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|© Michał Derela, 1999-2011||Updated: 14. 11. 2011 - major modernization|
|Left: draisine R, right: draisine TK with a raised radio mast - before the war.|
"Draisine" is a word of German origin, meaning a light auxiliary rail motor vehicle (in Polish: drezyna). Armoured draisines (in Polish: drezyna pancerna) were light armoured rail motor vehicles, intended for reconnaissance, scouting, track patrolling and other auxiliary combat tasks. Armoured draisines were usually employed in armoured trains, fulfilling reconnaissance duties before and behind the train. The first armoured draisine was designed by the British constructor Simms in 1899, though purpose-built armoured draisines were not widely used. Before and during World War II, most often armoured cars fitted with rail wheels were used in this role in the world, like Soviet BA-20ZhD, German Panhard P204(f) (modified French P-178), or Japanese Type 91 So-Mo (commonly, but incorrectly known as "Sumida"). Their common drawback was difficulty of quick wheel change from rail wheels to road wheels.
In Poland, a need of such vehicles was recognized as soon, as in 1919, during Polish-Soviet war. In that period, only sometimes reconnaissance tasks were carried out by special light trains with spare locomotives, unofficially detached from regular armoured trains. These locomotives were often only partially armoured or unarmoured. It was clear however, that special small armoured draisines would fit this role better. Attempts to buy armoured draisines started in 1924. The first vehicles of this class in the Polish Army were Czechoslovak draisines Tatra. They were also the only "classic" armoured draisines in the Polish Army, because all the other designs (draisines R and TK) were tanks fit to riding on rails, fulfilling tasks of armoured draisines, and classified so. On contrary to classic armoured draisines (and modified armoured cars as well), they could easily reconnoitre the area around the track, or fulfil other combat tasks on the ground. They also differed from later German PzKpfw-38(t) tanks on flatcars (Panzertraegerwagen), in that the Polish vehicles could ride on rails on their own power.
The subject of the last chapter are other motor rail vehicles of the Polish Army: regular draisines, trucks and tractors fit to riding on rails, and armoured draisines' projects.
|TKS-R-TKS draisines unit of a destroyed train Nr.12 ("Poznańczyk") in 1939.|
Each of Polish armoured trains, mobilized in 1939, included a platoon of armoured draisines. Their main task was patrolling a track before and behind the train. Apart from a handful of Tatra draisines, they were also used for reconnaissance of the track's surroundings, and for other combat tasks outside the tracks.
A standard armoured draisine platoon consisted of:
- two medium armoured draisines R
- four light armoured draisines TK or TKS
The platoon included also the fifth tankette TK or TKS, which was a reserve one, according to publications, carried upon a flatcar of a support train. Photos of two abandoned draisine platoons however show five TK/TKS draisine runners available. Draisines usually operated in two TK-R-TK units consisting of one R and two TK/TKS draisines. The platoon's crew was 17 (one officer, six NCO and 10 soldiers) - 12 of them had their combat stations in draisines.
The armoured draisine platoon of armoured train nr. 15 ("Smierc") consisted of only two older draisines Tatra, while the draisine platoon of train nr. 13 ("Generał Sosnkowski") consisted of two Tatras, and two draisines R (the train nr. 13 had a standard platoon initially, but before the outbreak of the war, its draisines were given to the Army Pomorze to strengthen the defense of the border bridge in Tczew / Dirschau). Eight other armoured trains had standard platoons.
Since about 1936, all Polish armoured draisines were painted in a standard camouflage scheme of three colours: greyish sand and dark brown (sepia) over brown-green. The patches were airbrushed, with soft transitions, their shapes were irregular, mainly horizontal. Some tankettes TK/TKS however still wore old camouflage pattern, so-called "Japanese" one, with sharp contrast lines, described on a page on tankettes (- example photo of TKS tankette with radio, in old camouflage, captured by the Germans).
