This section of the Long, Long Trail will be helpful for anyone wishing to find out about the history of the units of the Army Service Corps. Note that the ASC is the same as the RASC: it received the Royal prefix in late 1918.
The officers and men of the ASC – sometimes referred to in a joking, disparaging way as Ally Sloper’s Cavalry – were the unsung heroes of the British Army in the Great War. Soldiers can not fight without food, equipment and ammunition. They can not move without horses or vehicles. It was the ASC’s job to provide them. In the Great War, the vast majority of the supply, maintaining a vast army on many fronts, was supplied from Britain. Using horsed and motor vehicles, railways and waterways, the ASC performed prodigious feats of logistics and were one of the great strengths of organisation by which the war was won.
At peak, the ASC numbered an incredible 10,547 officers and 315,334 men.
The organisation of the ASC
The ASC was organised into units known as Companies, each fulfilling a specific role. In most cases the Company also had a sub-title name describing its role.
Some of the Companies were under orders of the Divisions of the army; the rest were under direct orders of the higher formations of the Corps, Army or General Headquarters of the army in each theatre of war. They were known as part of the Lines of Communication. Many men of the ASC were not, however, with ASC Companies, for many were attached to other types of unit in the army – for example, as vehicle drivers.
The largest element of the ASC was the Horse Transport section.
Most Horse Transport Companies were under orders of Divisions, with four normally being grouped into a Divisional Train. Others were part of the Lines of Communication where they were variously known by subtitles as Auxiliary Supply Companies or Reserve Parks.
Soldiers who served in the Horse Transport usually had the letter T as a prefix to their number.
For detailed information see ASC HT Companies
IWM image Q4831. Horse wagons of the Army Service Corps at a roadside dump for supplies. Albert, Somme, March 1917.
All Mechanical Transport Companies were part of the Lines of Communication and were not under orders of a Division, although some (unusually known as Divisional Supply Columns and Divisional Ammunition Parks) were in effect attached to a given Division and worked closely with it. Those in the Lines of Communication operated in wide variety of roles, such as being attached to the heavy artillery as Ammunition Columns or Parks, being Omnibus Companies, Motor Ambulance Convoys, or Bridging and Pontoon units.
Soldiers who served in the Mechanical Transport usually had the letter M as a prefix to their number.
IWM image Q71933. A soldier and vehicles of the 960 Motor Transport Company, ASC. This unit was also known as 34 Auxiliary (Petrol) Company.
The ASC Remounts Service was responsible for the provisioning of horses and mules to all other army units. The units of the Remounts were always part of the Lines of Communication and were never under direct orders of a Division.
Soldiers who served in the Remounts usually had the letter R as a prefix to their number.
For detailed information see ASC Remounts
ASC Labour Companies
In France and Flanders it was soon discovered in 1914 that the local authorities could not supply civilian men for labouring duties, such as helping the BEF disembark its stores and equipment from ships. The War Office arranged to send 300 labourers for these duties. More followed, and by the end of December 1914 they had been formed into five Labour Companies of the ASC. They were numbered 1 to 5. Many more Companies were formed in 1914 and 1915, but none are well documented.
Each Company consisted of 6 officers and 530 other ranks. Numbers 1 and 2 Labour Companies were officially formed at Aldershot on 24-25 August 1914. A number of Foremen and Gangers were recruited in the early weeks, to act as NCOs. Approximately 21,000 skilled labourers and dock workers had joined by the end of 1915. However, the Companies were not destined to remain for long: 28 of them were absorbed into the newly-created Labour Corps between February and June 1917; 8 other Companies were disbanded between January 1915 and June 1917, with personnel from 3 of these Companies being transferred to the Royal Marines.
The first specialised ASC Railway Labour Company was formed in January 1915, doubling to two in October 1915. They eventually took the numbers 33 and 34 Railway Labour Companies. Detachments were based at Le Havre, Bailleul, Steenwerck, Caestre and Strazeele.
The Supply section, Field Bakeries and Butcheries
The ASC provided an important service in the production of bread and meat for the trropsin the field. Details to be added shortly.
The Base Depots established in the various theatres of war were the primary locations. They were used as main stores; for organisation of men and units going to and from the units in the field; and for administration.
For detailed information see Base Depots
The contribution of the ASC
“Lines of Communication” was an army term used to describe what today we might call the army’s logistics: the supply lines from port to front line, and the camps, stores, dumps, workshops of the rear areas. It is difficult to comprehend just what supply to an army that in France alone built up to more than 2 million men actually means. Here are some statistics that give an idea:
|Size of forces on Western Front||Monthly issues in lbs (Pounds weight) or Gallons|
These huge tonnages were moved through a complex chain of supply, which usually went broadly like this:
> From Britain via sea to a Base Port;
> By rail from the Base Port to a Divisional Railhead or an Advanced Supply Depot;
> By motor transport from Railhead or Advanced Supply Depot to a Divisional Refilling Point;
> By horse transport to the forward dumps where goods were taken over by a fighting unit’s quartermaster;
> The unit itself would then move material by horse transport and manpower to the front line positions.
ASC number prefixes
Men who served with the Army Service Corps are usually shown with a letter or letter plus number prefix in front of their own number. The prefix is most useful, especially if the man’s own army service record cannot be found. But what do they mean?
ASC museums and archives
The successor to the Army Service Corps is the Royal Logistics Corps.
Details of its museum and archive can be found at http://www.rlcmuseum.co.uk/
The ASC produced a journal during the Great War. Many men were named in it. This has now been digitised and can be searched/downloaded (small fee) at the website above.
There are not too many books specifically about the ASC in the Great War and it rarely receives a mention elsewhere. Two that tackle it as a subject are
The Royal Army Service Corps: A History of Transport and Supply in the British Army by Sir John Fortescue and Col. R. H. Beadon |Buy from Amazon
Army Service Corps 1902-1918 by Michael Young | Buy from Amazon