- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 31 Jan 1946, p. 206-218
- Rhodes, Brigadier Sir Godfrey, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- Four years of aid to Russia through the Persian Gulf. A general picture of what was done, and in particular, a description in some detail of the British share of this work. Germany's attack of Russia without warning, and contrary to treaty, in June of 1941. England's position at the time of fighting the war single-handed and facing the possibility of direct invasion; struggling to recover from the shock of Dunkirk and making strenuous efforts to re-equip her armies. Churchill's immediate willingness to help Russia. What was done for Russia by England almost immediately. The decision to help Russia one of the most far-seeing decision of the war. Appreciating the task that Britain undertook [the speaker here uses a map to help explain exactly what was done]. The Trans-Persian Railway and its route. The Persian Government's genuine attempt to carry out its treaty obligations. Details of the situation in Persia and Iraq. The speaker's arrival in October of 1941 and his initial meeting with senior railway officers who were flown out of Tehran to meet with him. A target of 2400 tons per day by the end of June, 1942 to be sent to Russia. An outline of what had to be done to bring the capacity of the railway up to task. The many difficulties encountered, including that of language. Ports, roads, and the part our Russian Allies played. The increase in need and demand; from 2400 tons per day to 12,000 tons per day. Mr. Churchill's request that Mr. Roosevelt undertake the new task. Details of what the Americans did. What this enormous effort achieved. How to bring about, in peace-time ,the same universal keenness and zeal, the same self-sacrifice and heroism, the same unselfish service and comradeship, the same fight for an ideal of life, that was achieved so grandly in a great war for freedom. Looking to Canada for leadership in many directions.
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- 31 Jan 1946
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- AID TO RUSSIA THROUGH THE PERSIAN GULF
AN ADDRESS BY BRIGADIER SIR GODFREY RHODES, C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O.
Chairman: The First Vice-President,Colonel F. F. Arnoldi, D.S.O.
Thursday, January 31, 1946
COL. ARNOLDI: We are fortunate indeed in having as our guest speaker, a Canadian of great distinction, who, born in Victoria, B. C., was educated at Trinity College School, Port Hope and the Royal Military College, Kingston, Ontario.
At R. M. C. he distinguished himself by being first in his class, Battalion Sgt.-Major and winning the Sword of Honour. Amongst the many awards he received when graduating with honours, was the Governor-General's Gold Medal.
On graduation, he had his choice of the commissions offered by the Imperial Army and elected to take that of the Royal Engineers, commencing his service in India. During the war of 1914-18, he saw service in France and the Near East. Following the collapse of Turkey he was sent immediately to Constantinople to take over the Turkish State Railways and later the Bulgarian Lines.
He was awarded the C.B., C.B.E., and D.S.O., mentioned in despatches three times, as well as receiving the Legion of Honour, by France; the Order of the Redeemer, by Greece; the Order of the White Eagle, by Siberia. For his outstanding services, His Majesty the King bestowed a Knighthood on him in 1934.
His peacetime occupation is that of transportation and prior to World War II, he held the posts of Chief Engineer and later General Manager of the Kenya and Uganda Railways and Harbours, which organization was behind the successful Abyssinian Campaign, following which in 1941, he was asked to go to Iran, to inaugurate the "Aid to Russia" service and as the result of his accomplishments, he is today referred to as "The Saviour of Stalingrad".
In 1942, he became Deputy Quartermaster General Movements and Transportation for the Persia and Iraq Force with headquarters at Bagdad and will, today, tell us something of his work there. In March, 1945, he was appointed Regional Port Director of Calcutta, under the Government of India.
With the dispute between Iran and Russia so much in the news, it is indeed timely that we should today hear from one who has played such a prominent part in Iranian affairs during the war period.
It is with great pleasure that I now present to you, Brigadier Sir Godfrey Rhodes, C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O., who is another of those men who have gone into our Empire Forces from the Royal Military College at Kingston and won great distinction. He will address us on the subject "Aid To Russia Through The Persian Gulf".
BRIG. SIR GODFREY RHODES: "Aid to Russia" through the Persian Gulf occupied a period of approximately four years while the time at my disposal today to tell you about it is only some forty minutes. I am, however, anxious to give you a general picture of what was done and of the conditions in which it was done, and in particular, I want to describe, in some detail, the British share of this work, as that perhaps has not received the same publicity on this side of the water as the very important American share of the Allied war effort in this area.
