Deutsche Reichsbahn: Strength through Standardization II

A letter in Railway World in April 1969 from John F. Clay, a member of the Stephenson Society, argued the case for Mallard: ‘The difference between the maximum speeds for Mallard and 05.002 is so small as to be in the range of uncertainty present even with the most sophisticated of dynamometer car equipment.’ Clay went on to help gauge the particular merit of Mallard’s record run:

An A4 was built to a much more restricted loading gauge than the larger and more specialised 05. It would be impossible in this country [Great Britain] to build an engine with 7 ft 6 in driving wheels and an adequate boiler. Mallard’s load of 240 tons, light at it seems, was heavier in proportion to the size of the engine than the 200 tons behind the 05. Although Stoke Bank is downhill the initial acceleration from 24 mph at Grantham to 74 mph at Stoke Box up 1-in-200 would, in itself, have winded a lesser engine even before the high-speed attempt could begin. The smaller wheels of the A4 had to reach a higher rotational speed to equal the road speeds of the German engine. Although we must be sensible about Mallard, we still have every justification for a little national pride.

Quite what it was like to ride on the footplate of the German 4-6-4 at 2 miles per minute was vividly described by Paul Roth of the Deutsche Reichsbahn’s locomotive testing department at Grunewald. In an article published a year after his death in Lok (Locomotive) magazine, Roth explained that Wagner had been hoping to break the 200 kph barrier with the 05s. Despite 05 002’s free running and reserves of power, whenever the engine was worked up to a tantalizing 195 kph problems arose, now with broken springs, now with loose tyres due to the high lateral forces between tyre and wheel rim at very high speed.

On 11 May, 05 002, pulling one coach less than on previous runs, had been delayed by signals and speed restrictions. Leaving Wittenberge for Berlin, every attempt was made to regain time, meaning that long stretches would have to be run at 180 kph (112 mph). Roth recalled:

As a result of the reduction in weight by fifty tons, the lack of a side wind and with wet rails, the train resistance was significantly reduced and the 05 reached 195 kph much faster than usual. At this speed a howling at the chimney started up. It sounded like a ship’s hooter and indicated a very high boiler performance. An additional circumstance egged our crew on. In Hamburg, they had learned from our passengers that one of the diesel-electric railcars had reached the 200 kph barrier between Stendal and Hanover. Till then, no diesel had run as fast as the 05, so our crew was rather displeased.

The 05 was now racing faster and faster; no one was thinking about broken springs and tyres. The pressure gauge read 20 atmospheres [294 psi]. There was sufficient water in the boiler. The driver, Oscar Langhans, asked if he could link up a few cogs. After a short while, the speedometer needle touched its stop [200 kph]. Everything went much faster than usual. In the train, meanwhile, people had also recognized that something special was going on. When the speed of 200 kph was reached, the dynamometer car gave a long honk, a signal to the crew up front. Since speedometer readings are never fully accurate, the crew maintained the speed for a while. Not at any price did we want to stand there at 199.5 kph.

Being in the cab of a 200 ton steam engine [the weight with tender] racing at 200 kph is not comfortable . . . the crew’s nerves were on edge. Even so, or perhaps because of this reason, our fireman, Ernst Hohne, performed an Indian dance with his broom in the cab.

The driver would have been mostly concerned with the view of the road ahead. German main-line signals at the time were spaced at three-quarter-mile intervals, but even with an emergency brake application, 05 002 needed 0.85 miles to stop from 180 kph (112 mph). But the test runs with the streamlined 4-6-4 were useful, not least because they prompted significant improvements in locomotive, and train, brakes. Mallard’s own record run down Stoke Bank on 3 July 1938 was described by the LNER as the result of a high-speed brake test using quick-service application valves, combined with an attempt on the world record.

That 05 002’s world-record run was an exercise in propaganda is made clear by the fact that senior members of the government, including Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, and his deputy, Reinhard Heydrich, were on board, along with Wolff, Wagner, and the Deutsche Reichsbahn’s head of testing, Professor Hans Nordmann. A trip two days earlier – one of four very high-speed return journeys made between Berlin and Hamburg with 05 002 that week – was laid on specially for senior German military officers. However hard the Deutsche Reichsbahn tried before the war to maintain a strictly technocratic stance in its dealings with the Nazi state, it was impossible to remain anything like detached.

