
Branch Corps of Engineers of Indian Army
Type Combat Engineers
Role Support
Garrison/HQ Khadki, Pune
Motto Sarvatra!
Engagements See Battle honours list
Battle honours See Battle honours list

The Bombay Engineering Group, or the Bombay Sappers as they are informally known, are a regiment of the Indian Army Corps of Engineers. The Bombay Sappers draw their origin from the erstwhile Bombay Presidency army of the British Raj. This regiment has its centre in Khadki, Pune in Maharashtra state. The Bombay Sappers have gone to on to win many accolades in battle throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, both before and after Independence, including the British Victoria Cross and the French Legion of Honour before independence, as well as the Param Vir Chakra and Ashok Chakra as part of Independent India. The Group has also made its mark in peacetime activities such as sport, adventure, aid to civil authority and prestigious construction projects. The troops of the Bombay Sappers are renowned for their endurance, courage and valour on the battlefield.

Brief history


The Bombay Sappers draw their origins back to the late 18th century when the British had become a new force in the politics of India which consisted of a large number of kingdoms and fiefdoms; the principal ones being the Maratha confederacy, Mysore, Hyderabad and Berar, with British presidencies at Bombay, Madras and Bengal in addition to their factories at Surat. The British engaged in conflict with Tipu Sultan and later the Marathas, which along with diplomatic measures resulted in British overlordship over large parts of India.

The earliest instance of recruitment of native sappers was the formation of a company of Pioneer Lascars, comprising 100 men, in 1777 by Major Lawrence Nilson, the first Chief Engineer of the Bombay Presidency.[1] Over the next few years, these newly born Lascars saw action mostly in skirmishes with the Marathas. Soon after being recognised as a Pioneer Corps in 1781,[2] they participated in the 1782–84 expedition to the Malabar coast against Tipu Sultan's forces in the Second Mysore War and also saw action in the Third Mysore War, when they served at Calicut and at the first siege of Seringapatam.[3]

In 1797, the Bombay Pioneer Corps was organised afresh with 4 companies of 100 men each, under Captain-Lieutenant Bryce Moncrieff (Bo.E.) into which the Pioneer Lascars were wholly absorbed.[3] The Bombay Pioneers rendered sterling service in road construction and survey of the Malabar and Kanara for some years, in the midst of which they participated with merit in the Fourth Mysore War (1799), participating in the defense of Manatana, Battle of Seedaseer and the siege and capture of Seringapatam. The Bombay Pioneers next saw service in 1803 during the Second Maratha War under Sir Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington, excelling at Gawilgarh and rendering sterling service in the many campaigns by maintaining lines of communication and helping the heavy cannons reach the battlefield.

The successful defeat of Maratha ambitions South of the Vindhyas was followed by stringent economisation in 1807 which found the Bombay Pioneers reduced to only one company,[4] till, in 1812, the inescapable demands of a vibrant and growing Presidency led to the Corps being increased to a strength of four companies, Numbers 1 to 4.[5] Soon after during the Third Maratha War (1818–1820), the four companies paid a vital role in the capture of the erstwhile Peshwa's territories by the reduction of as many as 33 forts in the Konkan, Khandesh and Deccan.[6] Impending operations in Central India led to the Corps being expanded to 6 companies in 1819 and to 8 companies in 1822 when they were officially recognised as a battalion.[7]

Besides the Bombay Pioneers, a separate company of Engineer Lascars had been raised in 1820 and designated as 'Sappers and Miners Company'.[8] This field company was the first Bombay Sapper unit to proceed abroad when in 1821 it sailed for operations against pirates on the Arabian coast and earned for itself the first battle honour of the Corps, Beni Boo Alli. In 1826, a second company was raised and the 'Sappers & Miners' made into the Engineer Corps in 1829.[9]

Earlier, in 1803, a pontoon train had been raised by the British at Bombay to help with river crossing of the rivers of the Deccan in monsoon. This proved unable to keep up with the swift movement of infantry and cavalry characteristic of Sir Arthur Wellesley's manouvres, but later proved to be useful for operations in Gujarat.[10] This too was merged with the Engineer Corps.

In 1830 the Bombay Pioneers were reduced from 8 to 6 companies and the pioneer companies merged into the Engineer Corps.[11] The Engineer Corps were reduced in strength yet again in 1834 as part of a general retrenchment to just one Sapper & Miner and 3 Pioneer companies.[11] Soon after in 1839, the Bombay Engineer companies took part in operations in Afghanistan, distinguishing themselves at Ghuznee and Khelat.

In 1840, all the pioneer companies were converted into Sappers & Miners and the 'Engineer Corps' renamed as the Bombay Sappers & Miners.[12] The Corps took part in many operations both in India and abroad, the long list of battle and theatre honours earned giving an idea of the sterling service rendered by the Corps both in peace and war. In the 19th century and prior to World War I, the Bombay Sappers served in Arabia, Persia, Abyssinia, China, Somaliland; in India fought in the Mysore, Maratha and Anglo-Sikh Wars; fought in the aftermath of the Mutiny in Mhow, Jhansi, Saugor and Kathiawar and many times over in the Punjab, North West Frontier Province and Afghanistan.

