Monday, March 28, 2016

Russia's Armoured Trains

Russian Defense Ministry is once again considering reviving a century-old military concept - the use of armored trains.

Last year, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu decided to overturn an order by his predecessor, Anatoly Serdyukov, to eliminate the four armored trains still in country's service. During Russian military operations in the North Caucasus and Chechnya from 2002 to 2009, the Russian military created an entire group of armored trains. However, once military operations in Chechnya wound down, the Defense Ministry has decided that a modern army no longer needed such trains.
According to Russian daily Izvestia, the decision to save these special armored trains was made personally by Minister Shoigu. When Serdyukov unexpectedly resigned in late 2012, many of his orders on the reorganization of various units of the Ministry of Defense were not fulfilled, explains Izvestia. After Shoigu audited all military assets, he overruled his predecessor's orders on the reduction of military educational institutions, refused to disband mobile and airborne units, and decided to keep armored trains in the nation's Southern Military District. "When he was the head of the Emergencies Ministry (the Russian equivalent of FEMA), Shoigu, while in Chechnya during the counter-terrorist operation, saw these special trains working and found them useful for the Armed Forces," Izvestia explains.
Russian military officers emphasized that these armored trains proved themselves ably in Chechnya, where it was necessary to protect military cargo and personnel transported via rail from Chechen insurgents. Such armored trains were also essential to protect combat engineers who cleared the railway tracks of improvised explosive devices. Each of the trains included repair teams capable of restoring damaged tracks within hours. The four trains, built in the middle of the last century, were on duty in the Soviet Far East until the 1980s -- there they guarded bridges and railways along the Soviet-Chinese border.
Such armored trains have near-legendary status in Russia. When mobility and concentrated firepower were scarce during the Russian Revolution and the subsequent Civil War that raged across long stretches of today's Russia and Ukraine between 1917 and 1921, trains equipped with cannon and other weapons allowed Bolshevik forces to gain an upper hand over their opponents, at times deploying more than a dozen such trains in a single battle.
By the end of the conflict, the newly formed Russian Red Army had 121 such trains in service, which were also used in World War Two and were immortalized on propaganda posters and numerous Soviet and Russian films. However, in the following decades, advances in artillery, missile guidance, aviation, and other technologies made such trains easy targets and therefore virtually irrelevant in large-scale military operations.

All Aboard!