North African railroads

Discussions on WW2 in Africa & the Mediterranean. Hosted by Andy H
Jon G.
Member
Posts: 6647
Joined: 17 Feb 2004 01:12
Location: Europe

Post by Jon G. » 07 Apr 2006 16:13

Hi Bronsky,

I certainly appreciate your effort in sifting through thousands of pages of Italian history on this relatively (and undeservedly) obscure subject. My proficiency in Italian is close to zero, but I think I may have caught a mis-interpretation here:
Bronsky wrote:...Then there are various mentions of a convoy arriving on August 4 in Tobruk with, among other things, the German locomotives that I mentioned in a previous post...
I assume these German locomotives were steam engines?
All'alba del 7 novembre 1942, l'ultimo treno da Marsa Matruh trainato da un solo locomotore, perché gli altri tre sono andati fuori uso lungo il viaggio, giunge a Tobruk dove la linea ferroviaria finisce a dieci cholometri dalla città
This means: "At dawn on 7 November 1942, the last train from Mersa Matruh, pulled by a single locomotive, because the other three had run out along the way [the train had started out with 7 "War Department" captured rail cars, pulled by 4 small Italian locomotives, and rescued plenty of fugitives along the way] reaches Tobruk ... where the rail line ends 10 kilometers from the city".

So it seems that the junction was never fully completed after all, and that the 7 miles gap identified in late July was in fact permanent. I have no idea how the locomotives unloaded in Tobruk reached the "Tobruk to El Daba" rail line, as this looks like a heavy load to carry and I'm positive that the convoy unloaded in Tobruk.
OK, I buy your notion that the line was never completed all the way up to Tobruk, which sheds more light on the Axis' logistical situation in Egypt in 1942. However, the term 'locomotor' usually denotes a shunting/light locomotive with an internal combustion engine ('motor'), which by extension should mean that the four Italian locomotors that you mention bear no relation to the German engines that were delivered to Tobruk on August 4th.

There's a fairly famous picture of a captured Marmon-Herrington armoured car converted to rail use and used by the Axis. Maybe the locomotors (called 'Italian' by your source) were captured British engines?

It could also be that the locomotives were delivered by coastal shipping after the convoy had arrived at Tobruk.

From the other side of the fence, here is another scan comparing the British desert engine I posted before with a standard NZ steam engine. Note, BTW, that New Zealand railroads are narrow-gauged!

Image

This scan also very kindly provided by JonS

User avatar
Bronsky
Member
Posts: 825
Joined: 11 Apr 2003 09:28
Location: Paris

Post by Bronsky » 07 Apr 2006 20:13

Jon G. wrote:I certainly appreciate your effort in sifting through thousands of pages of Italian history on this relatively (and undeservedly) obscure subject. My proficiency in Italian is close to zero, but I think I may have caught a mis-interpretation here:
North African logistics have held my attention for years, the bulk of that effort was therefore made a long time before that thread started, don't worry. As to misinterpretations, they're always a possibility of course.
Jon G. wrote:I assume these German locomotives were steam engines?
Steam locomotives were at a severe disadvantage in the desert, which is why the British ordered US diesels to replace their steam locos. The German locomotives sent were diesel, and the Italians had developped special diesel-electric engines built by Fiat, the first of which was completed just in time on the Benghazi to Barce segment for capture by the British.
Jon G. wrote:OK, I buy your notion that the line was never completed all the way up to Tobruk, which sheds more light on the Axis' logistical situation in Egypt in 1942.


From my point of view, it sheds less light and adds more questions compared to what I thought I knew.
Jon G. wrote:However, the term 'locomotor' usually denotes a shunting/light locomotive with an internal combustion engine ('motor'), which by extension should mean that the four Italian locomotors that you mention bear no relation to the German engines that were delivered to Tobruk on August 4th.
That train was pulled than 4 (later 1) of the Italian Badoni shunters that I described in a previous post. I never claimed that there was a relation between that train - the last Axis train to use the line - and the German engines. It's just that the information about the rail line not being completed was found in a passage describing the evacuation of the RR personnel in a last train.

