Military railways

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Armoured trains, like this Slovak example, are one form of military use of railways

The military use of railways derives from their ability to move troops or materiel rapidly and, less usually, on their use as a platform for military systems, like armoured trains, in their own right. Railways have been employed for military purposes since the Crimean War in the 1850s. Improvements in other forms of transport have rendered railways less important to the military since the end of World War II and the Cold War, although they are still employed for the transport of armoured vehicles to and from exercises or the mass transport of vehicles to a theatre of operations.

Due to the expense and time required to build specifically military railway networks, military use of railways is usually based on a pre-existing civilian railway network rather than a military-owned one. However, specialized military types of rolling stock have frequently been used. Military railway is usually built and operated by railway troops.

Military railways[edit]

Railways in war[edit]

White Russian troops on a military train during the Russian Civil War, 1919
Italian military accompanied by his wife and two sons to the military railways, during World War I.
Finnish military vehicles being transported by train, 2008

Crimean War[edit]

One of the first uses of military railways was to establish a reliable supply to British Army troops besieging the city of Sevastopol from Balaklava during the severe winter of 1855 in the Crimean War. The Grand Crimean Central Railway was just 7 miles (11 km) long, and was purpose built.

American Civil War[edit]

The American Civil War in 1861 -1865 was the first large war in which railroads were both a major tool and a major target of military action. A few railroads were custom built:

Paraguayan War[edit]

In 1867 during the Paraguayan War some ironclad vessels of the Brazilian navy became trapped on the River Paraguay between the enemy Paraguayan forts of Curupaty and Humaitá. To keep them supplied with fuel, ammunition and provisions the Brazilian ministry of marine ordered an emergency military railway to be built through the almost impenetrable coastal region of the Chaco. The sleepers of this line almost floated over the boggy ground. This supply line was known as the Affonso Celso, and sustained the ironclads in their precarious position for six months, until they were able to dash past the Fortress of Humaitá in an incident known as the Passage of Humaitá.

Russian use in Asia[edit]

The Trans-Siberian Railway (Транссибирская железнодорожная магистраль - Транссиб), before 1917 was called the Great Siberian Route (Великий Сибирский Путь). First construction begun on 19 May (31 May) 1891. It was used in the Russo-Japanese War and Russian Civil War.

Mahdist War[edit]

In 1896-98 during the Mahdist War, Kitchener built the Sudan Military Railroad extending the Egyptian railways into the Sudan.

World War I[edit]

Narrow gauge military railways serviced the Western Front, see Trench railways, Decauville (French), Feldbahn and Heeresfeldbahn (German and Austrian) and War Department Light Railways (British).

World War II[edit]

German bombing of Polish railways contributed greatly to the swift success of the 1939 invasion of Poland.

Japan built several railways for military purposes, notably the Burma-Siam Railway, known as the Death Railway because of the number of Allied prisoners-of-war and Asian labourers who died to construct it.

The existing Northeast Indian Railways were expanded by the Americans to supply China via the Ledo Road.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

  • "They're Highballing Now." Popular Science, February 1945, pp. 77–83, article on the landing of 1000s of rolling stock across D-Day beaches During World War II and rebuilding of French railways.

Sources and references[edit]

  • Vecamer, Arvo L., Deutsche Reichsbahn: The German State Railway in WWII, [1]
  • Connor, W.D., Maj., Military Railways, Professional Papers No.32, Corps of Engineers US Army, Revised edition 1917, Government Printing Office, Washington DC, 1917.