Edited by Ben Turner and Jeremy Mac Donald
As it is well known, the idea to create the first armed trains appeared in the middle of the XIX century. But the first practical steps were made only during the Anglo-Boar War, when British troops had to protect their railroads, which served as main transport and supply routes, from Boar diversions. First, these trains were just common locomotives towing flat cars with field guns placed on them. The Next step was made while increasing the survivability and firepower of the armed trains, hence common passenger or coal cars got covered with iron plates with openings made for small arms and coupled with armoured locomotive (usually protected with sand bags or chains). Such trains are usually called blinded trains (to differentiate them from typical special-built armoured trains). Finally, typical car armouring styles were developed, as well as armoured locomotives.
During World War I both sides used armoured trains sporadically in very limited numbers. Although they were very powerful instruments of war, they did not have much chance to show themselves due static nature of warfare and the serious air threat to railroads.
Russia began to build her first armoured cars in 1914 and armoured trains in 1915, when a special term bronevye chasti [armoured units] was created. Admittedly their combat effectiveness was not so convincing due the same static nature, the Eastern Front generally was more mobile than its Western counterpart and as a result, Russia slowly but constantly increased the number of her armoured vehicles, having by the middle of 1917 – 7 armoured trains and about 300 armoured cars of all types (from the impressive Hartford-Putilov heavy monsters to old-broken English and French ones). Despite quite large numbers of armoured units (7 armoured trains and 13 armoured car battalions), they rarely participated in battle and had quite low experience in combat. Questions of tactics and (using later terms) operational doctrines of their use weren’t developed and discussed, and foreign experience was not collected. As a result, nobody clearly understood the purpose, features and drawbacks of armoured vehicles.
In the initial chaos of the fall of 1917, when Bolsheviks overthrew the Temporal Government, there were several cases of the use of armoured trains. Fedor Raskolnikov (one of the Bolshevik leaders in the Baltic Fleet) in his memoirs remembers an episode, when armoured train from the group of general Krasnov, who marched on Petrograd in hope of recapturing it, surrendered to Bolsheviks. Its crew soldiers refused to obey the orders, capturing their officers. In the same days of late October Bolsheviks built their first armoured train. It was composed of one common (not armoured) locomotive of Ch series and two armoured wagons (created from coal cars Fox-Arbel and armed with two 3in Lender’s AA guns each). On the night of 29.10.1917 this train named Revolutsionnyj bronepoezd 1 departed Putilov’s Factory and moving to the fighting under Krasnoe Selo.
In the same period several other armoured trains of improvised construction were built one of them was Minskij Kommunisticheckij imeni Lenina, created by soldiers of 10th Railroad Regiment. Judging from old photos, it consisted of two blinded wagons with numerous openings for rifles in their sides as well as machinegun position (firing along the rail line backwards) and 76.2mm field gun (firing along rail line towards). Also there was AA car similar to those created and built at Putilov’s Factory. Armoured locomotive was fully armoured Ja series passenger locomotive (the only case when such locomotive was ever used in armoured trains).
Officially, the first Soviet armoured units began to be created in January 1918, when Central Council of control of all auto-armoured units of Republic (Tsentrobron’) was created. Its task was building armoured cars and (from April 1918) armoured trains. Also Tsentrobron’ was tasked to deal with the technical, administrative and political questions inside armoured units, as well as training of technical specialists and junior commanding officers for theses units.
Primary centres of armoured equipment production became the locomotive- and wagon-building factories as well as automobile factories at Nizhnij Novgorod, Kolomna, Brjansk, Petrograd and Moskva. These cities produced about 2/3s of all armoured equipment during the years of Civil War. Later in war large armoured train repair and building facilities were created based on the wagon- and locomotive-building factories in Tsaritsyn, Ekaterinoslav, Lugansk, Ekaterinodar, Perm’ and Kiev, as well as smaller-scale facilities at numerous large depots.
On the other hand, one of the most serious questions was the shortage of materials, since each armoured train demanded 64-67 tons of armour and 640 tons of black oil to be consumed. Factories that produced armoured trains and armoured cars were included into the special high-supply list, and materials for production were collected throughout entire country old steel plates, automobiles, trophies etc. were collected and transported to these factories.
By 1.10.1918 there were 23 armoured trains, by 1.10.1919 71 armoured trains, by 1.10.1920 103 armoured trains. Aside from that, many armoured trains (and armoured cars) were built via improvisation, using local equipment. These armoured trains were usually common wagons protected with brick and wooden walls, sand bags and occasional armouring, as well as similar armoured cars. More than a hundred such trains where built, while no less than 30 of them participated in Red Army actions from autumn 1918 until August 1919. From autumn 1919 they were withdrawn from action.
The first attempt to systematize the construction of armoured trains and organisation of units was made in Temporal ToE for Field Armoured Train that was created in 16.10.1918. It included one armoured locomotive, two armoured wagons – overall 2 guns and 12 machineguns. The crew consisted of 95 men (71 in combat subunits and 24 in maintenance subunits). The general structure was based on the old Russian Army ToE from 1915, except that it was ordered to use only Ov series of locomotives (powerful but large E, Sch and S series proved to be too vulnerable in combat conditions). In 18.12.1918 this ToE was modified by including a special supply train. This increased the crew to 136 men (98 in combat and 38 in support subunits).