That being said, given that German locomotives were unloaded in Tobruk and there was no rail link from Tobruk to El Adem, I still don't understand how the Axis got to use these German engines. But use them they did, there are pictures of a train of German tanks and SP guns, the locomotive of which is German.
Jon G. wrote:It could also be that the locomotives were delivered by coastal shipping after the convoy had arrived at Tobruk.
I'm not sure how practical unloading a locomotive on a lighter would be. Obviously, unloading at Mersa Matruh was possible since that is where the Italian rolling stock arrived (directly from Italy, not transshipped). I still wonder how these German locomotives travelled.
Jon G. wrote:From the other side of the fence, here is another scan comparing the British desert engine I posted before with a standard NZ steam engine.
Thanks very much. Is JonS in some kind of advanced lurker mode ?

Jon G.
Member
Posts: 6647
Joined: 17 Feb 2004 01:12
Location: Europe

Post by Jon G. » 09 Apr 2006 04:48

On a strictly administrative note, a number of other posts dealing with North African railroads have now been merged into this topic. I hope that makes for more comprehensive discussion and future easier forum searches.

Jon G.
Member
Posts: 6647
Joined: 17 Feb 2004 01:12
Location: Europe

Post by Jon G. » 13 Apr 2006 13:07

Bronsky wrote:...Steam locomotives were at a severe disadvantage in the desert, which is why the British ordered US diesels to replace their steam locos.
It should be added that 1940s-era diesels weren't nearly as strong as steam engines were, at least for locomotives built outside of the USA. Therefore you can't really make the direct comparison between steam and diesel engines - steam locos may have been at a disadvantage because they needed coal and water, commodities that were both bulky and scarce in the desert, on the other hand diesels were significantly weaker in performance.

As a mostly unrelated aside, many African governments would have been better off if they had persisted with steam engines in the 1960s, rather than make the switch to diesels, which also made the same African countries dependent on imported oil and spares, rather than sticking with steam locos which can run on domestic fuels and are sufficiently low-tech that they can be repaired locally by domestic labour. Steam isn't totally out in a hot climate, and by the 1940s it was a highly developed technology, unlike diesels which were in their infancy at the time.
The German locomotives sent were diesel, and the Italians had developped special diesel-electric engines built by Fiat, the first of which was completed just in time on the Benghazi to Barce segment for capture by the British...
Do you know the specifications for the German and Italian engines? HP output and axle-load would be interesting to know and compare to the steam engines used by the British. You earlier stated that the Axis locomotives had a max. speed of either 25 kph or 25 mph, which suggests that they were rather puny.
That being said, given that German locomotives were unloaded in Tobruk and there was no rail link from Tobruk to El Adem, I still don't understand how the Axis got to use these German engines. But use them they did, there are pictures of a train of German tanks and SP guns, the locomotive of which is German.
Well, if there were no tracks the trains could run on from El Adem, the locomotives must have been either dismantled and brought forward on trucks, or they may have been delivered by coastal shipping from Tobruk.
I'm not sure how practical unloading a locomotive on a lighter would be. Obviously, unloading at Mersa Matruh was possible since that is where the Italian rolling stock arrived (directly from Italy, not transshipped). I still wonder how these German locomotives travelled.
So do I. If the German locomotives were normal-gauged, they presumably were intended for the line into Egypt in the first place - so it logically follows that they should have been delivered to Mersa Matruh and not Tobruk, unless they were either re-gauged, or some sort of administrative cock-up caused the engines to be delivered at Tobruk.
Thanks very much. Is JonS in some kind of advanced lurker mode ?
:) I don't know. But he knows that I am interested in the subject, and he was kind enough to generously provide me with the scans I've posted here.

