Sample Bulletin Article No. 2

The Warflat Tank-Carrying Wagon

There does not appear to be a definitive article about Warflat wagons. It is hoped that these notes, based mainly upon personal observation, will stimulate WW2RSG members to add to what is written here.

Warflats seem to have been designed to carry armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs), but I have also seen them carrying lorries, containers, wooden boxes, railway sleepers, floating caissons and even a boat. The vehicles are flat wagons, as their name implies. Both the WW1 and the WW2 varieties ride on diamond frame bogies.

Warflats are fitted with screw jacks beside each buffer, in order to support the vehicle when a tank drives onto it. The jacks are screwed down to about 6" from the rail head, then the tank is loaded. It seems that if the jack is screwed all of the way down to the rail head then it is physically impossible to unscrew the jack when the vehicle has been loaded.

Topics within this article:

WW1 Warflats [see note 1]
WW2 Warflats
The Tankflats
Modern Warflats

WW1 Warflats [see note 1]

Before WW1 a number of railway companies used "fish belly" wagons to transport heavy loads. "Fish belly" describes the side profile of the wagon, which becomes deeper towards the middle, so enabling the centre to carry greater loads than a similar straight-sided vehicle.

When a heavy-duty wagon was required to transport tanks during WW1 at least two types of wagons were commissioned, one of which was based upon the well established "fish belly" technology. This seems at the time to have been called a Parrot, but was later referred to as the Warflat. The other type of tank carrier  was called a Rectank, (Railway Executive Committee tank wagon), and is outside of the scope of this article.

Some early photographs of Warflats [see note 1] show that they did not seem to have any load securing points, whereas most had six securing loops along each side. Some went to France and carried dual "WD" and "ETAT" lettering along with the painted telegraph code "PARROT" (a code name which was applied to a different type of wagon in WW2).

After WW1 a number of these wagons were sold as war surplus to the LMS, who applied fairly random fleet numbers which had previously either been unused or applied to scrapped vehicles. This cannot have occurred before 1923 as the LMS was not formed until that year.

Features to distinguish the WW1 version of the Warflat [see note 1] from the WW2 version include;-

    • an indicator plate next to the handbrake wheel, carrying the words "on BRAKE off". The handbrake wheels are off-centre and are opposite each other, with the plate between the handbrake wheel and the nearest end of the wagon;

    • the headstock corners are slightly rounded;

    • the maker's plate was centrally located and was either an oblong about 10" across or a rectangle about 6" across;

    • wheels were of the open spoked variety;

    • axlebox covers are marked "WD".

Surviving WW1 Warflat [see note 1] wagons seem to be rated at either 40 tons or 45 tons and include these examples;-

    • at a military base, fleet number WGF.8080 shows signs of former lettering "LMR" in 12" high letters;

    • BSC Workington, fleet numbers 831, 833, 838 and 840;

    • BSC Shelton, fleet number BB.3142;

    • BSC Shelton, fleet number BB.3161 is roughly similar to a Warflat and is mounted upon WD bogies. However, it is made of fabricated sections riveted together, as opposed to the normal pressing (or rolling ?). It may be that this is a variety of Warflat or it may be an industrial design based upon that of the Warflat.

The Tankflats

Not strictly a Warflat, but related to them, are the Tankflats. These are shorter than the Warflat, have "fish belly" side girders and ride on Gloucester bogies. Two (possibly more) narrow gauge AFV carriers were built by Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Co in the 1960's. These featured retractable side extensions and exchangeable bogies and centre couplings. About a year after construction the Gloucester firm modified the two vehicles for use on standard gauge lines and the vehicles ran for a few years over the BR network. They are now in internal use at a military base.

Modern Warflats

A number of bogie flat wagons of a new design were constructed in the 1970's by BR at Shildon. These feature air brakes, modern bogies and straight sides (though the internal girders retain the traditional "fish belly" shape).

WW2 Warflats

The WW2 design of Warflat is very similar to the WW1 version but seems to have come in a number of varieties:

  • 45 ton with securing hooks on the solebar;

  • 45 ton with securing rings at the edge of the floor (some built this way and some conversions from the ordinary 45 ton variety);

  • 45 ton built in 1940 as "MoS Crane Equipped Flat Wagon 12inch Howitzer Equipment" (with rectangular section tube across the wagon under the crane's axis - some surviving Warflats still carry this tube);

  • 50 ton (as 45 ton but with re-enforcement along the base of the solebar in the form of a riveted "L" section strip);

  • 45 ton Warflat for the French army (as the British version but devoid of the numberplate and waybill holder).

All WW2 Warflats seem to have been built by Metropolitan-Cammell at Washwood Heath in Birmingham in the years 1940, 1941 and 1942. They were all registered by the LMS railway with registration numbers from 1 to about 900, the registration plate being near the left-hand end of the vehicle.

Records in the PRO show the following:

MoS ordered 30 flat wagons 40' long from the SR (were these Warflats or incorrectly described Warwells ?);

MoS ordered 100 British Type 50-ton bogie flat from Metropolitan-Cammell following an enquiry dated 12th March 1941. Order value 85,673. Order completed 11th August 1942;

MoS ordered a further 200 of the 50 ton variety from Metropolitan-Cammell in November of 1941 for 940 each;

orders to dismantle Warflat wagons and pack them ready for shipment overseas were placed by the MoS as follows;-

  • 15th May 1941 38 GWR, 32 LMS, 46 Metropolitan-Cammell

  • 21st November 1941 30 Metropolitan-Cammell 360

  • 8th December 1941 20 Metropolitan-Cammell

  • (on 16th May 1941 the LMS was ordered to dismantle and pack 400 wagons of an unspecified type, which may have included Warflats).

UK WW2 Warflats  can be distinguished from the WW1 variety by:

  • Waybill holder about 12" square near left hand end;

  • Number plate about 15" square next to the waybill holder. The WW2 numbers began with the letters "AFV" (for Armoured Fighting Vehicle), followed by a number (assumed to be the same as the LMS registration number);

  • No sign of round edges to the buffer beam;

  • Disc wheels (either solid or 3 hole disc);

  • Painted "on" and "off" lettering by the handbrake wheel;

  • Maker's plate about 3" square about one third of the way from the right hand end of the wagon;

  • axlebox covers lettered "Hyde".

Up to the 1970's WW2 Warflats were in use as army wagons travelling over the BR network. Some were sold to BR and underwent a variety of conversions, including bolster wagon, coil carrier and specialist engineering department wagons.

Some WW2 Warflats still exist in internal use at a few military bases and steelworks. Some are still used by the BR civil engineers [see note 2].

Conclusion

There have been a number of types of Warflat built over a period of about 60 years. Perhaps WW2RSG members can add some detail to this general history of the Warflat, including their registrations, where they worked and their disposal. 
 
 

Notes

1. The name "Warflat" does not seem to have been used until the Second World War. .
 
2. It is thought that none of the Warflat wagons now remain in engineering use on BR