16mm Projects

Allied Narrow Gauge Bogie Wagons: Alan Poxon


When the War Department Light Railway (WDLR) was formed in 1916, orders for 1,000 four-wheel wagons were placed with a number of manufacturers. In the light of experience quickly gained on the Western Front, replacement bogie wagons were designed that were better suited to the lightly laid track and which had twice the load capacity of the original four-wheel wagons.

WDLR Class C bogie wagon designed for use on light track. This Red Star wooden model carries a full load of ammunition boxes.

These bogie wagons, known as Class C wagons, offered a number of advantages over four-wheel wagons. The four axles, carried in two separate bogies, reduced the individual axle loading and allowed greater weight to be carried in each wagon. The bogies increased the stability of the wagons on straight, curved and irregularly laid track. Bogies provided shock absorption, and a reduction of outward forces on curves, minimising damage to the lightly laid track.

WDLR Class D wagon built for use on heavier track. This Swift 16 resin model carries a heavy load of shells over each bogie with lighter ammunition and rifle boxes in the space between.

The demand for increased tonnages of shells, and all manner of other essential supplies for the trenches, led the WDLR to adopt heavier track and, consequently, larger bogie wagons were designed and built. These wagons, known as Class D wagons, had sturdy steel underframes with wooden, drop-side bodies and they soon became the workhorse of the British narrow gauge trench railways. Some 2,800 of these Class D bogie wagons were ordered with a load capacity of 10 tons.

French plate-forme wagon loaded with a 150 mm de Bange howitzer.

The model is designed and 3d printed by Roy Plum.

Wartime shortages of raw materials meant that a number were built with wooden underframes and some were even built with wooden bogies. The bogies extended beyond the end of the body to provide somewhere for the crew to stand while operating the vertical handwheel that applied the brakes to all four wheels on each bogie.By contrast, the French trench railways were already equipped with all-steel bogie wagons at the start of the Great War in 1914. The bogies had been patented as part of the Système Pèchot in 1886 by Colonel d’Artillerie Prosper Pèchot. The Système Pèchot provided a range of rolling stock principally to move large artillery pieces but the shallow well wagon, mounted on a pair of two-axle bogies, proved to be invaluable in supplying the trenches.

These plate-forme wagons had a capacity of 8.8 tons and were equipped with sixteen removable stanchions in place of bodywork to contain the load. The low overall height of the plate-forme was seen as key to the versatility of the bogie wagons, allowing them to easily accommodate a wide variety of loads. The Pèchot bogies had side pockets in each corner that could accommodate the steel stanchions to enable troops to manhandle the wagon back on to the track in the event of derailment. As with the British Class D wagon, a vertical handwheel was provided at the outer end of each bogie that applied the brakes to all four wheels.

The crew had to stand on the end of the plate-forme to operate the handwheel and two small handrails were provided at each end. The handwheel assembly could be removed to avoid damage and the brakes operated instead from ground level by a ratchet lever on the side of each bogie.

American gondola loaded with a British 18 pounder field gun illustrating the larger dimensions of the wagon. The wooden kit was produced by Red Star.

When the Americans entered the war in 1917, they brought their own version of a narrow gauge bogie wagon to the Western Front. Some 1,555 of these gondolas were ordered, from a number of manufacturers, incorporating a steel underframe and a wooden, drop-side body. As with the WDLR Class D wagon, the versatility of the 9.8 ton load capacity design of the gondolas led them to become the mainstay of logistical support for the American Expeditionary Force (AEF).

The bogies of these gondolas did not extend beyond the bodywork, however, a removable handwheel assembly was provided at each end to operate the brakes on the bogies. The crew operating the brake handwheel had to balance as best they could on the wagon and load. The bodywork was slightly longer and wider than the Class D wagon and at least one American commander voiced concern about the difficulty troops encountered in re-railing the often over-loaded wagons.

As with the WDLR wagon, variants were built using the same bogies, and the same underframe where possible, for different types of load; including a flatcar and a (water) tank car. Collectively the American bogie wagons were known to many British troops as Pershing wagons, named after General John J. Pershing, the commander of the AEF. Examples of Class D, plate-forme and gondola bogie wagons inevitably found there way into civilian use after the war and examples of each type exist today in preservation.

February 2021

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