The Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC) was a corps of the British Army. At its formation in 1918 it was both a supply and repair corps. In the supply area it had responsibility for weapons, armoured vehicles and other military equipment, ammunition and clothing and certain minor functions such as laundry, mobile baths and photography. The RAOC was also responsible for a major element of the repair of Army equipment. In 1942 the latter function was transferred to the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and the vehicle storage and spares responsibilities of the Royal Army Service Corps were in turn passed over to the RAOC. The RAOC retained repair responsibilities for ammunition, clothing and certain ranges of general stores. In 1964 the McLeod Reorganisation of Army Logistics resulted in the RAOC absorbing petroleum, rations and accommodation stores functions from the Royal Army Service Corps as well as the Army Fire Service, barrack services, sponsorship of NAAFI (EFI) and the management of staff clerks from the same Corps. On 5 April 1993, the RAOC was one of the corps that amalgamated to form The Royal Logistic Corps (RLC).
Predecessors of the RAOC
Supply and repair of technical equipment, principally artillery and small arms, was the responsibility of the Master General of the Ordnance (MGO) and the Board of Ordnance from the Middle Ages until they lost their independence in 1855. Thereafter followed thirty years of fluctuating allocation of responsibilities and a great variety of titles of both corps and individuals. This complex, convoluted and largely unsatisfactory period insofar as Army logistics was concerned was summarised in 1889 as follows: 'The English Ordnance Department goes back into an older history than the Army. There were Master Generals of the Ordnance and Boards of Ordnance centuries before there were Secretaries of State for War or Commanders-in-Chief. Begun under the Tudors the Board of Ordnance lived through the changes of the Great Rebellion, the Commonwealth, the Restoration and the Revolution until it fell, at last, in the panic that followed in the disasters of the Crimean War. ...the many alterations in administration that followed the abolition of the Board of Ordnance, through the last 30 years, can only be read as a negative evidence in favour of the organisation, and as positive proof that the machinery of effective Army Store administration has yet to be evolved from its ruins.'
In the years following the Crimean War three corps can be identified as the direct predecessors of the RAOC. The Military Store Department (MSD)created in 1861 granted military commissions and provided officers to manage stores inventories. In parallel a subordinate corps of warrant officers and sergeants, the Military Store Clerks Corps (MSC), was also created to carry out clerical duties. These small corps (235 officers in the MSD and 44 MSC) based largely at the Tower, Red Barracks, Woolwich and Weedon were supplemented in 1865 by a Military Store Staff Corps (MSSC) to provide soldiers.
In 1870 a further reorganisation, ostensibly to simplify management, resulted in the MSD, MSC and MSSC being grouped with the Army Service Corps (ASC) under the Control Department. The officers remained a separate branch (Ordnance or Military Stores) in the Control Department but the soldiers were absorbed into the ASC. This arrangement lasted until 1876.
The Control Department was disbanded in 1876. The Ordnance/Military Store officers joined a newly created Ordnance Stores Department (OSD). Five years later, in 1881, the soldiers also left the ASC and became the Ordnance Store Corps(OSC). In 1894 there were further changes. The OSD was retitled the Army Ordnance Department (AOD) and absorbed the Inspectors of Machinery from the Royal Artillery (RA). In parallel the OSC was retitled the Army Ordnance Corps (AOC) and at the same time absorbed the Corps of Armourers and the RA's Armament Artificers.
In 1918 the AOD and AOC amalgamated to form the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, receiving the "Royal" prefix for their service during World War I, and for the first time officers and soldiers served in the same organisation.
Ordnance Services Organisation before 1914
The RAOC and its predecessors were organised in two broad divisions: a static organisation of depots and other installations and field units that provided close support to operations. From the Second World War onwards there was increasing pressure to increase mobility on operations of stock holding units.
The earliest depot for military stores was the Tower of London which for many centuries sufficed to hold the Army's stock of artillery, small arms and ammunition albeit in unsatisfactory circumstances. The first modern depot to store weapons was constructed alongside the Grand Union Canal at Weedon in 1808.
After the Crimean War the main storage depot, and home of the RAOC and its predecessors, became the Red Fort at Woolwich. To this was added the Royal Army Clothing Department at Pimlico when it was taken over by the AOD in 1895.
