Royal Engineers or Royal Artillery, the life of an officer?

#1
Good day,
after much searching and scanning through the various posts splayed throughout ARRSE, surrounding my interests in the two above roles, I have decided to take the plunge and actually post something.

what I would like to know is the true role of an sapper and gunner officer? what do they do on operations? how much real 'engineering' is required of a sapper officer? will I be hindered without a civil engineering background, or is this quite common? what is the role of the officers in an engineer recce troop?

do young officers in the artillery venture out on patrols, or is this role reserved for the those of the rank of captain and above? what scope is there for officers in long range recce units like 4/73 battery?

Such things interest me as I have decided that these two areas of the British Army offer both mental challenges, as well as physical through the option to do the AACC, P-Coy or STA patrols course.

Personally I much prefer the sapper route, the problem solving aspects of the job appeal to me, and morally I prefer the idea of constructing things that aid the army and the local communities, over blowing things/people up with heavy artillery fire. However (as you can probably tell) I am interested in the recce elements of the artillery, and have been told that there is no better job in the army then that of the a Arty observations officers, so how much of this kind of thing can be found in the royal engineers? or am I more likely to find myself on some dusty construction site directing the building of a toilet block?

That is about it for my lengthy questioning. Any replies would be greatly appreciated, cheers in advance.
 
#2
I know plenty of sapper officers without a civil engineering background so wouldn't let that put you off. I think they're both good options and both will offer plenty of opportunities for you to do interesting/exciting things. Personally I know too many gunner officers to recommend them to anyone so would suggest that RE is the way forward.

The actual special to arm details of what young officers do in the two capbadges I'll leave to others. In essence though, they both command soldiers, make/deliver plans and try and decide the extent to which their NCOs are bullshitting them!
 
#3
The Royal Engineers are taking a closer look at qualifications and ideally want at least 50% of a Troop Commanders course to have degrees which can be used to go forward to MSc and CEng.
 

sirbhp

LE
Book Reviewer
#4
every body loves an ex sapper when you get to civy street. I was a b2 combat engineer and did everything from garvedigging , credit management and journalism.

make god larf, just tell him your plans .
 
#5
cheers for the replies chaps. I am so far going for a degree in politics and philosophy and planning to join up when I have finished. with what plant_life has stated, does this mean that my degree will be out of place in a largely scientific and technical side of the army? and will it be more likely that I will be less respected by the soldiers under my command without the technical know how? sorry for this constant barrage of questions
 
#6
I'm a gunner, but I'll try not to let that tarnish my post...

It could be argued (and to an extent, in my experience), Young Officers - (YOs - let's say to junior captain) don't really DO what it says on their cap badge (REME don't use engineering - that was the advice I got and why I went RA - RE don't engineer, RA are involved in blowing stuff up, but not in a sexy way, etc etc). I may be wrong on that front for RE, because I'm not one, so can't comment definitively. An obvious exception to this is Infantry, where the Infantry Young Officer is Platoon Commander, doing infantry stuff. Confused? I'll elaborate:

For the RA, the YO will complete Sandhurst (12 months) and then attend YOs course at Larkhill (6 months). This teaches them specifics of how to be a Gunner officer and how to do the specifics of which branch of the Gunners he/she goes to first - Air Defence, Surveillance and Target Acquisition (STA), MLRS, Guns (AS90 or Lt Gun), UAS (Unmanned Air Systems). I can only speak for Guns, as that's what I did, but after YOs, you head to your first regiment.

You are always a Troop Commander, responsible for a number of soldiers, as well as doing your "operational" job - in the world of Guns in the RA, that operational job means you'll be a Command Post Officer (CPO). This involves computing the data to ensure the guns point in the right direction, in response to calls for fire from the Froward Observer (FOO in old money, FST nowadays). It's interesting enough, working with a computer, a glorified calculator or if they both go clunk, a book and a slide rule (almost)!

Next up, as you become slightly less junior, you'll become a Battery Recce Officer (BRO), which recces the gun positions required to position the guns to reduce their exposure in any one place. This is a good job, understanding the type of ground guns need to be effective and selecting the site, ensuring they get in on site ok, then off to recce the next deployment. Lots of driving around, fair amount of responsibility.