After initial unsuccessful trials to obtain armoured draisines, in 1925 Polish army bought 6 armoured draisines Tatra T18, newly constructed in Ringhoffer-Tatra works in Czechoslovakia. They were delivered in November 1926, but did not fulfil expectations. Their mobility was rated low, due to weak engines. Nevertheless, chassis for further 9 vehicles were bought in 1927. Their armoured bodies were to be built in Poland, but there is no information, if they were actually built. Draisines Tatra were used in the 1930s for training, in both armoured train units. In 1939, they were used only with armoured trains nr. 15 ("Smierc") and nr. 13 ("General Sosnkowski"). Each of them had a platoon of two Tatras.
More in a separate article: Tatra armoured draisine.
Empty weight - 3.7 t, maximum weight - 5.27 t; engine - Tatra T-12 12 HP, boxer, 2-cylinder, air-cooled; maximum speed - 50 km/h; armament - 1 machine gun 7.92 mm wz.25; armour - 6-8 mm.
|Armoured draisine Tatra from the 2nd Armoured Train Unit, in mid-1930s. |
|Draisine R abandoned in 1939 (it has number 2 on a rear plate).|
|First prototype of draisine R (tank with small-link tracks).|
|Final prototype of draisine R (above and below)|
|Draisine R captured and stored by the Germans (from train nr.12).|
|Draisine R [drawing: K. Cieślak] |
When it showed, that draisines Tatra were not satisfactory, in 1931, Col. Tadeusz Kossakowski, a head of Engineer Department, came with an idea to adapt old tank Renault FT-17 to an armoured draisine role, by mounting it upon a special rail chassis. The design was worked out by Military Engineers Research Institute (WIBI). The main advantage of this revelatory idea was, that the tank was driving the whole rail unit, and was still able to ride off of its rail chassis, and be used on the ground. In fact, it was probably the best usage of obsolete, extremely slow FT-17 tanks, and a cheap way of obtaining valuable armoured draisines. The light tank Renault FT-17 on the rail chassis was designated: medium rail-and-ground armoured draisine R (średnia drezyna pancerna torowo-terenowa R); R for Renault.
The first prototype, built in 1932 by workshops of the 1s Armoured Train Unit in Legionowo, was not entirely successful. The draisine's wheels were driven by the tank's tracks through special rollers and transmission gear. It was complicated, not too reliable and the tank's drive mechanism was getting worn. It could achieve a noteworthy speed of 38 km/h (23.6 mph), however.
In the next different prototype of 1933, the wheels were driven directly by the tank's engine, using a special drive shaft. It was designed by WIBI and built by Lilpop, Rau and Loewenstein works in Warsaw. During trials, it exceeded a speed of 45 km/h (28 mph), almost unbelievable for FT-17 tank by its own power. Trials were successful and three more chassis were ordered in 1934. After further trials and improvements, in January 1938 the first series of 18 rail chassis, manufactured by Wspólnota Interesów works in Chrzanów, were distributed among both Armoured Trains Units. Until 1939 there were 38 rail chassis produced. Each armoured train mobilized in 1939 (apart from nr.15) had two such vehicles.
A disadvantage of such draisine was definitely a lack of radio, but it was a common problem for most Polish pre-war armoured vehicles, and many other countries' vehicles as well. An advantage was quite good armour and armament - a short-barrel 37 mm SA-18 gun enabled to fight softskin or lightly armoured vehicles, though a lack of a machine gun decreased efficiency against manpower (a standard FT-17 could carry only one turret weapon, though there were trials in Poland and USSR to fit two weapons there). It should be noted, that during Polish-Soviet war, FT-17 tanks on flatcars were sometimes used in improvised armoured trains.
The FT-17 tanks used as draisines were modified in Lilpop, Rau & Loewenstein by fitting a special drive shaft, coming from a gearbox. A rail chassis had two ramps at a rear, suspended in horizontal position by flat springs, and able to be folded upwards. After the tank rode onto the rail chassis, the crew was connecting the drive shaft to the chassis' drive gear. Panels below tracks, hinged on their rear edge, were lowered by a hydraulic jack, so the tank's bottom was supported by a central girder. A whole operation of mounting the tank on rails was taking up to about 3 minutes. Dismounting the tank and riding off of the rail chassis was taking less than 3 minutes. The operations were carried in reverse order, and the tank was lifted by a hydraulic jack first. There is no specific information in publications, but chassis mechanisms must have been operated from outside of the vehicle.
