Russia possessed 37,000 miles (60,000km) of railway track, the majority being five-loot gauge, at the end of 1917. The Russian Army had used several armored trains in World War I. but these fell to the Reds, Ukrainians and Central Powers during the Bolshevik Revolution. The Whites on all fronts began with nothing.
The Whiles had no specific standard configuration for their armored trains. Most trains had to be captured from the Reds and modified, using available armaments and materials, while the remainder had to be built from scratch on flat wagons in the few factories under White control that still retained sufficient industrial capacity. Nevertheless, certain principles were understood.
Locomotives and tenders (tenders carried coal or wood for fuel) were always placed in the center of an armored train formation, known as an echelon, for protection. Moreover, if the front or rear wagons were damaged, the locomotive could disentangle and move surviving elements of the echelon to safety. Locomotives usually had gun and machine-gun cars, one or two of each, immediately to the front and rear.
To the extreme front and rear were flat wagons, either empty or filled with non-critical supplies. Enemy forces in the Civil War packed flat wagons with explosives, similar to the fire ships of old, and drove these down the rails to demolish armored trains. Tracks were also mined or prepared for demolition at the appropriate moment. Thus, the flat wagons would absorb the initial shock. Additional flat wagons in the front and rear contained engineering materials, including lengths of rail and lumber for making minor repairs.
Light armored trains generally had tine to four artillery pieces inside revolving turrets on armored wagons or merely mounted on platforms on sandbagged and reinforced flat wagons. These trains could carry standard field pieces or howitzers. Heavy armored trains had one or two guns of heavier caliber, including naval models, usually mounted inside relatively open, reinforcecl-spring flat wagons. Each configuration could carry anything from four to 20 machine guns.
Armored trains sported a wide variety of guns and machine guns. Most weapons were Russian. I lowever, the Allies contributed a substantial number of pieces to the White inventory. The British supplied artillery to Denikin's Whites of the south, to Kolchak s Siberians, to the northern Whites at Archangel and Murmansk, and to a lesser extent to the Northwestern Army. The French sent military aid to Kolchak, but gave special preference to the Czechs. The White warlords of the Russian Far East often used Japanese arms.
These armaments dated from World War I. which overlapped the Russian Civil War in 1918. Standard Russian arms included the Putilov 76.2mm field gun (Models 1900, 1902, 1913), the 76.2mm mountain gun (Models 1904, 1909), the 6-in. howitzer and the 7.62mm Maxim machine gun.
Since 1892, the Russians had produced heavy naval guns under license from the French designer, Canet: these included 120mm (5.75in.), 152mm (6in.), and 75mm (2.9in.) guns. By 1917, 523 of the 6-in. had been produced along with 799 of the 75mm. Additionally, the Russians had produced the 47mm Hotchkiss gun under French license.
British light armored train, North Russia, 1918-19. The revolving turret seems to have the only armor on this otherwise unarmored train. The improvised roof is on struts and a second gun, apparently an 18-pdr, is behind the first. (Imperial War Museum)
The British supplied the Whites with their 18-pdr and 60-pdr field guns, the naval 12-pdr, the 4.5-inch howitzer and Vickers and Lewis machine guns. French 75mm Puteaux field guns found their way in smaller numbers to the Whites of the north, to the White Siberians and to the Czechs. Japanese arms contributed to the Whites of the Far East included the 75mm Type field gun and the 70mm Battalion Howitzer Type 92.
All these weapons (and more), both Russian and Allied, variously found their way onto White armored trains according to need and availability. Unfortunately for posterity. White orders of battle and memoirs often did not religiously record exact makes or calibers allotted to specific trains, though these details are included in this text where they are known.
Crews of armored trains, which in the White armies tended to be 50-120 strong, often maintained two shifts, one on the train and one living in passenger wagons back at the base in reserve. A few trains carried a mobile platoon or company that could capture and hold a strategic point until the main supporting force caught up. The speeds of these trains were generally in the range 12—30mph (20—18km/hr).
Railways were central to the planning of most military' operations during the (livil War period and armored trains were vital for controlling the rails and seizing stations and railheads. Armored trains provided direct and indirect offensive and defensive fire and could easily be switched from one sector to another. Control of a line enabled friendly tanks, armored cars and troop trains to move up in echelon and debouch at the front while, conversely, denying this ability to the enemy. If a sector were lightly garrisoned bv defensive artillen, armored trains could force the position and linger in the rear of the enemy, allowing friendly forces to consolidate the field.
Armored trains, however, did come with a lew liabilities. Railways and bridges in their path had to be in reasonable repair. Enemy forces which severed the rails to the rear of the trains at least temporarilv stranded them and, in the case of a major offensive, could cause them to be
abandoned altogether. Acts of nature such as mud- or rock-slides, and even vagaries in the weather such as snow and ice, could menace the steel roads. Czech Legionnaire Gustav Becvar noted an armored train having to move forwards and backwards repeatedly to break up the ice forming on the rails in the cold November at Ekaterinburg in 1918. Moreover, train armor offered protection only from bullets and shell splinters; direct hits, unless glancing off curvature in the plating, tended to go straight through.
Kolchak's White Siberians had at least four armored echelons operating west of the Urals during the offensive for the Volga in May 1919. These may have been distributed equally between General I'epeliev's Siberian Armored Train Divizion and General Gaida's 1st Independent Divizion of Armored Trains. General Rouquerol of the French Military Mission noted the lack of armored trains in Kolchak's inventory.
The White warlord, Ataman Semenov, variously had 14 armored trains operating between Lake Baikal, Manchuria and Vladivostok under the command of General N. Bogomolets. These included: Semenovets, Ataman, Grozny, Cossack, Zabailkalets, Otvakhny, Master, Horseman, Stanichnik, Valiant, Swift and Just. 1'he Americans identified another, the Destroyer, which they captured at Verkhne-Udinsk after Bogomolets threatened to fire on them. This train had two 3-in. guns, two 1-in.. 10 machine guns, ¡¿in. thick armor reinforced by 18in. of concrete, and a crew of 57. Semenov's nominal lieutenant, Ataman Kalinykov, possessed at least one command train in the American sector near Khabarovsk.
The Americans, consistent with the Allies in general, constructed only light armored trains. Company garrisons created mobile dormitories out of box or sleeper wagons wherever local conditions could not support more permanent quarters. Over 300 American engineering personnel formed the Russian Railway Service Corps under the overall Inter-Allied Railway Committee. The Corps maintained the railways until May 1920.
The British contributed three armored trains, two with two 12-pdrs and one with a 6-in. naval gun, compliments of HMS Suffolk, which had anchored off Vladivostok in January 1918. These guns were mounted on flat wagons in August and entered operations along the Ussuri River against marauding Red partisans. At the end of August, the 12-pdrs and 6-in., now in the same echelon, commenced a 6,105-mile (9,800km) journey west to the Volga Front, arriving at Ufa on 12 November.
American light armored train in North Russia near Medvejya Gora, northern shore of Lake Onega, circa May 1919. The metal sheeting on the artillery wagon has been hastily hammered out and would stop little beyond bullets. British General Maynard had requested American railway troops for securing his advance south from Murmansk and had received them in April. Maynard wrote: "Every man of their 600 was a volunteer, full of enthusiasm and the love of adventure." (Imperial War Museum)
A1: Don Cossack armored car Medveditsa, summer 1919
A1: Don Cossack armored car Medveditsa, summer 1919
B1 : Renault FT-17 tank, 1920
C1: Mark V tank No. 9261 First Aid, Northwest Russia, 1919
C2: Medium Mark B tank, No. 1613, North Russia, 1919
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