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  © Michal Derela, 2019 Updated: 1. 3. 2021

Polish improvised armoured train "Związek Broni"

Armoured train 'Związek broni' by Mikolaj Wisznicki A sketch by Lt.
Mikołaj Wisznicki,
dated 28 April 1918, Bykhaw station.

The "Związek Broni" was the first Polish armoured train – formed in early 1918 by the Polish 1st Corps in Russia, before even Poland regained independence. It consisted of ordinary freight wagons carrying troops, provisionally only protected and armed. In spite of improvised nature and low combat value, the train distinguished itself in short-lived actions of the 1st Polish Corps in Belarus, and also found its place in Polish literature. There are no precise descriptions of the train, but fortunately, several photographs of this unit have survived to our times.

Note: links with dashed underline lead to Wikipedia articles. All dates are in new style calendar as a rule.

Forming and composition

The Polish 1st Corps in Russia, commanded by General Józef Dowbor-Muśnicki, was created in August 1917 in Belarus from Poles serving in the Russian army and was to be used on the side of the Entente countries against Germany on the Eastern Front of World War I. The situation of Polish units formed in Russia changed after the communist revolution in November 1917, a truce with Germany on 17 December 1917, and finally the separatist Soviet–German peace on 3 March 1918. After the conclusion of the Soviet–German truce, the Corps, provoked, took action against the Bolsheviks ceasing to supply it and trying to disarm it. On 3 February, units of the 1st Corps captured Bobruysk fortress, on the basis of which they carried out further operations, driving the Bolsheviks behind the Dnieper by the end of February. However, under German pressure, the Corps was subsequently disarmed and dissolved, starting from 21 May 1918, and its soldiers were repatriated to their homeland (annexed or occupied by Germany at that time).

Pociąg pancerny 'Związek broni'.
The most known photograph of the "Związek Broni". Before the train, its commander Lt. Stanisław Małagowski (x), on the right his deputy 2nd Lt. Stanisław Biega (xx), and writer Melchior WańkowiczW. Note French helmets, adopted by the Corps as a standard issue from March 1918.
Pociąg pancerny 'Związek broni'.
The "Związek Broni" in April 1918 in Bykhaw, apparently from the same photo session. The locomotive might be E class. The Austin 1st series armoured car has distinctive non typical short machine gun shields added, but is unarmed at the moment.

The armoured train of the 1st Corps was formed at Berezyna railway station in Bobruysk in early February 1918. The commander and initiator of the train construction was Lt. Stanisław Małagowski from the 1st engineering company of the 1st Rifle Division (later to be a commander of Polish armoured train "Śmiały", killed in action on 25 July 1919). He chose the name "Związek Broni" (United Arms or literally Union of Arms), which was explained by the fact that its volunteer crew came from various arm branches (artillery, cavalry, sappers). However, at the same time it was the name of a secret anti-German independence organization in the ranks of the 1st Corps, opposing the commander of the Corps, of which Małagowski was one of leaders. Among its important members was Małagowski's brother-in-law Melchior Wańkowicz; later prominent writer, essayist and reporter, who was a volunteer in the Corps, although not the train's crewmember.

The train consisted of regular unarmoured freight locomotive with a tender, about eight two-axle wooden covered freight wagons and two or three combat flatcars. The specific composition may have changed during service. On the photograph in April it may have Russian E (Э) class locomotive (E or 0-10-0 axle arrangement). There also exists a photograph of weaker O class locomotive (D or 0-8-0 axle arrangement) in Polish hands (below), but it is not known, if it was used in the "Związek Broni" (captioned as such in 1921 book by H. Bagiński[1]), or in the second armoured train of the 1st Corps. If the first identification was correct, it could have been used in the train during its first operations in February, or as an auxiliary locomotive.

Covered wooden wagons did not have any protection from the outside, neither probably from the inside. There is only a mention about sandbags and steel plates in two wagons, but it probably concerns flatcars rather.

