Trains (New Vanguard)

Armored Trains (New Vanguard)


First seen during the American Civil War and later appearing in the Franco-Prussian War and the Anglo-Boer Wars, the armored train came to prominence on the Eastern Front during World War I. It was also deployed during the Russian Civil War and the technology traveled east into the Chinese Civil War, and the subsequent war with Japan. It saw service on the Russian Front in World War II, but was increasingly sidelined by its vulnerability to air attack. Steven J Zaloga examines the origins and…

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What is the point of Armored Trains?(r/AskHistorians)

Soviet/Russian: While not their first armored train to be deployed, the Imperial Russian Army’s first standardized design was called the Khunkhuz class train, debuting in late summer of 1915. It featured an armored locomotive flanked by artillery cars, each spouting a 76.2mm gun at the end a number of machine guns bristling out. Although the Reds did control most of the factories and raw material, allowing better construction than the Whites, they still had a dizzying array of variety in quality. This is actually a Khunkhuz artillery car that was rebuilt in 1918, abandoning the turret for simplicity. The OV locomotive was a purpose built armored locomotive that became popular, and here is a rather fearsome looking example of unknown car type with artillery and AA. No given train was exactly the same in the late 1910s, early 1920s.

A few examples from the White forces include this reinforced boxcar, mounted with a Naval gun by the Whites, or this infantry car from a White train which is made with concrete. This example is mostly boxcars with added turret and roofing, while this is a slightly nicer looking set of cars, but still seem to be built from boxcars. This machine gun car is rather well appointed though.

Aside from trains, there was of course the Imperial Army’s Zaamurets* rail-cruiser, which I mentioned previously, and was part of a Czech Legion train which also used Khunkhuz class cars. Smaller gun wagons were built as well.

The fleet was modernized in the 1930s, with the PL-35/37 being the standard at that time. Example of a PL-37 artillery car. Second World War examples include the NKPS-1942 and the simplified OB-3 train, which would be compoased of four artillery cars with 76.2mm guns, and four security cars with heavy machine guns. The exigencies of war meant a number of designs were constructed, many using turrets from tanks, such as the T-26 or T-28.

The final major design was the BP-43, which simplified construction by using T-34s for its four PL-43 artillery cars, and used two of the PVO-4 AA car. with two 37mm guns each, as the need for heavy air-defense was apparent. The locomotive was still the ‘O’ series, harkening back to the ‘Ov’ developed during the Civil War. Control cars and machine gun cars were added as needed.

Soviet rail cruisers were popular as well. The NVKD built numerous MBV D-2 rail-cruisers through the 1930s, but they were bulky affairs, and it wasn’t as good as the MBV-2, of which only two existed in mid-1941, despite its impressive firepower of three 76mm guns. Aside from the rail-cruisers, there were dual road-rail armored cars such as the BA-6Shd.

The post-war “tank trains” of the 1960s used no artillery cars, depending on ground firepower from the tanks and armored vehicles carried in the dismount cars, but the anti-aircraft car carried an impressive array of four ZPU-4 14.5mm quad-machine guns and a ZU-23 23mm twin-cannon. They could be supplemented with the BTR-40A (ZhD) convertable rail-car.

Addendum 3: Disclaimer

This is a topic I love and have researched extensively, but is also is a topic for which the literature is woefully short. Aside from the briefest of mentions, for instance, I have nothing about the Belgian train in WWI, of Italian use in Yugoslavia. The only sources which seem to be of any quality on La Rafale are, of course, in French. Which is all to say, I’ve done my best to give full coverage to the topic, but I would be the first to admit I’m missing a few things! If you know of any sources I haven’t listed below, PLEASE LET ME KNOW! I would love nothing more than to supplement my meager collection.

Also, no, I didn’t write all of this in the ~hour since OP posted this question. I’ve been sitting on this for ages because someone asked about these in another thread, and I told him to make a new question for it. They never did but I wrote this anyways and have been editing it since then, waiting for someone to ask about trains…

And of course, PLEASE FEEL FREE TO ASK FOLLOW UP QUESTIONS! I LOVE follow up questions.


I’ve drawn on a number of sources for this piece. If you want to read about the topic further, I would highly suggest Armored Trains” by Steven J. Zaloga as an introduction to the topic. It is a basic and accessible overview, and doesn’t go into all that much detail, but where you would want to start.

Other works I’ve used include:

German Armored Trains in World War II”, “German Armored Trains in World War II Vol. II 1939-1945 and German Armored Trains on the Russian Front 1941-1944 all by Wolfgang Sawodny. He is considered to be the expert on German trains, and every other source cites him constantly. His most comprehensive work, apparently, is German Armored Trains 1904-1945 which I unfortunately have not been able to get my hands on as it is insanely expensive 🙁

Armored Trains of the Soviet Union 1917-1945 by Wilfried Kopenhagen

Armored Units of the Russian Civil War: Red Army by David Bullock

Armored Units of the Russian Civil War: White and Allied by David Bullock and Alexander Deryabin

American Civil War Railroad Tactics, by Robert R. Hodges, Jr.

Engines of War by Christian Wolmar

Forging the red thunderbolt: Armored trains provided mobile firepower during the Russian Revolution and after by Alan. R. Koenig, in “Armor”, Vol. 110, No. 3 (May/June, 2001)

Armored Trains a Success from “The Science News-Letter”, Vol. 43, No. 7 (February, 13, 1943)

The Shock-Battalions of 1917 Reminiscences Part One and Part Two by Victor Manakin, in “Russian Review”, Vol. 14, Nos. 3 and 4 (July and October, 1955) Not actually all that useful, but there was a neat passage about a fight against an armored train on page 335.

The Perils of Counterinsurgency: Russia’s War in Chechnya by Mark Kramer, in “International Security”, Vol. 29 No. 3 (2004)

The Nature of Guerilla Warfare by R. Ernest Dupuy, in Pacific Affairs, Vol. 12, No. 2 (June, 1939)

Mountaineer Mine Wars: An Analysis of the West Virginia Mine Wars of 1912-1913 and 1920-1921 by Hoyt N. Wheeler, in “The Business History Review”, Vol. 50, No. 1 (Spring, 1976)

The Terrible Condition of Affairs in Cuba, from “The Advocate of Peace” Vol. 60, No. 4 (April, 1898)

Indochina’s Railroad War, by Paul Wohl, in Railway Progress (February, 1953)

Most of these photos I included were scanned from the above books, but the Library of Congress, US National Archives, and Imperial War Museum collections were also used.

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Steven J. Zaloga

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Armored Trains (New Vanguard)

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What is the point of Armored Trains?

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