Armored Cars

The Russians had imported 346 armored cars or chassis and had produced at least 201 more during World War One. By Summer 1917. the democratic Provisional Government, heir to the "February Revolution," stood second place in the world for total number of armored cars, only behind Great Britain.

Armored cars played a prominent role in the street fighting that accompanied the Bolshevik seizure of power in Moscow and Petrograd during the "October Revolution." 38 armored cars, 31 of t.hem Austin 1st, 2nd and 3rd series, were in Petrograd hi early November 1917 (including the cars Proletariat, Red Commune, Lenin and International). The majority of the crews were prepared to take orders from the Petrograd Military Revolutionary Committee and assault the last bastions of the crumbling Provisional Government. Armored cars worked with columns of Red Guards to secure key points in Petrograd and to interdict movement into the city. Several participated in the attack on the Winter Palace. Seven other armored cars were in the Moscow Military District and the majority of crews joined the Bolsheviks.

While the Bolsheviks struggled to demobilize the demoralized army of the Provisional Government and create a new Red model, armor inspectors

OPPOSITE Gun wagon of armored train No. 49, Sormovo Works, Nizhny-Novgorod, Note two turrets with 76mm Lender anti-aircraft pieces. The train served on the Southern Front in 1919. Side insignia (red), top to bottom: "RSFSR" - two words, unknown - "armored," small symbol, "Armored Train No. 49." (Kolomiets)

inventoried all available armored cars. The first report became official in March 1918.

This inventory could not be exact. Armored cars had suffered natural attrition during the war. In addition to combat losses, some had been utilized in mechanical experiments, a number were in reserve depots lacking parts or awaiting assembly and still others were older models considered unsuitable for operations. Several were still in their original packing crates as part of the former Allied aid effort to Russia and were stored in the ports of Archangel, Murmansk and Vladivostok. Moreover, from November 1917 through March 1918. the Germans had captured 15 detachments of approximately 45 armored cars from the Russians, while the various factions in the Ukraine had taken a similar number, 14 detachments, totaling perhaps 42.

After a more or less full accounting, the Bolsheviks believed they possessed 270 armored cars. Only about 150 of these were in serviceable condition in April 1918. 57 armored cars had been organized into 17 detachments (2-4 cars in each) and sent to the fronts by July 1918. The odier 213 cars were either in bad repair, in reserve or under formation.

The Reds inventoried their armored cars periodically throughout the civil war period, but official numbers never tallied exactly with what actually served at the front. For example, there were 41 officially registered detachments by 1 July 1919, but only 34 were at die front. The number of detachments peaked on 1 April 1920 when 46 were under official registration; 45 of these actively in the field. Between these statistical means, numbers continually fluctuated due to mechanical breakdown, attrition in combat, losses to and captures from die enemy, and as new productions (and local improvisations) came on line.


The construction and repair of armored cars took place in factories also servicing automobiles, trucks and armored trains. The Putilov and Izhorsk Works in Petrograd earned die weight of armored car production, but by summer 1918, workshops also had been established in Bryansk, Tambov, Voronezh, Saratov and Tsaritsyn. Repairs and "refitting" were additionally undertaken during the course of the war in Moscow, Nizhny-Novgorod, Smolensk, Veliki-Luki, Skopin, Vitebsk, Zliuka, Kirsanov and Samara,

The industrial enterprises of Petrograd, however, remained the primary workhorses of armored car production throughout the civil war period, sending 24 detachments to die front by October 1918 alone. During this first year, Petrograd assembled, constructed or repaired 115 armored cars. Efforts in outlying factories were also considerable. During 1918, the workshops of Tsaritsyn repaired 40 armored cars and serviced 106 supporting or auxiliary autos and lorries, while industry in Bryansk repaired 243 armored cars.

This was no mean achievement. Russia had imported most of die components necessary for armor production in 1914—17. Few7 nations were willing to export critical raw materials to the Bolsheviks, Especially lacking were the ingredients for special alloy steel, ball bearings, electrical equipment, atid petroleum products, including rubber.

