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A SHORT HISTORY OF THE COMMAND TRAIN OF C-IN-C BAOR/COMMANDER NORTHAG
BY
LT COL D W RONALD MCIT RCT

 
Introduction
 
The withdrawal from service of the "C-in-C's Train" as it is popularly known marks the end of an era in British military transportation. The carriage used by Lord Kitchener in his Sudan Relief Expedition may not have been the first British example of the use of a command train but from then to the present day such trains have been a feature of virtually every British campaign.
This last example, which has served the British forces since the end of World War 2 has many historical connections in its own right. Lacking any written history, it has also acquired more than its fair share of legends and myths. The aim of this article is to set out the true history of this train as far as it is known at present. It is based on the author's own research whilst he was Officer Commanding 79 Railway Squadron RCT in Monchengladbach with valuable assistance from the staff of the Railways Liaison Officer, Hannover and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Eisenbahn Geschichte (DGEG) - the German Railway Historical Association.This article covers the C-in-C's train in its final form and some of the earlier rolling stock associated with it.
 
Early History
 
During the 1920s, the Deutsche Reichsbahn Gesellschaft (DRG) - German State Railway Company - had developed various diesel railcars. Three distinct series emerged, light cars for branch line feeder services, medium speed cars for semi-fast services and special high speed cars for the crack inter-city connections. Of the last group, the best known were the world speed record breaking "Flying Hamburger" trains running from Berlin to Hamburg.
The middle range of diesel railcars were developed in the 1930s to form a standard series with diesel-electric and diesel-hydraulic transmissions. One class in the series was built in two groups, 30 rail cars ordered in 1935 numbered 137,241 to 137, 270 and orders for a further 20 numbered 137,442 to 137,461 followed in 1937. These cars had slow running 360 hp MAN power units instead of the high speed Maybach diesels fitted to most other railcars. This feature may well have aided the longevity of the C-in-C's train. Technical details of the VT 36.5 rail cars etc are at Annex A.
 
Mobilisation
 
On 1st September 1939, following the outbreak of war, the German forces requisitioned all the DRG1s diesel railcars. The cars were then individually converted to mobile command posts or VIP trains for use throughout Europe. At this stage the foresight of the DRG who had adopted a smaller, "universal" loading gauge for their standard railcars becomes apparent. In the 360 hp class, many of the second series had not yet been delivered on the outbreak of war so entered military service directly from their builders' works.
During the war, the car (No 137.447) which formed part of the final C-in-C's train became a command post. It had been delivered by the makers (Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg (MAN)) on 8th November 1940 but was never stationed at its allocated depot (Regensburg), being drafted directly to the Wehrmacht as "Fieldpost 21788". Exactly who used it is not known but it is understood to have been employed on the Eastern Front. Further research in the German military archives might reveal which formation used it but it is suggested it belonged to a corps commander. Surviving railway records show that between 1940 and 1948 it had only covered 37,000 kms and that it was in running order for a T2 inspection in December of that year.
Another car of interest, which passed into the hands of the British Forces at the end of the war was number 137.255 of the first series. This was built by the Düsseldorfer Waggonfabrik AG (DUWAG) in 1938 (number 11.858) and pre-war was stationed at Mainz and possibly Hannover. This vehicle spent the war years as a Mobile Command Post at the maintenance depot at Dessau, possibly as a reserve vehicle.
 
The Early Post-War Years
 
In 1945, much more of the German railway network had survived in running order than was generally publicised at the time. Many of the diesel railcars had survived intact and were taken over by the Allied Control Commission Germany who subsequently deployed them for their own use and that of the Occupation Forces. Notes dated 1951 suggest that in the British Zone the best trains went to the CCG and the Army took what remained!
Not all the railcars remained in the West, the Russians, and later the DDR took over those which were found in the East Zone and in 1973, six of the 360 hp class were still in service on the DR network. Rolling stock in the West was renumbered in 1947 so that the series received its more familiar numbers in class VT 36.5, VT stands for "Verbrennungstriebstoff Triebwagen" or internal combustion railcar and "3611 indicates the power rating. The disposal of certain numbers of the class is shown in Annex B.
 
