Deutsche Reichsbahn – The German State Railway

WW2 German Railway - Deutsche ReichsbahnThe primary focus of this article will be to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of theDeutsche Reichsbahn Gesellschaft (DRG, also DR for short). It need be noted thatthe DR was first and foremost a civilian or commercial organization, supporting theneeds of the German Wehrmacht if and when ordered to do so. In times of war, the DRadhered to military regulations and as such was placed under the guidance of the GermanArmy General Staff’s Transportation Division. Despite the military’s control ofthe DR during the war, the DR also continued to serve the needs of German or Germancontrolled economic entities (industry, civilian traffic, etc.). The DR was a separateentity from the German military’s rail arm.

Germany’s “Panzerzuege” (Armored Trains) were controlled and commandeddirectly by the German military at all times. Only in rare circumstances did theyengage themselves in transporting goods or troops. In most of these circumstances, thePanzerzuege were called to assist another train to remove itself from harm’s way (breakdown,enemy action, etc.).

The DR’s last major peacetime assignment prior to the start of theSecond World War was to transport all of the Wehrmacht’s (WH) 86 non-motorized divisionsto their respective (offensive) staging positions along the Polish border and totheir (defensive) positions along Germany’s western borders. This task was successfullyaccomplished by the DR prior to 01 September 1939.

Throughout the Polish campaign, the DR was able to satisfy all of the supplyand movement needs of the German Army despite the fact that Polish militaryforces successfully disrupted, if not outrightly destroyed, large sections of thePolish railway network as they retreated inward. The Luftwaffe (LH) contributed to thedamage inflicted onto the Polish rail lines by bombing numerous key Polish railwayjunctions and yards as they completed their interdiction assignments. At the conclusionof the Polish Campaign, all of the battles damaged Polish rail lines had to be repairedbefore the DR could gain unimpeded access to the entire Polish railway network in the newGeneral-Government (GG). By the middle of October 1939, the DR and the WHhad re-established full rail service between Berlin and Koenigsberg and Breslauto Oppeln, both via Warsaw.

During the Polish campaign, the DR not only played a key role in movinglarge numbersof German troops to their front-line positions, the DR also evacuatedwounded troopsback to rear areas and often served as portable field kitchens for largerconcentrations oftroops.

On the negative side, the DR and the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW)quicklyrealized that the WH did not possess sufficient numbers of Eisenbahnpionier(railwayengineer) troops. As a result of this deficit, many key sections of the Polishtrack remainedunpassable for periods of time exceeding the desires of the OKW. Quickly, acrashtraining program was initiated for the creation of an additional railwayengineer troops. Ofnote is that for this effort, not only did the DR and the Reichsarbeitsdienst (RAD) provided the needed personnel – (ethnic) Polish railroading companies orenterpriseswere also contracted (salaried) to support the German war effort. Thus, alarge numberof already trained and qualified former Polish railway personnel werepressed intoGerman service. As the Germans occupied one nation after another, nativenationalswere also pressed into service as auxiliary railway personnel in theirrespective nations -this included many Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians as well as Slavicpeoples on theeastern front. For the overwhelming number of cases, however, the DRperformed itsduties as expected using German forces as they were available.

On 26 October 1939, the “Gedob” (Generaldirektion der Ostbahn) wasestablished withit’s headquarters in Warsaw. This was a separate entity from the DR and itwasresponsible for the administration of the railways in the GG (Poland).Within the Gedobstructure, a number of sub-sections or sub-units were also created to betterserve theneeds of the German military. From 1939 to 1941, Gedob controlled only therail lines inthe GG. After 1941, the rail lines of ex-Austrian Galacia were added to theGedob.Gedob had to start from scratch as Germany was not in a position at thattime to redirect”surplus” rolling stock to the new entity. For example, Gedob was forced torequisitionor refurbish all of the surviving rolling stock of the former Polish railsystem.Regretfully, much of the Polish system was seriously damaged in the fourweeks offighting. The DR trains were naturally recalled to perform other duties inGermanyproper and in other war theaters.

After the fall of Poland, the DR’s primary responsibilities were to ensurethe fulfillmentof the terms of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed in August of 1939. Asmayberecalled, in return for Soviet “neutrality” during the German campaignagainst Poland,the Soviet Union was obliged to deliver large quantities of goods (primarilyfoodstuffsand raw materials) to Germany. Because Germany and Poland used standardgauge raillines (1435mm) and the Soviets continued to use the Czarist era’s wide gaugelines(1528mm) – Germany was obliged to construct two special gauge conversionyards on theGerman-Soviet border. One such yard was built in Malaszevica(Brest-Litovsk) and theother in Przemsyl. 66% of the required Soviet deliveries were trans-shippedthroughthese two rail yards. Naturally, these two rail yards also became key railcenters onceGermany began with Operation Barbarossa.

