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Старый 18.02.2011, 15:31   #1 (ссылка)
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RAILWAYS AND WAR before 1918. Introduction


RAILWAYS AND WAR before 1918. Introduction


War has always been a matter not merely of fighting but of communication; in the last resort if other things were all equal, the side with the best supplies won. In the 19th century particularly, as mobility improved and rapid-firing weapons became a normal part of every country's armoury, the problem of supply became acute. It was therefore natural that the new-fangled railways should be investigated as a possible means of rapid transport but one is surprised that more notice was not taken earlier. As early as 1838, troops were conveyed by rail in Britain to cope with the notorious Peterloo incident in Manchester, but this remained for many years an isolated incident; it is true that during the British-Russian Crimean War in 1854-55 a limited amount of contractors standard-gauge equipment was sent out and used for local supply but this had no significant effect on the British Army or its quartermaster branch. It might well have declared 'That is not our way of working', the ringing but unprophetic words that Lord Kitchener was to pronounce sixty years later when confronted with the idea of tactical light railways. So, except for stirrings in Prussia, the use of railways in war remained dormant on the European continent. It was, or so they claimed, left to the North Americans to realise their potential in practice.

Certainly the first real attempt to use railways for war purposes was during the American Civil War between 1861 and 1865. Some of the more 'popularised' uses such as the mounting of mortars or bombards on railway trucks

were in practice of little importance. The existing railway system did, however, play a large part in supplying the victorious Union armies—and the southern lines contributed indirectly through the use of their rails and sleepers as fortification materials!

Rail supply, too, was a planned feature of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, at least on the Prussian side, while the French used their system for the evacuation of refugees, a foretaste of things to come.

All these early uses were of the existing systems, however. Perhaps the first attempt at a truly military railway came during the British Egyptian and Sudan campaigns of 1882 when Lord Kitchener, the British Commander in Chief arranged for a substantial amount of railway material to be sent out from England and had laid a standard gauge line to provide a supply route from his base on the Nile. In the event, comparatively little use was made of this link since the campaign was nearly over by the time it was finished, and it was later dismantled.

Its construction and use did, however, set a trend towards more distinctly military use of railways. Perhaps the most famous example is the armoured train that operated so ignominiously on the British side during the South African Boer War at the end of the 19th century and almost caused the death of the future British premier Winston Churchill. Its notoriety quite obscured the fact that, before the war was ended, no less than twenty similar though better armed trains were proving invaluable both in harassing the Boers and in protecting the many miles of friendly and 'hostile' railways being used to supply the advancing British armies as they laboriously 'cleared' Boer territory. It was this war, too, that gave at least the British most of their early experience in military operations of civilian railways; they not only imposed a degree of military control on the civilian systems in the British provinces but operated the former Netherlands South African Railways as a completely military system. The lessons learnt in speedy ways of repairing demolished lines and bridges were to be of tremendous value later and the right conclusions were drawn by other nations also.

By the end of the war in 1902, the railway branch of the British Royal Engineers was firmly established and two permanent railway companies were kept in being with their own training railway in England. Simultaneously the French organised their 10th Section of military engineers as a railway force, and the Germans increased their already large number of regular and reserve railway engineer companies. It will be noticed that armies were at this time thinking mainly of the problems of operating existing civilian railways under wartime conditions, but they did have an eye also to more directly military concerns. Much less publicised in fact, but just as effective, were the experiments carried out by several of the major European powers to develop military railways, initially for use in their colonies. The Germans, in their very thorough way, had already set up a thriving military railway department after the Franco-Prussian War. hi their south-west African colonies in particular, but at times elsewhere also, they used military railway material and personnel to establish and operate colonial supply links. These lines were largely on the 60 cm gauge designed to be semi-portable and quickly laid and their large-scale operation provided very valuable experience for future design. In addition, at home in Germany, the military railways department of the new German Empire influenced civilian railway construction in many ways to allow easily for future military use. In particular certain 'strategic' lines were built even if potential civilian traffic did not justify them, large junctions were laid out as through-stations on the Prussian model, rather than as dead end-terminals, to facilitate the flow of supplies, and operating methods were slowly standardised so that the whole railway system could be put on a war footing at short notice. Even the locomotives and stock, increasingly standardised for load capacity, were designed with an eye to the necessity for operating over other people's loading gauges; many Prussian locomotive classes, for instance, had their funnels assembled in two parts and bolted together so that their height could quickly be lessened if required. The French did not undertake so many developments, using their 'standard' metre gauge in the colonies and failing to standardise at home on such vital items as coupling design and buffer heights. After the 1870-71 war, they had adopted a defensive posture, building a series of massive fortifications along their eastern frontier and their 'strategic' main-line railways were laid out mainly to service these. Ironically, their fear of attack led them even to break standardisation deliberately in some respects; local railways in the Ardennes area were laid to an 80 cm gauge instead of the metre gauge then standard for such lines, so that an 'enemy' could not easily use them with his own material.

