SW8s Nos. 2019 and 2022. Not only does this pair of diesel locomotives provide the motive power for the trains of the Calera & Shelby Railroad, they are also U. S. Army veterans who saw service in Korea from 1951 to 1953. This article on the Korean War service of Nos. 2019 and 2022 is offered as a tribute to all who served in the Korean War and in other conflicts to safeguard the freedom of America.
On June 25, 1950, communist forces from the North invaded South Korea. South Korean forces, as well as a small American occupation army, were forced to fall back before the invasion. The United States, along with its United Nations partners, quickly began to ship men and supplies and in time the communist advance was halted.
Rail transportation proved to be a vital compo-nent of the military effort. Korea’s rail system had been built by the Japanese after Japan had annexed Korea. The Japanese constructed the railroad in order to support their invasion of Manchuria. The Japanese built the system to the standards of the American railroad indus-try, utilizing standard gauge and knuckle couplers. After the end of World War II, the Korean government assumed control of the system under the name, Korean National Railroad (KNR).
Throughout the Korean conflict, the U. S. Army depended heavily on the KNR for movement of men and supplies from the harbor at Pusan to the scene of the fighting near the Parallel. When the North Koreans attacked, the KNR had about 300 serviceable steam engines and some 6,000 cars. As the first year of the war progressed, it became clear that the worn out steam locomotives and equipment left behind by the Japanese were being stretched too thin to support the U. S. military’s needs, and the Army made plans to purchase new diesel locomotives for use in Korea.
The U. S. Army ordered 41 new SW8 diesel switch engines from the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors in early 1951. The locomotives were numbered 2000-2040 and were built at EMD’s Plant No. 3 in Cleveland, Ohio. The SW8 was powered by an 8-cylinder 567 engine producing 800 horsepower. Overall length over couplers was 44’5" and weight fully loaded was 230,000 pounds. The SW8 was the medium horsepower switching locomotive in EMD’s catalog. The U. S. Army’s order for 41 SW8 was the largest order for SW8s from any purchaser, more than any Class 1 railroad. Nos. 2000 through 2040 were constructed between May and June, 1951 and thereaf-ter loaded aboard ship in New York Harbor for the trip through the Panama Canal to Pusan, Korea. th and 724th Transportation Railway Operating Battalions under the direction of the 3rd Military Railway Service of the United States Army. The 712th TROB was based at Yongdongpo, across the river from Seoul and nearer to the front lines. The 724th TROB was based in the south at Pusan, along with the 765th Transportation Railway Shop Battalion. The 712th and the 724th had charge of operations, while the 765th repaired and maintained locomotives and rolling stock at the Pusan back-shop of the KNR. When the new SW8s first arrived, the 724th TROB managed to convince the Army that the new diesels were too valuable to risk operating near the front, and for the first months of the war the SW8s were operated by the 724th out of Pusan. Later, the diesels found their way into the 712th TROB’s operating area as well. None of the diesels were lost or damaged due to enemy action, although two of the SW8’s suffered minor dam-age from mishaps. Steam trains operated by the 712th and 724th were operated with Korean crews: one engineman, two firemen, one brakeman and a conductor. A TROB soldier went along as a rider to supervise and keep things moving. Reluctance by the Korean crews to run trains to the front usually meant that trips north usually took about 3 times as long as trips south. Once the diesels arrived, the usual practice was for the SW8s to be operated by two American soldiers with a Korean pilot. Trains carried men, ammunition, and supplies. Hospital trains loaded with wounded personnel ran regularly from the front to the harbor at Pusan.
As the fighting wound down and a cease-fire was put into effect, the Army shipped most of the diesels back to the United States in 1953. Some of the SW8s remained behind. One in particular, No. 2001 is on display at the Korean National Railway Headquarters. No.2001 is said to be the oldest diesel locomotive in Korea. No. 2019 was sent back to EMD for reconditioning in September, 1953, and No. 2022 was rebuilt in June of 1955. Both engines along with their sisters saw service at military bases in the states until being retired in the early 1990s. Nos. 2019 and 2022 finished out their service careers at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky and were acquired through government surplus by the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum in 1995.
What impact did the U. S. Army diesel locomotives have on the Korean War effort? Colonel Edmond. C. Lasher, who returned from Korea to teach at the U. S. Army Transportation Corps School at Fort Eustis, Virginia, had this to say about the diesel locomotive as a weapon of warfare: "Its superiority for once and always was impressed on me. . . Every ton of coal we had to haul for those old teakettles [steam locomotives] was so much less space for military payload. . . . It took ten to twelve trainloads of coal a day for our rail operations in South Korea alone. For diesel operation, it would have taken hardly more than that number of cars a day for fuel. . . . We experienced a tremendous loss of locomotives because of water shortages. I’m sold on the diesel from a military standpoint."
Written by: Alan Dismukes
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