In 10.03.1919 it was decided to differentiate armoured trains between “armoured mobile teams” and “armoured trains”. Armoured mobile team was, in fact, single armoured or half-armoured cars with one naval gun of 3-6in calibre (no machineguns) plus unarmoured locomotive (overall crew 15 men). Its main purpose was indirect artillery support. Armoured trains themselves were split to light and heavy ones. Each armoured train should consist of combat group and support group. Combat group consisted of light armoured train №1 (consisting of armoured locomotive and two strike armoured wagons (see below) with 3in guns) and heavy armoured train №2 (consisting of half-armoured locomotive and two half-armoured wagons with 4in or 6in guns). A support group consisted of train №3 (a common train with crew reserves, road construction teams etc). In theory a flexible structure, it proved to be ineffective in reality. Armoured train commanders, due to the lack of knowledge and experience, weren’t able to determine the importance of target, often using all available firepower for tiny targets, vulnerable to machineguns. As a result, trains №1 and №2 almost always were used separately. To counteract this, in 27.07.1919 a strike armoured train was defined as separate one with two strike armoured wagons and one armoured locomotive, plus one support train.
Finally, in 06.08.1920 a new directive, which unified armoured trains by their functional capability, was implemented. All armoured trains were split to three classes type A (strike armoured train, heavily armoured for close combat, armed with light 3in artillery and 16-24 machineguns, consisting of one armoured locomotive and two strike armoured wagons), type B (artillery armoured train, lightly armoured, armed with 107mm guns, intended for fire support of type A armoured trains) and type V (special purpose armoured train, similar to type B, but armed with powerful artillery 6in and higher to suppress enemy’s rear areas). Type A had a crew of 162 men (137 in combat and 25 in support subunits). Type B consisted of one half-armoured locomotive and two armoured wagons with one 107mm gun and 2 machineguns each (57 men – 43 in combat and 14 in support subunits). Type V had common enamoured locomotive and one half-armoured wagon with one gun and two machineguns (37 men 21 in combat and 16 in support subunits). Such system was kept until the end of Civil War.
One of the most serious problems was the lack of experienced crews. Unlike rifle and cavalry units, armoured ones demanded technically-educated, brave soldiers and commanders. Add to this very low level of education in Russia of that period and you’ll perceive the problem. For the quickest solution, armoured train teams were composed mostly of railroad troops soldiers, military seamen and revolutionary soldiers. Most of them were seamen, of course, as initially more numerous and most experienced it was nothing unusual for them to act in small spaces, operate artillery pieces. Also they proved to be very brave and desperate.
In 1918 at Nizhniy Novgorod an Armoured trains forming Depot was deployed. This facility was the main center for crew training, as well as train forming. It usually took about month to teach one armoured train team and this was too slow, so usually armies had their own training bases. Additionally, in February 1920 a Reserve Brigade was deployed in Brjansk (based on some of Depot personnel and equipment) dealing with the same tasks.
Many armoured trains built at Soviet depots in first year of Civil War were quite primitive, their construction lacked good engineering solutions and any unification. Armoured wagons mostly looked like large armoured casemate spreading for ¾ of total length of car, plus gun on simplified barbette in the remaining ¼. This gun often lacked even a shield. Such armoured trains were built, for example, in Ekaterinoslav (Brjanskij plant) under control of M.Chislov and V.Marochkin. The first of them, “Sverdlov’s №59″, was sent to Juzovka, the other three to Povolzhje region. №59 was equipped with workers of local railroad workshop, under command of V.Zun entered its first fight in 1.05.1919 at Juzovka near Naklonnyj coal-mine, and destroyed about battalion of enemy infantry. In the summer 1919, while covering the retreat of Red Army units, it got into a trap at Belgorod-Kursk rail line and was destroyed by its crew at Losevo station.
Similar armoured trains were built at Lugansk (locomotive-building plant of Russian Society of machine building plants). In March 1918 there was built the first of them (when Austro-Hungarian troops were closing on the town), while another 10 were built during April-May 1919, during the defense against Denikin’s Voluntary Army.
Gun factory at Motovilikha (near Perm’) built 5 armoured trains and repaired many of them (from September 1919).
Many armoured trains were of very good designed and build. For example, This was true of the Tsaritsyn factories. During the period from September 1918 until February 1919 81 armoured trains where repaired and 7 built. The so-called Khlebnikov’s armoured trains (that were built in Tsaritsyn) had superb engineering solutions, being as advanced as it was possible for that time. Armoured wagons had two 3in guns m.1902, installed into fully-armoured cyllindrical turrets with 24mm of laminated armour. But the large weight of these wagons (80tonns) prevented them from moving through poor railroads and bridges.
40 armoured trains were repaired and 7 built (1 in 1918 and 6 in 1919) at Kolpino (Izhorskij plant). Their armoured trains used AA armoured wagons of Putilov’s factory (as described above, but with 4 machineguns per side added) and their own design of armoured locomotive.
