WWII Specialty Corps

Sorry if I am using the wrong wording here, but hopefully you will get my drift. I tried to google the answer but couldn’t find anything useful.

During WWII, as I understand it, there were specialty Allied units that supported the main fighting forces. Just a few that come to mind are the Medical Units, Corps of Engineers and the Army Motor Pool.

Let’s take the Corps of Engineers for example. I assume they would often be ahead of the main fighting force building temporary bridges and other structures that allowed the troops and their associated heavy equipment to traverse swampy areas, wide streams and rivers.

My question is when the engineers were doing their job did they carry rifles with them in case they were ambushed, or were they protected by other forward units? Were engineers expected to fight alongside soldiers when not doing engineering work?

I’m trying to understand if they just did their job, or if they were expected to also fight just like a normal soldier when needed?

Pretty much all units (even medical ones) have rifles and firearms for self defence. Support troops will often also have machine guns. They might get in a fight even if it’s not their job to do so. Then and now.
Engineers are some of the most important troops on the battlefield, the motto is “first in, last out”. They have self defence equipment and also are protected.


In WW2, the engineers might have carbines instead of rifles, but yeah, they were armed.

Engineers are divided into combat engineers and construction engineers. My father was a construction engineer and one brother was a combat engineer.

That’s the Army engineering battalion, I take it. For the Navy Construction Battalion (seebees) they basically do both combat and construction engineering. The best demonstration of the seebees ability to win a campaign was in Guadalcanal. Had the Japanese counter-attacked in August 1942, the marines on Tulagi beach would have been annihilated. But by November, things were pretty much hopeless for the Japanese. Marine strength was up to 20,000. Henderson airfield already consisted of 2 airfields (and seebees were building two more), there was a working harbor, an amtrak unit, shore batteries, a tank company.

From what I’ve seen watching C&Rsenal cavalry and support troops favored them for practical reasons, a full sized battle rifle is more weapon then needed and gets in the way too often. Pistols have too many problems to be a first choice, so carbines, and later sub-machine guns, are the preferred weapon for regular troops that aren’t dedicated riflemen.

CMC fnord!

That may be but with a 30 cal bolt, moreso with a Garand, you won’t feel under-gunned in a shooting fight.

The M1 Carbine was the often given US forward observers, engineers and headquarters staff etc…

Early in the war the M1 Thompson and possibly the M3 later But the M1 Carbine was cheaper and lighter than an M1 Thompson or a M1 rifle and actually replaced some NCO’s pistols later in the war.

At least in the US Army in WW2 some types Combat Engineers were also expected to fight as infantry so within a battalion they would also have the M1919, M1 garand and M2.

But there were lots of different types of groups and here is a link to the Engineer Field Manual form 1943

You will see that the carbine is the first listed in most sections. E.G.

There were of course speciality units (rather than Corps) which weren’t armed. Such as Chaplains and even stretcher bearers - please note I am not referring specifically to the US forces here of course.

Any military force has a huge administrative support which is not armed but can of course gather arms and help out- even in defiance of instructions.

War correspondents also were not supposed to be armed.

Remember the movie, The Fighting Seebees, one of my favorite war movies made during the war.

I suppose some military may still have admin support that’s not armed, but that’s not the case for soldiers/sailors/Marines/Coastguardsmen/airmen in the US armed forces’ administrative fields (personnel, finance, etc.). They are armed.

Thanks everyone. Ignorance fought.

Combat engineers are more or less what a lot of historical and modern armies call “Pioneers”.

They’re specialized light infantry that has training in combat demolition of strongpoints and obstacles, and construction of field fortifications, etc… Their unofficial motto seems to be “First we dig 'em, then we die in 'em”, if that tells you anything. The Navy’s Seabees (originally “CB’s” for "Construction Battalions) are similar.

Engineering units varied. My father was in one that made maps & built roads.

Half the unit worked on the TransAlaska Highway, the half my father was In went to New Guinea and Leyte. He described their role as being “just behind the nurses” - no combat.

