THE BOMBAY SAPPERS.
Bombay Sapper, a soldier responsible for engineering tasks and laying and clearing mines. In the British Army, a private soldier in the Corps of Royal Engineers, a combatant performing various feats of military engineering, also trained as an infantry man in operations, both defensive and offensive.
In India, we have informally, the Bombay Sappers, the Calcutta Sappers In Lonavla some twenty years ago I had met Retd. Colonel BSKS Chopra. he was a Bombay Sapper from Kirkee (Head Quarters of the regiment.), “ it is a support group, it follows the army and helps set the infrastructure when and where needed …”
Infrastructure? I thought. “ Let’s say, the besieging forces come to a chasm or a river and there is no existing cross-over, the Sappers immediately build a bridge with whatever materials are available”, he explained
Hmmm …I thought again. With whatever material available?! They must be quite something and the immediacy?! And the quality of work! It wouldn’t do for the besieging forces or the besieged ones at that, to plunge head long into a raging torrent or the rolling jeeps and tanks to drop into the chasm a few hundred feet below, now would it?
It all started in the late seventeenth century with the French soldiers who
sapped. Soldiers were used to destroy enemy fortifications by using ‘sape’ meaning, ‘trenches’. Those engaged with ‘Mines’ (tunnel war-fare )were called Miners. Sappers dug trenches to allow attacking forces to advance towards the enemy defense works and forts until the besieged would be sufficiently suppressed for the attackers to breach the walls. Often the sape was dug up to and under the fort wall. Then, a tremendous gun-powder explosion was engineered which would destroy the besieged fort wall and permit attacking infantry to breach the enemy lines.
India received its ‘Sappers’ a century later with a new force imprinting its mark on the politics of India. A hundred Indians became Sappers when in 1777, the Bombay Presidency’s first Chief Engineer, Major Lawrence Nilson, recruited them to form the ‘Pioneer Lascars’. Even today, the Sappers are often referred to as ‘Pioneers’. Come 1797, under Captain-Lieutenant Bryce Moncrieff (Bo.E.), the Pioneer Lascars were absorbed into newly formed four Companies of 100 men each, rendering sterling service in maintaining lines of communication and assisting the heavy cannons reach battlefields. Twenty five years later, in 1822, they officially became a battalion.
For their exceptional service in the “Great War”, the title ‘Royal’ was bestowed on the Corps in 1921, making them the ‘3rd Royal Bombay Sappers and Miners’. Two years later, the Corps became the ‘Royal Bombay Sappers and Miners’ and remained so, till the end of the Second World War.
Most nations of the world have their Sappers and Miners. In France, where the name originates, has both civil and military ‘Sapeurs’. They have the Sapeur de l’Air (Air Sapper) , Sapeur Parachutiste (Parachute Sapper), Sapeur de Marine (Marine Sapper), Sapeur-mineur (Sapper-miner )and the municipal Sapeur-pompier( Fire-fighters).
Not to be outdone, Portugal has ‘Sapador de Engenharia’ (engineering sapper) , trained combat engineers, ‘Sapador de Infantaria’ (infantry sapper) soldiers who usually serve in the combat support sapper platoon of an infantry battalion, ‘Sapador NBQ’ (NBC sapper) engineers specialized in Nuclear, biological and Chemical war-fare. Municipal Sappers The ‘Bombeiros-sapadores’ (Sapper-firefighters).
Greece, ‘μηχανικό; michaniko’ (Corps of Engineers) , the Italian Army has ‘Guastatore’ combat engineers and other specialized sapper units ; the United States Army, sappers are combat engineers who support the front-line infantry. Ottoman Empire, ‘Lağımcılar Ocağı’ (literally: Sapper Corps) and the Pakistan Army, sapper officers like in ours, perform combat and normal engineer duties. Canada, in honour of sappers who graduated from the Royal Military College of Canada, has named an island in St. Joseph Channel, Algoma District, Ontario as the Sapper Island.