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Author Topic: Employment of Armoured Trains in the Russian Civil War  (Read 8055 times)

Offline madman

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Employment of Armoured Trains in the Russian Civil War
« on: October 19, 2018, 01:08:55 AM »
Not rules related exactly but looking for information, links to sites or threads, or books. I am curious about the employment and effectiveness of armoured trains in the Russian Civil War.

I understand the attractiveness, even have one in 6mm myself. The dreadnought of the land or early 20th century O.G.R.E.s. Having watched Lawrence of Arabia many times I wonder how they managed to survive and how they were used. To my mind the primary weakness is the rails, seeming easily to cut or blow a bridge over a river. Time it so the train is still moving at or near the cut or bridge and now the train is off the rails, in the drink or worse. As I see it here are some possible ways armoured trains could survive.

The railroads are so important to both sides no one dares damage them too much. Sure block travel but don't break it so it can't be fixed.

Demolitions and experts to perform such tasks were so rare as to be little concern.

The trains moved so slowly they had time and space to react before they ran off the rails. If this is the case then other than use as slightly mobile pill boxes or 24 hour a day "marches" I see little use for armoured trains. Why not just use regular trains? This option would also allow the use of screening forces, say cavalry scouts riding ahead of the train ready to trot back to the train if opposition is discovered. Again you are reducing the mobility of the trains and now the number of troops, and animals, is a burden on the supplies the train is required to support.

They only worked behind friendly lines. Since the RCW like most 20th century wars were so very fluid I don't see this as a reason. If so what use would they be militarily? Mobile terror platforms keeping the locals under your thumb, much like in Dr. Zhivago? Slaughter a town you suspect of aiding the enemy as a warning to others on the right of way. Sounds suitably communistic but a regular train full of soldiers could do the same job.

They were so big and powerful they were the 1920s incarnation of the O.G.R.E. If they had hundreds to thousand of troops they could be truly mobile divisions. With those numbers of workers and carrying sufficient repair supplies you could fix anything short of a destroyed major river crossing within a week. You could also fight off very concentrated attacks. But then you are putting "all your eggs in one basket" and stripping forces which may be needed elsewhere.

Am I missing something? There seems to have been a number (approaching 100?) built during the RCW so if the idea was not valid or tactics were worked up to counter them I expect to see them die off. Instead every country in Europe seems to have developed them and utilized them in the next big punch up. If you have an answer please tell us. If you have some suggested reading, or web sites or threads which address this please post links. Thank you.
« Last Edit: October 19, 2018, 01:17:02 AM by madman »

Offline cuprum

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Re: Employment of Armoured Trains in the Russian Civil War
« Reply #1 on: October 19, 2018, 05:37:50 AM »
First you need to understand that the fighting during the Civil War was quite maneuverable, because none of the parties had the strength to create a solid front (except for some episodes (Kakhovka, Crimea, etc.)
In addition, railways were extremely important for all opponents, as supply channels. Under Russian conditions, supplying armies with supplies by other ground transportation was not a trivial task.
Also, both sides lacked the means of warfare - in particular, artillery and artillery supplies. Hence the low density of artillery fire and its high value in combat.
Armored trains during the Civil War were divided into two categories - light and heavy. A heavy armored train is a powerful mobile artillery fort armed with large caliber guns. His task, I think, is quite understandable. Such armored trains did not have to come into direct contact with the enemy and acted only in the rear of their own troops. Such an armored train could have a tethered balloon for adjusting artillery fire. It was possible to damage such mobile and armored artillery only by achieving a direct hit on the train, which is not easy when you do not have enough heavy cannons and shells to them.
Light armored train (often - improvised) was designed to support the troops directly on the battlefield and to protect the railways in the rear. The composition of such a train usually included 2 to 4 field guns, 4 to 12 machine guns, and an  infantry squad (usually 50-100 people). At the front and rear of the train there were “control railway platforms” on which there was material for repairing the railway bed. Similarly, it was they who went off the rails in case of sabotage, allowing the train to avoid a crash.
The light armored train, in fact, played two roles during the battle - the mobile field artillery battery and the mobile reserve. It is rather an instrument of defense and support, but not an immediate offensive.
The speed of movement of armored trains was not very large.
Quite often, light armored trains were captured by the enemy if they lost the support of their own troops. Enemies had to simply disassemble the rails on the train’s path or even throw a couple of logs - and the train was deprived of maneuver. His capture was only a matter of time.

