The final book of the trilogy on army supply

The final  book of the trilogy on army supply
The third of my books on army supply

Tuesday 28 April 2015

Carmen of the Army

On 28 October 1941 Bill Williams gave the response to the toast at the Worshipful Company of Carmen, the City of London Livery Company for the Motor Distribution Industry.

He began by apologising for the insatiable demands he was placing on motor manufactures for both new vehicles and spare parts.

He then went on to talk about the problems of tank production explaining that this was the area of latest development for the army Carmen business.

‘There is not only the tank itself, but the guns, the machine guns, the wireless which has to operate under the most difficult conditions, and stand up to incredibly rough treatment, and many other things as well - watches, binoculars, sighting instruments and other secret devices of all sorts. All these are items of extreme delicacy in design and manufacture and need skilled hands to make them. All these different articles of equipment have to be married together in our Ordnance Depots before the tank can be issued to the troops or fighting unit….

'There must be no mistakes. Everything must be of the best, the best armour-plating, the best guns, the best engines, power operated turrets, the best wireless, the best that the Ministry of Supply and the great engineering industry of this country can produce. …

'Even when the tank has been completely assembled, has left the depot, and joined its unit, we still have to look after it. A tank, for all the strength, is a delicate instrument of war. It requires constant attention.

‘Modern warfare is largely a Carmen business. It consist of getting heavy loads of men and guns and ammunition to a certain point in the shortest possibly time, regardless of obstacles, whether they be rivers, ditches, trenches or Germans.

‘The Carmen in the army are the people who do this job on the battlefronts. But you Carmen are the people who have to do a lot on the roads and railways of Britain. Incidentally the Ministry of Supply and the War Office have done their best to help you in your problem by allotting a definite proportion of the output of new vehicles and spare parts to civilian transport. …

'The carmen of Germany are good. But I believed that the Carmen of Britain - both in and out of the army - will do the better job. We shall in the end go further, our staying power is greater, and we shall go on until victory is ours.

Monday 27 April 2015

Which were the British made equipment stars of WW2?

I have spent the day reading about scout cars and trucks, Matadors and other gun tractors, recovery vehicles and tank transporters and of course, endlessly, about tanks.

There must have been an RAOC, and later REME, folklore about what worked and what didn’t. I have heard that the much loved Jeep was a b***** to repair, unlike the Humber or Daimler.

I have read articles telling of the COS praising American Sherman Tanks and Jeeps. There had been a problem with recovery vehicles and it seems that later in the war most of these were American. Was everything good American?

The British Centurion tank was good, but came too late. The Cromwell was good, but outshone by the Sherman.

I have heard no criticism of Tillies. The Carriers in their various forms seemed to have performed. The motor bikes and bicycles seemed OK.

I would love to hear the ‘word on the street’.

Thursday 23 April 2015

Home from Dunkirk

Many people played a part in caring for the troops as they arrived back home from Dunkirk. COD Chilwell welcomed some 7,000 evacuated troops. Sergeant Major Hall of the ATS recalls them arriving.

“We gave them bacon and eggs and lashings of hot tea and when they’d finished they just fell asleep at the table. Everyone came to building 176 to cook, serve, wash dishes…the commanding officer and the newest recruit rolled up their sleeves and worked side-by-side; our men gave up their cigarettes and chocolate and beds, handed over some of their own clothes and did any odd jobs they could…”

Doris Smith was one of the cooks. She came from South Shields where before the war she had been a housekeeper. When war was declared she volunteered, choosing the ATS rather than the WRNS because she didn’t like water. Her reaction on arriving at Chilwell was the sheer volume of food to be cooked. The arrival of the Dunkirk evacuees tripled the number of mouths to be fed. She recalled having to step sleeping body after sleeping body as she tried to cross one of the massive sheds to wake the stoker so that the kitchen ranges could be ready to cook thousands of breakfasts. A later memory of that summer was being handed a pair of binoculars and a tin hat and being sent up to the roof of one of the sheds to look out for enemy planes. She arrived as a shy country girl; her experience at Chilwell gave her the confidence to pursue a successful career in catering.

Friday 17 April 2015

The Tank

The tank was a British invention, the first examples having been manufactured by William Foster & Co in Lincoln.

In 1915 Churchill became horrifically aware of the stalemate of the Western Front and how young men were being slaughtered because, whilst mankind had invented bullets and shells, it had not yet found an effective defence against them. Time and again the order would come for an advance and time and again it would fail with horrific loss of life.

