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Royal Engineers work in support of RFC/RAF in Egy

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NickForder View Drop Down
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    Posted: 15 Mar 2011 at 07:55

Royal Engineers in Egypt and Palestine, 1914-18, History of the Corps of Royal Engineers, Volume VI, Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham, 1952

1915 : "A few local aircraft formed the nucleus of the RFC in this theatre and a small airfield was prepared at Moascar, near Ismailia., with a double hangar built with local materials. Searchlights were installed along the canal, the electricity generating station at Ismailia was taken over and operated and water supply schemes were started." (P168-9)

"Lieutenant Wilson’s camel section of the Military Works Department accompanied several reconnaissances from Moascar, assisting in water supply, draining pools and cisterns used by enemy raiding parties and preparing landing strips for aircraft." (P170)

Senussi Campaign 1915-1917 :  “In December (1915) a small force, termed the Western Frontier Force (WFF), was assembled at Matruh under Major-General Wallace. Until November , 1916, its GSO1 was Lieutenant-Colonel REM Russell, RE, and one of its RFC pilots was Captain J Ross, RE.” (P202)

(From March 1916) "The 2/1st Cheshire Company (RE) executed works for the RFC at Minya and Assiut and constructed defences in the Luxor area, at Esna, Suhag and other places opposite the Kharga oasis." (P203-4)

 Advance to Romani (1916) : “The 2/1st Lowland Company part of which reached Mahamdiyah on 18th June, and the 1/2nd Company supervised hutting and shelters, and the latter prepared an advanced landing ground at Mahamdiyah for the RFC and worked n water supply. In connection with the condensing plant the former company erected a 50,000-gallon storage tank in July and the 2/2nd Company, which arrived on 21st July, assembled the plant." (P215)

Advance to El Arish : “The 5th Royal Monmouth in addition to its work on the operation of the El-Arish (water) pipe-line, was in charge of the expense store at Romani during August, and erected hospital hutting and RFC hangars in November and December (1916)." (P246)

Canal Defences, August to December, 1916 : “In August passive air defence of the oil tanks at Suez was strengthened by constructing banks and drainage ditches to divert waste or burning oil from the docks.” (P246).

1917 : “The 116th Company (RE) in August had a detachment working on alterations at Imara Station and laying a siding for the RFC at Mile 7½ on the Shellal branch.” (P278)

Works in Egypt during 1917 : “On 12 January, owing to the increasing amount of work for the RC, Lieutenant-Colonel A Adams was appointed ADW Aircraft Constructional Works, with his headquarters in Cairo."  (P290)

In late May 1917 “the Royal Engineers cleared an emergency landing ground on the way (to Nekhl) at Bir el Giddi and this was twice used by the RFC.” (P290)

“Works for the RFC included two operational airfields at Ismailia and Suez and a third nearing completion at Aboukir. Site levelling and clearing were straightforward as the airfields were small as there was no concrete for bituminous runways. The major engineer effort required was for the extensive accommodation necessary. Work was also in progress at Abbassia, Heliopolis, Suez and n Upper Egypt. Ismailia was completed early in August and, as part of the doubling of accommodation required n connection with the expansion of the RFC, a new air station was started at Qantara. On 1st September much new work was started, and included accommodation at three places for five squadrons n the new training wing, for a fighter squadron at Heliopolis, and at Suez and Qantara. In October, a new airfield was begun at Heliopolis and by this time the ADW, ACW, had a staff of over eighty all ranks supervising a labour force of some 2,600 Egyptians.” (P290)

Preparations for the 3rd Battle of Gaza (1917) : “the 522nd Company (RE) also executed work for the RFC at Sheikh Nuran and built a new corps headquarters.” (P296)

“for a time during November (1917) the 14th and 220th Army Troop Companies (RE), although corps  troops, also worked in the Advanced Palestine Lines of Communications area on roads and other works, which included hangars for the RFC” (P333)

“The formation of the RAF in April (1918) involved no change in the responsibility of the D of W for works for the air service, which continued to be under the immediate control of the ADW, Aircraft Construction Works.” (P377)

“The rapid expansion of the air force from eleven to twenty-three squadrons early in 1918 required extensive work under the ADW, Aircraft Construction Works, Lieutenant Colonel Adams, whose headquarters was with Middle East Brigade, RFC. These works included accommodation of all kinds at various stations, workshops at Aboukir and Abbasia, hangars and miscellaneous services. On 31st January the ADW had a staff of 121 and a labour force of nearly 6,000 men, including 1,700 on contract works at eight stations, and in October a staff of 11 in charge of 9,400 men at ten stations. In February work began on an aircraft assembly establishment at Aboukir, and in March on four training depots, more accommodation, a new bombing and navigation school and a stores park at Ferry Post. These included roads, deceauville track, water supply, hutting, semi-permanent buildings, hangars and the airfields themselves.” (P378)

