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Military Railway Service in World War II


Instructor, Command amI General Stuff School al
HE Iron Horse is nut dead! Again in talion is normally assigned from nindy t~ In
T time of war in theaters of operations
round the world the railroad has proved its
150 miles- of main line tracl{. Its foui' com· bE
panics, (Headquarters and Healiqntll'ters It
ability to haul large volumes of men and Company, Trunsportation Company, Jlain.
supplies quickly af!d economically, It can tenance of Way Company, and Maintenance
truthfully hc said, "The sun never sets on of Equipment Company) are capable of op·
American railroad troop"; they are scat­ el'ating forty tl'ains pel' day (twenty in each
tered round the WOl'il!." dit'ection), maintaining up to 150 miles ~f
OQ pape,' at least, tl1<' United States track and making running' repairs to loc~ ,
A rmy has had a Military Railway Service motives and cal'S, The Shop Battalion pro·
~ince World War I. It was part of the Corps videi' foul' companies, the men and the heav,
of Eng'ineers until 1942, War Department equipnH'nt neces~al'Y to make major repair;
Geneml Orde,' No, GO, Hi Nov 42, transferred to locomotives and CUI'S, This is thp or·
it to the newly formed Transportation Corps, ganization of the Military Railway S<'>I'vice,
Let us review briefly the organization of Railroad experience cannot he g'ained in a
the Military Railway Service as liescribed in day 01' evell six months, How, then, were
FM 55-50, Our Military Railway Service' is expcrienced railroad men ohtained and
org'anizcll as nearly like American com­ trained for the Military Railway Servil'c?
mercial railroads as military necessity will A rather unique method of obtainin,o: ex·
permit; hence we find lllany railroad titles p<.>rienccd railroad personnel was put into ef·
. carried ovcr into the organization of the fpct. AII of the large milway systems in
Military Railway Service. We lind a g'ooll this countl'Y were askell to sponsor onc or
example of thi~ l'ight at the top-the Com­ IllOI'P opcl'' and shop hattalions, Two or
manding' General of the Military Railway mul'(' sillall railroads werc U1'g'ell to sponsor
~ervice is better known as Gene, al Manae;e,', jointly an operating' 01' shop haitalion, The
Military Railway Service, He has a Head­ sponSOl' 01' sponsors furnished experi<.>ncec
quarters and HeadquarterR Company, Mili­ pel'sonnel hoth for officers anll ('nlisted men
tary Railway Service which is the highe;;t ;\1('n from regular selective s<.>l'\>iec channels
headquart('rs of the Military Railway Serv­ made up thc bulk of the pdvat!'s especially
ice in any theater of operations having a in those hnttalions activated in HJ4:l and
complete military railroad org'anization, Be­ 1!lH,
low this headquarters we find onL' 01' more Upon activation, a unit is g-iven tl'llining
Headquarters anll Headquarters Company, along' the u~ual Illilitary lines; however, its
Railway Grand Division, ami here again t('ehnicul trainin<!,' is accomplishc(l in one ~j
we find the use of commercial titles, . two ways: Th<.> Chief of Transportation ar·
the Colonel in charge being called General rang'ps hy conU'act actually to place the unit
Superintendent, Railway Grand Division. In with one of Oll!' commelTial I'ailr'onds where
a Railway Grand Division we find two or the at'my personnel can aetually pel'form
more Railway Divisions, each operated hy a various railroad duties under the g'uidance
Railway Operating Battalion and one 01' of railroad operating pel'sonnel; 01' a unit
more Railway Shop Battalions. The Lieu­ may hl' sent to operatl' the arllly-owned
tenant Colonel commanding the Railway Op­ Claiborne and Polk Hailroad, known to mili,
erating Battalion holds the title, Superin­ tary railway operating battalions round the
tendent, Railway Division, The Lieutenant world as "Old Crime and Punishm<.>nt," and
Colonel commanding the Railway Shop Bat­ said "to have been laid out in the dark of
talion is also known as General Shop Super­ the moon by (I cross-eyed man with the
intendent, Each Railway Operating Bat- d.t's," The road was built by the 711th Op,
Battalion with the assistance of berta, to Fairbanks, ,Alaska~ Personnel, ma­
(ngineers as a training line for rail~ terial, and supplies for this road could be
t I ,lOPS; all the handicaps and hazards moved both north and south from White­
nature and man could devise seemed to horse. The town was also to be the western
cOJwpntrated on thi~ single-track railroad. terminus of a 450 mile pipeline from the oB
is ,.lid that "railway operating battalions wells at Norman, up neal' the Arctic Circle.
tIll' C. and P. with a sigh of relief, know­ The White Pass and Yukon, constructed
th ..t any operating problems they would in l!JOI to serve those who sought their