Then, as you become Captain and normally on your second tour (your first tour is two and half years or so, in theory), you will be looking to become a FST (Fire Support Team) Commander. There's a bit of confusion here, you are still a Forward Observation Officer, providing the targets for the guns to shoot at. You also command the Fire Support Team, which is consisted of individuals who can provide Fire Support - guns, mortars, air (RAF), aviation (Apaches), or anything else that come into the Offensive Support bracket (generally anything not provided by the blokes you're deployed with - the infantry company or tankies). You can be dismounted as an FST - like they predominantly are in Afghanistan - or armoured, rolling around in vehicles similar to those being used by the troops you are deployed with.

Aside from all of this, as is constantly brought out on ARRSE, you are a soldier first, Gunner second. In Iraq and Afghanistan, many Gunners deployed in the Infantry role.

On the specialist front, if you volunteer for 7 Para RHA, you'll do P-Coy, then be a CPO. If you volunteer for 29 Cdo RA, you'll do All Arms Commando Course (AACC) and then be a CPO. If you volunteer for 4/73 Bty, you'll do the special patrols course and do 4/73 stuff (recently the role of "stay behind OPs" has waned - more deploy in the Brigade Recce Role - patrols).

I will say this (although I am gagging as I type) - the Royal Engineers are also a very broad Corps, with plenty of variety - Armoured, not, Engineer Recce, minefields, barb wire fences (joking)...so there is a lot to look at there. Long term, they would prefer you to be able to get a chartered status - it's good for the corps and good for the individual, but that is why a poster above has said they are thinking of increasing the number of applicants with a relevant degree. they have para engineers and I think still have AACC slots open for the RE support to 3 Cde Bde.

REME take technical degree holders only (IIRC) - you will work toward that chartered engineer status from day one, even if you're not doing "engineering" from day one. I had it explained to me that for the first couple of years you don't "do" engineering, you are just the figure head.

One thing you should think about - exactly what is it you want from a miltary career? If you don't really want to "blow stuff up" or assist in "blowing stuff up", but rather want to feel you're somehow only doing th ehumanitarian relief piece, then bear in mind that all cap badges support the main effort - an Engineer may be doing CIMIC tasks one day, building schools and plumbing in fresh water for locals, but the next he may be constructing area defences for troops, providing the infrastucture for those steely eyed dealers of death to operate out of or sleep in at night...if you don't wan tto get blood on your hands (so to speak), then maybe the Army is not for you anyway. The RAF do a good line in distancing you from the pointy end.

Hope that's helpful on (some) of the RA stuff and the limited knowledge I have on the other areas.



Other disciplines in the RA will do similar things for their role - in Air Defence, your first job is the recce piece - how to recce and site Air Defence positions. after that I'm fuzzy on career progression (we were always told everyone wanted to be a FOO any way, so ignore the alternatives...). MLRS, STA (Radar, Listening Posts) similar.

The breadth of choice, the variety in the Gunners is what attracted me,
 
#7
what a comprehensive and helpful reply, thank you. I must say the most appealing side of the RA to me is the role of an observer, is this role really only open for captains? I think looking at it, Recce interests me the most, is there any other roles with a similar element that I might have overlooked?
 
#8
I'm afraid so. You need to get some time under your belt before they trust you enough to be in control of all that firepower!

As a graduatethat first Observer tour could be 2 to 3 years, which sounds a lot, but flew by for me. Don't forget BRO let's you Recce.

If you want to do Recce, then Infantry do have Recce Platoons, but IIRC, the Platoon commmander is a more senior officer than straight from RMAS.

And don't forget, Recce Regiments do Recce - units like the Household Cavalry, 9/12 Lancers, etc etc. currently in CVRT (depending on where they're operating), but that might change soon.
 
#9
I suspect there is more opportunity to do AACC + p coy in the gunners than there is in sappers. As well as 7RHA and 29 there are para btys in 12 and 5th as well as a requirement for large amounts of second tour officers for FST positions.
Anyone can join 4/73 so don't let that sway you too much.
 
#10
Why would there be more opportunity to do P-Coy or AACC with the RA rather than the RE? We have a regiment in both 16 Air Assualt and 3 Commando Brigade so that argument simply doesn't hold water.
 