21st September, 1918 “By the evening the leading brigade of the 53rd Division was still short of its final objectives along the Wadi el Fara road. This proved unimportant because the 10th Divisional Artillery had been shelling the road since midday and RAF bombers had been creating havoc on the defile even earlier.” (P391)

“The use of air photography to supplement ground (survey) work seems to have been relatively more extensive in this theatre than in others, and in 1918 alone nearly 16,000 photographs were taken by the RFC and RAF.” (P413)

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KK View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote KK Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Mar 2011 at 17:11
deceauville track is a type of narrow gauge railway.
l say "is "because theres still some of it operating in France somewhere
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote NickForder Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 Jun 2011 at 18:09
Turkish Railways
The Turks built a standard gauge, single track, line from the Bosphorous through Aisa Minor to Muslimiya Junction, where a branch left for Mespot while the main line continued south in to Syria as far as Riyaq.
 
This was not a continuous line, for there were two uncompleted sections : through the Taurus and Amanus mountains. These demanded detours by road.
 
At Riyag the line became narrow gauge and forked. One fork went across the mountains to Beruit, while the main line continued to Damascus and Deraa.
 
At Deraa the line forked again. One fork whent to El Aija (near Beersheba), and then connected to Haifa, Jersusalem and Jaffa. The other fork was the so-called Hedjaz or Pilgrim line, proceeding via Arabia to Medina.
 
The railway had limited rolling stock. There was sparse local timber and attempts to burn dried camel dung instead were of limited success.
 
50 tons of wood (the locos were wood burning) and 4 water trucks were needed to fuel the 15 engines necessary to work eacjh normal tarin of 13 vehicles in either direction between Damascus and Medina. Typically, it took 5 days to complete the 850 mile journey.
 
The light construction of the railway track used limited speeds to around 10 mph, about the same speed as a tramp steamer, and thus making the railway a poor second choice to sea transport.
 
Given this, one has to wonder at the importance accorded to Lawrence's activities in blowing up the railway.
 
However, the German High Command believed that it was of high importance to maintain rail communications through the Eastern Littoral of the Red Sea. Thus the value in blowing up the railway wa snot so much in disrupting troop and munitions movement as continuing to tie down large numbers of Turkish troops in static defences along the railway. All of these had to be kep tsupplied by the railway.
 
Despite the importance the German placed on railway lines the tack from Berlin, via Serbia, to Turkey was no operational until 16 January 1916, and even then the fuel needed for the locos meant that so many coal trains had to be operated that the cpacity to carry troops and munitions was strictly limited.
 
In October 1915 the Syrian rail system could move no more than 1000 - 1500 trooops daily. A battalion took 20-30 days to travel from Constantinople to Beersheba.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Ian Burns Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 Jun 2011 at 23:03
"The light construction of the railway track used limited speeds to around 10 mph, about the same speed as a tramp steamer, and thus making the railway a poor second choice to sea transport."
 
If the Turks had any tramp steamers available, and if they could sail unmolested in a sea dominated by the French and British navies.
Local sea transport along the coast was limited to small sailing craft - eg; see Ben-my-Chree, pp 166,167 - which could be beached in an emergency.  Even so these were frequently captured or sunk.
Thus even a semi decrepit railway system was worth disrupting, as the alternate 'road' transport was even slower and more unreliable.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote NickForder Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 Jun 2011 at 08:24
Hence the importance of the British and French navies in this theatre, and the possibility of seaborne landings on the coast, which was one of the things that the Arabs were hoping for.
 
Although the development and operations of railways seems to have been key for military operations in the area during the Great War (just as the coast road was regarded as all-important in WW2), it was of limited capacity and there seems to have been little appreciation of this fact by staff officers assessing the nature of the Turkish threat to the Suez Canal.
 
The operation and protection of the Turkish railway, arguably essential because, as you point out the Turks had no viable alternative, was a serious drain on Turkish resources. The disruption of operations, as opposed to a level of destruction that would cause the Turks to abandon it, worked in the favour of the Allies. I think that this is an important point when assessing the role of Lawrence.
 
What isn't clear to me if why the Turkish railway was of such poor quality as it had been designed and constructed by the Germans. And not just inthe Hedjaz. The Germans had gained sole rights to build a rail line from Anatolia to Baghdad, and on to Basra. They also had the sole rights to dig for 'ancient treaures' in the Ottoman Middle East Empire. This allowed the Germans to undertake significant survey work, collect intelligence and establish a spy network.
 
It appears to be German influence that made defence and continued operation of the Turkish railway so important.
 
Presumably there was a reluctance by the Germans to help develop coastal trade as this would have led to direct conflict with the Royal Navy.
 
