Our Despatches from the Front (No. 29).
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Skilled Men as Infantry or Motor Drivers and Mechanics? More About the Establishment and Equipment of a Base Repair Depot.
These messages from Our Own Special Correspondents have been submitted to and censored by the Press Bureau, which does not object to their publication but takes no responsibility for the correctness of the statements contained therein.—ED.
M.T. Repair Depot, NM March, 1915.
The " Embusque."
The French military authorities have certain difficulties in connection with the Mechanical Transport Service unknown to their British allies. If a young Englishman joins the A.S.C., M.T., nobody thinks of suggesting that he is a coward for not having thrown in his lot with the Rifle Brigade or the Dragoon Guards. In France it is different. There is an impression that motor driving is the soft job of the army, and that every young man at the wheel of a car or a lorry is an " em_ busque."
Skilled Frenchmen in the Trenches.
Unfortunately, this impression is shared to a certain extent by the officers ; in some cases it amounts to a canviaion. For some time past numbers of the younger men in the motor transport service have been taken from this work and sent into the line regiments, and more are threatened with this transfer. This change would be entirely satisfactory if the substitutes possessed :skill and experience. It cannot be .claimed that they have the necessary qualificatidhs. In an emergency a week's training is sufficient to enable any intelligent man to ,• crank a motor, change speed and steer. But no man can become a first-class driver, capable of meeting and overcoming all difficulties, in such a short space of time. The men who are being taken off the lorries know this and, so far as that. is possible under military rule, resent being replaced by ex-gardeners, grocers, painters and labourers.
Cannot Get Transferred.
The younger men who joined the Army at the first call, and have been serving With infantry, artillery or cavalry, find it very difficult to obtain a transfer to the cliSs,of work for which they are best suited. Scores of examples could be given of men who are professional race drivers, chassis testers, heads of repair shops, or chauffeurs, who have applied again and again for a transfer from a line regiment or a depot to the motor transpbit service without any attention being paid to their request. The conditions under which
motor transports have to work are so arduous that it appears to be poor policy to lower the standard of the rank and file connected with it even to the advantage of the first line of troops. It is obvious to all intelligent observers that the rOla played by motor vehicles in the near future will be more important even than it has been in the past, and it would be unfortunate if the men in that service were not capable of obtaining the highest efficiency from the wonderfully fine material they now possess.
An interesting type of motor searchlight, possessing many new
features, has recently been supplied by the De Dion-Bouton Co. and placed in active service with the. French Army. These vehicles work in sections of six, of which one is the commanding officer's car, four are searchlights, and one is a store and travelling workshop. The chassis are eight-cylinder type, of 75 mm. by 130 mm. bore and stroke. -Unlike other Army searchlights, the electric equipment is entirely independent of the main motor.
A little distance behind the driver's seat there is a second bonnet housing a small four-cylinder motor and direct coupled dynamo. The radiator for this motor is at the rear of the car, and is one of tLe coiled-tube type as used on the Paris motorbuses. The electric searchlight is just ahead of the petrol-electric group, and between it and the driver's seat. This design has much to recommend it-: the chassis is of the standard type, while the electric equipment mounted on the platform body is perfectly accessible and of the simplest possible nature.
Equipment of Searchlight Cars.
Very careful thought has been given to the detail fittings of these cars. Four men are carried : the driver and another by his side, and one man on each side of the small motor, the men facing forward and having their .seats practically over the rear mudguards. Various lockers are built around the car for the storage of spares, tools, oil, petrol, etc. At the rear, on a sloping board below the starting handle of the small motor, are a shovel, spade, saw, hammer and coil of rope, the metal parts being protected by a leather sheath, which does not, however, prevent the tools being seized instantaneously. Everything is painted a dull grey. The cars are equipped with pneumatic tires, those on the rear wheels being twins.
The leading ear, carrying the officer in charge, has an electriclighting equipment, with a very powerful searchlight on the dash. It has oil lamps and acetylene headlights in addition. The other cars have oil lamps and acetylene searchlights only. Electricity only is not admitted at the front. In this case there would be danger, if electricity were available, of some driver showing a light when it was not desirable that he should do so. The body of the leading car is platform type with movable sides and canvas top carried on hoops. In addition to the officer and driver, this vehicle carries six men, A French Workshop Unit.
The repair shop, which brings up the rear, is similar in external appearance, but has only two men aboard, and has the interior of the body fitted with tools and electrical and mechanical spares. While the six are designed to work together as a section, the equipment of each car is so complete as to make it independent of all outside help if called upon to work independently. This searchlight section is manned lay marines.
. ME111•••1111111 16t1 March, 1915.
Selecting a Site.
: One of the principal difficulties encountered by the officer in charge of lorry repairs, on active service, is the lack of sufficient accommo c32
dation for the large number of vehicles which require handling at the same time. Therefore, when it was decided to open a depot. at the Base, the selection of a suitable site took some considerable time to settle. As a matter of fact, before deciding upon the ehaniier on the riverside, every factory of any importance in the surrounding districts was inspected by the officers of the A.S.C. who had been deputed to select a factory in which to commence operations.
