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Railways and the Salonika Campaign


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Whilst transcribing the war diary for 801st MT Coy ASC there were a lot of references to railways particularly the light rail Decauville lines (see separate thread). At the time a fellow GWF member Zarta (aka Yannis Zartaloodes) kindly sent me a copy of an article that appeared in the September 1920 edition of the Railway Gazette entitled ‘Railways and the Salonika Campaign’. I have finally got around to reading the article and I thought forum members might be interested in an overview of the contents.

It starts with a description of the general situation of the campaign and the railways operating when the allies first arrived in the autumn of 1915.

There were three standard gauge railways that radiate form Salonika; heading due north was the ‘Jonction Salonique Conatantinople (J.S.C.)’, north west the Oriental line to Belgrade (C.O.) and West Salonika Monastir (S.M.). Due to the poor state of the roads, railways were the only means of rapid transport.

As more allied troops arrived in the spring of 1916 it became apparent that there was an acute shortage of sidings, yards and rolling stock, and the Greek Governments running of the railways was seen as ‘unsatisfactory’.

Ref: Railway Gazette September 1920 Page 110 - Railways and the Salonika Campaign.

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The allies take over the Railways.

In June 1916 the French take over running of the railways and by September a Joint commission had been set up to run the three main lines, with a French director and British Director. The French would run the C.O. line and the S.M. line (supporting the western sector of the front) while the British would run the J.S.C. (supporting the eastern sector of the front).

The railway resources, locos and rolling stock, were pooled, to increase capacity the British imported 30 engines and 1900 wagons, the French , Italians and Serbs 60 engines and 500 wagons (the Serbian engines came from the United States).

The J.S.C. line could only be operated as far as Kilindir, from there on, the line was in no mans land, running past the southern shore of Lake Doiran through the valley between the Krusha and Blaga Planina mountains, then down the Struma valley.

IWM images Q15151 to Q15153 appear to show reconstruction of a bridge to recover wagons from no mans land.

Ref: Railway Gazette September 1920 Page 110 - Railways and the Salonika Campaign.

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Improvements begin

At the end of 1916 2 new piers, Gravesend and Marsh, were built at Salonika, stores could now be discharged faster than they could be moved. Each department of the Army was responsible for the discharge of its own stores. The RE built their own Decauville line running for 5km to the Base park.

Quay space at Salonika was confined; sidings, shunting and rolling stock were limited. Most stores were being moved by motor lorry, this was expensive in fuel and maintenance, due to the poor state of the roads.

600 ‘Dead buffered’ wagons (previously taken out of service in England) were imported and although in poor condition proved suitable for the short journeys from the Quay to the depots. The main supply depots are located at Lembet and Dudular.

Ref: Railway Gazette 1920 Page 111 - Railways and the Salonika Campaign.

The arrival of the first DB wagons in Jan 1917 along with ‘extensions at Dudular’ presumably to sidings etc. result in switch of traffic from road to rail. Nine depots are instituted at Dudular; North Ammunition, South Ammunition, E.F.C., Ordnance, main supply, railway stores, ambulance train, RE base and advanced parks. Stores are moved on by up-country rail services.

A new railway construction company was formed locally as 267 Co R.E. (according to the long long trail, the 117th and 273rd Railway construction companies and 2 light rail operating companies, the 107th and 133rd, were in the Salonika theatre).

Ref: Railway Gazette September1920 Page 112 - Railways and the Salonika Campaign.

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Railway construction

A 10 km standard gauge line was built from the J.S.C. at Dudular to Lembet, steep gradients and tight bends mean the line is dangerous to operate, but it soon becomes part of the main supply route for the Struma valley. Supplies are transported by rail from Salonika to Dudular and on to Lembet, where Motor lorries take over on the Seres road to the main supply dump at Likovan.

IWM images Q15149 Q15150

Due to the poor state of the Seres road, lorries can only get 35 miles (56.3k) along the road (past Likovan 43k and just past Lahana at 52.5k) the remaining 20 miles (32.1k) to the Struma valley is completed by Horse transport.

According to the article, five hundred Lorries a day were utilised to support 3 divisions and a mounted Brigade in the Struma Valley.

To relieve the traffic on the Seres road, a new standard gauge line was built from Salamanli on the JSC line to Guvesne, about 25 Kilometres from Salonika.

Ref: Railway Gazette September 1920 Page 113 - Railways and the Salonika Campaign.

The construction of the Guvesne line started at the end of 1916 and was complete by the end of March 1917, it was relatively straight forward to build, the only obstacle being the river Galiko that required the construction of a Trestle bridge and there were some steep gradients of 1 in 60. New sidings and depots were built at Guvesne for ASC, Ordnance and R.E.

IWM Images Q15123 to Q15132

Two branch lines were added to the Guvesne line; one to a quarry at Devi Kran for road stone and one to a potato farm at Arakli. A light rail line was built from the Seres road between Likovan and Mirova to supply troops in the Mirova area. In the summer of 1917 a survey was carried for a possible line from Guvesne through Mirova to Tureka, but this was never built.

