WWI South African ammunition train


#1

This photo comes from The New York Times mid-week pictorial war extra of Oct.29, 1914. It appears that a locomotive is wrapped in thick rope. Am I right? How is this protective? And also, against whom? Who would be attacking the train in South Africa in 1914?


#2

Train was called: Hairy Mary, the engine of the armoured train reinforced with rope-work protection. This marvel was created with 2,000 fathoms of 6in. rope by men of HMS Terrible at Chieveley.

Another British armored train:

Another image of an armored train from South Africa in 1914…presumably the same train:


#3

In 1914 South Africa, the only people who might shoot at a train like that would be the Boers, who used WWI as an excuse to rise up again against the “Union of South Africa” and/or British. The Boers did not want to go to war against Germany and ally with the British since they had just been fighting the British in recent years, and some Boers were of German decent. So the Boers in South Africa at that time were sort of a Guerrilla group that was de-facto Central-Power aligned, but they didn’t do much in what was referred to as the 3rd Boer war. They would have been firing typical .303 ball if anything, or even older .577/450 from the innumerable Martini-Henri rifles floating around South Africa after the Zulu war. Seems like woven 6" rope would deflect either of those rds enough to avoid damage to the underlying engine - sort of a strange method anyway.


#4

I think that Aaron’s middle picture may be something else. The track size and size of the cars are very small, almost like an amusement park type train. The surrounding look very British, and I suspect it may be WW2 Home Guard or something. Looks like there is a .55 Boys Anti-tank rifle (presumably with ammo…) sitcking our to the side behind the (Lewis?) MG. That would date it to WW2.


#5

Ha maybe so…the circular one and roped one go together…so i searched for other British armoured trains and found one that was more ammo related that looked neat…on second look though it does look awfully small.


#6

The Middle Picture is that of the 1940 conscription of the 15-inch gauge Railway in the South East of England ( South Kent), near Folkestone and “Cinque Ports”; it was “The Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway”, which had a fleet of Miniature Locos based on then current British Railway Co. Designs, and carried Passengers ( Mostly School children each day) and some Freight for the local beach towns from the mainline Southern Railway Co. which serviced the southern part of England.

See www.rhdr.org.uk for extensive details, including the 1940/41s re-enactment featuring the “armoured train”

As the rail line passed very close to the Sea, ( and was within both shelling and bombing distance from France), they (the company workshops) built the “Armoured Train” and it was crewed with Local reservists in case of a German Invasion on the Southern Coast.

The RH&D is still running today as a tourist attraction ( also known as “God’s Little Railway”). It has been for many years, the smallest Gauge Railway in Public use in the British Isles.

The Guns are Boys MkI AT rifle (BSA Made) and Two Lewis Guns; one in AA Mounting.

The Train patrolled regularly every day, from early 1940 till about 1943 or so, when by then, both Air-raids and the threat of Cross channel invasion had disappeared. During the War, the RH&D also served to transport troops, equipment, ammunition and rations to the positions along the coast.
It was also used for training Army “Railway Division” men in Train operation and Locomotive working, without encumbering the mainline railways ( although training was carried out in co-operation with the “Big Four” railway companies as well.).

A jewel of Miniaturised Engineering – the Locomtives were about 1,3 times bigger than what their normal scale should have been, ( ie, in relationship of the 15 inch to 56&1/2 inch ( 4’8 1/2" gauge),( actual building scale is 1/3 Life size) and this allowed a greater Power Factor, as well as wider Carriages and Wagons.( Trucks).

regards,
Doc AV
AV Ballistics.


#7

It is always a joy to read Doc AV’s posts. They are filled with detailed, and accurate, information on the topic, and usually fill in “the rest of the story” so we can understand things in the proper and historic context.

Thanks! Keep up the good work!


#8

As DocAV said. It is indeed the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway. A privately owned narrow gauge railway that runs for about 12(?) miles along the south coast of Britain. Although a tourist ride it also runs a sheduled service. Its still very much in operation today.
That picture would be the WW2 Home Guard. Shades of “Dads Army” very much so. Dads Army was set in Warmington on Sea, a ficticious town on the same coast.


#9

In 1914 South Africa shared a border with German South West Africa (Namibia) and a campaign was fought to conquer this territory.


#10

If anyone remembers the “Young Indiana Jones” series of 17-18 years ago, there was one episode about the German-British campaign in Africa, in which Frederick Selous and Indy team up to find and destroy a piece of German railway artillery. Of course, it was fiction based upon history.


#11

And of course The African Queen


#12

Don’t bank on it, the ammo bit I mean. The Home guard was famously under supplied during the first part of the war, if Hitler had attacked, what you see in that picture would have been the sum total of the coastal defenses for several miles of prime invasion coastline. They didn’t even have .303 rifles, the British Government bought up a load of secondhand P17s in .30-06 from America for them. But they only had about about five rounds of ammunition per man. My Dad was in the Home Guard in the first part of the war and told of being issued with two rounds of ammunition to go and guard the BSA factory in Birmingham. This at a time when they were on red alert for an invasion.

The Naval equivilent of the home guard, guarding dockyards, were even more poorly armed with old rolling block rifles I believe. TonyE knows a lot more about this than I do, but it was just incredible.

The Home guard was a joke in many ways, the old TV series Dad’s Army was very close to the truth. However, coming just twenty years after the end of WW1 it actually contained some of the most experienced and battle hardened men you could possibly ever have assembled. But the lack of equipment would have meant they would never have stood a dog’s chance had Germany invaded when they planned to.


#13

The boers favoured mausers and always had from their very strong German/ Dutch origins. During the Boer war they outgunned us considerably on range and that resulted in the Mk7 round with its 174grn bullet. It also created a mindset in the British establishment regarding range over short range killing power. I believe that in WW1 and WW2 a varient of the .303 with a 150grn bullet (and an extra 200fps) would have been more effective on the battlefield but it never happened because of the mindset for range above all else. Subsequent experimentation in more recent times by .303 enthusiasts with even 123-5grn (AK47) bullets has shown that the old Lee Enfield could have been brought up to near 3000fps ( well 2900 fps by anyone’s estimation ) and totally transformed as a battlefield weapon for short range but without the long range capacity they held so dear.

6ins of rope was going to stop neither mauser rounds nor .303 but neither would they pierce a steel boiler either so I feel the rope wrapping was more for camo than functional defense.


#14

Vince - Whilst what you say about the Boers outshooting the British with their flatter shooting 7x57mm Mausers is true, the direct result of this was the decision to adopt a new rifle with a calibre of either .256 or .276 inches, which led to the .276 nch Pattern 13 rifle and ammunition.

The adoption of the .303 Mark VII in 1911 was considered an interim arrangement until the precise details of the new rifle and its ammunition were decided, since the other major nations (U.S., France and particularly Germany) had all adopted spitzer bullets. The original Mark VII was indeed a 160 grain bullet, but when the first production batches failed accuracy proof in late 1910 the design was hurredly revisited which resulted in the 174 grain bullet we know today. The only reason that the re-design was still called the Mark VII was to avoid embarrassing questions in the press and Parliament.

In the event of course, the problems with the propellant of the .276 inch P.13 round and the advent of WWI prevented the adoption and we stayed with the .303 for the next forty years.

I have an early example of the 160 grain Mark VII as well as the original Royal Laboratory drawing which are attached.

Regards
TonyE