North African railroads

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Nacht
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Bulldozers...

Post by Nacht » 02 Feb 2007 18:37

David,

The bulldozer operators were the key to the quick building of the rail lines as both Jans (i believe) have spoken of the speed of laying down track...

The trick is not getting up a hill with tractive force it is getting down the hill... the 10th built side spurs for runaways... and for allowing priority service trains to be allowed to pass... the line was not really one roadbed therefore and this allowed the single lines to function more effeciently. If you look at these old steam locos. notice the sand boxes on the engines and how they drop sand onto the track for the motive (pulling) wheels to operate. They work great for starting forward but not so well to drop sand to stop.

No air assist brakes on the old flatcars was a major problem at times... these when loaded like shown with the American M3 Halftrack were 'top' heavy and had a higher rollover rate...

I wish I could find you a picture of a NA sand stop... this would give you an idea in your head of how a runaway train is slow when on a downgrade...

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Post by JonS » 02 Feb 2007 20:37

David W wrote:Nacht.

Are you suggesting a massive, man made bulldozed slope?

I don't think so. For some reason I have always been under the impression that the rail went up the "escarpment" (in commas because I don't think the rise was particularly cliff-like in this area) at an oblique angle.

The Bulldozers were used for ground shaping and cutting, obviously, but also as tractors to drag lengths of rail around the desert into rough position prior to final placing and fitting using muscle power. In photos of the rial being constructed there are examples of bulldozers dragging a dozen or more rails across the desert from the railhead to the 'construction head' (for want of a better term), and also of pseudo rail lines of tracks laid out parallel to the formed bed and sleepers.

If I had a bit more time right now I'd have a look :roll:, but look in the NZETC Engineers Official History, and also in 'Timeframes" at the National Library.

Example of Timeframes search using < rail AND egypt > :
rail AND egypt
(not very useful results in the context of this thread, but you get the idea hopefully.

<railway AND egypt> is better and throws this up:
Tractor, and soldiers, of the 2nd NZEF Railway Construction Company, advance from Egypt to Libya

12 Dec 1941
Reference number: DA-02214-F
1 b&w original negative(s). Film negative. .
Part of New Zealand. Department of Internal Affairs. War History Branch :Photographs relating to World War 1914-1918, World War 1939-1945, occupation of Japan, Korean War, and Malayan Emergency (PAColl-4161)
Part of World War 1939-1945 official negatives - DA Series (PAColl-4161-08)
Photographic Archive, :
Scope and contents

Tractor, and 2nd NZEF soldiers, of the Railway Construction Company, advance into Libya, from Egypt, 12 December, 1941. Photographer unidentified.
Historical notes

Note on back of file print reads "NZ Rly Const Unit in the WD. Tractors driven by NZers take up rails along the track route ready for laying."
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Other descriptive data
Other copies available

File print available in Photographic ArchiveWar History Collection(PFP-022736)
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Key terms
Coverage dates

1941
Names

New Zealand. Army. 2nd NZEF. New Zealand Engineers. Railway Construction Company
Subjects

World War, 1939-1945 - Campaigns - Egypt

World War, 1939-1945 - Campaigns - Libya

Tractors
Geographic names

Egypt
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Post by Jon G. » 03 Feb 2007 21:02

Hi Nacht,

Nacht wrote:...I had simply thought that the information was a given as I had previously noted the reference and did not want to duplicate the thought process but you friends were talking Judd and I think 10th NZ... and the archives... hope it now makes more sense with my aims of links herein cited in the thread.


Absolutely it does - and thanks a lot for all the pictures you posted/allowed me to post. You are correct that the online official New Zealand history addresses the story of the rail builders and their efforts in a more systematic fashion. Judd's narrative concentrates mostly on the 17th railway construction company and the 18th railway operating company.

But the diatribe from the reference I had given also speaks more about the shunts and spurs as Judd does not discuss the finer points in quite as much detail. Trying to give David some idea of the hows and whys wherein the egress from the plateau was accomplished.


Well, Judd's narrative is less systematic and hard to follow in some places. He is also a little over-awed by the veterans he interviewed. None of that detracts greatly from his book IMO - he's strong on the anecdotical stuff, and he clearly knows the ups and downs of railroad operations - but he is not so strong on hard numbers and analysis. In that sense, his book makes for a good companion to read alongside the online official history.