In the 1903 reorganisation of the Indian Army, the Corps was renamed in the newly unified Indian Army as the 3rd Sappers & Miners. A mistaken interpretation of the historic records led to the Bombay Sappers being considered as junior to the Madras and Bengal Sappers whereas they could trace an unbroken descent from before the Madras or Bengal Sappers were formed; the case for reversion being taken up a number of times unsuccessfully, presumably due to inadequate records of the services of the Corps in the late 18th century.

The Bombay Sappers expanded greatly during the 'Great War' to meet the large number of Indian engineer troops required by the Empire. The Bombay Sappers fought against the Germans and the Turks in Europe, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Aden, Persia, East Africa and also in Afghanistan, Baluchistan and the North West Frontier Province, winning as many as 29 battle and theatre honours. The very large losses of 20 and 21 Field Companies in Europe in 1914–15 led to the Malerkotla Sappers & Miners joining the Corps where they remained affiliated till 1945 when all state forces sapper companies were transferred to the Bengal Sappers ostensibly on grounds of administrative convenience.

In recognition of the prodigious contribution of the Bombay Sappers in World War I, the title 'Royal' was bestowed on the Corps in 1921 and they became the 3rd Royal Bombay Sappers and Miners. The numeral 3rd was removed in 1923 and the Corps became the Royal Bombay Sappers and Miners and were so called right until the end of World War II.

The Second World War once again saw a great wartime expansion and the Bombay Sappers fought the Germans, Italians and the Japanese in Malaya, Singapore, Burma, Abyssinia, Eritrea, North Africa, Syria, Italy and Greece.

After independence, the Group became part of the Corps of Engineers of the Army of independent India.

Battle and Theatre honours

The list of battle and theatre honours of the Bombay Sappers are as follows:^

Pre-World War I

  • Kandahar 1880
  • Burma 1885–87
  • Punjab Frontier (1897–98)
  • Tirah (1897)
  • China 1900
  • Somaliland 1901–04

World War I

European theatre

Palestine

  • Palestine 1918
  • Megiddo (1918)
  • Sharon (1918)
  • Nablus (1918)
  • Damascus (1918)

Persia, Aden, East Africa

  • Persia 1918-19
  • Aden 1918
  • East Africa 1914-18
  • Kilimanjaro 1916

Mesopotamia

India

World War II

North Africa & Europe

South-East Asia

Post-Indian Independence

Indo-Pak War (1947–46)

  • Jammu & Kashmir (1947–48)
  • Rajaori (1948)

Indo-Pak War (1965)

  • Jammu & Kashmir (1965)

Indo-Pak War (1971)

  • East Pakistan (1971)
  • Sylhet (1971)
  • Jammu & Kashmir (1971)
  • Punjab (1971)

Kargil incursion

  • Ladakh (1999)
  • Dras (1999)

Class Composition

The Group presently recruits a mix of Marathas, Muslims, Mazhabi and Ramdasiya Sikhs besides various other Indian castes. The training centre, titled Bombay Engineer Group and Centre, is located in Khadki.

Notes

  1. ^ Bombay Engineers: The Bombay Engineers (abbreviated above as Bo.E.) were a corps of engineer officers granted a commission by the East India Company for specific service of the Bombay Presidency. The Corps provided engineers for military works, garrison duties and command of engineer troops in the field. The Bombay Sappers & Miners were officered by the Bombay Engineers from 1777 to 1802 and from 1820 to 1862 when they were absorbed into the Royal Engineers. In the years between apparent shortages of trained engineers led to the Bombay Pioneers being officered by British officers of the Bombay Native Infantry. Likewise, the Madras Engineers (M.E.) and Bengal Engineers (B.E.) served the same functions in other presidencies.
  2. ^ About Battle & Theatre honours:
    :(a). The battle & theatre honours are intermixed and arranged chronologically for reader's convenience. The World War honours are also grouped as per theatre of operations.
    :(b). Dates without parentheses form part of the battle/theatre honour title. Dates not forming part of the title have been added with parentheses for chronological ease of readers and do not form part of the title of the honour.
    :(c). The honours have been distinguished into Battle Honours or Theatre Honours vide the lists on pg 53 and 54 respectively of A Brief history of the Bombay Engineer Group, (1996), with the theatre honours being placed in italics to determine them from battle honours which are without italics.

References

Bibliography

  • Anonymous 1996. A brief history of the Bombay Engineer Group. The Bombay Engineering Group & Centre, Khadki, Pune. Preface & 95 pages.
  • Babayya, Brig. K., Ahlawat, Col. Satpal, Kahlon, Col. H.S. & Rawat, Lt.Col. S.S. (eds) 2006 A Tradition of Valour 1820–2006 – an illustrated saga of the Bombay Sappers. The Bombay Engineering Group & Centre, Khadki, Pune. i to xvii. 280 pages.
  • Sandes, Lt.Col. E.W.C. 1948. The Indian Sappers and Miners. The Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham. 726 pp, 31 plates, 51 campaign maps/plans inside and 3 general maps in the end jacket pocket.
  • Singh, Maj. Sarbans 1993.Battle Honours of the Indian Army 1757–1971. Vision Books, New Delhi. Pages 372 with 24 Maps, Appendices A to F, Bibliography & Index.
  • Barker-Wyatt,Brig. D.A., Jones,Lt.Col. D.L. and Norman,Capt. E.L. 1999. The Royal Bombay Sappers & Miners 1939–1947. The Royal Bombay Sappers & Miners Officers Association. 640 pages and 66 maps.


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