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An armoured train is a train protected with armour. Usually they are equipped with railroad cars armed with artillery and machine guns. They were mostly used during the late 19th and early 20th century, when they offered an innovative way to quickly move large amounts of firepower into position. Their use was discontinued because modern road vehicles became much more powerful and offered more flexibility, and because armoured trains were too vulnerable to track sabotage as well as attacks from the air.

Design and equipment

The railroad cars on an armoured train are designed for many roles. The typical roles include:
  • Artillery - fielding mixture of guns and machine guns
  • Infantry - designed to carry infantry units, may also mount machine guns.
  • Machine gun - dedicated to machine guns
  • Anti-aircraft - equipped with anti-aircraft guns
  • Command - similar to infantry wagons, but designed to be a train command centre
  • Anti-tank - equipped with anti-tank guns, usually in a tank gun turret
  • Platform - unarmoured, with purposes ranging from transport of ammunition or vehicles, through track repair or derailing protection to railroad ploughs for track destruction.
  • Troop sleepers
  • The German Wehrmacht would sometimes put a 'Fremdgerät', such as captured French Somua S-35 or Czech Pzkw 38-t light tank or Panzer II on a flatbed car which could be quickly offloaded by means of a ramp and used away from the range of the main railway line to chase down enemy partisans.
  • Missile transport - the USSRmarker had railway-based ICBMs by the late 1980s (to reduce the chances of a first strike succeeding in destroying the launchers for a retaliatory strike); no such systems remain in operation today. The US at one time planned to have a railway-based system but this never got past the planning stages.

Different types of armour were used to protect from attack by tanks. In addition to various metal plates, cement and sandbags were used in some cases for ad-hoc armoured trains.

Armoured trains were sometimes escorted by a kind of rail-tank called a draisine. One such example was the panzertrolley 'Littorina' which had a cab in the front and rear, each with sets of controls so it could be driven down the tracks in either direction. On it were mounted two Pzkw I dual 7.62 mm machinegun turrets.



Armoured trains saw use during the 19th century in the American Civil War (1861-1865), the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), the First and Second Boer Wars (1880-81 and 1899-1902), and during the 20th century in the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), the First (1914-1918) and Second World Wars (1939-1945) and the First Indochina War (1946-1954). The most intensive use of armoured trains was during the Russian Civil War (1918-1920).

During the Boer War, on 15 November 1899, Winston Churchill, then a war-correspondent, was travelling onboard an armoured train when it was ambushed by Boer commandos. Churchill and many of the train's garrison were captured, though many others escaped, including wounded soldiers who had been carried on the train's engine.

In 1904 armoured trains were used by Russia during the Russo-Japanese War.

World War 1

During World War I Russia used a mix of light and heavy armoured trains. The heavy trains mounted 4.2 inch or 6 inch guns while the light trains were equipped with 76.2mm guns.

Interwar years

The Czechoslovak Legion used heavily-armed and armoured trains to control large lengths of the Trans-Siberian Railway (and of Russia itself) during the Russian Civil War at the end of World War I.

The Bolshevik forces in the Russian civil war used a wide range of armoured trains. Many were improvised by local soviets and but others were constructed by naval engineers at the Putilovmarker and Izhorskiy factories. As a result the trains ranged from little more than sandbagged flatbeds to the heavily armed and armoured trains produced by the naval engineers. An attempt to standardise design from October 1919 only had limited success. By the end of the war the Bolshevik forces had 103 armoured trains of all types.

A total of 5 armoured trains were built during the Estonian War of Independence on the Estonian side. The armoured trains were organized by military commander Johan Pitka.

After the First World War the usage of armoured trains declined. They were used in Chinamarker in the twenties, most notably by the warlord Zhang Zongchang, who employed refugee Russians to man them.

World War 2

Polandmarker used armoured trains extensively and successfully during the Invasion of Poland. One observer noted that "Poland had only few armoured trains, but their officers and soldiers were fighting well. Again and again they were emerging from a cover in thick forests, disturbing German lines"

This in turn prompted Nazi Germany to reintroduce them into its own armies. Germany then used armoured trains to a small degree during World War II. However, they introduced significant designs of a versatile and well-equipped nature, including railcars which housed anti-aircraft gun turrets, railcars designed to load and unload tanks, and railcars which had complete armour protection with a large concealed howitzer gun. Germany also had fully-armoured locomotives which were used on such trains.
A Russian WW II-era armoured train with antiaircraft gunners
During the Slovak National Uprising the Slovak resistance used armoured trains. Three, Hurban , Štefánik and Masaryk, which were made in the Zvolenmarker railway manufactory, are preserved and can be seen near Zvolen Castlemarker.

The Soviets had a large number of armoured trains at the start of World War II but many were lost in 1941. Trains built later tended to be fitted with T-34 or KV series tank turrets. Others were fitted as specialist anti-aircraft batteries. A few were fitted as heavy artillery batteries often using guns taken from ships.

