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David L Austin
The idea of the Overlord train was conceived as just a small train of military vehicles on my freelance model of the Southern Railway in the prewar years. The Southern Railway in the late 1930s had three main types of traffic; mainline and branch passenger trains, which included Pullman trains for boat and air travellers, big freight trains from the South Coast docks with perishable and bulk goods, and military trains which conveyed the expeditionary forces to continental Europe.

With this operational scenario in mind, the military train was going to be a key feature of running the layout as the South of England had been the starting point for all military expeditions leaving these shores. As far back as the time of the Spanish Armada in 1588, the major ports of Southampton and Portsmouth have bid farewell to the warriors of the British Isles, and early in 1944 the largest ever invasion fleet was assembled in the ports of the South Coast and despatched to France. Since the 60th anniversary of the Overlord landings, there has been renewed interest in the D-Day invasion as it was probably the last big celebration of this momentous event in the history of warfare. This renewed awareness heightened my interest in the landings, and the logistics of moving five divisions of men and material, mainly by railway, to the assembly areas on the South Coast for embarkation on the invasion fleet was a huge undertaking of organisation and improvisation.

Overlord Military Train

At the start of the project there was little expectation of the outcome of this little modelling acorn, as it was only meant to be a little train of tanks on flat wagons. But the internet is a fantastic source of information and much research on the web and in the library produced photographs by the dozen, mostly with human stories of courage and derring-do. There are not many photographs of military trains in the war as security concerns have curtailed general access, and those which are available are of troop-carrying passenger trains, ambulance trains, freights with ammunition and stores, and long bulk trains with US-made Sherman tanks or British Cromwell type tanks on flat wagons. As the troop and freight trains are easily catered for by standard stock, the tank-carrying train is the subject of this model. However, the only photographs which feature military vehicles on the railway are shipments of new-built tanks from factories in the north to army units in the south.

It was a great disappointment to find that the main model manufacturers such as Tamiya and Corgi have only produced some soft-skinned vehicles in 1:43 scale, but no armoured tanks. The military modelling world usually works to 1:35 or 1:50, but models in these scales are too far out of size to be practical in 0 gauge. The closest popular scale for military vehicles is 1:48, but the range of availability in this scale is also limited.

So the idea of bulk trains with one vehicle type was looking unachievable, given that there was no consistent source of vehicles in the correct size and scale at a reasonable cost. However, further trawling on the internet produced many types of soft-skinned military vehicle at reasonable prices. There were jeeps and trucks exactly the right scale and size from Corgi, Shucco, Solido, and Cararama, with many variations on colour and army unit markings. Further, these mass-produced models have been used by smaller firms to produce upgraded variations. The amount of information gleaned from the internet and books really started to hurt the grey matter, so it was all collated in a database to track and analyse the availability of suitable models. The key to finding the right vehicles was the size of the actual model and not its scale, as it became clear that some models were incorrectly-sized, and some out-of-scale models were more suitable than others. It was a matter of trial and error to find the models which had a 'best fit'. The database has been developed to contain details of each vehicle type and manufacturer, with model numbers and scale sizes, and this' information enabled me to select vehicles which were correct for size and period, regardless of scale.

Back in the real world, and notwithstanding the dearth of photographs of railways carrying military vehicles, the coverage of the armed forces in the D-Day landings is much more prolific and interesting from the modeller's viewpoint. The troops and vehicles of the invasion force were loaded into ships at Plymouth, Weymouth, Poole,

Chichester, Southampton railway docks, Portsmouth and Newhaven. The hardware included all types and sizes of tanks, trucks, armoured carriers, jeeps, trucks, motorcycles and bicycles. The soldiers were going into the unknown and were unlikely to be supported during the first days of the landing. It was very noticeable that the main feature of the vehicles in the invasion force was that each and everyone is loaded up to the hilt with personal gear, and covered with tent rolls, packs, helmets, oil cans, jerry cans, spare track links, spare wheels and other personal items.

