The Armoured Train in Canadian Service Book Review
|Date of Review||March 2005||Title||The Armoured Train in Canadian Service|
|Author||Doug Knight||Publisher||Service Publications|
|Format||24 pages, softbound||MSRP (CDN)||$9.95|
If someone had asked me before this little book came out when the last time an armored train ran in North America, I would probably have answered during the US Civil War, which still would have been a bit of a stretch. I know now that this was not the case, and the real answer is 1943 in British Columbia.
When the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor and many other points in the Pacific, including later moves into Attu and Kiska in the Aleutian Islands, the US was not the only country in North America to panic at the thought of Japanese invasion troops striking their west coast. Canada had long had Japanese fishermen plying the coasts and deep river inlets of British Columbia, and the fear was that Japanese troops would use this as a cover to either cripple the major fishing industry located there or set up bases to strike either the US forces in Canada or the aviation industry in Washington state, as well as to create a foothold on the continent.
The most vulnerable spot was chosen to be Prince Rupert, BC, which was the northernmost terminus of the Canadian National Railway. It was also located at the mouth of the Skeena River, which had been a favorite of the Japanese for fishing as it was navigable for some 120 kilometers inland. Happily, the Canadian government noted that there was a branch line paralleling the river to Terrace, which was the limit of deepwater navigability on the river.
Their solution was to order the creation of an armored train to patrol the stretch along the river, and this is the topic of this enjoyable little book by Mr. Lucy. He covers the entire history of the train from its initial inception on 28 March 1942 to its formal termination on 22 August 1944 when all rolling stock was returned to the control of CN.
The train was a "doubled ended" design with four cars, an engine and service car, and four more cars running as a fixed unit. Each set of four cars included an artillery car with an old US 75mm gun on a pedestal mount, an AA car with twin 40mm Bofors guns welded to the floor of a gondola, and two infantry cars, essentially former 50 foot auto transport boxcars lined with thin armor plating and with windows cut into their sides. The service car provided a headquarters section with kitchen and high-power radio set, and the engine – 4-6-0 "Ten-Wheeler" Number 1426 from CN – was fitted with thin armor plate around the cab.
This latter modification puzzled some, as the most vulnerable part of a steam engine was its boiler, so efforts were undertaken to repower two old CN diesel locomotives with modern US diesels from Electromotive (GM) and fully armor them against at least small arms.
After much wrangling, mostly involving who ran the train as opposed to who controlled it (Canadian National did not want any major timetable disruptions, and the military wanted to be in charge if there was an attack) the train entered service with its first patrol of the Skeena on 29 July 1942.
The Canadians soon found out that the train was more or less a "Toonerville Trolley" better suited to comic opera work than mainline protection, as the branchline was not in the best condition and it soon found out that the train had to slow to only about 10 mph on patrol to avoid derailments. It tended to be a "rough rider" for the most part, but at that speed it was tolerable. However, the Canadians soon found out from combat training that it could not carry out a running gun battle with anything on the river, for it was too hard to aim the train's two guns and four 40mm pieces when it was moving and bouncing down the tracks.
Nevertheless, the train carried out its patrols of the river until 29 September 1943 when, as the US and Canadian forces had completely reoccupied all lost territory in the Aleutians its services were no longer required and it went to shed. So ended the only armored train to run in Canada, and the only such train to run in North America since 1865.
Thanks to Clive Law of Service Publications for the review copy.