#11
Why would there be more opportunity to do P-Coy or AACC with the RA rather than the RE? We have a regiment in both 16 Air Assualt and 3 Commando Brigade so that argument simply doesn't hold water.
Didn't 24 get the chop in the last reiview? Back to just 59 and 131 (TA) Sqns.
 
#12
No, I've been told from a pretty reliable source that 54 Sqn are going to be changed from an HQ Sqn to a field squadron, basically there will be a limited HQ element.
 
#13
sorry to keep this thread going and for spouting out a load of bone questions, but can anybody give me an outline of the typical career progression of a royal engineer Officer? similar to Django_strikes posts concerning that of an Artillery Officer. It is the basic role of an Engineer officer that I am attentive to, I read that an Engineer officer is less of a leader and more of an organiser of men and equipment, is this true? I am very keen on the leadership aspect of being an officer, more than anything and the idea of sitting in an office and going through supply levels and man management without much of a relationship with the sappers frightens me, especially if there is little possibility for real combat engineering or fieldwork. Thank you in advance for replies and apologies again for the perhaps unnecessary continuation of this thread.
 
#14
Why would there be more opportunity to do P-Coy or AACC with the RA rather than the RE? We have a regiment in both 16 Air Assualt and 3 Commando Brigade so that argument simply doesn't hold water.
Unlike an S Tank .... which does.
 
#15
That not the major issue, although the extra battery in 5th and 12 mean that they do have more. It's down to the FST postings that require large amounts of LT/capt, and who will also require the specialist course.
If your really interested you can get a copy of the orbat.
 
#16
Merls,

My first post on this forum. You have had a lot of advice from others but as a retired Sapper officer I thought I would answer your particular query below.

sorry to keep this thread going and for spouting out a load of bone questions, but can anybody give me an outline of the typical career progression of a royal engineer Officer? similar to Django_strikes posts concerning that of an Artillery Officer. It is the basic role of an Engineer officer that I am attentive to, I read that an Engineer officer is less of a leader and more of an organiser of men and equipment, is this true? I am very keen on the leadership aspect of being an officer, more than anything and the idea of sitting in an office and going through supply levels and man management without much of a relationship with the sappers frightens me, especially if there is little possibility for real combat engineering or fieldwork. Thank you in advance for replies and apologies again for the perhaps unnecessary continuation of this thread.
Firstly I presume you have looked at the RE Officers career information and videos at Officer Careers - British Army Website.

Many things have changed since my days, but many have not. One constant is that Sapper Troops are often given far more independent tasks than their equivalent platoons or troops in other combat or combat support arms. This is also true at Section level so the quality of Sapper NCOs is high because they have to operate semi-independently. A Gunner subaltern is far less likely to have such an independent role, and their Bombardiers (Corporals) would never have an independent task.

I have never heard of a Sapper Troop Commander "sitting in an office going though supply levels and man management" although the latter is part of any officer's role. Your Squadron Commander will certainly expect you to lead your Troop, ably assisted by your (undoubtedly) excellent Troop Staff Sergeant.

One thing to bear in mind, in any part of the Army, is that your time as a Troop Commander (or equivalent) is limited. If you had a degree you would probably only get one Troop Commander tour. As a non-degree officer there is a chance of two Troop Commander tours, which is what I did, one nominally in UK (but actually 2 months in Canada, 10 months in Aden and 2 months in Belize), the second in Germany.

One other big difference between Sapper units and other combat and combat support arms is that Sappers tend to do real tasks, not just simulations. A Gunner battery may practice firing its guns, but probably only does so for real once per year. A Sapper Troop (or sometimes a Section) will build a real bridge for other troops to cross. Even on operations, such as Afghanistan, it would be unlikely for a Gunner battery to fire every day, but a Sapper Troop will be working every day.

You asked about career progression. Mine perhaps was not typical, but apart from my two Troop Commander tours, at different stages of my career I was a Regimental Intelligence Officer, Adjutant and Regimental Second-in-Command. I commanded two Squadrons (including an EOD one), also worked as a staff officer at Brigade, Division, Corps and Land Forces HQ, plus a UN HQ. I spent 11 years in Germany and 4 in Cyprus, apart from other short tours (Canada, Aden, Belize, Northern Ireland).

