DB Class 104

23 locomotives of this pre-war electric class were built between 1932 and 1935 by AEG, as DRG class E04 (numbered E04 01 to E04 20).  There could well have been a further 13 E04s, but the outbreak of war and the requisition of the factory specifically for the German war effort put paid to that plan.  For such a small fleet, their history actually became quite complex.

They were built initially to see use in central areas of Germany (as it looked on the pre-war map) and were initially allocated to Leipzig or München.  The split “when the music stopped” as to which locos were in which German zone of occupation had major consequences as to the future of each machine.

16 of the 23 machines (E04 01 to E04 16) were allocated to depots in the Russian zone of occupation, whereas E04 17 to E04 23 were in the West.  However, E04 23 had the dubious honour of being stabled “behind” the zonal boundary when it was drawn, hence it remained in the East – and indeed still does!


204 001 (restored to its original identity of E04 01) is on display in museum platform no.24 at Leipzig Hbf.  21/04/06 (JW)

After the war

Three E04s did not see out the war successfully, all of these being Eastern machines.  E04 12 succumbed to accident damage in January 1945 with E04 13 following three months later; E04 04 was destroyed by fire at about the same time.  For those that did, interesting events were on the horizon.

Following the end of World War 2, or specifically the Potsdam Conference that set out how the “spoils” would be distributed amongst the Allied nations, the orders of the Sowjetische Militäradministration in Deutschland (SMAD) dictated that much of the infrastructure in the Russian zone of occupation of Germany (later East Germany, the DDR) was dismantled by Spring 1946 and taken to the Soviet Union as war reparations.  Included in this was the vast majority of electrified railway – including rolling stock – among it the 13 operational E04s in the Russian-occupied zone of Germany – E04 010203050607080910141516 and 23.  Some of these routes have remained unelectrified ever since.

Quite what the intention of this move was – apart from opportunistic cynicism on the part of the Russians – is not entirely clear.  Certainly, huge swathes of mother Russia had been devastated during the conflict – not only its railways, but much of its industrial capacity, housing and even whole towns had simply ceased to exist, and needed to be recreated almost entirely from scratch.  However, a high proportion of this German railway equipment was simply never used.  A major factor in this is that the Russian track gauge is 1520mm (as opposed to the “standard gauge” of 1435mm used in Germany) necessitating complex regauging; these machines were 15kV a.c. as opposed to the then Russian standard of 3kV d.c.; but above that, the locos and catenary simply were not suited to the harsh environment – certainly not where they wished to use it.

It had apparently been intended to use a portion of this “recovered” German equipment to build a freight-only line at Vorkuta, deep into the Arctic Circle, over 1000 miles north-east of Moscow.  The Soviets also wanted to electrify a route from Tobul to Akmolinsk in Kazakhstan with the German system.  However, it soon became apparent that there was no obvious way to generate electricity for a system in this location and/or then get it into the overheads.

In 1953, the USSR largely gave up and gave the Deutsche Reichsbahn of East Germany the opportunity to purchase much of this material back.  This they did (it is said that the E04s were returned as trade for some brand-new East German-built carriages), although a lot of it was simply no longer usable; in truth, after its thuggish dismantling in 1946 and conveyance across the continent in questionable conditions, it never would have been.  The first newly-(re)electrified route to open in the DDR was that from Halle (Saale) to Köthen, on 1st September 1955.  However, progress with re-electrification was slow until after the 1972/73 oil crisis; again, this policy had been born of Moscow, who had a vested interest in selling cheap oil to the DDR through the Družba pipeline.  Therefore these locos – and indeed their sisters “over the wall” – lived out their final years in relative obscurity.

Under the 1971 renumbering schemes, the Western (DB) locos were rechristened class 104 whereas the Eastern (DR) machines became class 204.  E04 09 missed out on its new number by a matter of weeks, being involved in an accident that ended its operational life on 10th December 1970.


Number detail of E04 01 (JW)


The DR locos were all withdrawn from use by the end of 1976, 204 005 having the honour of hauling the final passenger working by the class on 28th November of that year.  However most of them were not scrapped immediately; further use as stationary transformers or as heating units for various purposes (trains, point heaters, hump yard retarders etc) beckoned.  As such, many survived extant right up to German reunification, and this has allowed a high percentage of them to enter preservation.

Conversely, the DB locos survived in traffic a little longer – withdrawn from Osnabrück depot by 1982 – but with no life-extending further use on the cards for them, all but one – 104 020, which passed to the collection of the DB Museum – were scrapped.


Four of the class remain extant, however none are currently operational.  Two belong to the DB Museum and are on permanent display as monuments:-

204 001 is part of the museum display in platform 24 at Leipzig Hbf.  (Officially 188 045).

104 020 outside the DB Headquarters in Frankfurt am Main.

Additionally, two are museum pieces in the former East Germany:-

204 007 is at the Traditionsbetriebswerk Staßfurt.

204 023 is at the Eisenbahnmuseum Weimar.