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  © Michał Derela, 1999-2011 Updated: 29. 02. 2012

Polish armoured train Nr. 15 ("Śmierć")


Early history - Combat use in 1939 - Description

By end of October 1918, the Great War was rapidly coming to an end, while the Austro-Hungarian Empire and army were disintegrating. A newly constituted Polish authorities started to gather Polish territories back from German and Austrian occupation (W), and gain arms from them to defend the independence. One of the most valuable acquisitions was a whole Austro-Hungarian armoured train, captured by the Polish underground military organization. It was next used by the Polish in wars against Western Ukraine, the Soviet Russia and in World War II.

Note: (W) marks external links to relevant Wikipedia articles. You can also find places on maps, clicking coordinates in Wikipedia.


Early history:

Armoured stock history:

Pociąg pancerny 'Śmiały' w 1920.
"Śmiały" in 1920 - this artillery wagon (rearmed here with 80mm gun) and infantry wagon will be later found in "Śmierć". [3]

The Austro-Hungarian army employed at least 12 armoured trains during World War I. Most of them consisted of a standard type armoured stock, but their detailed composition differed. Apart from the trains with two artillery wagons and one infantry wagon, hauled by two locomotives, there existed trains with one artillery wagon or with sole infantry wagons. One of stronger trains was captured at Cracov-Prokocim station in Cracov by the underground Polish Military Organization (W) (POW) on 1 November 1918 note 1. The captured train was in fact a mix of K.u.K PZ.III (Panzerzug III) and PZ.VIII armoured trains in their late composition – with one infantry wagon originally coming from the PZ.I and another from the PZ.IV (some sources claim it was the whole 3rd Armoured Train Division). It consisted of two armoured locomotives series 377, two standard type artillery wagons and two (or three) standard infantry wagons note 2. On 3 November 1918 the train was manned by the Polish crew, and soon divided into two trains: P.P.1 "Piłsudczyk" and P.P.2 "Śmiały", becoming the first regular armoured trains in the Polish service. Each train was given one locomotive, one artillery wagon and one infantry wagon, and then completed with further Polish-built improvised armoured wagons. Both trains were at once moved to Przemyśl (W) and Lwów (Lviv) (W), in order to defend these cities against the Ukrainians note 3.

Both "Śmiały" and "Piłsudczyk" fought in Polish-Ukrainian war 1918-1919 (W) and Polish-Soviet war 1919-1920 (W). In 1921 both trains were equipped with modern artillery wagons of a Polish design (type III). The old Austro-Hungarian artillery wagon of "Śmiały" was given to armoured train "Zagończyk", which was in turn decomposed in 1929. "Piłsudczyk" gave away its old rolling stock at that time as well. Finally, in the 1920s both ex-Austro-Hungarian artillery wagons and one assault wagon were assigned to the armoured train "Śmierć", but the exact date is not sure (the other assault wagon went to "Pierwszy Marszałek"). A final composition of the Polish armoured trains was established in 1929.

A badge on one of 'Smierc' wagons in 1920
A badge on the train's wagon in 1920-21.

"Śmierć" early history

The original armoured train "Śmierć" was created in August 1920 at Zieleniewski Factory in Cracov, and was assigned a number 23 (P.P. 23 - Pociąg pancerny - armoured train nr 23). At that time, the Red Army had repelled the Polish and Ukrainian forces from eastern Ukraine and was advancing towards Lviv and Warsaw. In July 1920, the Polish headquarters ordered a haste construction of several new armoured trains, to compensate for units lost during withdrawal fights. The Armoured Trains' Construction Management (KBPP) in Cracov raised two trains: the "Śmierć" and the "Bartosz Głowacki". The first train was being constructed under a name "Śmierć komunie" (Death to the communism), in a spirit of Soviet trains' names, like "Smiert' Direktorii" (Death to the Directory (W)) or "Smiert' parazitam" (Death to the parasites), but the Polish headquarters accepted only the name "Śmierć" (Death). A commander, Lt. Henryk Amrogowicz and most of the crew came from a destroyed wide-gauge train P.P.5 "Piłsudczyk-szeroki".

