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Remembered Today:

Motor Vehicles in World War I


MartinS
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How widespread was the use of motor vehicles in World War I? The automobile industry was well established, and 4 wheel drive vehicles such as the American FWD Model B truck were available, yet the majority of units relied extensive on draft horses to transport their equipment and riding horses for short journeys. Would a normal infantry or artillery unit own or have access to motor vehicles, and if not why not?

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Martin,

Mass production of vehicles only came about because of WW1, As for the Model B Truck the UK purchased 18,000 during the course of the war the first contract placed in 1914 the first deliveries early 1915. The FWD version was mainly used as a gun tractor.

There in large numbers though not enough by far.

Hope that helps

Regards Charles

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Hi Martin

There's a book called Military Transport of World War 1 by C Ellis and D Bishop which has quite a lot of background info and sketches and details of vehicles. It was published in 1970 by Blandford Press Ltd, ISBN 0 7137 0701 1.

There's a copy for sale on eBay now - http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/Military-Transport-o...1QQcmdZViewItem

Hope this helps.

Best wishes

Phil

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A vehicle census was carried out of all vehicles currently in service or depot in the British forces as of 11/11/18

Figures as follows

48,175 motor cycles (including combinations)

43,187 cars and ambulances

66,352 trucks

1,293 steam wagons

6,121 tractors and other vehicles

This covered all theatres and all services. Considering the likely war time losses (unfortunately it appears that no record was kept) the total number of motorised vehicles used in WW1 must have been considerable.

There are no comparable figures for France but it is probably safe to say that they would probably not be dissimilar - in 1917 the French army determined that it had too many trucks and began disposing of the older models on the commercial market.

In 1918 Italy had some 36,000 vehicles of which 25,000 were trucks

The US had an enormous procurement program and by 1919 had amassed some 275,000 vehicles of all types , however many of these arrived too late for the war (and were in effect intended for the planned 1919 campaigns. Figures suggest that the number of vehicles entering service in WW1 was less than 20,000 (as the US forces had not built up to strength)

Comparable figures for the Germany army in 1918

5,400 motor cycles

12,000 cars

3,200 ambulances

25,000 trucks

16,000 trailers (tractors?)

There appear to be no comparable figures for AH but it would seem unlikely that these would be higher than Germany given the relatively small size of its motor industry (mainly based in Bohemia - later part of Czechoslovakia).

Russia as ever remains an enigma. Turkey did have some trucks, but mainly provided by Germany and AH.

It would thus appear that the Central Powers were relatively unmechanised compared to the Allies. Despite much propaganda much the same situation still applied in WW2 with Germans still heavily dependent on horse drawn transport for supply purpose

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Have to agree with David here. Much of that mass production took place just a few minutes away from where I live, at Parkside (and round about) in Coventry. The city was the home of the motor car, motorbike and cycle industry in the UK. In fact there were several dozen car manufacturers in Coventry before WW1. My maternal grandfather was an early automobile engineer.

TR

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From the census figures that Centurion gives in his post, while not all of these vehicles will have been produced in the UK presumably, the figures do suggest something approaching mass production.

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Whilst the figures I posted do indicate mass production such techniques had been introduced in the automobile (car) industry in the previous decade. Both America (Ford) and the UK (Morris) would claim the credit for this - in truth it was probaly an inevitable development made by both. The technique was already there to meet the demands of WW1. The invention of mass production techniques have been claimed for the US gun industry in the early years of the 19th century however the same techniques were developed in the late eighteenth century to enable the production of the British short land service musket in large numbers to meet the demands of the revolutioary wars and may in turn have been originally 'lifted' from the pin making industry.

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David,

Im not sure how you determine mass production, yes the conveyor belt was introduced into the production system. If the system was working would the number of vehicles be far greater. As the major powers required as many vehicles as possible, did any of the orders for vehicles reach completion.

Regards Charles

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Thanks for the replies all.

I am wondering why the majority of units continued to use horses as their primary means of transportation. Cheap cars were available, as were 4 wheel drives, but in the descriptions of "what was a batallion" and "what was an artillery brigade" on the 1914-1918.net site no mention is made of motorised transport. Wouldn't the C.O. have had a car for trips to HQ for example?

