Rail War

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Rail War


(1) Partisan actions in the enemy’s rear to disrupt rail transport and to put rail-transported troops, combat equipment, and supplies out of commission.

(2) The name of a major operation carried out by Soviet partisans in the Great Patriotic War (1941–45) in August-September 1943 in the occupied territories of the RSFSR, the Byelorussian SSR, and part of the Ukrainian SSR in order to put the enemy’s rail communications out of commission. In June 1943 the Central Committee of the CP of Byelorussia (Bolshevik) proposed a plan for the simultaneous mass destruction of railroad sectors in the occupied territories of the republic. To execute the plan, the Central Headquarters of the Partisan Movement enlisted partisans from Leningrad, Kalinin, Smolensk, Orel, and the Ukraine, as well as Byelorussian partisans. The Rail War Operation was connected with the plans of the Headquarters of the Supreme Command for completing the rout of the fascist German troops in the battle of Kursk in 1943 and for carrying out the Smolensk Operation of 1943 and the offensive to liberate the Left-bank Ukraine.

On July 14 the Central Headquarters of the Partisan Movement issued the order for the implementation of the Rail War. Local headquarters of the partisan movement and their representatives at the fronts assigned sectors and operational objectives to each newly activated partisan unit. The partisans were provided with explosives and fuses, “forest courses” offered training in mining and demolition techniques, TNT was extracted from captured shells and bombs at local “factories,” and shops and smithies made devices for fastening TNT charges to rails. Reconnaissance was vigorously conducted on railroads.

The operation began on the night of August 2 and lasted until mid-September. It opened on a sector of about 1,000 km along the front and 750 km in depth and involved about 100,000 partisans, who were aided by the local population. The powerful strike against the railroads took the enemy by surprise, and for some time the fascists could not mount any organized counteractions against the partisans. During the operation the partisans blew up about 215,000 rails, derailed many trains, and blew up railroad bridges and station equipment. The mass destruction of enemy communications made the regrouping of the retreating enemy troops difficult and complicated their supply, thus contributing to the successful offensive of the Red Army.


Sovelskie partizany. [Moscow, 1961.]
Voina v tylu vraga, issue 1. Moscow, 1974.
Lipilo, P. P. KPB—organizator i rukovoditel’ partizanskogo dvizheniia v Belorussii v gody Velikoi Otechestvennoi voiny. Minsk, 1959.
Sheverdalkin, P. R. Geroicheskaia bor’ba leningradskikh partizan. Leningrad, 1959.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.