The terrain of the Cyrenaican theater, over which the campaign of November 1941 to
January 1942 was fought, is desolate, bare, and devoid of almost all the usual terrain
features. Under such conditions, it was only natural that the work of the British engineers
was of singular importance.
One of the major roles of the engineers in this campaign was the
construction of advanced landing fields for both bomber and pursuit aircraft. For
all engineer work, in the field or elsewhere, early warning of the requirements
is needed; such warning is particularly necessary in the case of advanced
landing-field construction in modern fast-moving battles under desert
conditions. Broadly speaking, the advanced landing fields for fighter and other
squadrons were constructed by two mobile construction parties of army engineers; these
parties were reinforced as required by other engineer units of army or corps. Behind,
and advancing to take over as the army moved forward, was a detachment of construction
The two mobile construction parties were formed before the operation started; each
consisted of 1 officer and 50 enlisted men. These parties were attached to army
corps as required. Forward liaison between RAF and army was provided by a senior
RAF officer in charge of landing-field selection, and by appropriate engineer officers
of field rank. The close liaison thus obtained produced very satisfactory results.
In all, during the 2 months following November 18, fourteen entirely new landing fields
were constructed. All landing fields consisted of two strips 150 to 300 yards wide; the
fighter landing fields were 900 to 1,200 yards long, and the bombers' 200 yards
longer; the minimum should however, be not less than 150 by 1,000 and 200 by 1,200
Both of the mobile construction parties were motorized; the most suitable trucks
were found to be those of the dump type, as most of the work consisted of
moving quantities of earth and stone either on to, or away from, the
landing field; each party was allotted a motorized patrol. It was found
that the strength of the parties was adequate, but that assistance from other
engineer resources had frequently to be sought for landing-field construction
and for dealing with work of a more permanent nature on landing fields. Each
party should carry a small amount of explosives, materials for wind socks and
for marking fields, paint for corner posts, signboards, etc.
For various reasons, the RAF adopted the policy that as many fighters
as possible should use an airdrome--in some instances a fighter group of up
to five squadrons. This policy necessitated large dispersal areas.
The following two examples give an idea of the minimum time required
to prepare an advanced landing field. In each instance one party, organized as
above, cleared two strips 1,100 yards by 300 yards; in one case work started
at 0700 and fighters were operating from the field the same day, and in the other
case at 1000 the next day. In general, however, it may be said that the mobile
construction party or a platoon of combat engineers can clear and mark one
strip a day, the landing field being completed, with two strips and all
markings, in 3 days.
Another task of the greatest importance was the successful preparation
of a strip 560 by 30 yards to enable 60 fighters to take off from a landing
field water-logged as a result of a week's rain. This task was effected by filling up
the soft spots with stone and draining away the standing water. All serviceable
aircraft got off.