The 'Hurban' Armoured train
located in Zvolen, Slovakia. It is not the original, but a replica used in a film. Only two preserved original cars exist; they are stored nearby in the railway repair shops at Zvolen, where they were produced in 1944
An armoured train is a railway train protected with armour. Armoured trains usually include railroad cars armed with artillery andmachine 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. Most countries discontinued their use - road vehicles became much more powerful and offered more flexibility, and train tracks proved too vulnerable to sabotage as well as to attacks from the air. However, the Russian Federation used improvised armored trains in the Second Chechen War of 1999-2009.
Design and equipment
A Polish armoured train, the Danuta
, in 1939. From the left: artillery wagon, infantry assault wagon, armored locomotive, artillery wagon
A TKS tankette
used as an armoured reconnaissance draisine
, an attempt to overcome one of the inflexibilities of the armoured train - being limited to the track
The rail cars on an armoured train were designed for many tasks. Typical roles included:
- Artillery - fielding a mixture of guns, machine guns and rocket launchers.
- Infantry - designed to carry infantry units, may also mount machine guns.
- Machine gun - dedicated to machine guns.
- Anti-aircraft - equipped with anti-aircraft weapons.
- 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, used for any purpose from the 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 a captured French Somua S-35 or Czech PzKpfw 38(t) light tank, orPanzer II light tank 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 USSR had railway-based RT-23 Molodets ICBMs by the late 1980s (to reduce the chances of a first strike succeeding in destroying the launchers for a retaliatory strike). The US at one time proposed having a railway-based system for the MX Missile program but this never got past the planning stage
Different types of armour were used to protect from attack by tanks. In addition to various metal plates, concrete and sandbags were used in some cases for improvised armoured trains.
Armoured trains were sometimes escorted by a kind of rail-tank called a draisine. One such example was the 'Littorina' armoured trolley which had a cab in the front and rear, each with a control set so it could be driven down the tracks in either direction. Littorina mounted two dual 7.92mm MG13 machine gun turrets from Panzer I light tanks.
World War II
A typical Polish artillery car from 1939. Such cars were used in the trainsŚmiały
Poland used armoured trains extensively 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". One under-appreciated aspect of so many Polish armoured trains being deployed during the Polish Defensive War in 1939 is that when German planes attacked the railroads, it was usually the tracks themselves. As late as September 17, three fresh divisions in the east were moved westward by train. On September 18, three more divisions followed.
This in turn prompted Nazi Germany to reintroduce armoured trains into its own armies. Germany then used them 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, or designed to load and unload tanks and railcars which had complete armour protection with a large concealed gun/howitzer. Germany also had fully armoured locomotives which were used on such trains.
During the Slovak National Uprising, the Slovak resistance used three armoured trains. The Hurban, Štefánik and Masaryk, which were built in theZvolen railway factory, are preserved and can be seen near Zvolen Castle.
A Russian WW II-era armoured train with antiaircraft gunners
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 in the war 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 used an armoured train to patrol the Canadian National Railway along the Skeena River from Prince Rupert, British Columbia to the Pacific coast, against a possible Japanese seaborne raid. The train was equipped with a 75 mm gun, two Bofors 40 mm guns, and could accommodate a full infantry company. The No 1 Armoured Train entered service in June 1942 and was put into reserve in September 1943, to be dismantled in the following year.
Twelve armoured trains were formed in Britain in 1940 as part of the preparations to face a German invasion; these were initially armed with QF 6 pounder 6 cwt Hotchkiss guns and six Bren Guns. They were operated by Royal Engineer crews and manned by Royal Armoured Corps troops. In late 1940 preparations began to hand the trains over to the Polish Army in the West, who operated them until 1942. They continued in use in Scotland and were operated by the Home Guard until the last one was withdrawn in November 1944. A 6-pounder wagon from one of these trains is preserved at the Tank Museum. A miniature armoured train ran on the 15-inch gauge Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway.