Chapter 7: Engineer Troops

This chapter is divided into three parts:

Back to introduction

7.1 Engineer duties in the Austro-Hungarian Army were divided into four branches:

A full listing of all engineer troops is at Appendix B to Chapter 4, pages 4-B-1 and 4-B-2. This should be studied before reading further.


The Engineer Staff (Geniestab) was a specially trained staff of officers, organized on the same principles as the General Staff; see Appendix C to Chapter 2, para 6c. It was concerned with military scientific problems such as the construction, attack and defence of fortresses.


The Fortifications and Works Department (Militärbaudienst) was divided into two branches, and was responsible for the maintenance and construction of all military works.

Fortifications Branch (Fortifikatorischer Baudienst). This was administered by the k.u.k. Kriegsministerium. Besides officers of the Engineer Staff, its personnel consisted of Fortifikationshilfpersonal, made up of fortification officers who were mainly recruited from suitable one-year volunteers, and fortification officials and foremen (Fortifikations-beamte und -werkmeister).

Works Branch (Nichtfortifikatorischer Baudienst). This branch came under the supervision of the Technical Military Committee (Technisches Militärkomitee in the k.u.k. Kriegsministerium, and was common to all three of the standing armies. Its personnel were non-combatants. They comprised engineer officers (Ingenieuroffiziere), recruited in peacetime from officers who had passed the engineer officers’ course, and in war from reserve officers who had passed through the Technical High School. as well as superintendents (Militärbauwerkführer). foremen (Militärbauwerkmeister) and accountants (Militärbaurechnungsführer).


At the outbreak of war the engineer field troops were organised in:

1. Pioneer units (Pioniertruppe). These were made up of pioneer battalions (PB) with bridging trains attached, a bridging battalion and a river mining company.

2. Sapper units (Sappeurtruppe). These were made up of sapper battalions (SB), entrenching tool units and siege and mountain siege sapper parks.

Full details of these are given in the following paragraphs. In addition there were some technical elements with infantry and cavalry regiments.

The duties of pioneers included all engineering work in the field connected with water and waterways. These included bridging with pontoons, improvised bridges, swing bridges and ferries, all structures in water such as pile-driving, jetties and the like, and the adaptation of waterways as lines of communication. To a lesser extent they were also involved in demolitions, field fortifications and roadmaking. The pioneers came under the supervision of the Generalpionierinspektor, and were recruited from all parts of Austria-Hungary.

The duties of sappers included all engineering work in the field on land. These included all technical works in attack and defence, field fortifications, explosives, improvised bridges across dry obstacles, construction of temporary railways, roadmaking, and - to a limited extent - general railway construction and the erection of telegraph lines. The sappers came under the supervision of the Generalsappeurinspektor, and were recruited from all parts of Austria-Hungary.

At the start of the war the number of companies in both PB and SB was four, but this was increased to seven - nine as the need arose. At the end of 1917 / beginning of 1918 the existing PB and SB were reorganized into new SB: for details see Appendix B to this chapter. A company of pioneers and sappers was 250 all ranks, divided into four platoons. PIONEERS

Appendix A to this chapter shows the disposition of all PB from the start of the war until the reorganization of late 1917 / early 1918. It also shows similar details for other pioneeer units. however the source of that appendix is the printed order of battle. which cannot be regarded as complete since it only deals with units that were with the field armies on the dates shown.

Pioneer Battalions (PB) There were nine PB at the start of the war, numbered 2-5, 7-10 and 15: this last was recruited in Bosnia-Herzegovina and its personnel wore the fez. At that time each PB had four pioneer companies, each with two bridging trains attached. One or more pioneer companies were attached to such infantry divisions as needed extra engineering units, over and above those integral to the division. When operations involving the crossing or use of rivers were undertaken, pioneer groups were formed as indicated in Appendix A to this chapter.

Bridging Trains (Kriegsbrückenequipagen). It was usual for two, or sometimes more, bridging trains to be attached to each pioneer company. They were numbered serially, and consisted of 100 all ranks. Each had a transport sub-unit called a Geleitkommando, of 16 all ranks. These trains were able to make either a light bridge 52m long, or a heavy bridge 37m long, or a reinforced bridge 26-56m long.

