- Karen Frost
Chapter 16: The One With the Cars
Updated: Aug 1, 2021
This chapter starts with a question: how many trucks would it take to transport about 5,000 kg of cargo by truck in 1923? The answer is a little complicated. In the first place, would there have been any trucks in Alexandria, Egypt in 1923? Presumably, but perhaps not that many. Let's imagine they were either left there after the war (Egypt was one of the many fronts for WWI) or brought over from Europe. What might those trucks have been? I found two logical possibilities:
The Four Wheel Drive Auto Company's Model B: This truck was used by both the Americans and the British during WWI. With a payload capacity of 11,000 lb (5,000 kg) on road and 6,600 lb (3,000 kg) cross county, it maxed out at 15 mph (24 km/h). The British brought 1,599 of the Model Bs to France. After the war, all the British trucks were returned to the UK, but some were later sent out to British territories for civilian use. The American army, meanwhile, brought 9,420 to France. It's unclear what happened the ones that survived the war. Overall, it seems reasonable that at least a few could have made it to Egypt by late 1923.
The Berliet CBA: This truck was used by the French in WWI, and 15,000 were produced during the war. With a payload capacity of 5,000 kg, it maxed out at 20 km/h when full. Here's a YouTube video of it.
The next question is: where could cargo be shipped out, west of Alexandria? The most logical answer is Tripoli. The Port of Tripoli is the principal sea port in Libya, and, in fact, one of the oldest ports in the Mediterranean. Although the Italian colonial authorities didn't establish the port that exists today until the late 1920s, it clearly would still have been the best best to ship things from the Italian colony of Libya in 1923 (which was called Italian North Africa from 1912 to 1927). That said, Benghazi was also an operational port at the time. Per the ever helpful Wikipedia, after a period of slow decline, the port was redeveloped after occupation by the Italians in 1912. It's unlikely any Europeans would have wanted to use it to ship anything important, however, given that from 1911 until the early 1930s about half the local population was busy resisting the Italian occupation.
As a plot point in this chapter, a character reports telegraph lines are down between Alexandria and the border. Truthfully, I'm not sure whether there would have been a line there at all. During WWI yes, but unclear whether it would have been maintained after the war and whether it would have experienced outages. For the sake of the book, we'll assume it is possible the line would have been down for days at a time. In the larger scheme of telegraph lines connecting Alexandria, Cairo, and the rest of the world, here's an interesting post on the history of submarine telegraphy.
One of the figures in this chapter is Prince Omar Toussoun. In real life, the prince was one of those larger than life royals, like Princess Diana. He was a people's prince: a fierce nationalist at the end of the British imperial era, a philanthropist, and a scholar. Although by modern standards he wasn't perfect (he thought Muslim women should be the equivalent of barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen), he had some very progressive views and activities for the time. This monograph is his definitive biography, and is worth a read for anyone interested in what a scholar-royal looked like just after the turn of the 20th century. Of note, he did publish a work on Egypt's finances from the time of the pharaohs until the present (1924), so his fictional conversation with Anna was grounded a little in the real prince's academic publications.