None of the high-speed runs affected 05 002’s performance. On 30 May, the record-breaker took the British party from the Institution of Locomotive Engineers, including Stanier and Cecil J. Allen, on a run from Berlin to Hamburg and back with a three-coach, 150 ton train. Allen reported that 250 miles of the journey had been reeled off at a mean speed of 91 mph, with much ground covered at three-figure speeds, including a maximum of 118 mph. On the return journey, 05 002 sprinted away from Wittenberge with the alacrity of a modern electric – the train was very light – covering the 70.1 miles to a signal stop fourteen miles west of Berlin in 48 minutes and 32 seconds, at an average of 86.7 mph. There was no doubt, Allen wrote, that ‘the engine could travel for indefinite distances at 100 mph and could obtain considerably higher speeds when necessary’. It certainly could. Given the sheer number of times 05 002 reached 110 mph and more on level track and went on to average 124.5 mph over some distance, it might well be right to call Wolff’s locomotive the fastest steam engine in the world.

What was equally impressive is that on regular services between Hamburg and Berlin, with up to six coaches, the 05s could very nearly equal the timing of the lightweight, two-car Fliegender Hamburger. A third 05 was commissioned from Borsig, but this was an experimental cab-forward locomotive designed to burn pulverized coal. To increase the maximum speed of express trains generally from 120 to 140 kph (74.5 to 87 mph), and even 150 kph (93 mph), Wagner had fifty-five streamlined, three-cylinder 01s built from 1939. Classified 01.10, these looked like smaller versions of the 05s; while sixty 03.10s – streamlined, three-cylinder light Pacifics – followed closely on their heels. Three cylinders promised smoother running at speed and lower track ‘hammer blow’, while the streamlining saved power, and hence fuel, at speed. More of both classes were to have been built, but by then Germany had plunged Europe into the most destructive war the world has ever known.

When Germany emerged from the war, those 01.10s and 03.10s that had survived were stripped of their streamlined casing and, looking much like their unadorned, two-cylinder siblings, and working on identical passenger duties, could still be seen hard at work until the mid-1970s. As for the 05s, they were de-streamlined in 1950 at the Krauss Maffei works by Adolf Wolff himself. With boiler pressure reduced to 235 psi, these handsome 4-6-4s lost some of their edge and were, in any case, limited to a modest 140 kph. They did, however, work the longest regular express services on the new Deutsche Bundesbahn, the 703 kilometre route from Hamburg via Cologne and Frankfurt. But as they were not standard locomotives – the blessing or curse of Richard Wagner – the 05s were withdrawn in 1958, despite having a good many years left in them. Very sadly, 05 002 was scrapped, although her sister, 05 001, was fully restored to her original condition in 1963 – Adolf Wolff witnessed the work – and is now on display in the Nuremberg transport museum. In 2011, Mallard was shipped from her home at the Railway Museum in York to meet 05 001 at Nuremberg as part of a seventy-fifth anniversary celebration of 05 002’s world-record run.

There had been one other successful attempt at a steam rival to the latest high-speed German diesels. This was the remarkable Henschel-Wegmann Train, produced by the Henschel works in Kassel and the local coachbuilders, Wegmann, a firm that also made tanks for the military in both world wars (and once again when production of the Leopard 1 began in 1965). The idea of a two-car, push-pull, high-speed, streamlined steam express train, which was, in essence, a steam multiple-unit, had been proposed to Wagner and the Deutsche Reichsbahn by Henschel’s manager, Karl Imfeld, in April 1933. The following February, Dr Friedrich Fuchs, the Deutsche Reichsbahn’s chief mechanical engineer, went to visit Imfeld. The answer was yes, but Fuchs insisted on a four-coach train.

The result, unveiled in May 1935, was a streamlined, if slightly bulbous, 4-6-4 tank engine blurred into the four coaches, including an observation car, fitted with roller bearings and disc brakes, trailing behind it. First shown to the public during the centenary celebrations held for the German railways between July and October 1935 – Hitler was one of the many visitors – the train began service on a very tight 65 mph schedule over the 176 kilometres between Berlin and Dresden the following summer. The 1 hour and 40 minute timing cut 28 minutes from the fastest existing schedule; in 2012, the fastest train between the two cities took 2 hours and 4 minutes.