By the way - in matters of terror, whites were no different from red ones and were no less cruel.  ;)


The scene of the capture of a white armored train by the red partisans. There are some fantasies, but on the whole quite reliably:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCuCy0QWd1A

Offline Sir Rodney Ffing

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Re: Employment of Armoured Trains in the Russian Civil War
« Reply #2 on: October 19, 2018, 02:10:29 PM »
Thanks Cuprum, great summary!  :)

Offline gostgost

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Re: Employment of Armoured Trains in the Russian Civil War
« Reply #3 on: October 19, 2018, 06:51:00 PM »
There is a book,"Armoured trains ,an illustrated encyclopaedia".It is by Seaforth publishing.You might want to take, a look at

Offline madman

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Re: Employment of Armoured Trains in the Russian Civil War
« Reply #4 on: October 21, 2018, 03:05:05 AM »
Here is my best interpretation of the replies I have received so far. I posted the same query on The Miniatures Page, The Wargames Website, The Lead Adventure Forum and Perfect Captain's Yahoo group. This is a distillation with much coming from a reply on TLAF.

Due to the poor roads and vast distances rail was the best and many times only way to move. The heavy trains were used as mobile artillery batteries as artillery was limited, hard to move and had limited ammo available. There were utilized behind the lines and relatively safe as counter battery fire as few and far between and ineffective unless a direct hit could be achieved.

Lighter armoured trains were used at the front. Equipped with fewer guns and proceeded by a number of lighter weight cars ahead of the engine which were intended to take the brunt of any damage to the rails. They also carried supplies and sufficient troops to perform repairs as needed to the railroad. Their use was still primarily fire support and mobile reserve. They moved cautiously and were subject to capture and reuse by their new owners. They carried units of troops as highly mobile shock units.

Sometimes armoured trains on parallel or close tracks engaged in gun duels.

Many unarmored trains existed for transporting troops as mobile reserves.

Books

Armored Trains by Steven Zaloga (Osprey Publications)
Armoured Trains – An Illustrated Encyclopedia 1825-2016, by Paul Malmassari
Armoured Train: Its Development and Usage; Balfour, G

A discussion I have yet to get into;

https://leadadventureforum.com/index.php?topic=56649.0

A site with a discussion of the Czech Legion and their use of the trains to escape the RCW;

https://militaryhistorynow.com/2013/06/02/a-long-way-from-home-the-czech-legions-amazing-trek-across-siberia/

Finally some sites in Russian. If you can read it great, if not maybe Google translate will not screw it up too much to not be useful.

http://www.hobbyport.ru/armor/bp_rkka.htm
http://ava.telenet.dn.ua/bookshelf/Belye_bronepoezda/index.html
https://colonelcassad.livejournal.com/741373.html
http://wio.ru/rr/ww1bel.htm
https://topwar.ru/105389-bronesily-v-grazhdanskoy-voyne-nekotorye-osobennosti-boevogo-primeneniya.html


So mostly it appears my initial thoughts were valid. Now to turn some of this into gameable scenarios. Still very open to more links, thoughts and ideas. Thank you all for your assistance thus far.

Offline mysteriousbill

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Re: Employment of Armoured Trains in the Russian Civil War
« Reply #5 on: October 26, 2018, 07:07:15 PM »
When the Chinese used Armored Trains they regularly were captured by blowing the rails ahead and behind. The crew were all killed and the other side took them over. Some trains changed hand more than once.

Offline madman

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Re: Employment of Armoured Trains in the Russian Civil War
« Reply #6 on: October 27, 2018, 01:01:11 AM »
When the Chinese used Armored Trains they regularly were captured by blowing the rails ahead and behind. The crew were all killed and the other side took them over. Some trains changed hand more than once.