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Martin,

I suppose as now the choice is yours? would a CO used to having a horse and understanding how efficient they are across country, choose a car. Still pretty much a new concept, it did catch on though.

Regards charles

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One of the problems for units that did not specialise in transportation etc was a lack of trained drivers. In the days before synchromesh etc driving a truck was quite difficult (double de clutching etc). A batman who could drive as well was an asset to be held on to. Quite often a unit would be transported in vehicles not 'owned' by them (for example all those pictures of troops in buses), however unless specifically mechanised infantry units were usually supposed to march when de trained or de bussed.

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The invention of mass production techniques have been claimed for the US gun industry in the early years of the 19th century however the same techniques were developed in the late eighteenth century....

In the gun-making context in the early 19th-century one should distinguish between mass-production and manufacture with machine tools. It was in the latter category where America excelled, although it wouldn't surprise me if other nations were making similar advances along the same lines. In 1840 we achieved total interchangeability between specimens of a model of musket made at U.S. Army Armories from both Harpers Ferry and at Springfield. That's not much of an accomplishment now, it was really something then. No more filing and fitting by hand craftsmen in Birmingham was necessary after that, although they did that throughout our Civil War making rifles by hand and the bespoke shotgun makers in Britain still do it today.

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Pete

I think you have provided a description of mass production - pre made components, to fixed and tolerenced product specification (often bought in), delivered, and then assembled by (relatively) unskilled workers. That was what the motor industry (and infact other industries did) well before WWi. Craftsman production implies individual component construction with as necessary modification to complete the final product by skilled craftsmen.

David

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In 1840 we achieved total interchangeability between specimens of a model of musket made at U.S. Army Armories from both Harpers Ferry and at Springfield. That's not much of an accomplishment now, it was really something then. No more filing and fitting by hand craftsmen in Birmingham was necessary after that,

This had already been achieved in the production of the British Short Land Service musket least 25 years before (see my earlier posting). A major programme of sub contracting out component manufacture was necessary to achieve volume production and bits made by any work shop had to fit corresponding parts made by any other. This was mass production - the parts from one musket perforce would therefore fit any other.The example given above is often quoted as proof that the US invented mass production but it aint necessarily so.

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One of the drawbacks of the motor car for long after the war was the unreliability and the lack of resources, including skilled mechanics, for their repair. Every driver or car owner until the 2nd world war was expected to have a fair knowledge of car repair. Punctures were common. This was not helped by country roads which were made for horse transport. Every drop of petrol would have to be provided by the users. You can't live off the land for a day or two until the supply train catches up with you.

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According to Harold L. Blackmore's British Military Firearms, 1650-1850:

"By the adoption [in 1797] of the India Pattern musket the Ordnance introduced what is often called the 3rd Model Brown Bess, a misleading classification. In the normal way the authorities would never have countenanced the adoption of such an inferior quality firearm. As already mentioned, the gunmakers preferred making it to the regular model because it was easier to put together and was not subject to such high standards of view and proof. The brass furniture was of plainer pattern; the sideplate had no tail; the trigger guard was less elaborately moulded, and the shorter barrel enabled one rammer pipe to be discarded. Although the stock was shaped with the Brown Bess type of butt, the walnut was of the inferior heart and sap variety."

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During the period immediately before the war there was a vehicle subsidy scheme tailored around a handful of standard designs - you bought one, as I understand it, at a subsidised price but it was liable to be claimed for war service.

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I seriously doubt that British Ordnance and industry had mass-production and quality manufacturing all figured out during the Napoleonic wars. I suspect though that they got better at those kinds of things as the wars went on. Here is more from Blackmore's British Military Firearms:

"On June 17th [1806] Samuel Galton and some other Birmingham gunmakers complained to the Ordnance that, in consequence of the abolition of the Slave Trade, 'they were shut from the Market at which they had been enabled to dispose of the Barrels which were rejected by the Ordnance.' The Board were very sympathetic and agreed to increase the price of the India Pattern barrels by 10d., and allow an additional 4d. for better forging and filing, providing supplies were also increased."

