THE LORRY GOES PIONEERING.
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Experiences of the A.S.C., M.T., in the German East African Campaign„
THE OPERATIONS in German East Africa., and particularly the part played in them by motor transport, have not had many chroniclers, and it seems to me, as one of those who had some part in the doings._ in that distant and particularly trying country, that if I give a bare insight into some of our early troubles and trials, the matter would be found interesting to readers of THE COMMERCIAL MOTOR.
The particular company of the A.S.C. M.T., to which I belonged landed at Kilintlini in November, 1915, whence we had to proceed inland by the Uganda railway to Voi, a distance of lel miles; Our first work there was to unload from trucks 84 Reo lorries in their cases. The jab was no small task, as may be gathered from the fact that we only had a band crane, which was not sufficiently strong to bear the whole weight of the lorry. We dismantled the cases on the railway trucks and slung the lorry, by means of our hand crane, lay the back axle only. This was then lifted clear of the railway truck floor, and swung round, a man sitting in the driving seat of -the lorry in order to steer the front wheels, so that it jumped the intervening space between the railway wagon and the plat form, his main task, of course, being to see that the " jumping " was done in such a manner as to cause the minimum amount of strain to the front axle, wheels and steering gear. Perhaps our greatest difficulty in connection with transport by railway of these motor, lorries was occasioned when we had to deal with the heavy vehicles, such as travelling workshops. At the base we had to get them on to railway trucks with immovable sides by means of cranes. This necessitated the building of slopes or ramps, not only outside of the railway trucks but also inside. At the military railway sidings of a temporary nature. cranes of any description were not often available, and one wonders afterwards how we really carried out our task at those places. Still, it was accomplished in every case, and the vehicles were always available for their work on the road.
Our first road work was the transport of pioneers _ .and native workers engaged in making two roads converging on to a strong position. These roads had to be hewn through thick jungle, and the average rate of progress was two miles per day. No attempt was made to metal the surface, simply because there was no metal with which to do it. All that could be done was to level it in places, so that the lorries did alltheir running on virgin soil ; bridges were unknown, of course, whilst steep sluits or drifts occurred with distressing frequency, and when we were on the move we frequently had to call for assistance in the pushing line from the natives who were engaged in road construction. As the surface became flattened down a bit—which, after all, was only a matter of a day or two—we were able to dispense with this assistance.
This job, which extended for a period of three weeks, was successfully accomplished, and the two roads completed, and the lorries did their share of the work with little or no trouble.
During the road-construction period, the lorries had to bring supplies, etc., from a depot several miles away, the pioneers and the workers had to beconveyed to the starting point for the day's work, then the vehicles had to return to camp for rations, which were ready-cooked, for the mid-day meal. After the mid-day meal had been consumed, the lorries would return again to the camp with the utensils, cad at the close of the day the whole working party would have to be fetched from the working site to the camp. As I said, the whole.of these operatiorts were carried out by the motor lorries without a hitch.
The lorries were then prepared for the subsequent military operations, which consisted of an advance through a waterless track of some 30 miles or more. For this purpose the lorries were fitted up with 400gallon tanks, each 4 ft. cube, and they then carried out their task of eonveying water, following up the advanee. This -work was regularly carried . on until the completion of the pipe lines, which followed up the advance with extreme rapidity. When the pipe line had been laid, the lorries were used for thelocal delivery of water to the various hospitals and units in camp. One gets some very curious experiences out in the wilds. Rain occasionally hampered our operations, and I call to mind at least one occasion when, the wheels of the vehicle being unable to obtain a grip on a steep drift of black cotton soil, we were forced to stay where we were for the night, and during the night we were favoured with the company of numerous zoological specimens. We none of us felt at all comfortable Nor am I quite sure that the animals were at all happy at the presence at their drinking place of strange objects which were entirely outside their ken. We were once bogged so badly in a treacherous piece of road as to necessitate unloading before we could move, and the unpleasant part of the circumstance was that we had stopped right close -to the body of a dead horse which was only a few yards away from us. It was then that we realised the uses and advantages of a gas mask.
The lorries themselves received a very severe test in the course of these operations. We had to take them through river beds acme with water and some without ; down rocky declines resembling rough-hewn stone steps with about a foot drop to each ; we have steered them down sandy banks with a gradient of 1
in 3, enjoying all the sensation of a crablike slide. (We discovered that it was always advisable on this sort of stunt to leave at least one lorry at the top Of the decline to tow the others up on the return journey.) We often had to cross wooden bridges which had been left by the Germans in a very dangerous condition. Where open spaces appeared on the track, we found that enamelled iron advertisement plates ea-me in quite useful for patching up. some of our conversions were exceedingly interesting. We converted Napiers, Vauxhalls, Reos and Fords into rail tractors for use on the central railway and ether lines, and it is interesting to note that they were all highly successful. In the Kilwa region during the rainy season the Ford light rail cars were particularly.successful ; there is no question about it that they undoubtedly saved the situation in respect of food supplies, for each would haul a net load of 5000 lb. We even used some of the engines of cars which, for the time being, were not required for road work, in order to convert ordinary boats into motor craft for towing supply barges for harbour work.
When one comes to consider that horses are unable to exist in this climate owing to the tsetse fly, horsesickness and lack of water, it will loe realized that the commercial-motor vehicle and the internal-combustion engine have been of -enormous value in this, the most difficult of all campaigns. In fact, it was generally admitted that, whenever the rains rendered it impassible to use motor transport, all military operations had to cease until the advent of finer weather, for, with the exception of the motor boat, all othei .means of transport were impracticable ; in fact, it seem edato me that the motor transport way was—and always will be—the only way in a country presenting the difficulties that are present in German East
Africa, henceforward, ho,.)e, to be described as•
British East Africa. T.A.B.