Entrenching tool

Entrenching tool

An Entrenching tool or E-tool, is a collapsible spade used by military forces for a variety of military purposes. Survivalists, campers, hikers and other outdoors groups have found it to be indispensable in field use. Modern entrenching tools are usually collapsible and made using light metals and plastics.

Entrenching Tool History

Entrenching tools go back at least to the times of the Roman Legion. Julius Caesar, as well as other ancient writers, documented the use of spades and other digging implements as important tools of war. The Roman Legion when on the march dug a ditch and rampart around their camps every night where established camps were not available.

Siege tactics throughout history required the digging of fortifications and often mining of walls was attempted, where saps were dug to a wall’s foundation, and collapsing the wall was attempted.

In more modern times the siege tactics of the Napoleonic Wars used spades and picks as entrenching tools to dig trenches towards the walls of the fortifications being besieged, to allow men and munitions to get close enough to fire cannons at the walls to open a breach.

During World War I the ancestor of the modern entrenching tool was created as trench warfare reached its fullest expression.

Entrenching Tool Evolution

The modern entrenching tool evolved from the early folding and short spades of World War I and World War II, and these may have evolved from short spades used in the American Civil War. Besides being used for digging defensive fighting positions, entrenching tools were used for latrines, graves and as hand to hand combat weapons.

Entrenching tools have been made with straight handles, T handles, D handles, and many folding designs, sometimes encompassing a pick into the design. The British 1937 Pattern web equipment added a bayonet lug to their entrenching tool, allowing the spike bayonet to be mounted on the end and converting the e-tool helve into a mine prodder. [Storey, WE "1937 Web" Service Publications 2006 ]

The United States Army folding spade, or entrenching tool, has evolved from a single fold spade (inaccurately referred to as a "shovel" by military quartermasters) with a straight handle, to a tri-fold design with a modified “D” handle design with all steel construction, to a similar light weight plastic and steel tri-fold design adopted by the U.S. Army, Marines and NATO as the standard issue entrenching tool. Other folding variants have also been issued. The latest light weight plastic tri-fold design dropped the weight of the spade thirty percent from its peak weight of 2-1/4 lbs with the all steel tri-fold, down to 1-1/2 lbs. A tactical advantage to the weight a soldier must carry in the field.

Civilian Use

Many millions of surplus entrenching tools have made their way into the hands of civilians. They are commonly used for camping, gardening and by war re-enactment groups. Some people collect the older issue entrenching tools, as they collect many items of war as memorabilia.


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