The flatcars served as combat cars, protected with sandbags and several armoured trench shields. The main armament was a standard Russian field gun caliber 76.2 mm M.1902 (3-inch) on a wheeled carriage, mounted upon a leading flatcar, firing forward, with only a slight possibility of fire to the sides. Due to small range of firing angle adjustment (5.5°), the gun, placed on the platform of railway sleepers, might have been able to maneuver in a limited range (15-25°?), but it is not confirmed.

The most significant part of the train was a flatcar with the 1st series Austin armoured car, with damaged rear suspension. It was armed with two 7.62 mm Maxim machine guns in two transversal turrets. It is no clear however, if the car was available in the train from the beginning. There is quite detailed account, that this car was taken over by Lt. Małagowski only on 15 March 1918 in Mogilev, already in damaged condition, and then was "hijacked" with the flatcar, before the Germans could seize it (according to a forced agreement, German authorities were entitled to all military material in Russian towns captured by the Polish Corps)[4]. Other publications claimed in general, that the car was captured in February, with no details[2,5]. It is noteworthy, that such significant train's part was not mentioned in a book about Polish forces in Russia by the 1st Corps officer H. Bagiński, what may mean, that it was not present during its early actions in February. On the photographs from April the car has no machine guns, although it should not be a problem to mount them.

Apart from the cannon, the train was armed with several 7.62 mm Maxim M.1910 machine guns (vague data claims six, but their number could change). Probably they were carried on flatcars, protected with sand bags, or were just shooting from open doors (there are no loopholes in covered wagons visible). The armament was supplemented by the crew's rifles. At first the train also carried eight Russian 9 cm GR mortars on one or two flatcars, but without an ammunition. Probably they were left out after first actions in February.

According to H. Bagiński, the crew was 35 and was formed of artillerymen from the 1st battery of the Heavy Artillery Unit (under command of ensign Marian Nowakuński), a machine gun platoon from the 6th Rifle Regiment (under command of ensign Witold Pruszyński), several cadets from the Cadet Legion, and a dozen or so sappers from Engineering Company, who ran the train and constituted a mining party[1]. This number apparently did not cover the infantry, which could have been carried in need. According to Melchior Wańkowicz, there were even carried horses in wagons for mounted sappers, to enhance a radius of reconnaissance or combat tasks. There is a mention on 30 horses, but this is probably slight literary exaggeration (typical wagon carried eight horses according to regulations of that period) [note 1].

Pociąg pancerny 'Związek Broni'.
Approximate reconstruction of "Związek Broni" armoured train in its late composition[own work based on drawings by A. Jońca and others]


Lokomotywa serii O.
The O class locomotive with Polish soldiers, captioned in period source as belonging to the "Związek Broni", on 21 February 1918 in Krasnyi Bereg (a data or a place is wrong, since Krasnyi Bereg on that day rather was not a place to take posed photographs...).
Pociąg pancerny 'Związek broni'.
Poor quality photograph of the train in its early appearance, at Berezyna station, with three 9 cm GR mortars "sticking out" on the first flatcar and the 3-inch gun on he second one.
A map of operation area around Bobruysk.
The anti-aircraft wagon captured in Osipovichi, in Polish hands in Bobruisk.

The improvised train "Związek Broni" entered service on 10 February 1918, operating east of Bobruysk. After a temporary withdrawal of the 1st Rifle Division from Zhlobin, Polish defence line was established on the Olla River. It is commonly believed that after a few minor skirmishes, the train's first major action was a raid on 21 February on Krasnyi Bereg railway station between Bobruisk and Zhlobin (a description below). However, according to Małagowski himself, from 12 to 25 February the train acted constantly as an active defence in front of Polish positions[6]. It was undertaking raids from Telusha station towards Krasnyi Bereg, preventing a reconstruction of a railway bridge on the Dobosna River behind this town, blown up on 12 February. On one occasion the train hijacked 40 wagons with wood from this station. According to literary description by Melchior Wańkowicz, the bridge was blown up by the train's sapper Pająk, under fire of the stronger Bolshevik train approaching the river – which is however difficult to verify [note 2]. A potential opponent of the "Związek Broni" could have been the Revolutionary Train of the 8th Rifle Division operating in Zhlobin area (later to be Polish "Generał Konarzewski") – it should be noted that it was also an improvised train, possibly armed with weaker frontal cannon at that period, although slightly better protected.

