CALL of DUTY The ROD 2-8-0s

They served in Europe – and even­tu­ally all over the world… RICHARD FOS­TER tells the story of the ROD 2-8-0.

Steam Railway (UK) - - ‘P’ CLASS RESTORED -

Just imag­ine the re­ac­tion if the RAF had used squadrons of First World War Sop­with Camels to fight in the Sec­ond World War, and had then called on them again for front­line ac­tion in the Mid­dle East in the 1950s. Sounds a bit far-fetched, doesn’t it? Of course, this didn’t hap­pen in the world of air­craft, but when it comes to lo­co­mo­tives things are dif­fer­ent.

It’s well known that the LNER ‘O4’ 2-8-0 be­came the lo­co­mo­tive of choice dur­ing the First World War, even if the specifics of that story aren’t so fa­mil­iar. But a lesser-known story is that nearly 100 of these ven­er­a­ble ‘Great War’ sol­diers served in the Sec­ond World War too, and that Bri­tish Rail­ways sold five to the War Depart­ment in 1952 for ser­vice in Egypt.

The ‘O4’ story is unique. It’s an Eastern Re­gion de­sign, but it worked in all four cor­ners of Bri­tain in a way that no other class did. It also worked in Asia, Aus­trala­sia and Africa, as well as Europe. The class also be­came a mas­sive mill­stone around the Gov­ern­ment’s neck.

Like all good sto­ries, we have to start at the be­gin­ning, and that be­gin­ning isn’t 1950s Egypt. It isn’t even the Western Front – it be­gan in Im­ming­ham.

The Great Cen­tral Rail­way was known for the fast freights and ex­presses of the Lon­don Ex­ten­sion, but one of its pri­mary roles was trans­port­ing coal from Der­byshire and South York­shire to the Hum­ber for ex­port.

The GCR started work on a new deep-wa­ter port at Im­ming­ham in 1906, and it was due for com­ple­tion in 1912. The GCR al­ready had a suc­cess­ful min­eral lo­co­mo­tive, the ‘8A’ (LNER ‘Q4’) 0-8-0 of 1902, but it needed more to cope with the de­mand that Im­ming­ham docks would bring. Lo­co­mo­tive Su­per­in­ten­dent John G. Robin­son got to work and came up with what was ef­fec­tively a 2-8-0 ver­sion of the ‘8A’.

The new ‘8K’s’ boiler was ta­pered, rather than par­al­lel, and it was su­per­heated. The pony axle car­ried the ex­tra weight and im­proved the ride. Cylin­ders were 21in by 26in and the driv­ing wheels were 1in larger in di­am­e­ter.

The first emerged from Gor­ton in 1911, and by 1914 the GCR works, Kit­son in Leeds and North Bri­tish in Glas­gow had built a to­tal of 126 ‘8Ks’.


The story might have ended there, as the gen­eral Bri­tish at­ti­tude to­wards war in Europe was that it would be over by Christ­mas. But the stale­mate of trench war­fare had not been an­tic­i­pated, which is why it took un­til 1915 for the Rail­way Op­er­at­ing Di­vi­sion of the Royal Engi­neers to be­gin op­er­a­tions in France.

Bri­tain had an­tic­i­pated that it would use French and Bel­gian lo­co­mo­tives and stock, but both re­fused to loan them to the Bri­tish.

Bri­tain’s rail­way com­pa­nies were now un­der gov­ern­ment con­trol and some 500 lo­co­mo­tives were req­ui­si­tioned. Clearly, this state of af­fairs could not con­tinue: the ROD needed a lo­co­mo­tive of its own and it de­cided to or­der some ‘8Ks’. The de­sign was sim­ple, strong and ro­bust, but the de­ci­sion was prob­a­bly helped by the fact that GCR Gen­eral Man­ager Sir Sam Fay was Direc­tor Gen­eral of War Trans­port, and the chief of the ROD’s Au­druicq work­shops had once been em­ployed at the GCR’s Gor­ton Works.

The new ROD 2-8-0 was an ‘8K’ but with some very sub­tle tweaks. French-pro­file tyres were used, Ross ‘pop’ safety valves re­placed the Rams­bot­tom type, con­ti­nen­tal-pat­tern buf­fers and side chains were fit­ted along with re-rail­ing jacks on the front run­ning plate and me­chan­i­cal lu­bri­ca­tors were later re­placed by ‘In­ten­si­flor’ lu­bri­ca­tors. The first ROD lo­co­mo­tives had a steam brake and an air pump on the right-hand side and a reser­voir un­der the run­ning plate just fore of the cab. Those built from the sum­mer of 1918 on­wards had air brakes only, the only give­away be­ing the ex­tra reser­voir on the left-hand side.

The ten­der was out­wardly sim­i­lar but the wa­ter scoop was omit­ted and the coal ca­pac­ity was in­creased to seven tons. The first or­ders were placed in Fe­bru­ary 1917 and pro­duc­tion con­tin­ued through­out 1918. Even af­ter the Armistice of Novem­ber 11 1918, Bri­tish fac­to­ries were still work­ing flat-out on mu­ni­tions work and so an ad­di­tional 196 lo­co­mo­tives were or­dered in late 1918, the last be­ing de­liv­ered in 1920, long af­ter the war had of­fi­cially ended with the Treaty of Ver­sailles on June 28 1919.