For the recent Overlord anniversary, Corgi, Solido and Cararama have produced updates of the jeeps and small trucks, some with interesting details of personal packs and weapons. As most of these ranges are limited editions, individual vehicles can be quite scarce, but fortunately eBay is an excellent source of models, and many a happy hour has been whiled away searching for the exclusive find. In something close to an obsession and a frenzy of plastic card abuse, the model military vehicle train started to take shape, and 13 vehicles were delivered and loaded on to 10 flat wagons. Each vehicle was detailed with personal packs and loads, and secured to the wagon with either chain or rope.

The Overlord military train made its first public appearance at the club in late 2005, to critical acclaim as it was pronounced winner of the Interesting Trains day, and with a mention in the Gauge 0 Guild Gazette.

But even though the military train was now a reality, it was galling that there were no armoured vehicles in my army, and particularly notable there were no British military vehicles. So plans were drawn up to scratchbuild a suitable tank from plastic card, with components from a Tamiya kit providing the detail. The chosen model was the Centaur close support tank used by the Royal Marines, and an example of the Corgi model was used as a template. The Corgi model is highly detailed, with wading equipment, packs, tarpaulins, and markings on the turret for artillery observers. But in 1:50 scale it is clearly too small to be used. However, it wasn't too far into this little exercise of scratchbuilding that I realised construction of a whole train worth of tanks was going to be a long, tedious process. As the Corgi model looked so realistic it was a shame to scrap it, so the Centaur was paired with a Corgi model of a Cromwell tank, loaded onto a warflat wagon and marshalled with the military train for its next outing. In the context of a train running on tracks, and without the benefit of a figure in 1:43 to provide a size comparison, the train of out-of-scale tanks was a great success. But there was more, much more to come.

In the preparation for the assault, the British were by far the most adventurous, with specialised armoured vehicles in support of the assault troops on the beaches. The American 5herman tank and the jeep may be the enduring image of soldiers going to war, but the lessons learnt in previous amphibious operations were fully acted on by the staff of the English military. The attempts at seaborne invasions of Gallipoli (1915), Norway (1940) and Dieppe (1942), were all lacking in vital equipment and detailed planning, and failed to achieve their objectives. To ensure success in 1944, the military produced solutions of fantastic imagination and great success. The 79th Armoured Division was lead by Maj-Gen Hobart and supported the attacking forces with specialised assault vehicles known as Hobart's Funnies. These included pragmatic solutions to the problems of overcoming defended shorelines, with modified tanks for mine clearing, demolition, bridging, antiaircraft, swimming, and road building.

In the military modelling world the diecast vehicles produced by Corgi and Solido as basic toys have been modified to create these specialist vehicles. The box of worms was well and truly open, and there are now many more opportunities to increase the variation of Armoured Fighting Vehicles, AFY, on the military train.

The growing collection of suitable military vehicles for the model train was a step into the unknown. The escalation of the number of wagonloads meant that the train had become too heavy for a simple SECR C Class 0-6 0 tender loco, and further, heavier armoured tanks needed to be carried on specialised bogie flat wagons for transportation. In an attempt to keep the spiralling costs under in control, a programme of mass wagon building was undertaken. Using styrene card and cast WD bogies, a fleet of warflat, warwell and rectank wagons was constructed. From research of the archives the typical AFV train comprised two or three passenger coaches, two brakevans, two ramp wagons and five or nine flat bogie wagons. The brakevans were converted from Parkside SR 25ton brakevans, and ramp wagons were scratchbuilt from styrene. Fortunately, and available just in time, the locomotive problem was solved by the arrival of a WD Austerity 2-8-0 kit by Snowhill Models, and the completed model was up and running in short order.

The model train of the Overlord forces is intended to be a tribute to the soldiers of the Second World War and particularly the Southern Railway in transporting the invasion forces to the South Coast.

The photographs of the Overlord are taken on my father's layout and feature a WD 2-8-0 Austerity loco from a Snowhill kit, an SECR C class 0-6-0 tender loco from a Javelin kit, various tanks and trucks from Corgi, Cararama, Schuco and Solido, scratchbuilt AFV wagons, and specialised vehicles from the Quartermaster range.