Even more impressive was the fact that the train made two return journeys each day. The solitary two-cylinder class 61 4-6-4T was well up to the job. Beneath its voluminous dress, it was a well-proportioned, free-steaming locomotive, with a boiler pressure of 294 psi, which ran at 160 kph (99.5 mph) in everyday service and up to 175 kph (109 mph) when required; on test, 61 001 reached 185 kph, or approximately 115 mph, a world record for a tank engine. This was no Thomas. When the locomotive returned to Henschel for a major overhaul, it was replaced by 01 and 03 Pacifics. Although the streamlined Dresden service ceased to run in August 1939 as Germany prepared for war, 61 001 was returned to traffic in 1948, based at Bebra, close to Kassel. Badly damaged in an accident at Munster in November 1951, she was taken out of service and scrapped six years later.

A second and sleeker class 61 joined 61 001 in 1939. With three-cylinders and a bigger water tank and coal bunker, 61 002 only just made it into passenger service in the summer of 1939. Fate, however, was kinder to 61 002. In 1961, she was converted at Meiningen works by the Deutsches Reichsbahn into a semi-streamlined, three-cylinder tender locomotive, with larger cylinders and a combustion-chamber boiler, while retaining her 2.3 m (7 ft 6½ in) driving wheels (the largest fitted to a Pacific), designed to test new coaching stock at high speeds. Fitted with a highly efficient Giesl ejector exhaust, 18 201, as she was now numbered, was rated at 2,120 ihp, with a maximum speed of 180 kph. On test in 1972, this elegant green engine steamed up to 182.4 kph, or about 113 mph, making her the fastest post-war steam locomotive on record, beating the record set by A4 60007 Sir Nigel Gresley in 1959 by just 1 mph. Since 1980, 18 201 has worked special trains and in 2012, owned by Dampf-Plus, she is still very much in action and, on occasion, runs at very high speed.

High-speed trains were glamorous, much feted, and greatly admired. But, as trains grew heavier throughout the 1930s, what operating departments required most of all was power: reliable, consistent, readily available power. So, the Deutsche Reichsbahn’s final streamliners were a pair of mighty three-cylinder 4-8-4s, the 06 class, crafted by Krupp in 1939. No other 4-8-4s were built in Germany. The locomotives were 26.5 m (87 feet) long and weighed 142 tons (a Stanier LMS Coronation was 70 feet long and weighed 105 tons). Rated at 2,761 ihp, they were designed to pull 650 ton trains on the level at 120 kph (74.5 mph), with a maximum of 140 kph (87 mph). Hugely impressive to look at, the 06s, with their long wheelbase, tended to derail on sharp curves. The boilers, meanwhile, developed cracks. Doubtless, Krupp and Wagner would have improved the engines if more had been built, but by summer 1939 sheer power was needed, mostly to pull freight trains. The fleet of Pacifics that Wagner and the German manufacturers had built up since 1925 was perfectly adequate to the tasks asked of them by railway management. The 06s survived the war, but were scrapped by the Deutsche Bundesbahn in 1951.

The 06s used the same boiler as the class 45 2-10-2s which, by rights, should have been the mainstay of Deutsche Reichsbahn heavy freight operations from their inception in 1936 and for the next forty years. And yet, just twenty-eight of these impressive-looking, three-cylinder machines were built, an order for 103 being cancelled in 1941. Faster than previous Deutsche Reichsbahn freight locomotives – 90 kph (56 mph) as opposed to 80 kph (50 mph) – and far more powerful, the 45s promised a great deal, but, like the 06s, they suffered from boiler problems, and there was no time, or will, after the invasion of Poland in September 1939 to develop them further. When equipped with new combustion-chamber boilers and mechanical stokers from 1950, the 45s finally showed what they could do. Only five were rebuilt, however, and in 1968 the last three members of the class were made redundant.

