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Trotsky’s War Train

Rex Winsbury describes how, for two and a half years during the Russian Civil War, Trotsky’s headquarters were his mobile train.

The great age of the railways is often celebrated in films and on television; but surely the most remarkable train to run the rails this century was not a fictional one, even though it became a legend in its own time. That train was ‘the train of the Predrevoyensoviet’ - the train of the Chairman of the Revolutionary Military Council, which for two and a half years carried Leon Trotsky, War Commissar of the new government of the Soviet Union, from one battle front to another during the chaotic civil war years of 1918 to 1920, when the Bolsheviks were fighting for their survival.

The train became more than a mobile supreme command post for the Red Army, and more than Trotsky’s permanent home for two and a half years. It also acquired an almost mystical significance for the commanders and men of the Red Army, as it steamed into critical sectors of the fluctuating front line, bringing trained officers and specialists, fresh supplies, news of other sectors, and above all the reassuring and sometimes terrifying presence of the War Commissar himself, who harangued and inspired the slack - and sometimes had them shot.

Trotsky later wrote in his autobiography that,

‘during the most strenuous years of the revolution, my own personal life was bound up inseparably with the life of that train. The train, on the other hand, was inseparably bound up with the life of the Red Army. The train linked the front with the base, solved urgent problems on the spot, educated, appealed, supplied, rewarded and punished.’

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