Over two dozen types of armored car could be found in the Red inventory. The best and most numerous were the Austin 1st, 2nd and 3rd series, the Russian Austin (known as Austin-Putilov after 1921), the

Gun Armored Vehicles

■ Tankette ' gun wagons of the Bela Kurt (named after the Hungarian communist leader). Western Front, 1920. Both wagons have 76.2mm field pieces in revolving turrets and two Maxim machine guns on each side. The first wagon has one top rotating machine gun turret while the rear has two top turrets (one machine gun with shields). Note front hatch in body and rear doors in main turrets. Side insignia (white), top to bottom (mostly indecipherable): inscription - white star -inscription - then blurred symbol to the left of the train's name. (Kolomiets)

Fiat-Izhorski and the Garford-Putilov. Imperial Russia had received 48 Austin 1st series, 60 Austin 2nd series and 60 of the 3rd series from Britain during World War One {see New Vanguard 83 for technical details).

The Russian Austin was possibly die superlative armored ear of the civil war. Designed in September 1916, the car utilized the British Austin 3rd series chassis. Features included front and rear dual steering control with improved vision for drivers, a crew of five, interior-lined felt for protection against metal splinters, 7.5mm armor on horizontal surfaces and 4mm on vertical. The diagonal, rotating turrets (right side turret positioned slightly forward) had one Maxim 7.62mm machine gun each. Slit covers in the turrets offered improved elevated fire against aire rail, while double plates fixed between die Burets and body protected against hullet penetration. With a fully loaded weight of 5.2 tons, the car could achieve a speed 55km/hr. The Izhorsk Works finished approximately 52 Russian Austin between summer 1919 and spring 1920.

The Russian Austin had one variant, known as the Ausdn-Kegresse. Kegresse tracks (essentially a half-track) were installed on the body of a Russian Austin in order to achieve better olT-road capability. Chassis preparation and motor Installation were conducted at the Putilov Works, while armoring and finishing were carried out at Izhorsk. Six were completed in early autumn 1919 and six more by March 1920. Work then stopped for lack of chassis.

Designs for the Garford-Putilov began at the Putilov Works in Petrograd in 1914. Two variants of 48 cars were produced: 30 of the army version in 1915 and 18 naval Garfords in 1916, The Russians imported 4-ton, bi-axle truck chassis from the American Garford Motor Truck Company, A special transfer clutch toggled between the forward and reverse gears. Felt and canvas lined the interior, which received illumination from an electric 12-volt battery, a "modern" convenience for the crew of 8-9.

The driver's cab stood over the pneumatic motor, which could achieve a speed of 17km/hr. Two Maxim machine guns were housed in the twin sponsons of the middle section. The rear section contained a revolving turret with one Maxim machine gun and one 76.2mm, Model 1910 anti-aircraft gun mounted on a floor pedestal. This gun made the Garford an efficient tank-killer.

The naval variant had been intended to guard the Baltic ports and therefore, with heavier armor, weighed 11 tons instead of the army version's 8.6 tons. Armor thickness ranged between 6.5mm and 13mm, depending on the horizontal or vertical surface and the variant, army or navy. The Bolsheviks began the civil war with 21 Garfords (exact mix of variants unknown) and ended the war with 26.

Production of the Fiat-Izhorski began at the: Izhorsk Works in Petrograd in January 1917. The Russians gave the American Fiat Company a contract for 90 car chassis in 1916 and finished the remaining work themselves, 36 vehicles iti 1917 and 45 in 1918. The Fiat had a crew of five, a 72hp engine capable of 70km/hr and w-eigbed 5.3 tons. Armor of 7mm protected die vertical surfaces while 4—l.nmm protected the horizontal. The two Maxim machine guns had pro tec rive shields. Designers raised the diagonal twin ntrreis on the body (left turret slightly forward) and provided special slit covers in to achieve an 8()-degree elevation against aircraft.

Other cars, the Lanchester, Peerless, and Arm-strang-Whitwo¡1 h-Fiat, featured in photographs and eyewitness accounts of the civil war period. The Russians acquired 22 British Lanchester cars in spring 1916. Two more were acquired and led the Russian Armored Car Division at the front as part of Allied aid. 19 (one remained a machine-gun car) were rearmed with the 37mm Hotchkiss gun in the expectation that these cars would supplement die work of the Garfords; however, the smaller caliber never achieved the same effect. The Russians also added a Maxim machine gun to an embrasure in the rear turret door. Indeed, the Lanchester occasionally appeared with only two machine guns, the 37mm having been removed. Provided with 8mm armor on the vertical surfaces and weighing in at 5.3 tons, the car could attain the speed of 60km/hr with a crew of four. Ar least seven served the Bolsheviks.

