Saturday, 12 May 2018

Field Railways on the Western Front May 1918



One hundred years ago, the Germans had a chance of turning the Allied flank and forcing an armistice in France. They would then have achieved victory in the west as well as the east. April 6th proved to be a watershed, and gradually the tide began to turn.
By March 31st, the Germans had advanced 52 kilometres across the well-defended territory of the Somme. There was a pause and then on April 4th, they continued their advance. They reached Villers-Bretonneux, 16 km from Amiens. Around there and Hangard, also within reach of Amiens, there was fierce fighting, but they could not quite make it to Amiens and cut the Allied communications in Northern France.
Behind the Western Front ran locomotives such as this Baldwin 4-6-0T (British WD) and behind it a French 0-6-0. These preserved examples were pictured at Apedale, Staffs.
The ‘break-through’ doctrine had not worked. When the Allies were forced out of one position, they reformed further back. Worse still, fresh troops appeared to counter-attack, threatening the flanks of the German advance. The troops who were thrown back were British, fresh troops were French. The British 5th Army was in retreat. The French should be given credit for bringing in reinforcements. Pétain, quick to grasp the situation, had sent in the First and Third French Armies.
By this stage in the War, there were thousands of kilometres of 60cm trench railways serving the French, British and Germans.  These railways were vital for communication. During the retreat, as many wagons and locomotives as possible were salvaged; track was lifted. Within days, they could be put back into business.
In practice this did not work for the British 5th Army. Apart from an escape line running to the French sector, the network was unfinished. There were almost no tracks leading to safety. Locomotives in their hundreds and wagons in their thousands were destroyed to stop them falling into German hands. As both railways systems ran on 60cm gauge, the material would have been useful to the enemy.
In patched up and poor condition, this German Brigadewagen was pictured in the 1960s. Like the British and French examples above, it is 60cm gauge. Though not robust enough to stand the rough handling, it was a fine piece of design. The generous front platform made for safe(ish) operation. The bogie is placed far forward. The couplings were very well sprung. Photo courtesy of Eric Fresné
 
 
As it was, the Allied trench railways were quickly realigned. As early as 27th March 1918, 2404 reinforcements were brought thirty miles by light railway. By April 9th, a new Front had been constructed to stop the enemy advance. The Germans contented themselves with a heavy bombardment of Amiens and on April 9th they started a new attack fifty miles further north.
Yet the Germans loosed fresh waves of assaults on the Western Front. Up until April 1918, they had outmatched the Allies in many ways. Their material on the whole was superior and their generals on the whole showed more common sense. After April 6th, a watershed was past. Further offensives were quite literally a bloody waste of time.
The magnificent French 155mm gun dwarfs its operators. It suffered from certain disadvantages. Photo from Illustration Magazine coourtesy MD Wright
Our memories of World War 1 are clouded with hindsight. The Allies won, so their generalship and equipment must have been better. Right? Well, er, not always.
The very smallest calibre of Minenwerfer could be transported by four Pioniere. Photo from Illustration Magazine courtesy of MD Wright
In May and June 1918, the Allies captured increasing amounts  of German equipment. This was gleefully portrayed in the French, British and US media.
French light tank 1918. THere was no slogging through the mud for these soldiers. Photo from Illustration magazine courtesy MD Wright
The official message was ‘Look how small and primitive compared with ours!’ The French newspapers contrasted their char d’assaut/light tank with German machine-guns and the minenwerfer. These were depicted being hauled by soldiers while the tank, petrol- powered, ambles along a French country lane. French artillery are shown, the 75mm and the 155mmm guns, magnificent beasts which dwarf their operators.
The lesson which should be learned is perhaps different. Bad things can come in small packages.
The German Minenwerfer/howitzer may look like a humble machine. It could be transported without effort by the gunners. The French and British soldiers who had experience of its fire-power had learned a grudging respect. General Alan Beith, writing as Ian Hay, described her with whimsical military humour as ‘Minnie’, and the trench from which she was operated as ‘Unter den Linden’. Yet the military humour could not disguise the fear. Of all the sounds in the trenches, hers was the most dreaded.
Small calibre Minenwerferready to be fired. It was not designed for long range but it was effective. Photo from Illustration magazine Courtesy MD Wright
The Minenwerfer had a short range and was operated, not by the Artillery but by Pioniere working in the German trenches, taking advantage of local knowledge. Worse was the fact that it was fired upwards in a trajectory that brought the shell down on to the heads of the enemy sheltering in their trenches. Worst of all was the explosive charge. The 105mm version delivered 1kg of explosive, the 150 6kg. These were in common use. The one pictured here is smaller, but the same applies. There were others with even more punch.
John Buchan also had experience of the Front and described waiting for a powerful bombardment.
‘A man’s thoughts at a time like that seem to be double powered and the memory seems sharp and clear. I don’t know what was in the others’ minds, but I knew what was in my own. I watched every detail of the landscape as little by little it appeared in  the  revealing daybreak’
Then came the first shot.
‘The earth seemed to split beside me and I was pitched forward.’
This was just range-finding.
‘The charge must have been short. The next was better and crashed on the parapet, carving a great hole. This time my arm hung limp, but I felt no pain’ (Greenmantle, first published 1916)
The French 75mm in contrast was a huge gun. It was developed for long and accurate range. The angle of fire was restricted, making it all but impossible to drop explosives into enemy trenches. In spite of its impressive size, the actual weight of explosive delivered was two thirds of a kilogram, less than the standard Minenwerfer. The long barrel, so useful for accurate firing over a range of a couple of kilometres, tended to get hot, so the rate of fire had to be restricted.
The 75mm French gun was developed in response to the defeat of 1870-1. Photo from Illustration magazine courtesy of MD Wright
The same comments apply to the 155mm gun, except that it was even bigger.
Because of their great size, and the unwieldy gun barrels, they were difficult to move into position on a battlefield. This was why Prosper Péchot invented elaborate gun conveyances for his ground-breaking portable railway system. The largest of his beautifully engineered bogies could take weights of up to twelve tonnes and could be combined to carry a gun barrel up to 48 tonnes in weight. If each axle could support 3.5 tonnes, then a four-wheel bogie could safely carry five tonnes, a six-wheeler could be rated at nine tonnes and eight wheels at twelve tonnes.  Ten tonnes could be carried by two five tonne bogies, and ingeniously engineered combinations could be employed for progressively greater weights.
His system was a marvel. It was adopted by the French Army in 1888, was copied by the Prussians soon after. The rest of the German States copied the Prussians. I describe the process in ‘Colonel Péchot: Tracks To The Trenches’
The Germans imitated the 60cm gauge, engine design and the ten tonne bogie wagons. They did not   imitate the massive bogies designed to carry guns. They did not need to. Their artillery staples could be manoeuvred in the field by a few men.
Plenty of Péchot designed bogie wagons survive to this day. Thousands of examples of the German Brigadewagen were built. Most succumbed to wear and tear.  So few have survived that it has been hard for me to source a photo (see above).
One hundred years old Péchot wagon, fairly complete except for one brake wheel. Photo S. Wright
Yet the two contrasting designs show that the German bogie wagon was not worse than the French one. It did what was required. If it turned out to suffer from built-in obsolescence, that was not all bad. The needs of the military keep changing.
In the same way, the German howitzer proved that, for the War that was being fought, small was, if not exactly beautiful, beautifully effective. 