As German troops swept across Poland and Hitler began to prepare for Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Deutsche Reichsbahn was extended ever further east, while more troop trains, trains ferrying tanks and artillery pieces, trains fetching fuel, and trains supplying factories across the newly conquered territories pushed what was a well-run railway to unprecedented limits. With new lines laid quickly, the cry from operators in the east was for simple, strong engines with light axle loads. Fitness for purpose and simplicity truly were the keys to good wartime design. Even Wagner’s powerful and dependable class 44 2-10-0s were too heavy in axle loading and too complex for the rigours of wartime assignments.

Wagner responded with the class 50 2-10-0s, first built in 1939, rugged, two-cylinder machines with an axle loading of just 15.2 tons (anything under 18 tons is light). Weighing 87 tons and allowed to run at 80 kph (50 mph) in both directions, the class 50s were as popular as they were reliable. They were designated Kriegsloks and were among some seven thousand steam locomotives produced in Germany during just two and a half years of brutal conflict. Even so, the first class 50s were considered too complex for the kind of mass production that men like Wagner could never have envisaged in the 1920s. The revised class 50UK (Übergangskriegslokomotive, or transitional war locomotive), with fabricated welded construction replacing steel castings, was the result – yet even this was seen as too complex for the rapid production the government and military demanded. Cue the class 52, an austerity version of the class 50 and the archetypal Kriegslok, a steam locomotive prepared for all-out war as never before.

The class 50, however, continued to be built, with gaps, not just throughout the Second World War, but for a long time afterwards. The final members of the class were built, with modifications to the original design, by the East German Deutsche Reichsbahn at the Lokomotivbau Karl Marx in Babelsberg in 1960, by which time 3,164 had been produced. Class 50s continued in front-line service on the Deutsche Bundesbahn until the end of steam in 1977, and on the Deutsche Reichsbahn until 1987, two years before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

These engines were great travellers. Either seized by allied railway engineers or made over as war reparations, the class 50s could be found at work between the 1950s and 1970s in, among other countries, Austria, Poland, Denmark, France, Turkey, the USSR, and Norway, as well as throughout the Balkans. They may have been used for evil ends in the early and mid-1940s, but the steam locomotive is in itself an innocent machine, and the class 50 was much needed and much liked wherever it went.

The class 52 began service just as German expansion eastwards was grinding to a halt. In this sense, they were too late; yet few can doubt that, whatever the job they were asked to do, the locomotives themselves performed reliably and well. Brutes to look at, the class 52s were among the quickest of all steam locomotives to build. Records of exactly how many man-hours were needed to build a complete 52 are uncertain, but the production figures speak for themselves. Between September 1942 and May 1945, more than 6,300 had been put into service. More were built between 1945 and 1950, bringing the total up to what seems to have been 6,719. From 1960, the Deutsche Reichsbahn rebuilt 200 with new boilers, and a total of 290 with Giesl ejector draughting to enable low-grade coal to be burned efficiently.

After the war, the class 52s were dispersed throughout various parts of Europe, although it was somehow strange to see some of the very last of them working for the Polish railways. It was the invasion of Poland that had signalled the start of the Second World War and it was in Poland that the worst of the Nazi extermination camps were sited – and it was the 52s that had brought so many to their deaths there. But as an example of how a machine that was essentially the product of a long craft tradition could be transformed into a unit of mass production, the 52 remains a fascinating locomotive.

A heavier Kriegslok, the two-cylinder class 42, was built in much smaller numbers – 837 in 1943 and 1944, with further examples produced between 1945 and 1949 – to be used where limitations on axle loads were less demanding than on the eastern front. There was, however, a design for a much larger Kriegslok altogether. This was Adolf Wolff’s 1943 proposal for a 2-6-8-0 compound Mallet, a form of articulated locomotive with two engine units beneath the boiler, devised by the Swiss engineer Anatole Mallet. At 27.4 m (90 feet) long and weighing 140 tons, this impressive locomotive would have been a formidable performer, but by the time Wolff was drawing up outline designs the Borsig works had been severely damaged by allied air raids, and as 1944 dawned it was clear to most steam men – if not to Adolf Hitler – that the war was lost and that, as Germany fought an increasingly desperate rearguard action on two fronts, the production of weapons and ammunition would have to take over from that of locomotives.