A to­tal of 521 ROD ‘8Ks’ were con­structed: NBL built 369 be­tween 1917 and 1919 (ROD Nos. 1787-2001/ 2008-13/2015-31/2033-44/2046-48/2051-84/2086-2167); Robert Stephenson 82 from 1917-20 (ROD Nos. 1633/1635-36/1638/16401700/1733-49); Nas­myth, Wil­son 32 from 1917-19 (ROD Nos. 170132); Kit­son 32 in 1917/18 (ROD Nos. 1601-1632); and the Great Cen­tral Rail­way six in 1918/19 (ROD Nos. 2002-07). Note that the num­ber bears no re­la­tion­ship to the date the lo­co­mo­tive was de­liv­ered. The GCR’s or­der was orig­i­nally for 25 lo­co­mo­tives but it was cut to six. The new lo­co­mo­tives were sent to France fresh from the fac­tory. Ini­tially, they were shipped from Portsmouth to Le Havre but the roll-on-roll-off train ferry from Rich­bor­ough in Kent came into op­er­a­tion in Fe­bru­ary 1918.

Lo­co­mo­tives were pre­pared at Au­druicq, near Calais. They were em­ployed on troop move­ments both to and from the front (in­clud­ing mov­ing Bri­tish troops to help the Ital­ians af­ter the Cen­tral Pow­ers vic­tory at Ca­poretto), mov­ing sup­plies and even work­ing some civil­ian ser­vices. Only Nos. 1601-32/1647-95/1701-24/1801-1969/197299 and 2002-2004 worked in France, but this in­cluded lo­co­mo­tives that ar­rived af­ter the Armistice had been signed. Although the fight­ing stopped, the ‘O4s’ were still needed: troops and equip­ment had to be brought home, and this con­tin­ued un­til 1920. One par­tic­u­larly ar­du­ous ‘O4’ duty was the daily Cologne-Boulogne ‘leave train’ that took more than 20 hours to reach the French coast.


The lo­co­mo­tives that re­turned from France went into store in Sur­rey, while new 2-8-0s were put straight into store near Leeds and Im­ming­ham. Nos. 2005-2007 were stored at Gor­ton and were swiftly as­sim­i­lated into GCR stock (ap­par­ently the Gov­ern­ment was never paid for them!).

Some ended up with the GWR, oth­ers with the LNWR, L&YR, Cale­do­nian, GER, LSWR and SECR (and later with the ‘Big Four’ af­ter the Group­ing); with vary­ing de­grees of suc­cess.

Many never re­turned, and their two-cylin­der beat re­ver­ber­ated around the world, in­clud­ing at the col­lieries of J&A Brown of New South Wales, which bought 13 for haul­ing coal on the Rich­mond Vale Rail­way; while 20 were bought by agents for use in China.

Many, in­clud­ing some of the ‘Great War’ ‘vets’, re­turned to main­land Europe for the Sec­ond World War ef­fort: 92 ‘O4s’ went to Egypt and Pales­tine.

Sixty-one had been built for the Rail­way Op­er­at­ing Di­vi­sion. They were num­bered 700-91 in the War Depart­ment series; two were lost at sea. The sur­viv­ing 90 were put to work on Egyp­tian

State Rail­ways and Pales­tine Rail­ways, as well as the HaifaBeirut-Tripoli rail­way that was un­der con­struc­tion.

Lo­co­mo­tives were trans­ferred be­tween rail­ways and most were con­verted to oil-fir­ing.

At the end of the war in Europe in May 1945, there were 329 ‘O4s’ on the LNER (although some had been re­built as ‘O1s’ by this time), 50 on the GWR, 90 in Egypt and 13 in Aus­tralia. What hap­pened to the lo­co­mo­tives sent to China in the 1920s is any­body’s guess.

Hap­pily, Nos. 1984 (once loaned to the L&Y and LNWR), 2003 and 2004 sur­vive to­day.

Both Nos. 1984 and 2003 are kept in store at the Dor­rigo Steam Rail­way, New South Wales, while No. 2004 is on dis­play at the Rich­mond Vale Rail­way where funds are be­ing sought to re­store it to work­ing or­der. Fel­low Gor­ton prod­uct No. 63601 re­sides at the Great Cen­tral Rail­way, where it will make an ap­pear­ance this month for the Armistice week­end, adorned in tem­po­rary ROD liv­ery.


The first of 521 ROD 2-8-0s was No. 1801, built by North Bri­tish in Au­gust 1917. It was to be­come LMS No. 9662. Note the air brakes, re-rail­ing jacks and side cou­pling chains.


The pre­cise record of where No. 1720, built by Nas­myth Wil­son in 1918, was pho­tographed has not sur­vived. Loaned to the SECR and LNWR af­ter be­ing ‘de­mobbed’, it be­came part of the LMS fleet.


An ROD 2-8-0 hard at work in 1967! Rich­mond Vale Rail­way No. 15, formerly ROD No. 1889, pow­ers along near Mi­noric Road Bridge on the New South Wales line, on Fe­bru­ary 2 1967. Three of its Aussie sis­ters sur­vive.


A com­mon sight through­out the 1920s – ROD 2-8-0s in store. The seven 2-8-0s loaned to the LSWR await dis­posal by the Gov­ern­ment at Straw­berry Hill shed in the sum­mer of 1920. No. 2069 is near­est the cam­era – it was later sold to the GWR.

North Bri­tish-built No. 1859, of the De­pot D’at­tache Dunkerque, is in a spot of bother some­where in north­ern France, hav­ing been top­pled over by a glanc­ing blow. MIL­I­TARY HIS­TORY COL­LEC­TION/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

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