Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 7, Issue 8 (February 1, 1933)

“A Marvel of Construction.”

“A Marvel of Construction.”

To comprehend Germany's aims concerning their railroad systems, a good example may be found in the history of a rectangular piece of territory in the south-west corner of Prussia, supporting a population of nearly 1,000,000 souls. In 1910 this little corner of Prussia had 15 miles of railway to every 100 square miles of territory; in 1914 railway mileage in this area had increased to 28. Villages like Dumpelfeld, Ahrdorf, Hillesheim and the health resort of Gerolstein of comic opera fame, all of less than 1,300 inhabitants, were linked up by double track lines with little towns like Remagen, St. Vith and Andernach, with populations ranging from 1,500 to 9,000. Thus in four years, without any apparent industrial or commercial demand for it, traction increased to nearly twice its length—from 550 to 1,020 miles.

In June, 1914, a British “traveller” (this information was taken from a book printed in 1915, and such euphuisms were still used at that time) in Prussia commented as follows: “The knot of lines leading to the Belgian frontier is a marvel of construction for heavy, rapid transit, for no congestion could possibly arise in a case of a heavy flood of traffic going in various directions; and yet, to secure still more freedom, the line from Gerolstein to Pronsfeld has recently been doubled. Few of these lines cross the frontier; three of them lead to blind terminals within less than a day's march from it— the double line from Cologne via Stolberg to Weiwertz, the double line from Cologne via Jungerath and Weiwertz to St. Vith, and the double line from Remagen via Hillesheim and Pelm to Pronsfelt. The cost of the whole system, with its numerous bridges and multiple sidings, averages £22,000 to the mile. Another noticeable point is that provision exists everywhere at these new junctions and extensions for avoiding an up-line crossing a down-line on the level; the up-line is carried over the down-line by a bridge, involving long embankments on both sides and great expense.” The sequel to all this preparation came in 1914 when the Germans speedily invested Liege and Namur. It is plain that Germany had no intention of repeating the mistake of Russia, who lost the Russo-Japanese War through her inadequate railway system; though Russia had an overwhelming preponderance of “cannon fodder,” she was defeated for the sole reason that they could only be transported by the wholly inefficient Siberian railway, which was at that time approaching completion, and in which there was still a great gap about Lake Baikal.

Apart from the matter of saving the remnants of the Serbian Army, the main reason why Sarrail was dispatched to Salonica was to prevent Germany from establishing a 3-day railway connection with Constantinople, which would have opened to her the granary of Asia Minor, and enabled train loads of shells to reach the Turkish capital without breaking bulk between an Essen factory-yard and the Sirkedji railway station by the Golden Horn. Perhaps it was this latter fact that prompted the inimitable “Punch” to cartoon depicting Kaiser Wilhelm ordering Tirpitz to “rail the fleet to page 55 Constantinople!” Certainly that was the only way by which the High Seas Fleet could have got there!

It was in Salonica that Sarrail spoke the words that marked the end of the old-fashioned methods of military transport, “An attacking army must have a railway behind it.” Before one criticises the efforts of the Allies in Salonica one must remember that in that cheerless region railways are conspicuous by their absence.