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7 May, 2010 03:54

Soviet armoured trains: a WWII military hit and target for Nazis

In the deciding days of the battle for Moscow, two trains came off the production lines and went into battle. The "Kozma Minin" and the "Ilya Muromets" became an instant hit and, themselves, a German air raid target.

These were no ordinary machines. They were a new brand of armoured trains-they were lower, lighter, with inclined armour, rocket launchers and their own artillery air defense on board.

“The Germans were very surprised to see our new train,” said a war veteran, army train commander Nikolay Gavrilov. “We were the only ones with Katyusha rocket launchers on board. We were attacked daily – 30, 40 planes at once. We did not sleep for days, just trying to hold our ground.”

Nikolay Gavrilov remembers those days all too well. He still can not believe he survived 1942.

“My good friend, a lieutenant, was in the HQ wagon and he wanted me to stay with him. But I had to hold training classes, so I told him I would be back as soon as they were over. I walked out and two minutes later, the Germans dropped a bomb right on the HQ wagon. Everyone inside was killed instantly,” he remembered.

The new trains were a nightmare for the Germans, who wanted them destroyed at any cost.

“We had shot down one of their planes, piloted by a hot-shot pilot. He had 3 Iron Crosses, had seen all of Europe and we captured him! So the Germans wanted revenge,” Gavrilov recalled. “But our train and the Muromets train simply moved out of the station we were at and the air raid pummeled that little station to the ground!”

Day after day the attacks continued but the “Kozma Minin” stood strong and prevented the German forces from advancing on Moscow.

65 years later, Nikolay Gavrilov and his comrades are back together again to open a museum dedicated to themselves and their train.

“The soldiers on this train fought with everything they had to give us our hard-won peace. And I want to thank them, from the bottom of my heart, for their heroism,” said the governor of Tula region, Vyacheslav Dudka at the opening of the museum.

“For them, and for the children of today and tomorrow, we have built this exact replica along with Moscow railroads- so that their role in history is never forgotten,” he added.

For Nikolay Gavrilov, getting in and out of his train is certainly not as easy as it used to be, but the trip down memory lane is much appreciated. “It is a great museum, and a great idea. Seeing our train here again-it is incredible,” he told RT.

After successfully defending Moscow, the train and its men moved West, reaching Victory in Frankfurt. There, they sent a telegram back home which said, "Dear countrymen: when you sent us to the frontlines, you told us to fight the enemy with everything we have got – until we win. And we have…"