One of the primary builders of armoured trains was Sormovo plant at Nizhnij Novgorod. In July 1918 the first armoured train was repaired and the first three armoured locomotives built. In August 1918 this plant began mass production it was tasked to design and produce 15 armoured trains (15 armoured locomotives and 30 armoured wagons). Therefore a construction bureau was organized and special equipment was installed. The Sormovo armoured wagon had excellent firepower with good maintenance and production characteristics. It had two turrets with guns (mostly 76.2mm m.1902, but sometimes naval and AA 3in) and 2 machineguns each and 4 machineguns in the walls. As a result, in every sector the armoured wagon could concentrate fire of at least one gun and two machineguns. The relatively low weight (56-64tonn) allowed it to move over poor railroads and bridges. One of these armoured trains, the №3 “Vlast’ Sovetam”, was built in January 1919 under command of a 23 year old woman L.G.Mokievskaja. It supported actions of 13th Army at Debaltsevo-Kupjansk rail line. In 9.03.1919 Mokievskaja was killed in action. From 1.06.1919 the armoured train was renamed to №3 “Tsentrobron’”, and fought near Kharkov and Tsaritsyn. In these fierce battles it lost many of its crewmen, several times disabled by artillery and went through major repairs in Nizhnij Novgorod, Lugansk and Saratov (in March, July and December 1919). In 1920 it was subordinated to Terek Group of Troops of Caucasus Front, and participated in elimination of remnants of opposition there. Later it entered Bukhara Group of Turkestan Front and from 12.12.1921 was renamed to №3 “Budennyj”.
Aside of excellent strike armoured trains, Sormovo also built very good heavy ones. One of them was №4 “Kommunar”, built in February 1919. It consisted of two groups light (four compact armoured wagons with one 76.2mm gun m.1902 and 4 machineguns each, and an armoured locomotive) and heavy (three unarmored wagons with one gun each one 6in howitzer and two 107mm guns). This armoured train was under the command of Ja.N.Fedorenko (who later became the Chief of Main Armoured Department of Peoples’ Committee of Defense by 1941) fought in Petrograd against General Judenich’s troops, and later near Melitopol and Aleksandrovsk. In September 1919 it fought against the Poles, the 30th Rifle Regiment of Red Army got caught by several Polish tanks and an armoured train near Dvinsk, when №4 destroyed two tanks and heavily damaged the armoured train, allowing the regiment to retreat; for that battle Ja.N.Fedorenko was honored with the Red Banner Order of Combat.
The Armoured train №44 “imeni Volodarskogo” (under command of V.M.Evdokimov) was built at Petrograd, therefore it used armoured wagons similar to other Petrograd ones (see above). When the Red Army was forced to abandon Gatchina, it covered the retreat. Near Tajtsy station, a masked artillery battery suddenly opened fire on it. Evdokimov decided to return to Gatchina and fight his way through enemies to the Warsaw Highway. At Gatchina №44 arrived at maximum speed, but there was an enemy armoured train already waiting! №44 almost fought it’s way out, when an enemy shell damaged the locomotive and the armoured train lost speed After several hours of intensive fighting, when the last shells were fired and the last bullets were loaded into the machineguns unexpected help arrived. Another Red Army armoured train the №6 arrived at Gatchina, quickly coupled with immobile №44 and began to move out. General Judenich’s soldiers in despair tried to destroy the railroad and prevent the escape, but it was too late and two armoured trains left the trap
It would take too much time to write down all the episodes of armoured trains during Civil War, since they always were in the center of almost all the battles. In the first months of Civil War there was no doctrine for the use of armoured trains they were usually thrown into the hottest places with the alacerty. They were used as the main attack means and very rarely were used in the defense the only exception is Tsaritsyn defence in 1918, but, nevertheless, armoured trains were very actively used. General Krasnov’s army strove to Tsaritsyn from four directions, three of which were along the radial railroad lines, so 8 armoured trains supported their actions. Red Army defense was built along a semi-ring railroad Gumrak-Voroponovo-Sarenta, with the support of 15 armoured trains (i.e. there were concentrated more than half the quantity of Red Army armoured trains) and covered with artillery of Volga Military Flotilla from flanks. Armoured trains were united under command of F.N.Alabjev into an Armoured Column of 10th Army. They were the primary means of fire support and counterattacks, so that in 14.10.1918 K.E.Voroshilov wrote: “Armoured trains fight bravely and desperately, if we could ever win this battle, this would be thanks to armoured trains”. The next day cossacks breached the defensive positions and captured Sarenta, Beketovka and Otradnoe. The HQ of the 10th Army secretly relocated all armoured trains to the Sadovaja station and the concentrated fire of 30 76.2mm guns evaporated the attacking enemy. Another offensive on Tsaritsyn was exhausted and stopped.
Soon it was found that the best results could be obtained if one used armoured trains en masse. During the counteroffensive at Petrograd in October 1919, the 7th Army used 6 armoured trains. During the Autumn of 1919 just the Southern Front had as many as 53 armoured trains. During the operations against baron Vrangel’s troops in Northern Tavria Southern Front used 17 armoured trains against 19 of the enemy’s. The Perekop-Chongar Operation had 17 against 14 enemy armoured trains. In 1920 the Western Front had 20 armoured trains against 10 Polish ones. During June-July 1920 there were 5 armoured trains in 1st Horse Army and 6 in 12th Army of Western Front. At the same time the most impressive concentration of armoured trains during all the Civil War took place and the most powerful armoured train unit, when Zadneprovskaja Brigade of Armoured Trains was created. Under command of S.M.Lepetenko which included 10 armoured trains (“Pamjat’ tovarischa Sverdlova”, №8, №9, №10, “Groznyj”, “Spartak”, “Osvoboditel’”, “Pamjat’ tovarischa Uritskogo”, “Pamjat’ tovarischa Ivanova”, “Borets za svobodu”) plus 5 armoured trains under temporary subordination (“Burja”, “imeni komandarma Khudjakova”, “Smert’ Direktorii”, “imeni Voroshilova”, “Smert’ parazitam”).
