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The Services 1930 - 1956:

Royal Army Service Corps

The Royal Army Service Corps (R.A.S.C.) was the branch of the British Army responsible for the distribution of supplies to units in the field. Likewise, in the Indian Army, the Royal Indian Army Service Corps (R.I.A.S.C.) performed the same function. Both corps had the additional responsibility of transporting supplies as far as the front line, where individual units took over responsibility. The corps were also responsible for the administration and maintenance of barracks and quarters.

The R.A.S.C. and R.I.A.S.C. did not issue or maintain weapons, military equipment or ammunition, as this was the responsibility of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. However, the R.A.S.C. and R.I.A.S.C. did transport ammunition from Base Ordnance Depots to Forward Ammunition Points. It was also the task of the two corps to transport and distribute Petrol, Oil and Lubricants, often known simply as ‘POL’.

Just as important, the R.A.S.C. and R.I.A.S.C. were responsible for supplying the food and water to keep the army personnel and animals fed and watered. The corps provided Field Butchery, Field Bakery and Cattle Conducting Sections. The two corps used vehicles, mules and aircraft to keep the supplies moving. Railway and shipping transportation was the responsibility of the Royal Engineer Movements and Transportation Branch.

In the 1700’s, when the British Army developed into a national army as we know it today, transport was provided by civilian contractors. The first attempt in 1795 to raise a uniformed unit to transport army supplies failed a year later. Another attempt was made during the Napoleonic Wars of the early Nineteenth Century, but the Royal Waggon Train as it was known disbanded in 1833.

It was the Royal Commission formed after the Crimea War of 1854 – 1856 that galvanized further action. In 1855, the Land Transport Corps was formed (later to be called the Military Train), but supply remained the responsibility of uniformed civilians from the Commissariat Department. In 1869, the officers of the Military Train and Commissariat Department merged to form the Control Department. The following year, the Military Train was renamed the Army Service Corps. Various other changes took place during the 1870’s and 80’s, until finally in 1888 the various branches concerned with supply were merged into the new Army Service Corps. The Army Service Corps was granted the prefix ‘Royal’ in 1918 in recognition of its service during the First World War.

The R.A.S.C. and R.I.A.S.C. were both highly mechanized by the beginning of the Second World War. The R.I.A.S.C. continued to maintain several Animal Transport units because of the nature of the terrain in the North West Frontier and later the Eastern Frontier of India and Burma. The R.A.S.C. lost a large number of vehicles with the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force and it took a couple of years to make good the losses. The majority of vehicles used by the R.A.S.C. were British built, but Canada and the Commonwealth also provided a large number of vehicles used in North West Europe, Italy and in South East Asia.

For additional information on the establishment and organisation of R.A.S.C. Companies, please see:

Establishment and Organisation of R.A.S.C. Companies

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