The use of the bulldozers and their maintenance was a true measure of their fortitude and veracity... these fellows were keen on their work!


Judd also makes several references to locally hired Egyptian workers who were contracted to work for the RR construction and operation companies at a shilling a day.

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Very quiet...

Post by Nacht » 19 Mar 2007 14:22

Colleagues... It has been very quiet for a bit too long on this thread!

Was interested in captured British Rail equipment... it does not seem common in photographs...

An example of British rolling stock with abandoned but damaged Crusader tank and truck on a flatcar... near El Alamein in July of 1941...

Were there many locomotives captured from both the French and British and put back into German service??? I have not seen photos of captured engines or much in the way of rail stock???

Image

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Re: Very quiet...

Post by Jon G. » 19 Mar 2007 15:39

Hi Nacht,

Nacht wrote:Colleagues... It has been very quiet for a bit too long on this thread!


I agree... this thread seems to go either very quickly, or not at all. But my moderator colleague Andy and I have made it sticky for easy reference. Also, this thread has been chopped up and reassembled by yours truly a few times, zeroing the number of views every time I've re-arranged the thread. At 7,463 views and counting, this thread still has its purpose even with new posts long underway 8-)

Anyway, on to your question.

Was interested in captured British Rail equipment... it does not seem common in photographs...

Were there many locomotives captured from both the French and British and put back into German service??? I have not seen photos of captured engines or much in the way of rail stock???...


Thanks for the nice picture. June 1941 would place it about the time of Battleaxe, by which time the desert railroad had not yet made it far enough west to be a really significant strategic advantage for the British.

As far as I know, no locomotives were captured from the British during the 1942 Axis advance into Egypt. According to Judd's book - referred to earlier - British engines which couldn't be moved to Egypt were destroyed quite thoroughly by their New Zealand crews during the 1942 retreat. And, at any rate, it's doubtful how useful coal and water guzzling Staniers would have been to the Axis, considering the PAA's already over-stretched logistics apparatus. The few locomotives which the Italians shipped to North Africa following Rommel's advance to El Alamein were all diesel/petrol-powered shunters.

The PAA probably captured a little other British rolling stock, though. There's a nice picture (the top one) from this post by Kuno on the DAK forum - I'm sure you're familiar with it :) The first two waggons behind the puny Badoni tractor might be formerly British or Egyptian rail waggons. The final waggon might be a converted (probably Italian) narrow-gauged waggon on account of its smaller profile and four axles.

French locomotives would have been useless on the captured normal-gauged desert tracks - French railroads in Tunisia were mostly narrow-gauged, built to a different gauge than the Italian stretches of narrow-gauged track in Libya.

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Rail Gauges... rolling stock photos???

Post by Nacht » 19 Mar 2007 16:20

Thanks Jon for the heads up!

I had shared my link privately for you to get the PDF on Rail Gauges did I not?

Knew about the limited amount of German diesel - electric 'switchers'...(that's what I always called them)... same I believe used or seen in photos to move around the K-5's railguns...

I had just found some photos, from two summers ago and thought about this thread, of a very unique piece of historia that is in the Calais area (on private property) that could be of reference to those interested in bunker fortifications and the movement of a K-5 from concrete shelter (as it a purpose built 'house' for a K-5)... but did not know where to share them? But that is another topic... that you might point me in the direction to post or share.

Really surprised that there are not more NZ photos though... even non-captured rolling stock photos seem limited at best. Maybe some Alexandria railhead materials are out there or some buildup plans for yard expansion needs over the course of the campaign>>>... I'll try to find some things to keep the thread alive and 'clicking' along! What ideas come to mind simply share them and I'll do a bit of poking about to search out some things for you to keep this thread rolling along.

I did post up some Fuka train station shots... that you might borrow if you think it would regenerate some activity... just let me know.

Always like the rail discussions... again, thanks my friend!

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Post by Jon G. » 19 Mar 2007 19:17

Here's the military engines sub-page of a very good German train site - tons of pictures, and frequently also brief summaries of engine fates. For example, the OKH 11118 was captured by British troops at Belhamed in November 1942 and put back into service, ending its active life in Haïfa in 1946. The OKH 27307 spent two months and ten days before it was destroyed in an air raid.

