On the Road to Victory...


...The Rise of Motor Transport with the BEF on the Western Front, from Pen and Sword


Title: On the Road to Victory

Author: Michael Harrison

Publisher: Pen and Sword Books

ISBN: 978-1-52675-043-3

I suspect many of those interested in the history of WW1 will know of the use of London Buses to help transport troops of the BEF on the Western Front. I am not so sure that we are all as familiar with the number of trucks that were used in support of the BEF as well. Railways and horse transport, including the narrow gauge system are well known but this book is quite eye-opening for many I will guess at just how much motor transport was also in use.
The story starts with a chapter on Street Hygiene and Traffic Congestion, talking in fact about London, the huge number of horses in use in the city hauling busses, wagons etc and the vast volume of manure they produced which was then spread far and wide by the multitude of wagon wheels that then spread it around. How Londoners must have been so pleased at the idea of horseless carriages to remove the problem and reduce the spread of disease. Illness, filth, congestion...sound familiar? The value of motor transport was clear to the military from an early time, but cost and reliability were an issue. Hence it explains the value of the 'Subsidy' scheme for lorries. In the total of 11 chapters, plus 4 more useful appendices, the author makes an excellent job of explaining the operation of motor transport in Europe during WW1. As well as the various manufacturers, it also goes into detail on the arrangements for one way systems to preserve the roads themselves, how they were built and maintained. To keep order so the Military Police, the Provost Marshals, who stood often at exposed junctions, at the mercy of enemy shellfire. The trucks had mostly solid tyres and these had their own problems. It was left to motor-cycles to use pneumatic tyres, but with so many horses in use, the dangers of nails meant lots of punctures, one reason for leaving solid tyres on trucks. Add the issues around vehicle maintenance and even finding experienced drivers it is all a very interesting insight into the early use of motor transport and the growth/experience as cargos were so much greater than ever dealt with before, as the numbers of troops were in the millions. The men and their horses all needed feeding, while the volume of artillery ammunition consumed was in the many millions even for a single offensive.
WW1 was a period of great technological change and the British Army was one of the front runners who made such good use of the latest logistic systems. A very interesting read on a rather unsung element of the BEF in WW1 on the Western Front.

Thanks to Pen & Sword for our review copy.