Many of the armoured trains serving in the Red Army were trophies for example, during the counteroffensive by the Southern Front in 1919 at Orel-Kursk-Belgorod region, 10 (of initial 19) armoured trains of general Denikin’s troops were captured almost intact. During the meeting engagement at Bakhmut (December 1919) all 5 Denikin’s armoured trains were captured. During Krasnojarsk Operation (Eastern Front) 10 armoured trains were captured. In the North-Caucasus Operation 23 armoured trains were siezed.
The last operations when the Red Army armoured trains participated in Civil War was the Baku Operation, Bukhara Operation and Soviet-Polish War. By that time there was a huge amount of experience gathered, as well as many veteran armoured trains teams assembled. From Polish 3rd Army order we read the following: “In the last battles armoured trains are the most serious and terrible opponent. They are well-designed, acting surprisingly desperate and desively, have large amounts of firepower and are the very serious mode of the opponent’s warfare. Our infantry is powerless against enemy armoured trains”.
By the very end of Civil War the quantity of armoured trains was constantly increasing, so that if in 1.10.1920 there were 103 armoured trains, by February 1921 122 armoured trains. From 1922 their quantity began to be constantly reduced (along with global Red Army demobilisation), albeit armoured trains built during Civil War, as modern “hi-tech” means of warfare, were on duty long after its end, so that some quantity served until mid-30s for sure, or, may be, some armoured wagons even during Great Patriotic War.
Between the wars.
In late 1923 all remaining armoured trains were placed under the control of the Main Artillery Department. Since this Department considered armoured trains just “guns on rail cars”, it was not very interested in the development of new types of trains, so there was no progress in that area. Finally, in February 1930 the Department of Motorization and Mechanization of the Red Army systematized their demands towards the armoured trains. In 1931 the Order of Battle of the RKKA was published, which described the To&E and tasks of the armoured train units. The armoured trains themselves were divided into light and heavy, depending on gun caliber. The highest tactical unit was a battalion, consisting of – two light and one heavy armoured trains. It was planned, in the case of a war in Europe, that armoured trains would be able to provide good support for land forces, while in the Far Eastern theater, with its poor communications, they could easily be the core of any task force operating along a railroad. Work was begun on modifying old and building new armoured trains at Military Stores No60 (later “bronerembaza NKO No6″) at Bryansk. In 1933 the BP-35 armoured train was designed. It consisted of: an PR-35 armoured locomotive (with an AA turret and radiostation), two PL-35 light armoured wagons (with two 76mm m.1902/30 guns each) or PT-35 two heavy armoured wagons (with one 107mm m.1910/30 gun each) and one SPU-BP AA armoured wagon. An armoured train also included 3-4 flat cars, which were used to transport rails (to repair damaged parts of the railroad) and to protect the armoured train from mines. Each armoured train also included a so-called “base” – a conventional train with a HQ-wagon, chancelory-wagon, kitchen-wagon and several wagons for the crew of the armoured train.
Each armoured wagon was armed with two 76mm guns (or one 107mm gun on heavy armoured trains) and 4 Maxim MG. Guns were deployed in turrets. The locomotives had enough fuel to travel 120km at a top speed of 45kph. The fuel was coal (10 tonnes) or black mineral oil (6 tonnes). The weight of an armoured train was no more than 400 tonnes. An armoured train also had a platoon of armoured cars with rail chassis (2 light BA-20zhd and 3 medium BA-6zhd or BA-10zhd), used for recon and covering. In addition, the flat cars were capable of carrying 3 rifle platoons.
Production of the BP-35 began in 1933 at the Bryansk machinebuilding factory “Krasnyj Profintern”. By the beginning of the Great Patriotic War the RKKA had received 47 such armoured trains. After the evacuation of factory in August 1941, production was cancelled.
By the beginning of the Great Patriotic War the RKKA had 34 light and 19 heavy armoured trains (a total of 53 armoured locomotives, 106 armoured wagons, 28 AA armoured wagons, 160 railroad chassis armoured cars, 9 self-propelled armoured trolleys and several self-propelled armoured wagons). The main difference between RKKA and NKVD armoured trains was that last used them only as railroad security means, not for front-line support. The NKVD had: 25 armoured locomotives, 32 armoured wagons, 36 self-propelled armoured wagons and 7 railroad chassis armoured cars. In my personal opinion, not supported with any documents, many of NKVD armoured trains were Civil War ones. The main purpose of NKVD railroad armoured vehicles was security of railroads. Armoured railroad units usually were included into RR Security Regiments, which united into RR Security Divisions. Each such division used mobile detachments (cavalry and armoured trains, including various armoured equipment) for quick actions along railroads. These divisions were quite powerful formations, for example, 3rd RR Security NKVD Division deployed in Belorussia had as much as 10 armoured trains.
In 1941, according to the mobilisation plan, armoured trains should be organised into 9 Battalions of Armoured Trains (as described above), 13 Independent Light and 2 Independent Heavy Armoured Trains, 1 Independent Battalion of Armoured SP Trolleys and 1 Schooling Regiment of Armoured Trains. By 22.06.41 there were present 4th AT Battalion and 8th AT Battalion in Western Military District, 1st AT Battalion in Kiev Military District, 7th AT Battalion in Trans-Caucasus Military District, 10th AT Battalion in Mid-Asian Military District and 9th AT Battalion at Far East. 1st Schooling Regiment of Armoured Trains was stationed at Brjansk.
Great Patriotic War.
