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NS class 5000

Introduction - War locomotives in general


I have always been interested in the war. My father has been tragically affected by the war, loosing the heart of his hometown Rotterdam in the bombing of May 1940, loosing his wife in November 1942 due to war time lack of medicines as a tributary cause, and loosing much of his mental stability after being captured in November 1944 and put to force labour in Germany and later abused in a concentration camp, barely surviving the war. He always had a keen interest in everything WWII though, probably reliving much of his memories and trying to get to grips with the why's and how's, without ever hardly speaking a word to us about it.

His interest affected me as well and I remember buying a book titled "Deutsche Kriegslokomotiven" by Gottwaldt as early as 1975. Having grown up in the Fleischmann-and-Märklin bubble I only came to realise in later years that not only Germany had produced locomotives specifically for the war effort. Even UP's Big Boy could be seen in this light, although it maybe does follow the strict definitions (if they exist). But locos like the French Mikados, the S160s and not least the British Austerities have my keen interest.


Speaking of which, what would be a good definition for a war locomotive? I have never read one, so I will give it a go. Every definition is a reduction of reality into schemes and therefore by its very nature imperfect. So I ask everyone reading this to challenge the definition and improve it.


A war locomotive is a locomotive belonging to a class that is
specifically designed and built for the purpose and the duration of the war.


Let's take a closer look on the clauses in the definition

 a locomotive so a rail bound motive power vehicle used to propel trains, but not necessarily a steam locomotive. Internal combustion or electric traction could also be possible (although I have no knowledge of the existence of any class of the latter).
class we are not talking about single locomotives or even an extra batch of locomotives of an existing class ordered for the war effort. Only if (almost) the entire class is designed and built for the war effort and the class is substantially able to sustain the war effort then its members may be called war locomotives.

meaning the class was

  • ordered with the intent of war,
  • designed with the intent of war,
  • and operated in theatres of war.

meaning the design was carefully tuned to the purpose of the war:

  • austerity leaving out any peacetime frivolity;
  • reducing the production time and materials to the barest necessities;
  • increasing ease of maintenance, preferably without specialised tools or heavy equipment;
  • reducing maintenance costs and effort on the short term;
  • if needed accepting a reduction in the lifetime expectancy of the locomotives.

This can be a gradual process, the changes from peacetime production to wartime austerity usually take place in several generations and with a growing insight of what can be dispensed of and what proves to be an absolute necessity. But it is the intent with which the design changes take place which determine the class to be a war locomotive and not merely the end result. So I am inclined to call the 52ÜK (Übergangkriegslokomotive = transitional war locomotive) a true war locomotive as the intent of the design changes was clearly to reduce the effort to produce and maintain the locomotive with the war in mind.

built the locomotive is built during or shortly before the war as a integral part of the logistical military needs of the war.
duration the expected duration of the war is reflected in the design of the locomotive.
war although it is not explicitly stated anywhere I so far have met the theme of "war locomotive" only in the context of both World Wars, so I am inclined to limit the definition to those two conflicts. I have no knowledge of any examples of true war locomotives outside these two conflicts.


What is the consequence of this definition? It can best be demonstrated with a few examples.

  • The BR 52 and BR 42 classes are clearly a war locomotives. They were built for the duration of war only, the class BR52 was supposed to last only for five years. After the war they were quickly dispensed with or thoroughly rebuilt to make it viable engines.
  • and so are the WD 2-8-0 and 2-10-0 (WW2)
  • The Pechot-Bourdons were also war locomotives (WW1)
  • The BR 58 (Pr. G12) was not a war locomotive, because its design followed peacetime practises. It did see action in the war but it numbers were too low to have a substantial influence on the war and building the locomotive continued unchanged until well after WW1.
  • I have hesitations to mention the SR Q1 a war locomotive. It was austere but only due to the lack of sufficient building materials, its austerity was not with the actual war effort in mind. The class was not numerous enough or ever intended to be so to really have an effect on the war. It also never saw a war theatre. Maybe I will designate it as a War Baby: a consequence of the war rather then part of it.
  • Big Boy? Same story as the Q1. However, although low in numbers (25) the class may very well have had a substantial impact of the logistical needs in the last two war years.

True war locomotives, WW1

The diversity of the parties in the conflict and their respective views on what was necessary for the front created a spree of locomotive classes in the battle field. I cannot even begin to think of describing them all so the list below is just a sample, although I have tried to picture the most dominant classes.

"Brigade" locomotives, Germany

Wheel arrangement 0-8-0
Built 1905-1919
No built 2,574

Built in large numbers for the trench war in the western front this locomotive is probably the most numerous articulated locomotive class in the world. Its was a Klien-Lindner (semi-)articulated locomotive. 93 examples survive in 11 countries.

Builder's photo Krauss-Maffei

Pechot-Bourdon, France

Wheel arrangement 0-4-4-0
Built 1888–1916
No built 350

Built to Fairlie principles this type as a single class outnumbered all other Fairlies in the world together! The idea was that if one power unit was disabled the other could at least bring the loco home.


Simplex 40HP, UK

Wheel arrangement 0-4-0
Built 1916
No built ?