User avatar
Michael Emrys
Member
Posts: 6002
Joined: 13 Jan 2005 18:44
Location: USA

Post by Michael Emrys » 13 Apr 2006 18:56

Bronsky wrote:Is JonS in some kind of advanced lurker mode ?
Apparently you didn't notice that on the very same day you posed your question—indeed, within minutes—he posted this in another thread in this section: http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic. ... 085#879085

:)

Michael

User avatar
Bronsky
Member
Posts: 825
Joined: 11 Apr 2003 09:28
Location: Paris

Post by Bronsky » 16 Apr 2006 11:39

Jon G. wrote:It should be added that 1940s-era diesels weren't nearly as strong as steam engines were, at least for locomotives built outside of the USA. Therefore you can't really make the direct comparison between steam and diesel engines - steam locos may have been at a disadvantage because they needed coal and water, commodities that were both bulky and scarce in the desert, on the other hand diesels were significantly weaker in performance.
1. I don't know that the steam locos used by the British were at a disadvantage in terms of engine power, because as I wrote in my post on the topic, I don't know how much "1-4-0" means in terms of HP and axle load. From memories of playing "Railroad Tycoon", the answer would be "not a lot" but that's not particularly scientific. Neither do I know the exact characteristics of the US-supplied locos. Some day, I'll get around to researching it... :-)

2. I did provide figures for the Italian and German locos. I may have written "CV" instead of "HP" though, because it's not a straight conversion IIRC. Close enough, I suppose...

3. The British Stanier locomotive consumed between 60 and 80 gallons of water per mile, depending on local temperature. As you can see in the picture that you posted, the tender held 4,000 gallons. There were another 250 in the
boiler itself. This meant an autonomy of between 53 and 70 miles before another 4,250 gallons of water had to be found. 4,250 gallons are 19 tons, so that's a lot of water to store and it takes time to pump it. (I'm assuming that these are imperial gallons, not US ones. Also, the figures for consumption and boiler capacity are from the Italian book which is in liters, but as it says 16,000 liters for the tender it clearly rounded at 4 liters to the gallon instead of 4.5l. If my assumptions are wrong, you can recalculate using this note). By contrast, the US locos could run 24 hours on 280 liters (i.e. 62 imperial gallons) of fuel, and a full refill took 10 minutes.
Jon G. wrote:As a mostly unrelated aside, many African governments would have been better off if they had persisted with steam engines in the 1960s, rather than make the switch to diesels, which also made the same African countries dependent on imported oil and spares, rather than sticking with steam locos which can run on domestic fuels and are sufficiently low-tech that they can be repaired locally by domestic labour. Steam isn't totally out in a hot climate, and by the 1940s it was a highly developed technology, unlike diesels which were in their infancy at the time.
Is this your opinion or the results of a detailed study ? As far as I can tell, the logistics of running steam engines are a definite problem in poor, and particularly in arid, countries. See the above figures: 24 hours' operation necessitated the moving of 0.224 tons for the diesel engine, and of 140 tons (not counting coal) for the steam loco. If water is available locally, so much the better, but if not... also, wood can be a scarce commodity in many areas of Africa.

User avatar
Bronsky
Member
Posts: 825
Joined: 11 Apr 2003 09:28
Location: Paris

Post by Bronsky » 16 Apr 2006 11:43

Michael Emrys wrote:Apparently you didn't notice that on the very same day you posed your question—indeed, within minutes—he posted this in another thread in this section: http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic. ... 085#879085

:)
Thanks. As a matter of fact, I find the interface of forums to be definitely user-unfriendly (at least "this-user-unfriendly"), with far too many sections to look up, and no way to tell if a thread has received new postings since the last time I read it. As a result, when I have time I read a few threads and mark them as "watch this topic", and 90% of the time I only reply to these threads as I receive an email notification...

That's how I missed it, nice irony, though...:-)

User avatar
Bronsky
Member
Posts: 825
Joined: 11 Apr 2003 09:28
Location: Paris

Post by Bronsky » 16 Apr 2006 11:54

DrG wrote:But after that 30 Italian shunters (small locomotives) and later 8 German locomotives (all diesel-driven) were brought in, full operation was restored on 8 Aug. 1942.
I knew of 3 German locomotives arriving on 2 August (that's the date when the convoy reached Tobruk, don't know exactly when they were unloaded), but would appreciate data on the remaining 5.