Starting in October of 1940, the DR and the Gedob were given ordersto prepareand expand the existing German rail network in the east for a militarycampaign againstthe Soviet Union. The goal was to double the existing rail transportationcapacities. Thisentire undertaking fell under the auspices of the “Otto” Program.Approximately 30.000German and Polish railway employees worked for the program; 60% of thefunding camefrom Germany and the remaining 40% from the GG. Despite losing 10.000″Otto”program participants to the mandatory “Winterhilfe” duties in Poland duringthe winterof 1940/1941 and considering the sheer enormity of the project itself – the”Otto”program met its goals on 15 June 1941.

In 1939, 84 trains moved eastwards every day – by June of 1941, eight monthsafter thestart of the “Otto” program, 220 trains moved eastwards every day. Many ofthe DRtrains serving the needs of the WH during this period were cleverlydisguised as normalcivilian trains. After all, the goal was to move 141 German divisions tothe Soviet borderwithout detection. During the first five months of 1941, nearly 34.000trainloads ofsupplies and troops were unloaded in the east. Remarkably, the German andPolish raillines in the east were not used to their maximum capacities during thebuild-up period.This, in fact, benefited the civilian rail commerce greatly and later, itallowed Germany toadjust to the realities of war faster than anticipated or originally plannedfor.

Without a doubt, the German railway transportation system played a far morestrategicrole on the eastern front than it did in any other German theater of war.With theexception of the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) and areas incloseproximity to larger Soviet urban or industrial/production centers, the railand groundtransportation network of the Soviet Union was in a more primitive state of existencewhen compared to western Europe or the United States.

German military railroad planners made one critical error in theirBarbarossa calculations- they did not take the primitiveness of the Soviet interior into accountwhen planning fortheir attack. This would cost the Germans dearly later.

In the west, the problems encountered were minimal. All of the defeatednations usedstandard gauge rail lines. With little effort, these new networks wereamalgamated intothe German system. Only Spain used wide gauge lines, but as long as Spainremained aneutral, this really did not affect the German military situation any.

One of the first actions taken by the German Transportation Divisionto prepareitself for the upcoming war with the Soviet Union was to complete apreliminary analysisof the Soviet rail network.This effort highlighted the following – only four major east-west running trunk lines connected the western borderregions ofthe Soviet Union (including the recently annexed regions of Poland and theBaltic Statesof Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) with Soviet rear areas:

  • Niemen river to Leningrad (double track)
  • Bug river to Orsha to Moscow (double track)
  • Bug river to Kremenchug to the Donets basin (double track)
  • San river to Odessa (double track)

The four above named trunk-lines were intersected by only six majornorth-south running trunk lines:

  • Koeningsberg to Kremenchug (double track)
  • Riga to Orsha to Kharkov to the Donets basin (double track)
  • Odessa to Orsha to Leningrad (double track)
  • Sevastopol to Kharkov to Moscow to Archanglesk (double track)
  • Leningrad to Moscow to the Donets to the Caucasus (double track)
  • Leningrad to Moscow to the Caucasus (double track)

A vital rail line also extended from Leningrad to Murmansk (double track).From rear area cities such as Moscow and Leningrad, the main rail lines,in double track format, went further east into Siberia and on to Vladivostok. (However, forthe purposes of their planning purposes, the Germans concentrated their planning effortson the European portions of Russia.

This rather sparse network was fed by numerous smaller, single track,feeder lines whosetransport capacities were far from optimal. In fact, the majority of theSoviet rail linenetwork was the same as it had been for the Czars armies 20 years earlier.In someregions of the Soviet Union, single-track rail lines existed for no apparentreason.

Only three important industrial or urban centers contained a dense networkof rail lines;the Donets industrial region, Leningrad, and Moscow. Moscow was, in fact, akey hub; cutoff Moscow and the entire Soviet rail network would be seriously crippled.

Signals and rail safety efforts were primitive when compared to German orwesternEuropean standards. Except for large urban areas, few switches wereelectricallyoperated.

Shunting areas, turn-a-round loops (vice turntables) and yard areascovered large tractsof land. This was, in fact, good news since dispersing one’s locomotives androlling-stockover large areas was a more optimal defense to aerial attacks.

Only the Kharkhov to Moscow double track line was placed onto a properbed. The restof the Soviet rail network was placed onto sandy beds, or the ties weresimply tappedlightly into the existing ground. The lower the engineering standard of therailway bed,the lower the amount of weight which could traverse same.

Many of the existing railroad bridges of European Russia were in facttemporarystructures. Most of the bridges were built during the First World War tosatisfy themilitary needs of the Czars’ Army in 1914-1917. Some of these temporarybridges werein fact, manufactured of sheet steel and simply riveted together. By Germanand westernEuropean standards, these temporary bridges were of no value for the heaviertrains(carrying heavier tanks and so on) of the late 1930’s and early 1940’s.There were also no double-track bridges, and no one in Germany knew why. AllSovietdouble track lines which had to cross a river did so in a split fashion;that is, each linehad its own bridge. The spacing of the two bridges was set at approximately50 to 100yards apart.