Perhaps I should begin by reminding you that Germany attacked Russia without warning and, of course, contrary to treaty, in June, 1941. The British Empire at that time was fighting the war single-handed and England herself was facing the possibility of direct invasion. She was struggling to recover from the shock of Dunkirk and making strenuous efforts to re-equip her armies. At the same time, she had the Middle East campaigns under Wavell on her hands and the anxieties of Hong-Kong and Singapore. I mention these few facts merely to remind you at this later date, that the Old Country and the Dominions and Empire were pretty hard pressed at the time Russia was forced onto their side by the German attack; perhaps the biggest mistake that Hitler made in the whole war.
Our very far-seeing and courageous Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill, however, did not hesitate for a moment. He was ready to help anybody who would fight Hitler, and he knew that Russia would want help badly in the early stages. In spite of the serious preoccupation elsewhere and the urgent need for war material of all kinds, the British Cabinet at once decided to open up a route through Persia to Russia. Within a few weeks locomotives and cars and railway material of all kinds were withdrawn from the hard pressed English railways and loaded into ships, and despatched on their long sea journey round the Cape to the Persian Gulf. At the same time, arrangements were made to send out some Senior Railwav officers to Persia by air, and other Railway operating troops by sea. In the light of subsequent events, I cannot refrain from remarking that this was one of the most far-seeing decisions of the war, taken at a time of the highest stress, when every man and every item of material were urgently needed in half a dozen other places at the same time.
Now let us look at the map in front of us so that we can appreciate more fully the magnitude of the task that Britain had undertaken. The first thing that appeals to us is the distances involved. I have already mentioned the sea journey via the Cape. The Mediterranean was closed to us at that time and the Cape route, under convoy conditions, took up to three months. The internal distances in Iraq and Iran, or Persia, as I shall call it, are also very considerable. For example, Cairo to Bagdad is some 800 miles, Bagdad to Tehran, 450 miles, and the Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea, is also 450 miles, all as the crow flies. Actual travel distances in this area, except by air, were, of course, very much greater, frequently double, owing to the difficult nature of the country generally. Equivalent distances in Canada and Europe will no doubt readily occur to you. Distances are great with corresponding difficulties and delays in communications of all kinds. In addition, there are some high mountains in Persia, well over 12,000 feet, which have to be negotiated by road and railway. In the South, on the plains around Bagdad, the temperature in the hot season is very high, 120 degrees being common in Bagdad and up to 140 degrees in a place like Andimesk. On the other hand, in the cold weather, heavy snow and ice conditions occur in the mountain areas. So you see operating conditions for climatic reasons alone were not easy. Perhaps the hot weather conditions were the most difficult to contend with, especially when it is remembered that many of our men had to live in tents in the early stages.
Now, a word or two about the Trans-Persian Railway itself, as I found it when I flew to the country from Nairobi in October, 1941. As you see from the map, it extends from the Port of Bundershahpur over the plains' to Andimesk, near Dizful. Then it climbs up 1.50% grades round severe curves and through over 140 long tunnels through the mountains to Tehran, the capital of Persia and headquarters of the Railway. From there the line bifurcates into two branches, one leading north-west towards Tabriz, and the other north-east and north to the Caspian Sea at Bundershah. The line is standard 4' 8 1/2" gauge and well built from an engineering point of view. In fact, sections of it, particularly over the Elburz mountains in the north, compare in magnitude of engineering effort with some of the spectacular sections of the C. P. R. through the Rockies. In this section, which rises over 8,000 feet, there are many long tunnels, sharp curves and rising grades up to 2.5%. I wish I had some photos here to show you. The Railway was built under the driving directions of the late Shah, who though a Dictator and tyrant of the worst type, at least got things done regardless of opposition or physical difficulty. He employed a Swedish Engineering firm to direct and supervise the work, and the line was broken up into lots which were let out as contracts to many international firms. It was completed and opened to traffic in 1937, just two years before the outbreak of the war. It is interesting to note here that the Railway was financed entirely out of local revenue obtained from oil royalties and taxation on imports such as sugar, tea, cotton goods, etc. These taxes were a great hardship on the poor agricultural section of the people. It is estimated that the line cost the equivalent of some Thirty Million Pounds in English money. While the line was well and soundly constructed, it was equipped and staffed only for a comparatively light traffic. As the time of our arrival in the country, it was estimated that only some 200-300 tons a day of civil traffic were being transported up country in addition to oil and railway supplies. On a new railway of this kind, too, it will be realized that the staff would be very weak both in numbers and ability, in spite of the fact that' a number of foreigners had been retained in the senior grades to help work the railway.