See that is why I asked this question/topic. That is the kind of approach I could see as the best way to deal with an armoured train. So far the answer is either they had a large enough retinue, either on board or accompanying the train, to repulse any likely attack or they never ventured far enough ahead of support to be in danger. But with the very open nature of the conflict I can't see how you could protect them well enough against such tactics.

My personal approach, especially if you just want the train gone, is drop a span of a bridge over a deep or fast river just as it approaches that span.

Offline cuprum

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Re: Employment of Armoured Trains in the Russian Civil War
« Reply #7 on: October 27, 2018, 03:12:33 AM »
There is a famous episode in the period of the Soviet-Polish war, when the Soviet armored train was engaged in a battle with the Polish Renault tanks. The armored train emerged victorious, having destroyed and damaged four tanks.
In addition, armored trains were used during the Second World War. Of course, aviation and artillery considerably complicated their lives, but, nevertheless, even then there were examples of their successful use - for example, I know episodes of quite successful battles of Soviet armored trains against Nazi tanks. But, their main role remained the same - the mobile artillery battery, and the function of guarding the railways in the rear. At the same time, “anti-aircraft armored trains” appeared, whose function is already a mobile anti-aircraft battery for the protection of stations, bridges and other objects in the near rear of troops.

Offline Mark Plant

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Re: Employment of Armoured Trains in the Russian Civil War
« Reply #8 on: October 27, 2018, 07:33:46 PM »
My personal approach, especially if you just want the train gone, is drop a span of a bridge over a deep or fast river just as it approaches that span.

You need explosives with detonators and firing equipment, so pretty much out in the RCW.

You also need to consider the terrain in which they operated. The relevant bits of Russia are very flat, with little surplus vegetation other than sometimes forests. So blowing up the track and hiding in sufficient numbers to overwhelm the crew isn't a simple task.

The forests were notorious no-go areas because of the Greens, so trains would operate extremely cautiously there, but trains in the campaign areas wouldn't pass through forests much.

It's a pretty flat country, and rivers tend to be wide and slow and not hugely common. I suspect the trains approached the bridges with extreme caution in peace time. Certainly the trestle bridges I have seen would not inspire me with confidence. Given their extreme importance,  I would think the major crossings were guarded.

There's also a touch of misconception about the openness of the war. People didn't just sail around behind the enemy lines willy-nilly. Deep flanking moves were done, but they were substantial cavalry operations and they had to be very careful not to be caught without supply. You really did not want to be caught in the open (i.e. most of it) with your lines having retreated 20 miles while you were making your way round, with no way to return to a safe base. It was a brave officer who risked being caught behind enemy lines.

Offline madman

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Re: Employment of Armoured Trains in the Russian Civil War
« Reply #9 on: October 28, 2018, 01:47:41 AM »
Cuprum

I was aware of their use in WWII but am as ignorant as their use then as in the RCW so thank you for that info.

Offline madman

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Re: Employment of Armoured Trains in the Russian Civil War
« Reply #10 on: October 28, 2018, 02:06:56 AM »
Mark

So people with the means and knowledge to act as demolitions teams were practically non existent? My point of reference is "Lawrence of Arabia" (the movie). Of course he was basically a one man wrecking crew although I thought he/his was one of a few such teams.

Thank you very much for that analysis with emphasis on what the real world is like. I am just starting out in this period and locale and have quite out of touch ideas. I guess I am thinking of the central and northern areas of operation Barbarossa and the terrain there and not so much in the areas of real conflict of the RCW. What little I have learned shows operations would have been on the Baltic/East Prussian Polish border area, then down into the Ukraine and east past the Kuban and into central Asia.

I imagine the Baltic and Polish theaters would have terrain similar to what I am thinking while the Ukraine would be more like our central plains, vast grasslands with few waterways and fewer forested areas. The Kuban and east would be as dry and much more mountainous? Would Siberia not be similar to the Canadian Shield, that is always how I pictured it. Or would that be beyond the operating areas (and railroads) in those areas.