Soviet coal was not of optimal quality locomotives even by Sovietstandards. A numberof the larger Soviet rail yards contained coal-processing plants whichsoaked the Donetscoal in (bunker) oil before it was suitable for use in locomotives.Frequently, wood wasused as a substitute for coal, especially in the northern regions of theSoviet Union.

Soviet water for locomotives was also not of optimal value. For example,on the railline between Dniepropetrovsk and Stalino, at each of the 11 water towers, aseparateadditive had to be mixed with the water to prevent boiler scales fromforming in thelocomotives.

All along the 1939-1941 Soviet-German border, the Soviets had re-built allof theirborder rail centers to only allow for through traffic. All marshaling yardsand othermajor railroad transportation and workshop facilities near the westernSoviet border areaswere removed to prevent the Germans from making use of same in case theyattacked.This precaution, in fact, slowed the Germans down during their advance and italsocreated difficulties for them during the retreats of 1943, 1944 and 1945.

Since annexing Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, the Soviet Union embarked ona programto convert all of the existing standard gauge lines of the Baltic Statesover to wide gauge.While a few key lines were converted (mostly in Lithuania and Latvia), theSoviets wereslow to covert all of them over. By the time of the German invasion in1941, much gaugeconversion work still had to be done by the Soviet Union. This was afortunate factor forthe Germans in the north as they thus had fewer rail lines to convert in theBaltics.

Germany did not possess enough qualified personnel to manage the Sovietrail systemeffectively. She would have to supplement her forces with local nationals.

All of these points above were the primary factors which the Germans had to tackle if they wished forsuccess in their invasion bid.

For the attack on the Soviet Union, three Feldeisenbahndirektionen (FBD)(MilitaryRailway Administrations) was established during the spring of 1941. Thesethree FBD’swould serve as the main supply life-lines of the German invasion forces.The newlycreated entities were FBD 1, FBD, 2 and FBD 3. Each contained a fullcomplement ofadministrative personnel, repair facilities, and construction work.

FBD 1 was quickly withdrawn and used for the Balkan campaign beforeBarbarossa began. FBD 4 was hastily erected in June of 1941 in Danzig as areplacementfor FBD 1.FBD 2 was created during the month of April 1941, in Dresden. Withina month, thestaff was relocated to Warsaw.FBD 3 was initially headquartered in Warsaw, then relocated toCracow.During the spring of 1942, the FBD was redesignated as”Feldeisenbahnkommando”(FEKdo) (Field Railway Command). This designation was retained until theend of thewar.Later; four Haupteisenbahndirektion(en) was established in Dniepropetrovsk,Kiev,Minsk and Riga.

As is well known, Heeresgruppe Nord (HGrN) was assigned to fight on thenorthern wingof the invasion front. Heeresgruppe Mitte (HGrM) formed the middle wing andHeeresgruppe Sued (HGrS) was in the south. All three were ordered topenetrate as faras they could and seize key Soviet railheads and bridges intact.Regretfully for theGermans, with a number of exceptions, the Soviets were able to destroynearly everybridge the Germans needed as the Soviet forces retreated eastwards.

In the north, if Leningrad were to be seized, then all of the rail linesfeeding into that cityhad first to be cut. (The Germans did not even think of the possibilitythat the Sovietscould build a rail line over the ice in the winter to feed supplies into thebesieged city -they thought that if the rail lines were cut, then the city would have tostarve itself intosubmission.) However, before the Germans could begin their siege of theLeningradmetropolis, they had to get there as quickly as possible. For HGrN, theGermans wereable to supplement the rail transportation network with sea-bornetransportation and to alesser degree, vehicular transportation modes as a result of the excellentmaritime androad networks in existence in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Thus, fewerrail units wouldbe needed in the north in the earlier days, the “surplus” could then beredirected towardsthe other two invasion groups.

The winter of 1941/1942 placed the German military transportation systeminto a mostdifficult predicament. By 01 January 1942, the German rail system wasnearly paralyzed- nearly! Fortunately, as for example with HGrN, the Germans were able tofinish mostof their gauge conversion efforts to such a degree that it was stillpossible to sendsupplies from Germany all the way to the Leningrad front on one tracksystem. Duringthese harsh winter months, the German conversion and supply shipment effortscould nothave been as successful as they were had it not been for the willingassistance of formerEstonian and Latvian railway personnel. They provided the Germans withinvaluableservice and technical expertise; doing so primarily because they were justliberated fromthe holocaust of the first Soviet occupation and did not wish to see theSoviets return anytime soon. Interestingly, the Soviet Air Force, the VVS, was strangelyinactive in theLeningrad region during these critical months (though they did attackEstonia once). Hadthey been more aggressive, they could have played havoc with the German railnetworkin German rear areas.

