Deutsche Reichsbahn: Strength through Standardization I

One logical end of the Deutsche Reichsbahn Einheitloks (unified locomotive types) programme of 1923 was the class 52 2-10-0s, first steamed at Borsig works on 12 September 1942 in the presence of Albert Speer, Hitler’s minister for armaments and production. The class 52 Kriegslok (war locomotive) was designed for mass production in factories in Germany and in territories conquered through Blitzkrieg, the ‘lightning war’ of 1939–41 which brought much of Europe under the Nazi yoke. Between 1942 and 1945, a total of 6,239 class 52s were built, in twenty factories across Europe. This side of the Russian 0-10-0 standard freight locomotives, it was the biggest class of steam locomotives ever built.

The principal purpose of these brutally functional locomotives was to work freight and troop trains through the eastern front. Until the headlong German retreat of 1944, the Deutsche Reichsbahn’s track mileage had increased by 16,000 miles during the war. The class 52s were also used for the transportation, at a stipulated 45 kph (28 mph), of three million Jews, and others who fell foul of the Nazi regime, to concentration and extermination camps. Perhaps no other class of locomotive has been built for such savage purposes.

Such was the efficiency of the Borsig works that the first of the class was completed three months ahead of schedule. Speed was, of course, of the essence in wartime, yet the drive and ability to build so quickly was the result not just of the Einheitslok programme, which made locomotive building in Weimar and Nazi Germany a model of efficiency, but also of the creation of the Gemeinschaft Grossdeutscher Lokomotivfabriken (GGL) in 1942, as part of Speer’s new ministry founded earlier that year. The Nazi regime had taken absolute control of the Deutsche Reichsbahn, which had been established in 1922 as an independently run state business, able to raise its own finances. Now the GGL was to determine locomotive design and production. Perhaps it is not surprising that, in the wartime imagination, the class 52 had more than something of the look of a Nazi stormtrooper about it.

Detailed design work on the class 52s was led by Friedrich Witte. His predecessor, Richard Paul Wagner, architect of the Einheitloks programme, was forced to resign his responsibility for centralized Deutsche Reichsbahn locomotive design and production in the summer of 1942, as the Nazis tightened their grip on the railways. Hitler and Speer believed that the Deutsche Reichsbahn had been slack in its response to war demands, the Führer calling for steam locomotive production to be upped to 7,500 per year. This was an impossible figure, although production did increase from 660 in 1939 to a peak of 4,533 in 1943. Wagner, who had the responsibility of building up the Deutsche Reichsbahn fleet after some five thousand German locomotives had been packed off to the country’s former enemies as part of the war reparations demanded by the Treaty of Versailles, had been happy with an annual production of 800 new steam locomotives. Even so, that was only possible because of the standardization of design and construction. Significantly, perhaps, Germany built more steam locomotives in total – approximately 155,000 – than any other country except the USA, which produced around 177,000. Britain, a small country with a big empire, built 110,150, Russia around 50,000, and France 39,000. No other country came anywhere near these figures. According to Philip Atkins, former librarian at the National Railway Museum, York, 205 were built in South America, thirty-one in Africa, and, rather charmingly, just one in Portugal.

E. S. Cox, who visited Germany in the 1930s to inspect Wagner’s latest locomotives, said that he ‘seemed a very perfunctory adherent of the Nazi party . . . and unlike some of his henchmen, his “Heil Hitler” greeting to colleagues and subordinates, then obligatory, lacked a good deal in precision and zest’. Cecil J. Allen accompanied other members of the Institution of Locomotive Engineers on their trip to Germany in 1936 – during which Stanier rode on the footplate of a streamlined 05 class 4-6-4 at 118 mph – and had the same recollection of the cigar-smoking Wagner, whom Cox also described as a big, friendly, bear of a man. The British party, said Allen, were quite unsure how to behave when railway officials and party functionaries greeted them with Heil Hitler salutes and tiresome renditions of ‘Deutschland über Alles’ and the ‘Horst-Wessel-Lied’; the embarrassed British engineers returned the salutes in ‘willy-nilly’ fashion. Their feeling, shared by Wagner and many of his team, was that the railways were an apolitical service and that politics was at best an unavoidable nuisance. Neither the British nor Wagner could have imagined the ends to which the Deutsche Reichsbahn and its locomotives would be put in the following decade. As it was, Wagner would be invited by the Allied authorities in 1946 to help with the reconstruction of the railways, while Witte, despite his close association with Speer and the regime, would become responsible for the development of post-war steam locomotives.

