National Geographic : 1945 Dec
The National Geographic Magazine the way around the Cape of Good Hope, and somebody had a bright idea. The Diesels looked more like cars than locomotives, with no smokestacks or other distinguishing features. The British put them in the middle of their trains, pulling one half, pushing the other. When the German fighters swooped down to attack, flying too fast to notice the change, they shot the front boxcars full of holes, but the trains kept right on rolling! On the French railroads in North Africa operated by the U. S. Army, heavily loaded trains had to slow down almost to a "walk" on some of the steeper grades. Natives would hop on to steal supplies. MP guards were put on, with orders to shoot only as a last resort; so there were wild chases across the tops of the lurching trains like those of the old silent movie thrillers, as the MP's sought to capture the thieves. Those North African trains also had no air brakes. Instead, an Arab rode on every eighth or tenth car to operate a brake wheel by hand. When the engineer wanted to apply the brakes, he tooted his whistle and hoped the sleepy brakemen would pay attention. Sometimes they didn't. The African locomo tives had no headlights, either; so 400 head lights were manufactured in this country and shipped over. Knowing that in war areas railroads would be destroyed or badly damaged in the fight ing, we built in the United States and sent overseas for ourselves and through Lend Lease * 5,745 locomotives and 103,695 freight cars designed to operate on foreign tracks. That's equal to all the rolling stock of a good sized American railroad. Locomotives were sent into Burma by air. We built engines for the Russians, too, on Lend-Lease.t Since the Russian gauge is wider than ours, we shipped the locomotives on flatcars to the west coast, where they were loaded on ships. In England, when even the highly efficient British railroads were choked by the added traffic of the huge American invasion force, our Army Engineers built miles upon miles of new sidetrack to help ship bombs for our planes attacking Germany. World War I Locomotives Serve Again When railroad troops of the Army Trans portation Corps landed in France, they found some American locomotives there ahead of them. Shipped to France by the Army in the last war, these engines had been operated by the French until 1940, then used by the Germans, and finally, after a lapse of 27 years, they hauled United States Army trains again. Looking for rails to repair bombed tracks, our troops found stacks of American rails, also sent over in 1918 and still good as new! When' the Allied invasion got rolling in France, whole trains of freight cars were loaded with supplies in England, shunted on to LSTs fitted with tracks in their tank decks and holds, and ferried across the Channel. Army Transportation Corpsmen had in vented a hinged section of track that would rise and fall with the tide. The LSTs were run right up to the shore, and the supply trains rolled off over the hinged track and away to the front. Locomotives came on other craft already supplied with water and coal. Engines Watered from Shellholes So urgent were the supply demands of our fast-moving armies that trains were sent out with orders just to keep going toward the front until they had to stop, since nobody knew the condition of the tracks ahead. Running on rails laid hastily over filled-in bomb craters, soldier train crews could feel the tracks sag under them as the cars passed over. Where water tanks were destroyed by re treating Germans, they carried water for the locomotive boilers from shell craters or ponds, sometimes having to break the ice first. Once they borrowed a French village fire engine to pump water from a near-by stream. On badly bombed double-track lines, GI "gandy dancers" (railroad slang for track workers) salvaged enough rail to make one good single track. They built "shooflies" (detours) around bomb craters too big to fill quickly. When they found boxcars too se verely damaged to repair, they cut the sides off and made flatcars of them. To fix a tunnel too badly blocked to dig out, they ran in a carload of dynamite, blew the roof off, and thus made the tunnel into an open cut. Anything to keep supplies moving! Officers and noncoms of the Army's Rail way Battalions were recruited from experi enced personnel of various American railroads, but most of the rank and file were ex-clerks, salesmen, teachers, or what not, who learned railroading after they entered the Army. Some ran trains for days and nights on end without rest to keep the supplies rolling. Some exchanged shots with German snipers from their speeding trains, like the old days in the West when Indians attacked the "iron horse" puffing across the prairies. * See "Lend-Lease Is a Two-way Benefit," by Francis A. Flood, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, June, 1943. t See "Lend-Lease and the Russian Victory," by Harvey Klemmer, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, October, 1945.