"Śmierć" during a ceremony on 18 August 1920 at Grzegórzki station in Cracov - visible is a steel-protected wagon and a 73 class fully armoured locomotive.
[family archive of M. Żurawska]

Because of a military situation, not entirely completed train was handed to the Army on 18 August 1920 r. in Cracov and moved to front to Łowicz - Nieszawa area, assigned to the 5th Army. A great battle of Warsaw [W] had just ended with the Polish victory by that time, so the train was moved to Lublin, assigned to the 3rd Army of the Central Front. It distinguished itself in fighting against Budionny's Konarmia (1st Cavalry Army) [W] near Zamość [W]. In late September it was moved to Brest-Litovsk area and guarded a bridge on the Muchawiec (Mukhaviets). Then it was moved to Vilnius region. It took part in operation of occupying Vilnius, under a pretext of Gen. Żeligowski's "mutiny" [W]. As a result, a puppet state, Central Lithuania [W] was created. Apparently in connection with it, the train was renamed to "Pogoń" (The Chase, a coat of arm of Lithuania [W]) - but soon renamed back (on 7 December 1920?).

Initially the train consisted mainly of improvised armoured rolling stock, made of covered wooden freight wagons, partially protected with concrete and other materials. It had also at least one steel-protected infantry wagon. According to K. Margasiński, it was composed of one artillery wagon with 8cm fortress gun, two infantry wagons with machine guns, one searchlight wagon, two ammunition wagons and two flatcars. The Austrian 8cm gun was probably fitted in ahead-firing casemate mounting. Other armament were 10 Russian Maxim 7.62 mm MGs and 2 Colt MGs (7.62 mm M1895 or M1914 [W]) and 130 rifles. Only in October, after hostilities, the train received second, unknown artillery wagon. A photograph shows, that initially the train temporarily had a 73 class locomotive with less common full armour, without commander's turret (probably it was 73.157, built in early August 1920 in Cracov for the incomplete "Orzeł Biały" train, then used temporarily in the "Pierwszy Marszałek"). By 1 September 1920, the train received a fully-armoured G51-4018 locomotive (no information on its original railway direction).

Interwar period

Early Smierc G5-series locomotive
"Śmierć" in early 1920s, with G51-4018 locomotive, armoured in Warsaw (according to an inscription). [collection of M. Sosenko]

After the war, in June 1921, the "Śmierć" was assigned for further service, among 12 trains left in service, and it was given new number 8 (P.P. 8). Its commander in that period was Lt. Czesław Kowalski. The train's half-improvised rolling stock was changed to more valuable one, but the details aren't known so far. In winter of 1923/24, most Polish armoured trains were demobilised and stored - among them was also "Śmierć". The train apparently wasn't brought back from reserve to active service before a mobilization in 1939. It is not know, when exactly it received its final ex-Austro-Hungarian stock (two artillery wagons and one assault wagon), but it was done by December 1929, when a number of Polish trains was reduced to 10 and their final compositions were established. However, on contrary to the rest of Polish trains, a composition in which the "Śmierć" went to another war, differed from its established one.

In early 1930s, the train's stock underwent some modernization, like other Polish trains. It received radio and signal equipment, and an armoured locomotive was changed to the standard type Ti3 (G53). The Austro-Hungarian artillery wagons were rebuilt, their armament was standardized (75mm wz.02/26 guns and wz.08 machine guns) and they received anti-aircraft machine gun turrets. In 1928, the "Śmierć" was assigned to the 1st Armoured Train Unit (1. Dywizjon Pociągów Pancernych) in Legionowo (W), near Warsaw.