It seems a shame, however, to begin a chapter on late German steam design with Hitler, Speer, the Nazis, the Second World War, and the Holocaust – and not least because Hitler himself had no real interest in railways. He was to become excited about them, but only after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, when the movement of men and materiel began to stretch across Poland and the vast plains to the east. And yet, Hitler and Speer, despite their criticisms, were well served by a locomotive industry which had gone from strength to strength since the founding of the Deutsche Reichsbahn in 1922 and the appointment of Wagner the following year as the instigator of German locomotive design policy.

The idea behind Wagner’s 1923 programme was technocratic and politically innocent. Perhaps politicians and soldiers had already seen potential advantages for future struggles in the design of highly standardized machines; and, indeed, there was a military-like precision in the way that Wagner pushed ahead with a policy that had no counterpart in any other country. A part of this was down to that old cliché, German efficiency. Born in Berlin in August 1882, Wagner was educated at the Charlottenhof Technical High School, before joining the Prussian State Railways. There he would have witnessed the development of the legendary P8 class two-cylinder 4-6-0, a notable general purpose passenger locomotive of which 3,948 were built between 1908 and 1924. Its original design was by Robert Garbe, and some P8s were still in service as late as 1974.

But his experience as a transport officer during the First World War had showed Wagner the limitations of many indigenous designs. At the time, various German states and the Kingdom of Bavaria had built an array of locomotives as varied as that found in Britain. So, when the Deutsche Reichsbahn was created and he was made national head of design (Bavaria became a part of Germany in 1918), Wagner was intent on shaping a unified fleet of passenger and freight locomotives with standardized components, which could be serviced and repaired locally. Interchangeable parts – boilers, cylinders, driving wheels – would mean optimum manufacturing efficiency. He was not a revolutionary – far from it. Wagner built steadily on the work of his predecessors, whose standard Prussian State Railways designs were built in huge numbers. The basis of those designs was two-cylinder simple-expansion drive, relatively low boiler pressure, and outside Walschaerts valve gear, combined with relatively high superheating. They included the G8 class 0-8-0, of which 5,155 were built between 1913 and 1921, and the G10 class 0-10-0, of which 2,677 were produced between 1910 and 1925 – two freight locomotives that were worth far more than their weights in coal.

Wagner’s ideal, then, was for simple, two-cylinder locomotives that, while neither notably powerful nor particularly fast, would provide an overall high standard of performance, economy, and reliability throughout Germany. Prussian efficiency remained the key, not publicity or record-breaking. In any case, unlike in Britain where speed limits were set by the civil engineers of each railway according to the specification or state of the tracks, in Germany, as in France, strictly imposed maximum speeds were set by both the government and the railway authorities for each class of locomotive, up to a general limit of 120 kph (74.5 mph). So, while in Britain trains could sometimes be found whistling downhill at 90 mph a quarter of a century before the First World War – and often climbing hills painfully slowly – in Germany, the fastest trains were timed so that the locomotives ran at moderate, but as far as possible uniform, speeds uphill and down.

In Prussia in particular, there was no call for very high power outputs because the railways ran mainly across the great plain that stretches across northern Europe from the Urals to the English Channel. Here there were no Shaps or Beattocks. The idea of a kind of steady-state locomotive emerged, although Wagner was forced to accept that something more powerful was needed further south in Germany, especially in Bavaria where the landscape erupts into magnificent hills, mountains, and valleys.

Thus Wagner continued the production of proven, non-standard, Bavarian locomotives, including the four-cylinder S3/6 compound Pacific, designed at Maffei by a team led by Anton Hammel. The first of these engines, with their distinctive conical smoke-box doors, suggesting great speed even though they were in fact limited to 120 kph, emerged from Maffei’s Munich works in 1908, the same year as Churchward’s The Great Bear. These strong (1,800 dbhp on test) and efficient compounds were made by Maffei until 1931. Some were rebuilt in 1953 with combustion chambers giving more power and were able to match the performance of Wagner’s larger-boilered, two-cylinder 01 class Pacific of 1925. Although keen on uniformity, Wagner could see the merit of purpose-built machines designed for specific lines.