Also, "full operation" was definitely not restored on 8 August, that was just when the line was declared operational along its whole length, IIRC.
DrG wrote:Rail transport capacity between Tobruk, Marsa Matruh and el Daba (near el Alamein) was around 7,000 metric tons/month. Not that much if compared to the about 10,000 trucks with an average load of 2.7 t, but it helped to save fuel.
In August 1942, traffic was 66 trains with 454 cars and 4,000 tonnes. I'd be interested in your source for the 7,000 tonnes figure. My understanding is that RAF attacks later made it impossible to reach anywhere near theoretical capacity, also that the Germans and the Italians had different figures for theoretical capacity, leaving aside the different figures offered by different Italians or Germans (i.e. RR troops under RAF attacks and having to improvise spare parts had more pessimistic figures than the staffs in Italy).

Question to the moderators: when threads are consolidated like this, is the author still considered in "watch this topic" mode or shouls I send a PM to DrG ?

User avatar
Michael Emrys
Member
Posts: 6002
Joined: 13 Jan 2005 18:44
Location: USA

Post by Michael Emrys » 16 Apr 2006 20:48

Bronsky wrote:...no way to tell if a thread has received new postings since the last time I read it.
Really? That's strange. On my set up, sections and threads that contain new posts since the last time I opened them or were logged onto the board—whichever was the most recent—show a yellow circle with a blue checkmark. If yours doesn't, you might want to take a look at your preferences to see if that's something you need to enable.

Michael

Jon G.
Member
Posts: 6647
Joined: 17 Feb 2004 01:12
Location: Europe

Post by Jon G. » 17 Apr 2006 08:38

Bronsky wrote:1. I don't know that the steam locos used by the British were at a disadvantage in terms of engine power, because as I wrote in my post on the topic, I don't know how much "1-4-0" means in terms of HP and axle load. From memories of playing "Railroad Tycoon", the answer would be "not a lot" but that's not particularly scientific. Neither do I know the exact characteristics of the US-supplied locos. Some day, I'll get around to researching it... :-)
You can't really measure the constant HP output of a steam locomotive in a meaningful way, for horsepower output is dependent on which speed the engine is running at, unlike a diesel, which will give the same hp output at all speeds. But the numbers for the Stanier in the picture I posted can be of some use, and axle load is stated on the drawing. As a crude calculation, you can take the radius of the Stanier's bore (9.25"), square it and multiply it with pi to get the surface area which is impressed by the 225 psi which you can also find in the image - i.e. 9.25x9.25x3.14x225, or about 60,500 lbs of force applied in each of the Stanier's cylinders each time the piston moves.

I don't know anything about the American engines supplied for the desert railroad, but the Alco machines which ran on the Iranian railroad during the war had a hp output of about 1000 and axleload of about 20 tons, if they can be used as a parallel.
2. I did provide figures for the Italian and German locos. I may have written "CV" instead of "HP" though, because it's not a straight conversion IIRC. Close enough, I suppose...
OK, now I get what you meant with the CV figure :)
3. The British Stanier locomotive consumed between 60 and 80 gallons of water per mile, depending on local temperature. As you can see in the picture that you posted, the tender held 4,000 gallons. There were another 250 in the
boiler itself. This meant an autonomy of between 53 and 70 miles before another 4,250 gallons of water had to be found. 4,250 gallons are 19 tons, so that's a lot of water to store and it takes time to pump it... By contrast, the US locos could run 24 hours on 280 liters (i.e. 62 imperial gallons) of fuel, and a full refill took 10 minutes.
Yes, but this calculation does not take the performance of the engine itself into account. It would be fairer to state that steam engines placed much greater strain on infrastructure than diesel engines did, and that the British took this into account when they built their Middle East railroads by building the necessary coaling and water stations and depots. After all, you could use the same calculation to demonstrate that electric engines, which require practically no refills of any kind, would have been an even better choice.
Is this your opinion or the results of a detailed study ? As far as I can tell, the logistics of running steam engines are a definite problem in poor, and particularly in arid, countries. See the above figures: 24 hours' operation necessitated the moving of 0.224 tons for the diesel engine, and of 140 tons (not counting coal) for the steam loco. If water is available locally, so much the better, but if not... also, wood can be a scarce commodity in many areas of Africa.
The chief argument as I recall reading it many years ago (I forget where) was that steam engines can run on domestically available fuel (coal is best, but anything that burns can work), rather than the reliance on imported oil which comes with diesel engines.