Monday, 7 May 2018

Impressions of the Garden Railway AGM



Thank you everyone who came and talked to us at the 16mm AGM. It’s always nice to put faces to names and to catch up with news from friends. Speaking personally, I didn’t get as much time as I’d have liked to walk round and chat, but here are a few impressions I gained at the Show.
Quarry Hunslet Velinheli 16mm model by Wrightscale. It is good to see this well-loved prototype featuring in a series of books aimed at the coming generation. Photo by MD Wright
Our stand was next to Saddletank books. Their aim, through story and illustration, is to make Quarry Hunslets accessible to the younger generation. As well as half a dozen books, they are moving into the toy market so parents and grandparents take note!

A 16mm Wrightscale Baldwin Gas Mechanical appears with a Wrightscale Pechot system flatwagon. These worked French military railways. Part of a War Department (British wagon can juts be seen to the left. Photo J. Hawkesworth
Newcomers to the Show were the 16mmMilitaryngm who can be found on Facebook- groups. They specialise in WD and other 60cm military prototypes. The models run under war conditions. We admire this departure. As you know, Wrightscale models are based on military prototypes but we ourselves and most of our customers run them on layouts based on post-war scenes. Our own garden railway evokes a rural line which benefited from war-surplus sales of locomotives and rolling stock.
If you want the trench experience, join them at the 16mm Military Day on 2nd June 2018 at Woodseaves Miniature Railway, Sydnall Lane, near Marke Drayton TF9 2AS – prototypical running preferred!
PDF models are producing WD wagons from 3D printing, and also some locomotives. They should give Wrightscale a run for its money.
Wrightscale Pechot system 16mm rail-mounted crane for moving shells. Unlike a 3D printed kit, this is made from a number of different materials. Photo MD Wright
For the 100% scale experience don’t miss ‘Tracks To The Trenches – 2018’ at the Apedale Light Railway ST5 7LB (Loomer Road on your satnav).
And then there was the model spot – models of the year. This is quite a large section now, handily placed between the entrance and a café. It is very encouraging to see how Model Of The Year has expanded over the years. As this is an Annual General Meeting, it is very appropriate that the public are given a chance to vote. I also like the way that new categories are being added all the time. For example, once our Association covered 45mm gauge as well as 32mm, locomotives and rolling stock in the broader gauge could be entered.
A new category has allowed professional model-makers to compete among themselves. This is a good idea. When I was at school, having my essays criticised, I always wondered what sort of essays teachers themselves could turn out. Well, it is fun for the students, in this case the average enthusiast, to be able to mark the teachers, in this case the model-making professionals.
Malcolm made a model of a carriage which had always fascinated him. In the early 20th century the Maharajah of Gwalior developed an extensive 2’ gauge network in his State, and even had a silver railway modelled by Asprey to carry condiments about his dining table.
16mm Model by MD Wright A fish-eye view of the Maharajah's coach which ran on the Gwalior Light Railway. The awning is just one of the passive climate control that it featured.
Malcolm’s entry in the All-comers’ category was a model of the Maharajah’s private state carriage featuring adaptations for the hot climate, and for local customs. The servants could enter from one end, he and his family had their private quarters at the other. Staff and maharajah met in the central dining area; custom and privacy could be duly observed but with all comfort. The carriage itself was adapted to screen out the heat. The roof had a double shell, the windows fixed blinds to keep out the sun but not the breeze. Windows were carefully arranged to allow cool air in one side, disperse hot air through the other.  The public were clearly impressed by a bit of ‘living archaeology’ and Malcolm received an award.
We were delighted to offer our well-loved white-metal rolling stock kits. We were all sorry when Adrian Swain had to give up. He had always supplied us with castings of high quality. Fortunately, we have a new supplier, Sarum Castings who are able to match Adrian for quality, as you can see from the illustration.
Wrightscale WD bogie 16mm scale
Thank you, everyone who enquired about the Wrightscale Baldwin Gas Mechanical Locotractor. Sarum Castings will be able to provide many parts. We hope to have a supplier for the laser cut chassis parts, and another for the gearbox. When we have all in place, the BGM will be running again.
Malcolm is working on a batch of Wrens. Thank you everyone who came up and reminded us of their email addresses. Many of us are obliged to change – why can’t providers allow us to keep an address for life? (!)
It was an excellent day. Living in a remote area, we particularly appreciate being able to see our friends and catch up with news and gossip.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

