Why Bulldozers, Not Tanks, Win Wars

The underappreciated job of combat engineers

Grant Piper

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(Public domain)

The main battle tank has had an air of mystique since World War I. In every war, tanks make headlines. They are large, powerful, and seen as a decisive force in battle. While tanks are definitely impressive weapons systems, they would not be able to move a single mile without combat engineers working outside of the limelight. Combat engineers are one of the most integral parts of warfare, and they rarely get the attention that they deserve despite often working under fire and on the front lines next to the tankers that everyone seems to idolize.

War is destructive. Modern war, especially so. In just weeks of fighting, artillery will chew up roads, sappers will bring down bridges, towns will be turned into rubble, and roadblocks will be erected everywhere. Without combat engineers, modern battlefields turn into impassable quagmires.

Combat engineers are responsible for clearing rubble, rebuilding airstrips, erecting new bridges, spanning gullies, rivers, and craters, clearing mines, and making the roads usable for armor. Combat engineers drive bulldozers and tractors instead of tanks and APCs, but they are just as important (if not more important) than the front line troops they are working for.

Combat engineers have been a part of armies since the days of Julius Caesar, and they remain integral to this day.

Ancient Engineers

One of the things that made Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great so formidable on the battlefield was the use of combat engineers. Alexander used engineers to bridge raging rivers and build impressive siege engines that devastated stubborn cities. Alexander the Great built an entire causeway that stretched hundreds of feet across the ocean to reach the walls of the island city of Tyre.

Julius Caesar was able to hew out a fort from the wilderness. When his enemies crept up in the dead of night to surprise him, they found Caesar’s army resting safely behind walls and trenches that had not been there the day before. Caesar also famously built walls and earthworks to surround his enemies and prevent them from escaping.

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Grant Piper

Professional writer. Amateur historian. Husband, father, Christian.