Armoured train

A typical Polish artillery car from 1939

A typical Polish artillery car from 1939

An armored train also called armored train (in German Panzerzug) is a set of rail cars, armored against attacks, and also armed with artillery and / or machine guns.

The armored trains were used mainly in the first half of the twentieth century, the First World War, the Russian Civil War, the Chinese Civil War and during the Second World War. First experiments on armored trains were made during the American Civil War, as well as by German colonial troops during the revolt of the Herero in 1904.

The first armored trains

The idea of using the train as a means of warfare became widespread during the American Civil War, in the nineteenth century. In an area so vast and wild as the U.S., the train was a fast and reliable method for moving large amounts of troops quickly and with little warning.
The first armed convoys were simple locomotives with open wagons in tow, which took place soldiers and shooters protected by rudimentary barriers.

This strategy was used sporadically in the Franco-Prussian War (1870 – 1871) and Boer wars (1880 – 1881 and 1899 – 1902), during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904, most, during the Mexican Revolution (1910 to 1920) and especially during the Russian Revolution (1918 – 1920).

Winston Churchill, then the corresponding English in the Second Boer War, was captured by a Boer commando while traveling on an armored train, along with many soldiers under the convoy.

The armored trains were later used in the two world wars and in the Indochina War (1946 – 1954).

The First World War

During the First World War,Russiasaw the armored train is a powerful means to control its vast territory as offensive artillery support.

The nation outfitted several convoys, which at the time represented the state of the art. Some of these, lighter, were armed with guns76.2mm, while the heavier pieces were equipped with 4.2-or even 6 inches.

Even the Austro-Hungarian Empire was endowed with some armored trains, mainly used on the Italian front.
The Second World War

During the Second World War were set up several armored trains, destined to serve inEastern Europeand the Balkans where there were rail lines in sparsely populated areas and subject to partisan attacks.

Intended to protect the railway lines and tasks of Commons, often traveling in convoys combined with trains mainly dedicated to the transport of troops and equipment by the Germans and the Russians.


Canadahas some armored trains used to protect the Pacific coast, for fear of a Japanese attack.


In Czechoslovakia, the Czechoslovak Legion was heavily armed with some trains to control the trans-Siberian railway during the Russian Revolution and the First World War.
Some of these were used by the resistance during the ‘Slovak National Uprising of 1944. Three of them (Hurban, ┼átef├ínik and Masaryk), built at the factory railway Zvolen, are now preserved at theCastle ofZvolen.


The fact that the nations of the Eastern Front were equipped with armored trains, pushed Nazi Germany dotarsene.

The German trains, in contrast to the Russian counterparts, were designed and built with great care: versatile and heavily armed, could boast anti-aircraft turrets, tanks for the transport of armored vehicles, carriages armed infantry or to protect the great and powerful pieces ‘artillery. They also carried out special locomotives armored convoys to move.

The strategic use of armored trains proved to be problematic, however, because of the vulnerability of railway infrastructure and inability to defend the tracks from guerrilla attacks and air raids.

The Soviet partisans were able to counter effectively the efficiency of the military supplies of the Germans, targeting infrastructure with bombings and sabotage.

Some German armored trains were used as mobile headquarters for masters most prestigious. The trains were equipped with their own logistics units and transmissions, and they have their own radio station.

The high mobility and use in the rear allow improving the efficiency of the logistics chain of command, while protecting the trains and the attacks by the guerrillas.

A famous Panzerzug (armored train in German) was used for the defense of Breslau (Wroclaw). The armament of the convoy was made up of 4 “tanks” (armored platforms) for heavy tanks, some armed with four 88mm cannons FlaK (Fliegabwehrkanone), one with a gun FlaK37 mm, and four guns from FlaK20 mm, as well as two armed machine gun MG 42. In addition, the train also had a radio station.


The Royal Navy took armored trains for coastal defense from the First World War, but it was not armored convoys.

Armored railway equipment was used instead during the Second World War in the Balkans for the patrolling of railway lines, target of sabotage by the partisan, and for the protection of convoys and personnel to restore the lines.

  • Armored train: in May 1942 was established by the Royal Army a company independent armored train, with a command in organic company on the second bus bar and two platoons of four each busway. The busway used were normal Fiat – AB40 and AB41 Ansaldo, with standard armament of gunsBreda20/65 Mod 1935 and8 mmBredamachine guns Mod.38 is in an anti-aircraft turret. The conversion consisted in the replacement rail, rapid and reversible in the field, the wheels and tires with railway wheels. The officers and non-commissioned officers belonged to the Regiment genius railroad, while conductors, mechanics and gunners were of Weapon of cavalry. The department worked in teams of two vehicles, one in front of the train and one in the queue.
  • Ansaldo Libli: Always in 1942 the Ansaldo, changing the “winkle” Fiat ALn 56, produced five winkles armored railcar Aln FS 56 armored “Libli” in two versions, who worked in the Balkans.
  • Armored trains: always the Yugoslav theater, are set and lightly armored armored trains pulled by locomotives also armored. As a solution, these convoys were typically consisting of normal two-axle freight wagons with reinforced walls, one of which is equipped with two machine guns Breda Model 37 by8 mm, and a second armed with anti-tank gun from 47/32 to fired through the door.

