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#VE75 – Engines at War – Commemorating 75 Years since VE Day – Austerity 2-10-0

Robert Riddles and the Austerity 2-10-0

At the start of WW2 in 1939 the Railways faced a huge challenge. For the best part of a century, railways had monopolised most of land based transport apart from the tram systems in larger cities, however, after the Great War Buses, Coaches and Lorries had encroached on the Railways business. At the start of WW2 with fuel rationing looming much of this traffic would return to the Railways. This would place a great burden on a system that at the time was under-resourced. This differed from the period immediately prior to the Great War when the Railways were prosperous. Unfortunately in 1938 The railways had not had time to recover and repair after the Great War and the regrouping of the Railways in 1923 into The Big Four, The London North Eastern Railway (LNER), The Southern Railway (SR), The Great Western Railway (GWR), The London Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS). All the Railways in 1938 had a backlog of maintenance and were in dire need of modernisation.

1938 had also been a grim year for the British economy and most of the Railway’s shareholders were ordinary working people, with very modest portfolios who had hung onto their shares during the lean years of worldwide depression.   Receiving little in the way of dividends but retaining their faith in the Railways as an institution that was central to the life of the nation. It was in this spirit of faith and support that the Railways entered the war years, with an expectation that they could rise to the challenge but reality woefully undercapitalized and behind in maintenance and overdue modernization. However, the British Railway men and women rose to the challenge.

The Railways estimated that they would need £5million to prepare them for war. The government offered £4million a pattern of underfunding that continued throughout the war.   On September 24th, 1938, the Railway Executive Committee (REC) was established, to run the Railways if war broke out, and answering directly to the Minister of Transport. This would effectively nationalise “The Railways” for the second time in the 20th Century. Chamberlain’s pleas for appeasement afforded The (REC) some extra time to prepare for war but in August of 1939 the Emergency Power Defence Act was passed handing the government powers to seize the assets of transportation providers to aid the war effort.


At this point however a fresh crisis loomed as the railway unions pressed for a pay rise with the threat of a strike. The threat was withdrawn after an emotional plea from Ernest Brown (Minster of Labour) who stated “We may need you to get the children to safety” and also he negotiated a small pay rise.

All the railway locomotives built to service the war effort had economy and speed of build as a premium consideration. Theses engines were built to run on poorer fuel and substandard track when required. They needed to be built quickly and cheaply to meet the demands of the countries needs and the requirements of the armed forces at war.

You will find that there is a small essay already in the system about The WD Austerity 2-8-0. A fantastic locomotive designed to be economical to build and operate only throughout the duration of the war. In fact, these engines continued to give good service for many years after the end of hostilities, and in fact the end of British mainline steam. Two other British War Department Locomotives were specifically built for the war effort and operated during the war years.

All three Locomotive types were called Austerity one was a larger version of the 2-8-0, the Austerity 2-10-0, the subject of this article. There was also a smaller version, the Austerity 0-6-0 designed by “The Hunslet Engine Company” still immensely powerful for its’ size, but more suited to shorter trips and shunting. The Hunslet 0-6-0 is dealt with in the next article.

The WD Austerity 2-10-0 was the logical evolution of the Austerity 2-8-0. It spread its’ load over more wheels and for economy and to facilitate easy maintenance was built to have interchangeable parts with the 2-8-0. Its lighter axle load made it more suitable to run on secondary lines. The 2-10-0 was designed with a parallel boiler, a rocking grate and a larger round topped wide fire box which was positioned over the driving wheels. This arrangement was very common in the United States but unusual in Britain where wide fire boxes were only fitted if the locomotive had a trailing pony (Cartazzi truck), in 4-4-2- and 4-6-2-wheel configuration locomotives.


The WD Austerity 2-10-0’s were the first of this type to run in Britain and the first major 10 coupled engine design. They were proceeded only by three 0-10-0 locomotives. These were the Great Eastern Railway aptly named “Decapod”    and The Midland “Lickey Banker”  The 2-10-0 wheel arrangement was later employed by Riddles when he designed for British Rail, The BR Standard 9F (freight) engine, this also had a wide fire box distributed over the rear driving wheels.

The build of the Austerity 2-10-0’s was undertaken by The Northern British Locomotive company.   At first 100 2-10-0 Locomotives were introduced between 1943 and 1944 these were given the War Department numbers 3650-3749 (later revised to 73650-73749). A second consignment of 50 engines were introduced during 1945 their War Department numbers were 73750-73799. 20 of the first wave of production were shipped out to the Middle East, the remainder were all pressed into service with the British Army in France after D Day.

At the end of the war these locomotives were distributed to the Netherlands, Greece and 4 were sent to Syria. British Rail acquired 25 Austerity 2-10-0’s, (73774-73798 later changed again to 90750-90774). These engines were mainly operated by British Rail’s Scottish Region pulling heavy freight trains until they were withdrawn from service between 1961 and 1962. Two Austerity 2-10-0’s numbers 73651 and 73797 remained in War Department service, after the war years, at Longmoor Military Railway. In 1952 these proud engines were renumbered to 600 and 601 respectively they were also given names “Gordon” and “Kitchener”.

Images of Gordon:

Video of only known 7 ¼” gauge model of GER Decapod

Note: Images obtained under creative commons via Google.