In August-September 1939, during a mobilization, the 1st Armoured Train Unit formed five trains, among them light armoured train Nr. 15 of former stock of the "Śmierć" (the names were not used anymore officially). For many years it was believed in publications, that the train Nr.15 had a composition of two Austro Hungarian wagons armed with single 75 mm cannons, and one assault wagon. Such version was also initially present on our page. Only recently it has been researched[6] and confirmed with newly revealed photos, that during the mobilization the train was given an other artillery wagon, armed with a 100mm howitzer, to strengthen its firepower. It is however not sure, if it retained both original artillery wagons. J. Magnuski claimed[6] that it had three artillery wagons, but according to a regulation, an armoured train's composition was only two artillery wagons, with an appropriate number of crew. Also, there are no photos of a captured train that would show both original wagons.

"Śmierć" ("Smierc" without Polish characters) means "Death". It is pronounced in English like: [ Shmy-air-tch ], but softer.

Armoured trains of the 1st Armoured Train Unit: Nos. 11, 12, 13, 14, 15

Combat use in 1939:

The train Nr.15 at Modlin station, captured by the Germans. Especially visible is a new howitzer wagon.
Lower photo courtesy of Artur Przeczek (photos of this wagon were revealed to wider public for the first time here).

The armoured train Nr. 15 was commanded by Cpt. (kapitan) Kazimierz Kubaszewski. The train was initially at the Polish C-in-C disposal. It completed its mobilization in Legionowo only on 4 September 1939, then was assigned to the Army "Modlin" (deployment map). During the next day, the train operated on a line Nasielsk (W) - Ciechanów (W), and along with the train Nr.13, appeared very useful, fulfilling reconnaissance duties and providing the Army staff with situation reports. One of its armoured draisines Tatra was destroyed that day by AT-guns during a patrol near Nasielsk town.

From 8 September the train was subordinated to Modlin fortress (W) Defence HQ. On the next day, due to a damaged bridge on the Bugo-Narew (W), the armoured train lost contact with its auxiliary section, and had to operate without it (the auxiliary section went to Legionowo, then to Warsaw). When the German siege of Modlin started, from about 15 September, the train was used as a mobile artillery in the fortress area, manoeuvring on a several kilometer track between Modlin and Pomiechówek [W] stations. It was assigned to support a battalion of the 32nd Regiment of the 28th Infantry Division, holding Pomiechówek area. The train appeared quite efficient in supporting Polish defenders, firing at pointed targets and helping to repel enemy attacks. On 19 September it was even fighting an artillery duel with its German adversary - armoured train Panzerzug 7, acting on a track Nasielsk-Pomiechówek. On 22 September it supported Polish II/36 battalion in a successful night counter-attack near Pomiechówek, which repelled the enemy from a right bank of the Wkra river.

During the next days, the train was not used that much due to enemy artillery superiority and ammunition shortages in the fortress. The train was mainly staying in a railway track excavation near "Ostrołęka" fort at that time. On 25 September the assault wagon was hit and burned by enemy artillery. Also the locomotive was damaged and reportedly replaced with a regular one (photos taken by the Germans after the siege show the train with the armoured locomotive, although fire-damaged, so it was possibly moved with external locomotive). Finally, on 29 September, the lonely fortress surrendered as one of last points of resistance in Poland. The crew destroyed the train's armament then. The train Nr.15 was the last Polish fighting armoured train. It was not used by the Germans after capture, although they impressed into service seized Czechoslovak trains with the same Austro-Hungarian wagons.

Main source: [2]

From left: a howitzer wagon with weapons dismounted, Ti3-5 armoured locomotive and original artillery wagon, captured by the Germans in Modlin. A tender had been stripped of armour. In a background are ordinary locomotives (the first probably of Ty23 class). [9]
Armoured trains of the 1st Armoured Train Unit: Nos. 11, 12, 13, 14, 15

Train's composition in 1939:

The light armoured train Nr. 15 consisted of:

Drawing from late 1930s [5] - in 1939, the train had a howitzer wagon instead of one of artillery wagons or additional
Armoured Train Nr. 15 (source - 5)
flatcar artillery wagon assault wagon armoured locomotive artillery wagon flatcar

A length of a whole armoured part (including flatcars), with two artillery wagons, was 69 m (226 ft), weight: 215 t[5]. "Śmierć" was a light armoured train, so the armoured section's crew was presumably only about 80 men (about 95 with the third artillery wagon). The whole armoured train's crew was probably up to 155. From late 1930s and in 1939, the train was painted in a standard three-color camouflage of the Polish vehicles, of brown green and dark brown irregular patches upon a greyish sand basic color.