16 Peerless armored cars were imported from Britain in September 1916. This vehicle, based on the Peerless 3-ton truck, carried a Vickers 40mm automatic gun for anti-aircraft work and a variety of light and heavy machine guns. Armored surfaces varied between 4 and 8111111. the vehicle weighing in at 4.8 tons. The 32hp engine could reach a speed of 45km/hr with a crew of .5-7. The Peerless arrived on the front in May 1917 and performed well. The Germans and Ukrainians captured many of them over die next year; however, several remained in the Red inventory.

Thirty Aimstrong-Whitwortli-Fiat entered Russia in 1915-16. These five-crew cars were mounted on a Fiat auto chassis reinforced with a Fiat 1-ton truck back axle with dual rear wheels. The twin turrets had the special slits for improved elevation against aircraft and one Maxim machine gun in each. The vehicle weighed 5 tons with 7mm armor on vertical plates and the 60hp engine could achieve 60km/hr. The 9th and 11th Armored Or Detachments had these cars in 1918, exact numbers unknown.

Czech Railways In1918

Russian Austin Mars, 18th Armored Car Detachment, 1919-20. The Hag reads: Long Live 3rd International / Long Live World Socialist Revolution, This unit was in Moscow with another machine gun car and a Garford in September 1918, Later that autumn, the 18th fought against Krasnov's Cossacks. (Deryabin)

Russian Austin Mars, 18th Armored Car Detachment, 1919-20. The Hag reads: Long Live 3rd International / Long Live World Socialist Revolution, This unit was in Moscow with another machine gun car and a Garford in September 1918, Later that autumn, the 18th fought against Krasnov's Cossacks. (Deryabin)

Tactical Organization

Armor commander and specialist V. A. Khaletsky organized die first Red detachments sent to the fronts. Unlike the Whites, the Bolsheviks normally deployed their armored car formations in detachments (of two platoons) rather than in divizton (two or more detachments). The diviz/on, of course, could strike harder and could be supplied more efficiently. Bolshevik preference, however, derived from political considerations. Armored cars were highly prized assets and commissars believed they could ensure loyalty, provide careful political control and better supervise operations at the smaller detachment level. These concerns were not entirely unfounded. Khaletsky later defected to the Whites and commanded their tank school in Ekaterinodar.

Failure to mass armored cars also revealed the inexperience of new Red commanders and the general immaturity of Bolshevik armored doctrine. For instance, one commissar in Turkestan possessed two armored ears for his staff work and the CHEKA (paramilitary police) in Tambov had

Commander A. Selyavkin's Division of Special Purpose, Kharkov, May 1919. Left to right, front row: Renault FM 7 tank, Austin 2nd or 3rd series, Armstrong-Whitworth-Fiat or French Peugeot, Ford armored car, two seat motorcycle wiih machine gun, single seat motorcycle. Left to right, back row: Garford, Austin 1st series, Lanchester, transport truck and flag. (Deryabin)

ft another two. Local "warlords" utilized armored cars as an enhancement of their personal power.

Armored cars also were used inappropriately in the field. En September 1918, the 1st Detached Flying Nikolaev Armored Car Detachment attempted to requisition grain from the village of Nizhny-Mokov. The operation resulted in the incapacitation of the entire unit. The Austin armored car, af ter "breakage," had to be entrained back to base for repair, the engine of die supporting White-model truck failed and had to be abandoned during the "enemy's approach," and the Garford gun car fell into "disrepair" and had to lie mounted on a railway flat wagon for static defense.

Appreciating these and other irregularities, the Revolutionary Military Soviet directed a formal structure for armored car detachments on November 1918. Two platoons of two cars each (three machine-gun cars and one gun car) would comprise a detachment. When a gun car was not available, a machine-gun car could he substituted. Five cargo trucks, four automobiles, a petrol truck, a repair truck, four motorcycles, six bicycles and 100 personnel were allocated per detachment. The detachment would serve under the operational orders of the division or special purpose formation to which it was attached. Naturally, the commissars remained,

Bolshevik doctrine called for armored cars to support the infantry, and later in the civil war, select cavalry formations as well. In the early months of 1918, enthusiastic Red Guards tended to name their detachments according to the district in which they were stationed and these often received the numerical designation "1"; hence, the 1st (later 18th) Detached Flying Nikolaev Armored Car Detachment.