A rear axle of chassis was driven by the tank's engine. Top speed on rails was 45 km/h, in late series even 55-57 km/h (28 / 34-35 mph). The chassis had a reversing gear in its driving mechanism, so the draisine could ride backwards with the same speed, as forward. Thanks to standard buffers and coupling in front, the draisine could also tow or push some wagons (bigger wagons however would probably obstruct driver's view; also when riding backwards, he probably had to rely on commander's instructions, since the tank had no mirrors). The chassis had crank-operated mechanical brakes on front wheels, of a railway type (there is no specific information, but it must have been operated from inside of he vehicle, through some hole in a floor, the same probably with operating the reversing gear).
The armament of FT-17 tanks used as armoured draisines was one 37
mm SA-18 Puteaux L/21 gun in a turret.
Tank's armour: hull front, sides and rear - 16 mm, top - 8 mm, turret - 22 mm (or 16mm with octagonal turret). The rail chassis itself was not armoured.
R draisine specifications: The weight of the whole unit was 10.5 t, weight of the chassis alone - 3.4 t. Length / width / height (with tank) - 8.11 / 2.04 / 2.83 m (319.3/ 80.3/ 111.4 in); axle interval - 4.75 m (187 in); maximum speed - see above.
Basic specifications of the Renault FT-17 tank:
Cew - 2; weight - 6.7 t; maximum speed on road - 7.8 km/h (4.9 mph). Engine: Renault - petrol, 4-stroke, 4-cylinder in line, capacity 4480 ccm, 35-39 HP at 1500 rpm, water cooled. Fuel tanks capacity - 95 l.
Draisine TK, probably with a prototype runner (above)|
Draisine TKS with a standard runner (below)
At the same time, the works were carried out to use the tankettes (light reconnaissance tanks) TK (TK-3) and TKS on rails. Polish designers did not however copy an idea of a bigger draisine R, but worked it out the other way. Unlike FT-17, the tankette did not use a complete rail chassis, but only a kind of a lighter rail "runner" (the Polish name prowadnica szynowa translates literally as: "rail runner"). It was a frame-shaped four-wheel carriage, constructed to keep the tankette riding on rails directly with its own tracks. It was designated as a light rail-and-ground armoured draisine TK (initially it was called: "Rail 'autotransport' of TK tank"). A prototype was made in 1932. After testing and improving of an experimental series, in September 1936 the design was accepted and 38 serial runners were ordered. By 1939, there were approximately 50 rail runners built.
Both tankette types, TK-3 and TKS were used. They had to be fitted with simple extending profiles on horizontal suspension frames for this purpose (photos show, that it concerned both tankette types). Each armoured train mobilized in 1939 (apart from already mentioned trains nr.13 and nr.15) had four draisines TK or TKS. The fifth reserve tankette should be carried on a flatcar in an auxiliary section of the armoured train, but as stated above, photos suggest, that armoured trains had five rail runners. Two of the platoon's tankettes were equipped with a short-range radio RKB/C, manned by the commander, with a folding high bamboo stick aerial on the superstructure's right side. They differed in having two additional equipment boxes, usually on a left fender, in front and rear. They also had different arrangement of spare wheels and anti-aircraft MG mounting. It should be noted, that photos of abandoned draisines of the train nr.12 show five tankettes modified for radio equipment, but it is not know, if all were equipped with radio.
|Tankette TK-3 riding off of the rail runner, before the war. .|
|Draisine TK, equipped with radio, destroyed by its crew. Behind it, a destroyed sidecar motorcycle, and further vehicles. It is a part of a draisine unit, probably from the train nr.54 (pictured also farther on the page).|
|A fragment of a photo showing a bottom of the draisine thrown off of the tracks by the Germans (front - to the right). Visible are rail runner parts, like a girder and a pump box.|
The rail runner had a central multipart girder supporting the tank's bottom, hinged on its rear end, and lifted by sprockets and chains, which were powered by an oil hydraulic mechanism. There were two entrance ramps in front, one for each track, kept above rails by flat springs, which could be folded upwards. When driving on rails, the girder was slightly lifted, carrying part of the tank's weight. When the runner was towed by other rail vehicle, the girder was raised, with the tank lying upon it.