16mm AGM Wrightscale kits



We look forward to seeing friends old and new at the Garden Railway Modellers Association AGM in Peterborough. 
We are pleased to say that we can offer Wrightscale WD kits for £48. This includes parts to make two bogies ie enough for a bogie wagon, axles and nylon wheels. Kits are available without wheels for £43
Wrightscale 16mm scale WD bogie. Each kit contains two bogies.The original design represented a light but durable item that was reliable under fire.
The Péchot system bogie well wagon kit is available for £104. This does not include wheels and axles. You will need 4 pairs of wheels, 4 axles. To be authentic, wheels should be of the solid disc type. We recommend Slater’s coarse scale 3’1” wheels – part 7112.
The Péchot flat-wagon provided a reliable maid-of all-work for the French Army. During World War 1,  a lighter version was produced by Decauville. This was the inspiration for the British WD wagons. Wrightscale 16mm kit
The Péchot bogie-mounted crane is available for £68=50. This includes a crane kit with counterweight and a Péchot bogie. To complete the kit, you will need two pairs of wheels, as above.
Rail-mounted crane on Péchot bogie (brakewheel removed). The Péchot bogie was a very solid protottype for the WD bogie (see above), The crane was a way to handle high explosive shells safely. Wrightscale 16mm kit.
The War Department bogie, as produced for WD Light Railways in 1916 was revolutionary in various ways.
It marked a departure in military thinking. In the first years of the War, everyone was looking for a breakthrough, encirclement of the enemy and a quick capitulation. As Major General John Beith (Ian Hay) put it in 1916
‘In the old days, a general of genius could outflank his foe by a forced march or lay some ingenious trap or ambush. But how can you outflank a foe who has no flank or lay an ambush for a modern Intelligence department?’
The first revolution was the trench system.
The trench was supposed to be a temporary shelter in a war of movement. In fact, from 1914-18, vast armies were positioned in the field in trenches. From 'Illustration' magazine.
Time and again, the breakthrough had proved to be an illusion – not before many horses and mules had died at the Front. Usually men were the beasts of burden. The basic army pack was substantial. Ian Hay recalls of the private soldier ‘His outfit is provided by the Government and he carries it himself. It consists of a rifle, bayonet and a hundred and twenty rounds of ammunition. On one side hangs his water bottle containing a quart (about one litre). On the other is his haversack occupied by his iron ration, an emergency meal of the tinned variety which must never be opened except on the word of his Commanding Officer – and such private effects as his smoking outfit and an entirely mythical item of refreshment known as ‘the unexpended portion of the day’s ration’. On his back, he carries a pack containing his greatcoat, water proof sheet and such changes of raiment as a paternal government allows. He also has to find room for a towel, a house-wife and a modest allowance of cutlery. Round his neck he wears his identity disc. In his breast-pocket he carries a respirator to be donned in the event of encountering an east wind and gas from the enemy. He also carries a bottle for dampening the respirator. In the flap of his pocket is a field dressing.
Slung behind him is his entrenching tool.
Any other space about his person is at his own disposal….’
So burdened, for the first two years, the British had to march to the Front.
German soldiers on the advance March 1918. Drawing by Georges Scott. Plenty of equipment is in evidence - trenching tool in the foreground. From 'Illustration' magazine.

The second revolution was freight carrying. For over a year, everything, food, water, ammunition and the wherewithal for making trenches habitable had to be carried in. This might be on foot through communication trenches. These were
‘sunken lanes the best part of a mile long. It winds a great deal. Every hundred yards or so (100m) comes a great promontory of sandbags necessitating four right angle turns…. A stream cuts the trench at right angles, spanned by a structure of planks labelled LONDON BRIDGE. … Presently we arrive at PICADILLY CIRCUS, a muddy excavation from which several passages branch… After passing through TRAFALGAR SQUARE six feet by eight (under 2x2.5m)  find ourselves in the actual firing trench, an unexpectedly spacious affair … with little toy houses on either side. They are hewn out of the solid ground, lined with planks, painted, furished and decorated. .. One eligible residence has a little door nearly 6 feet high (1.8m) a real glass window with a little curtain. Inside there is a bunk, washstand and desk…’  
The heavier supplies were conveyed stealthily by night on carts or on the backs of mules. The amount of freight needed to supply the trenches was enormous, around 160 tonnes daily per mile of active Front. Time and again, the British Army were caught by a lack of supplies.
The third revolution was in favour of railways.
A 16mm model of a WD D-class wagon, body by Swift Sixteen which accurately represents wood, drawbar, rivets and hinges of the original. The bogies are by Wrightscale which  represent the light, resilient originals in crisp detail. 