The terms of art for the various types of troops are Combat, Support and Service; sometimes the last two are styled Combat Support and Service Support.

Combat units are just that; front line primary combat units. Infantry, armor, reconnaissance.

Support or Combat Support are troops that provide a highly specialized form of combat capability; engineers, anti-tank formations, electronic warfare, antiaircraft units.

Service support are troops that are not meant to be in combat; medical (who do not carry weapons), transport pools, field kitchens, logistics.

Different countries draw the lines a bit differently; Artillery can be considered combat or combat support, depending who you’re talking to.

I may be wrong about this, but I believe in the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy, most Airmen and Sailors in fact are unarmed and don’t normally have personal weapons issued to them. Only specific roles (USAF Security Police, Pararescue, and Forward Observers, and USN Shore Patrol and SEALs, for example) are routinely issued personal weapons.

On the other hand, in the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps, all Soldiers and Marines* are Riflemen, in addition to whatever Military Occupational Specialty they may have. All Soldiers and Marines have a personal weapon assigned to them. In peacetime, in garrison, these will normally be locked away in an arms vault, and only physically issued with valid orders/paperwork. When deployed to the field, in an active theater of combat, all Soldiers and Marines* will be armed.

The same would have been true in WWII.

*AFAIK, the only exceptions are certain Geneva Convention-specific roles, mainly medical personnel bearing the Red Cross and chaplains. It’s my understanding that they may be armed for “self-defense” purposes only (including defending sick and wounded under their care). In the U.S. military, that seems to mean in practical terms that they may carry an M9 (9mm pistol) if they wish to, but most don’t. Anecdote: When I was in Iraq, one of the doctors at the encampment at which I was posted rather ostentatiously carried a holstered M9 at all times. At that particular place and time, the threat level was actually very low. No one else in the entire encampment carried their weapon “inside the wire”, other than MPs and perimeter security on duty, at least that I ever saw.

The German army’s pioneers in World War II were more combat-oriented than some others, being especially heavily armed with automatic weapons and frequently used to assault strong points with satchel charges, grenades and flamethrowers.

In times of crisis, all armies would press non-combat support troops into emergency service. The “cooks and the clerks” made many a last stand.

FWIW: The difference between a “combat” unit and “support” organization should not be over-exaggerated. These units received their own training and perhaps had a school or doctrine center in charge of their warfighting function. However, they were still a “part” of the combat unit they supported. We normally say these units are “organic,” perhaps because an infantry unit without an engineer asset is like a leg without a foot. They are part an parcel of the same organization, and the combat unit could not function independently or be considered self-sufficient without their organic support assets.

For example: In WW2, Engineer Battalions were subordinated to the division. These assets were then pushed down to the combat brigades and battalions as necessary. In the modern Army, they have one engineer battalion per brigade (rather than per division). Even then, there are certain specialists and subject matter experts in the headquarters units that represent their warfighting function.

So if you have an obstacle you need to clear, it’s not so much a matter of “Call the Corps of Engineers and request an Engineering unit to come assist us.” It’s more like, “Hey, go find Bob and get some earthmovers over here.” And if you hang out at the TOC, you’ll see the different warfighting functions (engineers, medics, artillerists, etc) sitting next to each other. And to answer the OP, they all do have weapons. A truck full of engineers or intelligence soldiers might be indistinguishable from a truck full of infantrymen.

Probably depended on when you were there a good friend was in Iraq (Camp Victory) during the last month of 2007 and most of 2008, and he said they had to go around armed- as he was an officer (S3) with the CID battalion deployed for Iraq and Afghanistan, he was issued a SIG 228 pistol, and opined that he had it a lot better with such a small pistol than the grunts who were forced to lug larger weapons like the SAW to the chow hall or wherever did.

Oh, absolutely. My unit deployed to Iraq for a short period, during the short window after the end of major conventional combat operations but before the insurgency had spread to Shi’ite dominated areas like the area around our encampment. It was a tragically brief period of peace and stability.