After the expulsion of the Bolsheviks behind the Dnieper by the end of February, the train "Związek Broni" probably no longer participated in fighting. In April 1918 it patrolled on the railway line along the Dnieper, in the area of Bykhaw. On 21 May 1918, the Corps signed an act on disarmament against the overwhelming German forces, and at the same time it was the end of the combat career of the train, which was passed to the Germans in following days.

According to a description by H. Bagiński (an officer of the 1st Corps, but most probably not a witness), "this train was formed in Bobruysk at the Berezyna station and left on February 10, but for the first 10 days it fought only minor skirmishes with the Bolsheviks. It was not until February 21, in connection with the planned general offensive, that a major clash took place at the Krasnyi Bereg railway station, on the 40th verst [more than 40 km] from Bobruysk. On February 20, the train stopped at 5 verst before the station, and at 7:00 pm it came up one and a half verst, and gave several shots to the Krasnyi Bereg folwark [latifundium] to disturb the Bolsheviks and retreated to Telusha railway station. It was only the second morning that it arrived at Krasnyi Bereg station itself, coming at the rear of the folwark of the same name. There was a huge panic at the station, because the train had a very dangerous appearance, as apart from the cannon and machine guns, eight bomb throwers were sticking out (unfortunately there were no bombs for them in the fortress). The Bolsheviks grouped behind the station and fired at the train with machine guns. Then, ensign Nowakuński ordered to set the shrapnels and breathed deadly fire towards buildings and the station. The Bolsheviks could not stand and panicked to flee. Then the crew of our train, including the engineers with officers, jumped off the train and began to shoot at and chase the Bolsheviks. The station was cleared, and 25 killed and a dozen or so wounded Bolsheviks remained on the battlefield.

However, the station could not be kept longer, because the Bolsheviks soon began to fire at the station with light and heavy guns. Armed peasants and Bolsheviks were seen moving from nearby villages, trying to circumvent the train from behind and cut off its retreat. From the village of Slobodka, Bolshevik machine guns started intense fire. Lt. Małagowski issued an order to shoot at treacherous villages and to withdraw the train. Retreating was difficult because the train had to be stopped at every watchman booth and take outposts, that were left there. These outposts saved the armoured train because they fired at the approaching masses of the peasantry and drove them off of the railway track. The riflemen of the 2nd Company of the 4th Rifle Regiment, who were taken to the train for this expedition, particularly distinguished themselves – especially three riflemen at the last booth by Krasnyi Bereg station, who returned fire against forty peasants and Red Guardsmen armed with two machine guns, attempting to cut off the train. Lt. Małagowski distinguished himself in this expedition with skillful and decisive command, as well as the entire crew of the train, recruited by him as volunteers[1].

Other 1st Corps trains

Even before the "Związek Broni", the other unnamed improvised train – or rather simple railway battery, was formed in Bobruisk on 5 February 1918 to support an attack towards north-west, to Yasen and Osipovichi stations. This train also had one 76.2 mm field gun M.1902 on a leading flatcar, protected with sandbags and its own shield. The gun was stationery. Its locomotive might have been O class locomotive pictured above. It was used to support the attack of Polish units, composed of elements of the 2nd Officer Legion, 6th Rifle Regiment, Engineer Regiment and 1st Uhlan Regimen, under command of Stabs-captain Ludwik Jurkiewicz. It entered action on 6 February, making raids from an outpost on the 19th verst from Bobruisk in support of Polish troops. The track was demolished several times on that line, by both sides. The train helped to to capture the stations Yasen and Tatarka (on 17 February) and Osipovichi (on 19 February). It had skirmishes with two cannon-armed armoured cars on these days, which finally withdrew. After capturing of Osipovichi, the train was not needed anymore, especially that on 20 February Polish troops occupied Minsk, farther on that line. Its cannon was probably returned to artillery units then.

