Despite the heavy shift to tracked armored combat vehicles during World War 2, the massive Soviet Army understood the value in retaining the wheeled armored car for their production and maintenance simplicity, inherent mobility and low operational and procurement costs. Red Army failures in the Winter War against Finland through late-1939 into early-1940 and during the initial thrust of the German invasion of June 1941 through "Operation Barbarossa" revealed the need for all workable vehicle types to be brought to bear in the Soviet response. Design work of one such vehicle (under the direction of Vitaliy Grachev) began in July of 1941 and eventually begat the "BA-64" series of light armored cars - over 9,000 of the type being built by GAZ (Gorkovsky Avtomobilny Zavod = "Gorky Automobile Plant") from 1942 to 1946.
The BA-64 originated from the chassis of the existing GAZ-64, a multi-purpose 4x4 wheeled vehicle acting as the Soviet equivalent to the American JEEP (the Gorky plant was actually assisted by Ford Motor Company to an extent). Production of this vehicle spanned from 1941 into 1942 to which only 646 were produced. Eventually, GAZ-64 vehicles were given up in favor of the quantitative GAZ-67 series appearing from 1943 onwards to the staggering production total of 92,843 units.
Nevertheless, the existing GAZ-64 chassis offered the required specifications a new wheeled armored design. Owing much of its armor arrangement to the German SdKfz 222 armored car series, the new BA-64 was accordingly fitted with an angular hull superstructure encompassing the forward-mounted engine and two-man crew. The driver sat in the middle of the hull behind an armored visor while the second crew managed a position at the rear hull under an open-topped armored compartment with pintle-mounted general purpose machine gun. Armament amounted to 1 x 7.62mm DT series machine gun with 1,260 rounds of ammunition afforded. Power for the BA-64 chassis was served through a GAZ MM series 4-cylinder, liquid-cooled engine outputting 50 horsepower. This allowed for a maximum road speed of 80 kmh with an operational road range of up to 600 kilometers. The hull was suspended atop a 4x4 wheeled suspension system offering the needed cross-country capability. The vehicle displaced at 2.6 tons (short) overall and featured a running length of 12 feet with a body width of 5 feet, 6.5inches and an overall height (assuming the turret of the B-model in place) of 6 feet, 2.8 inches. Armor protection was minimal and ranged from 4mm to 15mm across the various presented facings.
A pilot (prototype) vehicle was evaluated during January of 1942 and, upon passing the requisite state trials, the design was formally adopted by the Soviet Army in March of 1942 under the designation of "BA-64A". After some practical operational use and 3,900 vehicles produced, this initial model was slightly reworked to become the "BA-64B" series of 1943. The B-model type incorporated the increased wheelbase of the GAZ-67B JEEP series instead and brought about use of an armored traversing machine gun turret.
The BA-64 series was branched into several notable battlefield-useful roles. The BASh-64 was a related staff vehicle which transported VIPs under armor protection while the BA-64D became an ultimately abandoned, though similarly minded, prototype for an armored personnel carrier intended to house six combat-ready infantry. To shore up the limited effectiveness of the 7.62mm armament of the original marks, the BA-64DShK was appropriately fitted with a 12.7mm DShK heavy machine gun and appeared in number from 1944 onwards. The BA-64ZhD was a proposed railcar defense vehicle that fell to naught while the BA-64SKh became a proposed "Winter Warfare" hybrid design utilizing a half-track component coupled with front axle-mounted skis. This initiative existed in prototype form only and was never adopted on a wide scale.
Despite the inherent benefits of the economical lightweight vehicle, the BA-64 series held several key deficiencies. Early forms lacked coverage for the gunner which exposed him to all manner of battlefield dangers and inclement weather. The pintle-mounted reach of the machine gun limited engagement angles and the 7.62mm caliber machine gun was really on sufficient as an anti-infantry weapon. The vehicle managed a rather tall profile which made it an easy target to identify at range and the driver had to take special care on turns or across uneven terrain lest the vehicle topple over. The BA-64's light armor protection scheme also made it extremely susceptible to large-caliber weaponry, mines, anti-tank (AT) weapons and artillery. Punctures of any wheel could also debilitate the vehicle to extreme levels, rendering it a tactical liability in the heat of battle (a spare would be carried on the rear hull panel for replacement).
Regardless, the BA-64 could be procured in massive numbers and its speed and mobility in the field were hallmarks of its design. If properly fielded with accompanying infantry and armored units for self-preservation, a BA-64 could hold its own when called to suppress of flush out embedded enemy units. Its agility could be put to good use in the forward reconnaissance role or as a battlefield surveillance vehicle and its machine gun armament was sufficient enough to engage enemy infantry when providing suppression fire in support of advancing allies.
While production figures vary, it is largely believed that 9,110 BA-64 vehicles were ultimately produced (5,209 of these were of the improved BA-64B type). The type served beyond the Soviet Union and eventually made its way into the inventories of China, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, North Korea, Mongolia, Poland, Romania and Yugoslavia. The BA-64 was still in play at the time of the Korean War (1950-1953) where it was fielded by both China and North Korea. Amazingly, the vehicle is still in operational service with North Korean land forces (2013), well over 70 years since its adoption by Red Army elements of the Soviet Union.
Manufacturing GAZ - Soviet Union
Production 9,110 Units
China; Czechoslovakia; East Germany; North Korea; Mongolia; Poland; Romania; Soviet Union; Yugoslavia
- Reconnaissance (RECCE)
- Support / Special Purpose |
11.98 ft (3.65 m)
5.74 ft (1.75 m)
6.23 ft (1.9 m)
3 tons (2,400 kg; 5,291 lb)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the GAZ BA-64 production model)
1 x GAZ MM inline 4-cylinder water-cooled engine developing 54 horsepower to conventional four-wheeled arrangement.
(Showcased powerplant information pertains to the GAZ BA-64 production model)
50 mph (80 kph)
311 miles (500 km)
(Showcased performance values pertain to the GAZ BA-64 production model; Compare this entry against any other in our database)
1 x 7.62mm DT machine gun OR 1 x 12.7mm Heavy Machine Gun (HMG) in roof-mounted turret.
Ammunition: 1,260 x 7.62mm ammunition.
(Showcased armament details pertain to the GAZ BA-64 production model)
BA-64 - Base Production Series Designation
BA-64A - Initial production model based on GAZ-64 vehicle; open-topped hull rear with pintle-mounted 7.62mm machine gun.
BA-64B - Modified variant based on GAZ-67B vehicle; increased wheelbase; machine gun turret.
BASh-64 - Armored Staff Vehicle
BA-64SDhK - Fitted with 12.7mm DShK heavy machine gun; introduced 1944.
BA-64D - Proposed Armored Personnel Carrier with seating for six infantry; prototype form only.
BA-64ZhD - Proposed railcar defense vehicle; prototype form only.
BA-64SKh - Proposed winter warfare vehicle with half-track rear and front axle skis; prototype form only.
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