The following gives an indication as to how quickly German railwayrepair forceswere able to make a destroyed line operable again:

11 July 1941 – 4th Pz Group reaches Porkhov;
18 July 1941 – 1st DRG train arrives same
23 August 1941 – 4th Pz Group reaches Luga;
23 August 1941 – as above
08 August 1941 – 16th Armee reaches Staraya Russa;
29 September 1941 – as above

1942: The winter of 1941/1942 was one of the coldest on record in EuropeanRussia.From a military perspective, the severe weather conditions essentiallyneutralized all ofGermany’s transportation system advantages all along the eastern front.Although theGerman rail network also suffered severely due to the extreme wintertemperatures, itwas also the one supply system which was able to continue operating day andnight(albeit with great difficulty). As of 12 December 1941, the German militaryauthoritiesbanned home leave for all troops in Russia. Every soldier was needed on theeasternfront so as to avoid a defeat of epic proportions.

The severe winter of 1941/1942 also placed into question many of Germany’smilitaryand technological advantages over their Soviet foe. As with many otherGermantechnologies, German locomotives contained greater quantities of precisionmade partsthan their Soviet counterparts. Due to the cold, these delicate parts oftenfroze up orbecame inoperable during the winter of 1941/1942. Even German “winterized”locomotives broke down in the east – a winter in Russia is not the same as awinter inGermany.

One consequence of this was that in the east, only 20% of all of Germany’s”winterized”locomotives were operationally available in late 1941. In total, between70-80% of allGerman locomotives deployed on the eastern front became inoperable.Conversely,Soviet (and ex-Imperial Russian) locomotives seemed to be in their naturalelementduring the winter months. The situation improved quite a bit when theGermansborrowed a page from Soviet construction techniques – they removed all ofthe precisionparts and basically ran stripped down locomotives until the severe weatherreceded.

For example, in February of 1942, only eight military supply trains per dayran from Brestto Minsk to Smolensk. Between January and February of 1942, only 19military supplytrains per day could be dispatched from Germany/Poland to serve the needs ofthe entireGerman Army on the eastern front. During January of 1942, HGrN needed 30trainloadsof supply, a day just to maintain minimum capabilities. Due to the cold,barely 10 trains aday could be dispatched. The rail system nearly broke down fully – nearly!

The spring thaw of 1942 was often just as bad as the winter had been.Severe floodsfrequently damaged or took out key bridges. While German rear-area andGermanconstruction troops were able to repair the weather caused damage relativelyquickly, inthe long run, this too slowed the German supply network to a dismal crawlduring thesespring months.

Despite the many setbacks attributed to the harsh winter, administrativelyand physically,the DR and the WH continued to expand and establish suitable standard gaugesecondarytrunk lines leading up to the front lines. By 01 February 1942, thefollowing standardgauge rail supply and transportation network existed going towards the frontlines:

  • Haupteisenbahndirektion (HBD) (HGr Nord) in Riga, Latvia – 17 secondarylines
  • Feldeisenbahndirektion (FBD) Nr. 4 in Pskov, Russia – 14 secondary lines
  • Haupteisenbahndirektion (HBD) (HGr. Mitte) in Minsk, Byelorussia – 23secondary lines
  • Feldeisenbahndirektion (FBD) Nr. 2 in Smolensk, Russia – 10 secondary lines
  • Haupteisenbahndirektion (HBD) (HGr. Sued) in Kiev, the Ukraine – 21secondary lines
  • Haupteisenbahndirektion (HBD) (HGr. Ost) in Poltava, the Ukraine – 12secondary lines
  • Feldeisenbahndirektion (FBD) Nr. 3 in Poltava, the Ukraine – 8 secondarylines

The German summer offensive of 1942 created a unique problem for theDR.While many miles of Russian rail lines were added to the existing Germannetwork, andwhile the conversion of the Soviet-wide gauge lines to standard gaugeproceededrelatively effortlessly – the vast distances the German DR and armoredtrains now had tocover created numerous logistical bottlenecks in German rear areas. Thecreation of anew Feldeisenbahndirektion in Rostov and Feldeisenbahndirektion Nr. 5 inKaukaskayaon 10 October 1942 helped to alleviate a fair number of the bottleneckproblems.

The assault on Moscow in 1942 failed primarily because the Germans were notable toextend their standard gauge line east of Smolensk fast enough. While amplequantities ofsupplies were available for the first two phases of the German attackagainst Moscow, theGerman rail transportation system was not able to sustain the shipment ofneeded militarysupplies for the third and final assault phase.