The railway was the most efficient technology for the period. Between 1914 and 1916, the more ingenious regiments started their own narrow gauge trench systems, using what could be scavenged or ‘borrowed’ from around using a variety of gauges and designs.
A lucky few could use French systems or captured German material. The British Army took over French lines at Hersin and Saulty l’Arbret in early spring 1916.  These were an eye-opener. Originally based on the Péchot System which the French Army had adopted in 1888, these were mighty midgets – trains with 40 tonnes of freight carried along 60cm gauge lines, rapidly laid to serve the Front. Instead of lengths of track butted together, there was fine prefabricated track or fully engineered rails on sleepers. Instead of little trolleys, there were bogie wagons – if a trolley was needed for a small load, a bogie could be used. There were steam engines. By 1915, the French and Germans were beginning to use petrol-engined locomotives as well.
French inspiration for British WD. 16mm model of a Péchot wagon byWrightscale
General Kitchener disapproved. Early lorries were tried. Their wheels cut country dirt roads to ribbons, they guzzled fuel and broke down frequently. They were much improved by the end of the War but in the Somme offensive of July 1916 they added to the problems. Once Kitchener had died, and Lloyd George was facing a ‘shell crisis’ on the Front and a PR disaster on the Home Front, the War Department Light Railway was designed.
There are ways in which this railway was revolutionary.
Unlike the normal railway, these were quickly laid on the most basic of permanent ways. Once a system was no longer needed, it could taken up and laid elsewhere. Because it was so easily dismantled, few traces have been left.
The WDLR was a testing ground for new technologies, such as the internal combustion engine.
It was, above all, a wake-up call for little England. In was based on French (and German) influence. The British WDLR used the metric 60cm gauge, just like the French, not the more customary Imperial 2’ gauge. This was sensible, so that trains could run on each others’ tracks. 
WD D-Class bogie wagon. 16mm model by Swift Sixteen on Wrightscale bogies

The WD bogie wagon was a departure. In the beginning, and when the improvised railways were semi-official, to designs by the Engineer in Chief of each army corps, little four-wheelers were used. Brakes, where fitted were ratchet-lever.
Then the engineers saw the advantages of the French bogie wagon and a home-designed ‘Class C’ bogie wagon was built. Springing was rudimentary, there was no progress in the brakes and loads were limited to 7 Imperial tons.  

Then came Programme B (autumn 1916) and the true WD bogie wagon. Though weighing very slightly more, the classic D-Class WD bogie wagon could take a load of 10 tons (9tons 12hundredweight) to be precise. The bogies had laminated spring axles boxes and brakes operated from a brake pillar. There was a small perch for the brakesman at the end of the bogie – uncomfortable to be sure, but a lot more convenient than operating a brake ratchet at rail level. This was developed from a Decauville design, a lighter, simplified version of the magnificent Péchot platform wagon. WJK Davies described the D-class as a ‘versatile and efficient vehicle’.
In the end, nearly 15,000 wagons of various descriptions were supplied to the British, Canadian and ANZAC sections of the Western Front.
It could be argued that the War was won (or conceded) elsewhere, but if the British had crumbled completely in Northern France the War could have been lost in spring 1918. Fresh supplies, new trenches dug to the rear and reinforcements rushed in … all these helped to stabilise their Front. The tiny trains kept them in the business. 
Wrightscale model of a WD Baldwin 4-6-0 tank engine. 495 were built for the British Army.

Our policy on Data Protection and your Privacy   
Those of you who have put their names on lists of interest may be wondering about changes to the law on Data Protection. As you know, changes come into effect on May 25th. We have considered the implications of these changes, and how the information we hold might affect your privacy.
We currently store our email address book online. It simply has name and email, no other personal details. All of you who email and expect a reply go into this email address book automatically. Every couple of months, I try to remove the ‘once onlies’  Everyone who emails us has the right to have their address removed immediately. We shall remind every first contact of this right. This is our only online data-base.
Our interest list is held off-line. In it, we try to include date of contact, a full name, postal address and phone number as well as email. This is because email addresses keep changing and we need an alternative way of keeping in touch. We, for example, have been obliged by our providers to change our own email address at least three times. We do not keep other personal details such as partner’s name, date of birth etc.
We do not hold any bank details online. Our policy is cash or cheque if at all possible. Where a customer requires the use of bank transfer, we shall discuss he situation beforehand. Privacy during the transaction will be ensured by the systems of the banks involved. Our bank is the Clydesdale. Their privacy policy is stated at
cbonline.co.uk/gdpr 
If you wish any email correspondence deleted after a payment, please inform us. We do not hold details online. We do not use internet banking.
Before May 25th, our Webmaster will put our privacy policy on the Wrightscale website.

Friday, 23 March 2018

War of 1918 and railways today



We are looking forward to seeing friends old and new at the Garden Railway Show in Peterborough on April 7th.
Thank you to all our loyal customers who have bought our rolling stock kits over the years. It has been hard to find a good white-metal caster to replace Adrian Swain, but we are delighted to have found one here in Scotland. Even better, our price rises will be very modest. Some prices we can even hold at present levels.  The work is of the quality which you have the right to expect.
Buy now, while the kits are available!
Kits for WD bogies can be made up into a variety of WD wagons – D, E and F-class open wagons, H-class tanker wagons, covered freight wagons and ambulances. Swift Sixteen supply lovely wagon bodies.
We shall bring some Péchot kits. There will be a few of the historic platform wagons, first designed for the French Army in the 1880s, used through the First World War and only now being sold off to preserved railways in France and the UK.
16mm scale Péchot platform wagon made from a Wrightscale kit
We shall also offer the ever-popular mobile crane kit. Being a thoughtful officer, Péchot was aware of the dangers of handling vast high-explosive shells. This crane was one of many designs which aimed to make handling these deadly weights less arduous. Versions of this and the larger version of crane came across the Channel to be used on 2’ gauge prototypes.
16mm model of a Péchot system rail-mounted crane. The strange arrangement on the left is an ingenious counterweight making shellhandling easier
We hope also to have some kits for Mackenzie Holland signal kits. Watch this space!
We will have examples of the Wren 0-4-0 locomotive, the Quarry Hunslet 0-4-0, two forms of the Bagnall Excelsior, the 0-4-2 Tattoo and Baldwin Gas Mechanical locomotive on display. Pictures of our locomotives, and kits, can be found on the website of the show. Please see https://www.nationalgardenrailwayshow.org.uk/exhibitor/wrightscale/