As Garbe and Lubkens’s P8 had been the basis for a number of Prussian standard designs, so Wagner’s 01 was the building block for many of the larger passenger and freight locomotives made throughout Germany between the two world wars. Although heavier than a contemporary Gresley Pacific, the German 01s were generally worked at lower power outputs than the LNER engines and were never asked to run as fast. Built between 1925 and 1938, these rugged, functional locomotives were designed for optimum efficiency at moderate rates of working. With a large boiler pressed to 235 psi, a high degree of superheating, long-lap, long-travel valves, and two big 650 × 660 mm (25⅝ × 26 in) cylinders, the 107 ton 01s were able to deliver a tractive effort of 43,000 lb, coping well with moderately timed 600 ton express trains, and lighter, faster ones, yet restricted to a maximum of 120 kph – raised to 130 kph (81 mph) in 1934. They were rated at 2,210 ihp; this was an official figure, intended as a guide to the operating management as to what these locomotives were capable of on a regular basis. Again, Wagner was more concerned with consistency of performance than with high power output. With running boards set clear of the 2 m (6 ft 6 in) driving wheels, all-enclosed cabs, and clear lines, the 01s aged very slowly in terms of both looks and performance. Immaculately clean 01s could still be seen at work at the head of express trains in East Germany until 1982.

Not that the 01s dominated express passenger services in the 1920s, as Gresley’s A1s had. Wagner had to wait until the main lines were rebuilt in the early 1930s, to withstand greater axle-loading weights, before the 01 with its 20 ton axle load became a universal type. Concurrently with the first 01s, Wagner experimented with a four-cylinder compound variant, classified as 02, before 01 production got into its stride. In fact, he built ten two-cylinder and ten four-cylinder compounds in 1925–6, pitting the two variants against one another. However, detailed design of the compound 02s was out of his hands, and their valve gear and design of the steam-flow circuit were poor, resulting in severe throttling of steam at speeds higher than 75 kph, while the 01 was more economical. The compound 02s were converted to 01s in 1941–2.

On the basis of this comparison, Wagner seemed to have proven that a well-designed, two-cylinder Pacific could do the job of a more complex and more expensive compound. (This ‘evidence’ had a marked effect on British engineers like Cox and Bond when they were considering standard British post-war designs.) And yet, back in the 1920s, Deutsche Reichsbahn chief mechanical engineer Friedrich Fuchs and chief testing engineer Professor Hans Nordmann continued to investigate the potential of compound drive, no doubt inspired both by the performance of the French Nord railway Super Pacifics, which were appreciably smaller than the 01s but exerted power outputs in daily service well above the rated power of the 01, and, from 1929, by the remarkable work of the Chapelon rebuilds.

In 1932, four separate experimental high-pressure compound types were introduced, while in 1935, at Fuchs’s instigation, Adolf Wolff at Borsig prepared project drawings for a four-cylinder compound 4-8-0 derived directly from Chapelon’s design, but substantive work on this was prevented by the Second World War. Eventually, 231 standard 01s were built. Between 1950 and 1957, and again from 1957 to 1961, two batches of 01s were rebuilt with combustion-chamber boilers under Witte’s direction for the Deutsche Bundesbahn, the West German state railway, and rated up to 2,417 ihp. It was a delight to see these and other 01s hard at work, and in spotless condition, on expresses in the early 1970s. From 1962 to 1965, the Deutsche Reichsbahn, the East German state railway, rebuilt thirty-five 01s at Meiningen works in a more radical fashion. With new, larger fire-boxes and higher-set, combustion-chamber boilers, a continuous, Soviet-style dome cover running the length of the boiler, clipped Witte smoke deflectors, new cabs, and more powerful brakes, these 01.5s were superb and highly distinctive machines. Rated at 2,500 ihp, these red and black Pacifics – half of them oil-fired – were kept busy on the Berlin to Dresden route until 1977, and the class survived for a further five years on express duties before finally being replaced by Soviet diesels.