The quite successful use made of armoured trains in the first months of war proved their effectiveness, and rail depots in many towns where converted to produce armoured trains. In August-September 1941 around 20 slightly modified armoured trains were produced. Their blueprints were developed at the Poltava locomotive-repairing factory and it was named NKPS-42. The NKPS-42 was, in fact, a simplified BP-35 with more reliable armor. However, this depot was generally low on specific equipment, and their armoured trains had quite an improvised design.
One of these armoured trains was the one built in my native town Voroshilovgrad (now Lugansk). This story began in summer 1941, when workers of Kolomna plant “imeni S.V.Kujbysheva”, Brjansk plant “imeni Profinterna” and Voroshilovgrad locomotive-building plant “imeni Oktjabrskoj revolutsii” decided to build two armoured trains and equip them with volunteers. By the end of September 1941 the first of them was built at Kolomna, named “Osobyj bronepoezd №1″ and sent to front. It fought at the battle for Moscow between Mozhajsk and Gzhatsk stations, and was destroyed by the end of year. Another one, being under construction in Brjansk, soon was endangered by advancing German troops and was evacuated in mid August, 1941, to Voroshilovgrad along with materials, numerous workers and their families. Immediately after arriving to Vorshilovgrad, all local specialists also began to work. Among them were those veterans who participated in building armoured trains in Lugansk in 1918
Works were organised during all days long, without breaks. The armoured train itself was very powerful for its time, consisting of one armoured locomotive (Ov series), two strike armoured wagons (each with two turrets with long-barrel 76mm guns and 6 machiineguns), two heavy armoured wagons with one 107mm gun each, five armoured wagons with AA guns, two heavy and two light armoured SP trolleys, two armoured cars and one armoured SP mover. As usual, there also was “base” common train with 2 passenger and 16 freight cars.
October 23rd, 1941, an armoured train, named №2 “Za Rodinu”, equipped largely with local volunteers, under command of A.L.Bondarenko departed Voroshilovgrad plant and deployed at Rodakovo (large rail station not far from Voroshilovgrad). Soon, though, it was subordinated to 18th Army and redeployed closer to Rostov-na-Dony, where Germans made efforts to capture it. From that moment on the armoured train was constantly was in action keeping the defensive line between Rovenki and Zapovednaja, protecting the railroad Donbass-Rostov-Moscow, fighting with German tanks near Novoshakhtinsk, destroying German groups penetrating the frontline along Novocherkassk-Shakhty rail line. For example, during just one day November 28th, armoured train fired more than 1000 shells at German positions near Aleksandrovka.
On November 29th, Soviet troops recaptured Rostov (earlier captured by Germans). But soon the Germans began a new attack in the direction of Debaltsevo, trying to capture Voroshilovgrad and Alchevsk. The armoured train “Za Rodinu” was relocated back to Donbass. On December 6th it arrived to Debaltsevo Marshalling Yard. One day, performing a recoinnaissance raid, it was caught in a trap laid by the Germans, who destroyed the rail line behind it. But by working all night long, the crew was able to repair the rails and escape. At the same time the Germans cancelled their counterattacking efforts in the Voroshilovgrad and Rostov directions.
Effective actions of armoured trains forced the Germans to respond. On December 28th, after another successfull raid on Debaltsevo, an armoured train was returning to its base. Between Manuilovka and Debaltsevo it was attacked by 8 or 9 bombers. Two of them were shot down with massive AA fire, but several near hits threw the armoured locomotive off the track, several soldiers, including locomotive engineer Rubezhanskij and armoured train commander Bondarenko were wounded. During the night the rail line was repaired, the locomotive arrived from Alchevsk and decoupled train. The damaged armoured lcomotive was sent to Voroshilovgrad for repairs. But by the end of January the armoured train was ready for action again. Its new operation was night artillery attacks of Popasnaja rail station, which was captured and intensively used by Germans
In April 1942 commander A.L.Bondarenko and part of crew departed to a tank training center, while I.M.Bobrikov became the new commander of №2. Armoured train was united into battalion with another armoured train arrived from Poltava. Descent company was removed from armoured train and turned into destruction battalion.
The armoured train battalion operated near Debaltsevo until early July. Then new German offensive forced Russian troops to retreat over Severskij Donets river. July 13th, near Rodakovo armoured train battalion was moved to delay German units advancing on Voroshilovgrad. During these two days both armoured trains made brave raids, dispersing German infantry with direct fire near Slavjanoserbsk and Zimogorje stations. But July 15th became the last day in their fate
At a small “61st Kilometer” siding, between Rodakovo and Melovaja stations, it was attacked with massive German air raid. This first attack was repulsed with no casualties. Moving forward, the armoured train soon encountered enemy infantry that began to fire on it. Then the Germans made another air raid, damaging rail lines in front of and behind the armoured train. Several soldiers were killed, but the armoured train continued to fire on German infantry. By midday a large group of more than 30 bombers arrived. The immobile armoured train coudn’t manoeuver and could only return fire, and this time Germans were much more successfull the armoured locomotive was heavily damaged, the tender destroyed with a direct hit, locomotive engineer and fireman mortally wounded, two armoured wagons thrown off the rails, flat cars put on fire. But the armoured train crew continued to fire from the remaining weapons By the end of day №2 “Za Rodinu” was completely destroyed, while another armoured train of this battalion was trapped between two large destroyed rail sections. So it was decided to retreat with remaining crew, and destory the remaining equipment. Near Melovaja station retreating crews were met by forward rifle units. The amazed riflemen asked:
So there were survivors in that slaughter-house?
As you see. was the answer. “Steel fortress” has died, but she saved many lives before that.
