A Southern belle – ‘Battle of Britain’ Class locomotive

By: shortfinals

Apr 04 2011

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Category: British Isles, England, Great Britain, Museums, RAF, railways, Royal Air Force, Second World War


Focal Length:55mm
Shutter:1/0 sec
Camera:NIKON D40

I grew up loving the sound, sight and, yes, the smell of steam locomotives. My elder brother, Michael, sometimes used to take me across the fields to where the Midland Railway (later, London, Midland and Scottish) had built lines linking the abundant coal measures of the Erewash Valley, North Derbyshire Coalfield and South Yorkshire with the ever-demanding London market. In the 1950s we could see everything from express trains, like the ‘Thames-Clyde Express’ (London St. Pancras to Glasgow St. Enoch station, and usually hauled by an LMS ‘Royal Scot’, 4-6-0 locomotive) to massive, slow-moving trains of coal waggons, hauled by the incredible LMS Beyer-Garrett articulated engines ( 2-6-0+0-6-2 wheel arrangement).

I sometimes travelled to other areas of the country, and so I had seen the beautifully streamlined A4 Pacifics of the former London & North Eastern Railway, and the ‘Castle’ class of the former GWR (Great Western Railway – known to its devotees as ‘God’s Wonderful Railway’), however, the motive power of the Southern Railway (after the consolidation of railways known as ‘Grouping’, in 1923 – and British Railways (Southern Region), as it became after nationalization in 1948) –  was completely unknown to me.

Here we can see a Southern Railway ‘Battle of Britain’ class locomotive, 34081, named ‘No. 92 Squadron’. No. 92 (East India) Squadron, RAF, (motto, ‘Aut Pugna Aut Morere‘ – ‘Either fight or die’) was a Spitfire unit which saw heavy action during the Battle of Britain. Members of this class of engines were named after RAF squadrons which took part in the Battle of Britain, or RAF stations from which aircraft of RAF Fighter Command flew, or prominent personalities from that period. The wheel arrangement on ‘34081’ is 4-6-2, which means that it is a ‘Pacific’, but the Southern Railway classified them as ‘light Pacifics’, as they were built to a strict weight limit of 87 tons, as there were many sections of track and bridges beyond Exeter in the West Country, and in parts of Kent and Sussex, which could not take a ‘traditional’ Pacific, such as the LNER A4, which weighed 107 tons, plus a fully laden train. The predecessor Pacific by Bulleid, the ‘Merchant Navy’ class were considerably heavier, at 96 tons. Enclosed by panelling, they were described as ‘air-smoothed’ when the first of 110 examples were built in 1945, coming into a grim, grey Britain, in an age of Austerity. To save weight and make production easier and cheaper, a large amount of welding was used in the fabrication.

The locomotives were designed by the Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Southern Railway, Oliver Vaughan Snell Bulleid (1882-1970), a truly brilliant engineer who had been a ‘premium apprentice’ of H.A. Ivatt, the CME of the Great Northern Railway at Doncaster, South Yorkshire. He later served as the Personal Assistant to Sir Nigel Gresley, the designer of the fastest steam locomotive on earth (127 mph), ‘Mallard’, an A4 Pacific of the LNER.

Bulleid’s innovations were many. If you look at the driving wheels, they have unusual, ‘teardrop-shaped’ depressions, and holes. These are known as ‘Boxpok’ wheels (or Bulleid-Firth-Brown wheels) and were subject to an American patent. The class had chain-driven valve gear, enclosed in a sealed oil bath between the locomotive’s frames. This was notoriously unreliable, and was later replaced by conventional Walschaerts valve gear in many cases, which was less smooth, but more reliable.

The locomotive shown is ‘No. 92 Squadron’, at the Nene Valley Railway Ltd, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, getting ready for her big moment – the removal of her boiler, so that a complete overhaul (giving another 10 years of service) can be accomplished. The cladding and insulation has been partially removed from the smokebox and boiler (viewed from the fireman’s side of the engine). Despite her rusty appearance, all will be well. I understand that the boiler has now been removed, and the long task of rebuilding has begun. I am certain that ‘The Battle of Britain Locomotive Society’ (UK Registered Charity No. 299140), will gladly accept any contributions!





2 comments on “A Southern belle – ‘Battle of Britain’ Class locomotive”

  1. Thanks very much for your comments on our Loco. The overhaul is going very well and we expect our boiler to return later this year. Thus the rebuilt is now in the early stages and it is hoped to be steaming again next year. Watch our web site.


    • I enjoyed my visit to your Loco very much, and certainly look forward to seeing what progress has been made on the rebuild during my next UK visit. As an aside, the next blog entry about railways will be on the Peak Railway, in my ‘home’ county of Derbyshire!


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