War on the Wheels

War on the Wheels
The story of the people

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

The role of the USA in supplying the British Army

Massive!

Bill Williams visited the USA on five occasions, the first two in the run up to D Day.

The RAOC already had good working relationships with the UK motor industry, but with so many supplies now coming from the US, new links had to be built and quickly.

In April and May 1943 Bill Williams had visited North Africa to learn at first hand the problems which faced Ordnance in the three opposed landings in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. The difficulties stemmed from the invading forces needing to be able to carry out immediate repairs to equipment in the field, under fire. This meant that the right spares had to be packed, that they must be in a size of box that can readily be carried or transported up a beach under fire, that the box can be stacked so as to be accessible, that they are clearly labelled with their contents and that the contents is preserved from damage from sea water or rough handling. Spares will not be handled with care.

Armed with this feedback from users he set out for a two month long trip to the United States, the purposes of which were to build relationships with the manufactures, to see for himself US war production, to stress the importance of spare parts and to explain his new proposals for the packing and preservation of stores. His PA prepared a full report of his visit and it is possible to read between the lines. The British were regarded as brave but possibly second class when compared to the much better organised and equipped US Army. Bill was, by his own admission, overawed by the US: New York was quite simply unlike anything he had ever seen. Nevertheless, he was not to be outdone and his tour showed a man genuinely interested in what he saw and keen to learn. Subsequent visits would see him giving very much as good as he got.

He visited Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, Firestone and many other manufacturers as well as the massive US Ordnance Depots. He watched tanks on production lines and in tests.

The San Francisco News reported of Bill that , ‘he left North Africa six weeks ago, having gone there to get what he calls “the customer viewpoint” about how the equipment is proving out under actual campaign conditions’. They quoted him as saying of the Allied victory in North Africa, “a magnificent example of United States, British and French co-operation and a tribute to American equipment.” He singled out the Sherman Tank and the Jeep, “especially when driven by a WAAC, but who doesn’t!” The Los Angles Examiner put it even more strongly, “American made weapons played the major role in the Allied victory in North Africa. General Sherman tanks are the best in the world. They completely smashed Rommel’s panzer divisions.” 





Saturday, 17 September 2016

WW1 Tanks and the RAOC nickname

Men of the Army Ordnance Corps had the nickname of 'blanket stackers' in WW1. In WW2 this changed to the Rag And Oil Company.

The reason may be serendipitous.

The Autocar magazine of 16 June 1944 reported on an invasion-eve visit to an RAOC vehicle reserve depot where transport was massed for the assault on France. The article began though with a piece of serendipitous history connected with Woolwich but referring to Chilwell.

'One afternoon in 1921, a number of Mark IV and Mark V tanks, which a few years previously had rumbled over the battlefields of Flanders, were delivered at Woolwich Arsenal, the peacetime depot of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. These tanks were obsolete and clumsy, yet their arrival at Woolwich represented a milestone in the history of the RAOC. It marked the point at which the Corps, not previously concerned with the supply of motor vehicles to the Army, began to set up which is now the greatest distributive system the motor trade of Europe has ever seen or is likely to see.'




Shropshire Star - beginnings of 'Dump' COD Donnington



COD Donnington played an astonishingly important role in WW2. At one time there were 20,000 soldiers, ATS, civilians and PoWs working on site. It must have truly astonishing.

Quite a number of local people have told me their stories and many of these are in the book, giving it a flavour of those remarkable times.

Toby Neal has written this review of the book

Thursday, 15 September 2016

The First Tank in action 15 September 1916

I wonder if he saw it?

Bill Williams, my Dad. He was Ordnance Officer to the 19th Division which saw action on the Somme.

If not 100 years ago today, then certainly later he would have seen these beast in action. It must have influenced his thinking on army mechanisation when he set up Chilwell in 1935 and persuaded the powers than be that all types of vehicle, including tanks, should come within its remit.


Friday, 9 September 2016

Our debt of gratitude to the British Motor Industry in WW2

The History Press has published on their website an article I wrote on the British Motor Industry's contribution in WW2 in which Coventry played a major part.

The more I think about it, the more open mouthed I become.

These companies made motor vehicles; they made guns, jerrycans, tin helmets. They made aircraft. The story of the Stirling Bomber, the MacRobert's Reply, which I have written with Phil Jeffs for Story Terrace, has centre stage a Stirling Bomber made by Austin.

The motor industry in the 1930s had been exciting, but far from secure. The Rootes brothers saved Humber and Hillman by buying them.

I am struck by the contrast with the American motor companies where Ford, for example, was turning out massive numbers of vehicles using the techniques of mass production.

Rolls Royce built Merlin engines by hand.

Pictures from the Chilwell depot show similar hand techniques.
With so many men joining the armed forces, many women joined the industry and worked to great effect under the careful eye of those men too old to be call up.

The result was phenomenal. We owe a huge debt of gratitude.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Voices of the time

Part of the joy of writing War on Wheels was to pick up on voices from the period. Here is an extract from the Sunday Pictorial, a popular magazine of the time.

'By 1944 there were established ATS units at most depots and the women themselves had become fully skilled at the tasks they undertook.

'They are dressed in grubby fatigue suits - boiler suits more or less to you - with an old piece of rag to tie up their hair.

'Like twenty-year old Beryl Barnes, for instance. People in Rainham, Essex, probably know her by sound. She used to say, “number please?”, at the end of their telephones.

'Until her particular Second Front started at this depot, which nourishes our armies in the field with nuts and bolts, Beryl was a clerk in the office. She used to watch the trains load and unload, rather bored with the whole thing, if the truth be told.

'Then her Second Front started. “May I leave the office?” asked Beryl. “I would like to work out there.” Perhaps the fact that she’s engaged to an officer in the Sherwood Foresters had something to do with it.

'I know it did in Doris Atkinson’s case. This twenty-two year-old ATS wife from West Mailing is married to a Marine who fought at Narvick, Matapan and Crete.

'Yes, these are men and women we tend to forget. But when the historical moment arrives when we set foot on the first stage of the march to Berlin, I suggest you remember this. Remember that without the sweat and toil of thousands of unsung heroes like them your son and husband would have nothing to fight with. Their private Second Front is almost over. They can do no more.