The armoured train, as a military unit, consisted of: an armoured section, a platoon of armoured draisines and an unarmoured auxiliary section. The armoured section and armoured draisines were the combat section of the armoured train, while the auxiliary section was supporting the operation of the combat section in respect of logistics and accommodation, and did not take part in combat.


Locomotive:

Armoured train  Nr.15 captured in Modlin

A standard locomotive of Polish armoured trains from 1927 was the armoured steam locomotive series Ti3 (former Prussian series G53), fitted with a full armour in Poland. The locomotive of Nr.15 train was Ti3-5 (former G53-4025 Danzig), manufactured in 1904 by Hanomag, factory number 4118. The locomotive had a standard command turret upon a tender and was fitted with a short-range radio RKB/C to contact the draisines (more on Ti3 page).

Right: the train abandoned in Modlin, with Ti3-5 locomotive and two artillery wagons visible.

Artillery wagons:

Modified artillery wagon
Modified artillery wagon 153 650 in late 1930s. [1,4,9]
Turret of the wagon captured by the Germans in Modlin[9]

In the 1930s, armoured train Nr.15 ("Śmierć") had two two-axle artillery wagons of the standard Austro-Hungarian type, built by MAV railway workshops and MAVAG factory in Budapest. Their original numbers were 141 164 and 141 455, the later was changed in Polish service to 153 650. In the 1930s they were modernized in Poland.

Each was armed with one 75mm wz. 02/26 (modified "3in" Putilov) field gun in a turret at one end. At the beginning of the service, the wagons were armed with 70mm SFK L/30 naval guns, replaced in 1920 with Austro-Hungarian 80mm M. 5/8 guns. Armament change to 75 mm guns demanded lengthening of a gun mask. A horizontal angle of fire was about 240°. Other armament consisted of two 7.92mm wz. 08 (Maxim) machine guns in cylindrical mountings in side doors. With partially open doors, the machine guns could flank-fire towards train's ends (a photo). It was Polish improvement of original wagons – originally they had simple casemates for 8 mm Schwarzlose M.7/12 machine guns in the sides, and a door was in a rear end wall only. Also in the 1930s there was added one 7.92mm wz. 08 anti-aircraft machine gun in a small turret on the roof, replacing an original high rectangular superstructure with one MG fixed towards the wagon's front and an observation cupola above. A maximum elevation of the AAMG was 90°. The ammunition carried in the wagon was presumably 3750 rounds per each MG (in 250-round belts) and 120 artillery rounds per gun, like in other Polish trains.

- a color drawing of an original wagon in "Śmiały"[3]
- a drawing of a modified wagon[4]

The armour thickness was 8 - 12mm. The wagons had no armour plating in fact, but were protected with 12mm regular steel plates. Since Austro-Hungarian Army found the design too vulnerable to machine gun bullets, the protection was strengthened from the inside with 40mm oak wood layer and the second layer of 9mm sheet steel, which proved quite enough against machine guns and splinters[3].

The wagon's length was 7.9 m; axle interval - 3.6 m; weight - about 21 t. The crew was about 12-15 men [3].


The third artillery wagon of the train Nr. 15 at Modlin station, captured by the Germans.
Photo courtesy of Artur Przeczek (photos of this wagon were revealed to wider public for the first time here).

During the mobilization in 1939, the train Nr. 15 was equipped with a howitzer-armed artillery wagon, to strengthen its firepower (probably replacing one of the wagons above). It was two-axle, built in summer of 1920 in Lwów, according to the Polish design by KBPP Lwów armoured train construction management. It was probably the wagon used in the train "Piłsudczyk" in 1920-21, then completely rebuilt, retaining its configuration with a single turret at the end, but changing its look. In the 1930s it remained in a reserve. It probably had number 430 047 (former Ommku 248 193).