Ref: Railway Gazette September 1920 Page 114 - Railways and the Salonika Campaign

Note: in the war diary of my Grandfathers MT company there are reference to Motor traffic at least as far as K72 in the summer of 1917.

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Alternative Supply Route

Some supplies were brought in via ship to Stavros at the mouth of Struma. In 1916 construction on a light rail line from Stavros to Tasli began. A double line was proposed from Stavros to Chai Aghazi with a view to converting to Standard gauge in the future. The plan was to connect the Stavros line to the J.S.C. in the Struma valley near Angista, to support a future advance into Bulgaria.

On the 10th February 1917 the Stavros Chai Aghazi light rail line was complete and 3 months later the line had reached Tasli.

Ref: Railway Gazette September 1920 Page 114 - Railways and the Salonika Campaign

IWM Image Q15160 wash out Athens main line Q15173

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Light railways

To supplement the limited standard gauge routes a number of light rail (Decauville) branch lines were constructed. In 1916 a light rail branch line was built from Sarigol on the JSC line to Snevce in the Krusha Mountains, but the route is unreliable with frequent break downs and wash outs. The roads in the Krusha range are unsuitable for heavy traffic so the Snevce branch is the only means of supplying troops in this sector, in October 1917 the line is re-laid and reliability improves.

Also in 1917 work starts on a branch off the Snevce light rail line from Gramatna through Kushova to Rajanova, the new line opened in January 1918. In February 1918 an extension to the Snevce line as far as Karamudli is opened.

Ref: Railway Gazette September 1920 Page 114 - Railways and the Salonika Campaign.

The Guvesne to Stavros light railway is completed April 1918 and as a consequence the sea traffic to Stavros declines, and this new line becomes a major supply route for the southern end of the Struma Valley.

A light rail branch is built on the standard gauge Plati Athens line west of Salonika from Ekaterina to a coal (lignite) mine at Dranista.

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Supply via Greek Mainland

To avoid the perils of the sea supply route, particularly the U boat threat, alternative supply routes through Greek mainland were investigated. Work began on establishment of a road route from Bralo on the Salonika to Athens railway line to the port of Itea, a short sea crossing from Italy. Rest camps were set up at either end of Bralo Itea route and it opened for traffic in October 1917. In March 1918 a railway survey was carried out for the Bralo Itea route but it was deemed too expensive. According to the Railway Gazette article, in the summer months of 1918 there were 3 leave trains per week running from Salonika to Bralo, each train accommodating up to 60 officers and 700 ORs.

Ref: Railway Gazette September 1920 Page 116 - Railways and the Salonika Campaign.

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Railway working

Practical working on the main lines used the well-established ‘line clear and block system’. The following description of Block system from is from Wikipedia:

‘A train approaching a section is offered by a signalman to his counterpart at the next signal box. If the section is clear, the latter accepts the train, and the first signalman may clear his signals to give permission for the train to enter the section. This communication traditionally takes place by bell codes and status indications transmitted over a simple wire circuit between signalmen using a device called a block instrument, although some contemporary block working is operated wirelessly. This process is repeated for every block section a train passes through.’

Unfortunately there are no details of how the light rail lines were operated, but telephones and a simple token system may have been used.

The article contains details of signalling systems, freight and troop train services, and central traffic control systems and line plans with discs for trains.

Ref: Railway Gazette September 1920 Page 116 - Railways and the Salonika Campaign

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Details of locomotive types.

Numbers 1-16 J.S.C. 0-6-0 “B” Class

Numbers 01-07 Serbian (American) 2-6-2 “B” Class

Numbers 101-110 J.S.C. 4-6-0 “A” Class

Numbers 25-99 G.W.R. 0-6-0 “A” Class

L&S.W.R 0-6-0 Shunting

American Tank 0-6-0 Shunting

Light rail locomotives listed in the magazine article are as follows:

Hudson 0-6-0, Baldwin 4-6-0 and Petrol Tractors (type unspecified)

IWM Image Q15136 Hudson 0-6-0 and Baldwin 4-6-0- types on the Stavros line.

IWM image Q15135 shows a simplex locomotive on the Stavros line

A number of car chassis based tractors were also used.

Labour and personnel for day to day running and construction was supplied from the local Greek population supplemented by Egyptians and Turkish POWs.

The Greek workforce had a “Mediterranean” attitude to work, so the Directorate introduced a system of peace work, resulting in an almost doubling of productivity.

The operation of the railways, like all other parts of the BSF was adversely affected by sickness.

Ref: Railway Gazette September 1920 Page 117 - Railways and the Salonika Campaign

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Allied advance September 1918

The rapid advance in September 1918 stretched the supply lines considerably putting considerable strain on horse and motor transport, it also rendered the Likovan, Spancovo and Janesh light rail lines redundant and these were closed. The Bulgarian port of Dedeagatch started to be used for supplying troops in Bulgaria.

After the armistice

Reconstruction work on the J.S.C. line through the Struma valley commences and it opens to traffic January 1919.

