Motor Vehicles in the 1914/18 War
I had exceptional experience of actually driving and testing nearly all types of vehicle of both the British and German armies, having served not only as a Workshops Officer of the 2nd Army H.Q. but also in the Paris Heavy Repair Shop and on two Government Commissions dealing with motor transport.
As Mr. Hussey has already given such a comprehensive list of vehicles in use during the war I will only add a few brief reminiscences to substantiate my claims.
After serving in the infantry I was given a commission in the R.A.S.C.-M.T. on 6th February, 1915, and was posted as Workshops Officer to the 2nd Army T.S.C., where in addition to our own lorries, mostly L.G.O.C. and Leylands, we were responsible for the repair and maintenance of all vehicles attached to Army H.Q. with the result that we had a great variety of vehicles through our workshops and consequently I had the opportunity of testing most makes of cars and lorries in use by the British Army.
Towards the end of the war I was posted to the 1st Heavy Repair Shops in the Renault factory at St. Denis, Paris, where all Army vehicles returned to base as beyond local repair were stripped and re-built. In all 6,899 vehicles were thus reconditioned so that I again had the opportunity of testing and passing out every imaginable machine, and believe me to take a different vehicle out each day varying from an F.W.D. truck or a 10-ton Peerless down to a model-T Ford through Paris traffic was a nerve-racking experience. After the Armistice, and what a night that was in Paris!, I convoyed 60 reconditioned lorries to Cologne to replace a company of Albions which had been burnt out as, owing to “Bull” requirements, the drivers had filled their fire extinguishers with petrol, for cleaning engines, with the result that when a fire started much fuel was added to the flame’s by unsuspecting helpers!
I was then posted to the “War Material and Automobile Commission” where I had the duty of rounding up, testing and valuing all the Germany Army vehicles handed over for reparations. For my personal transport on this job I requisitioned an immense sports Mercedes of I believe 140 x 160 and known locally as “The Yellow Peril.”
Among the lesser-known and more interesting machines tested were Protos and Porthos, Vulpcy, Laureley, Hannomag Dux, Zust, etc.
Incidentally, owing to scarcity of rubber many lorries had wooden blocks in place of tyres and bicycles had rows of coil springs around the rims!
However, finally, I returned home in 1920 bringing three interesting cars, a beautiful little Mathis, a Fiat with a huge golden eagle coat of arms painted on each door, to denote that it belonged to a German H.Q. Commander, and large army numbers on the bonnet (this caused much consternation and puzzlement to the Police when I drove it about England but being in uniform no questions were asked) and, thirdly, a Lion Peugeot which had run in the 1911 Grand Prix de Voiturette and had a “V” twin engine of no less than 20 x 280, and being geared 2¼ to 1 it fired about once for each telegraph post! yet was quite amenable to drive on our roads.
After the passing years and the Second World War I was again appointed on a commission overseas. This time the Control Commission to Germany and Austria, where as a Military Government Officer-Mechanical Engineer I again had the opportunity of trying out a variety of German cars of the period but as these are mostly well known now as Vintage types there is not much point in reporting on them.
On reflection I feel that, due to simplicity and directness of design and also to limited electric fillings, those ancient vehicles were in many ways better suited to active service conditions, where spares were few and far between, than the modern cars, as most parts could be made and vehicles could be almost re-built in a Field Workshop and even local material could so often be used. For instance; many times I have used spring leaves from French farm wagons to repair lorry springs and I have even replaced the ball bearing wheel hubs of a Peerless lorry with plain bearings turned down from hardwood hubs of a farm wagon. This kept the Peerless in service for some months until replacement ball bearings could be obtained. As such incidents can be related ad infinitum I had better call a halt.
Nunney. Angus C. M. Maitland.