Further steps in armoured train design and production was made by the GKO (State Commitee of Defense) in late October 1941. According to their resolution, it was planned to create 32 armoured train battalions (2 armoured trains each) by 1.01.42. BP-35 and NKPS-42 armoured trains proved to be quite vulnerable: their large 4-axle armoured wagons were large, heavy and highly visible targets. In addition, the destruction of one armoured wagon meant the loss of half the armoured train’s firepower. Thus a new armoured train project was designed, under the name OB-3. It used 2-axle armoured wagons, which had smaller dimensions and only one gun (thus increasing the survivability of the artillery). The design was hurried, and there was so little time that blueprints were sent to factories in separate parts as fast as they were ready – first, armor plates projections; second, wagon overview etc. The OB-3 was produced simultaneously at 9 NKPS (People’s Commitee of Communication Lines) factories and 43 railroad depots. All the materials and equipment were local (it was the main feature of the production). i.e. only those depots which had metallurgical factories nearby were able to equip armoured trains with tempered steel armour (in fact, there were only 4 such armoured trains – “Luninetz”, “Omskij zheleznodorozhnik”, “Enisej” and “Krasnojaretz”). Some of the armoured trains were produced using common thin steel – two plates of such steel were placed with some distance between each other, and this “box” was filled with cement (thus forming stone-like “armour”). The Main Artillery Department of RKKA (responsible for the arming of armoured trains) in these difficult times could only spare old artillery systems, such as 76mm m.1902, 76mm m.1927, 76mm AA m.1914, 76mm tank guns L-10, and weapons captured in the Civil War- French and Polish guns (mle.98). Only occasionally were modern F-22 and F-34 76mm guns available in small numbers. The machine guns were of three different types: Maxim, DT and Browning captured from the Poles. The artillery systems and machine guns often lacked spare parts, while foreign systems were usually broken; artillery optics were almost absent. All these factors created tremendous difficulties for workers and (later) for crews.
Each OB-3 armoured train consisted of one armoured locomotive (usually OV or OK series steam locomotives with 30-50mm armour) with an AAMG turret, and 4 armoured wagons. Armoured wagons had 30-80mm armour (often laminated or concrete-filled as described above) positioned at an angle of 30 degrees. Each wagon’s armament was one gun in a hexagonal turret and five machine guns (four in the corners of the wagon and one in the turret). The wagon did not have any optical devices (except the gun sight), so all observation was made through the openings and hatches. The crew was 12 men. Due to the difficulties of initiating production, only 10 such armoured trains were built by 1.01.42. During January the RKKA received 12 trains, during February – 17, during March – the last 26. Therefore 65 OB-3 armoured trains were produced. During the creation of a battalion, each armoured train received one PVO-4 AA armoured wagon. This wagon had 2 20-25mm guns or 2 12.7mm AAMGs. OB-3′s were used very intensively and effectively in 1942; however, such intensive use and the low quality of materials lead to relatively high losses (overall 20 OB-3 armoured trains were lost out of the 65 built, most of them in 1942).
OB-3 begin to participate in battles in the Spring of 1942. They proved themselves in the oncoming heavy battles, such as Voronezh, Kharkov, Stalingrad and the Northern Caucasus. It is interesting, that OB-3 sometimes were used for AA defense (a task, for which OB-3 originally wasn’t designed). For example, on June 28th, 1942, an armoured train “Juzhnouralskij zheleznodorozhnik” under command of captain I.E.Orlov, covered the rear areas of the 40th Army and the 121st Rifle Division at the Schigry Marmyzhi rail line. For 14 hours the armoured train constantly fought with German aviation, repulsing more than 10 raids, bringing down 5 planes. By the evening, the armoured train had expended all its ammunition and the enemy planes got a chance to destroy the rails at Marmyzhi station. Unable to move and in danger of a German breakthrough, the crew blew up the armoured train and retreated on foot.
Armoured trains were used during the battles of the Northern Caucasus, in the autumn of 1942. Often they made suicidal stands but proved willing to obey such orders. One of these cases happened in October 1942.
The Germans, bringing fresh troops into the theater, began an offensive toward Elkhotovo Ardon Vladikavkaz and Elkhotovo Beslan. Soon it became clear that there was real danger of a German breakthrough through the so-called “Elkhotovo Gates” directly toward Vladikavkaz. On October 29th, 1942, the 36th Battalion of Armoured Trains was deployed in the area, consisting of the armoured train №731 “Vpered, na zapad!” near Alagir and №717 “Orenburgskij zheleznodorozhnik” near Ardon.
In the morning mist of October 30th, the armoured trains took their positions. By 11:00, when the mist lifted, №717 was attacked by 18 planes. Constantly maneuvering, the armoured train was able to shot down two of its attackers, when German tanks appeared nearby. During this very long day, the armoured train was able to repulse three German tank attacks. Two of its armoured wagons were destroyed, the rail line around it was heavily damaged, so it was not able to move. With nightfall, when all its guns were destroyed or damaged, the armoured train commander I.I.Fandej ordered the remnants of crew to retreat to Alagir. During 7 hours of battle the armoured train managed to destroy or damage 22 German tanks and armoured carriers.
№731 entered the battle the next morning. Masked in the brushes, it allowed Germn tanks to come near and then opened fire. Its deadly point blank fire destroyed 6 tanks and 3 armoured carriers. But soon counter fire found the most vulnerable point of the train. Two German shells exploded inside the armoured locomotive control post. The armoured train’s commander, V.F.Galushko, and the entire locomotive team were killed. At the same time, splinters damaged the breaks, and the armoured train began to move down the mountain slope, gaining the speed and firing from its remaining guns. In Ardon at a maximal possible velocity it ran into the abandoned remnants of №717
As a result, by sacrificing all its armoured trains, the 36th Battalion delayed the German advance for 24 hours, allowing other troops to regroup and close the approaches.