The British, the really great colonial power of the period, compromised as the British usually did. At home, as a result of the South African experience the two 'railway companies' were formed in the Royal Engineers and early in the 20th century a permanent base and standard gauge training railway were established at Longmoor in Hampshire. Little construction of mili-tary equipment was undertaken initially, it being envisaged that civilian equipment would be requisitioned in case of need. In the colonies, however, especially in India where communications to the turbulent north and west frontiers were vital, considerable use was made of long narrow gauge railways often designed and controlled by the military. The British military railways department was very influenced by the prevailing theoretical ideas on light railway transport, especially those of E. R. Calthorp, and they consequently adopted a gauge of 2 ft 6 in. (approx. 76 cm) as the most useful compromise between lightness and load-carrying capacity. The Royal Engineers took this work extremely seriously, setting up full scale training lines, first at Chattenden in Kent and then, from 1904 on, at their Longmoor base; a 'complete 2 ft 6 in. gauge equipment', including experimental petrol engined locomotives, was stockpiled in case of need in any future sieges.

As the dangers of war gathered round Europe from 1912 onwards, so the great powers in particular developed and improved their ideas of communication in war. It may be said that only in Europe, and in the European colonies at this period, was there any concerted study of how railways might be used in war. North America, once more united, was comfortably aware of the remoteness of a possible invasion and her armed forces were at a low ebb; most of the smaller countries outside Europe had quite enough problems in opening up civilian communication lines without spending money on military railways.

Yet in Europe the greater powers all developed their railways for war purposes in two ways: the national systems were to some extent organised so that they could be utilised as supply routes for the armies—a procedure most marked in Germany where it turned out that within 48 hours of mobilisation the whole railway machine could be altered to serve the military efficiently. They all developed also, to some extent, the concept of 'field' railways, feld-bahnen or chemins de fer militaires, fight, narrow gauge lines that could be laid fairly quickly, if need be over difficult terrain, to serve military front lines.

The position for the major European powers involved in World War One can be summarised briefly. Germany was without doubt the most thoroughly prepared and experienced. She had a large and expert military railways department; the civilian railway personnel, especially the Prussians, were organised largely on military lines and their equipment and railways were easily convertible to military use.

As a result of colonial experience and the foresight of the General Staff in preparing for all eventualities, a large quantity of 60 cm gauge feldbahn equipment had been stockpiled and procedures worked out for its deployment and use in the event of a static war developing.

Her main partner Austro-Hungary was less prepared but had for some time been using military railways on the 76 cm gauge in Boznia and Herze-govinia, had standardised on this gauge and its associated equipment details for civilian minor railways, and had stockpiled further equipment for military use. Like the British, but with more reason, they calculated that the new military lines might be long and through difficult terrain so that reasonable load-carrying capacity would be needed.

France, beyond making provision for military control of the civilian railways in time of war, especially in the case of the big Nord and Est companies, did little in the standard gauge field. Her development of light railways on the 60 cm gauge 'Decauville' pattern, however, was considerable and strongly encouraged by the artillery branch of the army. Extensive permanent systems radiated from all the large fortifications along the Eastern frontier and a certain amount of 'temporary* equipment was stockpiled including stock capable of handling guns even up to 24 cm calibre. Little or nothing was done about standardising the country's metre gauge local railways since by this time the 'doctrine of the offensive' permeated the French army and it was confidently expected that most of any war would be fought on enemy soil!

Britain continued as she had done before, largely unprepared for a large scale land war away from her own soil

but with a nucleus of hard won experience to draw on and an organisation which could be readily expanded in case of need. Field railway material was still confined to the 'complete 2 ft 6 in. gauge equipment' which was, significantly, held by the Siege Parks side of the Royal Engineers.

Of the other powers involved, none was well organised for railway transport. Russia's railways were embryonic and 5 ft gauge at that, Italy was largely unworried and had her own internal problems, Belgium, while having large and standardised networks of both standard and metre gauge lines, intended to remain neutral.