We have been following the events of one hundred years ago. In the last blog, we left the brave Aussies hanging on with their fingernails against the storm-troopers of a furious Germans onslaught.  To recapitulate, this is what had just happened.
Drawing by J. Simont of British gunners March 1918. The artist shows them wearing gas masks. It is not certain that the Germans used tear gas in a space that was just about to be occupied by their own troops, but there was indeed a lot of smoke created by the artillery of both sides. From 'Illustration' magazine
The scene is the department of Somme. North of the river Somme, around the town of Albert were the British 3rd Army. South of the Somme was the 5th Army, south again of them were the French.
When waves of German attackers broke over the British 3rd and 5th armies on 21st March 1918, the British were driven back by the speed, weight and fury of the attack. At four am a terrific bombardment started over 90 kilometres/55 miles of front. It stopped at ten past nine. In the time, more than 650,000 shells had been fired.
Normally, a bombardment would go on considerably longer. On this occasion, by the time that the smoke began to clear, the Germans were well on their way across No Man’s Land. They came in their thousands. Against 14 British divisions, there were 47 German ones.
On the south side, the ten divisions of the 5th Army suffered terrible losses both of casualties and of terrain – up to 12 km/nearly 8 miles in one single day. The four divisions of the 3rd fared better but also had to retreat to keep a united front.
By March 23rd, the Germans had achieved their first target. They were poised to seize  communications with Paris.
Makeshift battalion command post at Plessi-le-Roi March 30th. The French were on the hill, the Germans in the chateau grounds below. Illustration magazine
Pétain ordered French support and the French 1st Army started plugging gaps. The British 3rd and 18th Army corps joined with the French. What remained of the 5th were already under French control.
By 26th March, the Germans turned their main force on a secondary target, Amiens, sited on the Somme river, and the departmental capital. It controlled communications with northern France, the Channel and Britain. By April 4th the Germans were within 16 km (10 miles) of the city.
It is argued that if the tide were not turned here, it would soon have been. German élan was nearly spent. They had advanced, fighting all the time, an average of 20km and in some cases much further. Their only supplies were what they had captured from an enemy obsessed about destroying what they could not carry – no water, no ammunition, no transport was to be left available.
It has been said that the Allies were saved by the state of the Somme battle-field. As every tree and building had been destroyed in 1916 and every river-bed was a churned up morass, the bleak landscape offered no shelter and no clean water.
The defenders at Villers-Bretonneux, just east of Amiens, were not to know this. With tremendous courage, they dug in and denied passage to the invaders. All went quiet. On 9th April, the attack began in a new direction, well to the north of the Somme, this time the area around the river Lys. The pressure on the vital city of Amiens had lifted.
In March/April 1918, 189 steam locomotives were deliberately wrecked. The Baldwin 4-6-0, seen here as a 16mm Wrightscale model was a staple of British frontline transport and many were destroyed.
As the Allies retreated, they tried to keep valuable equipment from enemy use. Both sides knew that a complete 60cm gauge railway system would be as useful to the enemy as it was to their own. Where possible, trains rolled themselves and valuable supplies safely to the rear.
Where there were gaps, freight had to be trans-shipped on to metre gauge or standard, all needing man-power. That said, great things were done, especially north of the Somme. In the British 5th Army sector, there had been no time to organise a proper trench railway system. They tried to evacuate some locomotives and wagons, but the network was neither wide nor deep enough. What could not be saved was deliberately wrecked.
Many examples of the D-Class wagon were used behind the British Front. Another important wagon was the H-Class which carried water. 1800 wagons had to be burned as the British retreated. 16mm model using Wrightscale bogies
In the the official history – Transportation on the Western Front – Henniker admits that between 21st March and early April ‘nearly 300 locomotives and tractors were disabled by the removal of essential parts (injectors and magnetos) and nearly 2000 wagons burned. Over the six weeks to the end of April, destruction of 60cm gauge material continued. 189 locomotives and 138 locotractors were destroyed. The trench railway systems serving the Front had suffered equally. In early March 1918, the mileage operated was 920/1472 km. By the end of April, this had dropped to under 360 miles/576km.
If the German advance had been halted, it was a close-run thing .

Our policy on Data Protection and your Privacy    
Those of you who have put their names on lists of interest may be wondering about changes to the law on Data Protection. As you know, changes come into effect on May 25th. We have considered the implications of these changes, and how the information we hold might affect your privacy.
We currently store our email address book online. It simply has name and email, no other personal details. All of you who email and expect a reply go into this email address book automatically. Every couple of months, I try to remove the ‘once onlies’  Everyone who emails us has the right to have their address removed immediately. We shall remind every first contact of this right. This is our only online data-base.
Our interest list is held off-line. In it, we try to include date of contact, a full name, postal address and phone number as well as email. This is because email addresses keep changing and we need an alternative way of keeping in touch. We, for example, have been obliged by our providers to change our own email address at least three times. We do not keep other personal details such as partner’s name, date of birth etc.
We do not hold any bank details online. Our policy is cash or cheque if at all possible. Where a customer requires the use of bank transfer, we shall discuss he situation beforehand. Privacy during the transaction will be ensured by the systems of the banks involved. Our bank is the Clydesdale. Their privacy policy is stated at
cbonline.co.uk/gdpr  
If you wish any email correspondence deleted after a payment, please inform us. We do not hold details online. We do not use internet banking.
Before May 25th, our Webmaster will put our privacy policy on the Wrightscale website.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Spring 1918 - were the Allies overwhelmed?



