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Russian armored trains make a comeback in Ukraine armed for 21st century warfare

On April 12, 2023, the Russian Defense Ministry released a video showing the use armored train of the Russian armed forces Western Military District operating in the area of combat operations in Ukraine.
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Front view of Russian armored train deployed in Ukraine to conduct demining missions. (Picture source Russian MoD Video footage)

The Russian army Western Military District (ZVO) has deployed a special armored train to perform various tasks, including engineering reconnaissance, restoration of damaged railway tracks, and escorting cargo within the Ukrainian combat zones. The train is protected by armor plates and is fitted with weapons, equipment, and fire support systems. It also has shelters for firing and repelling enemy attacks.

The carriage walls are constructed with 20 millimeters of steel, reinforced by sandbags placed behind wooden panels. Within the armored compartment, marksmen are armed with automatic weapons and large-caliber machine guns. For safety purposes, the locomotive is positioned in the center of the train, with the driver following the instructions of an observer.

The train, created by railway troops of the Western Military District, is designed for technical reconnaissance, demining, as well as the restoration of railway tracks and small artificial structures with minor damage. The main tasks of the train include escorting military cargo and accompanying passenger trains, potentially aiding in the evacuation of civilian populations from territories located on the front lines.

The chief of staff of the special train "Volga" with the call sign "Breakthrough" has emphasized the importance of this deployment in ensuring the safe transportation of both military and civilian cargo.

The armored train also receives aerial surveillance, with a drone crew conducting reconnaissance and monitoring the surrounding area.

Recently, an opposing drone carrying a suspicious payload was detected 200-300 meters from the train. A swift response from an anti-aircraft gunner brought it down, showcasing the train's heavy armament. The primary weapon of the train is a ZU-23-2 23mm twin anti-aircraft gun, with two such guns present on the Volga. These guns are capable of engaging both aerial and ground targets, including armored vehicles.

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The primary weapons of the Russian armored train consist of ZU-23-2 23mm anti-aircraft gun. (Picture source Russian MoD video footage)

Armored trains have a long history in Russia, dating back to the early 20th century, and have been used in various conflicts and periods of unrest, serving as mobile fortresses and powerful weapons platforms. The first armored trains in Russia were used during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) for transportation and reconnaissance purposes, but their role quickly evolved to include combat support.

During World War I (1914-1918), armored trains were used by both the Russian Empire and the Central Powers. The Russian army employed them for reconnaissance, transportation, and troop support on the Eastern Front. The trains were equipped with artillery, machine guns, and infantry compartments.

Armored trains played a significant role in the Russian Civil War (1917-1922), as both the Red Army and White Army relied heavily on them. They were crucial for transporting troops, supplies, and providing fire support during battles. Many armored trains were improvised, using whatever resources were available.

The Soviet Union employed armored trains extensively during the Great Patriotic War (the Eastern Front of World War II), providing critical support for Soviet forces in the form of reconnaissance, transportation, and fire support. They were often customized with heavy artillery, anti-aircraft guns, and infantry compartments. Armored trains were especially useful in the early stages of the war when the Soviet Union was on the defensive against Nazi Germany.

After World War II, the importance of armored trains diminished, as advancements in military technology and tactics rendered them less effective. However, they were still used in limited capacities during the Cold War, such as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

In recent years, Russia has shown a renewed interest in armored trains, as evidenced by their deployment in conflicts such as the ongoing situation in Ukraine. These modern armored trains are equipped with advanced technology and weaponry, making them a formidable presence on the battlefield.

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Armored trains were used by the Soviet army during World War II. (Picture source Wikimedia)

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