Higher policy on armored car designations initially directed detachments to assume die number of the infantry division they supported, hut this concept quickly fell by the wayside. Instead, detachments received numbers sequentially; for example, 16th, 17th, or 18th. Older units eventually received new numbers; for instance, the 1st Petrograd Armored Car Detachment became the 52nd In Honor of Sverdlov Armored Car Detachment Not all armored cars had names and those that did were not always recorded. Similarly, Soviet documents are largely silent about any names of numbered detachments.


Armored cars participated in nearly every campaign. Due to their armoring, machine gnns and mobility, they could open part of a front lacking strong enemy artillery, and could exploit to a depth sufficient for supporting arms to turn an enemy flank or rear. Unlike armored trains, the armored car could operate away from the rails, even for a distance off the roads, depending on the terrain and absence of mud and snow, and could negotiate almost any bridge (see New Vanguard 83 for further capabilities).

Operations, Eastern Front

Five armored car detachments were deployed in July 1918. This number rose to eight in autumn during the liquidation of KOMUCH. The 2nd, 3rd and 27th supported the Red counterattack on Kazan in August and September. The 7th, stationed in eastern Siberia, fell to the Czech Legion when Gaida's troops seized Irkutsk and the Baikal Tunnels on the Trans-Siberian Railway. The 4th, 5th, 17th and 21st were stationed west of the Volga in support Or reserve.

Six detachments remained in spring and summer 1919 for the critical battles that would push Kolchak's White Siberians back to the Urals. The Forces Group of the South Group East Front had five armored car detachments positioned to counterattack White generals Khanzin and Dutov in Aptil-Mav !919. Three of these participated in the battles of Buguruslan, Bugulma and Ufa in May-June. During these weeks, the 4th Armored Car Detachment supported the 25th Ckapaev Rifle Division's forcing of the Belaia River. After being ferried across, three overturned while trying to climb die far bank. One of the cars, make unknown, bore the name Besposkchadnyi (Merciless),

Thereafter, two armored car detachments remained with Blyulther's 5th Anmv as the Reds pursued the Whites across Siberia. The 28th Armored Car Detachment, with two Atistin 3rd series, joined the People's Revolutionary Army of the Far-Eastern Republic in fighting the Japanese in the Primorsk region of eastern Siberia.

All too often in the east, the Reds employed their armored cars singly at fixed points to bolster morale. For example, 4th Army possessed four armored car detachments in summer 1919, the 17th, 27th, 38th and 41st. These were scattered as single cars from Uralsk to Alexandrovsk on the Caspian Sea, a distance of 500km.

Partisans Ukraine Dnipropetrovsk 1940

Kharkov Armed Forces Group, Ekaterinoslav (now Dnepropetrovsk), spring 1919. (Front) Russian Austin with red star below the word "detachment," followed by indecipherable letters: the lower word, "Voroshilov," may imply the name of the car or the detachment. (Middle) a rare Rolls-Royce armored car. (Rear) Austin 3rd series, (Bullock)

Kharkov Armed Forces Group, Ekaterinoslav (now Dnepropetrovsk), spring 1919. (Front) Russian Austin with red star below the word "detachment," followed by indecipherable letters: the lower word, "Voroshilov," may imply the name of the car or the detachment. (Middle) a rare Rolls-Royce armored car. (Rear) Austin 3rd series, (Bullock)

Operations, Northern Front

Dense northern forests, rnai-shy ground and lack of suitable roads precluded effective operations on die Northern Front. Nevertheless, the Reds dispatched the 23rd Armored Car" Detachment to 6th Army in summer 1918. This unit shifted to the Northwest Front in April-May 1919. Returning briefly in August, prior to Allied evacuation of die north, the 23rd transferred once more to the Northwest Front in September. No armored cars were used for the destruction of the Whites in 1920.

A1: Garford-Putilov gun car, Gunner, Siberia, 1919

Austin Kegresse Armored Half Track

A2: Austin-Kegresse armored half-track, 43rd Armored Car Detachment, Moscow district, 1922

Armoured Motorcycle Machine Gun

81: Russian-built Isotta-Fraschini armored car No. 1567, Skull, at Saratov, Volga front, spring 1919

Battlefield 1918 Armoured Vagon

B2: Russo-Bait "type D" armored car Oleg, Puikovo Heights near Petrograd, Northwestern Front, summer 1919



Lanchester British Wwi Armored Car

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