The First World War

WW1 was the first war where motor vehicles were used in any number. A few steamers were used in the Boer War, which proved the potential of the motor vehicle for wartime use.

The War Office started planning for WW1 in 1901 by planning and funding the first of a series of trials intended to encourage makers to develop reliable vehicles. These trials originally required the vehicle to perform set tasks with the design entirely the responsibility of the maker and a prize was given to the first three places.

By the 1909 trials, the War Office had determined the specification of the vehicles entered and so began the divergence of the civilian and military specification vehicle. This specification proved unpopular with makers, customers and the trade press. The subsidy, which by now had changed from funding trial prizes to funding ownership of vehicles was too low to attract users of motor lorries.

When war broke out in 1914 only some 850 subsidy vehicles and steamers were available, despite 82,000 goods vehicles (mostly light) being registered. By Armistice day, 1918, the War Office owned 56,000 vehicles.

WW1 had a huge impact on the development of the motor manufacturers. In 1914, production of heavy lorries was small, but the standard specification of the 'Subsidy Models' and the formation of the Ministry of Munitions in 1915 to take control of all the manufacturers rapidly increased production. AEC were producing 27 motor lorries per week in 1914, but by 1918 had supplied 10,000 to the war effort.

In 1914, the motor lorry was gradually proving itself in civilian use, but was a totally unknown quantity in warfare. Not only did the lorry have to prove itself, the army had to learn about the lorry. Used to the horse, the military planners and the men at the front had to adjust to greater speed, payload and the different demands of the lorry, such as spares and repairs. 172,536 tons of spares and 875,598 tons of petrol and oil were shipped to France alone between August 1914 to May 1920.

That the motor lorry proved so successful is tribute to the maker's skills and ability to expand so quickly and the men of the ASC (Army Service Corps). The foresight of the army engineers with their previously derided specification, proved to provide a motor lorry able to cope with the mud of Flanders to the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East.

Post war, the road transport industry changed dramatically. Large numbers of war surplus lorries were repatriated through Slough Dump and huge numbers of drivers, mechanics, managers etc., who were unskilled before the war were returning home and unemployed. It was natural they'd look to the cheap war surplus lorries to provide some sort of income and many haulage companies were formed as a result. This not only moved road transport from the horse and cart days but into the motor age but also nearly crippled the manufacturers who had expanded so quickly to fulfil the needs of war.

This growth in road transport is seen mainly from 1920, due to time taken to repatriate both men and vehicles after 1918.

UK Goods Vehicles Registration

1910
30,000
1914
82,000
1915
84,600
1916
82,100
1917
64,100
1918
40,700
1919
62,000
1920
101,000
1921
128,000
1922
150,995
1923
173,363
1924
203,156
1925
224,287

 

CONTENTS
SITE MAP
WANTED