User avatar
David W
Member
Posts: 3516
Joined: 28 Mar 2004 01:30
Location: Devon, England

Post by David W » 17 Apr 2006 08:42

"Going loco, down in Aca..... Benghasi"! :wink: :lol:

Jon G.
Member
Posts: 6647
Joined: 17 Feb 2004 01:12
Location: Europe

Post by Jon G. » 17 Apr 2006 08:56

Bronsky wrote:...I find the interface of forums to be definitely user-unfriendly (at least "this-user-unfriendly"), with far too many sections to look up, and no way to tell if a thread has received new postings since the last time I read it. As a result, when I have time I read a few threads and mark them as "watch this topic", and 90% of the time I only reply to these threads as I receive an email notification...
Hmm, the first thing you should do when you go to the forum is to log in, if you're using multiple computers for access or if you have disabled the 'remember me' function at log-in. Then you should go to the 'view posts since last visit' http://forum.axishistory.com/search.php ... d=newposts to see what has been posted since last you were here - and you can also go to the 'view your posts' search http://forum.axishistory.com/search.php ... =egosearch to see if anything new has been posted after your own last post on a topic. Both of these searches are at the upper right corner of the forum front page - but you need to be logged in to see them.

I acknowledge that it can be tricky to keep track of all new topics and posts, particularly if you only visit the forum occasionally. But the sub-division into interest areas in more specialized sections hopefully makes it easier to find the topics which interest you.
Question to the moderators: when threads are consolidated like this, is the author still considered in "watch this topic" mode or shouls I send a PM to DrG ?
Counter question: did you receive an email notification when I merged these two topics? Probably not, for the merged thread keeps the thread ID of the parent thread, and all the posts I merged into this topic were chronolgically older than the parent topic. The merge function is a new tool for the forum's moderators and administrators; in this case I used it to keep all posts on North African railroads in one place - the backside of this merge is that the thread appears a little disjointed when you read it from beginning to end.

DrG sadly hasn't been posting much lately. I don't think that he will recieve any email notifications about this topic for the reasons I gave above.
David W wrote:"Going loco, down in Aca..... Benghasi"!
I prefer going technical :D

JonS
Member
Posts: 3935
Joined: 23 Jul 2004 01:39
Location: New Zealand

Post by JonS » 17 Apr 2006 11:03

Gents,
'Diesel fired' in the 1940s could mean one of two things:
1) A diesel-electric, similar to the ones we know and love from today
2) A steam train, which uses diesel instead of coal.

That may be obvious, and it's something I kind-of knew, but it's significance didn't occur to me until reading the above mentioned book which has a pic of a German diesel-fired Hartmann 2-8-0 used by the British in Palestine (it arrived there in the 1920s). The pic is obviously of a steam train. Whether a diesel steam train uses less water than a coal steam train I don't know, but whatever the answer it is likely to be significantly more than the zero gallons used by a diesel electric.

As an aside, and as I understand it, the 2-8-0 (or 1-4-0 for a single side) refers to the little free-wheeling steering wheels at the front, then the large drive wheels, then the trailing freewheeling wheels under the cab. So the Hartmann has a front freewheeling axle, four driven axles, and nothing under the cab. It obviously says nothing about the power output of the engine, merely the way that power is applied to the rails, and the weight of the engine is distributed.