The wagon was armed with one 100mm wz. 14/19A howitzer in a turret, rotating at 360°. Other armament consisted of two 7.92mm wz. 08 Maxim machineguns in cylindrical mountings in wagon's sides and the third anti-aircraft wz.08 MG in a small turret on a roof. There is no information about its armour - it was similar to other Polish armoured trains, possibly made of thick boiler steel.




Assault wagon:

Assault wagon with Polish modifications and camouflage in late 1930s. [1,4]

The assault wagon (Polish nomenclature) was intended for a transportation of an assault platoon. The two-axle assault wagon of the "Śmierć" was an original Austro-Hungarian infantry wagon, rebuilt in Poland in the 1930s. Four hollow casemates for machine guns in sides were replaced with flat armour plates with Polish cylindrical MG mountings, and a two-leaf door was cut in each side, near the end (earlier it had doors in its end walls only). A small observation turret on a roof (offset to one wagon's end) was removed. The wagon's number in Polish service was 390 243, its original number was S150 060. It was first used in Austro-Hungarian armoured train PZ.I, then PZ.VIII, then, during the Polish-Soviet war, in the train "Śmiały".

The wagon's armament was four 7.92mm wz.08 MG's in the sides. The ammunition was probably 3,750 per MG (in 250-round belts). The wagon had also numerous loopholes for rifles in sides. The armour was similar to artillery wagons. The assault platoon consisted of 32 men (1 officer, 7 NCO's, 24 soldiers, with 2 LMG's). A total wagon's crew was about 40 (with signalmen and stretcher-bearers).

Since early 1930s, the assault wagon was equipped with a long-range radio RKD/P (range - up to 100km), placed in a separate radio cab in the middle of the wagon. The wagon was fitted with a power generator, batteries and a large clothes line aerial on the roof, with two rows of five aerial masts. Apart from doors in both sides and end walls, the wagon also had a hatch in a bottom. The wagon's length was 7.90 m, axle interval - 3.6m[3].

- a drawing of a modified wagon[4]

Left: Locomotive Ti3-5 with a fire-damaged driver's cab.
Right: Burned out assault wagon, with a damaged axle, and artillery wagons, in Modlin, winter 1939/40.

Flatcars:

On both ends of the armoured train there were two two-axle flatcars. Their primary function was to protect the train against mines or a derailment. They were also adapted to carry engineering materials (tools, rails and sleepers, logs, explosives etc.) and also bicycles and scout motorcycles (part of it was carried on the auxiliary train's flatcars).

The standard flatcar was series Pdkz, type VIIIC[3]. Weight - about 10 t, load capacity - 17.5 t, length - 13 m (511 in), wheelbase - 8 m (315 in). According to other sources, Pdks series two-axle flatcars were used[9].


Tatra draisine of the train Nr.15 destroyed on 5 September 1939 near Nasielsk.

Armoured draisines platoon:

Each Polish armoured train in 1939 had a platoon of armoured draisines (scout rail vehicles). The train Nr.15 had non-standard platoon of only two older draisines Tatra.


Auxiliary train:

Each armoured train, considered as a military unit, also included an unarmoured auxiliary section. The auxiliary section accompanied the combat section in operational movements and provided it with an accommodation and logistics support. It was manned by a platoon consisting of 1 officer, 21 NCO's and 26 soldiers. The length of the auxiliary section of the train was about 250 m (820 ft).

The auxiliary train consisted of: a locomotive, coaches for officers (2), wagons for NCOs (2) and soldiers (8), bureau wagon, ammunition wagons (2), a fuel store wagon, a technical store wagon, an armoury wagon, an ambulance coach, a kitchen coach, a workshop wagon, a coal wagon, a water tanker and flatcars (5) - some 23 carriages (source [2]). The coaches were three-axle Dy type, the wagons were by default two-axle freight wagons Kd type, the flatcars were two- or four-axle.

