Mobile Laundry and Bath Equipment 1941-1990’s

Laundry and Bath Units have played a significant role in the ultimate success of many of the conflicts that New Zealand has participated in since the second world war.  Troops from the fighting units, filthy after weeks of chasing the enemy through the desert, muddy fields and primary jungle would find it slightly surreal to emerge in their filth and greeted by a unit offering them a hot shower and a complete change of clothing. Such was the effect on the morale of our fighting soldiers that it is reasonable to assume that on many occasions the enemy specifically targeted Laundry and Bath units for elimination. The Identity of many Laundry and Bath operators is unknown. This is of course for security reasons. Some soldiers got the wrong laundry back. Moreover, as you all well know, when it comes to personal kit soldiers just don’t forget things like that!

This article will examine the primary Mobile and Bath equipment used by the New Zealand Army from 1941 to 1996

The provision of laundry and Bath functions in commonwealth armies is an Ordnance Corps responsibility, and the role of Laundry and Bath Units was to:

  • Decontaminate men and their equipment after a gas attack.
  • Laundry and bath facilities to forward units.
  • Laundry facilities for supported Medical Unit.

Second World War 1939-45

Within days of the arrival of the Main body units of the NZEF at Maadi Camp in 1940, the NZEF Hygiene Section supervised the construction of a camp laundry, operated on contract by an Egyptian, and was supervised by the Hygiene Section to ensure cleanliness, disinfection, and standard of work of the native staff.

By April 1941, the NZEF had established its own Landry and Bath capability and the NZEF Order of Battle of 17 April 1941 lists that the NZEF had a:

  • Mobile Laundry & Decontamination unit, and a
  • Mobile Bath unit.
NZ Division Mobile Laundry (1941)

Vehicle Tactical Sign, NZ Division Mobile Laundry (1941)

The Mobile Laundry unit was located with the Base laundry Unit in Maadi camp in Cairo Egypt.With an establishment of one officer and 24 other ranks. The unit was jam-packed keeping the NZEF clean, with an estimated 48 hour week capacity of;

  • 36464 pieces or 64 tons dry weight of Blankets, or
  • 61440 pieces or 68 tons dry weight of Battle Dress, or
  • 1115200 pieces of Khaki drill

Both the Mobile Laundry and bath units were a tremendous morale booster and provided excellent service to the NZEF between April 1941 and Dec 1942. At the completion of the North African campaign, saw the Mobile laundry Unit downsized size and the Mobile Bath Unit disbanded.

During October 1943 the NZ Division, including the Mobile laundry unit moved secretly from Egypt to southern Italy, and on the 18th of October 1943, the Mobile bath unit was reestablished.  In February 1944, per War Establishment II/293/1 of December 1943, the two groups were combined as a Type B: Mobile Field Laundry and Bath Unit, and became known as 2NZ Mobile Laundry and Bath Unit (2NZ MLBU). 2NZ MLBU served with distinction in support of the NZ Division throughout the Italian campaign, often with detachments providing support to units on the front line.

2 NZ Mobile Laundry and Bath Unit (1944)

Vehicle Tactical Sign 2 NZ Mobile Laundry and Bath Unit (1944)

Mobile Laundry Equipment

Mounted on 9  Trailers, the mobile equipment of the laundry consisted of;

    • Four Trailer Type A – This was the washing trailer which carried the following equipment;
      • 1 X Rotary washing machine,
      • 1 X hydro extractor,
      • 1 X soap boiler,
      • 1 X ventilation fan,
      • hot and cold water, steam and electrical equipment.
    • One Trailer Type B – This was a drying trailer and carried the following equipment;
      • 1 x Rotary Dryer,
      • steam, condenser and electrical equipment.
    • One Trailer Type C – This was a drying trailer and carried the following equipment;
      • 1 X continuous drying machine -The continuous drying machine was a line which went through a series of pulleys. Items to be dried were pegged to the line which was slowly pulled through a chamber which blew hot air in one end and extracted it at the other. No ironing was done,
      • steam, condenser and electrical equipment.
    • Two Trailer Type D – With two of these per unit these trailers provided hot water and hot air. It carried the following equipment;
      • 1 X steam boiler,
      • 1 X calorifier,
      • 1 X cold water tank,
      • 1 X feed water tank,
      • 1 X oil storage tank,
      • 1 X centrifugal pump,
      • 1 X feed pump,
      • piping, fittings and electrical equipment.
    • One Generator Trailer – This was a standard generator trailer with;
      • 1 X Fowler Sanders or Lister 22/24Kw diesel Generator
      • 1 X switchboard
      • 2 X distribution boxes
    • Distributed amongst all the vehicles for water supply and disposal was;
      • 2 X 205 litre (45 gallons) per minute pumps with motors
      • effluent tanks
      • piping
      • water testing apparatus

The Washing machine and Dryer trailers were positioned back to back alongside another pair. Platforms were mounted between the trailers, with a canvas canopy over the top, this can be seen in the picture below.