Rebuilding, 1952-55
 
Whilst it was still possible to fund expenditure in Germany from reparations, much equipment was purchased on the German economy. One project was to rebuild one of the railcars now taken over by the British as a 2-car set. History is not yet clear on the exact sequence of events but it appears that the first stage was to rebuild a war damaged coach to form the railcar trailer. Only after a second rebuilding programme did the C-in-C's train appear in its final form.
Drawings dated as late as February 1954 show VT 36.513 still in its original form with the characteristic rounded ends and the saloon next to the motor compartment. At this date it was coupled to control/trailer car (Steuerwagen) VS 3626 which was fitted out substantially in its final form.
It would be relevant to digress here briefly to describe this control/trailer as it has been a great source of historical confusion. A drawing dated October 1952 entitled "Proposed Diesel and Trailer Set - Using Existing 360 HP Diesel No VT 36506 and Lightweight Trailer" * is the earliest evidence of this vehicle. *This also suggests that the railcar selected to form the new 2 car set was changed from 36.506 to 36.513 at a late stage in planning.
 
The drawing shows a non-control trailer coach with two compartments 9.00 and 6.00 metres long plus normal end vestibules end what could be a central lavatory compartment. It is in fact a typical lightweight suburban trailer coach. The drawing describes it as "Trailer 127679 (Ex Lithuanian Railways)" and notes "make of trailer MAN 1937" alas no MAN records of this vehicle survived the war so further verification will be difficult.  Further, it was the policy of the Deutsche Bundesbahn to remove all evidence (makers'/owners' plates etc) showing former ownership by East European government. For the present it  will suffice to discard all rumours of its former ownership by the President of Lithuania!
 
The trailer having been converted, there was now a problem with the railcar. Between them the Wehrmacht and BAOR had added considerably to the weight of the combined train. Hauling power was, perhaps thought to be insufficient as there is a little evidence of a plan to uprate the railcar to 400 hp. However this did not come to pass (a source of great regret to subsequent users) and a new rebuilding plan was adopted.
 
The new plan envisaged a complete rebuild of the railcar which was first of all modified by splicing an extra 2.00 m section into the frame immediately inboard of the power bogie unit. The interior layout was then reversed so that the saloon, re-equipped as a dining room was at the trailing end of the railcar whilst the remaining area was used for a kitchen and a total of four cabins for staff and officers (one 4 berth and two 2 berth). Later one of the 2 berth cabins was removed to allow a larger kitchen and pantry to be fitted.
 
This last major rebuilding was carried out by Maschinenfabrik  Aktiengesell­schaft Kiel (MaK) in 1955. The new train was now more or less permanently coupled using a standard UIC gangway. A driver's position was still fitted at the inner end of the railcar,  a small compartment which was generally used to store coal etc. The outer vestibule of the trailer coach was at this time also fitted with a control position.
 
The domestic services on the were arranged to allow all facilities to be used when static for lengthy periods. The railcar had its own 110 v DC supply for lighting drawn from a generator on the main engines whilst the train had normal railway type 24 v DC lighting from an axle driven dynamo and accumulator. The whole train was wired for 220 - 240 v DC supplied by land line when static. Heating was by hot water from coke stoves in each vehicle. On the power car a system of valves allowed the radiator cooling water to be diverted into the central heating system when the main engine was running. This arrangement  was a fruitful source of trouble as small quantities of engine oil or grease would enter the central heating system, blocking radiators and reducing the comfort level, especially in the dining saloon, to an unacceptable level. No
air conditioning was fitted, a major disadvantage in summer as the carriage ceilings were not well insulated. Circulating fans ameliorated conditions a little (and added greatly to the 1930s atmosphere of the interiors).
 