The Germans also made an error in deciding which wide gauge lines runningclose to theGerman front lines should be converted to standard gauge. The GermanMilitaryTransportation Department wanted the Nevel-Velikye Luki-Rzhev rail lineconverted.This would have greatly eased the supply problems of the eastern wing ofHGrM. But a decision was made not to do the conversion. This caused the Germans manyproblemsduring the winter of 1942/1943.

On the other side of this coin was the fact that the Germans continued tooperate widegauge trains east of Vyazma to about Rzhev (on the rail line they wanted toconvert tostandard gauge). Despite the fact that this rail line could onlyaccommodate no morethan two trains a day to service the supply needs of HGrM in that area – itwasmiraculously sufficient for the Germans to hold their own and prevent aSovietbreakthrough.

1943-1945: Between 1943 and 1945, Germany was more and more in a defensivemode.No longer were the Germans concerned about converting Soviet wide gaugelines tostandard gauge – now they were concentrating on keeping their ever-shrinkingnetwork inoperational condition.

The best year for the German rail system was during the summer of 1943.Nearly every important rail line in the Soviet Union had been converted to the standardgauge. Everyday, over 200 trains departed Germany for the eastern front. HGrS took thelion’s share ofthe supplies for, during this period, 125 of the 200 trains were slated tosupport HGrS. Ofnote too is that despite an increase in Soviet partisan activities incentral Russia, Germantrain schedules were affected very little by same. A prime reason for thiscan beattributed to the extensive network the Germans had built up in Russia. Ifthe partisansdid manage to knock-out a particular line, the Germans were in an optimalposition tore-route the trains through any number of sidelines.

In addition, during the long summer days, German supply and securitytrains were ableto operate within visual sight of one another. This greatly increased theirsecurity factorand made it more difficult for Soviet partisans to conduct daylight attacksagainst theGerman trains.

For example, during the month of June 1943, the Germans counted over 840partisanattacks against German rail lines in the sector controlled by HGrM. Duringthat sametime frame, the Germans were able to run over 860 troop trains. nearly 1.000supplytrains and over 700 other support trains in the same area.

HGrS, operating in Ukraine, did not have any major problems with Sovietpartisanactivities for most of its time in that area.

It need be noted that the Soviets were very familiar with the problems theGerman rail transportation system was encountering. Their partisan efforts weredesigned to wreakmaximum disruption on the German rear area system.

One ofthe eldervon Moltke’s axioms stated that military operations will suffer accordinglyif the railhead is more than 60 miles/100 km from the front lines. If this held truefor the firstworld war, it also held true for the second world war. However, due to themanycircumstances beyond their control, German military rail planners were oftenhardpressed to maintain lesser distances from rail head to the front line -especially whenGerman troops were on the attack in the first two to three years of the war.Given thatmotor transportation methods had now progressed to far greater levels,Moltke’s axiomwas extended to about 180 miles/300 km. Whenever feasible, narrow gauge”Feldeisenbahnen” were built to fill the many gaps.

Trains did have one advantage. They could operate day and night. Theycould alsodecrease and increase their speed to adjust to any problems in their respective timeschedules. According to German calculations, on the average, a supply ortroop traincould cover about 500 miles a day.

One of the biggest problems one can encounter in the railroading business isthat ofdeveloping an optimal time schedule and being able to adhere to it in areasonablefashion. From the German perspective, the following types trains (and inorder ofscheduling priority) had to be considered in German rear and front areas:

  • Troop transportation trains; their movement and special troop transferrequirements.
  • Supply trains
  • Empty trains which had just unloaded and were returning for a new run.
  • Military Post/military mail trains
  • Medical evacuation trains; hospital trains.
  • Rest and Relaxation trains.
  • POW trains
  • Construction and repair/workshop trains

Consideration also had to be made for “Special Purpose” or “Special Mission”trains,such as, but not limited to military intelligence mission, covertinfiltration, quickre-deployment of front-line troops, etc.

One result of German prioritization or scheduling efforts were that trainsof a lowerranking often had to wait on side tracks or in yards until its movementpriority level onceagain permitted it to proceed. The transferring of wounded, the re-loadingandoff-loading of trains often also did not adhere to expected “down times”.This oftendelayed or altered existing schedules by quite a bit.

To the above “military” requirements, one also had to consider the civilianneeds. Rawmaterials from the German occupation areas had to be brought back to Germanyso thatthe German industry could make optimal use of them. Industry specialistshad to travelfrom one city to another, families also had social obligations they wantedto be able tomeet, etc.

In terms of supplementing German industrial needs, the following mainrequirementsthus existed for this category of trains:

  • Coal from the Ukraine (never shipped in satisfying quantities).
  • Manganese from Nikopol.
  • Iron ore from Krivoi-Rog.
  • Timber from the Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Pripet march regions.
  • Oil-shale from Estonia (a large percentage of the Kriegsmarine’s needs camefrom Estonian oil-shale).
  • Grains (foodstuffs) from the Ukraine (this was always in surplus as theUkraine was/is a very fertile region).

