War on the Wheels

War on the Wheels
The story of the people

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Nuffield Motors

I wondered why I could find little about the group of motor companies headed by Lord Nuffield with factories in Birmingham, Coventry and Oxford (Cowley). The reason, I find, is like all the motor companies they were supporting the war effort in very many ways, but most particularly the RAF.
It became clear very early in the war that the RAF was 'wasting' a great many planes, in the sense that planes crashed and could no longer fly. Nuffield set up a network of Civil Repair Organisations which would collect the crashed aircraft, bring them to repair factories in various parts of the country and, largely by trial and error, put them back into airworthy condition. This was a massive operation that provided vital support in the Battle of Britain.
Nuffield also built tanks, first the Cruiser and then the Crusader and the Cromwell. These tanks were initially outgunned by Germany's Panzers, but later with a 6lb gun gave as good as they got. In the Desert War, at least initially, they proved unreliable, but Nuffield flew out a team of engineers to investigate and address the problems. In addition to tanks, Nuffield championed the self propelled gun, in particular, the Bofors. They manufactured ammunition and much else.
It was said that the motor companies were ideally placed to manufacture anything out of metal, and this they did.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Or War on Wheels?

What is in a name? The story is about the mechanisation of the British Army in WWII. Its challenges, mistakes, lessons learnt and ultimate success.
Tanks at COD Chilwell en route to North Africa

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Wheels of War

The name of a book has to be right. Telling some old friends about the book recently, it became very clear that it is about the mechanisation of the army - a monumental task. So I am now working to a revised title, Wheels of War.

“The British Army which crossed to France in 1939 differed from other armies at that time in being fully mechanised.” Report on the British Expeditionary Force

In a little over eight months they discovered to their cost just what a truly mechanised army could do as German General Guderian and his Panzers drove all before them and would have taken the whole force prisoner had Hitler not hesitated.

The next five years would see a completed transformation of the British Army as the the number of vehicles grew from 40,000 to 1.5 million.

The driving force behind mechanisation was the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and the 250,000 soldiers, ATS and civilians who worked in over one hundred massive depots in the UK and in the theatres of war worldwide, but also the motor industry both here in the UK and in Canada and the USA.

Wheels of War is their story.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Chilwell, Didcot and Bicester

What do the Chilwell housing estate,  Didcot power stations and Bicester Garden City have in common? 

They occupy the sites of three of the vast Ordnance depots that supplied the British Army in WWII. Together with over one hundred other such depots they comprised 40 million square feet of covered and 50 million square feet of open storage of anything from tanks and Bailey bridges to mobile radar and boot laces. In them and elsewhere around the theatres of war, some 250,000 soldiers, ATS and civilians, including many with expertise drawn from industry, worked together handling hundreds of tons of some 750,000 different lines including 375 million items packed by them and teams of volunteers for D Day.

In a speech for Salute the Soldier Week June 1944, Bill Williams, Controller of Ordnance Services for the British Army, said this: 'War in itself is essentially wasteful and if we are to be victorious we must waste more, or what appears to be more, than the enemy. This is the cost of war.' 


The Waste of War is the story of the men and women who handled all those supplies and, in doing so, invented 21st century logistics.