America Takes Over - The US Army Has A Railroad PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 29 September 2013 22:30

With a military operating and supervisory staff which reached a maximum of 120 officers and  3,900 engineer (sapper) troops and using the existing ISR civilian administrative and operating staff,  the British Army had brought the railway in the last five months of 1942 to a daily average for all  cargoes of some 1,500 tons.  To do so they had doubled the trackage in the yards at Andimeshk,  Ahwaz, and Tehran, and had constructed over one-hundred miles of new line.  They doubled the area  of the erecting shops at Tehran and put up new sheds, storehouses, workshops, and offices in various  localities, as well as new wire installations for telephone and telegraph up and down the line.  They  doubled rolling stock, including motive power; but it fell far short of the 6,000-ton target now set by  the Combined Chiefs of Staff.

General Connolly soon found that the inability of the railway to take away landed cargoes from  the ports was the key problem to be solved in the new transport task facing him.  The prospect was  hardly pleasing.  He wrote in December: 

“My biggest mistake in estimating the situation before leaving Washington was in thinking that the ports were the bottleneck.  I find that at present the  rate of removing cargo from the shipped determines the rate of unloading ships.  There is no storage at the docks.  There are not sufficient trucks and  railroad rolling stock available, and what hey do have they do not operate efficiently.  If I had known the above before leaving Washington, I would  have arranged my priorities of men and equipment differently.”

To command the men in Iran, General Connolly had selected Colonel Yount, who had come to the area in 1941 as a transportation expert with General Wheeler’s Iranian Mission and had gone with  Wheeler to India.  Recalled from India, Yount reached Basra, Iraq, on 5 October 1942, where, with a small forward echelon which arrived later from the United States, he established a temporary railway  headquarters.  In December, with its headquarters now moved to Ahwaz, the Military Railway Service was established as one of the operating services of the American command.

A survey tour of the line conducted by Colonel Yount and conferences with Iranian, Soviet and British officials laid the groundwork for the gradual process of take-over.  This took place as fast as  trained troops became available.

Plans for the movement of troops and equipment to Iran were based on a shipping schedule drawn up by the Chief of Transportation on 30 Aug 1942.10  Fifty-one vessels would be needed to move  approximately 475,000 measurement tons of cargo and some 24,000 troops.  Shipment of 11,000 troops would be made late in October 1942 on the West Point and the Wakefield, while the remainder  of the force were to be moved in late January on British troopships.

From the outset, the movement to Iran was beset by difficulties and delays, but movement finally got under way when the West Point, carrying 5,430 Persian Gulf Command personnel, left New York  on 1 November 1942.  The transport sailed around the Cape of Good Hope to Bombay, where troops were transshipped to smaller British transports that arrived at Khorramshahr on 11-12 December.

Meanwhile, the submarine threat around the Cape of Good Hope caused the British to cancel the tentative allocation of one of their Queens, scheduled for a mid-December sailing.  The submarine  menace also caused the Ile de France to be dispatched from San Francisco by the longer route across the Pacific via Freemantle, Australia, to Bombay, where 4,600 troops were transferred to British  vessels and arrived at Khorramshahr in the later part of January.  No troops arrived in February, so that only 12,868 officers and enlisted men, or about one-half the proposed force, were actually in Iran at  the end of the month.  The Mauretania, obtained as a substitute for the canceled Queen, departed from San Francisco on 13 January 1943 and followed the same route as the Ile de France.  By this means,  an additional 6,611 officers and enlisted men arrived at Khorramshahr early in March.  Smaller shipments in subsequent months brought U.S. Army strength in Iran to 27,320 by the end of July  1942.

The first outfit to arrive was the 711th Engineer Railway Operating Battalion.  Unlike other units which were sponsored by American railways and later incorporated into the Military Railway Service,  the 711th was all Army.  Activated in June of 1941, it was ready for work when it reached Khorramshahr in December of 1942.  The 711th started operations on 1 January 1943, by taking over  from the British the operations of the line from Khorramshahr to Ahwaz, and, by the 16th, it was running trains from Dorud to both Khorramshahr and Bandar Shahpur.12  A second operating  battalion, the 730th, had been activated in May 1942 and was in training.  Each battalion was reinforced with three extra track maintenance platoons.