The auxiliary train also had two wz.34 half-tracked trucks, one truck (Polski FIAT 621?) and four motorcycles with sidecars CWS M-111 - carried upon three flatcars. Wz.34 half-tracks were in the repair patrol, and they could be equipped with a rail-riding device.

Armoured trains of the 1st Armoured Train Unit: Nos. 11, 12, 13, 14, 15



All corrections and additional information or better pictures are welcome!

Our Thanks to Jarkko Vihavainen, Jerzy S. Prajzner, Arthur Przeczek and Krzysztof Margasiński.


Notes:

  1. Captured on 1 November 1918 according to [3]. Other date - 28 October 1918 appears in some sources.
  2. According to photos, the infantry wagon 140.866 (with central observation turret) was assigned to PP.1 "Piłsudczyk" (J. Magnuski gives erroneous number Ku 150.060 in 1983 Military Modelling article) and wagon S150 060 (with offset observation turret) to PP.2 "Śmiały". According to the German sources, the Polish also captured the third infantry wagon S148.066, but its fate is not known and it is not clear, if it was actually captured. These sources claim, that the third wagon was scrapped, which is quite unlikely, until the end of Polish-Soviet war at least, considering needs of armoured rolling stock.
  3. In 1918, Poland regained independence after some 120 years, while the Ukrainians had a new-born national awareness and were aiming at their own country. In Eastern Galicia (W) (the province with Lviv) the Poles and Ukrainians were mixed, and both nations were claiming their rights to the province. Lviv itself was mostly Polish-inhabited and was a major centre of Polish culture. In addition, at that time there existed two separate Ukrainian states - on eastern and western territories, not counting the Soviet Ukraine. After the Poles had defended Lviv (W) and took control upon Eastern Galicia, the Polish head of state Marshal Piłsudski attempted to help Eastern Ukraine defend its independence against the Soviets. In the Polish-Soviet war, allied Ukrainian (and Belorussian) units were fighting on the Polish side. Despite allied efforts, Ukraine lost the independence and became a Soviet republic for 70 years. Between the World Wars, Lviv was Polish Lwów, now it belongs to independent Ukraine.

Sources:

1. Janusz Magnuski: "Pociąg pancerny 'Danuta'", Typy Broni i Uzbrojenia (TBiU) No.18; Warsaw 1972
2. Rajmund Szubański: "Polska broń pancerna w 1939 roku"; Warsaw 2004
3. Janusz Magnuski: "Pociąg pancerny 'Śmiały' w trzech wojnach", Pelta, Warsaw 1996
4. Paul Malmassari: "Les Trains Blindes 1826 - 1989"; Editions Heimdal, 1989
5. Tadeusz Jurga: "Regularne jednostki Wojska Polskiego w 1939 r. Organizacja, działania bojowe..."; Warsaw 1975.
6. Janusz Magnuski: "50 lat września - Broń pancerna" in: Wojskowy Przegląd Techniczny nr 9/1989.
7. [Collective work]: "Pociągi pancerne 1918-1943", Bialystok 1999
8. Marian Żebrowski: "Zarys historii polskiej broni pancernej", London 1971
9. Adam Jońca: "Pociągi z Legionowa" in: Do Broni! special issue 2/2009


Updated:
29.02.2012 - enhanced information on early service, small improvements, added photo
09.01.2011 - added photo, small improvements
04.01.2011 - modernized, improved text, added photos
02.07.2004 - added information about the third artillery wagon.
03.06.2002 - modernized, improved text
21.10.2001 - revised and improved, drawing added.
16.05.2000 - old pictures replaced with the same, nicer and bigger ones. Added drawings, and improved text.


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Text copyright Michal Derela © 1999-2011

All photos and pictures remain the property of their owners, unless they are public domain. They are published in non-commercial educational and research purpose. Uncredited photos (and some of credited ones) were mostly taken by unknown German soldiers.