IWM images Q15161 to Q15172

On November 20th 1918 a light railway from Vetrina on the J.S.C. line to Rupel is complete, connecting with a Bulgarian light railway from Rupel to the standard gauge line at Radomir, which in turn connected to Sofia.

A combined operation with the Greeks completes the light rail line from Tusli to Angista, finally linking Stavros with the J.S.C. line at Angista Station.

After the armistice the Allies became responsible for the Bulgarian railways, this proved difficult there was a shortage of coal and trained manpower. After the Turks surrendered, railways in Balkans were run from Constantinople.

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Very detailed and interesting accounts, I have also been reviewing the various IWM photographs you referenced, which again are extremely interesting.



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Thank you very much for your efforts in transcribing this. Did you know that the relevant copy of the Railway Gazette Special War Transportation Number, which details with the railways on each front, was recently reprinted. Curiously it doesn't deal well with the work of the GHQ BEF Directorate of Light Railways on the Western Front and the ROD's Metre Gauge work on that front.

Hardback: ISBN 978-0-9576789-0-3
Softback ISBN 978-0-9540878-9-0



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Thank you LF I enjoy reading your Military Motors thread too.

Thank you Hendo I will look up the Railway Gazette Special sounds interesting.

I have one more post to do here which covers what I have discovered about the light railways in Salonika, I will post it tomorrow morning.


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Light Railways

Below is a list of light railways I have found from various sources, along with some associated IWM images, it is not a definitive list and mainly covers the British sector of the front, if anyone knows of any more light railway lines please add them to the list.

Sarigol to Snevce line

From Sarigol on the JSC approx 23k north east through Kukus to Snevce in the Krusha Mountains 1916, relaid Oct 1917

Q15121 Snevce Light Railway Station and Supply Dump. Terminus of 60 cm. line from Sarigol on the Junction Salonique-Constantinople Line

Q15122 Relaying on Snevce Light Railway. Local Greek Civilian labour. The line was taken over from the French in the end of November 1916, and relayed with 33 lb. track by the end of October 1917.

Gramatna to Rajanova

Gramatna to Rajanova via Kushova, branch line off Sarigol to Snevce line opened Jan 1918 also in the Krusha Mountains.

Q15142 Pile Bridge, Rajanova Light Railway, over the Galiko River.

Q15145 Trestle Bridge, Rajanova Light Railway. The Gramatna-Rajanova line was commenced on September 24, 1917, and was completed and open for traffic by February 1st, 1918.

Q15146 Planica Light Railway Station. Roof not yet protected against sun by reeds, as in Q. 15128.

Q15148 Country round Rajanova and Snevce, northern termini of 60 cm. Light Railways. See Railway Gazette, 21st September 1920, page 115.

Snevce to Karamudli

Snevce to Karamudli 2k Snevce line extension opened Feb 1918

Janesh to Gugunci

Possibly the link line from the JSC at Janesh to Kalinova on the Standard gauge Karasouli and Kilindir Branch Railway

Spancovo to Oreovica

A short line to the north of Karasouli, serving the front line near the river Varda (not on the Karasouli map).


Likovan to Mirova

There was a railhead at K43 near Likovan where there were ASC and RE dumps among others. Mirova is approximately 8k north of Likovan.

Seres Road K70 to Gumus Dere

From Kilo 70 on the Seres Road through Orljak and Kopriva to Gumus Dere 14k along the west edge of the Struma Valley

Salonika quay to RE base park

RE line Salonika quay to base park

Guvesne to Stavros

Guvesne to Stavros light railway starts out as Stavros to Chai Ahazi extended to Tasli then completed as far as Guvesne April 1918 where it connected with the standard gauge branch line from Salamanli on the JSC line.

IWM images

Q15133 A party of Turkish prisoners of war engaged in the construction of a light railway line from the village of Stavros. Work on this line began in March 1917.

Q15134/5 Light Railway trestle bridge. Stavros Line.

Q15136 Types of locomotives, Stavros Line. 2" gauge. Hudson 0-6-0 and Baldwin 4-6-0- types.

Q15137 Temporary Supply Dump. Stavros Line.

Q15139 Inspection trip. Stavros Light Railway.

Q15141 A train of heavy guns. Stavros Light Railway.

Ekaterina to Dranista

Ekaterina Dranista line a light rail branch of the standard gauge Plati Athens line west of Salonika from Ekaterina to a coal (lignite) mine at Dranista.

Q15156 Ekaterini-Dranista Light Railway. Preparing formation. Turkish P/W labour. Line completed and opened for traffic 1st September 1918

Rates to Kalinova

I think the description on the IWM image maybe incorrect Mihalova is on the Janes to Kalinova line, Rates is several kilometres to the North East (Kilindir map)

Q14695 British light railway train near the village of Mihalova, travelling along the line between Rates and Kalinova, October 1916

More IWM light rail images

Q32120 British troops loading a light railway truck with water to save dump from catching fire. Salonika June 1916.

Q32645 British troops travelling on a Decauville light railway to join their units at the front, December 1916.

Q32762 Greek oxen hauling light railway trucks, Salonika, February, 1917.

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