In addition to the Railway, there was a considerable mileage of gravel roads. These were not well maintained and were often badly aligned, with sharp curves and heavy grades and inadequate bridges and water openings. In the mountain regions they were frequently closed for long periods in winter by snow.
I hope this brief outline will give you some idea of the problem ahead of us: I should perhaps also remind you that the country had been largely under German influence and that the British and Russians had, in fact, waged a short war of six days against Persia and had finally occupied the country. Obviously, we could not afford to run any risks of damage to the vital oil refineries at Abadan. We had to depose the late Shah and put his son on the throne and negotiated a tri-partite treaty whereby the Persian Government promised to support the Allies and place all her transport facilities and roads at our disposal. While we had difficulty with some individuals, and, of course, all enemy spies and organizations had to be searched out and dealt with, it may be said that the Persian Government made a genuine attempt to carry out its treaty obligations. As any rate, I received every co-operation from the various Ministers of Communications and his Railway Staff during my stay in the country.
In order that the general situation in Persia and Iraq will be clear to you, I should explain that when Rashid Ali rebelled and attacked the British in Bagdad earlier in 1941, India despatched the 10th Army to deal with the situation there and to safeguard the oil fields in Persia. Incidentally, another Canadian, Brig. Sir Frederick Carson, C.B.E. (ex-cadet R.M.C. and now head of the Montreal Locomotive Works) was Director of Transportation, 10th Army, with Headquarters at Bagdad. My Persian organization was quite separate but, of course, we worked in the closest touch with the 10th Army and Brig. Carson, and were much indebted to them for help and assistance at all times. Later, when the German attack through Georgia developed, it looked for a time as if Iraq, Persia and Turkey would become a battle area. It was therefore decided to strengthen the British forces in these areas and a new Command called Persia and. Iraq Force (PAIFORCE) was formed in September, 1942, with Headquarters at Bagdad. My Persian Transportation organization was absorbed in this command and I became D.Q.M.G. PAIFORCE, with Brig. Carson as my Director of Transportation for Iraq and Persia. I apologise for this diversion and will now return to my story.
As I have already stated, I arrived by air, at the beginning of October, 1941. A nucleus of a Transportation office had already been set up in Tehran and some half dozen senior railway officers were flown out to meet me. Our first job, of course, was to make contact with our opposite numbers on the railway and to make a survey with them of its capacity and to estimate our immediate requirements. My instructions told me that the capacity target to aim at was 2400 tons per day by the end of June, 1942, and explained that locomotives and cars and three companies of operating troops were already do the way to me or were about to sail. Incidentally, two of the companies did not reach us until the end of the year, as they had been diverted to Singapore and only narrowly escaped capture there. Time does not allow me to describe in detail all the steps taken to increase the capacity of the railway, but I want to give you an outline of what had to be done. One of the biggest difficulties, of course, was the language question. Through the kindness of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, we were able to publish quickly a small dictionary of useful words and phrases, which helped our men and the Persian staff to understand one another. Some of the senior Persian officials spoke French and a few, English, so we managed to get along. A complete new traffic rule book, however, had to be written in both languages to ensure safe operation of trains under the severe traffic conditions to which I have referred. While stations and crossing loops were adequate for the small Persian civil traffic, they were quite inadequate for the intensive traffic for which we were planning. Many new stations therefore had to be designed and fitted in where grades and space permitted. This was not always easy in such heavy country. In addition, extensive marshalling yards had to be designed and constructed at strategic traffic points such as the ports, Andimesk, (where the Plains section merged into the mountain section) Ahwaz, Tehran, etc. Water supplies for locomotives had to be augmented everywhere, and this was not easy as Persia on the whole is _a dry country. Communications on the railway were completely inadequate and very elaborate train control equipment had to be ordered and later installed. With the arrival of our British operating units the personnel position was eased but we still had to rely very largely on the Persian staff who, as I have explained, were far from being efficient. However, we preached continuously collaboration and cooperation and we got a surprisingly good response on the whole.
When the locomotives and cars from England began to arrive, arrangements had to be made to erect them and bring them into use. This was a headache all on its own, as facilities were scarce and tools and equipment absent. The locomotives were of a type unknown to Persian staff. Most of them had to be converted to oil burning and fitted with Westinghouse brakes. They had been overhauled before leaving England but, being second-hand, developed various troubles of one kind or another. For example, the super-heater elements began to fail and there were few spares in the country.
One of our biggest headaches was caused by the failure of the injectors to deal with feedwater at a high temperature. I have already told you that the temperature at Andimesk sometimes reached 140 degrees. Naturally, the feedwater in the engine tenders got very hot and the injectors sent out with the engines were not designed for this heat. Special hot-water injectors had to be flown out from England and elsewhere but until they arrived we had continual trouble.
