What is a Sapper?

Mary McMahon

A sapper is a combat engineer who specializes in field fortifications and/or explosives. Sappers are an important part of many modern militaries, and they have been at the forefront of most global conflicts, thanks to their versatile skills and extensive training. Generally, being a sapper is extremely dangerous, as sappers typically make up the first wave of invasions, and they may need to perform delicate and complex tasks under fire.

Sappers built trenches during the First World War.
Sappers built trenches during the First World War.

The use of sappers, along with the word “sapper,” originated in the Middle Ages, when the use of trenches in warfare first became widespread. The use of trenching made castles much easier to defend, especially when the trenches zig-zagged across the surrounding area, allowing for the concealment of numerous troops and making it harder for invaders to cross the ground. Traces of saps, as these trenches were known, can still be seen around some European castles today.

It's often extremely dangerous to be a sapper.
It's often extremely dangerous to be a sapper.

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Over time, the sappers evolved, expanding their skill set into all fortifications, not just trenches and trenching. Sappers also became involved with mines, due to the tendency of opposing forces to seed mines as they abandoned territory. Since the sappers were often first into a new site to clear it and prepare it for occupation, they had to learn to cope with mines and explosives to survive and to make combat safer for other soldiers. Naturally, sappers also began developing their own explosives skills to use against the enemy.

Modern sappers work with other members of the military to create strong practical fortifications which are tailored to specific area, and they also neutralize bombs and mines and construct practical explosives devices. A sapper who chooses to specialize in explosives generally works in an Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) squad, studying explosives, various types of bombs, and ways to safely neutralize and handle explosive ordinance. Sappers may also work with bombs from their own side which have become unstable or dangerous.

In militaries with sappers, the sappers are generally attached to the combat engineers of various service branches. In some cases, sappers have their own insignia and combat badges, making them easy to identify, while in other instances they are simply bundled in with engineers in general. A sapper generally attends several weeks or months of training in combat engineering, learning to work in a variety of environments and with an assortment of people.

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How much are sappers paid?

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