ACE Trains British Railways D1 Warship Diesel-Hydraulic Locomotives
The Warship Class of diesel-hydraulic locomotives were British Railways Western Region’s BR(W) response to replacing their mainline steam locomotives which were nearing the end of their working-lives. If there was ever an image that defined the fruits of BR’s 1955 Modernisation Plan then it was the unique looking BR(W) mainline Warship class locomotive. Despite their relatively short service life lasting less than 15 years, it could be argued Warships like no other group of diesel locomotives, caught the imagination and mood at the time of both the railway industry and travelling public like than the hydraulics. Their design was Swindon inspired creating a certain mystique bound in Great Western Railway’s (GWR) heritage where railway managers were always prepared to do something a little different, push back the boundaries and adopt a different approach to railway modernisation. This, to some extent, was foisted upon on them as under the plan BR(W) was the only region not to be included with line electrification – a position ironically now only being rectified some 50 years later!
Warships were built in three phases – the Class 41, 42 and 43 versions. The Class 41 Type 4 design consisted of just five locomotives (heavier, longer than the Class 42 and 43s and based on an amalgamation of an earlier Class 40 locomotive) that could be described, at best, as an experimental phase and an initial ‘pilot scheme’ batch being out-shopped to the Glasgow based North British Locomotive Company during the years 1957 and 1958. This was the company’s first mainline diesel construction for the home market. This initial batch numbered D600 to D604 was named after Royal Navy (RN) vessels baring nameplates with a ‘Warship Class’ insignia – this class name and association with the RN was to remain a constant theme throughout their lives.
The second phase of production had been sanctioned by the British Transport Commission (BTC) in February 1957 as the Railway Modernisation Plan was accelerated. The new Class 42 D800 Warships provided the second-generation motive power differing slightly in look and style to the first five D600 locomotives losing the ‘two beady eyes’ at the nose end section of the locomotive which had characterised the first batch. These were built at the BR(W) Swindon works even though they had no previous experience of designing such machines: In order to step change a technological shortfall Swindon-based engineers began designing their own lightweight version based on German technology utilising Deutsche Bundesbahn’s (DB) powerful V200 Class diesels which weighed just 80 tons. This resulted in detailed improvements made to the original Class 41 designs including an increase in power from 2000 to 2200 horsepower. The Class 42 batch were numbered in the series D800 to D832 and from D866 to D870; the Swindon publicity machine lost no time in showcasing the first of these new locomotives D800 ‘Sir Brian Robertson’ – the then Chairman of the BTC. The Class 42 Swindon-built Warships were gradually introduced in 1959 before the final batch of 33 Swindon-designed Class 43 locomotives – D833 to D865 – were placed on order in July 1958 and built between 1960 and 1961 by the North British Locomotive Company.
From mid-1961 BR(W) Warships began to appear with small warning panels of overhead livewire flashovers together with the inclusion of a route indicator box. The look of the lower part of the locomotive nose was said to have been cluttered by steam-age lamp holders appearing above the electric lights. However, the overall appearance was enhanced when from September 1961 the addition of bright yellow warning panels was applied to all new traction. With concerns developing over track safety full yellow ends begun to be applied to Warships in common with all diesel and electric locomotives following a BR board directive in June 1966. The Warship Class was allocated throughout BR(W) to Bristol Bath Road, Plymouth Laira, Newton Abbot and Old Oak Common depots.
Warships, as with the Class 52 Westerns, were the only BR diesel classes that were painted in green, maroon and blue liveries: From their launch in 1958 the green liveried Warships started to replace steam on BR(W)’s premier express services hauling new Mk1 chocolate and cream coaching stock – an evocative mix of the modern and former GWR tradition. These included the prestigious named trains such as ‘The Bristolian’ (Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads) and ‘The Merchant Venturer’ (Paddington to Bristol/Weston Super Mare) where, by the early 1960s, Warships had become the mainstay of Paddington, Bristol and Weston services. Other important chocolate and cream liveried named trains included ‘Cornish Riviera Limited’ and ‘Cornish Riviera Express’ (Paddington to Penzance), ‘Cornishman’ (Bradford to Penzance), ‘The Royal Duchy’ (Paddington to Kingswear/Truro/Penzance), ‘Mayflower’ (Paddington to Kingswear/Plymouth) and ‘Torbay Express’ (Paddington to Kingswear) and though not officially named, the London to Penzance ‘Postal’ service. Warships could also be seen as double-headed workings (with other Warships or steam locomotives) allowing heavy holiday traffic formations of up to 15 coaches with the ability to traverse the steep gradient lines of the South Devon Banks. Double-headed Cornish Riviera Warships were an incredibly impressive site with a total of 4400 horsepower heading to the Far South West.
Warships were used extensively on BR(W) intra-regional workings such as the Penzance to Swansea route, inter-regional traffic from Plymouth to Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool and also London based services from Paddington to the North and West route – Leamington Spa and Birkenhead and routes from Paddington to the West Country and the Far South West. The ending of steam traction on BR(W) in September 1964 provided the opportunity for D800 Warships for seven years up until 1971 to become the principal motive power for BR’s ‘Southern Region’ services between Exeter and Waterloo and some inter-regional workings between Cardiff, Bristol and Portsmouth using Salisbury based crews. Warships hauling BR green liveried Bulleid and Mk1 stock characterised the Waterloo to West Country route in this period coinciding with BR’s rationalisation plans and the downgrading of the line to secondary/alternative route status which included the singling of track in many places and with station and branch line closures so closely associated with the famous ‘Atlantic Coast Express’ (ACE) service. Warships were associated with the ending of the multi-portioned ACE train and for the final three weeks Warships hauled the up service between Exeter to Waterloo.
Warships were also designed as a multi-purpose locomotive and whilst principally employed on front-line passenger service duties they were also used from the outset to haul freight especially the quickly outmoded D600s who were moved to convey block oil and other freight trains. From the late 1950s the ratio of freight to passenger services significantly increased following the introduction of the Warship’s more powerful Class 52 Western cousins for principal passenger duties in the early to mid-1960s. By 1963 approximately a fifth of all Warship Class duties were involved in the transportation of time-sensitive parcels, perishables and milk.
The Warship locomotive class did not last forever and at the end of their working lives Warships had become a very utilitarian class of locomotive. By 1971 No: D810 Cockade in her BR blue livery had lost its lamp bracket, headboard clips, central marker light and multiple working fittings. Warship withdrawals began in the late 1960s and by 1973 most of them had disappeared under the cutter’s torch – mostly at Swindon. In their final running Warships pulled stone trains – a far cry from the prestige of the Cornish Riviera. Fortunately, a small number survived into preservation – D821 Greyhound and D832 Onslaught. D818 Glory also survived until closure of Swindon Works in 1985 but she, too, was cut up but provided a legacy as a good source of spares for the two remaining locomotives in the class.
The ACE Trains Class 42 D800 Warships particularly in their BR maroon and green liveries will look their best when hauling BR period passenger stock providing an evocative and correct mix of coaches to be run. These include ACE 40cm BR(W) chocolate and cream, BR(M) maroon and BR(S) green Mk1 coaches. The Warships also provide many opportunities to haul different fast-freight combinations associated with the modernisation of the railways.