Bridging Battalion (Brückenbataillon). There was one such unit at the start of the war, but another was formed by May 1916. They were independent units divided into a number of companies, originally two in number but later up to four. Their role was the construction or repair of permanent or semi-permanent bridges. A company had some 200 other ranks. The bridging battalions were normally army or possibly corps troops.

River Mining Company (Flüssminenkompagnie). The role of this independent unit was the destruction of bridges and the mining of rivers. It was made up of four or five platoons (Flüssminenzüge) deployed as the situation required. Each platoon had some 25 all ranks. The company was formed from PB5.

The Central Pioneer Store Depot was at Klosterneuburg and when the PB and SB were reorganized, it became a Sappeurzeugsdepot. There were in addition mobile pioneer store depots (mobile Pionierzeugsdepots) which were later named Sappeurfeldzeugsdepots. SAPPER UNITS

Appendix A to this chapter shows the disposition of all SB from the start of the war until the reorganizatlon of late 1917 / early 1918. It also shows similar details for other sapper units. However the source of that appendix is the printed order of battle, which cannot be regarded as complete since it only deals with units with the field armies on the dates shown.

Sapper Battalions (SB). There were fourteen SB at the start of the war, numbered 1-14, each of four companies; each company was sub-divided into four sections. Sapper companies were attached to corps and divisions as the situation required, but it was normal for each infantry division to have one sapper company as divisional troops.

Entrenching Tool Units. At the start of the war each corps, division and mountain brigade had an entrenching tool column (Schanzzeugkolonne). These bore the number of the formation that was served; thus Divisionsschanzeugkolonne Nr.2 was with 2ID. Their role was to provide for the replacement of tools and stores in the units they supported and to hold a reserve of explosives for demolitions etc. Such columns had some 25 all ranks. There were also entrenching tool depots and mobile entrenching tool depots. The former were normally found in each corps rear area. while the latter were established to support the construction of field works or fortifications on a large scale. In the 1918 reorganization these depots and columns were renamed Sappeurfeldzeugsdepots.

Siege and Mountain Siege Sapper Parks (Belagerungs- und Gebirgsbelagerungs-Sappeurparks). Such parks existed at the start of the war but had disappeared by 1916. They were equipped with all the tools, instruments, apparatus and stores required for the attack on a fortress.

Sappeurspezialbaone. During 1917 two special sapper battalions were raised. SB18 was equipped with gas producing equipment, and SB61 had flamethrowers. They were army troops, deployed by companies, of which each had three or four, as and when the situation required.


By 1916 the engineers had expanded beyond the units mentioned above to include all manner of electrical and technical units and elements which the war required. A full listing of these is at Appendix B to Chapter 4, pages 4-B-l and 4-B-2. They were in the main, army or corps troops.


The listing of engineer units at Appendix A to this chapter includes certain elements that are not mentioned in the preceding paragraphs, and some which are not referred to in Appendix B to Chapter 4. The k.k. / k.u. Landsturmsappeurabteilungen were probably Landsturm who had served in the sappers or who had received some engineer training. Such units were very likely formed at a time when sapper personnel were hard to find; they appear to have existed from early 1915 to the Spring of 1917. Honvédsappeurabteilungen / Honvédpionierabteilungen served in a similar capacity with at least two HID in 1916. Brigadepionierabteilungen, which appeared with two brigades on the Italian front in late 1915, may have been detachments of a PB, but might have been units in their own right.


Both pioneers and sappers were deployed in small parties on tasks anywhere in the area to which their parent unit or sub-unit was assigned. Thus their daily requirements, other than specialized stores, would be provided by the units in the area in which they worked. Whilst they would receive incoming mail through their parent unit etc, they would post outgoing mail at the nearest Feldpostamt to their place of work or residence; a practice that applied to all manner of elements of the army in the field.

Back to introductionBack to topOn to part 7.2

Last updated 24 March 2000