Learn more about Tachanka
The tachanka (Russian: тача́нка) was a horse-drawn machine gun platform, usually a cart or an open wagon with a heavy machine gun installed in the back. It required a crew of two or three (one driver and a machine gun crew). The name tachanka appears to be the Ukrainian diminutive, or endearing form of the word tachka, meaning 'cart'.
A regular civilian horse cart could be easily converted to military use and back. This made the tachanka very popular during the Great War on the Eastern Front, where it was used by the Russian cavalry. The usage of tachankas reached its peak during the Russian Civil War (1917–1920s), particularly in the peasant regions of Southern Russia and Ukraine, where the fronts were fluid and mobile warfare gained much significance. Later on it was adopted by a number of armies, notably the Polish Army which used it with success during the Polish-Bolshevik War.
The tactics of tachanka employment are centered around taking advantage of its speed to surprise the enemy. Tachankas, before the introduction of the tank or automobile to the battlefield, were the only way to provide high-speed mobility for the heavy, bulky machine guns of WWI. The speed of the horse-drawn cart would be used to move the machine gun platform to a favorable firing position, and then aimed fire would be opened on the enemy before they had a chance to react. Since the machine gun was pointed towards the rear of the cart, the tachankas also provided effective suppressive fire onto pursuing enemy cavalry after raids and during retreats. Nestor Makhno pioneered the use of the tachanka in a mass charge. A large number of the vehicles would assault the enemy position as if they were cavalry, then wheel in a coordinated maneuver so that all at once suddenly had their muzzles to the enemy, and fire a point-blank burst of machine gun fire, all of it going into the same point of the enemy line. This maneuver required very precise coordination between the crews, but Makhno was good enough to make it work, using it to win a battle with Anton Denikin's forces in 1919.
Initially mostly improvised, with time the Polish Army also adopted two models of factory-made taczankas, as they were called in Poland. They were used during the Polish Defensive War of 1939 to provide cavalry squadron support. They were attached to every cavalry HMG squadron and HMG company of infantry.
Despite certain uniformization, the tachanka's armament was improvised in most cases. In Russia the standard Maxim HMG was often used. The Polish cavalry of the times of the Polish-Bolshevik War also often used all kinds of MGs and HMGs available, including the Maxim, Schwarzlose MG M.07/12, Hotchkiss machine gun and Browning machine gun. The late models of standardized tachankas of the Polish Army were all equipped with Ckm wz.30, a Polish modification of the Browning Model 1917 machine gun, also suitable for anti-air fire. The tachankas were also adopted by the Wehrmacht, which used the Jf.5 model armed with double MG34 for anti-air protection of infantry throughout World War II.
Later on, a series of popular propaganda songs glorifying the Red Army was cultivated in the Russian SFSR and Soviet Union, and one of these songs specifically eulogized the tachanka. The concluding lyrics, roughly translated, run:
- And to this day, the foe has nightmares
- Of the thick rain of lead,
- The battle-chariot
- And the young machine gunner.