What was needed was a machine out of HG Wells, a ‘Landship' protected by steel armour capable of travelling over trenches, mud and barbed wire. With Churchill’s influence, it was the Navy who made the first prototypes. The biggest problem was the sheer weight of armour. Eventually two alternatives merged, one with a large wheel and one with caterpillar tracks. It was not Churchill himself who gave the orders for their production, since he was out of office following the disaster of the Dardenells. Contracts for the two alternatives were awarded to Fodens for the wheeled version and Fosters for the tracked vehicle. The project was of course secret and it was let known that the factories were producing motorised water ‘tanks’ for use in Mesopotamia, the name though stuck.

The tracked version proved vastly superior and over four thousand were produced. When Churchill returned to office as Minister of Munitions, he resumed oversight of the project and so had a hand in the victory at the battle of Amiens in August 1918 when 600 British Tanks sent terrified Germans into headlong defeat. In time they recovered their cool, but crucially morale had been broken by this invention with which Churchill had had more than a hand.

Herbert Ellis, in The Autocar magazine of 16 June 1944, reported on an invasion-eve visit to an Royal Army Ordnance Corps vehicle reserve depot where transport was massed for the assault on France. He began though with a a piece of serendipitous history.

‘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.’

Thursday 16 April 2015

Garages around the country help the war effort

In towns and villages around the country, garages large and small found that many of their mechanics had joined up, initially a blessing as domestic motor use declined and with it the need for repairs. Many businesses found they had capacity and the more entrepreneurial approached the Ministry of Supply. At first they were met with a bureaucratic 'no', then, with the blitz, dispersal had become the other of the day and the result was the awarding of contracts for war work. One London garage repaired the vehicles of the 51st division before it embarked for North Africa. Others manufactured parts for munitions and some whole shells; army vehicles were repaired and serviced, mainly lift armoured cars and Bren carriers; in fact a huge range of different work was undertaken. 

In time work forces expanded and, with so many men in the armed forces, many garages recruited women who soon gained the necessary skills from the careful teaching of those mostly older skilled men left behind. 

There was a shortage of machine tools and many garages made their own, but using the parts they had to hand and suitable for use by relatively unskilled labour. The same was true of spare parts, where those coming from the USA were lost in sunk Atlantic convoys; these too were manufactured on workbenches of garages, large and small, urban and rural.

These are some of the unsung heroes of WW2.

Monday 13 April 2015

The Liberation of Belsen

On 15 April 8 Corps arrived at Belsen and the Deputy Director of Ordnance Services 8 Corps was one of the first to enter the camp. The camp, he found, was ‘a cesspit of filth and disease; men, women and children were dying by the hundred every day; and 10,000 unburied bodies, in various stages of decomposition lay around. Priority one was to get the medical services going, and within 48 hours, 304 mobile laundry was in the camp and working. Bath sections 304, 105, 305 and 310 Mobile laundries arrived within a matter of days. and inmates of the camp were soon having their first bath since imprisonment’. The principal role for Ordnance was the provision of mobile Laundries and Baths and bedding and clothing.

On entry into the camp the medical teams found that of 28,135 women, 21,000 required hospitalisation and of 12,000 men over 9,000 required urgent treatment from conditions including typhus, tuberculosis, enteritis and famine oedema. The camp had been without water for five days and so the most immediate task was the trucking in of water and the construction of new supplies. Every inmate was starving and so appropriate food was needed. Then came the burial of the dead, the washing of the living and the provision of clothing, and the dusting of everything to kill lice.

Requisitions of clothing had been made from the local population and substantial stores were discovered in the blocks previously occupied by SS guards. These stores, including clothing and bedding, were issued to non-hospitalised inmates. The block itself was converted into use as a hospital and again much of the equipment needed was found to have been on site. The remaining equipment needed was brought in by Ordnance personnel from the Antwerp AOD.

The operation, led by the 249 (Oxfordshire Yeomanry) Battery of the 53 Anti-Tank Regiment, included, in addition to RAOC personnel operating baths and laundries, men from REME, RASC, Military Government and of course British Red Cross and RAMC General Hospital, Field Hygene, Light Field Ambulance and Mobile Bacteriological Laboratory.

In spit of everything that was being done, the death-role continued to be high for many days.

103 Laundry Unit operating earlier in France