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Monday 2 October 2023 Dublin: 12°C
# Trains
These are the incredible armoured trains of World War I and World War II
Forgotten war machines.

TRAINS MAY SEEM pretty mundane in the 21st century when compared with jet aircraft.

Trains have fallen out of favour as the dominant form of transport. This contrasts vividly with the previous century, when not just trains but armored trains were a vital piece of machinery in the two largest military conflicts of the era.

The armored train was first seen in the American Civil War, according to The Jamestown Foundation, but the battle-ready form of transportation came to prominence in World War I, when Russia used it as a means of defense during cross-country travel.

Patrol the coasts

The trains were used by most of the European nations fighting in World War II: Poland took advantage of them extensively; Nazi Germany reacted and began using them; and the Russians kept their fleet up. Even Canada patrolled its west coast with one for a time in case of an invasion, according to Canada’s Virtual Museum.

These trains were not just armored — they were heavily armed. Cannons, machine guns, anti-aircraft weapons, and even tanks were on board these moving walls of terror.

While the armored train could transport large amounts of firepower rapidly cross country, it also had quite a few drawbacks.

They were hardly stealthy. Their reliance on tracks not only limited where they could go, but it provided the enemy with an easy target: Sabotage the tracks, and you disable the train.

After World War II, automotive technology had caught up sufficiently to render the armored train obsolete. But these insane trains have left an indelible mark on history.

This early Polish train, Smialy, is one of the most famous of the era. The rotating turret on the front helped clear out anything that got in the way.

this-early-polish-train-smialy-is-one-of-the-most-famous-of-the-era-the-rotating-turret-on-the-front-helped-clear-out-anything-that-got-in-the-way Wikimedia Commons Wikimedia Commons

Here is another shot of Smialy. It was captured by Poland in 1919 but was used in both wars by four different nations: Austria, Poland, the USSR, and Germany.

here-is-another-shot-of-smialy-it-was-captured-by-poland-in-1919-but-was-used-in-both-wars-by-four-different-nations-austria-poland-the-ussr-and-germany Wikimedia Commons Wikimedia Commons

Extensive armour plating could withstand a lot of punishment.

extensive-armor-plating-could-withstand-a-lot-of-punishment Wikimedia Commons Wikimedia Commons

Each nation’s trains were an imposing force.

each-nations-trains-were-an-imposing-force Wikimedia Commons Wikimedia Commons

Over time, the compartments for the soldiers became increasingly secure. This one resembles a fortress.

over-time-the-compartments-for-the-soldiers-became-increasingly-secure-this-one-resembles-a-fortress Wikimedia Commons Wikimedia Commons

There was no job too big or too small. Anti-aircraft weaponry was common on many of these trains.

there-was-no-job-too-big-or-too-small-anti-aircraft-weaponry-was-common-on-many-of-these-trains Wikimedia Commons Wikimedia Commons

Some of the cannons on these locomotives appear to be a size that would be more appropriate for a battleship.

some-of-the-cannons-on-these-locomotives-appear-to-be-a-size-that-would-be-more-appropriate-for-a-battleship Wikimedia Commons Wikimedia Commons

As we said, the main issue with these trains was that they ran on tracks. Derailments and fires were their Achilles’ heel.

as-we-said-the-main-issue-with-these-trains-was-that-they-ran-on-tracks-derailments-and-fires-were-their-achilles-heel Wikimedia Commons Wikimedia Commons

During WWII, the Germans derailed this Polish train with a bomb dropped by the Luftwaffe. It was deserted next to the tracks as the German soldiers neared.

during-wwii-the-germans-derailed-this-polish-train-with-a-bomb-dropped-by-the-luftwaffe-it-was-deserted-next-to-the-tracks-as-the-german-soldiers-neared Wikimedia Commons Wikimedia Commons

Here’s another shot of the carnage.

heres-another-shot-of-the-carnage Wikimedia Commons Wikimedia Commons

The wartime role of trains has not been totally forgotten. This Russian train, now decommissioned, is part of an installation in its home country.

the-wartime-role-of-trains-has-not-been-totally-forgotten-this-russian-train-now-decommissioned-is-part-of-an-installation-in-its-home-country Wikimedia Commons Wikimedia Commons

This is is a replica of a Slovakian armored train, now situated near Zvolen, Slovakia.

this-is-is-a-replica-of-a-slovakian-armored-train-now-situated-near-zvolen-slovakia Wikimedia Commons Wikimedia Commons

Some of the trains are still on display, in Poland.

some-of-the-trains-are-still-on-display-in-poland Wikimedia Commons Wikimedia Commons

Battles, and time, have taken their toll.

battles-and-time-have-taken-their-toll Wikimedia Commons Wikimedia Commons

Here’s a clip of an armoured train in action.

Valentin Izagirre Bengoetxea / YouTube

An earlier version of this feature was written by Alex Davies and Travis Okulski.

Read: The most powerful militaries on earth ranked from 20 to 1 >

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