Wednesday, 9 March 2016

VBCW: The Wirral Socialist Canal Workers Battallion

This post marks the start of a new VBCW project I have been planning for years, and the fact that I have a VBCW game in Hereford coming up has given me the intensive to finally get it started.

History of the Wirral Socialist Canal Workers Battalion in the 1938 British Civil War

The Wirral Socialist Canal Workers Battalion is one of the battalions that make up the armed forces of the Wirral Socialist Workers Council. They have a depot in Ellesmere Port, on the Wirral, although they travel widely due to the nature of their work. Their brief is to protect the canal boats transporting goods between the Liverpool Free State to the Sociality enclaves in Birmingham and Stoubridge. This trade is vital to the survival of both socialist strongholds: Aid, in the form of guns, steel, coal and grain, is brought into the port of Liverpool from soviet Russia. From there it is transported across the Mersey to Ellesmere Port, loaded onto canal boats and it begins its journey to the West Midlands along the Shropshire Union Canal to Stourbridge and Birmingham. On their return journey the canal boats bring back vital weapon, munitions and machine parts from the heavy industrial factories of the Midland, as well as much needed manpower and technical knowledge in the form of volunteers willing to fight for the LFS and the WSWC.
Early experiments at arming boats to protect convoys by members of the Canal Workers Militia (later the Wirral Socialist Canal Workers Brigade)

In the Civil War in England, 1938, the slow moving canal boats are vulnerable attacks from Fascists and Royalist from Wolverhampton and Chester attempting to enforce the blockade of the Liverpool Free State. The chance of a of acquiring firearms and food makes the canal boats tempting targets for bandits and criminal elements too.  Initially the Canal Workers Battalion was formed as a militia  to supply armed men to ride on the canal boats, hoping to discourage attacks, but it was quickly realised that a more organised approach was needed, along with a lot more fire-power.  
Many of the pilots and captains for the armed canal boats were drawn from the ranks of the itinerant 'boat people' who plied the canals of Britain before the civil war broke out
Work began in early 1938 to develop armoured canal boats to protect the cargo carrying boats against the threat of attack. Initially there were hastily up-armoured canal boats fitted with boiler-plate skirts, but this idea rapidly developed and soon canal boats were being modified at Camell-Laird's in Birkenhead to the specifications of the Wirral Socialist Workers Council. The majority of these were troop transport consisting of a lightly armoured enclosed compartment accommodating up to twenty men, and their supplies. This was protected by a passenger served Vickers Machine Gun on an anti-aircraft mount. Another variant included a smaller passenger allowance but with the extra space being used for a small sick bay, a radio and an officers mess.

Gun crews and landing parties were recruited from Royal Navy sailors, merchant navy sailors and canal boat folk. Uniforms were based on marine navy uniforms to develop an esprit d'corps 
The Wirral Socialists Canal Workers Brigade also make use of canal boats specifically manufactured with military applications in mind, as opposed to the improvised modification for the troop transport. The most common of these was a river monitor based around the hull of a narrow barge- and fully armoured with heavy naval plating. It's main weapon was a turret mounted 2pdr antitank gun, and it has a secondary turret mounted Vickers MMG on the prow. All in all twelve monitors were made at Camell-Laird for the Wirral Socialist Canal Workers Battalion. 
A canal Boat on its way to Camell-Laird in Birkenhead to be converted into a 'Dragon'

Other attempts to use canal boats as mobile artillery platforms were less successful. Various weapon form 17pdr field guns to 8 inch howitzers were tried but the massive recoil and the unstable platform adversely affected the range and accuracy of the weapons. The most successful on these artillery pieces was the Rocket Propelled Field Artillery Barge, known by the nick-name 'The Dragon'. The Dragon used an experiment rocket technology developed in Liverpool by members of the Pitt Street (Chinese) Militia and later manufactured at Mr Soo's Factory in Liverpool. This weapon was wildly inaccurate even when used on land, and so the fact if was on a moving canal boat had little impact on its efficacy, and further more the lack of recoil meant there was less chance of it sinking the boat. The rockets were very unpopular with the crew, as they were almost as dangerous to the gunners as to the targets, however they did have the ability to saturate the bank of the canal with explosive shells, and so were an effective deterrent against infantry attacking the convoys. 


4 comments:

JP Price said...

Looking forward to seeing them in action next month!

Jim Hale said...

As I said on LAF, a great concept. Looking forwards to seeing how it develops.

tradgardmastare said...

Looking forward to hearing more...
Alan

Simon Quinton said...

Excellent post. Look forward to seeing some miniatures!