The tank's crew could lower the girder and ride off of the runner in about one minute, without leaving the tank. The mechanism was operated from the inside, through a small rectangular hatch in a bottom of the tankette, behind a driver's seat (40 cm wide and 15 cm long, its purpose was to provide a radiator with additional air). The crew operated a hand oil pump of a hydraulic mechanism and a detachable braking lever. The pump had two levers: for pumping and for reducing pressure. The tank was leaning against runner's fender at the rear and was additionally blocked on a girder by a detachable wedge. Before leaving the runner, the crew had to brake its wheels, so that the tankette could ride off and onto the runner again, then the crew had to remove the braking lever and the wedge (they both were connected with chain). After the pressure had been reduced, lowering the girder, the tankette could ride off of the runner. It took about two minutes to mount the tankette on the rail runner again. In this purpose, it had to drive backwards, aided by runner's side deflectors. Then the crew fitted the braking lever and the wedge and pumped to raise the girder.
The tankette was armed with one 7.92mm wz.25 Hotchkiss machine gun, in a front plate. A horizontal angle of fire was only 40° (TK) or 48° (TKS) in a front sector, what was undoubtedly a drawback of such draisine concept. The ammunition was 1800 (TK) or 2000 (TKS).
Weight of the runner was 1.5 t, of a complete unit - 4.15 t. Length was 6.3 m, width - 2.15 m, axle interval - 3.855 m, wheel diameter - 0.32 m. Height, with tankette on rails, was the same, as tankette's - only 1.33 m (52.3 in).
Basic data of tankettes TK / TKS (more details and specifications on tankettes page): crew - 2; weight - 2,43 / 2,6 t; armour - 6-8 mm / 6-10 mm (the top and bottom were yet thinner); maximum speed - 46 / 40 km/h (28 /24 mph); engine - 40 / 46 HP. Fuel consumption on rails was up to 38 l/100 km.
The draisine's maximum speed was only a bit lower, than the tankette's, but a reverse speed of the tankette was very low (5 km/h). Therefore, if a single draisine was used, it should be reversed to change direction, using a portable hydraulic jack, with the tankette dismounted. An empty runner could be lifted by a jack and a turntable put under its middle, then turned around, what could be accomplished by one person, according to a manual. In a similar way, it could also be moved to a parallel track, using additional rails (more detailed description of similar method on a Tatra draisine page). The runner had couplings on both ends. Since reversing of the runner was somehow problematic, that is why two draisines TK were sometimes coupled together by rear ends, creating TK-TK unit. One tankette was driving forward, while the other one was lifted. The tankettes maintained a basic communication with color lights, plugged to a runner. But more frequently and efficiently they were used in TK-R-TK units:
|TK-R-TK unit in 1939, before the war.|
The armoured draisines platoon often operated combined in two TK-R-TK units, on both ends of the armoured train. The unit consisted of one draisine R and two draisines TK. One of its tankettes should be equipped with a radio. The TK-R-TK unit allowed to eliminate weak points of particular draisines, creating quite universal reconnaissance unit. The tracks of tankettes were getting worn out on rails, just like in normal service, and moving rearwards was difficult. That is why the draisine R usually towed the other two, with the tankettes lifted upon the rails. On the other hand, it was much quicker and easier for the tankette to ride off of the runner and onto the runner - 1-2 minutes, comparing to 3 minutes of FT-17 tank. The tankettes were ideal for a ground reconnaissance, while FT-17 tank obviously was not fit for it at all. That is why only the tankettes were usually riding off of the track, and FT-17 tanks were riding off of the track only in need of supporting tankettes or other units with a gunfire.