Obviously some things are different but I am sure that the Corps will rise to whatever challenges are thrown its way, and if you choose Royal Engineers you will have a satisfying and varied career, and in my view more so than in any other Regiment or Corps.

If you want more flavour to what Sapper units currently are doing then look at the Sapper magazine. I have some recent spare copies and if you send me an e-mail via this forum I could send them to you.
 
#17
Holdfast, I suspect a lot has changed, not least because HERRICK has bent the "normal" out of shape to feed the op demand.

I would always say that RE and RA offer similar variety, although I don't know that much about RE (not being one). From my time in a Brigade, the RE did as much (or as little) as the RA. On the ops I deployed on, the RA did deploy in the infantry role - with subalterns operating in independent roles (as patrol commanders, snatch patrol commander if in vehicles etc). Any Recce task in the RA will be independent. Further RA Bombadiers (corporal equivalent) have been leading the Fire Support Teams or Elements (FST or FSE) in theatre. A Bombadier has all Offensive Support assets at his command - air, aviation, guns, mortars, EW, etc. the Gunner Officer, probably commanding a gun position (firing less these days, but I wouldn't like to say not daily) or a patrol, or even called forward early to be a FST Commander (FOO in old parlance).

Maybe what the OP needs is a look at life with the respective regiments - difficult these days, but nt impossible and last I heard, the RE and RA were still able to provide this service, whereas other cap badges are having to throttle back such activity.
 
#18
Django,

i left the Army some years ago but still receive the Royal Engineer Journal and Sapper magazine, from which I note that virtually all the Sapper units on Herrick, or for that matter on Telic before that, are carrying out tasks at Troop or Section level, just as we used to do. A task for a complete squadron would be very rare. I suspect that most Gunner units operate as complete batteries, and it would be rare to deploy them as two gun sections. For this reason I think there is more independence for a Sapper subaltern.

An example from many years ago was when I was a 21 year old 2nd Lieutenant commanding a Troop up-country in Aden, 200 miles from my Squadron Headquarters. In our camp was an Arab battalion, with only 2 British officers, a British armoured car squadron (6 officers), a gunner section with 2 officers (Lieutenant and 2nd Lieutenant). I was the only Sapper officer and junior to all the others. My Troop was working every day. The guns went into action once, although I must admit the Lieutenant was awarded an MC for it.

i know it is different now but everything I read, and serving personnel I still speak to, confirms that the norm for Sapper tasks is still at Troop or Section level, deployed many miles from their Squadron Headquarters.

i don't think Sapper units have deployed in the infantry role on Telic or Herrick, but they have certainly been in combat situations. They were deployed in the infantry role on Banner (Northern Ireland).

i agree that the best route for the OP would be a unit attachment. I will see if I can find the contact for that. In my day we had a major as ERLO (Engineer Recruiting Liasion Officer) who would organise such things, but I am not sure of the structure today.
 
#19
Holdfast - sounds like you were a part of things when the young adventurer could have a great service!

The Gunners deploy as a gun Battery, but they are deployed as troops - one or two gun troops at FOBs.

The ERLO concept is more or less still there, so OP should be able to get something rustled up. Where are all the current RE officers? Or RA for that matter - I know we're busy (Ubique and all that), but come on guys, let's get some current gen.
 
#20
Django,

Well I was in the Army from 1962 to 1992 and it was certainly adventurous in my early years. I did have a varied career, construction engineering, combat engineering, amphibious engineering (Regimental 2iC of a regiment of M2 rigs), command of an EOD Squadron, command of our only Squadron in Cyprus, plus several staff jobs (including 3 all arms ones) as a Captain, Major and Lieutenant Colonel.

I note you use an avatar of nuclear artillery. As a Sapper Troop Commander in BAOR I was trained to plan the use of ADMs (Atomic Demolition Munitions) essentially hand placed rucksack sizes nukes, to destroy autobahn bridges. Apart from the course at Oberammergau this also got me my acting Captain very early.

At one stage I even worked for a Gunner, in G3 Training at 1st British Corps. We had a Cavalry Lieutenant Colonel, Gunner Major and two Captains (one Infantry and me). I used to co-ordinate RAC and RA firing camps amongst other things.

I was also trained on 25 pounders in basic training at Oswestry as a Gunner and Local Unpaid Lance Bombardier, before I saw the light and became a Sapper officer.
 

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