To the above two lists, one must now add a third category of trains. Thoseservingadministrative or construction needs:

  • Building supplies to rebuild or expand captured production centers.
  • Ancillary supply trains.
  • Repair and recovery trains.
  • Trains transporting workers, party officials, civilian administration units,etc.

As but one example of the volume of traffic, during the month of October of1942, 300empty goods-wagons departed from the greater Riga area bound for theUkraine – on adaily basis.

On 08 September 1942, a priority list was established for shipping goodsfrom the SovietUnion to Germany:

1. Foodstuffs.
2. Manganese.
3. Coal.
4. Iron ore.
5. Timber.

To help alleviate some of the scheduling requirements, a priority “red-line”and a priority”green-line” were established for HGrN.

Another factor affecting military rail operations are of course the numberof availablelocomotives and wagons. With respect to the railway wagons, the followingfiguresrepresent the number of German and captured wagons available for use:

On 01 January 1942: 84.000 wagons.
On 01 June 1942: 142.000 wagons.
On 01 December 1942: 203.000 wagons.

Re-wheeling Soviet stock to German norms was not always an optimal solution.Although the wagon width itself remained unchanged, re-wheeling to Germannorms alsoaltered-lowered payload allowances and balance requirements. Soviet wagonswere notalways the sturdiest of wagons.

Sincetaking the advice of an American railway engineer in the mid-1800’s, therail gauge ofCzarist Russia and its successor state, the Soviet Union, has been in thewide gauge. The theory being that an attacker would encounter more operational and supplyproblems ifhe was forced to convert a wider gauge rail line to “his” gauge (back inthe mid-1800’s,it was assumed that Germany was going to be the aggressor). In 1939, onlyin Lithuania(and to a lesser degree in Latvia and Estonia) did one find largerconcentrations ofstandard gauge rail lines which the Soviets had not yet converted to widegauge aftertheir occupation and annexation of the Baltic States in 1940. If theGermans wanted tomake use of Soviet rail lines, they had to convert them to the standardgauge. However,this was not as easy as it might sound!

The 1938 Soviet five-year plan called for the Soviet rail line system to beexpanded toapproximately 62.000 miles (100.000km). For the most part, the Soviets wereable meettheir construction goals. When the German attack began, most of the Sovietrail lines(and all of the important ones) were in wide gauge.

The Baltic States confronted the Germans with a unique situation. While mostof the raillines in Lithuania and western Latvia were in the standard gauge (and thuseasy for theGermans to operate on them), a number of key rail lines in eastern Latviaand Estoniawere still in the wide gauge. Because the Germans had advanced very rapidlyintoLithuania and Latvia and because they were able to capture about 30serviceablewide-gauge locomotives and close to 300 railroad wagons in eastern Latviaand a slightly lesser number of serviceable wide-gauge locomotives and wagons in Tallinn,Estonia -the Germans elected to temporarily use the available wide gauge equipment toshuttleGerman troops and supplies from eastern Latvia and Estonia (as well as fromthe ports ofRiga, Paldiski, and Tallinn) to the front lines of HGrN. The wide gauge lineended atNarva because the Soviets had blown up the bridge there as they retreated.

As of 01 January 1943, 22.000 miles (35.000km) of the Soviet rail networkwere underGerman control and the majority of that had already been converted tostandard gauge bythe Germans. Although the Germans were able to “capture” large quantitiesof Sovietrolling stock and railway construction materials, the captured items werefor the mostpart substandard in quality or antiquated. In the overwhelming number ofcases, widegauge rolling stock was re-wheeled to standard gauge by the Germans.Locomotivescould not be converted to any degree of service reliability.

If the length of the track one has under one’s control is important, so toois the questionof “how good is the rail line itself?” Again, poor Soviet constructionstandards played akey role in the German decision-making process. Whereas German and mostwestern railbed construction methods contained a multi-tiered rock and gravelfoundations – Sovietrails were almost always sitting only on a bed of sand covered occasionallywith rocks tominimize the inevitable dust clouds. The western regions of the SovietUnion suffered agreat rock shortage. To make matters worse, the vast majority of the Sovietrail ties weremade of untreated pine. This meant that their weight capacity fell waybelow Germanrailway norms (38kg/m for Soviet lines vs. 49kg/m in Germany).

Soviet rail ties were also placed further apart than American and Germannorms(approximately 1,440 ties per km in the Soviet Union vs. 1,500 ties per kmin Estonia,1,600 ties per km in Germany and 2,000 ties per km in the United States).This tooadded to a lower overall transportation capacity of the Soviet rail line.