In practice, in 1939 it showed, that the tanks and tankettes of draisines were often used on the ground. Sometimes they had to be used in a support the ground units, contrary to their purpose, suffering losses due to poor armour and armament, against armoured vehicles or anti-tank guns (see for example operations of the draisines of train nr. 55 "Bartosz Głowacki" on 14 September 1939). Also, a commander of the train nr. 54 was killed in a tankette on 2 September, personally conducting a reconnaissance.
|FT-17 tank from the train nr. 55 ("Bartosz Głowacki") destroyed on the ground on 14 September 1939. In a foreground, TK rail runner (with a chain gear for girder raising visible).|
See further photos of draisines destroyed in 1939 in a gallery (NEW in January 2013)
Other rail vehicles:
Early trials to obtain armoured draisines
|A mysterious draisine of the 2nd Armoured Train Unit in early 1930s - a photo probably published for the first time. There is no information about this vehicle, which apparently existed in one unit and carried armament in Ursus type turret (of the armoured car wz.29) - potentially a 37 mm SA-18 gun and one or two 7.92 mm wz.25 machine guns.|
In the beginning of 1920, the Inspectorate of Railway Arms bought in France 10 light draisines of Crochat type, in order to give armoured trains some means of reconnaissance. It was hoped, that they were suitable for being armoured and armed. One of the draisines was experimentally fitted with a partial armour, but the trials showed, that its 4HP engine was much too weak, and therefore the project failed. As a result, draisines were given to railway sappers as a light unarmoured mean of transport. The details about these draisines, their look and further service are not known.
Before ordering of Tatra draisines, nine draisines with Renault engines were ordered in the Polish company "Wagon", but the deal was cancelled, because the company could not fulfill the order.
When the first series of armoured draisines Tatra were evaluated bad, Polish Army bought two unarmoured draisines Austro-Daimler for testing. They were powered by 4-cylinder 15HP engine FB. After testing in Armoured Train Training Unit in April-May 1927, they were considered as not suitable for armouring. The details about these draisines, their look and eventual further service, are not known.
Beside this page's main topic remain trucks fitted permanently with rail wheels (eg. WWI-vintage Pierce-Arrow) and Army's light locomotives.
Apart from combat vehicles, also some other military vehicles were mounted on rails in Poland. The only one to enter service by 1939, was wz. 34 halftrack truck. For a purpose of rail-riding, it could be equipped with a set of small rail wheels, fixed to the front wheels and behind the track mechanism. On rails, it was driven by its own tracks. The track mechanism could be raised over the rails, when the car was towed (for the same reason as in drasines TK). Two such halftracks were in the repair patrol of each armoured train (in an auxiliary section).
|A pair of the halftracks wz. 34 on rails. The vehicles are coupled together in order to enable faster moving in both directions. The tracks of the right one are lifted.|
|Abandoned draisine platoon and a part of auxiliary train, of an unknown train (probably nr 54). From the left: a halftrack wz.34 on rails (reg. nr: W10-961); the draisine TK (heading right); a rail runner without a tankette (heading left); the draisine R (heading right); a rail runner without a tankette (heading right), two draisnes TK (heading left, first of them pictured above) and the draisine R (heading right). Note a "camouflage" of tree branches. The samo photo with somwhat wider scene is here.|
In Poland there were designed also several other rail military vehicles, first of all, the rail chassis for the tracked tractor C7P, modelled after the chassis for the FT-17 tank. It was designed in H. Cegielski railway stock works in Poznań. Trials started in July 1936. C7P tractors with rail chassis were supposed to be used in Railway Sappers' companies, among others for hauling wagons with track repair materials. It was planned in 1939 to order 16 such chassis, for newly-created track maintenance companies, but presumably it remained a prototype only, and railway sappers received few C7P tractors before the war. This rail chassis was tested also with light tank 7TP (twin-turret), identical from a mechanical point of view. The tractor or the tank on the rail chassis could tow wagons up to 60t weight.
