|A sketch by Lt.|
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 infantry, provisionally only protected and armed. Despite the improvised nature and low combat value, the train distinguished itself in short-lived battles of the 1st Polish Corps in Belarus, and also found its place in Polish literature. In spite of lack of precise descriptions, fortunately, several photographs of this unit have survived to our times.
Note: W marks external links to relevant Wikipedia articles. All dates are in new style calendar as a rule.
The Polish 1st Corps in RussiaW, 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 1918W. 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 occupied the Bobruysk fortressW, on the basis of which they carried out further operations, driving the Bolsheviks behind the DnieperW 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).
|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 (Małagowski's brother-in-law). Note French helmets, adopted by the Corps as a standard issue from March 1918.|
|The "Związek Broni" in April 1918 in BykhawW, 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", fallen in action). 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 WańkowiczW; later prominent writer, essayist and reporter, who was a volunteer in the Corps (although not the train's crewmember).
The train consisted of a regular unarmoured freight locomotive with a tender, about eight two-axle wooden covered freight wagons and two or three combat platforms. The specific composition and crew may have changed during service. On the photograph of the train 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), or in the second armoured train of the 1st Corps according to other publications. 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 partly armored 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 MogilevW, 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). 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 is not mentioned in the train's general description in a work on the 1st Corps history by 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 (their number could change). Probably they were carried on flatcars, protected with sand bags (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. 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 [note 1].
|The O class locomotive with Polish soldiers, captioned as belonging to the "Związek Broni" in one source, on 21 February 1918 in Krasnyi Bereg (a data or a place is wrong, since Krasnyi Bereg on that day rather was not a calm place to take posed photographs...).|
|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 improvised train "Związek Broni" entered service on 10 February 1918, operating east of Bobruysk. After a temporary withdrawal of the 1st Rifle Division from ZhlobinW, Polish defence line was established on the Olla River. It is usually 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. 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", which will soon be the topic of our site) – it should be noted that it was also an improvised train armed with a frontal 76.2 mm gun, 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 BykhawW. 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 verstW [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 folwarkW [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”.
It can be added that the second unnamed improvised armored train was also formed in Bobruisk on 5 February 1919 to support an attack towards north-west, to Yasen and OsipovichiW stations (a commander was captain Ludwik Jurkiewicz). This train also had one 76.2 mm field gun M.1902 on a leading flatcar, protected with sandbags and its own shield, and in fact it was more of a simple mobile railway battery. The gun was stationery in it. It was used in action from February 6, serving to capture the stations, in order: Yasen, Tatarka and Osipovichi (on 19 February). The track was demolished several times on that line, by both sides. The train also had several skirmishes with a bolshevik train. In addition, in Osipovichi, a standard type Russian railway anti-aircraft battery was captured, consisting of a four-axle freight wagon of the Fox-Arbel type, probably armoured in Putilov Works in Petrograd, originally armed with two 76.2 mm Lender anti-aircraft guns at both ends of the wagon.
|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 .
2. "At Krasny Brzeg, 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 a 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 . 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 awared 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).
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
You can mail me with question or comments - corrections or photographs are welcome.
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Text copyright: Michal Derela © 2019