 
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote NickForder Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 Jun 2011 at 13:52

Jaffa–Jerusalem railway

The Jaffa–Jerusalem railway, funded by Chemin de Fer Ottoman de Jaffa à Jérusalem et Prolongements, was the first railway to be built in Palestine. Construction started on 31 March 1890 and the line opened on 26 September 1892. It was built to 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) with many tight curves and a ruling gradient of 2% (1 in 50). The eastern part of the line, in the Judean hills between Dayr Aban and Jerusalem, is particularly steep and winding. The "J&J"'s first locomotives were a fleet of five 2-6-0 Mogul tender locomotives from Baldwin in the USA, delivered in 1890 and 1892. On a number of occasions the Baldwins' six-coupled driving wheels either spread the rails or became derailed on tight curves. As traffic increased the J&J obtained four 0-4-4-0 Mallet articulated locomotives from Borsig in Germany, delivered between 1904 and 1914. The Mallets were intended to deliver greater tractive effort without spreading the rails, but they too suffered a number of derailments.

In 1915, during World War I, the Ottoman Army widened the track gauge between Lydda and Jerusalem to 1,050 mm (3 ft 5 13 in) to allow through running with the Hejaz Railway and removed the track between Lydda and Jaffa for military use elsewhere.

Jezreel Valley railway

This was a branch of the Hejaz Railway between Haifa and Daraa in southern Syria where it joined the Hejaz main line. Construction began at Haifa in 1902 and was completed at Daraa in 1905. The Jezreel Valley line, like the Hejaz main line, was built to 1,050 mm (3 ft 5 13 in). Construction of a branch from Afula on the Jezreel Valley line to Jerusalem had begun in 1908 and reached Nablus by the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.

Ottoman military railways

The Ottoman Empire needed to supply its forces holding the border of Palestine against British and Empire forces in Egypt. The planned railway from Nablus through hilly country to Jerusalem could not be completed in time, so from 1915 the German railway engineer Heinrich August Meißner built a 1,050 mm (3 ft 5 13 in) line westwards from Massoudieh to Tulkarm. From Tulkarm the terrain became much easier and a a line was built northwards to Hadera and southwards to Lydda where it joined the J&J and later became known as the Eastern Railway. It used the widened J&J track (see above) as far as Wadi Surar where it branched southwards towards the Ottoman front line. By October 1915 the line was operational as far south as Beersheba. A branch was also built from Et Tine just south of Wadi Surar to Deir Seneid, where it branched again to Beit Hanoun and Huj near Gaza. The Ottomans also extended the railway to Beersheba into Sinai as far as Kusseima.

Sinai Military Railway

The Egyptian Expeditionary Force of British and British Empire units was formed in March 1916. It began building the standard gauge Sinai Military Railway from El Kantara on the Suez Canal across Sinai, reaching Romani by May 1916, El Arish in January 1917  and Rafah in March 1917.

The SMR borrowed rolling stock and 70 locomotives from Egyptian State Railways including 20 Robert Stephenson & Co. 0-6-0s, 20 Baldwin 2-6-0s and 15 Baldwin 4-4-0s. The SMR also acquired seven small shunting locomotives: two 0-6-0ST saddle tanks built in 1900 and 1902 that J. Aird & Co. had been using on a civil engineering project in Egypt (probably the Assiut Barrage), four 0-6-0ST's that had been built in 1917 for the Inland Waterways and Docks Department in Britain and one German 0-6-0WT that was part of the cargo of a merchant ship that the Royal Navy captured in 1914. The German locomotive had been built by Hanomag in Hanover in 1913 and all the saddle tanks had been built by Manning Wardle in Leeds, England.

Palestine Military Railway

The EEF captured Beersheba in October 1917 and Gaza in November. EEF engineers extended the SMR to Deir Seneid by the end of November 1917 and a branch to Beersheba by May 1918. From Deir Seneid, EEF engineers worked northwards converting the Ottoman tracks to standard gauge, reaching Lydda by February 1918, converting the branch to Jerusalem by June and continuing as far as Tulkarm on the Eastern Railway. From there they built the standard gauge line on a new route northwest to the coast and then northwards, reaching Haifa by the end of 1918.

As the EEF advanced into Palestine it formed a new organization, the Palestine Military Railway, to operate the various railways of various gauges that came under its control. Royal Engineers units restored Palestine's railways to working condition. The PMR laid a number of temporary 600 mm (1 ft 11 58 in) lines, including one between Lydda and Jaffa on the J&J trackbed from which the Ottoman army had removed the 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) track in 1915. The PMR borrowed several 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) locomotives to work the 1,050 mm (3 ft 5 13 in) tracks, which were a very tight fit.

For standard gauge use overseas the British Government requisitioned many London and North Western Railway "Coal Engine" 0-6-0s and 50 London and South Western Railway 395 Class 0-6-0s. The British Government sent 42 LNWR and 36 LSWR locomotives to the PMR.

In 1918 the PMR ordered 50 new locomotives. British factories were fully occupied so the order was placed with Baldwin in the USA. They were 4-6-0s of a simple wartime design, widely used elsewhere including on railways in Belgium. The first ten were delivered to Palestine in April 1919. They had 5 ft 2 in (1,570 mm) driving wheels suitable for mixed traffic use.

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