In addition, in Osipovichi, a standard type Russian railway anti-aircraft battery was captured, consisting of at least one four-axle freight wagon of the Fox-Arbel type, armoured in Putilov Works in Petrograd and armed with two 76.2 mm Lender anti-aircraft guns at both ends of an armoured casemate[3] (more on this type in "Generał Konarzewski" armoured train article). An origin of this peculiar wagon is not known (they were used in Russian railway anti-aircraft batteries and in the first Bolshevik armoured train BP No. 2 "Pobeda ili smert" – Victory or death). For unknown reasons it apparently was not included into the "Związek Broni" train, however it canot be excluded, that it was used as a part of some unknown patrol train – what the photograph on the right may suggest. It might have been also used for fortress defence.


Lt. S. Małagowski

1. "Małagowski picked a fellowship, typical for that period. Being a sapper, he created a unit of mounted sappers – dynamiters, very much needed in raiding warfare. And, as if such odd thing wasn't enough for him, he took a locomotive captured from the bolsheviks, flatcars and wagons, equipped them with sandbags, put a cannon and machine guns, embarked his sappers with thirty horses, and started one-of-its-kind partisan warfare against Krasnyi Bereg, Telusha, Zhlobin. (...) Later, when the bolshevik line was fleeing, special ramps were lowered from covered wagons, and fully equipped squad of 'mounted armoured sappers' disembarked and rushed for a reconnaissance (...)" – Melchior Wańkowicz, Strzępy epopei [Snippets of an epic] [7].

2. "At Krasny Bereg, when our pathetic armoured train parody was attacked by a well-set Bolshevik armoured train, before which it was necessary to blow up the track, and Bickford's rope got wet, [Sgt.] Pająk jumped to the lineman's booth for a burning wood. He carried it in bare hand, while the Bolshevik armoured train was closing, firing machine guns. Under fire, Pająk blew up the bridge, but he had to cure several weeks in a hospital" – Melchior Wańkowicz, Strzępy epopei [7]. Possibly it concerns blowing-up of the bridge over the Dobysna in Krasnyi Bereg. However, three other sappers from the 3rd Infantry Division: Stefan Roeger, Antoni Siekienniak and Paweł Kalaniec, were awarded the Amaranthine Ribbon (provisional award of the 1st Corps) for blowing up the bridge over the Dobysna on 13 February 1918 (not 12 February, as Małagowski wrote in other article).

1. Henryk Bagiński: Wojsko Polskie na Wschodzie 1914-1920. Warsaw, 1921.
2. Jan Tarczyński, K. Barbarski, A. Jońca: Pojazdy w Wojsku Polskim - Polish Army vehicles 1918-1939, Pruszków 1995
3. Krzysztof Margasiński: Zarys historii polskich pociągów pancernych 1863-1920 w: Józef Jurczyk, Krzysztof Margasiński: Dziennik bojowy pociągu pancernego Hallerczyk, Czechowice-Dziedzice - Częstochowa, 2010
4. Krzysztof Margasiński: Samochody pancerne odrodzonej Polski 1918-1920; Wielki Leksykon Uzbrojenia - special issue 2, Warszawa 2014
5. Zbigniew Moszumański: Pierwsze polskie jednostki pancerne; "Twoja strefa pancerna" Nr 1/2018
6. Stanisław Małagowski: O zastosowaniu i taktyce pociągów pancernych; "Bellona" Nr 3/1919
7. Melchior Wańkowicz: Strzępy epopei; Warsaw, 1923

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Our thanks to Krzysztof Margasiński for help

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