The tachanka (тача́нка) was a horse-drawn machine gun platform, usually a cart or an open wagon with a heavy machine gun installed in the back. A tachanka could be pulled by two to four horses and required a crew of two or three (one driver and a machine gun crew). It was reputedly invented by Nestor Makhno.
There are at least two plausible hypotheses about origin of the word tachanka. The etymological dictionary of Vasmer suggests that the word derives from Ukrainian netychanka ("нетичанка"), Polish najtyczanka, a type of the carriage named after Neutitschein, now Nový Jičín in the Czech Republic . By another opinion, it is a Ukrainian diminutive, or endearing form of the word tachka (та́чка, meaning 'wheelbarrow'). Still another opinion is that it is a contracted word 'Tavrichanka' for rugged carriages known in Southern Ukraine and Crimea, derived from the name "Taurida" for this area.
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 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 the enemy would be fired upon before they had a chance to react. Since the machine gun 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 en masse. The Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine used tachankas mainly against enemy cavalry. Tachankas approached enemy cavalry riding after Makhnovist cavalry, which faked a charge then withdrew to the sides. Tachankas then turned and fired at the enemy cavalry causing great losses. This maneuver required very precise coordination between the crews and the cavalry, but Makhno was good enough to make it work, using it to win a battle with Anton Denikin's forces in 1919. Makhnovists used tachankas not only in battle, but also to transport infantry, thus improving mobility of the army (about 100km each day).
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 a certain degree of standardization, the tachanka's armament was, in most cases, improvised. In Russia the standard Maxim HMG was often used. The Polish cavalry 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 M1917 Browning 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.