I think I must mention another trouble because I remember we thought at the time it was an unfair one on top of our other problems. The braking system on the Persian Railways was of the sketchiest for a mountain railway. Some proportion of the rolling stock was fitted with pressure brakes, some was piped only, some had hand brakes operated by brakesmen riding in a little cab on each car, and some were not braked at all. All trains had to have a high proportion of braked stock owing to the heavy grades, to prevent runaways and breakaways. Sometimes the brakesmen would set their brakes hard on at the top of a long grade and then go to sleep, if they were comfortable, or go to a caboose if they were cold. Anyway, the result was the same, flats on the tires or perhaps, in bad cases, grooves as big as my fist. So you will understand that when we ordered more cars from America we specified air brakes. That was all right, but we did not mention the couplings. These, in Persia, are of the link and screw type, and the War Office sent over the drawings of the type in use, to be copied. So far so good, but our American friends in their zeal to conserve steel, thought the couplings were unduly strong, and redesigned them with a weaker section. The result, however, was disastrous as these couplings failed to hold the cars, and there was grave danger of breakaways in consequence. Some 3000 new couplings had to be ordered hurriedly, and in the meantime, care had to be taken to keep these cars at the rear of every train, which was not always easy to arrange without considerable switching, causing serious delays to trains.
I think I must mention one other difficulty and then I must break away from these technical details. I have mentioned tunnels. These were often long and curved and, in some cases, spirals. In consequence ventilation was very poor. In our effort to increase capacity, we wanted longer trains. That meant two or more engines per train. However, when we found the crew of the second engine asphyxiated when they emerged from a tunnel, we had to think again, even though they eventually revived. We realized that if bigger trains were required we would have to have Diesel-electrics which were in very short supply and would have to come from America.
Before coming to the next stage of the story, I must mention briefly the ports and the roads and the part our Russian Allies played.
The only port where goods and stores could be handed direct to the railway was Bundershahpur on the Persian Gulf where deep water (30 feet) could be obtained. This had been built on a mud flat and consisted of a temporary timber jetty capable of taking two smallish ships only, at a time. Its capacity was therefore strictly limited. Plans were immediately made to have a screwpile steel jetty constructed to take three more vessels, together with lighterage facilities. The contract for this work was given to a Calcutta firm experienced in driving screw piles by electric capstan. At the same time, the yards serving the port were completely redesigned and enlarged and cranes were provided. It was agreed with the War Office that one port would not be adequate and I was instructed to prepare a design for a two-berth port on the Shut-el-Arab River at Khorramshah below Basrah. To be on the safe side, I had the plans drawn for six berths in case extensions were required later. The contract for the two berths was given to an American firm, Messrs. Foley Bros. who had brought out equipment and piles to help us. An 80 mile railway from Ahwaz was also built across the plain to serve the new port when ready.
Now I must refer to the share in this project which our Russian friends undertook. As all the stores were destined for the Russian Army they had to make arrangements to take delivery at the Caspian ports and at rail heads in North Persia. In addition, by agreement with our Foreign Office, they also undertook responsibility for the operation of the two northern branches out of Tehran, in conjunction with the Persian Management. This, of course, meant divided control in the operation of the railway and introduced special difficulties as a consequence, but it lightened our operating job considerably, and enabled us to concentrate our staff on the lower section. We made many Russian friends in the course of several years close contact and collaboration with them. I need hardly say that the addition of a third language did not make the problem any easier.
Finally, I must refer briefly to the Road system. The British Army engineers, in co-operation with the Persian Government, undertook to improve, surface and repair many miles of roads which might be required for military operational purposes. The United Kingdom Commercial Corporation created by the British Government to purchase raw materials, undertook to organize a road service with Persian trucks and drivers to supplement the railway capacity. This extra assistance proved extremely valuable until replaced by the Americans, as I shall explain shortly.
