16mm Projects

Alan Poxon : Péchot & Bange

With more than a passing interest in modelling the British War Department Light Railway in 16 mm, it was only a matter of time before my attention turned to the French artillery railways of the Great War. Britain had been late to the party in using narrow gauge railways to supply the trenches and artillery positions on the Western Front but France, on the other hand, had already developed a system of using such light railways to transport artillery pieces and to support troops on the field.

When Colonel d’Artillerie Prosper Péchot was still a student officer in the military academy, France suffered defeat at the hands of the Prussians in 1870. Péchot came to realise that effective logistical support and mobility of the artillery in the field were deciding factors in modern warfare. By 1882, he had devised and patented a system of 600 mm gauge railways which, by 1888, had been developed in association with Decauville. who already had 400 mm & 500 mm gauge agricultural, quarry and light industrial railways in their product catalogue.

The French army started to adopt the système Péchot from 1906, after a series of field trials and demonstrations. The system was based on track panels with metal sleepers, in 5 m sections, that could be moved and laid quickly by four men. Prefabricated turntables were used extensively, in association with two, three or four axle bogies with a maximum permissible axle loading of 3.5 tonnes, to manoeuvre even the largest of artillery pieces into prepared positions. Motive power was provided by the troops, horses or Péchot-Bourdon locomotives whose design was based on the double-Fairlie.

A pair of two-axle bogies was used to make a well wagon that was the workhorse of the French military narrow gauge railways but what I wanted to model first were the combinations of bogies used to move the artillery pieces. A pair of two-axle bogies was arranged with a wooden platform to support a field gun such as the 155 mm de Bange, type Saint Chamond. Now this artillery piece itself is interesting on a number of counts. In 1872, Colonel d’Artillerie Charles Ragon de Bange invented the breech loading system for canons and went on to design a whole range of light and heavy artillery for the French army.

With the outbreak of hostilities in 1914, armament production was stepped up and factories such as snappily named Compagnie des Hauts-fourneaux, forges et aciéries de la Marine et des chemins de fer started to produce field guns including the 155 mm de Bange. Improvements were made here including the addition of a recoil limiting system on the gun carriage. The company was based in the town of Saint Chamond, where incidentally I was married, and additionally began to build tanks and naval guns, including the massive 340 mm canon.

As the war on the Western Front progressed, naval guns were deployed in on multi-axle standard gauge railway gun carriages and the French artillery experimented with moving some of these heavy canons into fixed positions using the Péchot system on narrow gauge track. An arragement of four 4-axle bogies was used to support the 48 tonne 340 mm calibre canon which could be turned surprisingly easily using the purpose built turntables. Additionally, the Péchot system had a range of cranes to load and unload the artillery pieces and ammunition.

Modelling these two complex gun carriages required a large number of 3d printed components to be designed and manufactured. I am very grateful to Roy Plum for taking on this task and for incorporating improvements as further research threw up new detail that needed to be included. Both gun carriages use IP Engineering 16 mm diameter steel wheels, although the 4-axle Péchot bogies will have the middle two axles with plastic, flangeless wheels. Wood, scribed to represent planking, was used for the load bed of the small gun carriage carrying the 155 mm de Bange field gun.

The larger gun carriage has two pairs of 4-axle Péchot bogies linked together by a bridge frame. These bridge frames, in turn, are joined by a central beam that also carries the gun supports above each bridge. A total of 16 axles mean that the gun carriage can accommodate the 48 tonne 340 mm canon and still be within the système Péchot maximum axle load of 3.5 tonne. Despite the model being 615 mm over buffers, and carrying a 450 mm long load, the gun carriage negotiated Faller 14 inch radius curves on my portable test track.

As far as I am aware, none of the gun carriages have survived into preservation. However, there are numerous examples of Péchot bogies to be seen, some are still attached to original platform wagons and water tankers. Modelling the French narrow gauge artillery railways opens up new ground because, as the Great War progressed, further specialised wagons, and a range of petrol locotracteurs, was developed which all lay a claim to be modelled next.

1-Péchot 2-axle bogies, support frame and wooden load bed for a field gun.

2-Smallest gun carriage in the système Péchot with a 155mm de Bange field gun complete with St Chamond hydraulic recoil brake.

3-Making a start on the largest gun carriage in the système Péchot.

4-Set of four 4-axle bogies complete with IP Engineering 16mm diameter wheels.

5-Bridge frames installed between two pairs of Péchot 4-axle bogies.

6-Completed 16-axle gun carriage with 340 mm canon.

7-Largest gun carriage in the WW1 French Artillery système Péchot.

8-Running trials behind double-headed Tin Turtles on a portable test track.







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