m \
ld FIGURE 1.
tel' overseas would be 'duck soup' after fortune in the Klondike gOlb ru,h, had been
C. and P." So much for the organization operated by a London syridifate. On 1 Octo­
training of. railway units. What have her 194:.! the line was taken ·over by the War
actually done in this war? Department. under a C01ltt· uing lease. By
the easiest way to nandle this terms of the lease the Tra sportation Corps
is to describe the work of the mili- will operate the line for th duration of the
railroad units chronologically. war and one year thereaft r.
The first military railway unit to operate Nevel' equipped to ope ate as a heavy
railroad was the railway operating bat- f!(eight line and always h~l'asSed by severe
which took over the operation and winter operating conditions it was physical­
Elaml.cnance of the White Pass and Yukon ly impossible for the pri ate company to
between the port at Skagway, Alas- handle the suddenly impose war load. After
and Whitehorse, near the headwaters of the execution of the lease. n operating bat­
Yukon River (see Figure 1). In the fall talion was given the task of rehabilitating
942, Whitehorse suddenly became a focal the facilities and providing adequate operat­
of interest; the Alcan Highway was ing personnel. This battali n has moved the
constructed from near Edmonton, Al- largest tonnage in the 1'0 d's history with

surprising regularity over the famous White see American railway troops in operatiol r!
Pass. From the two principal ports on the Persian 81
The government-owned Alaska Railroad Gulf, Bandar Shahpur and Khurramshal!
between Seward and Fairbanks found itself standard gauge railway lines run northwa~ :1
confronted by heavy war traffic and a criti­ to join at Ahwaz ami from there on to the 0
capital at Teheran, some 400 miles from tn r
(I \:: Gulf (see Figure 2). At Teheran one line 00
~I~ of railroad I?xtends in a northeasterly dill!. :E
tion to thc Caspian seaport of Bandar Shah. CI
I A sccoml line constructed to the northwest b
was intended eventually to connect with the )
I. Russian railways at Tabriz. The Trans. ~
Iranian Railway was constructed by BrilIsb
and American engineers for the Iranian go•. 1'i
crnment. The work was begun in 1928 and ~
wa~ practically completed in 1939. After the ~
N COllll d'etat in 1941, the British took ove t=
the operation of the lines from Teheran I
south; while the Russian sphere of intluenc i
controlled all operations North of the capl- :
tal. "The Russian National Railroads" ex- :
tending south through the Caucasus an
Armenia terminate at Tabriz. These are fi.
foot gauge. The unfinished gap between tn
Persian Railroad and the Russian lines i
approximately eighty miles, over which a
supplies are transported by truck. At th
FIGURE 2. close of 1942, arrangements were Ilia
whereby the operation of the lines betwee
cal manpowel' hhol'tag'e. The management of
the gulf and the capital were turned overt
the milo'oael suhmitted a request to the War E
the American Persian Gulf Command. unde
Department for assistance. A railway bat­
the immediate direction of the :vIilitary Rail :
. ialion was immediately sent to supplement
way Service. By the middle of January 1943 I
the railroad's civilian personnel.
the opel'ations of this railroad were in th 1
From Alaska to New Caledonia in the hands of American military railway uni ~.
Southwest Pacific i,; a jump nearly a third under supervision of a grand division head :
around the wodd, hut here we next find quarters. Three operating battalions and '
Americans operating a railroad. This time Diesel shop battalion were assigned to In I
we find a railway operating company largely railroad. In addition to the power on han Y
recruited from American troops in the area, when the Americans took over, a consider 1':
operating the thirty-two-mile narrow-gauge able number of oil-burning locomotives 0 a
railroad on the island. the 2-8-2 type and also 1,OOO.horsepow 1
In the Southwest Pacific we find the Aus­ Diesel locomotives of the 0-6-6-0 type we
tralian Railways adeqllately operated by brought over from the United States.
their own managements, but we also find The operations in Iran will make an inte e
American railway experts from Transporta­ esting chapter in the history of. Americ
tion Corps studying the rail problems, the railroading. Stories of mixed train cre
greatest of which is the differences in rail­ with absolutely no understanding of eae
way gauges throughout Australia. other's language, have been told freq~entl !
The Middle East was the next theater to If it were not for the fact that all are r' v
ti6~ road men who understand each other's needs ment of Headquarters Military Railway
'sian and sil!;ns, it would be difficult for an Amel'i­ Service.
lanr, can d011ghboy conductor to impart his orders , The French railways, even with the addi­
V&IQ to a lll'nrded Persian engineer. tion of the above mentioned units and' new
the While the line of the railroad itself was United States locomotives and cars, were in­
In oJle of splendid construction. the methods of sufficient to support the contemplated mili­
lin wml1ltlnication were inadequate. These have tary operations, The remainder of Headquar­
Ir~c· been remedied hy installations of our Signal te;'s Military Railway [Service, two, more
hah, Corps and with operation and maintenance milway grand division headquarters, and
weSI \y our railway opel'Uting battalions. three more operating bhttalions arrived in
the On and after 8 November 1942, the Allied May, The addition of th€\"e Military Railway
an!· ~orth African invasion force landed at the Service units brought the total of United