So railroads are also not as rare as I thought as you could use alternate routes. Typically how far apart would tracks (rights of way) be in the Ukraine, say a few hundred miles? And I assume much rarer the further east you go.

So despite being a very "open" theater the front lines were well covered? I thought it was more groups of forces than lines per se.

Please I am not questioning you but trying to learn more. What sites or  books would you suggest for an overview of the operational areas more with a view towards the terrain and resources? Thank you very much.

Offline tin shed gamer

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Re: Employment of Armoured Trains in the Russian Civil War
« Reply #11 on: October 28, 2018, 02:33:09 AM »
Here's a little extract  you might find useful ;)

Offline madman

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Re: Employment of Armoured Trains in the Russian Civil War
« Reply #12 on: October 28, 2018, 02:40:27 AM »
I have this weird habit of buying totally off topic and seemingly random books which decades later prove invaluable. To wit.

Six of the seven volumes of a book series, Lands and Peoples. A 1930 catalog of articles about the peoples and lands they occupy around our world. Think of a series of articles from National Geographic from the day collected into bound volumes. A few years to a decade later but I am sure some if not many of the articles were written around the appropriate time. The only volume I am missing is North America. There are also articles on the technology of the day and how it affects people, and which cover locations beyond the ones of the particular volume.

I also collected atlases. I have ones from 1875, 1931, 1898, and 1922 (plus a dozen other more recent ones). How much detail and coverage of the locations of interest is yet to be checked but a good start. I also picked up at a second hand store (not even a book store) a complete Encyclopedia Britannica from 1912.

Not bad for potential starting points but please any further sources you would recommend would be appreciated. If any info I might find in these sources would help others and I will try to see what I can find of use.

Offline Mark Plant

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    • Pygmy Wars : Russian Civil War and Related Stuff
Re: Employment of Armoured Trains in the Russian Civil War
« Reply #13 on: October 28, 2018, 06:12:18 AM »
The supply issue was the problem -- the same reason that so little use was made of standard WWI equipment. So you don't see much use of mortars -- you have to get the mortars, shells and trained users together, which was usually (though not always) beyond them. To get specialised stuff like explosive equipment relied on luck.

I think your geography is mostly right, but the Kuban is largely flat.

I too have bought an old geography book to help me with terrain. They're really cheap.


Offline tin shed gamer

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Re: Employment of Armoured Trains in the Russian Civil War
« Reply #14 on: October 28, 2018, 01:45:38 PM »
You simply don't need explosives to derail a train. Just some basic tools .These are. of the period .(exhibit at the Russian Railway museum Moscow.)

You can remove the fixtures and fittings on a rail with pry bars and wrenches in under an hour.With just a section of men.
Nor do you need hundreds of men to assault one .Thirty is more than enough.You've already picked the terrain so the advantages are yours.
More importantly they're a considerable distance from the permanent. Hiding in open plains is achievable simply because of natural visuale priming.
Recce and sabotage isn't a spur of the moment thing there is always preparation and planning.
So if you need scrounge or prefab then its done before you set off.
If you were to use explosives you can do it with as little as 2lbs of explosives.

If you wanted a Hollywood ott derailment youd need a charge of around 50lbs . That'd be more than enough to get an engine to bunny hop off the track (a 6-8ft hop into the air.)

The issue isn't can it be done . Because it can and it was. The issue is can you represent it on a table. No not without great difficulty. You can start with a derailed train. You can derail the train using directional dice to give a more random derailment and vairy the game. The further back the more likely the carriage is to stay upright(for a game). There's lots of improvisations around the just crashing or crashed train. But having the train running then attacked is difficult.
The bomb Doesn't go off - short game. Bomb goes off doesn't effect the train it keeps going.Bomb goes off partial derailment and still in fighting order.and so on.
What you have is an ambush game with a 'single' vehicle convoy that potentially takes up half the length of your table.
The actual terrain is pretty limited as there are prime locations for attacking regardless of the geographical setting of the game.

A quick note if you google armoured trains armoured cars use Slavic search words. Or failing that you could pick Cuprum's brain.