Consequently, when World War One did break out in August, 1914, and when, after only six months it settled down, in the West especially, to a stalemate with the opposing armies facing each other across a line of trenches, it was the Germans who were quickest off the mark. By mid-1915 a complete network of light railways spread out behind their front line, run on proper railway principles. Behind them was all the might and efficiency of the German main line railway system. Next in line were the French and then the British. It must be confessed that the allies on the Western Front had problems not common to their opponents. While the southern half was almost exclusively French, in the north there were Belgians, French and British armies intermingled just as they had been thrown in to stop the German advance. To serve these initially there were only the existing lines of the C.F. du Nord and the C.F. de l'Est—essentially civilian concerns, still having to meet the civilian needs of their areas and now seriously overstrained and under divided military control. At first only French material and personnel were used but these proved insufficient and bit by bit British equipment and personnel appeared, at first to help in operation and then to take over existing routes, to construct and operate new lines. In typically British fashion this rapid expansion of the original two 'Railway Companies R.E/ into the 'Railway Operating Division* was achieved by requisitioning both men and equipment from the civilian railways; it led to a wide variety of locomotives and stock appearing but, given the professionalism of the enlisted personnel, it worked surprisingly well. They were soon supplemented by purpose-designed locomotives and stock and by further railway companies.

In light railways the French, who already had much experience and material, were the first of the allies to realise the importance of such systems to link railhead and front line. Following the supply difficulties experienced by all armies during the appalling winter of 1914-15 they promptly laid networks in rear of most of their army positions and placed large orders for new material, both in Britain and America. Consequently when the British at last woke up to the problem, late in 1915, they found much of their own manufacturing capacity was already fully committed.

The British use of railways provides an interesting study of the national characteristics. Initially caught unprepared, they were able quickly to improvise an effective 'main-line' force to get supplies up to railhead from the Channel ports, and indeed, to construct and organise a very effective cross-Channel ferry service involving a complete new port at Richborough. The stubborn belief of their military commanders that the war would soon become a war of movement inhibited the development of light railway connections from railhead to front line. (Ironically the 'complete 2 ft 6 in. gauge equipment', designed for siege warfare, was shipped off to Egypt almost as soon as virtual siege conditions prevailed on the Western Front.) It was only after individual units in desperation improvised their own tramways— often man-hauled and wooden-railed— that the decision was taken to go ahead with a proper organisation later known as the Light Railway Operating Division (L.R.O.D.). Large quantities of equipment were then ordered, much of it from America owing to the insufficient capacity available in Britain. At first this was sufficient only to equip the areas selected for the next big breakthrough but as offensive after offensive failed to make much headway, a fairly complete, connected system grew up behind the British lines and an informal but extremely effective mode of operation was developed. At their peak, with some 1000 km of line, over 800 steam and 700 petrol locomotives, the British light railways were probably the most extensive and efficient network of forward area communications on either side. It is significant that the only two areas in which the massive German offensives of spring 1918 made any headway were those two areas still comparatively weak in light railway communications. Again it is somewhat ironic that the British had just about perfected the art of supplying a static front when the war exploded into that war of movement they had been expecting for so long and the light railways were rapidly left behind.

Inevitably the events on the Western Front overshadowed events elsewhere and the very scale of the operation meant that most of the railway interest was concentrated there. There were, however, a number of other fronts and new or existing railways played their part in communications on all of them. In the fight against Italy, the Austrians built several long and heavily engineered narrow gauge lines together with many hghter lines and cableways to supply their armies in the mountainous terrain of Sud Tirol, while the Italians made some use of hght railway equipment. In the Middle East, an extensive network, of both 2 ft 6 in. and 60 cm gauge supplied the Suez canal defences and isolated lines supplemented the badly damaged Palestinian railways as allied forces advanced in the later stages of the war. In Salonika, Germans, Turks, French and British built extensive feeders, both standard and 60 cm gauge, from the one existing railway to supply their troops on the far ranging and largely static front; these included the only examples—one Ger-

man, one British—of what might be termed 'strategic' 60 cm gauge railways, properly engineered and running for 50 miles or more over difficult terrain. In Mesopotamia 2 ft 6 in. railways, mainly with material brought from India, played a part and even in Africa hght railways were used. Two shaky 60 cm gauge lines helped supply our armies in their attempts to defeat Von Lettow-Worbeck in the east while in German South-West Africa the retreating colonists gained time by tearing up the 60 cm gauge Otavi railway—the only practicable route to the interior. Not until South African engineers had laid in a new line could pursuit be effectively maintained.

With motor transport and aerial bombardment both still in an embryonic stage World War One was undoubtedly the high point of such use and without the railways—in particular the specialised military systems—effective supply would have been difficult if not impossible. Its impact on the development of railway equipment was equally significant particularly in the rapid improvement of internal combustion engined machines, and in the considerable strain it placed on die civilian railway systems.
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