Land Merrimack: the first real armoured train, 1862
When the Northern forces sieged Richmond during the American Civil War, Southern commanders were afraid that assault guns will be used against the city. In order to counter this threat, General Lee ordered a train car with a powerful 165 mm naval gun. The Navy was supposed to build and service it. It already had experience with armour, as recently steamship Merrimack was refitted into ironclad Virginia.
The "Land Merrimack" consisted of an armoured train car protected by two layers of thick strips of rolled iron on an oak foundation. The armour was installed on the front and on the sides, the rear and the top remained open to allow for ventilation and crew evacuation. Behind the armoured car was a locomotive, protected from bullets by bales of cotton. The same "armour" was used on carts with riflemen.
The only use of the "Land Merrimack" in support of infantry happened during the battle for Savage's Station in late June of 1862. The armoured train was effective, killing many Northerners and forcing them to abandon a hospital with 500 wounded.
"Hairy Mary": the strangest armour, 1899
The first widespread use of armoured trains was during the Boer War of 1899-1902. The Boers actively used guerilla tactics to harass British supply lines. In order to protect them, the British started building armoured trains that served as mobile garrisons.
One of the most interesting armoured trains of the era was built using the Havelock locomotive. Instead of armoured plate, the locomotive was protected with tightly wound hemp rope 6 inches (15 cm) thick. This made the locomotive practically invulnerable to bullets and small caliber shells.
Due to its exotic exterior, the locomotive was nicknamed "Hairy Mary". This was the most unusual armour for this type of armoured vehicle.
The first Russian armoured train, 1914
This train was built in Tarnopol in the workshops of the 9th Railway Battalion on a captured Austro-Hungarian locomotive and three train cars: two with machineguns and one with a cannon. The armament was also captured. It consisted of one 80 mm Austrian gun and 12 machineguns. The train was protected by regular steel plates and sand sandwiched between boards. One of the machinegun cars had a turret for observation of the battlefield.
Despite the primitive design, the train fought well and proved itself in the first battles of WWI. For instance, in the Lvov direction, on August 22nd, 1914, a sudden attack by the armoured train allowed the capture of an important bridge and ensure the capture of Stanislawow. The armoured train of the 9th Battalion often earned the praise of commanders.
The first Russian armoured train finished its career as a part of the Red Army on the South Front in 1919.
Armoured Motorized Train Car "Zaamurets": a train with a curious fate, 1916
A self propelled train car was built for the Russian army using the most advanced technology of the time. Its armour was sloped. It was propelled by gasoline engines, equipped with rangefinders and periscopes, as well as internal telephones. The Zaamurets was armed with 57 mm automatic Nordenfelt guns.
During its service, this train car changed hands many times. Starting out in the Russian army, it then was used by the Ukrainian units of the Central Rada in 1917. In January of 1918 the Zaamurets fought for the Reds, but literally a month later it was captured by a gang of anarchists and used to terrorize villages near Odessa. A while later, the Red Army recaptured it.
The Civil War brought the Zaamurets to Simbirsk (now Ulyanovsk). Here, the Czechoslovak Legion, fighting for the White Army, captured it. The Czechs renamed it "Orlik", replaced some of the armament, and used it until their departure from Russia. The train was left to the Japanese, which later gave it to the Whites near Vladivostok. In 1922, the Zaamurets retreated with the Whites to Harbin. In the mid-1920s the train fought in the army of Chinese field commander Zhang Xu Chan. Some sources say that the Japanese captured it in 1931 in Manchuria.
Rain on Baku: an armoured train strategic operation, 1920
In the spring of 1920, the Red Army defeated the White Guards commander Anton Denikin and drew closer to the borders of Azerbaijan. The capture of this republic was very important, as it was rich in oil. However, the local government was prepared to burn the oil wells lest they fall into the hands of the Bolsheviks.
In order to resolve this situation, four armoured trains were selected: "Timofey Ulyanov", "Third International", "Red Dagestan" and "Red Astrakhan". On the night of April 27th, they penetrated enemy fortified lines, fought their way through 200 kilometers, and burst into Baku.
When Red sympathizers heard about the success of the armoured trains, a rebellion erupted in Baku. In only one day, control of the city was in Bolshevik hands.
Armoured Train #13: the smallest in history, 1940
This dwarf was built for a narrow rail gauge, only 38.1 cm wide. It consisted of two train cars, one with a Boys AT rifle, one with two machineguns, one of which could be used for anti-air.
Despite superstitions, the train was indexed #13. The locomotive was ironically named "Hercules". #13 entered service in July of 1940.
Despite the fact that the Germans never landed in Britain, the train still fought in battle. During the Battle of Britain, the train crew's AA gunners claimed that they shot down two enemy planes, a He-111 bomber and a Bf 109 fighter.
The train remained in service until 1943.
Armoured Train #1, 66th Squadron: the heaviest armed, 1942
This Soviet armoured train was built in Voroshilovgrad (today Lugansk) at the October Revolution factory. It consisted of an armoured locomotive and two armoured train platforms. The first had a T-34 turret with a 76 mm gun, two 76 mm guns separately, and 6 machineguns. The second had a KV-2 turret with a 152 mm howitzer, a 76 mm gun, and a 45 mm gun in a T-34 turret, as well as 8 machineguns. The train also had two DShK AA machineguns.
The train fought at Voroshiliovgrad with the 66th Squadron. Documents record that it repelled 18 German attacks from the air and mention that some planes were shot down.
German recon trains: the most maneuverable, 1944
The most maneuverable armoured trains of WWII were German light and heavy recon trains. They consisted of several (up to 10 for light and 12 for heavy) armoured draisines with internal combustion engines. A main feature of these trains was that, if necessary, the draisines could separate and travel independently. This increased the tactical flexibility of the armoured train.
The draisines were armed with machineguns, automatic 20 mm AA guns, and various caliber guns taken from German, Italian, and maybe even Soviet tanks.
These trains were used in the Balkans in the second half of 1944.
"Kozma Minin" and "Ilya Muromets", longest serving, 1942-1945
These two armoured trains were a part of the 31st Special Squadron. The "special" label indicated that these trains were equipped with rocket launchers. Additionally, "Kozma Minin" and "Ilya Muromets" were equipped with 76 mm guns, machineguns, and AA guns.
The trains entered service in 1942, as a part of the Bryansk Front. In 1943, they fought at Bolkhov and Mtsensk, covering weaknesses in Soviet defenses. In these battles, they destroyed 11 German strongholds, a mortar battery, and two trains.
In 1944 and 1945, "Kozma Minin" and "Ilya Muromets" fought their way through the Ukraine, Poland, and Germany, covering the Red Army during the crossing of the Vistula and the liberation of Warsaw. They met the end of the war in Germany, at Frankfurt an der Oder, protecting the rear of the 1st Belorussian Front.
Original article available here.