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A military trial

A military trial
This Panhard-Levassor lorry dates from 1900 – and was taking part in military maneuvers held by the French army to assess the capabilities of petrol and steam commercial vehicles.  There is, however, a curious thing about this image: it appears that the army is hedging its bets, by testing a replacement for horse-drawn transport – but making sure it could still supply feed for those same horses.  The magnificent name in the caption of this photograph is Chariot-Fourragère – or Fodder Wagon.
The French army at this time saw that the greatest advantage of petrol or steam vehicles would be to reduce its reliance on horses.  These were extremely costly to maintain – and above all the transport of feed took up vehicle capacity that could have been better employed in moving men and equipment.  Another, even more, troubling problem was highlighted by the experience of the British Army in the Boer War that was still raging at the time of our photograph: setbacks in the war caused by the death of horses and mules.  According to reports by the British, these would have far less impact if the army had access to more “mechanical tractors.”
Perhaps, therefore, it is not surprising that such great military interest in motorized transport existed at such an early date.  And this interest wasn’t confined to simple lorries.  Whether during the specific 1900 manoeuvres or in general testing, the French military was also evaluating some highly-specialised forms of transport.  In the same article that provided our main image there was mention, and an illustration, of a military vehicle for transporting carrier pigeons, driven by ‘heavy oil’.  Just visible in the image (which we also show here) are the words Automobile Système Koch, which took us to a short entry in Georgano that confirmed that use of heavy oil, in an opposed-piston single cylinder engine based on the first Saurer cars.
More fascinating vehicles were being trialed: another image shows a vehicle for carrying telegraph cables on drums, including all the equipment needed to install the telegraph lines.  There was an ambulance by de Dietrich and van for military post by Georges Richard.  And, most impressively, there was a Scotte steam tractor, hauling a train of at least six loaded wagons.  Although these are shown in much smaller photographs than our main image, we’ve included them to show the wide range of vehicles that were being tested by the French military – many years before the First World War became the first war truly recognized as being ‘mechanised’.
Words by Peter Moss
Photograph courtesy of the Richard Roberts Archive


#1 2017-09-13 20:02
For the record: the telegraph service wagon (as it was called) was also produced by Koch.

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