ww2 brit laundry

For operation the Mobile laundry required;

      • firm standing with an area of 19 meters (60 foot) by 19 meters (60 foot)
      • a water supply of 163659 litres (36,000 gallons) a day
      • a good access road
      • as much cover as possible although the laundry section was designed to operate in the open air

The Mobile laundry could wash 16000 blankets or 12000 sets of personal clothing a week.

ordnance laundry at work

RAOC Mobile Laundry at work 1944/45 (RAOC, public domain)

Mobile Bath Equipment

The Mobile Bath Unit was mounted in a 1 ton 2 wheeled trailer, and consisted of the means to heat water and pipe it to the showers, and included;

      • Hot water boiler,
      • oil burner,
      • semi-rotary pump,
      • couplings and fitting

The showers consisted of;

      • tubular metal shower trestles,
      • five or six shower heads,
      • pipework and fittings

The capacity was based on each man taking five minutes to shower,

      • A Subsection could bathe 60 to 70 men in an hour,
      • A section could wash 120 to 140 men in an hour,

The shower equipment was designed to be used in the open, but tents were provided for the showers, and for changing rooms if necessary. Commonly showers would be sited where changing could be in a building. A bath section requires a firm site 18 meters (60 foot) by 12 meters (40 foot) and a water supply of 38641 litres (8,500 gallons) of water a day.

arms_land_field_ordnance_4

Canadian Army mobile bath. Wouenhaus, 8 April 1945. Photo by Alexander M. Stirton. Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-198131.

Postwar the 1950’s

The postwar New Zealand Army was committed to providing a Division for service in the Middle East, the RNZAOC Commitment to this was the provision of Ordnance Divisional Troops commanded by the Chief Royal Army Ordnance Corps (CRAOC).

The Order of Battle of the NZ Army in 1953, details that under the NZ Division HQ CRAOC  the Ordnance organisation was;

  • an  Infantry Division Ordnance Field Park, and
  • a Mobile Laundry and Bath Company, consisting of;
    • an HQ,
    • Laundry Section and
    • Bath Section.
20170713_164112

Org Chart from “Org & Duty of RNZAOC in NZ Div” CRAOC 5.1 of 1 Sept 1959.  National Archives of New Zealand

 

 

At this stage, it unknown what equipment was used but some assumptions would be that it was either equipment from the 2nd World War or locally manufactured material,

20170314_083546 (002)

Members of 1 Battalion, Wellington Regiment enjoying a field Shower, Daba Camp, Waiouru, Summer 1952-53 (7WnHb Regt, Public domain)

download

Showering in Korea, May 1952. Alexander Turnbull Library

The 1960’s and 70’s

In the 1960’s 1st Composite Ordnance Company (1 Comp Ord Coy), RNZAOC had two dedicated platoons for Laundry and Bath services;

      • 5 (Laundry) Platoon,  and
      • 6  (Bath) Platoon.

Laundry unit, single, trailer-mounted. M-532

1 Comp Ord Coy, 5 (Laundry) Platoon,  was equipped with the American  Laundry unit, single, trailer-mounted. M-532.  The M-532 was a self-contained trailer mounted unit which consisted of ;

  • A 2½-ton capacity, 2-wheel trailer;
  • A washer-extractor,
  • A Tumble Dryer,
  • A  water heater,
  • An electric generator,
  • An air compressor, and
  • water pump.

The unit was able to furnish a complete (wash and dry) laundering cycle at a capacity of 120 pounds (54kg) per hour.

LAUNDRY UNIT, M532

LAUNDRY UNIT, M532 (US Army, public domain)

m532 Laundry Trailers

LAUNDRY UNIT, M532 (US Army, public domain)

rnzaoc laundry 1960s

RNZAOC 1992, public domain

Bath Unit, Portable, 8-Showerhead M1958

1 Comp Ord Coy, 6 (Bath) Platoon,  was equipped with the American Bath Unit, Portable, 8-Showerhead M1958. The M1958  was a compact unit that included;

  • A 20-gallon (75 litre) water heater,
  • A 3/4-horsepower water pump,
  • Two shower stands with four nozzles each,
  • A 3-k.w. generator set,
  • A 55- gallon (209 litre) fuel drum,
  • moreover, all the necessary ancillary equipment including hoses and fires extinguishers.

The M1958 used approximately 960 gallons (3600 litres) of water per hour, which could be drawn from a tank, mains or a water source such as a river or pond. It is capable of providing continuing support for 3,000 troops.

m1958 layout

M1958 Bath Unit Equipment layout (US Army, public domain)

The January 1972 edition of the RAOC Gazette made mention of the M1958 in service with the ANZUK Force.

” ANZUK Ordnance Depot” The unit has raised a Field Support Detachment, and under the command of Capt J Clarke supported by SSgt’s Ashdown and Shepard, it is supporting 28 ANZUK Brigade in the Mersing area of Malaysia.