France Getting Busier.
During the earlier stages of the war, it was an easy matter to secure the entire use of large factories which had been more or less deserted, but, following the sueees.ses of the Allies, industrial France is resuming a state of great activity, and every available atelier is being worked day and night on the manufacture of munitions of war. Hence, when it became known that the British Army intended to commence repairing motor vehicles on a hitherto unheard-of scale, the authorities of the city were somewhat taken by surprise, especially when, at the outset, a large plot of land, including a newly-made road, was requisitioned as a place whereon to store lorries awaiting repair. MEM 011111111111111111111111MMEN•111 1111•11111111•1111111111111111111111111M 41•111•111•11•11111•1•1111111111M 111111••••11111111111•11111111111111111111111111 IMIIIIIII=11111111••••=111111111 • 11•1111111•11•111•111111•••••• In a Shipbuilding Yard.
After many interviews and much debating it was decided to fix the headquarters of the Mechanical Transport Repair Works at the chantier, or shipbuilding yard, where for some time lorry repairs had been carried out on a small scale by a section of the Army Ordnance Corps. When the latter had handed over the premises, machinery and stores, large numbers of artificers were drafted from England and various parts of this country to bring the pewsonnel up to establishment strength, and the whole organization set to work with a view to securing the dutput demanded by the Director of Transport.
Having given briefly the outline of the commencement of the depot, the individual departments and the work done in each may now be briefly described.
A 50-lorry Erecting Shop.
The erecting shop, coming directly under the supervision of the officer in charge of lorry repairs, occupies the greater part of a large steel building originally intended for the erecting shop for marine engines, the number of lorries that can be accommodated here being about 50, leaving sufficient room for benches, stores and offices. Two lines of rails traverse the entire length of the shed and continue as far as the machine section situated at the extreme end of the yard, and are connected with a siding from the main line of the State Railway. On a large platform between the two lines, a store has been built where spare parts are stocked and issued under the supervision of a stores officer, who draws the spares from the M.T. stores in another part of the town. In passing, it may be mentioned that this main stores is the largest store of motor parts in the world, and is one of the most remarkable features of the A.S.C. organization. Thus at this depot unique facilities in the way of securing spares are available—an item of considerable importance.
The lorries are arranged in rows according to their make, and benches are placed conveniently in front, while the fitters are divided into gangs under N.C.O.'s who are familiar with the construction of the types represented. Directly a lorry arrives in the shop, the 0.i/c. Lorry Repairs makes an examination and fills in the repair detail card already attached to the lorry by the 0.i/c. Vehicles. In cases where the engine, gearbox or back axle requires complete overhaul, the unit is removed en bloc and handed over to the machine or unit shop for attention, otherwise the repairs are put in hand in the erecting shop.
As has been already mentioned, the lorries returned from the Front are in all conditions of disrepair ; frequently, before they can be passed out as fit, they have to be completely rebuilt. Springs and chassis members suffer considerably, and with certain types of machines one becomes accustomed to diagnose the faults automatically. Lorry A, for example, comes into the shop, and one is safe in stating the star pins of the differential will be sheared off ; in another make it is always the rear springs that have suffered. Again, a very little used subsidy lorry will come in, and will be immediately recognized as the type which shears its gearbox main drive. In many cases these particular faults have been recognized by the manufacturers, who are sending out strengthened replacements to fit in the machines now out here. 1111111111MINIMIM MOM Damage from Towing Chains.
Practically every lorry is , submitted to a complete overhaul before leaving the depot, and where certain details stand in need of improvement this is also done. The chassis are carefully examined for hidden cracks, as are the steel wheels, and it is frequently found that the former have become strained or otherwise damaged by injudicious fixing of towing chains when aiding disabled lorries. When the tires have become worn down, the wheels are sent to be re-tired, and no lorry is passed out as being fit unless the tires are good for at least 2000 miles.
It is singular to note that, although certain types of vehicles used by the Army are supposed to be standardized, the operation of transferring an engine, for instance, from one chassis to another necessitates quite an amount of work, such as the drawing of bolt holes and lining up, while the same remark applies equally to gearboxes. During the time they have spent on depot work, officers have become aware of the importance of standardization, which exists too frequently on paper only. Had all the spares sent out from the manufacturers been really made to fit, it is safe to say that many lorries could have been used which are now condemned as scrap, and which will he in company with shell-shattered remnants until the end of the war.
Of course, the mistake of using impressed lorries of ancient pattern becomes very evident at the base depot, as the difficulties in obtaining spares are very great, and partially completed machines have to wait for a couple of months while some damaged part is being supplied by the manufacturers.
Within certain limits, parts can be and are manufactured on the spot, but sometimes, during the rush of work that can be quickly completed, it is better to scrap one lorry than to prevent several from being finished quickly.