The way a rail is attached to a tie is also of great importance to speedlimits and weightallowances. Soviet rails were attached to the tie with plain spikes.German norms calledfor the rails to be attached with an angled washer/base plate and screw typetie-downs.Angled base plates allow one to increase load factors and rail speeds.Because of theSoviet rail line construction technique, Soviet cargo, and weight capacitieswere oftenreduced way below the official allowances. On many sections of track,Germanlocomotives were proscribed from an operational activity because of theirgreater weightand stress factors per kg/m.

German rail conversion efforts were completed relatively quickly. In manycases, theGermans only had to remove one of the rails and move it closer in.

Damaged bridges took longer to repair. Portable bridges, ferries or othertrans-shipmentmethods were used until the bridges had been repaired. But with fewexceptions, most ofthe bridges destroyed by the Soviets were quickly made operable again by theGermans. Some examples:

The bridge at Kaunas: destroyed on 24 June 1941; repaired on 17 July 1941
The bridge at Riga: destroyed on 02 July 1941; repaired on 12 July 1941
The bridge near Petseri: destroyed on 09 July 1941; repaired on 24 July 1941

The authors are not aware of the Germans adding a third rail to allow the use ofstandardand wide gauge on the same line. It takes more effort to produce a thirdrail than it doesto simply move one rail line closer. However, limited uses of such aconstruction technique should not be viewed as surprising – especially near urban areas.)

As described above, another technical limitation was the use of Soviet coal.Because ofits lower quality (at least that which was available to the Germans via theDonets region),Soviet coal, in worst operating conditions, had to be mixed with German coalat a ratio of1:1. This meant that the Germans had to “import” coal into a region thatthey were also”exporting” coal from. Ideally, mixture ratios of 2(Ger):1(SU) or higherwere desired tomake the German locomotives run at peak performance.

In addition, Soviet yard and line switches had to be rebuilt, German signalsand Germantraffic signals had to be installed, etc.

One of the biggest problems the Germans encountered was the fact that thelarger Soviettrains could cover larger distances before they needed to re-water andre-coal. Germantrains required more frequent servicing in this respect. This problem wasmost acute inthe more remote regions of the middle and southern fronts.

In the Soviet Union, railway personnel knew that they were a notch above therest interms of class and social standing. Not only were they very skilled anddedicated to theirjobs, they also knew how to mess things up for the Germans. However, oncetheGermans occupied a region, many “Soviet” railway experts stepped forward andwillingly helped the German cause.

No discussion of German rail during WWII would becomplete without a discussion of the impact Soviet Partisans had on Germanrear arearail lines.

The Partisan “problem” really started as soon as the German invasion began.In the earlyphases of this war, German anti-partisan efforts were relatively successful.GermanPolice and rear area units usually were able to secure and neutralize the attackers quickly.As the war progressed, Partisan activities were more and more successful indisruptingGerman rail traffic – often with disastrous consequences for the Germans.For example,during the month of September 1943, an average of 64 attacks per day wastaking placeagainst German trains.

One of the consequences of the increased Partisan activities was that Germanarmoredtrains now found themselves more and more engaged in rear area securityduties than insupporting frontline units and direct military operations.

German locomotive and wagon types used: In short if it ran on the tracks -it was putinto service by the Germans – regardless of who the previous owner may havebeen orwhat shape the wagon in question was in. While this is clearly anover-generalization, italso is not that far from the truth. Germany was always short of rollingstock in the east.For the purposes of this article, we shall confine the discussions to a fewof the majortypes of locomotives and wagons – a detailed listing would exceed the intentof thisarticle.

In 1939, Germany possessed not only “German” designed locomotives androlling stock,she also had a number of excellently designed Bavarian, Prussian and “empireera”equipment as well. A standardization effort was called for, but this wouldtake years ordecades to realize. Regardless of origin, all DR locomotives in operationin 1939, servedfor as long as they could or until they were destroyed as a result ofmilitary actions. Allexcept for a few trial or evaluation models and a few armored trains, werein the standardgauge. The more esoteric models were relegated to local duties in andaround Germanywhile the more numerous production models were sent to the far corners ofEurope.

With regard to the DR support to the eastern front (and as mentioned above),Germanyrealized that one of its shortcomings was that it did not possess a “German”locomotivesuitable to cover the long distances between coaling stations. Designed in1942/1943 bythe Borsig Company, the type 53 “super locomotive” was to be the answer.This giant,2-6-8-0 (U.S. nomenclature) configured, the 27m/81ft long locomotive wasdesigned to useonly a minimum of parts, but be flexible enough to operate on all standardgauge tracksand operate on really all curves. Its prime purpose was however to pullfreight trains toand from the eastern regions. The tender too was of double length toaccommodate morecoal. For a myriad of reasons, the locomotive never entered production.

Another strong work-horse was the type 52 locomotive. Built from 1942 to1950, this2-10-2 (U.S. nomenclature) (1′ E ‘1 German nomenclature) wheeled locomotivewasbuilt primarily by the Floridsdorfer Werke in Vienna (they built 1168units). Henschelbuilt another 1068. Total production was 6303 units. The Waffen undMaschinen-AG inPosen (in today’s Poland) was another manufacturing site for the type 52locomotive.The Type 52 weighed in at 84 metric tons and had an output of 1620horsepower.