The bath unit of the detachment is using an amazing American equipment which requires a brave man to peer though a peep hole until combustion. Fortunately, the unit has such a man in Corporal Smith of the RNZAOC”

and this from the February 1972  issue of the RAOC Gazette:

” The Bath section apparently run by Corporal Smith RNZAOC, succeed in bathing all comers and, in spite of water shortages, operated almost nonstop for twelve days.”

 

FB_IMG_1489359687910

ANZUK Ordnance Depot, Forward Ordnance Detachment, setting up a shower unit, Malaysia 1972 (Copyright © Robert McKie 2017)

The 1980’s and 90’s

With the retirement of the Laundry unit,  M-532 in the early 1980’s, leaving the Bath Unit M1958 to although in need of replacement due to support and maintenance issues, soldier on until the later years of the 1980’s. The last time I saw one in action was on the Triad Exercise of 1984 when I was operating on at Baggush Camp at Waiouru under the tutelage of WO2 Smith.

FW-37 Trailer Mounted Field Laundry Unit

The Replacement for the Laundry unit,  M-532 was purchased in the early 80’s, it was the West German FW-37 Trailer Mounted Field Laundry Unit.  The FW-37 was a self-contained field laundry unit mounted on two trailers;

  • Washer Trailer, the washer trailer consisted of;
    • Two washing machines,
    • Hydro extractor,
    • Water pump,
    • Two Diesel/Oil Burners,
    • Hoses, electrical cables and other ancillary connections
  • Dryer Trailer, the Dryer trailer consisted of;
    • A single drying machine,
    • One Diesel/Oil Burner,
    • 3 Phase generator,
    • Hoses, electrical cables and other ancillary connections.

The FW-37 and could be run by either mains power or by its own generator, Water could be supplied from a mains supply, water tank or local water supply such as a river or a pond.

Kerrick Shower Unit

As the M1958 Bath Units became worn out in the mid-1980’s, a replacement item was provided by Kerrick Industries. Utilising many of the M1958 Bath Units components, such as the hoses and shower stands the Kerrick was an electric powered, Kerosene fed unit.

Karcher Shower System

In the early 1990’s the NZ Army procured several Karcher Multi-Purpose Decontamination Systems (MPDS). Essentially a high Tech Steam Cleaner the NZ Army systems were configured as either a;

  • A shower system, or
  • A decontamination System (used only by RNZE units, not RNZAOC).
74701252_gl_large_thumb

Karcher MPDS (Karcher, public domain)

The MPDS was an entirely self-contained system, powered by its own engine and able to suck water from a local source such as a river or from a holding tank fed by mains water.The shower system was capable of showering 15 persons at the same time.

Bibliography

Administration within the Division. (1951). In Administration in the field (Vol. 1). London: War Office.

Bath-Unit-Portable-8-Shower-Head-M1958. (1972, January). TM 10-4510-201-14. Washington, DC: Headquarters, Department of the Army.

Bolton, J. (1992). A History Of the Royal New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps. Wellington: RNZAOC.

Cooke, P. (2013). Fit to Fight. Compulsory Military Training and National Service in New Zealand 1949-72. Auckland: David Ling Publishing.

Cooke, P., & Crawford, J. (2011). The Territorials. Wellington: Random House New Zealand Ltd.

HMVF. (2007). Mobile Laundry and Bath Unit RAOC. Retrieved October 19, 2017, from Historic Military Vehicle Forum: http://hmvf.co.uk/topic/4736-mobile-laundry-and-bath-unit-raoc/

KAY, R. (1967). FROM CASSINO TO TRIESTE. In Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–45. WELLINGTON: HISTORICAL PUBLICATIONS BRANCH DEPARTMENT OF INTERNAL AFFAIRS.

Laundry Unit, Trailer, M532. (1977). TM 10-3510-208-12. Washington, DC: Headquarters, Department of the Army.

RAOC. (1972, January). ANZUK Ordnance Depot. RAOC Gazette, p. 282.

RNZAOC Pataka Magazine. (n.d.). Retrieved 9 24, 2017

Robin, K. (1967). Italy Volume II: From Cassino to Trieste. In The Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–1945. Wellington: Historical Publications Branch, 1967, Wellington. Retrieved from http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-2Ita-c12-5.html

Steer, F. (2005). To The Warrior His Arms: The Story of the RAOC 1918–1993. London: RAOC.

Tilbrook, J. (1988). A History of the Ordnance Services of the Australian Army. Sydney: RAAOC.

Trux. (2010, August 29). Royal army ordnance corps. Retrieved from WW2Talk: http://ww2talk.com/index.php?threads/royal-army-ordnance-corps.23793/

WWIIReenacting. (2006). Mobile Bath and Laundry Unit RAOC. Retrieved from WWIIReenacting: http://www.wwiireenacting.co.uk/forum/viewtopic.php?f=42&t=32663

 

Copyright © Robert McKie 2017

 

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