Judd's book, which I recommend with reservations, has a good handful of pictures of the NZ engineers and the trains they operated, though reproduction is not always good due to the paperback format. JonS and I have posted a few of them a few pages back on this thread. Personally I'd be interested in seeing a picture of a British train flying a barrage balloon :)

On a more general note, feel free to post your pictures. I find them very illuminating for the discussion - also, other users and guests can't direct link to pictures posted on the AHF, so that shouldn't hold you back.

Also, I am certain that the bunker experts over on the Fortifications & Artillery sub-forum will enjoy any pictures you have to share:

viewforum.php?f=70

...it's a pretty image-havy section already. Just go there, hit 'new topic', select an appropriate title, and you're all set.

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Post by Nacht » 21 Mar 2007 05:26

Jan,

You are the best and many thanks for sharing! Familiar with these two diesel-electric engines... because of their lifespan...

I just bought a couple of the 1/35 Culemeyer kits from Rumania by Miniatur to scratch build from the planform a 80 ton Culemeyer and also take a really ragged 1-056 Diesel Eletric Tender from a company (to remain nameless because it took four attempt to get all of the pieces...) and finally decided to scratch build a better DE using the resin parts for a template!

I really want a DAK service scene in 1/35... so spending some time to just do it up right... but I am a bit old and slow!

Hoped I might find some more pics. to help... Kuno of course shares... but anyone else... please post them up!

I'll share the progress...

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Re: Very quiet...

Post by Bronsky » 30 Mar 2007 18:03

Nacht wrote:Were there many locomotives captured from both the French and British and put back into German service???


Some French locomotives were put to use in Tunisia, none in Libya. That would have required shipping normal-gauge locos from either France or Tunis to Mersa Matruh, and by the time the Axis recognized the need of more locos on that network, that would have been a dangerous trip.

Only one very old - older and far less powerful than a Stanier - and shot up loco was left behind by the retreating British. It was correctly regarded as being useless, and indeed the Axis didn't even try to repair it.

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Thanks

Post by Nacht » 30 Mar 2007 19:29

Thanks Bronsky,

I have a Tunisian rail thread at the DAK forum and do understand the diversity of rail gauges in Africa... but still not in full understanding of the lack of German moves to put rail usage into more significant play for logistic reasons... alone. Do appreciate the sharing of information!

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Post by Jon G. » 31 Mar 2007 10:31

Well, prior to Torch anything the Axis could gain from French North Africa had to be wrangled for - note for example the trucks which the Germans purchased from Darlan in 1941. The Germans could have bargained for train engines too, but Tunisian engines being (mostly) meter-gauged would have been useless on the (mostly) 950 mm Libyan rail network without conversion. That would have left the normal-gauged rail line eastwards from Tobruk as the only place where French engines from the normal-gauged part of their North African rail network as the only place where French engines could have been of any use to the Axis in Libya and Egypt - that is, just the few months from the fall of Tobruk until El Alamein.

Also, steam engines would have added as many problems to the Axis supply chain as they would have solved - trucks and gasoline would have been freed for other uses, assuming maximum use of the limited stretches of rail track in Libya (see image on p. 1 of this thread!), but in turn the already over-stretched Italian merchant navy would have had to add coal to the list of items it was shipping to North Africa.

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Post by Bronsky » 02 Apr 2007 12:31

Nacht,

There were more than logistical considerations involved in not sending more engines to Africa. Generally speaking, there's the fact that North Africa was a low-priority theater, locomotives were in short supply, diesel locos like would have been required were even scarcer, and that was that. The Reichsbahn was very short of rolling stock, and most of the captured equipment was put to use in theaters where shortages were just as crippling but priority was higher e.g. Russia.

By the time Speer's crash program to produce locomotives picked up some of the slack, there no longer was any point in shipping any to North Africa.

