Railways in the Second World War
By Michael Foley
I am not a railwayman by any measure, although my brother and I built an extensive model railway back in the day. But what caught my curiosity was the cover of this book. It shows a small locomotive on a trailer behind a US Army tractor…… and on second looks one sees a landing craft in the background.
Yes, this was a locomotive being unloaded onto the Normandy beaches!
That one photo made me get the book and start to read it, and frankly, I wasn’t disappointed for doing so. It turns out to be a very interesting story, explaining the pre-war situation of the many British (private) railway companies, their services, materiel, locations, and strategies in great detail.
When WW2 erupted they all got drawn into government service, managed by the War Department. But manned by the civilian staff that ran them before the war.
There were four main railway companies (and a number of small ones) that competed before the war, and now had to work as one company to support the war effort.
Come to think of it, and after reading this book) that was quite an accomplishment! Not only did the railways run their civilian schedules as much as possible, carrying passengers and freight throughout the country, they now also had to carry 100’s of thousands of military personnel and lots of extra freight. And what to think of the special ‘ events’ such as the retreat of the British Army at Dunkirk and ferrying the saved soldiers from the coast into the country!
And later supporting the landings in Normandy and subsequent transport fo military supplies and weapons in France! (Which is why the locomotives from the cover photo were brought ashore).
The book explains in large detail how the various companies operated, and where. But also provides an abundance of detail on the locomotives, carriages, and transport cars used (and developed). Not to mention the additional production in the railway materiel factories of weaponry instead of trains! Some built tanks, others guns, others again spare parts.
It also shows how the Underground stations in London and Glasgow were used as air-raid shelters, with people sleeping on the tracks inside the tunnels and stations during Germany’s ‘London Blitz’ attacks.
But did you know the railways also had a large fleet of ships to connect to their train services? Most of these ships too became part of Britain’s fleet commanded by the War Department!
This book is a wonderful addition to those loving classic trains and all associated information, as well as for those interested in the history of WW2, focusing on an aspect of the war that is often forgotten, that of the millions of civilian individuals supporting the armed forces all over the world.
By Michael Foley
Imprint: Pen & Sword Transport
Illustrations: 100 black and white illustrations – integrated
Published: 18th November 2020
Interested ? Order your copy directly from the publisher, click here !