The trains were typically consisting of common two-axle freight wagons with reinforced walls. The first convoys of this type were made of a wagon equipped with two machine-guns Breda Mod 37 by8 mm, of gun-carriage, each served by 3 men, and by another wagon with an antitank gun da 47/32 firing through the door of the wagon.

Later versions were set up to greater consistency, formed by five or six wagons discovered in two axes, with a central compartment armored, to overcast, with five slots for the use of rifles and muskets from the inside, two compartments side open, smaller, were armed with a machine gun Fiat Mod 14/358 mmshielded and mortar Brixia Model 35 caliber45 mm. Later were added vagono similar, fully covered, equipped with anti-tank guns from 47/32.

The Militia common Railway freight wagons employed instead of the State Railways, armed with two machine guns SIA Mod 1918 by6.5 mmon special gun firing through side doors. This car was hooked as escorting convoys during normal crossing dangerous traits.


Polandduring the invasion fielded the few trains that had: it was light convoys or hastily converted but equipped with experienced men in guerrilla tactics.


Even inRussia, Boslceviche forces during the revolution had equipped several trains, some improvised by inexperienced revolutionaries, others built by renowned shipyards such as those of Putilov and Izhorskiy.

The heterogeneity of the media was not a problem in terms of maintenance, and an attempt at standardization in October 1919 was only a partial success. At the end of the civil war, the Bolsheviks could count on at least 103 armored trains, at different levels and power.

Many of the existing Russian trains were destroyed during the German advance of 1941. Trains built for the war, were equipped with turrets derived from the tank, mainly taken from the T-34 or KV. Some were equipped with anti-aircraft batteries, while others were armed with heavy artillery batteries of naval origin.

During the war of independence ofEstonia, Estonians built five armored trains, under the control of the master Johan Pitka.

Several “warlords” Chinese during the twenties is endowed with armored trains. Among these is the famous Zhang Zongchang, who gathered in a crew of Russian refugees expert in war station.

After the war

Despite the armored trains provide good coverage for occupants, due to their easy neutralization today are still used in very limited circumstances.

The 50s and 60s

In the war inIndochina, the French Union was armed with a train, the Rafale, which played defense and surveillance tasks as well as transport.

The first Rafale served on the line Saigon – Nha Trang in February 1951, while a second service took place from 1947 to 1952 on the line Cambodian Phnom Penh – Battambang, escorted by Cambodian troops of the BSPP (Brigade de Surveillance de Phnom Penh ).

In 1953 both trains were attacked by the Viet-Minh, who mined the stone bridges making them jump to the passage of convoys.

During the Cuban revolution, the army of Fulgencio Batista was equipped with an armored train, which was destroyed during the Battle of Santa Clara.

The 70s and 80s

During the Sino-Soviet crisis of the seventies, the Russians put into service of new armored trains to protect the Trans-Siberian. Were built four or five trains (the number is uncertain), each equipped with ten heavy battle tanks, two amphibious tanks, anti-aircraft different locations, transport troops, vehicles and support equipment for maintenance.

Some parts of these trains were equipped with armor from 5 to20 mm.

The 90s

They were used by Soviet army to intimidate paramilitary units during the uprisings in Azerbaijan in the nineties.

Towards the end of the Cold War, both superpowers were equipped with ICBMs mounted on rail guns. The Soviets had commissioned the SS-24 missiles in 1987, but the budget cuts and the crisis had led to the cancellation of the program, closed in 2005.

The war in Yugoslavia

An improvised armored train, named Krajina ekspres was used in the early nineties by the army of the Serbian Republic of Krajina: with three wagons with guns in tow, three freight cars in front of him to protect him from mines. The weapons included M18 Hellcat with a76mm gun, a Bofors40mm, a20mm cannon, two57mm rocket launchers and a120mm mortar, as well as numerous 7.12 and 7.62 caliber machine guns.

Saw used successfully as a piece of mobile artillery, mainly due to the absence of air power from the Croatian side. Hit several times by anti-tank rockets, suffered only minor damage by reason of use on the external surface of thick slabs of rubber for protection.

The train was finally destroyed by its own crew just before falling into the hands ofCroatiaduring the offensive ‘Operation Storm. The remains are now on display in Gradacac.


Kim Jong Il, former Prime Minister of North Korea, has an armored train, given to him by ‘theSoviet Union. He used the train for his trip toMoscowandChina, the use of the armored train was justified by the fact that the prime minister is afraid of flying.

The Russian army in March 2010 announced the use of armored trains to escort their convoy inChechnya.

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