The Royal Waggon Train (1802-1833)
Within a month of being created, part of the Corps arrived in Holland but because of the Treasury involvement, the vehicle establishment of 100 bread waggons, 100 forage carts, 20 hospital waggons and 10 forge carts had not been constructed and even by the time this campaign ended, still nothing had been done.
However, some good came out of this campaign in that it was generally acknowledged that an organised transport service was essential and that disciplined people accustomed to horses must be recruited.
A pause in hostilities brought about by the Peace Treaty of Amiens in 1802 gave a short breathing space to the contending powers. By May the following year, Britain and France were again at war with France amassing an invasion army.
Following Nelson's victory at Trafalgar, the French marched away from the Channel to fight their continental enemies. In 1807 they invaded the Iberian Peninsular determined to close all European ports to Britain. In 1808 Sir Arthur Wellesley sailed to seize the naval base at Lisbon. He took with him two troops of Irish Commissariat Waggon Corps. By October these two troops had been incorporated into the Royal Waggon Train, bringing the strength to twelve troops - a total strength of 2000 all ranks.
Echelon duties in support of the Commissariat continued but now, where transport columns had to be protected, the Royal Waggon Train was increasingly involved in providing close support to the combat arms. It became normal practice to split the organisation into small detachments in direct support of infantry or cavalry.
The landing in Portugal was to the north of Lisbon on the beaches at Mondego Bay. It took a while but it did give Wellesley the time to organise his logistic support in a way which was to become familiar during his campaigns. He was a master at solving logistical problems having learned his lesson whilst fighting in India. His task was to ensure "the final and absolute evacuation of the Peninsula by troops of France". Whitehall, however, maintained its ignorance of the logistics involved in a military campaign fought by an army over difficult terrain.
Within a month of landing in Portugal, Wellesley gave the French a foretaste of the capabilities of the British Army by defeating them at Rolica and Vimeiro.
The command of the British Army in the Peninsula during the winter campaign 1808-09 now passed to Sir John Moore, Wellesley having temporarily fallen out of favour for his involvement in the Treaty of Cintra which allowed the defeated French to sail home in British ships. In October 1808 a British force under the command of General Sir David Baird landed at Corunna followed a weeks later by three troops of the Royal Waggon Train. It was Moore's intention to hit the French lines of communication but he was forced to retire when he came up against Napoleon's army - a ratio of more than 6 to 1.
His retreat was no easy matter as waggons provided from local resources broke down and the hired drivers deserted with their teams. Other waggons were too wide or inappropriate for the narrow roads. Additional horses had to be harnessed to pull these waggons thus reducing the overall number of supply waggons. The sprung waggons were used as ambulances with two men lying or eight men sitting. Morale and discipline of the troops began to suffer and storage depots set up by Baird were ransacked by Moore's retreating troops. This retreat ended with the Battle of Corunna in 1809 where Moore was mortally wounded.
The Royal Waggon Train ended up being employed on mundane transport tasks and in 1815 was reduced to five troops and three years later to two before being disbanded in 1833.