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A Russian armoured train has been spotted near the front lines in the Russia-Ukraine war.
Video uploaded to social media showed a train of multiple carriages, including some with a distinctive armoured profile, reportedly near Melitopol, marked with the white ‘Z’ symbol which adorns Russian invasion force vehicles.
A Kyiv Independent reporter said the train was being used in battle near Mariupol, but there was no way to verify that. Russia claims the train has been used to evacuate civilians.
Armoured trains, rarely in use today, date back to a time when rail was one of the most important methods of supplying large armies on the front lines.
First used in the American Civil War, heavily protected and armed trains came into their own during the Russian civil war and later, during the German invasion of Russia in 1941.
At the time, fighting raged along rail lines and opposing forces battled for control of railheads, the furthest point of a rail line and therefore, the quickest supply route.
Lorries were far less durable during this era than today and most armies still relied on horses for logistics — even in the Second World War.
Many countries simply did not have the road networks available to support sending thousands of tons of supplies to the front.
Between the First World War and 1945, most major armies in the world had at least one armoured train to defend vital rail supply routes.
Russia's military rail logistics
Across Russia’s vast distances following Hitler’s 1941 invasion, German rail transport could be vulnerable to attack by Russian partisans, while Russian trains were vulnerable from the air. Subsequently, armoured trains were frequently fitted with artillery pieces, machine guns, anti tank guns and even tank turrets.
Many of the Russian armoured trains were captured by the Nazis in the first year of Operation Barbarossa, Hitler’s bid to control Russia. But Russia put more into service once Moscow recovered from the initial German advances.
Armoured trains eventually fell out of use as Russia advanced into Germany.
By then, US supplies of lorries and jeeps to Soviet forces increased substantially, reaching 400,000 vehicles supplied through the Lend Lease programme by the end of the Second World War. Generals had far more logistical options and were no longer focused on controlling railways.
Since then, armoured trains have seldom been used, although Russia reportedly sent one to protect a rail supply route during the 1999 war in Chechnya.
For Russia's invasion of Ukraine, rail has once again been vital for Russian forces, and it seems Russia is still concerned its supply trains could be vulnerable to attack.