A construction of the chassis was similar to the draisine R - rear wheels were powered by the tractor's engine. A whole unit could achieve a speed of 55 km/h (34 mph). Weight of the chassis - 6.940 kg, total weight - 15.500 kg with C7P tractor. Length - 835 cm.
|C7P tractor (no. 8393) riding onto the prototype rail chassis.|
|Empty rail chassis and with a twin-turret 7TP tank prototype (no. 1596).|
There was also a rail runner for the tracked tractor C2P tested before the war, similar to the draisine TK (C2P was based on TKS chassis). In 1935-36 years also the rail riding devices for field cars Polski FIAT PF-508/III and PF-518 were tested. In 1937 a rail riding device for a 1.2t light truck PF-618 was designed. The later one was scheduled for a serial production, but probably none were produced. The most unusual design was a rail runner for the Sokol 600 RT motorcycle, tested with satisfactory result.
When draisines Tatra appeared unsatisfactory, the Polish engineers designed in 1930 new rail and ground vehicle, inspired by earlier experimantal British works. It was to be designated as armoured draisine wz. 30. The design featured a double drive, consisiting of rail wheels and tracks. When moving on rails, the track mechanism was lifted. Changing of a drive type was to be done without leaving the vehicle. The track suspension was similar to Vickers 6 Ton tank. The project had a turret from the armoured car wz. 29 (with 37mm wz.18 Puteaux gun and one or two 7.92mm wz.25 MG's). A weight would be 7.5 t, an armour would be up to 12 mm. An engine was diesel Saurer 84HP, an estimated speed would be 36 km/h (22 mph) on rails and 65 km/h (40 mph) on tracks. The prototype was not built, because the design would be very expensive (360.000 zł) and quite complicated. Soon the armoured draisines R and TK were designed, which were both satisfactory and cheap.
It is noteworthy, that very similar double drive was used by the Japanese in armoured draisine Type 98 So-Ki, produced in a small series, a similar design of a tracked PzKpfw-III tank was also worked later by the Germans, but not produced in series.
|Projected views of wz.30 draisine. Author: J. Vanek - |
- a gallery of the Polish draisines in 1939
- a photo of a captured Soviet armoured draisine DTR in German train Panzerzug 10b
- ex-German armoured draisine Steyr in Polish post-war service
Models of Tatra draisines are listed in Tatra article.
- Armo (72062) - "Armoured draisine TK" - Polish resin model, without tankette. Note: the girder (usually not visible) does not conform with photographs of runners (external link)
- Armo (72063) - "Armoured draisine TK w/TKS" - as above, with a plastic TKS model by ESO (2005) - (external link) (on a box photo, the tankette is obviously turned in wrong direction ;-)
- Armo (72126) - "Polish armoured draisine FT" - Polish resin model, tank not included (external link)
- Jadar-Model 5 Star Models 35013 - "Polish Armoured Draisine R" - good quality resin kit (tank not included) (external link, shop)
- Jadar-Model 5 Star Models 35014 - "Polish Armoured Draisine TK with TKS" - good quality draisine resin kit, containing plastic kit of TKS by RPM. Note: the girder (usually not visible) does not conform with photographs of runners (external link).
1. Janusz Magnuski, "Pociąg pancerny 'Smiały' w trzech wojnach"; Pelta; Warsaw 1996
2. Janusz Magnuski, "Drezyna pancerna Tatra"; Nowa Technika Wojskowa 1/98
3. Janusz Magnuski, "Czolgi Renault w Wojsku Polskim, cz.I"; Nowa Technika Wojskowa 8/97
4. Jan Tarczyński, K. Barbarski, A. Jońca, "Pojazdy w Wojsku Polskim - Polish Army Vehicles - 1918-1939"; Ajaks; Pruszków 1995.
5. Paul Malmassari, "Les Trains Blindes 1826 - 1989"; Heimdal Editions 1989
6. Pavel Lasek, Jan Vanek, "Obrnena drezina Tatra T18", Corona, 2002
7. Michał Malec, "Sprzęt towarzyszący czołgów rozpoznawczych", in Militaria i Fakty nr. 33 (2/2006)
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Michał Derela, 1999
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Text copyright to Michal Derela © 1999-2011.