People interested in engineering and manufacturing should read this book.

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I seriously doubt that British Ordnance and industry had mass-production and quality manufacturing all figured out during the Napoleonic wars.

No one mentioned quality and indeed the design of the SLSM was altered to improve manufacturing capability at the expense of quality. However there most definitely was a deliberate scheme to ensure that the parts could be made in sub contracted workshops, not always by qualified gun smiths and assembled by the gun makers. In order for this to work there had to be interchangeability and a system of quality control and inspection. The Birmingham gun makers had obviously tried to palm off barrels made for 'trade guns' often used for the purchase of slaves and these had been rejected by the system. No surprising as the trade guns were horribly dangerous and often burst. The example hover does show that the government was buying in barrels rather than whole guns - ie subcontracting manufacture of parts.

I do have an interest in manufacturing having been a very junior member of the team responsible for what was probably the world's first computerised production scheduling system.

Perhaps we ought to get back to vehicles in this thread though.

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Mass production started with making blocks for the Royal Navy in the 18C. The Continental System denied Britain access to continental gun makers in the Napoleonic War, which gave the impetus for mass produced gun making; it was also used for boring British cannon in the same war.

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The ASC started experiments with motorised transport in the early 1900s, around 1902. They had a seperate numbering system for their motorised staff, when seen alone "driver" refers to horses driver (petrol) was for motorised transport. Motorised vehicles were widespread: just think of the developments in tanks and armoured cars! Despite motor industries being established for barely 20 years, cars were aimed at the rich and were high tech. The limiting factor was the men to man the machines as much as the vehicles themselves. This was a horse baced economy: farm labourers could be expected to be found with knowledge of horses, it took specialists to know about engines. The demand for those specialists came from the air services as well as motorised transport. Btw don't forget the role played by motor buses.

Edited by per ardua per mare per terram
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The ASC started experiments with motorised transport in the early 1900s, around 1902.

1901 to be precise with vehicles selected in 1902 - I enclose drawing of one.

post-9885-1205693924.jpg

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  • 3 months later...
A vehicle census was carried out of all vehicles currently in service or depot in the British forces as of 11/11/18

Figures as follows

48,175 motor cycles (including combinations)

43,187 cars and ambulances

66,352 trucks

1,293 steam wagons

6,121 tractors and other vehicles

This covered all theatres and all services. Considering the likely war time losses (unfortunately it appears that no record was kept) the total number of motorised vehicles used in WW1 must have been considerable.

There are no comparable figures for France but it is probably safe to say that they would probably not be dissimilar - in 1917 the French army determined that it had too many trucks and began disposing of the older models on the commercial market.

In 1918 Italy had some 36,000 vehicles of which 25,000 were trucks

The US had an enormous procurement program and by 1919 had amassed some 275,000 vehicles of all types , however many of these arrived too late for the war (and were in effect intended for the planned 1919 campaigns. Figures suggest that the number of vehicles entering service in WW1 was less than 20,000 (as the US forces had not built up to strength)

Comparable figures for the Germany army in 1918

5,400 motor cycles

12,000 cars

3,200 ambulances

25,000 trucks

16,000 trailers (tractors?)

There appear to be no comparable figures for AH but it would seem unlikely that these would be higher than Germany given the relatively small size of its motor industry (mainly based in Bohemia - later part of Czechoslovakia).

Russia as ever remains an enigma. Turkey did have some trucks, but mainly provided by Germany and AH.

It would thus appear that the Central Powers were relatively unmechanised compared to the Allies. Despite much propaganda much the same situation still applied in WW2 with Germans still heavily dependent on horse drawn transport for supply purpose

Fascinating detail.

I'd be very interested to know your sources for these figures, as I'm researching the use of motorcycles in the war.

Michael

undefined

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There is a sketch of a motor lorry in east africa in my galleries. my grandfather was in 570 company and 648 comapany MT ASC in East Africa around Voi, Taveta and Kilwa, and trucks seemed to be a normal part of logistics.

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