Another armoured train design was “Kozma Minin”, built in February 1942 at Gorkij wagon depot. Unlike the “light” OB-3, its armoured wagons were the successors of BP-35 and NKPS-42 – large 4-axle wagons. Each covered armoured wagon had two standard T-34 tank turrets – with a total of two 76mm guns and 6 MGs (two MGs in the turrets and four MGs in the hull). The armour was 45mm thick. Each open armoured wagon had one M-8 rocket launcher and 2 37mm AA guns. The armoured train had one armoured locomotive, two covered and two open armoured wagons (plus 3-4 flat cars, as usual).
The last armoured train type, BP-43, was the final stage of war-time Soviet armoured train design. In short, it was a hybrid of OB-3 and “Kozma Minin”. It had light, 2-axel PL-43 armoured wagons armed with one T-34 tank turret. The number of MGs was decreased to 3 per armoured wagon (one in the turret and two in each side of the wagon with a better field of fire than in previous designs). Each BP-43 armoured train consisted of four PL-43 armoured wagons and two PVO-4 AA armoured wagons (as described above), plus, usually one AAMG in the armoured locomotive. Overall 21 BP-43 armoured trains were produced for the RKKA plus an unknown number for the NKVD.
The To&E of a pre-war armoured trains is shown above. Here is an example of the war-time To&E of the 31st Independent Special Gorkovskij Armoured Train Battalion. It consisted of two armoured trains (“Kozma Minin” and “Ilja Murometz”), one common locomotive (S-179), one self-propelled armoured trolley (type BD-39), two BA-20 armoured cars, three motorcycles, 10 trucks and an infantry detachment (about two rifle platoons plus 6 82mm mortars). A total of 335 men. Unfortunately, it is hard to say whether these numbers are standard, or battle-worn.
It is necessary to say several words about self-propelled armoured wagons, trolleys and railroad chassis armoured cars.
The MBV self-propelled armoured wagon was designed in 1936-1937 by SKB-2 (Special Construction Bureau) at S.M.Kirov’s Factory in Leningrad. Its construction included many of the details and solutions of the T-28 medium tank (which was designed and produced at this factory too). It was an original form, with a specially designed 5-axle platform; one of its carriages, with 2-axles, drove, whilst the other, with 3-axles, was pulled. The armoured train weighed 79.8 tonns, and had a crew of 40 men. The Armour was 16-20mm thick (placed at small angles). The M-17T gasoline engine (500hphad a top speed of 120kph. The armament was three fully armed T-28 tank turrets and five MGs in the hull plus a quad-Maxim AAMG. Overall it had very powerful combination of 3 76mm guns and 16 (7 in the turrets, 5 in the hull, 1×4 AAMG) 7.62mm MGs. The ammunition carried was 365 shells and 32,962 bullets. The self-propelled armoured wagons had a very successful design and were used throughout the war; although relatively lightly armoured, they had very powerful armament and excellent speed. They were produced before the war (about 40 wagons) and in the first months of war. The armoured wagons possessed more effective firepower than the light BP-35 armoured train and about three times greater speed. Also, although its armour was thinner, it was a much smaller target (and therefore harder to hit) than any other armoured train. Therefore it could be considered to have been a more effective weapon than armoured train. Some of MBV’s were produced with T-34 turrets.
The self-propelled armoured trolley (BD) was much smaller, had gasoline engine and was used for recon, cover and support. The exact data is not available to me, but I remember one old photo of such a vehicle seen about 10 years ago. There were several types of them. One of them, three-axle, armed with 45mm guns and several MGs, another, four-axle, armed with 76mm gun and several MGs. Also there were armoured SP mover (quite small) and armoired SP motorissa (larger than SP trolley but smaller than MBV, armed with 76mm gun in KV turret and several MGs).
The Armoured cars were the common armoured cars (D-2, BA-6, BA-10, BA-20), but they had spare metal wheels and special lift devices, so, after a small modification in field conditions, they were able to move by railroad. The armament remained the same as the original model. Older models (such as D-2) were mostly used by NKVD troops by 1941.
The other branch of the Soviet armoured train family were the anti-aircraft types, used to cover the important rail nodes, junctions and bridges. The first were built in early 1942, when it became evident, that such trains could serve as a very effective mobile AA batteries. Typically, these trains consisted of one armoured locomotive and five 2-axle armoured wagons (with 12-15mm armour). Three wagons were each armed with one 76.2mm AA gun, while the other two – with one 37mm AA gun and one 12.7mm DShK AAMG each. Sometimes 37mm guns were used instead of 76.2mm. Often these trains were reinforced with embarked AA units, usually 12.7mm AAMG (company 9 HMG). AA armoured trains were capable not only of firing their guns from the wagons but also of disembarking them for use in nearby areas. The second operation was the norm when guarding railroad objectives, while the first was used only when German planes were encountered while moving. There were 8 armoured trains concentrated at the battle of Stalingrad, and 35 at Kursk. Overall during the war 200 such trains were built. Usually they were used in independent roles. In fact, they proved to be quite powerful mobile AA units.