The book mentioned above has an extensive discussion about the means of supplying water on the Western Desert line. Some numbers: "At the peak of railway operations in 1940, a daily supply of 138,000 gallons was required at El Dabaa, and another 43,000 gallons was required at Mersa Matruh." This was provided by two trains daily, carrying only water. Ships were also used to carry water forward from the delta, as well as local wells. Interestingly, they couldn't use any old water as acidic or dirty water would wear out parts too quickly. There was a special water treatment facility in Alex, which the Axis obligingly left completely alone. It's loss or damage would have seriously compromised British rail ops.

The book is chocka with cute annecdotes - including a very funny one about the dance of the seven viels performed at El Dabaa - and the author somewhat butchers the chronology of the campaign, but despite that has a very reasonable amount of detail about how the British railways were actually operated. The NZ Railways Group were a significant component of that effort.

I think it's a good read so far (about halfway through), and besides, how many books on logisitics and railways in the North African Campaign are there anyway? ;)

Regards
JonS

User avatar
Bronsky
Member
Posts: 825
Joined: 11 Apr 2003 09:28
Location: Paris

Post by Bronsky » 17 Apr 2006 11:10

Thanks to Michael and you for the advice on interface, I'll see what I can do to ease my life (and yes, the forum remembers me on most of the computers I use, most of the time anyway).
Jon G. wrote:OK, now I get what you meant with the CV figure :)
It's the abbreviation for "steam horsepower" and identical in Italian and in French, so I forgot that I had to translate it one more time. That and the fact that I don't know the correct term in English... :-)
Jon G. wrote:Yes, but this calculation does not take the performance of the engine itself into account.
I didn't say it did, since in case it wasn't completely clear the first 3 times that I wrote it, I don't know the exact performance figures for either locomotive... ;-)

On the other hand, the Stanier wasn't considered a particularly effective locomotive IIRC (I forget where I read that, so it could be wrong) so it wasn't a case of substituting an obviously inferior type to a state-of-the-art but infrastructure-intensive one. The point of having a powerful locomotive is to move more stuff to the front. As the figures I posted indicate, switching from steam to diesel saved a lot of "deadweight" i.e. load needed to operate the logistical system, not sent to the troops. It would take a significant performance hit to justify not switching to diesel.
Jon G. wrote: It would be fairer to state that steam engines placed much greater strain on infrastructure than diesel engines did, and that the British took this into account when they built their Middle East railroads by building the necessary coaling and water stations and depots.
But extending the RR into Libya doubled the length of the railway with no corresponding increase in intermediate coaling and water stations. Also, this was in "pure" desert and away from the Nile, so carrying a ton of water to El Adem requires supplying more water to Matruh for the trains that will transport that supply there, etc. The same problem which makes truck-borne LOCs unworkable after a certain distance.

JonS
Member
Posts: 3935
Joined: 23 Jul 2004 01:39
Location: New Zealand

Post by JonS » 17 Apr 2006 20:10

Bronsky wrote:But extending the RR into Libya doubled the length of the railway with no corresponding increase in intermediate coaling and water stations.
I may be reading your quote wrong, but the British did put quite a bit of effort into making the line usable. It wasn't just a single track line from Alex to Belhammed. There were shunting yards at regular intervals, and loop sidings even more often. Re-coaling and re-watering needs were definately taken into account, and catered for.
Also, this was in "pure" desert and away from the Nile, so carrying a ton of water to El Adem requires supplying more water to Matruh for the trains that will transport that supply there, etc. The same problem which makes truck-borne LOCs unworkable after a certain distance.
True, obviously, but trains are far more efficient than trucks. The 'unworkable' distance for trains is much much greater than for trucks.

BTW, it is obvious to me now that the British never intended to take the line into Tobruk. By the time the line got there it seems they'd pretty much given up on that town as a port. The effort involved in building a line down into Tobruk, then the ongoing effort (in terms of coal, water, and wear) of running trains up and down the escarpment was too much. For the same reason, the main shunting yards at Mersa Matruh were a few miles out of 'town', near Charing Cross. There was a branch line that went into MM, but there was no point in running every train up and down the rise to get there.

Jon

Return to “WW2 in Africa & the Mediterranean”