During the period from the 1860s to 1914, in addition to a new depot for mobilisation in Aldershot, various depots were established to support the Army throughout the world (with the notable exception of India where the Indian Army managed its own parallel organisation, the Indian Army Ordnance Corps (IAOC). In 1881 there were detachments in Dublin, Jersey, Gibraltar, Malta, Bermuda, Canada, St Helena, Cape of Good Hope, Mauritius and Straits Settlements. There was also a substantial detachment supporting the Zulu War in Natal.
Thereafter there was substantial support by the RAOC's predecessors to every late Victorian expedition with the major efforts being the two campaigns in Egypt and the Sudan (1882-5 and 1898) and the Boer War (1899-1902). Both campaigns required the support of very large numbers of troops, animals and equipment in hostile environments. They produced a well-developed system of stores dumps and repair facilities along extended lines-of-communication. The two decades before the First World War saw the increasing mechanization of the Army but this was largely undertaken on a piecemeal basis. The ordnance role largely remained confined to artillery with the ASC leading the way with vehicles and the RE with aviation and communications. Much of the story of the next hundred years of Army logistics is the reorganization and steady rationalization of these and other technical changes.
RAOC and the First World War
As with the rest of the British Army the AOD/AOC was transformed by the First World War. Both the sheer scale of the war and the increasing technical complexity created an organisational structure that, in its outlines, survives until today. The depots at Woolwich, Weedon and Pimlico were supplemented by the wholesale takeover of warehouses throughout the country and in early 1915 a depot was established at Didcot to be the major focus for the receipt and distribution of RAOC stores. Ammunition storage was also expanded dramatically and the former peacetime magazines at places such as Portsmouth and Plymouth were supplementd by purpose built depots at Bramley, Altrincham, Credenhill and Didcot. On the Western Front a highly successful logistic infrastructure, largely rail based, was created to support the front. Parallel systems, but of less complexity, supported operations in Italy. Other expeditions such as Gallipoli/Salonika, Palestine and Mesopotamia brought supply challenges and a large logistic bases were established on the Egyptian Canal Zone and Basra.
RAOC from 1920 to the End of World War II
After the war there was considerable retrenchment, but in the 1930s re-armament and the mechanisation of the Army led to a redesign of the UK base. A Central Ordnance Depot (COD) and workshop to support vehicles, built on the site of the First World War National Shell Filling Factory, Chilwell, opened in 1937. The operation of this depot was notable in that it mirrored and tried to improve on best civilian practice at the time. This became a hallmark of RAOC development in the following decades. A further COD at Donnington to hold non-vehicle technical stores opened in 1940. This removed from Woolwich to a less vulnerable site in Shropshire a range of critical items. Finally in 1942 a very large COD, widely spread out across the Oxfordshire countryside to mitigate the risk of bomb damage, opened at Bicester to hold stores principally to support the invasion of France. Additionally purpose built vehicle depots for both tracked and wheeled vehicles were opened across the country and Central Ammunition Depots (CAD), including Kineton and Longtown were built.
Forward of the UK base a huge array of temporary depots were built to meet the rapidly changing pace of war. Base Ordnance Depots (BOD) and Base Ammunition Depots (BAD) sprung up all over the world wherever a major line of communication was established. Major changes took place after 1942 when the REME absorbed most of the RAOC repair functions and the RAOC in turn took over the RASC's vehicle organisation. The more mobile nature of the Second World War also led to the creation of units at divisional and corps level with higher levels of mobility. The most notable of these was the ordnance field park principally carrying vehicle and technical stores spares.
RAOC Post-war to 1993
In the period 1945-93 the RAOC, as with the rest of the Army, reduced very substantially in size and closed its world wide bases as garrisons withdrew. At the same time there was considerable development of warehousing techniques and information technology. By 1980 the RAOC was reduced to two CODs at Bicester and Donnington (COD Chilwell was closing and CODs Branston and Didcot had closed in 1963 and Weedon in 1965 after being downgraded from a COD in 1957), two CADs at Kineton and Longtown (CAD Bramley closed in 1974) and a single Central Vehicle Depot (Now retitled Central Vehicle Organisation) at Ashchurch (CVDs Hilton and Ludgershall having closed in the late seventies).