Probably the most diminutive locomotive of all the classes listed here, it did great service transporting people and goods directly behind the front. Being a petrol engine it drew far less enemy attention (and therefore equally less enemy fire) than a steam locomotive.

Armoured "protected" Simplex at Apedale, 2014. ©Unknown

Baldwin 2-6-2, USA

Wheel arrangement 2-6-2
Built 1917
No built 305

Baldwin supplied 195 of these locos for the US troops from 1917, another 110 were supplied by other US builders.


Baldwin builder's photo

Baldwin 10-12-D, France and UK

Wheel arrangement 2-6-0
Built 1916 - 1917
No built

? (France)

495 UK

The reason why the British War Office decided to adopt the type as its principal military steam locomotive is uncertain but Baldwin started production in 1916 and built 495 locomotives between October 1916 and April 1917

Baldwin builder's photo


True war locomotives, WW2

Although the Second World War also produced a huge variety of locomotive types the overall picture is more uniform. Efficiency and ease of maintenance dictated a far more homogenous motive power policy.

BR 52, Germany

Wheel arrangement 2-10-0
Built 1942-1950
No built Appr. 7,000

What the Liberty ship was for the US was the BR 52 for Germany: simply build the locos faster than they could be destroyed. Derived from the peacetime BR50. Developed for light and badly laid track with a life expectancy of just five years. After the war production continued until stocks had been used up.

A single day's production of 52s shown of at Seddin, 1943

BR 42, Germany

Wheel arrangement 2-10-0
Built 1943–1949
No built 1,061

Heavier locomotive based on the experience gained with the BR 52. Production was slow to start and so late in the war it was too little too late. Much of the production had been left unassembled at the cessation of hostilities.

Heeresfeldbahn locomotives WW2, Germany

Wheel arr. Built from No built
0-4-0 1939 74
0-6-0 1938 167
0-8-0 1940 60
0-10-0 1940 9
2-10-2   6
Total   316

A HF160 in post-war livery

© 2005 Creative Commons CC-BY 2.5 Herbert Ortner

Less known is that the German army had a program to develop military railways behind the front. As the subject is extensive I will suffice to picture one of the surviving examples. For more information please refer to the book "Heeresfeldbahnen" by A.B. Gottwaldt, 1986, ISBN 3-613-01080-1, a most interesting read.

WD 2-8-0, UK

Wheel arrangement 2-8-0
Built 1943–1945
No built 935

Derived from LMS class 8F Riddles developed a simple, sturdy locomotive to support the moving front once the invasion of Europe would happen. Awaiting the invasion they served the domestic railways in the logistical effort of the war.

90733 (ex NS 4464) at Haworth at the KWVR, 2007. Public domain.

WD 2-10-0, UK

Wheel arrangement 2-10-0
Built 1943–1949
No built 150

Developed along the same principles as the 2-8-0 this locomotive was intended for lighter railways. Contrary to general belief this locomotive was not stronger, was just lighter per axle.

The sole survivor of the 103 examples of the class sold to the Dutch Railways after WW2, © 2017 René Vink

WD 0-6-0, UK

Wheel arrangement 2-10-0
Built 1943–1964
No built 377 WD (485 total)

Maybe not a war locomotive in the strictest sense, it was nevertheless an austerity, and was built with the purpose of war in mind and it served in war theatres

© Peter Skruce Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0


Wheel arrangement 0-6-0
Built 1942–1944
No built 382

This class followed onto the European continent in the wake of the invasion

A Dutch survivor of the class, Amersfoort 2014, © 2017 René Vink


Wheel arrangement 2-8-0
Built 1942–1946
No built 2,120

Specifically designed to fit in the UK loading gauge it incorporated austerity principles using methods which created efficient and fast construction speed at the expense of long life. Under the guise of "running in" they were put to good work in the pre-invasion period. After the invasion they saw service in much of Europe and continued to do so when they were sold to the national railways after the war. At least 26 examples have survived

Lima Locomotive Works builder's photo (public domain?)

Shildon, © 2015 René Vink


Wheel arrangement 2-8-2


No built 200

Less well known. 2 examples survive in Turkey

You might be interested to watch this podcast on the USATC war locomotives


War babies

As war babies I envisage all those classes that came into existence because the war effort created a huge demand for motive power or  just the opposite: the war itself created a huge lack of power due to the destruction of the railway system. The designs however followed the more or less regular peacetime design practises and were not specifically tuned to austerity, ease of maintenance in the battle field, a limited lifetime or that sort of things.

As a representative for both types of demand I take two classes, exemplary for many others

UP4000, "Big Boy", USA

Wheel arrangement 4-8-8-4
Built 1941-1944
No built 25

Although its design was clearly necessitated by the increased traffic incurred by the war the Big Boy may have come into existence anyway.

Union Pacific Big Boy 4012 hauling a load of freight through Green River, Wyoming in November 1941

SNCF 141R, France

Wheel arrangement 2-8-2
Built 1941-1944
No built 1,340

The design was conceived during the war. Built in the USA the design was adapted to the French loading gauge. The loco were deployed only after the war to help the French railways to overcome the utter devastation inflicted on them. As such the class never saw true war action and only served civilian purposes.

141R no 1187 at the railway museum in Mulhouse, 2014, ©René Vink