The type 42 “Kriegslokomotive” was also a strong work-horse for the DR.First built in1943, the last type 42 ran with the Austrian State Railways (OBB) in 1967.Clearly awell designed locomotive for such a long service life. The type 42 was alsodesigned touse only a minimum of parts and materials. For example, the pre-war type 50locomotiveused 900kg/1.984lbs of brass – the type 42 only 35kg/77lbs. Of 2-10-0 (U.S.nomenclature) (1′ E German nomenclature) configuration, 866 units were builtin total.

Of the faster (express) locomotives, type 05 certainly can be placed inthat group.This locomotive was designed in 1936 for rapid passenger service; thelocomotive couldboast 175kmh/108mph. Of 4-6-4 (U.S. nomenclature) (2′ C ‘2 Germannomenclature)configuration, it also boasted an output of 3400 horsepower. After 1944,nearly all 05’sreceived camouflage paint schemes.

The type 50 locomotive was originally intended to be a replacement for theagingPrussian G10 freight locomotive. Of 2-10-0 (U.S. nomenclature) (1′ E h2Germannomenclature) configuration, 3164 were built by 1943. Henschel was theprimaryproducer. 1630 horse-power at approximately 80kmh/49mph.

In terms of freight wagons, some of the more major German types were:

  • Type SSmys and Sa 705 six-axle heavy load wagon (for heavy tanks, etc)
  • Type SSy “Koeln” four axle medium to heavy load wagon
  • Type R10 two axle, open stack wagon (about 9.400kg/20723lbs payload)
  • Type R10 “Stuttgart” two axle, open stack wagon with a brake-house
  • Type Ommr “Dresden” and “Linz” two axle box cars; (these are they wagons seen in movies transporting the MG or light FLAK crews in some sort of sandbagged protective position)
  • “Villach” type two axle open goods wagons (about 10.000kg/22.246lbs payload)
  • Type OOt “Saarbruecken” four axle coal transporter
  • Type Om “Breslau” two axle, open goods wagon with a brake-house

For recovery purposes, one type that was available, the SSt 662 six axle heavy steam crane.German rail recovery teams were really no different from those of anyoneelse. A fullyequipped recovery unit counted at least one locomotive if not two; supplywagons, asecurity detail; a crane suitable for the load it would have to recover;etc.

In terms of rear-area construction or repair facilities, those in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania serve as a good background to detail examples. In 1898, the “Dvigatel” works were established in Tallinn.Working in concertwith their Latvian counterparts, the Dvigatel works also produced a numberor railwaywagons for the Czar. After 1918, the Dvigatel works focused on theconstruction andrefurbishing of Russian “Ow” class locomotives; in 1925, they also built anumber ofstreet-cars for the city of Tallinn. In the 1930’s, the Estonian “Krull” machine works alsogot started in the rail business. It built a number of locomotives for theEesti VR.During the second world war, the Krull works did not build any additionalengines, butits facilities, as well as those of the Dvigatel site, and its personnelwere put to use by theGermans to repair their regional fleet.

Between 26 October 1941 and 01 November 1943, 237 locomotives weretransferred tothe government of Finland to help replace those damaged by the Soviets.Most of thetransferred locomotives were Soviet, but at least four were former Estonianones.

During the war one of the largest locomotive androlling stockservicing facilities on the eastern front was in Riga, Latvia. Initiallyestablished as theRussian-Baltic Iron Wagon Factory (a.k.a. Baltic Wagon Works) by theGermancompany of “van der Zypen & Charlier” from Cologne (Koeln), in 1869; theBalticWagon Works quickly rose to become one of the largest in the area. The”Phoenix”works were also erected near Riga; this was Igor Sikorsky’s giant aircraftmanufacturingcenter which later also engaged itself in the railroad business. Both wereevacuatedduring the first world war to Russian rear areas. The Sikorsky factory wasrelocated toTver and to this day they still construct rail coaches.

After the first world war (1918), German bankers funded the rebuilding ofthe Phoenixand Putilov works to build new railroads. The former Putilov factory nowservicedprimarily Russian “O” class locomotives in addition to building coaches andfreightwagons.

As the Germans occupied Latvia in 1941, they were able to capture 91 Latvianwidegauge locomotives. In total, the Germans captured 187 wide gaugelocomotives inLatvia. All, except 17, were converted to standard gauge.

Lithuania did not have any largelocomotiveor wagon production centers from the late 1800’s to 1940, but her rail yardscouldundertake any repair or servicing required. These two were put to use bythe Germans in1941. In 1942/1943, the Germans did erect a repair major rail facility inPalemonas at the rail yard there.