We are looking forward to seeing friends old and new at the Garden Railway Show in Peterborough on April 7th
We will have examples of  the Wren 0-4-0 locomotive, the Quarry Hunslet 0-4-0, two forms of the Bagnall Excelsior, the 0-4-2 Tattoo and Baldwin Gas Mechanical locomotive on display, and kits to sell. Pictures of these locomotives, and our kits, can be found on the website of the show. Please see https://www.nationalgardenrailwayshow.org.uk/exhibitor/wrightscale/
The New Data Protection Legislation
Those of you who have put their names on lists of interest may be wondering about changes to the law on Data Protection. As you probably know, these changes come into effect on May 25th. We have considered the implications of these changes, and how our information might affect your privacy.
In due course, our Webmaster will put up our privacy policy on the website.
We currently store our email address book online. It simply has name and email, no other personal details. Any member of the public who emails and expects a reply goes into this email address book automatically. Every couple of months, I try to remove the ‘once onlies’ in our email address book. Everyone who emails us has the right to havehis/her address removed immediately. We shall remind every first contact of this right. This is our only online data-base.
Our interest list is held off-line. In it, we try to include date of contact, a full name, postal address and phone number as well as email. This is because email addresses keep changing and we need an alternative way of keeping in touch. We, for example, have been obliged by our providers to change our own email address at least three times. We do not keep other personal details such as partner’s name, date of birth etc.
We do not hold any bank details online. As you all know, our policy is cash or cheque if at all possible. Where bank transfer is convenient, we do not hold details online though they will show up in our bank statements which are off-line. Privacy during the transaction will be ensured by the systems of the banks involved. Our bank is the Clydesdale. We have used paypal; in this case privacy is guaranteed by paypal and our own system as described above. If you wish any email correspondence deleted after a payment, please inform us.
The German army devised the flame-thrower in 1917. The Allies soon grasped the principle and this is one of their own photographed before March 1918 'Illustration' magazine
 This blog has been following the First World War as events took place one hundred years ago. The month of March 2018 is the centenary of the German Spring Offensive, also known as die grosse Schlacht or les coups allemands.   
Thanks to peace agreements with the new Soviet Government, the Central Powers no longer had to fear Russia. This released 60 divisions from the east, a force which could be added to the 144 divisions already posted on the western front. Everyone was aware that, given time, the forces of the USA would be entering the War and so a pre-emptive strike from Germany was expected.
The Germans were not going to waste this opportunity. They reorganised their attack around the new concept of the storm-trooper and a recent introduction, the deadly flame-thrower. Up until now, it had been impossible to clear a trench of defenders. Even if attackers had braved no man’s land and were actually in a trench, it could not be raked by fire. The trench was designed without straight lines so there was no straight line of fire.  The feisty flame-thrower was no respecter of angles. If the defenders weren’t actually burned, they died from suffocating heat. 
When waves of German attackers broke over the British 3rd and 5th armies on 21st March one hundred years ago, the British were driven back by the speed, weight and fury of the attack. At four am a terrific bombardment started over 90 kilometres/55 miles of front. It stopped at ten past nine. In the time, more than 650,000 shells had been fired.
Normally, a bombardment would go on considerably longer. On this occasion, by the time that the smoke began to clear, the Germans were well on their way across No Man’s Land. They came in their thousands. Against 14 British divisions, there were 47 German ones.
'Courage, mon ami, on vous aidera' Clemenceau rushed to British HQ to reassure General Haig. In return, British troops were taken under French command. 'Illustration' magazine
On the south side, the ten divisions of the 5th Army suffered terrible losses both of casualties and of terrain – up to 12 km/nearly 8 miles in one single day. The four divisions of the 3rd fared better but also had to retreat to keep a united front.
The Germans were lucky to have attacked a load of soldiers just off the troop transports and they certainly made use of their luck. By March 23rd, they had achieved  their target; they threatened communications with Paris. The remains of the 5th Army had left the railway through Ham unguarded.
Pétain ordered Humbert back. The French 1st Army plugged the first gap and then had to reinforce a second, the road to Paris through Montdidier. The British 3rd and 18th Army corps joined the French to ‘defend the beating heart of France’ as Hunbert put it.
Fearing the worst, Frenchinfantry guard the Amiens-Paris railway where it crosses the Noye.  'Illustration' magazine
By 26th March, the Germans turned their main force on a secondary target, Amiens; Paris would have been better. As the centre of communications for the whole of France, the capture of Paris would have left the rest of the country a tangle of writhing limbs. Amiens was still valuable. It controlled communications with northern France, the Channel and Britain. By April 4th the Germans were within 16 km (10 miles) of the city.
Was the German succes due to British incompetence, or did they make the best of a bad job? Arguments have raged for 100 years. Critics say that British intelligence should have been better, they shouldn’t have spread their forces so thinly, their technique was poor, both in attack and defence. These critics could point to instances of wishful thinking at the top, refusal to learn hard lessons, the lack of artillery on the field.
To quote a couple of examples from an extensive literature there is the book ‘The Mons Myth’ Terence Zuber The History Press 2010. It argues that: ‘British historians portrayed the battles of Mons and Le Cateau as successes of the heavily outnumbered British expeditionary Force which mowed down the Germans with precise and rapid fire… German … fighting techniques have been misunderstood, British troop leading was poor etc’
In The Myth of the Great War Profile Books 2002 edition, John Mosier is even more scathing about British leaders and their unfortunate troops - and also French leadership up until mid-1917. At every stage, the General Staff refused to learn the hard lessons of war. Their attitude towards the ordinary soldier was in every situation a disgrace. They wilfully threw away opportunities. In the earlyyears the vast system of trenches only grew up by accident. The valuable stronghold of Antwerp was thrown away without remorse. He had much that was unflattering to say about 'the miracle of the Marne' They insisted, as a matter of 19th century principal on trenches being dug in the most dangerous place, a gentle dip slope in full view of the enemy - this suited guns with a horzontal field of fire.
Digging in. The defence was assured by heroic action fromAustralians,French and Britsih who had to dig new trenches to stoip the German advance. The enemy reachedt Villers-Bretonneux on April 4th 1918. 'Illustration'
We have left the brave Aussies hanging on with their fingernails against the storm- roopers of the German Army.  To find out what happened next, wait for the following episode.

