Today I want to take a quick overview of an armoured vehicle that has one of the most remarkable careers I've ever read about.
At the end of World War One conditions in eastern Europe were unique. The two dominating empires (Ottoman and Imperial Russia) had collapsed. This meant that lots of areas with differing ethnicity from the bigger empire saw the chance to try for independence. Of course, if you're setting up a state what sort of government do you want? So within those separate countries you would have competing factions. There were also scattered groups of Anarchists. As most of the countries in the world were rapidly disarming there was also a massive surplus of weaponry for those groups and movements to equip themselves.
In addition to the above, most western governments decided to supply troops to fight the Bolsheviks.
So in the period for the decade after World War One you had a huge swirling pot of conflicting groups. All trying to kill off the other groups. I would mention, this is a bit of an oversimplification.
The other unique thing at the time was that Tanks and other armoured vehicles were more akin to siege weapons. You use them to break a front line. Trains were the important weapon of the age. You could move armies and keep them supplied by train. Rail networks were much more extensive than they are today.
The "tanks" of this type of warfare, providing massive firepower, while protected against most retaliation, were the armoured trains. While most armoured trains are of the style one immediately thinks off, a number of wagons and a single engine. There was another class, engines and weapons were all mounted on one wagon. These are called "Draisine's". Both types were still in use after world war two.
One such Draisine was built in 1916, and this is the remarkable vehicle I wish to look at. When built she was called Zaamurets. Throughout her history could be used with other rolling stock to form various armoured trains. But during this article we're following the life of the Draisine, either as part of a larger train or operating on her own.
Zaamurets has had many names over her years of service; Glory of Ukraine, Polupanov's Boys, Death or Freedom, Lennin, BP-4, Train No 105. However for this article I will use the name she bore for the majority of her time, Orlik ("Young Eagle"). When built she had two 60 HP engines, 16mm of armour and two turrets with full rotation. In a 1917 refit she had 8 Machine guns fitted at various places. Both turrets were armed with 57mm field guns.
Orliks early history is patchy, she has appeared in the service of Both Germans and Imperial Russians. At the time of the Bolshevik Revolution she was at Odessa rail-yards undergoing repairs. During the next year she appears in the service of Ukrainian nationals, Bolsheviks and Germans.
What is certain is in January 1918 the Germans hand her over to a Ukrainian warlord called Skoropadskiy. Within weeks she gets recaptured by the Bolsheviks and is at Kiev.
During March 1918 Orlik is damaged, abandoned and recaptured in fighting against Anarchists. Then repaired and back in the fight, this time against Romanians. There follows a refit at Odessa. After that she is used to fight against German forces, where field guns damage her. To round up a busy month, another refit and redeployment to the 1st Revolutionary Army.
The Czech Legion were a formation of Czech and Slovaks fighting against Germany hoping to win independence for their regions. Due to various reasons the Legion ended up fighting the Bolsheviks and taking control of the Trans-Siberian railway. One of the pieces they captured from the Bolsheviks, at the fighting at Simbrisk (22nd July 1918) was Orlik, as they named her. With no supplies of shells for the 57mm guns they re-armed her with 76mm 1902 field guns.
Whilst in service with the Czech legion, she was briefly owned by the Japanese after they sized her in a Manchurian town. As the Japanese were allied to the Czech legion she was returned after negotiations.
When the Czech legion evacuated from Vladivostok they gifted Orlik to the White Russians who carried on using her to fight the Reds until they evacuated into China in 1922. Orlik then entered Chinese service, serving under several different warlords until 1931 when the Japanese captured her and put her into service.
And that's where the trail dries up. No further records are know of the fate of Orlik. While its a nice image to think of her sitting in some siding somewhere just awaiting re-discovery the turbulent nature of the area, both militarily and politically make it unlikely.