Armored cars played a major role in warfare during World War 1 for their ease of production and machine gun-carrying qualities. Beyond their military applications, armored cars also found a home with police units charged with keeping the peace of frontier lands and colonial interests. In their early years, armored cars were nothing more than commercial truck chassis rigged to accept a heavy armored hull superstructure usually capped with a turret. Machine guns were standard armaments and the commercial internals were more or less retained. This made for a large and cumbersome vehicle but effective in the protection and firepower they offered at cost. By the 1930s, this standard method of armored car designed had given way to more defined developments and many excellent examples soon emerged prior to, and during, World War 2. In the early 1930s, the Soviet Union began design and development of a new armored car - though its appearance was more akin to the ungainly vehicles of the world war prior.
The Gorki automobile facility was charged with production of a new armored car series designated as the BA-10 ("Broneavtmobil 10") with the first units beginning to appear in 1932. The vehicle was based on previous armored car developments known as the BA-3 and BA-6 series and these were further evolutions of the BA-I family (as was the BA-9). The system was developed atop the chassis of the Soviet GAZ-AAA series of "six-wheeled" commercial trucks though modified to suit the new battlefield mode. The chassis retained four axles at the rear (all positions double-tired) with a single axle at the front as well as the front-mounted engine. The suspension system was reinforced to accept the massive weight of a new hull superstructure incorporating sloped armored sides which held the driving compartment and fighting compartment for the crew. Additionally, a traversing turret was installed upon the superstructure roof. Armor protection was between 6mm and 15mm across the various facings. The standard operating crew was four personnel to include the driver, machine gunner, turret gunner and vehicle commander. The driver managed a left-front position with the machine gunner to his right. The other two crew sat within the turret emplacement to manage the rest of the armament. Vision was accomplished through vision slots in the armor which were also raised panels for improved visibility when not "buttoned down". Beyond the six axle arrangement, a pair of spare wheels were mounted along the forward hull sides and these were designed to spin freely should uneven terrain be encountered - thusly increasing the vehicle's wheelbase and weight displacement. The way ahead was lit by a pair of automobile-style headlamps and the forward wheels were covered over in rounded fenders. Early units saw their hulls riveted but this largely gave way to a welded form later.
Standard armament of these early production models consisted of a 37mm anti-tank gun or a 12.7mm DShK series heavy machine gun. This allowed the vehicle to engage lightly armored vehicles and light tanks of the time while also providing suppression capabilities in the field. The main gun could fire both high-explosive shells against "soft targets" including infantry and engage armor with armor-piercing ordnance as needed. A 7.62mm DT machine gun was fitted in the position to the driver's right side and managed by a dedicated crewmember. Another 7.62mm DT machine gun was fitted in a coaxial position alongside the main gun in the turret, this operated by the gunner. Beyond this, any personal weapons by the crew could be used in a pinch.
Overall weight of the vehicle was 11,300lbs with the armored superstructure and ammunition stores adding a great deal of weight to the frame. Overall length was 4.65 meters which also made the vehicle rather long, especially in turning. The high superstructure was also hurt by the addition of the turret which promoted an even higher side profile along the horizon - a tempting target to enemy anti-tank teams to say the least. Power from the GAZ-M-1 series 4-cylinder, water-cooled gasoline-fueled engine generated 85 horsepower which equaled a top road speed of 33 miles per hour with a maximum range out to 200 miles. Coupled with its throw-back looks, the BA-10 was nonetheless a serviceable vehicle for the time, utilitarian to a high degree and designed within the scope of Soviet Army doctrine of the time.
In practice, the vehicle could be modified to suit the terrain by adding snow chains to each wheel member. Some were even wrapped in tracks to provide additional traction over soft ground in a defacto "half-track" type role. The aforementioned spare road wheels actually served its purpose in the field, allowing the long BA-10 to manage uneven ground with some help. In 1937, an improved version appeared as the BA-10M and this installed the turret of the T-26B series light tank, retaining its 45mm anti-tank gun and improving overall firepower for the BA-10 series. Engineers sought additional firepower and completed several fittings of other tank turrets but none saw widespread use as the BA-10M.
First combat actions involving BA-10 armored cars occurred during the border wars between the Soviet Union and the Empire of Japan. The Empire sought to increase its holdings and moved into Manchuria. Seeking to tighten its control of the outlying areas, forces moved into the border zones and created tension between the Empire and the Soviet Union that exploded into war. A battle was fought at Khalkhyn Gol between Manchuria (now Manchukuo) and Mongolia involving all parties from May 11th to September 16th of 1939. The BA-10 was called into action and the Japanese were utterly defeated, entrenching itself as the standard armored car of the Red Army force - despite the fact that its appearance and qualities were deemed largely obsolete by the time of World War 2.
As a result, the BA-10 would be featured in the upcoming Soviet campaigns prior to World War 2 including Estonia and Latvia. The type also saw extensive service in the Soviet invasion of Finland during the Winter War. However, Finnish resistance proved fierce and whole lots of BA-10 armored cars were lost to the enemy. In June of 1941, the Germans turned on their Soviet allies through Operation Barbarossa and cut a swathe of chaos through the Soviet heartland, capturing many production facilities in the process as well as destroying or reconstituting BA-10 cars (as well as other vehicles and artillery) for service in the German Army. German BA-10 cars were redesignated to Panzerspahwagen BAF 203(r) - "r" being used to signify their Russian origin. At the time of the German invasion, some 1,200 BA-10 cars were believed to be in service. Those BA-10s in German use were relegated to security and anti-partisan duties where their battlefield usefulness could be further extended in the short-term. Romania was another notable operator of the BA-10, using captured systems in their fight against the Soviet Union.
In these actions, the BA-10 proved highly susceptible to basic elements of warfare. The vehicle was rather lightly armored for frontline combat and its generally high profile did the crew in. The rubber tires could be punctured by bullets and the side armor penetrated by armor-piercing ordnance. The front-mounted engine - while acting as a protecting buffer for the crew to an extent - could be damaged rendering the entire vehicle a stationary pillbox. The front machine gun was given a limited firing arc and vision from the driver's seat through the vision slots was limiting. Weight and bulk of the vehicle certainly factored into the BA-10's tactical success and failures. Where the BA-10 did shine, however, was in its application of mobile firepower and cross-country terrain management (including good operational ranges).
With the loss of BA-10 stocks and production facilities, the BA-10 in Red Army service fell largely out of use after 1941. To replace them in their role, the Red Army took to utilizing its inventory of light tanks which offered roughly the same level of firepower through a more adaptable tracked chassis. The armored car in Red Army service was more or less dropped from future consideration - focus now being given to larger, more capable implements such as the excellent T-34 Medium Tank and like-armored vehicles. The few remaining BA-10 vehicles were stripped of their war-making components (including removal of the turret assembly) and developed into ad hoc armored personnel carriers offering mobility and some armor protection. As the Soviet Union was involved in a bloody full-scale war, all manner of vehicles were put into play to repel the onslaught of German aggression.
While certainly a limited design by World War 2 terms, theBA-10 series nonetheless gave good generally decent of herself in action. Earlier in 1932, the vehicle was developed into the GAZ amphibious car tied to flotation devices, seeing only limited production. Later production models of the basic BA-10 armored car also resided under the designation of "BA-32". A specialized railway version existed as the "BA-10ZhD" and this form could equally ride on roadways as needed. The BA-10 series remained the most quantitative armored car in Soviet Army service prior to the war with Germany with some 3,311 total examples delivered.