Some Tall Stories
 
Delivered from Kiel towards the end of 1955 (probably October), the 2 car set settled down to 21 years of almost unbroken service to a succession of 9 Commanders-in-Chiefs, beginning with General  Sir Richard Gale. As with any piece of specialised equipment  the C in-C's train has collected its full share of myths and tall stories. Many of these are unrepeatable, but of the true tales, a selection is given below.
 
The greatest worry of successive OCs of 79 Railway Squadron (or its antecedents) was a breakdown of the train. Happily most of these were trivial and the majority involved the domestic equipment and "optional extras".  However, on one occasion the train broke an axle whilst under way and was slightly derailed. Unfortunately the occasion was an official visit to the King of the Belgians and the distinguished party is alleged. to have arrived in Brussels riding a hastily summoned collection of rural Belgian taxis.
 
The maximum speed of 100 kms per hour was another point of controversy, especially in the train's later years when it was occasionally placed on the slow or goods line to allow normal passenger trains to pass. Its uphill performance was indeed a very stately progress, in fact recognised by the DB  who would provide a banking engine if the Erkrath - Hochdal incline was to be negotiated so as not to delay following trains. However, in general terms, the operation of the train was unobtrusively efficient, aided without any doubt by the devotion of the regular DB drivers. These men formed a great attachment to the train and were justifiably proud of it. Normally these men drove trains in the Köln district of the DB. Outside this area, local pilotmen would be attached for each journey, changing at the operating district boundaries. Thus it was that the train made up for its lack of speed by its endurance, making what were probably some of the longest ever non-stop runs in Germany (e.g. Sonthofen to Mainz).
 
The list of distinguished passengers is long and varied. Two visiting books are known to have existed recording the train's exploits, from Kiel Week to the BAOR Ski Meeting in Bavaria. Royalty have been carried on a number of occasions, including a famous journey with the Duke of Edinburgh, arranged at the shortest possible notice HRH's flying programme had to be cancelled.
 
Preparations for journeys conveying VIPs always held out the prospect of some disaster occurring. Usually these were caused by other people such as the worthy DB fitter who would invariably walk through the train at the last possible moment leaving a trail of black oily size 11 boot prints across the carpets. Occasionally however the military managed to score an "own goal". Of these the most spectacular was the effort of a very senior REME officer who had taken the notion of inspecting the train with his wife accompanying.
 
Following the wifely advice to look for dust in unlikely corners he stepped onto the lid of the C in C's personal WC. Only after the lid had collapsed leaving the officer with one foot in the pan was he told that it was indeed a very special seat, from out from London that day on DOE orders after being essential for use by visiting royalty! The inspection  then ended in confusion.

Throughout the life of the train, its mechanical and running equipment was maintained by the DB and overhauled according to German safety rules by authorised contractors. Maintenance presented few difficulties whilst other members of the class continued in DE service. All overhauls were carried out at the railway repair works at Opladen which ran a production line for over­hauling power units. With the withdrawal of all DB VT 36.5 railcars, this facility was lost. However, thanks to some far seeing planning, the last spare (overhauled) power unit was obtained from DB in 1967. From this time, overhauls were carried out by substituting this unit for the one on the train. Despite this, there were periods in the early 1970s when delays in repairs resulted in the train having to be locomotive hauled for a time.
 
Related Rolling Stock
 
To complete the picture and enable readers to make some comparisons, it is appropriate to mention some of the related special rolling stock in use in West Germany since the end of World War 2. Both the French and US Occupation Forces requisitioned trains in 1945. Little is known of the French rolling stock but it is assumed that the two forces between them employed the remaining railcars of class VT 36.5 which had been converted to saloons during the war and were still in running order. In the early 1950s the Americans were less inhibited than ourselves over the use of reparations funds and embarked upon a complete replacement programme for their European rolling stock. A total of 8 new-build diesel railcars were ordered, two magnificent 1000 hp high speed 2-car sets, three 2-car ambulance railcars and three independent railcars. During the years this fleet has been reduced as more and more VIP and casevac movement takes place by air. The ambulance railcars were withdrawn in 1975 whilst the VIP railcars have now been reduced to one 2-car set and one single car. In early 1974 one of the single cars was examined by the British forces as a possible replacement for the C-in-C's train. However, the reduced accommodation and the cost of overhauling the ex US Army unit precluded any further action.