The 03 class, a lighter version of the 01, appeared in 1930, with 570 × 660 mm (22½ × 26 in) cylinders and rated at 1,943 ihp. With an axle loading of 18 tons, compared to 20 tons for the 01s, these light Pacifics were able to operate many of the secondary main lines from which the earlier Wagner Pacifics had been banned. A total of 298 engines was built, up until 1938, by Borsig, Krupp, Henschel, and Schwartzkopff. Unlike in Britain, where locomotives were built mostly by railways in their own works, German engines of the 1920s and 1930s were the product of commercial manufacturers working in collaboration with Wagner’s design team. In fact, it was the British way of building steam locomotives that was unusual – a product, perhaps, of the craft-based engineering culture that emerged with the Industrial Revolution, which took hold in Britain quite some while before it shook up Germany.

The sheer power demanded by heavy freight duties saw Wagner turn to three cylinders for his first 2-10-0s, the class 44 of 1926. Only ten of these giants, known as ‘Jumbos’ to German crews, were built that year. Production resumed in 1937, with more robust frames, when the demand for very powerful freight locomotives was clear, and continued through the Second World War until 1949, by which time there were 1,989 class 44s at work in East and West Germany. The last scheduled steam service on the Deutsche Bundesbahn, on 26 October 1977, was worked by 043 903-4, one of thirty-five two-cylinder derivatives of the class 44s that were built in 1927–8. Mass production of 2-10-0s, as characteristic of German steam in the mid-twentieth century as Wagner’s Pacifics, really began with the two-cylinder class 50s in 1939. These machines, adopted by the Nazi government as Kriegslok war locomotives, were built throughout the war, with production continuing in West Germany until 1948, by which time 3,164 class 50s had been built. Many, however, had been destroyed by allied bombing.

So successful were the class 50s that a new batch with all-welded boilers, designated 50.40, was built at the Lokomotivbau Karl Marx in Babelsberg for the East German Deutsche Reichsbahn between 1956 and 1960. These were the last brand-new German steam locomotives. They were withdrawn in 1980, seven years before a number of the original 50s that remained in service in East Germany.

Locomotive developments in Germany had been steady and rational, yet in the 1930s the quest for speed was to make Wagner think anew. From designing 120 kph locomotives, the Deutsche Reichsbahn was now set on creating the world’s fastest trains. This development had begun in the late days of the Weimar Republic, with the launch of high-speed diesel services, beginning with the Fliegender Hamburger in 1932. The need for heavier trains able to run at speeds of 150 kph (93 mph), and even above, led to a new generation of streamlined steam locomotives which, superficially at least, were everything that Wagner seemed to have stood against.

The genius of the high-speed German steam locomotives of the 1930s was that, despite a few experiments along the way (see Chapter 6), they were basically simple, if meticulously built, machines beneath their wind-cheating skirts. The first of the high-speed German locomotives was 05 001, built at the Borsig works in 1935. Nothing quite like this stunning three-cylinder machine had been seen on rails before. Painted a deep red, all moving parts were hidden, with side-skirts falling to barely inches above the track. Only the whistle and chimney rising from the sloping front of the engine, set above a large, faired-in headlamp, made it in any way evident that this was a steam locomotive. The ten-wheeled tender was all of a piece with the engine. In fact, 05 001 looked more like a submarine than a machine that ran on rails.

Beneath the voluptuous cladding was a beautifully proportioned and exquisitely crafted 4-6-4, all but guaranteed to be a record-breaker. The design was by Adolf Wolff, chief locomotive design engineer at Borsig. Born in Goslar, in Lower Saxony, Wolff was educated at the Technical University of Hanover and worked for Hanomag, where he designed some impressive and long-lasting compound 4-8-2s for the Norte railway in Spain. Some 40 per cent of Hanomag’s locomotive production – it was well known for its cars and tractors too – was exported. Precociously talented but modest, ‘kleine Wolff’, as he was known, moved to Borsig in 1929. After the Second World War he was employed by Krauss Maffei as technical director, where, among other projects, he rebuilt the 05s into non-streamlined 4-6-4s. This, though, is jumping the gun.

