In the late 1930s, the Nationalist Government of China strategically purchased a batch of BA-20 armored vehicles. These vehicles played a pivotal role during the Anti-Japanese War and were eventually captured in large numbers by the People’s Liberation Army during the Liberation War.
Origins of the BA-20 Armored Vehicle
In 1934, the Soviet UMM RKKA recognized the need for a new armored vehicle to outmaneuver the existing FAI armored vehicle. Simultaneously, the production of the GAZ-A commercial chassis used by the FAI armored vehicles ended. This led to the development of the BA-20, which utilized the GAZ M1 chassis.
The GAZ M1 chassis was, in fact, a licensed production version of the American Ford V8-40 and was equipped with a GAZ-M engine, also a licensed production version of the Ford BB engine. The BA-20 was designed by the Izhorskogo factory and stood out due to its unique chassis, differing significantly from the FAI.
BA-20 vs. FAI
One noticeable difference between the BA-20 and the FAI was the absence of 2 round covers above the driver and co-pilot windows in the former. While the FAI had these features, the BA-20 did not, setting it apart in terms of design and functionality.
Testing and Advancements
The first prototypes of the BA-20 were ready for testing in May 1936. These vehicles exhibited superior performance compared to their FAI counterparts. The BA-20 boasted a top speed of 95.5 km/h and an impressive range of 704 kilometers on the road and 558 kilometers off-road.
Notably, it outperformed the FAI armored vehicles in off-road capabilities. In July that year, a grueling 5,000-kilometer test further confirmed its prowess. However, two main drawbacks were identified: limited field of vision at speeds exceeding 15 kilometers/hour and relatively weak armament, with recommendations for 12.7 mm machine guns and DT machine guns.
Production of the BA-20 faced several challenges. Initially, the Izhorskiy plant was responsible for manufacturing the BA-20, but due to their commitment to producing armor plates, production was transferred to the Vykunskiy plant. By December 1936, only 33 BA-20s had been produced. Engineers Milosin and Sukhov developed a new conical turret with better ballistic resistance during this time, but delays in its delivery hindered production schedules.
By October 1937, only 15 vehicles with the new turret were delivered, while others retained the old turret. The supply of bulletproof HA tires from factories such as the “Red Triangle” and the rubber asbestos factory in Yaroslavl also fell short.
It was not until the autumn of 1938 that the final iteration of the BA-20 emerged. This version featured strengthened front frames and rear axle springs, enhanced armor protection for the front hull and turret, and the installation of the latest DT machine guns. The upgraded chassis were known as GAZ-MS and BA-20M.
Service and Legacy
The BA-20 entered service at the end of 1937 and quickly became the primary light armored vehicle of the Red Army. It found its place in mobile armored reconnaissance brigades and mechanized units, gradually replacing the FAI armored vehicles.
However, it was eventually succeeded by the BA-64 and was retired in 1945. Due to its rear-wheel drive, it had limited off-road capabilities and was primarily utilized for highway mobile reconnaissance.
Its tires were filled with sponge rubber to offer protection from bullets, but its armor was still vulnerable to firepower exceeding machine guns. The BA-20’s armament was also insufficient for dealing with enemy armored vehicles.
Variants and Specifications
- BA-20: Initial production version, command type with hanger antenna.
- BA-20M: Command type with whip antenna.
- BA-20ZhD: Railway reconnaissance vehicle.
- BA-21: 6-axis type.
- Weight: 2.27 tons
- Length: 4.31 meters
- Width: 1.74 meters
- Height: 2.13 meters
- Crew: 3 people (commander, gunner, driver)
- Armor: 6-15mm
- Weapons: 1 7.62mm DT machine gun
- Engine: 4-cylinder gasoline engine GAZ MM, 50 horsepower
- Power to weight ratio: 20 HP/ton
- Range: 300 kilometers
- Speed: 80 km/h
The Anti-Japanese War Chinese BA-20 armored vehicle played a significant role in the history of military technology. While it had its limitations, its impact during the crucial years of conflict cannot be underestimated. As a symbol of innovation and adaptability in armored vehicle design, the BA-20 left a lasting legacy in the annals of military history.