The last VT 36.5 railcars in public service in Germany are a pair purchased by the privately owned  Georgsmarienhtitte Eisenbahn (GMEB) near Osnabrück in 1969. These cars (ex DB VT 36.509 and VT 36.519) are unlikely to survive for long as the GMEB no longer runs public passenger services.

Conclusion
 
This article does not claim to be an authoritative and final history of the C-in-C's train and related rolling stock. Due to the almost total absence of written records it has been pieced together from many sources. When former members of 79 Railway Squadron RCT or its predecessors in RE (Tn) read this, it is hoped they will come forward to add to the story.
In many ways it was inevitable that the train would be withdrawn. Throughout its working life it retained its war role as a Mobile Command Post, with static and mobile communications and facilities to convert the main saloon into an Operations Room. But maintaining it in running order to meet German requirements was becoming increasingly expensive and the movement costs were rising fast.

Technically the train was an anachronism, representing a past era of railway engineering. In an era of high speed trains, electrification and computer control it was already a museum piece. But it is a source of great satisfaction to all responsible for keeping it running over the years that in the end the C-in-C's train was withdrawn for financial reasons rather than technical failure.
 
ANNEX A - BRIEF TECHNICAL DETAILS OF C IN C BAOR's COMMAND TRAIN

 

RAILCAR (Triebwagen)
 
Built - MAN Nurnberg 1940 for DRG
Numbering -  On Delivery DRG 137.447, renumbered in 1947 by DB - VT 36.513 and in 1967 - 636.801-3 
 
Dimensions                                          As Built                       Rebuild 1955    
Length over Buffers                               22.350 m                        24.350 m    
Maximum width                                       3.008 m                          same     
Height to
roof                                          3.475 m                           same     
Maximum height                                      3.760 m                           same     
Bogie Centres                                        14.620 m                        16.230 m    
Bogies Wheelbase    a.  Power Bogie       3.600 m                           same      
                                b.  Trailing Bogie      3.000 m                           same     
Weight  in Working Order                        37.5  tonnes                   48.9  tonnes    
Wheel Arrangement                                                          BO'2'     
 
Power Unit        
Motor                                                    MAN 68.3 litre Water Cooled 16.7:1 Compression Ratio
Transmission                                          Voith Hydraulic Type T 45 KZ, 3 GW/K/K
Output                                                   360 hp at 870 rpm (265 kW)
Max Speed                                            100 km/hour 

TRAILER (Steuerwagen) (i.e. Control trailer)
 
Built - MAN 1937 as non-control trailer (Beiwagen) for Lithuanian Railways. 
 
Numbering       
 
                                        (1)  On  delivery  - not known     
                                        (2)  c.  1952 - 127.679*     
                                        (3)  1955   - VS 3626     
                                        (4)  1967  - 936801-1  

Dimensions
 
Length over buffers                        20.770 m
Maximum Width                              3.000 m
Height to roof                                  3.475 m
Bogie Centres                                14.300 m
Bogie Wheelbase                              3.00 m
Weight                                             28.0 Tonnes
 
* This is neither a DRG (pre-war) or BD (post war) number.
 
Note
 
The original control trailers to operate with the VT 36.5 railcars (pre-war numbering 145.154 to 145.183) do not match the above dimensions. However, the later series VS 145.348 to 350, 353 and 363 do have the same main dimensions. Identical designs could well have been supplied to Lithuania by MAN.
 
Documents relating to the above can be viewed by clicking here.