Across the UK a structure of Regional Depots, Ordnance Support Units, Training Materiel Parks. supply depots and Ammunition Sub-Depots was steadily run down. At the height of the Northern Ireland troubles Ord Dep Kinnegar was a major logistic facilty but is now much reduced.
Overseas 3 BOD in Singapore closed in 1972 leaving a Composite Ordnance Depot in Hong Kong (that finally closed shortly before handover in 1997). The Middle East logistic base withdrew from Egypt in 1956 - 5 BOD and 9 BAD closing in 1955 - and was partially re-established in Aden. In turn this closed in 1967 with facilities being established in Sharjah and Bahrein. These, in turn, closed in 1971. The Ordnance Depot in Cyprus became part of the Joint Logistic Unit in 1988. In Germany 15 BOD and 3 Base Ammunition and Petrol Depot (BAPD) closed in 1992. Smaller successor units, including one at Antwerp, remain.
Two post war campaigns (Falklands 1982 and Gulf 1990/1) were unique in being fought in areas completely outside existing theatres. Temporary lines of communication were rapidly established that successfully managed huge surges in materiel. Increasingly these operations had a joint Service element
Appointments in the RAOC
The RAOC's motto was Sua tela tonanti (literally "His [i.e. Jupiter's] Missiles to the one who is Thundering", but commonly translated as "To the Warrior his Arms").
'The RAOC Gazette The requirement for a Corps journal was first mooted at Woolwich in the 1880s, and begun in 1896 with hectographs. These were created and sent to South Africa during the Boer War 1900-1901. The first Editor was Lt Leon du Plergny, formerly a Conductor and known as the "Plug" by his clerks. The first printed edition was published in 1906 and continued uninterrupted until 1914. It was published post-war from 1920 until 1993 as a monthly magazine.
The RAOC Gazette is still published every 6 months as a Membership Newsletter of the RAOC Association, and as a sub-section of'The Sustainer, House journal of The Royal Logistic Corps. The latter is quarterly magazine published as the Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer editions.
Before the Second World War, RAOC recruits were required to be at least 5 feet 2 inches tall (5 feet 4 inches for Driver Mechanics) and could enlist up to 25 years of age. They initially enlisted for three years with the colours and a further nine years with the reserve. Fitters could also choose six years with the colours and six years in the reserve, or eight and four years. Clerks and Storemen enlisted for six years and six years. They trained at the RAOC Depot, Hilsea Barracks, Portsmouth, before proceeding to specialist trade training. Armourers were only recruited from boy entrants and enlisted for twelve years. Armament Artificers trained at the Military College of Science, Woolwich for fifteen months. Half of them were serving soldiers who were already qualified fitters. Armament Artificers had to be at least 22 years of age and could enlist up to 30; they enlisted for twelve years and were promoted Staff Sergeant as soon as they had completed training.
- Extract from a War Office Committee of 1888-9 on Ordnance matters probably penned by General Sir William Butler and quoted in Major General A Forbes, 'A History of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps' Vol II Medici Society London 1929, p3.n
- HED Harris ' the First Five Hundred Years', RAOC School, Blackdown 1962. pp65-67
- Major General A Forbes 'A History of Army Ordnance Services', Medici Society, London 1929. Vol II pp 151-152
- Major General A Forbes 'A History of the Army Ordnance Services' Medici Society, London 1929. Vol II pp 153-5
- Major General A Forbes 'A History of the Army Ordnance Services' Medici Society, London 1929. Vol I. p192
- Major General A Forbes 'A History of the Army Ordnance Services' Medici Society, London 1929. Vol II. p82
- Major General A Forbes 'A History of the Army Ordnance Services' Medici Society, London 1929. Vol II. p155
- Major General A Forbes 'A History of the Army Ordnance Services' Medici Society, London 1929. Vol II. p182 notes that the total strength of British forces of all types in the war 'did not fall far short of 450,000 while regular army strength never dropped below 151,000.'
- Major General A Forbes 'A History of the Army Ordnance Services' Medici Society, London 1929. Vol III. pp192-217
- Brigadier AH Fernyhough 'A History of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps 1920-1945' RAOC, Blackdown 1966. pp361-456
- Brigadier AH Fernyhough 'A History of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps 1920-45' RAOC, Blackdown 1966 lists BODs in West Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia as well as France and Italy.
- War Office, His Majesty's Army, 1938
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