It may sound surprising, but in modern times descendants of the armoured trains served in Soviet Army and are serving in Russian Army. Although they are mostly descendants of the NKVD armoured trains, rather than RKKA. Consisting of several medium or main battle tanks set on flat cars, as well as about platoon or company of motorised rifle infantry with additional AA capability, they appeared in 60s, when relationships with China went cold. These mobile railroad teams were intended to guard the key railroad stations and objects, as well as be ready to scramble and move to another rail objective in case of a border conflict. Tanks could either fire from their flat cars (being the direct descendants of armoured trains) or move out and make a classical ground attack. The same could be said about infantry. In the early 90s these armoured trains still were sometimes shown on news channels, when it was talked about numerous local conflicts. Last time I heard they were used in Chechnja for the same tasks.
I think now you have enough information if you want to represent Soviet armoured trains in your scenario. Bare in mind that you should add two 107mm ER Guns when you model a heavy BP-35 train. Also I would recommend the use of the Rail Artillery icon and 76mm ER Guns/107mm ER Guns if you’re using 2.5-5km scale scenario (then you’ll be able to represent indirect fire support of armoured trains). Don’t forget to add several rifle squads to represent WW2-period armoured train’s attached infantry. It would be worth looking to find some additional information regarding a particular armoured train, as well as possible modifications for your particular scenario. Here is my own view on armoured trains representation in TOAW. Surely, you may share it or you may not:
||Armoured Train, Equipment: 2 Tracked Bridge Carriers, 6 MGs, 1 76mm Light Gun, several rifle squads
|Common 1917-1918 (Putilov wagons)
||Armoured Train, Equipment: 2 Tracked Bridge Carriers, 16 MGs, 4 75mm AA Guns
||Rail Arty, Equipment: 2 Tracked Bridge Carriers, 12 MGs, 2 76mm Light Guns
|Common1919 (Sormovo wagons)
||Rail Arty, Equipment: 2 Tracked Bridge Carriers, 16 MGs, 4 76mm Light Guns
|Common 1919 (№98 “Sovetskaja Rossija”)
||Rail Arty, Equipment: 2 Tracked Bridge Carriers, 6 MGs, 2 76mm Light Guns, 2 76mm ER Guns
|Heavy 1919 (№85)
||Rail Arty, Equipment: 3 Tracked Bridge Carriers, 16 MGs, 2 76mm Light Guns, 2 76mm ER Guns, 2 107mm Guns
|Heavy Type B 1920
||Rail Arty, Equipment: 2 Tracked Bridge Carriers, 4 MGs, 2 107mm Guns
|Heavy Type V 1920
||Rail Arty, Equipment: 1 Tracked Bridge Carriers, 2 MGs, 1 152mm Gun
|Heavy Type V 1920 (“Krasnaja Moskva”)
||Rail Arty, Equipment: 1 Tracked Bridge Carriers, 2 MGs, 1 8in Gun
|Light BP-35 1934
||Rail Arty, Equipment: 1 Tracked Bridge Carriers, 8 MGs, 1 Dual AAMG, 1 75mm AA Gun, 4 76mm ER Guns, 3 BA-3/6, 2 BA-20, several rifle squads
|Heavy BP-35 1934
||Rail Arty, Equipment: 1 Tracked Bridge Carriers, 8 MGs, 1 Dual AAMG, 1 75mm AA Gun, 2 107mm ER Guns, 3 BA-3/6, 2 BA-20, several rifle squads
|Armoured SP wagon MBV
||Armoured Train, Equipment: 1 Armoured Train
|NKPS-42 (“Za Rodinu №2″)
||Rail Arty, Equipment: 8 Tracked Bridge Carriers, 16 MGs, 1 Dual AAMG, 6 37mm AA Gun, 4 76mm ER Guns, 2 107mm ER Gun, 2 T-28 (early), 2 BT-7, 2BA-20, 1 Armoured Car (early), 9 Rifle Squads
|Improvised 1941 (“Darnitskij Partizan”)
||Icon: Rail Arty, Equipment: 2 Tracked Bridge Carriers, 42 MGs, 1 Dual AAMG, 4 76mm ER Guns, several rifle squads
|OB-3 (“Komsomolets Chuvashii”)
||Rail Arty, Equipment: 5 Tracked Bridge Carriers, 20 MGs, 1 Dual AAMG, 2 20mm AA Guns, 1 76mm ER Gun, 3 76mm Light Guns, 2 BA-20, several rifle squads, several 82mm mortars
||Rail Arty, Equipment: 4 Tracked Bridge Carriers, 16 MGs, 1 Dual AAMG, 4 37mm AA Gun, 4 76mm ER Guns, 2 M-13 RL, several armoured cars, several rifle squads, several 82mm mortars
|AA armoured train
||Icon: Armoured Train, Equipment: 6 Tracked Bridge Carriers, 376mm AA+2 37mm AA or 5 76mm AA or 5 37mm AA, 2-11 HMG
||Rail Arty, Equipment: 6 Tracked Bridge Carriers, 12 MGs, 1 HMG, 4 37mm AA Guns, 4 76mm ER Guns, 3 BA-64, several SMG squads and 82mm mortars
|Mobile team 60s-70s
||Armoured Train, Equipment: 4 T-55/62/72, motor rifle company with their support (BTR/BMPs, machineguns, AT teams, Strela/Igla AA missiles) plus some engineer stuff.
Thanks to Dmitry Kozyrev for his indirect participation in the creation of this article.
A large list of sources came with this article unfortunately my web tools don’t convert word to HTML well when working in the Russian alphabet.