In these various ways the capacity of the railway was being steadily increased, and by July, 1942, we had practically reached our target and all improvement works were well in hand. Then we received a bomb-shell. Instead of 2400 tons a day, we were asked to prepare a scheme for a much bigger project, namely, 6000 tons a day, by railway and a further 6000 tons by road, or a total of 12,000 tons a day. This was quite a different matter, involving the ordering of many more locomotives and cars and stores and, of course, more personnel. Clearly, Mr. Churchill's original appreciation had been more than justified, but now the Russian need had grown much greater. Accordingly, we prepared our estimates and sent them in, including a demand for 60 Diesel electric locomotives for the difficult tunnel section. So important had this project now become that Mr. Churchill himself came out to Tehran with his advisers to discuss the matter with us on the spot. I had to tell him that a capacity such as that now demanded could only be obtained if the equipment and personnel outlined by us, could be found and delivered quickly. Half-measures would only lead to chaos and failure. Could British Empire resources meet the demand? In any case, the Diesel-electrics and their maintenance staff would have to come from America in addition to most of the other equipment. So Mr. Churchill, after careful consideration, decided to ask Mr. Roosevelt to undertake the new task. This request was accepted readily. American staff officers came out to investigate the position and to check our estimates with us. These were generally accepted except that the Americans, with their larger manpower, were able to budget for a much larger force than we had dared to contemplate. So the process of handing over commenced early in 1943, and by April 1st of that year the Persian Transport baby was safely in their hands. The British Army commander-in-chief of the Persia and Iraq Command, (PAIFORCE) remained responsible for priorities in case of military operations and for civil supply and security so that military in my new capacity of D.Q.M.G. (Movements and Transportation) at Head quarters, Bagdad, retained all our contacts with the Americans and the Russians on Transport matters. In addition, we continued to operate the Iraq line of communications through the medium of the Iraq Civil Railway Organization.
The Americans carried out their contract most efficiently and brought in a complete technical railway and road operating and engineering staff, together with the necessary Army Administrative staff, totalling, I believe, nearly 30,000 men, all under a Major-General. The results of their work have been published fairly recently in considerable detail in their own press so that it is unnecessary for me to repeat them here. I would, however, like to take this opportunity to say how much we all enjoyed working with our American colleagues. We have all made many friends among them. As you 'have read recently in the press, they have all now withdrawn from Persia. They handed back the railway to us and we immediately passed it on to full Persian control. We were very gratified to find, as time went on, that all our plans for works and extensions, including the six berth port at Khorramshah, which was eventually built by the Americans, proved adequate and suitable for the enlarged target and were only altered in minor detail, if at all, by our successors in office.
Now, you will ask what has this enormous effort, which I have so inadequately described, achieved?
Our combined best month was July, 1944, when 300,000 tons of stores of all kinds were delivered to the Russians in North Persia, or an average of 10,000 tons a day-not far off the target figure of 12,000 tons. The full target could have been handled had it offered. From that month, Russia's needs decreased, and our capacity was never filled. By the end of March, 1945, when I left Bagdad for Calcutta, a grand total of no less than five million tons of stores of all kinds had been handed over to the Russians. How these stores were used, we have no direct information. A great part of them were supplied from America under lend-lease arrangements. We do know, however, that the valiant Russian Armies did succeed in driving the enemy from their soil and back to Berlin. I believe, too, that Mr. Stalin once stated publicly that without this "Aid" through the Persian Gulf, he would not have been able to save Stalingrad. What better evidence do we need?
So, not only do we believe that useful results have been achieved but we believe that this Allied project has provided one more example of Inter-Allied co-operation in war-time, which surely it ought to be possible to reproduce in peace-time. We all, too, have made many friendships-Russian, American and Persian, which we hope to renew some day, when freedom of movement in the world is once more restored.
There is much that I have had to leave out in this short talk, especially the more human facts of how the men lived in the heat of the Southern plane; how young and comparatively inexperienced youths accepted cheerfully responsibilities which would have tested older, experienced train men; how the leaking of oil from axle boxes on a severely super-elevated curve, nearly brought all trains to a standstill; and in spite of all these adverse conditions, how very few accidents there were. Nor have I mentioned the remarkable effort (by the Americans chiefly, but also partially by the British Army) whereby thousands of aeroplanes and trucks were erected and delivered to the Russians. All these, and other matters of interest you must read for yourselves in the war histories, which will some day be published.
The subject of my address is now past history; interesting, no doubt, and a source of justifiable pride and satisfaction to those who carried it out but valueless to us today unless we learn some lesson from it. We all hope to find some way to avoid wars in the future, with their terrible waste and destruction, especially as the next one will bring extermination. But the thought I would like to leave in the minds of the members of the Empire Club of Canada and of all public leaders in Canada, is this: How can we bring about, in peace-time, the same universal keenness and zeal, the same self-sacrifice and heroism, the same unselfish service and comradeship, the same fight for an ideal of life, that we achieve so grandly in a "great war for freedom. The world is already looking to Canada for leadership in many directions. Can we give the answer to that question by our example now?