There was nothing complex in the specification of 05 001 or its one sibling, 05 002. Everything, however, was done (this side of fitting a combustion-chamber boiler, which was rejected by Wagner) to give these engines the best possible steam-flow circuit, with piston valves 30 per cent greater in diameter than those of Gresley’s A4s. The large boiler was pressed to the then high figure of 294 psi, heated by a firebox with a 50.6 sq ft grate. Superheated steam flowed, at speeds of up to 200 mph, to three 450 × 660 mm (17¾ × 26 in) cylinders, driving 2.3 m (7 ft 6½ in) coupled wheels. The design speed was 175 kph (109 mph) and nominal power rating was 2,360 ihp, although a maximum of 3,400 ihp was attained on test.

Wolff’s masterpiece made its debut in March 1935, six months ahead of Gresley’s A4 for the LNER and six weeks before the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad’s streamlined Atlantic, specified by Charles H. Bilty, broke through a ribbon at the Alco works in Schenectady, New York. Wolff’s 05 001, with its advanced technology and aerodynamic cladding, was proof – if proof were needed – that the speed bug had infected railways around the world.

Streamlining could certainly help locomotives to run faster, as a smooth casing reduced wind resistance, but it was often as much a styling fashion, introduced to make steam engines look as futuristic as the latest monocoque aircraft, speedboats, and racing cars. Indeed, a year before 05 001 steamed for the first time in Berlin, the South Manchuria Railway had introduced its streamlined and air-conditioned Asia Express between the port of Darien and Hsinking, the capital of the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo, carved in 1932 out of Manchuria and Inner Mongolia – where the last great Chinese steam locomotives, the QJ class 2-10-2s, were to rule the great passes of the newly built Jitong Railway until 2005. To haul the train, the South Manchuria Railway commissioned twelve streamlined two-cylinder Pacifics, following American design practice, from Kawasaki and the railway’s own Shahekou works. Complete with observation cars and cocktail car, the Asia Express, a symbol of presumed Japanese technological superiority, had beaten the Americans and Europeans at a game that should have been theirs. The Pashina class locomotives, however, were not as fast nor as powerful as they looked. Their highest recorded speed was 83 mph. Nevertheless, this was a revolution in China. The locomotives survived war and revolution and were still at work in the 1980s. At least one has been preserved.

By the time of the Second World War, streamlined locomotives could be found on the least promising lines. In 1941, a new railway connection between Iraq and Syria meant that the Taurus Express could run direct from Istanbul to Baghdad. This was the route – much of it built to the highest specification by German engineers of the Second Reich – that was supposed to have linked Berlin with Baghdad. To celebrate the new through service, in 1941 Iraqi State Railways took possession of four streamlined two-cylinder oil-burning Pacifics, designed by the railway’s own William Ikeson and built by Robert Stephenson and Hawthorn’s. One was lost in a convoy on the way, but three made it to Iraq, where they ran until 1960. From a distance, they might have looked a bit like a Stanier Coronation crossed with a Gresley A4 – but did they ever get above 60 mph?

Wolff’s 05s, however, were in a different camp altogether. Their streamlining was scientifically researched. Wolff claimed, not without justification, that the streamlined casing of engine and train lessened air resistance to achieve a 20 per cent reduction in the power needed to work a 250 ton train on the level at 150 kph (93 mph). The 05s proved to be very fast engines indeed. German and other enthusiasts describe them as the fastest steam locomotives in the world, despite Mallard’s 126 mph. The claim is an interesting one, and, in certain ways, justified. On 7 June 1935, 05 002 sprinted up to 191.7 kph (119.1 mph) on the line between Berlin and Hamburg. It went on to make six further runs with speeds above 177 kph (110 mph). On 11 May 1936, pulling a 197 ton train, it soared to just over 200 kph – 200.4 kph to be exact (124.5 mph) – not downhill but on level track, near Friesack. The speed was maintained for long enough to be measured precisely; it required an output of 3,400 ihp. Mallard travelled at 125 mph for just 305 yards; if it really did get above that speed, the last 1 mph must have been over a very few yards indeed. Gresley himself never claimed 126 mph, and, in railway enthusiast circles, the debate continues today. It is also possible that 05 002’s 124.5 mph was an average speed over between 1 and 2.5 kilometres, in which case it might have beaten Mallard’s 126 mph anyway. In charge of testing on the Deutsche Reichsbahn, Professor Nordmann erred on the side of scientific caution.

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