Then add other constraints. Regarding the specific use of French equipment that you mentioned, the Axis powers and Vichy kept haggling over Metropolitan French rolling stock, with various degrees of obfuscation on both sides. The thing to remember is that everything took a long time to settle, so there would be significant delays between when Germany would express a need and the need would be met (assuming it was).
Another problem was shipping across the Mediterranean. Axis shipping was fully tied up, and French shipping was submitted to various limitations, in particular the French needed special authorization to ship heavy stuff to North Africa. Add the fact that there were very few ships capable to handle such heavy items, limited shipment quotas, the question of who would provide the fuel for the ships, etc.
Then add political considerations: Vichy France was officially neutral, and Italian ships calling at an Algerian port to pick up rolling stock en route to Mersa Matruh would have been too open a breach of that neutrality status. There is no way that it could have been done secretly, and the Allies had effective means to retaliate e.g. the U.S. consul had negociated a trade deal to supply French North Africa with foodstuffs and fuel provided that none of it was re-exported. Naturally enough, U.S. deliveries were interrupted when Vichy exports of other commodities to the Axis were too high. Exporting rolling stock for Libya would therefore have carried a high political cost for the Vichy authorities as it would have jeopardized the (already very low) living standards of the North African population, as well as making the extent of the collaboration with the Axis painfully obvious (this is something that Vichy tried to hide).

So look at it that way. In Axis North Africa were 3 separate networks. A narrow-gauge one around Tripoli, and another one between Benghazi and Buerat. These were serviced by Italian equipment, and French rolling stock, as Jon mentioned, would not fit. The third - and most important to Axis logistics - was the line between Alexandria and Bir El Suessi, which could be used to supply the El Alamein position. That one could have used French normal gauge rolling stock.
However, look at the delays involved: only after 1st El Alamein, at the earliest, could Rommel have known that he was not going to make it all the way to Alexandria. That's July 1942. Prior to that, there was no special emergency and the limited resources earmarked by the Axis for use in North Africa i.e. the Italian shunters & 3 German locos were enough.
Even assuming that the Germans had started asking the French for rolling stock in June 1942, further assuming that the French would have agreed to part with the engines (most unlikely), and that the question of the shipping past Malta had been solved, given the usual pace of armistice negociations there is simply no way that the transport could have been organized in time. Add to this the fact that by the summer of 1942, crossing the Mediterranean had again become a serious problem for the Axis. I'm not aware of any such German demand as part of the armistice negociations, though I suppose I could look it up. The French were beginning to run out of things to "trade" by then, their own economy was tragically under-resourced (particularly in North Africa) so it would have required some really powerful incentive to make them trade.
Shipping German locos would simply have been easier, had the Axis been serious about it.

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Post by Nacht » 03 Apr 2007 03:17

Thanks Bronsky,

You and Jon do help... trying to frame the significant differences in the rail situation in Tunisia versus that to be found between its eastern neighbors had always been of interest to me. Specifically the concentration of movment by the British and the Americans along the rail routes in the Tunisian campaign... and how the German and Italian forces counteracted with limited numbers some of these moves (some would note the effectiveness of the Tigers as road blocks of sort). The insight being gleened, by me, from what you two are sharing is that some amount of rolling stock or engines from the French could have at least been servicable across Libya but then of no value because of railine gauge past the Egyptian frontier of western Egypt and the El Alamein sector... (side note: I cannot specifically see the change in rail line gauge that the NZ teams built as being a deterent as I thought it a similar Euro standard gauge which would also be French equipment compatible...)

I had always assumed that this main North African coastal rail curcuit was compatible basically from Lebanon to Morroco... but do understand the differences and diverse number of gauges in the spur and narrow gauge circuits to be found across north Africa and the Middle East but had always understood or made the assumption that this "heavy" rail system on the coast as being 'all' Euro equipment compatible... I suppose that those assumptions by me should not have been made.

You guys are educating me to a cleaner thinking and I appreciate the sharing of knowledge. I have three or four nice articles about the original French, British and Italian colonial rail network building efforts from the 1870's to the 1930's that I thought I had shared with you Jon... Have you had a chance to pull any of that material down (Jon) from my group of research partner's site because I would be glad to share it with Bronsky and others here if you would like? Or I can let you place some links to the PDF's... if you think that they might be of additional insight...

I am back in France for a couple of weeks of work but will be glad to set some links for you (Jon) to pull the material over to host the articles that might assist your thread...

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Post by Bronsky » 03 Apr 2007 09:05

Nacht wrote:The insight being gleened, by me, from what you two are sharing is that some amount of rolling stock or engines from the French could have at least been servicable across Libya but then of no value because of railine gauge past the Egyptian frontier of western Egypt and the El Alamein sector... (side note: I cannot specifically see the change in rail line gauge that the NZ teams built as being a deterent as I thought it a similar Euro standard gauge which would also be French equipment compatible...)


