ASC Floating Workshops
Conditions in Mesopotamia, now Iraq, were not conducive for mechanical transport when the Army Service Corps first arrived there in 1916. It was quickly determined that the Ford ‘T’ truck was the most suitable vehicle. It was however, operated with only a 6-cwt load, instead of the normal 8-cwt. Also favoured was the FIAT 15 TER, a light truck with 30-cwt payload. In common with the Ford, it had pneumatic tyres, which proved far more suitable for the desert tracks than the solid tyres fitted to larger lorries.
When 596 Coy ASC arrived in Mesopotamia
from Egypt in January 1916 they had 110 Peerless 3-ton lorries. They
quickly proved totally unsuitable for the desert conditions, being too
heavy and with solid tyres. The problem was soon remedied by changing the
writing on the side of the body. Instead of saying ‘Load not to exceed 3
tons’, it said ‘Load not to exceed 30 cwt’. They also had two mobile
workshops of the same specification as those used on the Western Front.
It was these workshops that caused the greatest headache when, in October 1916, the army commenced military operations and moved north along the River Tigris towards Baghdad from Basra Base. Workshop lorries weighed 6 tons 17 cwt when they were weighed prior to embarking ship at Avonmouth and it had already been determined that the roads and terrain were not suitable for that weight. That is roughly 2 tons 7 cwt more than a Peerless loaded with 30 cwt. The army simply could not advance without the security of workshop back up and it was clear an alternative workshop facility was needed.
With the Tigris as the main artery, the decision was taken to transfer the workshops from the lorries onto barges. Three native barges, mehaylas, were purchased and work commenced transferring the workshops. The workshop tools were transferred to one of the mehaylas and the other two, which had capacity for 25 tons, were intended as floating warehouses for the stores and spare parts.
After great difficulty, owing to the shortage of timber at Basrah, enough timber was procured to build a substantial deck for the machine tools. This deck was supported on thirty-two 6x4” posts. Before the machine tools could be fitted, the mehayla had to be inspected and passed serviceable by the Inspector of Inland Water Transport. The IIWT considered the mehayla to be too top heavy and the deck had to be lowered by 16 inches. This was achieved in 12 hours by jacking up the deck and sawing 16 inches off each of the thirty-two posts, an indication of the urgency that was being attached to building the floating workshop. A canvas marquee was built over the decks providing protection from the sun while allowing all four sides to be open. The workshop equipment comprised 2 small lathes, 1 grinder, 1 electric drill, 1 Austin power plant,1 treadle drill, and the hand tools of the fitters, wheelers and blacksmiths.
The workshops were completed on 13 December 1916 and were designated ‘Mehayla Workshop’. They departed the following day to Arab Village, just to the south of Kut about midway between Basra and Baghdad. Mehaylas were not powered vessels so were towed up the river, arriving at Arab Village on 23 December.
Work started immediately repairing the vehicles that were based in Arab Village or were en-route to further upstream. The two mehaylas of spares enabled many vehicles that were unserviceable and waiting for spare parts to be recommissioned. The workshop was kept busy until 7 March 1917 when it was ordered to move upstream to Aziziyah, now a suburb of Al Hai Al Askaree, midway between Kut and Baghdad.
The Mehayla Workshop departed Arab Village on 9 March and arrived at Aziziyah on 12 March. Here, due to the shortage of time, it was used intensively to repair vehicles of the Mechanical Transport Companies stationed there until it left for Baghdad just one day later, arriving in Baghdad on 17 March. Mooring was found alongside the recently vacated German School of Engineering and was the first mobile workshop to arrive in the city. The workshop was quickly in full swing and utilised the valuable space afforded by the German school. At the same time the Mehayla Workshop took on the role of Advance MT Depot and Advance MT Stores.
On 15 April the Mehayla Workshop was redesignated as the ASC (MT) Floating Workshop No.1. On 16 June the Unit handed over command to the Advance MT Repair Unit, which had arrived from Amara and the workshop was moved about 4 miles downstream and moored south of the city. Here it continued to carry out routine maintenance and repairs as required by MT Units in the area.
The success of the Mehayla Workshop led to a second barge, larger than the mehaylas, being purchased and converted into a floating workshop in November 1917. With more time available, a purpose built workshop was built and on 8 February the workshop tooling and spare parts began transferring to the new barge. A third barge was completed by 1 July 1917. These were employed repairing the vehicles of the Ford Companies in the area and overflow work from the Advanced MT Base. Native labour was used on both workshops to supplement the skilled army fitters and mechanics and proved adept at learning new skills and coped better with the climate.
The two new workshop barges were 170ft long and 25ft wide. The hold was divided into compartments, being the chain locker, technical stores, tyre store, QMG stores, timber store and iron store. The was also the engine room making the barge self-propelled, a big improvement on the mehayla which needed to be towed everywhere. A heavy-duty deck was fitted which comprised the motorcycle shop, workshop office and stores office, machine shop, electrical shop, vulcanising shop and blacksmith’s shop. In addition to the workshop tools transferred from the Mehayla Workshops, there was one large lathe, one power shaping tool, one hand shaping machine and an additional electric drill. The top deck provided the billets with the officer’s quarters, sergeant’s quarters and the men’s quarters.
There is no record of when the two workshops were demobilised or what happened to them.