Canada also (briefly) used an armoured train to patrol the Pacific coast and guard against a possible Japanese invasion

Later uses

In the First Indochina War, the French Union used the armoured and armed train La Rafale as both a cargo-carrier and a mobile surveillance unit. In February 1951 the first Rafale was in service on the Saigonmarker-Nha Trangmarker line, Vietnammarker while from 1947 to May 1952 the second one which was escorted by onboard Cambodian troops of the BSPP (Brigade de Surveillance de Phnom Penh) was used on the Phnom Penhmarker-Battambangmarker line, Cambodiamarker. In 1953 both trains were attacked by the Viet-Minh guerrillas who mined and destroyed stone bridges when passing by..

Fulgencio Batista’s army operated an armoured train during the Cuban revolution though it was derailed and destroyed during the Battle of Santa Clara.

Facing the threat of Chinese cross-border raids during the Sino-Soviet split, the USSR developed armoured trains in the early 1970s to protect the Trans-Siberian Railway. According to different accounts, four or five trains were built. Every train included ten Main Battle Tanks, two light amphibious tanks, several AA guns, as well as several Armoured Personnel Carriers, supply vehicles, and equipment for railway repairs, all mounted on open platforms or in special railcars. Different parts of the train were protected with 5–20 mm thick armour. These trains were used by the Soviet Army to intimidate nationalist paramilitary units in 1990 during early stages of the Nagorno-Karabakh War.

An improvised armoured train named 'Krajina ekspres' (Krajina express) was used during the war in Croatia (part of the Yugoslav wars) of the early 1990s by the army of Republika Srpska Krajina (self-proclaimed republic of Serbs living within Croatia that sought to remain in Yugoslavia). Comprising of three fighting cars and three freight cars hooked to the front to protect it from mine blasts, the train carried a M18 Hellcat with a 76mm cannon, a 40mm Bofors, a 20mm cannon, twin 57mm rocket launchers and a 120mm mortar plus several machine guns of between 12.7 and 7.62 calibre. It was used successfully as a mobile artillery battery due to lack of danger from the air (Croatia then possessed only a few aircraft - mostly converted ex-crop dusters used as bombers). It was reportedly hit on a few occasions with some antitank self-propelled grenades, but the damage was minor, as most of the train was covered with thick sheets of rubber which caused the grenades to explode somewhat too early to do real damage. The train was finally destroyed by its own crew lest it fall into enemy hands during the Croatian offensive Operation Storm which overran the Srpska Krajina. The remains are now on display in Gradačacmarker.

Towards the end of the Cold War, both superpowers began to develop railway-based ICBMs mounted on armoured trains; the Soviets deployed the SS-24 missile in 1987, but budget costs and the changing international situation led to the cancellation of the programme, with all remaining railway-based missiles finally being deactivated in 2005.

One armoured train that remains in regular use is the private train of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, which the former received as a gift from the Soviet Unionmarker.

Armoured tram

Armoured trams also existed, though apparently not purpose-built as some of the armoured trains. The just-formed Red Army used at least one armoured tram during the fighting for Moscow in the October Revolution in 1917. The Slovak National Uprising, more well-known for its armoured trains described above, also used at least one makeshift example.

See also


  1. First World War - Willmott, H.P.; Dorling Kindersley, 2003, Page 251
  2. Admiral Johan Pitka (in Estonian language. Accessed 2008-09-11.)
  3. Wie das Gesetz es befahl - Karschkes, Helmut, DVG Deutsche Verlagsgesellschaft, ISBN 3920722698
  4. [1]
  5. Le 5e Régiment du Génie d'hier et d'aujourd'hui : l'aventure des Sapeurs de chemins de fer, Lavauzelle, 1997, p. 73
  6. L’audace du rail : les trains blindés du Sud-Annam in Revue historique des armées #234, Alexis Neviaski, 2004, quoted in the French Defense Ministry archives
  7. French Defense Ministry archives ECPAD website
  8. French Defense Ministry archives ECPAD website
  9. French Defense Ministry archives ECPAD website
  10. French Defense Ministry archives ECPAD website
  11. Sovetskaja Armija v gody "cholodnoj vojny" : (1945 - 1991) - Fes·kov, Vitalij I; Kalašnikov, Konstantin A; Golikov, Valerij I; Tomsk Izdat. Tomskogo University. 2004, Page 246- ISBN 5-7511-1819-7
  12. Last armored trains of the Soviet Army (in Cyrillic/Russian language) - Markovian, Victor; Мир оружия, 9/2005
  16. First World War - Willmott, H.P.; Dorling Kindersley, 2003, Page 231.
  17. The Czech and Slovak Republics (excerpt from Google Books) - Humphreys, Rob, Rough Guide, 2002, ISBN 1858289041, Page 482

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