There was a standard gauge line running from Morocco to Tunis, and another standard gauge network running from Egypt to Lebanon-Syria. During the war, the British extended that (standard gauge) Egyptian network all the way to Tobruk and built up the Lebanon-Syria one.

The Italian networks in Libya were 0.95m wide. The French networks in Tunisia south of Tunis were 1m wide. So they were "narrow gauge", but not the same narrow gauge. They were also not linked. The Italians did some work to extend their network all the way to the border, complete with transfer stations where the loads could be switched from one gauge to the other, but they never laid the rails (rail shortage being a serious problem, see my early posts). The French never extended their own network toward the Libyan border, period.

So "narrow" French rolling stock couldn't be used on the Italian network (around Tripoli, and around Benghazi) which didn't matter too much as the Italians had their own rolling stock and these networks weren't all that important anyway.

The important network was the captured stretch of line which ran all the way from a point south of Tobruk to El Alamein (and from there to Alexandria, though the British might object to the Axis running trains that far). This was a standard gauge line, built by the British as an extension of their Egyptian network. It also had little in the way of rolling stock: the British left lots of railway cars behind them, but no usable locomotive. So the Axis needed to ship more locos. This is where they could have used more locos than they shipped.
French rolling stock would have worked there, the problems were 1/ getting the French to part with it, 2/ transporting it all the way to Tobruk or Mersa Matruh, 3/ most of the French rolling stock in North Africa consisted of relatively old steam engines, and therefore ill-suited for use in the desert (low performance, and requiring an extensive chain of coaling & watering stations).

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Post by Jon G. » 03 Apr 2007 10:10

Nacht wrote:... (side note: I cannot specifically see the change in rail line gauge that the NZ teams built as being a deterent as I thought it a similar Euro standard gauge which would also be French equipment compatible...)


The point about different nations building their rail lines with different gauges so as to render the rail facilities useless to an enemy invader is frequently overstated. The overriding factor when building a rail line is usually economic.

It is cheaper to build narrow gauged rail lines than normal-gauged rail lines because narrow tracks need less space, and hence fewer earthworks. Narrow gauged railways also have narrower bridges, sharper curves and smaller tunnel profiles. Particularly in mountainous terrain (such as eg. Tunisia) will the cost of a narrow-gauged rail line be significantly cheaper than a normal-gauged railway. On the other hand, a narrow-gauged rail line will not haul as much traffic as a normal-gauged line will - trains will be smaller (smaller waggons), and locomotives will be less powerful because they have less space to occupy.

I'm fairly certain that the British decided to build their desert railroad to 'standard' 1435 mm gauge because 1) the existing Egyptian rail network was already built to that gauge, and 2) the selected gauge allowed standard British rolling stock to be used, such as the Stanier engines which were already in widespread use in Britian.

Just to obfuscate matters a bit, 'Euro standard gauge' only applies up to a point - British rail material was (and is) built to a different, smaller profile than European rolling stock. That is, the free space surrounding the rail tracks was smaller in Britain than it was on the continent, meaning that continental (or colonial French) rolling stock would not necessarily have fitted inside British rail tunnels; continental rail cars may have bumped into one another if passing British-sized sidings with parked waggons, and engines may have hit signals equipment which was too close to the tracks by European standards. On the other hand, British rolling stock should have been able to run on the larger-profile continental normal-gauged rail systems no problem... except that European rolling stock was usually pressure-braked, and British rolling stock was generally vacuum-braked.

None of that would have mattered much in the desert where you are not likely to find any tunnels anyway, and traffic wasn't very dense, but it goes to describe that rolling stock from one system doesn't automatically fit another rail system just because they have the same gauge.

To the New Zealanders, the rail gauge they would consider 'normal' would be 1067 mm, which is the normal gauge of New Zealand's railways.

...Have you had a chance to pull any of that material down (Jon) from my group of research partner's site because I would be glad to share it with Bronsky and others here if you would like? Or I can let you place some links to the PDF's... if you think that they might be of additional insight...


You are very welcome to remote link to relevant files/articles - I did read some of your articles (thanks!), others I acquired directly from Jstor. However, any copyright issues should be resolved before you link :| But since most geography articles dealing with North African railroads are 50+ years old, they might already belong to the public domain?

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