The Red Army learned much about mobility in its response to the German invasion of the Soviet Union during World War 2. As such, the proceeding years saw much development of wheeled and tracked armored systems capable of traversing water sources and all manner of terrain while hauling scores of Soviet infantry to the front. One such development proved to be the BTR-40, the "Bronetransporter", essentially a lightweight, four-wheeled armored vehicle which saw production reach into the thousands. The design was attributed to V.A. Dedkov and work progressed from 1947 into 1950. The vehicle was then produced from 1950 to 1960 and 8,500 examples entered circulation with dozens of global operators, making the BTR-40 something of a numerical post-war success despite inherent limitations in its base design. Soviet production was handled by Gorkovsky Avtomobilny Zavod.
During World War 2, the Red Army relied heavily on the nimble little BA-64 series armored car introduced during 1942. Over 9,000 of its kind were produced and these infiltrated all manner of countries during and after the war. However, the BA-64 was produced to specifications encountered in a hurried war initiative, essentially an armored car not intended for ferrying troops, and a modern successor with amphibious personnel-hauling capabilities was sought. The BTR-40, therefore, was born through this initiative which proved a further evolution of the "GAZ-63" 4x4 truck having entered service in 1946. After several attempts to finalize a design direction, two prototypes were eventually unveiled in 1950 - the optional armament "BTR-40" and similar "BTR-40A" mounting 2 x 14.5mm KPVT heavy machine guns in a traversing turret, intended for the anti-aircraft role.
Outwardly, the BTR-40 series certainly appeared the typical Soviet utilitarian vehicle of the 1950s. Angled armor facings were used where possible, primarily around the front engine installation and driving cabin, for basic ballistics protection. The front wheels were shrouded in multi-angled fenders. The hood was noticeably bulged and led up to the heavily-slanted front vision port, offering limited forward visibility over the engine. Automobile-style doors allowed for traditional entry-exit options for driver and passenger along the sides of the hull. The rear portion of the vehicle, intended for passengers or cargo, was surrounded by a boxy metal fixture offering basic protection. Headlamps straddled either side of the engine block for low-light/nighttime driving. Wheels were large and heavily treaded, intended to provide the vehicle with the required off-road maneuverability.
Dimensionally, the BTR-40 showcased a running length of 5 meters with a width of 1.9 meters and height of 1.83 meters. Overall operating weight was roughly six short tons. Armor protection ranged from 6mm to 8mm at critical faces which allowed for a counter to small arms fire and artillery spray but little else. Power was served through a GAZ-40 series 6-cylinder unit outputting 80 horsepower at 3,400rpm. The hull was suspended atop a 4x4 wheeled chassis with leaf spring suspension system. This configuration gave a ground clearance of 400mm. Operational range reached 430 kilometers across ideal terrain with speeds topping out at 80 kilometers per hour. A base crew involved two personnel (driver and commander) while six to eight passengers could be carried depending on production model.
Armament on the BTR-40 was considered largely optional and dependent upon the operator's mission requirements. Typically, a 7.62mm machine gun was affixed to the roof of the vehicle with over 1,000 rounds of ammunition on hand. An additional pair of machine guns could be fitted as required, essentially tripling the defensive capabilities of the vehicle and crew.
In practice, the BTR-40 revealed several deficiencies in her design, primarily in cross-country travel and its ability to traverse water sources - two key design ingredients sought by Soviet authorities. This led the Red Army in two directions that ultimately ended with the development of the successful "BRDM" 4x4 amphibious armored car and the 6x6 "BTR-152" non-amphibious armored personnel carrier. During its time as a frontline vehicle with the Red Army, the BTR-40 proved adequate for basic reconnaissance sorties, light troop-ferrying and service as a command vehicle outfitted with additional communications. The BTR-40 was utilized concurrently with the newer BTR-152 and BRDM series cars during its time with the Soviet military (the BTR-152 was its direct replacement). As the basic BTR-40 design lacked any protection against chemical attacks, the "BTR-40Kh" was developed with inherent Nuclear, Biological, Chemical (NBC) protection. The "BTR-40V" of 1956 introduced an integrated tire regulation system. The "BTR-40B" of 1957 was an improved BTR-40A complete with NBC protection and four roof access hatches for six passengers.
While not a total success with the Red Army, the BTR-40 went on to see extensive service in the hands of overseas parties - mainly Soviet-allied nations and satellite states. China even took to local production of the type as the "Type 55". The BTR-40 was recognized as the SPW-40 in East German Army service and 300 units were received. Thousands were ordered overseas including 670 for Yemen, 350 for Egypt, 200 for Mongolia, 200 for Albania and 100 for North Korea. Poland operated 400 of the type whilst Hungary managed some 200. Many have since been withdrawn by more modern military powers.
The BTR-40 was first used in combat during the Korean War (1950-1953) and later in the Vietnam War (1955-1975). It made many appearances in other contained regional conflicts about the globe and, amazingly, continues in service with more than a dozen operators today (2013).