To provide headquarters staff personnel for administration of the Military Railway Service, the 702d Railway Grand Division, along with the 754th Railway Shop Battaalion and the 762d Railway  Diesel Shop Battalion, were activated on 15 October 1942.  These units were given brief military raining before shipment.  The 702d arrived in Iran in late January 1942 and moved to Tehran.  This  group was sponsored by the Union Pacific Railroad and was largely staffed by ex-civilian railroaders with a minimum of military training and indoctrination.

On 9 February, with his headquarters moved from Ahwaz to Tehran, Colonel Yount formally assumed command of the 702d Railway Grand Division.  Among the more important  accomplishments of this headquarters group, during the period of joint British-American operations, was the taking over by its Equipment Section in February of responsibility for all railway rolling stock  and equipment.

The 730th Railway Operating Battalion arrived late in the month and moved into stations along the line between Dorud and Tehran, taking over that division between 27 and 29 March 1943.  By the  end of March, the 730th was ready to operate the Northern Division.  A few days previously, the 754th Railway Shop Battalion, just freshly arrived, took over the ISR’s principal locomotive and car repair  shops in Tehran.

These four organizations, the administrative unit, two operating battalions, and the shop battalion, totaled 3,067 officers and men, a number slightly greater than the strength allotted to the American  railway service by the first estimates under the SOS plan.  Revised Tables of Organization provided for an additional shop battalion to handle the American diesel engines which were to take over the  heaviest work from the steam locomotives.13  Accordingly, the 762d Railway Diesel Shop Battalion added 632 officers and men to available manpower units upon its arrival in March. During  April and the first week of May of 1943, the 762d Railway Diesel Shop Battalion, leaving a detachment at Khorramshahr to handle the erection of diesel locomotives that were beginning to  arrive, moved to Ahwaz and took over the shops, consisting of back shop, the freight car assembly shops, and the powerhouse.  Detachments were sent to Bandar Shahpur, Andimeshk, and Sultanabad  to instruct battalion engine men in the use of the diesels.  In mid-April 1943 both shop battalions were reported to have taken hold in excellent fashion.

By that time, the Military Railway Service was already running the railway from Tehran to the Gulf.  On May 1, when the Anglo-American agreement for control of movements came into effect,  railway movements, including allocation, scheduling of rains, and distribution of rolling stock passed to the Americans.

At the beginning of May 1943 there were about 3,700 officers and men of the Military Railway Service working on the railroad.  Although the Military Railway Service had been designated by  Persian Gulf Service Command as a military railway service, it was not recognized by the War Department, whose Military Railway Service, up to November 1942 an organization within the Corps  of Engineers, was that month transferred to the new Transportation Corps and assigned the duty of operating and maintaining all military railways in theaters of operation.

By the summer of 1943, the headquarters staff, made up of about one-hundred men, including forty-three officers, was hard put to supervise the activities of 4,000 men in five battalions, and of  approximately 15,000 ISR native employees.  The Tables of Organization made up at Washington did not recognize the comprehensive functions of the staff under actual conditions.  Accordingly, on 20  July, Colonel Yount requested that the War Department authorize establishment of an approved Headquarters, Military Railway Service, to replace the 702d Railway Grand Division.  General  Connolly, in forwarding his recommendation, asked also for officers to fill important functional gaps.  After a delay of many months, during which time the Military Railway Service reached the first of its  two great peaks in tonnage performance, approval came through from Washington, and on 10 April 1944 Headquarters, 3d Military Railway Service, Persian Gulf Command was activated.

Colonel Yount remained only a few weeks longer, for in May he was ordered to the CBI theater (China Burma India) to face fresh railway problems.  He was succeeded by Col. Frank S. Besson, Jr.,  who served until May 1945 when, as a brigadier general, he left Iran for a new assignment.