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Старый 18.02.2011, 15:50   #1 (ссылка)
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RAILWAYS AND WAR before 1918. MILITARY RAILWAY OPERATING PROBLEMS: SOUTH AFRICAN WAR, 1899-1902


RAILWAYS AND WAR before 1918. MILITARY RAILWAY OPERATING PROBLEMS: SOUTH AFRICAN WAR, 1899-1902


Although railways had previously been used for supply and troop transport in various campaigns and specific military lines had been constructed especially in the Soudan, the first extensive purely military use of railways in war came during the South African 'Boer' War of 1899-1902. This campaign, owing to the vast arid distances to be covered by both sides, saw the rapid development of all facets of such operation; use of civilian railways to transport military troops and equipment; bringing of civilian railways under military operational control; wholesale destruction of railways by a retreating army and their consequent reconstruction and operation as purely

military lines; guerilla warfare against vulnerable lines of communication; and the development of military transport techniques in general. It saw also the first effective use of armoured trains and of heavy rail-borne artillery. Indeed the British used it, as they did for other arms, as a valuable training ground for military engineers and a proving ground for new techniques.

Certainly the war gave much scope for developments both in operating and in maintaining railways under war conditions. A feature of the campaign was the easy way in which mounted Boer 'commandos' were able to infiltrate British-held territory and blow up portions of line to disrupt traffic. The engineers became adept at repairing such breaches—one of their boasts was that a normal 'break' discovered at dawn would be repaired in general before 9.00 a.m. Much more serious was the widespread destruction caused by the Boers when retreating over their own territory.

In particular bridges and other engineering works were thoroughly destroyed. This severely hampered the cumbrous British Army which depended on its rail communications and drastic measures were taken to restore the lines to traffic. The plate shows a typical improvisation carried out on the 3 ft 6 in. gauge line from Elandsfontein to Koomati Poort in the Boer Transvaal during the British advance in 1900.

Restoring rail communications

Some idea of the destruction caused can be gained from the fact that it took reconstruction parties two months to cover the 140 miles or so between 'railhead* and this point at Kaapmuiden where the line crossed the Kaap river. This was the last major bridge on the line and a fairly common expedient was resorted to: the bridge had been so seriously damaged that a deviation and low-level temporary structure were decided on, the work being completed within six days. As can be seen, the deviation which was composed of trestles and 'crib' piers was very sharply curved and with maximum gradients of no less than i in 18*5. The level of flooding in the river—which was subject to flash floods at short notice—had been calculated at 20 ft, so rail level was set at 21J ft above water. The illustration also shows the hazards of using such quick expedients to restore traffic—the wreckage of one train that came to grief on it can clearly be seen.

No. 18 armoured train and its operating area

Another 'first' for the British in the South African War was the widespread use of armoured trains both to patrol and protect their lines of communication and to harass Boer commandos actively. Early experiments in Cape Colony were not very effective since the trains were very weak and armed only with rifles and Maxim machine guns. Thus a determined enemy force with light artillery could effectively neutralise them and the trains achieved a bad reputation; indeed most people probably think of them in terms of the one in which Mr (later Sir) Winston Churchill was ignominiously captured by the Boers.

Yet this gives a very unfair picture of the work of armoured trains as a whole. Their weakness was recognised, success-

ful experiments were made with quick firing naval guns and, towards the end of 1900, a proper controlling organisation was set up for them. From that time on, armoured trains played a steadily increasing part in the railway war and by 1902 there were no less than 20. The later pattern armoured train, shown in Plate 13, was a formidable weapon and several times fought successful duels with complete Boer commandos caught in the act of crossing the railway. On the most famous occasion, the Boer commander De Wet was cut off from his wagons by no less than four trains which at the cost of only two wounded men were able to capture all his ammunition and explosives.

More commonly gun-armed trains were used to patrol weakly held stretches of line and to drive Boers away from portions of line that had been blown up, in this way it was possible quickly to repair breaks and some trains even carried repair material with them.

They were also adept at coming to the rescue of beleaguered stations, rather in the manner of the U.S. 7th Cavalry, the attackers usually retiring soon after the armoured monster loomed over the horizon. The late pattern train, then, was an effective fighting unit. It normally consisted of a locomotive in the middle, pulling or pushing armoured vans containing living accommodation, searchlight generators and telegraph instruments. At the opposite side of the locomotive was a water tank truck and next to this an armoured wagon mounting a 3, 6 or more often 12-pounder quick-firing gun. At each end of the train were armoured trucks each containing two Maxim guns and an infantry section armed with rifles. The train often pushed in front of it a loaded bogie wagon fitted with strong cowcatchers; this was used both to sweep obstructions off the line and to explode contact mines, in a number of cases saving the train itself from damage.

Bogie Maxim gun truck, standard pattern

Basic armament of all armoured trains from beginning to end of the war were the armoured machine gun trucks. These were bogie vehicles carrying either two Maxim machine guns— successors to the not entirely successful Gatling—or one of the light i-pounder Nordenfeldt cannon, or a mixture of these weapons. The i-pounder was a quick-firing weapon very easy to transport and much loved by the Boers for its rapid rate of fire. They used it even more extensively than the British who dubbed it the 'pom-pom' because of its characteristic noise when firing rapidly.