Friday, 9 March 2018

The Péchot system and 16mm scale



We are looking forward to seeing friends old and new at the National Garden Railway show in Peterborough on April 7th. We recommend a look at the Show website, ably curated by Richard Huss.
We are hoping to bring back a series of kits which celebrate the Péchot system. This was a vital part of military transport during the First World War, and for some years afterwards. From 1888 it had been a staple for the French Army. When the vast networks of 60cm railways that served the trenches were sold off, 1919-25, the French kept their Péchot locomotives and rolling stock for military use.
A Péchot wagon has been preserved outside Fermont, a part of the Maginot line. Until 1940 it had been used by the French Army. Photo 2005 S. Wright
Now at last, these wagons and bogies are finding their way on to preserved railways in France and across the Channel, so the enthusiast can enjoy and become familiar with the prototypes. Alas, only two locomotives survive, in transport museums in Dresden and Serbia, but there are a fair few wagons.
We are planning to re-release our 16mm scale kits for wagons and cranes. We thought this might not be possible - our well-respected white-metal caster Adrian Swain heads for a well-deserved retirement. Fortunately, with the help of a new caster and other sources of material, we hope to put the Péchot system back on your rails!
Fine 16mm model by the late Henry Holdsworth features a Péchotwagon in th eforeground with WD rolling stock. Picture courtesy Jim Hawkesworth
This design of bogie was the first project of my hero, Prosper Péchot, the basis of his celebrated Péchot system in 60 cm gauge. The first version of this system was described in a memorandum of 1882, eleven years after the Franco-Prussian War. The essence of his plan was to bring massive bombardments on the heads of the detested Prussians; an ambition shared by his military colleagues. Unfortunately for the French Army, short of building a standard gauge railway under the noses of the Germans there seemed no way of bringing big guns and quantities of ammunition close enough.
The secret of the system? Prosper Péchot took advantage of new technologies, science and experimentation to devise a portable railway. According to his calculations, the French army could extend such a railway several kilometres from an existing railway and have it near enough to threaten a German position within a few days.
Parts of a Wrightscale 16mm scale Péchot bogie. It ran on four wheels. Each axle could support 3.5 tonnes. Two axles could support in theory 7 tonnes but the loading was rated for safety at 5 tonnes.
 Science and trials in a Decauville factory demonstrated that a locomotive could run on 60 cm gauge. Yes, his plan was to create a railway a mere TWO FEET in gauge consisting of lengths of portable track. Each was light enough to be carried by a team of four. Admittedly, there was a lot of improvisation in those first trials, using whatever Decauville could provide. Péchot proved a principle: each axle could support a loading of 3.5 tonnes on this specially designed track and four axles together could support 14 tonnes. This was enough for a proper locomotive, and for a train of freight - as long as the wagons were supported by a sufficient number of bogies.
Spring pin from a Wrightscale Péchot bogie kit. This modest component could be used as a rerailing point
Like the prefabricated rail, the bogie had to be robust yet light enough to handle. A single bogie could carry a load of 5 tonnes on light rail. Not only could these run on an unpromising permanent way – a muddy farm track would do at a pinch – but also they could be re-railed by a couple of operators using materials to hand.
Stake from a Wrightscale Péchotwagon kit. This dual-purpose item could be used for load-retention but also as a rerailing bar.

At the time, this was all ‘cutting edge’ Steel of the quality and quantity required was only recently becoming available. Press tools capable of stamping out components from the new steels were also recent introductions. The idea of wagons running on bogies only went main-stream some years previously. For example, the celebrated GWR of Britain only introduced bogie wagons in 1873 (source wikipedia entry on GWR).THere wasn't even a French-language word for the bogie. It was often called 'wagon' or 'truck'
Péchot gathered ideas from around the world. He owed much to Paul Decauville who introduced a workable system of portable railways to industry and agriculture. He took an interest in the Festiniog railway, also the Darjeeling Himalaya Railway and there is evidence that he looked at logging railways of the USA. He felicitously combined them into something unique.
Trunnions from a Wrightscale 16mm crane kit, used to link bogie with wagon or in this case a rail-mounted crane. Péchot called it a 'turntable'. This link was totally flexible - useful on a winding track.

He did not go for officially sanctioned narrow-gauge. At the time, only metre gauge  was permitted for goods and freight in France. French government policy was to requisition what was available in time of war rather than to have independent military transport. As metre gauge networks spread out around France, so the confidence in using this version of narrow gauge spread. Péchot was therefore considered a maverick and a potentially expensive one.
Péchot wagon pictured on the Apedale railway by Jim Hawkesworth in 2014. Though shorn of its loading stakes (and other things beside) the wagon looks pretty good for its 115 years.

In order to introduce his system, he all but sacrificed his career. Once it was officially adopted in 1888, the French Army used it though it was fairly run-down by the early 1900s. The Prussians, however, who had been flirting with other gauges suddenly adopted 60cm for themselves. The date? 1888. Bogie wagons equally appeared. Coincidence? No. They knew a good thing when they saw it.
You might like to read:
Bailly, Roger ‘Decauville, ce nom qui fit le tour du monde’
Cénac, Dr Christian 60 cm pour ravitailler l’Armée francaise 14-18 (both French language)
Dunn Richard ‘Narrow Gauge to No Man's Land’
Wright Sarah ‘Colonel Péchot: Tracks to the trenches’ (story and pictures in English)


Wrightscale 16mm Pechot bogie non-slip decking. Before the days of Health and Safety, the designer thought about the welfare of the soldier. Shifting heavy weights in frost and rain was hazardous enough