apt· E R I A
lv ,
a: FIGUnE 3.

II orts of Casablanca, Oran, and Algiers (see State, railway troops in North Africa to
ad igure 3). Latel' other smaller ports were 5,700, The British Military Railway forces
'e! sed to land additional supplies. These ports brought in 1,250 men who wel'e distributed
r~ 'ere connected by a single. track railroad and on the line supporting the British First Army
I" ave,l highway which extended parallel to in Tunisia fl'ol11 the ports of Bone and Ta­
:;; he coast from Casablanca to Tunis, a dis­ ,barka, The United States Military Railway
h nee of about 1,400 miles. The highway and Forces were distributed as follows: a railway'
I ailroad are about forty to fifty miles south grand division to supervise and assist the
m: f, and are parallel to,' the Mediterranean Moroccan railway operating to Oujda; a rail­
: oast. Since Oran and Algiers were on the way transportation company to operate be­
tl ast, they were connected to the. main line tween Oujda and Oran and a "C" or main­
y short double-track wye connections. The tenance-of-equipment company to assemble
1 l'st /\
!n .
mel'lcan I'm'I way troops as h ore were United States freight cars on the docks at
er art of a railway grand division headqua 1'­ Oran; another railway grand division head­
o rs and a railway transponation company quarters with two operating battalions to
,v om England. These were followed in De­ operate from Oran through Algiers and Con­
e mber by a railway operating battalion and stantine to PhilippevilIe; a shop battalion at
art of 'a railway shop battalion, and in Constantine .to operate the locomotive shops
,e ebl'uary 1943 by the balance of the railway ,which repaired French locomotives and as­
:a and division headquarters, three more sembled narrow-gauge United States locomo­
mpanies of the railway shop battalion, and tives for use between Ouled Rahmoun and
railway operating battalion, The General Tebessa ancl on the narrow-gauge lines in
anager, Military Railway Service, alsp ar­ Tunisia, where a railway operating bat-
ed in February with the advanced detach- o talioB served the United States troops of