The most widely used pattern of Maxim truck was based on a standard, roofed bogie wagon and carried two Maxims plus a section of infantry armed with rifles. The sides and one end were armoured with J-in. steel plate, leaving only a narrow gap under the roof to admit light and air; they were pierced at intervals with horizontal loopholes to allow kneeling fire. These slits were staggered on each side and fitted with sliding covers. Near the inner end of each vehicle there was a masked port each side for a Maxim and at the outer end a fighting compartment cut off from the main compartment by overlapping steel screens. This end compartment was armoured only to waist level and contained a shielded Maxim capable of firing

down the line or to either side. Its upper part was also armoured to protect a searchlight operator who sat above the maxim and whose head and shoulders projected into a small 'turret' behind the roof-mounted searchlight. The leading Maxim van usually carried the train's commanding officer, and contained a telephone linked to the other vehicles, and a vacuum brake control valve.

Protected bogie truck for supply trains

This was designed specifically for use in flat country and could be quickly constructed locally. It consisted of a standard bogie truck, armoured with lengths of rail in clips at each side to a height of 5 ft, one rail being omitted to provide a continuous firing slit. The ends of the truck were protected by walls of sleepers on which a Maxim could be mounted and had a canvas-awning roof to keep the sun off—hence its use only in flat country where plunging fire would not be encountered. The great advantages of the vehicle were that it could be quickly constructed to meet an emergency and that its armouring could be used to repair a break in the line if the need arose! This type of truck was extensively used both on armoured trains and as escort trucks for supply trains.

Early pattern i-pounder gun truck

With the exception of Maxim trucks and the large gun wagons, most armoured train vehicles were 4-wheelers. This is an early pattern gun truck accommodating a i-pounder pom-pom and consisting simply of a goods wagon with additional side plating and a sunawning. Most of the early trains were named and this belonged to train No. 3 'Cock o' the North'.

Early pattern 12-pounder gun trucks

Early experiments with armoured trains had shown that they needed some weapon heavier than the Maxims and 1-pounder pom-poms to fight off Boer attacks. In addition it was desirable for them to be able to act offensively when needed. From about 1900 on, therefore, all trains included at least one gun truck normally coupled ahead of the engine and mounting one or more quick-firing guns of naval pattern. Most common to start with were the light 3-pounders but by 1902 many trains were fitted with the very effective 12-pounder Q.F. rifled gun.

Plate 17 shows layout and variations on the early pattern of 12-pounder gun truck as used by various armoured trains. These were made up of steel plating fixed on a standard bogie wagon and provided with a shrapnel-proof roof against plunging fire. The two earliest (Plate 18) were partially open above the waist, some parts having steel sheeting pierced for loopholes. They each mounted two guns but, possibly as a relic of their naval origin these were mounted ship-fashion as 'casemate' weapons, that is to say they were each to one side of the vehicle and able, because of this positioning, to fire through an arc on that side only. Each gun was pedestal-mounted, and provided with a sheet-steel crew shield fabricated in railway workshops which was intended to protect the gun layer and loader from direct fire.

Late pattern 12-pounder gun truck

The disadvantages of the early pattern truck were realised as the war progressed, and later trains had a much more effective design, 13 in all being built. This was again based on a standard bogie wagon underframe suitably strengthened but carried only one gun on a central pedestal or 'turret' with an all-round field of fire. To allow this the central portion of the wagon sides was built out in semi-circular sponsons. The crew was protected from direct fire by an all-enclosing horseshoe-shaped steel shield with rear flaps, and from plunging fire by deflector plates. The wagons were built up with massive sleeper and iron sides and roofs over each end to provide blast-proof ammunition magazines ; these sides also gave shelter to the spare crew members and were sloped downward towards each end to allow the gun to fire along the track at maximum depression. The vehicle could be fitted with a folding awning for protection against the sun. This was supported at each end by a pole on the centre line of the wagon and, when in position, it naturally interfered with firing. It was therefore designed to be collapsed quickly to one side if required.

The Boer War also saw the first serious attempts at using heavy artillery on railway trucks; the idea was to reproduce in inland areas the effect achieved in coastal regions by naval bombardment, and to provide quick and heavy support for our forces. Two patterns of weapon were tried out, the 6-in. gun and the 9'2-in. gun, both of naval origin.

9'2-in. naval gun on experimental rail mounting

This, the forerunner of future rail-borne artillery, was the heaviest weapon mounted on railway wagons up to that date—and considering that the South African gauge was only 3 ft 6 in., it was a very fine effort.

The gun was mounted fore and aft, with only very limited traverse, on a vehicle made up partly from the frame of an old locomotive, and to bring it into action it was necessary to lower heavy screw jacks at each side. The wagon was provided with a built-in ammunition hoist for lifting the heavy shells into the gun breech. This gun was fired only experimentally but apparently with complete success.

6-in. naval gun firing from a railway mounting

Two 6-in. naval guns were however put into service and used quite extensively. They were installed on pedestal mountings fixed to strengthened bogie wagons and initially were fired fore-and-aft, or with limited traverse from specially laid, curved sidings. In this form they took part in the engagements at Modder River and Fourteen Streams. Later, one was converted as shown for attachment to No. 2 armoured train and was frequently employed either with the train or as a surprise addition to the armament of a fortified station likely to come under attack; in the latter case it was brought up under cover of darkness and left there. The modifications consisted of two pivoted girders at each side which could be quickly swung out to act as stabilisers and allow the gun a 360° field of fire.
The engineers claimed that the gun could be brought into action inside five minutes and it was in frequent use up to the end of the war without damaging its mounting or wagon.
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1899-1902, 1918., african, military, operating, problems:, railway, railways, south, war


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