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Saturday, 17 February 2018

What the WDLR can offer the 16mm enthusiast



There have been lots of centenaries marked in this blog. In a forgotten siding at Froissy (the ‘little train of the Upper Somme’) Jim Hawkesworth snapped this abandoned WD wagon. One hundred years ago, the wagon was taking supplies to the Army in the trenches. In this very area , the British Army was waiting anxiously for a German attack. They knew it was coming, but not where or how. The people involved, their worries, most of the 60 cm railways which served them have all gone, but these mute and aged witnesses remain.
A WD class D wagon without a side waits on a siding at Cappy, Haute Somme. Photo taken by Jim Hawkesworth 1990
Perhaps these 100 year old wagons have something to teach us in the modelling community. To truly appreciate the passage of time, we should try to live more in the present. By this I mean enjoy everything and escape the concept of ‘waste-of-time’. Try to shake off the idea that being time-poor is somehow to be materially rich.
For example, ‘time-poor’ people look for meal replacements not real food. Too often, people entering our craft are looking for the equivalent on their scale railways. Yes, meal replacements and convenience foods have their uses. Ready-meals have appeared in the Wright household.
I have never tasted a true ‘meal replacement’ but they have been marketed for years, a staple of old-folks-homes and hospices.  Rachel Joyce describes the experience of consuming a ‘nutritional milkshake’. These have hopeful names like strawberry, butter-scotch and vanilla but their colour gives the game away. They are all a shade half-way between beige and pink that has no name except possible ‘blush taupe’. They are a chore, to be consumed without pleasure.
In contrast, consider a simple fruit, a peach. You may wonder what is so special.. Real food has the potential to  surprise or disappoint. A peach has non-standard colour, shape and a little ’give’ to the touch. It has a well defined crease and a dimple where it was once attached to a tree. It has a smell. When it is cut, the juice runs out. It dares the most careful eater to consume it without coating his/her chin in pulp. It has flavour, sometimes delightful, sometimes not. When it is eaten, there remains a glorious stickiness.
The same applies to even the simplest of things, boiling a kettle. You could on the one hand, flick a switch and let your super-convenient device supply you with water at exactly 100 degrees. On the other hand, you could watch as the water travelled up to boiling point. At room temperature, water appears stationary. The French and the Chinese have terms for liquid as it starts to heat up – in French étincelant; the Chinese see 'fish eyes' in the water. At the simmer, the French say frémissant, a Chinese poet describes water as ‘pearls from a gushing spring’.  At a full boil, the French term is a gros bouillons, the Chinese say ‘galloping waves’. Are we perhaps missing something when we just flick a switch, walk away and come back when the job is done?
Coal tipper wagon  in HO scale produced by Roco International ref  4335a
In the same way, there are plenty of instant products for the modeller in a hurry. I am not decrying them. Pictured above is a lovely HO Roco wagon produced with painstaking attention to detail. It is, of course, exactly like every other Roco side-discharge tipper wagon reference 4335a .There is a place for this quality on any railway of this scale. But if a railway consists merely of a circle of proprietory track surrounded by ready-made buildings on which run locomotives and wagons straight from neat boxes, there is no individuality, no hopeful travel and no sense of owning the end result. All you have to do is transfer your money to the right quarter and then open the box. Isn’t this the equivalent of swigging down your Soylent Green instant lunch at your desk?
Many modellers may fear the alternative, which is making up a kit. They then miss out on a chief joy of the 16mm craft. A high proportion of available wagons and accessories are only available in kit form. The fact is, we aren’t the large market that is typical of, say, HO. The techniques of mass production are very often not practical. Whatever the reason for being drawn to 32mm or 45 gauge, the charm was not the vast range of readymade stock available. 
Most kit suppliers take pride in the customisations possible – early, middle or late versions of a prototype railway. The original wagons were adapted, botched and cannibalised. They were bought up by different orgaisations and used in new places.
Wrightscale 16mm WD bolster on Wrightscale WD bogies. The bolster was used for carrying long loads such as timber. Something similar was used to carry lengths of prefabricated track. Phot MD Wright

Making up a wagon is risky. Your first painful effort involves time, materials and the chance of many things going wrong. The end-result may be a wagon which compares poorly to the professional model, especially if it is a first attempt. For many of us, this is uncomfortable. We have been taught to avoid risk. Yet taking a chanc may bring its own rewards.
We are pleased that over the years, we have coaxed thousands of 16mm society members to consider Wrightscale WD bogie kits. On studying them, a fabric of history gradually unrolls. A lot was expected of these bogies. Two had to support a load of up to ten tons, on rough track without derailing. What is more, they had to be produced in their thousands within a few months.
Wrightscale WD 16mm bogie kit based on a 1917 prototype; long side-frame, short side-frame, end-frames and centre with pin to support one end of a wagon body. The wheels are Binnie Engineering curly-spoked.
As you get to know the components, you can see how these engineering problems were solved. The rivets are not mere decoration; parts were welded when this was sensible. Rivets and welds turned standard lengths of channel steel into sturdy frame members. Those chunky springs above the axle-boxes earned their keep; without serious springing, the bogie would be upset by rough track. The brakes, operated by prominent brake-wheels were essential to safety under trench conditions. Central to the bogie is the ‘pin’, the link with the wagon body which allowed parts to swing independently where necessary. A trench railway was sinuous at best. In fact, a nice straight line would be a gift to enemy gunners.
Most of all, let’s face it, hands-on modelling is a chance to overcome failure. Look on mistakes as part of the experience. Indeed, trouble-shooting is a valuable life-skill. There is no better achievement than looking failure in the eye and watching failure blink first.
16mm model of a WD covered wagon made by Jim Hawkesworth. It set on WD bogies. It has sliding doors; adaptations were used as ambulance wagons.