the II Corps on the narrow-gauge line; a thority was finally stopped in Octobet· 194&
railway operating battalion had charge of by placing the administratiori of all railway
the line fl'llm Constantine to Bone and forces under AFHQ through the Director
Ghardimaou, connecting with the British 1st General.
Railway Operating Group at the latter point; The operating battalion which had b~n
another railway operating battalion operated pulled out of North Africa for the Sicilian
campaign, as mentioned above, debarked at
Licata in Sicily (see Figure 4) on 12 July
1943, three days behind the invasion forces.
It soon re-established l'ail sel'vice in spite
of blown-up bridges and tunnels. When
Palermo was seized by the American forces
on 28 July 1943, the military I'ailway serv.;
ice was preparl'd to supply rail service east
to the army then fighting at Cefalu and
Castelbuono along the coast of Sicily.
. In Italy, a railway grand division head·
quarters landed an advance party with the
tir,t invasion troops ~t Salerno (see Figure
5). When a railway operating battalion ar·
from Oulel\ Ibhmoun a11l\ Con~tantine to dved from Sicily, it pushed forward with
Tcbc~~a and Ollt'd Kehrit, later moving to the grand division headquarters in reinforced
the narrow·gauge IineB in TuniBia when the strength to Naples where it was soon com·
hattalion ~erving the II Corps on those lines bined with another railway operating bat·
wa,.; pulled out fOl' the Sicilian campaig-n in talion. In contrast to North Africa, the
June 1!i4::' Gel"l11anS did a thorough job of devastating
The first task of the newly appointed Di­ the Italian railroads·-that is, what was left
rector General of Railways in Fehruary HI4:~ of them after oU!' bombers were through
was to gather' military railway forces under However, with the aid of all the main·
one control. General Order No. 19, AFHQ, tenance·of-way comvanies from Africa and
dated 14 February 194:1, placed the military several army engineer units, and by the as·
railway forces, both British and American, sembling of Italian Railway Construction
under the Director General, who was assigned Battalions and civilian contract gangs, the
to Allied Force Headquarters. He was ah<o lines were restored from Naples on 1 January
given the responBibility for technical de­ 1944, north to Vairano, east to Foggia, and
velopment and operation of all railways in southeast to and Taranto. The line up
North Africa for milital'Y purposes. As the the east coast along the Adriatic Sea, be·
French railwa~'s are under military govern­ hind the Eighth Army, was opened from
ment in time of war, use of the railways by Taranto to Vasto under the direction of thl
the Allied Forces was a matter of negotia­ British Railway Forces.
tion with French military and civilian forces. From Italy we move to the British lsI!!
A further matter of conflicting authority to observe the work of American militar.
started from the fact that the railway units railway units stationed there. Since Bl'itis
in thc theater had been attached for ad­ railroads were adequately manned and man
ministration and supply to the three base aged, it was not necessary to furnish Ameli
sections in North Africa. Railway operating can personnel for railroad operation. HOI\"
forces at work from twenty-four to forty­ ever, some switching service was perform
eight hours running trains were being given at U. S. Army depots by American locom
daily dl"ill and classroom instruction periods. tives and crews.
This was impractical. Thh; conflict of au­ A com,ideruble number of Amedcan Mil!
13 lal'Y I.nilway troops were employed at as- eral Manager, Military Railway Service, in
semblilll\' freight cars shipped "knocked this theater.
ly down" from the States. By shipping freight The reconnaissance party moved about in
Dr ~ars i II pieces, considerable cargo space was jeeps, includi'ng a special rail reconnaissance
In ;aved. These cars and locomotives were as­ jeep, the tires of which had been removed,:
m ;embkd for use in France after our invasion enabling it to run on its rims on the rails.

es !
'v· i


19, ° 2,0 .4P

, 8,0 ,1QO



;le; of the continent. Special means ~f handling Damage to the French railway system, caused
ar this heavy equipment were devised and per­ by bombings by the Allied Air Forces and by
:is reeted during the months preceding the in- the destructiveness of German rear guard
an 'asion. . ' actions, was found to be quite extensive.
erl Soldier-railroaders landed in Normandy Regions that had not been ruined by demoli­
3\1 with the invasion forces. The advance sec­ tions and bombings were heavily mined.
n tion of the railway battalions came ashore However, the party found large quantities
n first and, after establishing headquarters, of servieeable equipment. French civilian
Immediately began reconnaissance activities. railroad men returned. to the yards and
'ill This reconnaissance group included the Gen­ roundhouses soon after the Americans QC­

cupied Cherbourg. They told of various would lead one to believe that considerable I
German plans to destroy locomotives and­ track and some roIling stoel, may have
cars. One such plan was to run locomotives, escaped the ravages of war.
with full steam up, along special tracks slop­ Our entrance into Germany will present
ing into the cold Channel waters. The im­ quite a different problem of railroad opera. 1
pact of the cold water would cause the hoilers tion. There will be no friendly, libera~d
to explode. Allied airmen destroyed the truck, l'aih-oad personnel to operat€ the trains and
thus foiling the German plan. maintain the track. Then, again, the call
--­ --1 --­ I t; .---­ will be made on the military
I v~ railway service to provide the
necessary operating and shop
Even in far-off India we find
American Railway Operating
Battalions. The Bengal and
Assam Railway operation began
on 1 March 1944. The Bengal
I and Assam is divided into two
distinct operations. A five-foot
six-inch gauge line extends
from Calcutta to Siliguri (see
,BURMA Figure 6). Branching off from
the broad-gauge lines at Santa·
hal' and Parbatipur are meter·
gauge lines which run eastward
to Ledo. This change of gauge,
of course, means all freight for
Ledo and China must be tranl'
shipped from broad-gauge cars [
Small American Diesel locomotiv('s and to meter-gauge cars. The ferrying of cars on
20-toll !Iatcal's were loaded on special trailers gmull barges across the Brahmaputra River,
so that they could be pulled through the surf the varying level of which, from dry to mono
and over the beaches. These were used in soon season, prevents bridge construction,
repairing the rail lines. By 17 July 1944, the presented a problem to our railway troops. I
rail net had been restored sufficiently to is­ Operations have been speeded up by quick j
sue the first U. S. )'ailway timetable in J;.witching service from the yards to the I
F'rance. This listed scheduled trains, sta­ bUl'ges.
tions, and the mileage between stations. So American operating methods in the
we a·gain find American Military Railroad first two months increased the volume 01 I
personnel sel'ving ollr armies wherever they traffic handled about forty percent. This
may be. railroad is now the principal supply line I
Recent reports from France indicate that for the Chinese and American forces op· 1
American Railway troops are using French Hating in Northern Burma und€r Gen· I
civilian railroad personnel to the fullest extent eral Stilwell. I
possible for restoring both track and service. Although no American railway troops have I
At the time of writing this article the exact served with the Russian Armies on the east· I
condition of the French railroad system is ern front, it is only fair to mention that­
still military information of a classified numerous American locomotives and freight
nature. However, the rapidity with which cars are now being used on the broad-gauge
the Germans were driven from French soil tracks of the So-viet Union, moving the tre·
ble mendous supplies needed to support the great knows but that American Military Railway
Ive Russian offensive. These were furnished troops may soon be keeping the railroad
throu!.!h lend-lease. Hardly a ship sails for trains rolling frOlil Chungking to all parts
enl Russi:l without her deck-load of American­ of China.
ra. llIade locomotives and cars. ' Thus it can truly be said, "The deep­
ted Lend-lease also is prc>paring to replace throated whistle of the American locomotives
md ChiP"'" worn railway equipment, and who can be heard round the world."
ind Released by the Director, JIilaintenance Division, Army Service Forces;
ing To overcome the wide-spl'ead ignorance of is effective only in putting out fires of wood,
md fire extinguisher operation, the Army is now paper, rubbish, and other ordinary com­
:an posting an instructional placard beside each bustibles, while the foam type extinguisher
sal extinguisher in every post, camp, and sta­ may be used for burning liquids, oils, greases,
wo ti(m. It must be considered the duty of every gasoline, and paint, in addition to ordinary
oat man and woman in the arnied forces and combustibles. In the first case, the liquid
Ids every civilian in the service of the Army to stream must be directed against the base of
Se€ study these placm;ds. the flame-in the latter, it must be directed
am In the first place, they give complete op­ against a surface away from the flame in
tao erating instructions, with graphic illustra­ such a way that the foam falls lightly on the
er· :ions. And it is essential that everyone know surface of the blaze from above. Then, too,
Ild how to operate an extinguisher before the one type of extinguisher may be fun. ished
ge, oecasion to use it arises, for there is no time in two sizes, and to avoid waste and undue
for to learn when fire bl'eaks out. damag'e from water and acid the propel' size
ns· Second, it is important that everyone be­ should be used, depending on the size of the
llS lome familiar with the different types of ex­ fire.
on tinguishers and know what kinds of fires It is, of course, important that fire ex­
er, they are for. An extinguisher that will put tinguishers be kept in working order at all
m· out fires of ordinary combustibles may be times. Therefore, they should be examined
In, lseless in extinguishing burning oil. Some frequently. Here, the placards arc helpful
ps, types of extinguishers which will do a good in giving information as to what to look for
ick, job on burning oil cannot be used on live in making an examination. They also give
,he electrical equipment. There is a proper type the name and phone number of the person
of extinguisher for each type of fire-it is to be called when damage is noted.
;he essential that everyo~~ know which ex­ Fire invariably strikes without regard for
of tinguisher to use for each type. our convenience. Quick, sure action, pos­
~is In this connection, it must be remembered sible only when the operator is thoroughly
ne that the appearance of the extinguisher does familiar with the extinguisher he is using,
)p. not always indicate what type it is, for dif­ will save thousands of 'dollars worth of
m· ferent ingredients may be used in the same equipment-may often save lives. Every time
type of· container. Therefore, in addition to you pass .one of the fire extinguishers that
.VI learning the mechanical operation of different are put up around your barracks, motor pool,
st- types of containers,. the action of various workshop, 01' office, stop and read the placard
,at types of ingredients must be known. For in­ beside it. Be prepared: Learn all you can
'ht stance, the soda-acid and the foam type ex­ about the various types of fire extinguishers.
ge inguishers may look just alike, but the first Learn how to use them now-"just in ·case."
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