Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (1949-1980s)
Light Reconnaissance Armored Car – Unknown Number Built
After the birth of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) on September 8th, 1948, the Soviet Union, which supported the small communist nation on the Korean peninsula, began to provide several thousand military vehicles to form the Korean People’s Army – Ground Force (KPA-GF). Among these vehicles, there were some BA-64 light armored reconnaissance all drive armored cars. These had proven themselves during the Second World War when used appropriately.
Used by the KPA during the Korean War, the BA-64 still proved to be valuable, even if the weapons of war had changed and the limitations of this 1942 armored car began to be evident.
Despite the moderate performances of the BA-64 during the three years of war, the Korean People’s Army kept the armored car in service for several decades, finally withdrawing them from service in the 1980s.
Soviet Armored Car Genesis
The first domestically-built armored cars to be used by the Russians date back to 1913, when the Russian Empire ordered 15 light armored cars and 3 trucks armed with machine guns from the Russo-Balt Wagon Factory. In 1914, the Russian Imperial Army created the first Automobile Corp, with a company of Russo-Balt armored cars that had their baptism of fire in mid-October 1914.
During the First World War, the Russians used armored cars of various makes and qualities extensively, with soldiers and generals having the opportunity to appreciate their characteristics.
During the Russian Civil War (7 November 1917 – 16 June 1923) and the Polish-Soviet War (14 February 1919 – 18 March 1921), the armored cars produced in Russia or purchased from abroad during WW1 were used extensively with good results, satisfying the expectations of the Soviet generals. The Soviet High Command decided to continue the development of armored wheeled vehicles.
In the 1920s, the only model of Soviet armored car in production was the BA-27 (BA stands for ‘БронеAвтомобиль’, Armored Car in Russian). It was built by the Avtomobilnoe Moskovskoe Obshchestvo, AMO (Eng: Moscow Automobile Plant), on the chassis of the AMO-F-15 truck. This was a license production version of the Italian FIAT F-15 truck.
In the early 1930s, the development of armored cars in the Soviet Union picked up pace dramatically, despite a weak start with less famous models, such as the Dyrenkov-8 (produced in 60 produced) and the Dyrenkov-12 (33 produced).
Other projects included the FAI and FAI-M, BA-20, and BA-I, the last of which gave birth to the powerful series of Soviet Heavy Armored Cars, from the BA-3 to the more modern BA-11.
The BA-64 Light Armored Car
After the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, the Red Army High Command realized that the older light armored cars in service were no longer adequate for the Eastern Front. Thus, less than a month after the start of the German invasion, the development of a new light reconnaissance armored car began at the Gorkovsky Avtomobilny Zavod or GAZ (Eng: Gorky Automobile Plant).
After an attempt to modernize the BA-20, the GAZ Bureau designers resumed the design of the LB-62, a light armored car based on the GAZ-62 chassis with a T-40 light tank turret. This was developed after analyzing a captured German Sd.Kfz. 221. The new vehicle had an armored structure with fully welded plates, mounted on the chassis of the new all-drive GAZ-64 which had just gone into production at the Gorkovsky Avtomobilny Zavod.
By January 9th, 1942, the first prototype was ready. On February 17th, evaluation tests began, and on March 8th, 1942, it was presented to Stalin at the Kremlin. Finally, on March 14th, 1942, after due modifications, the armored car was accepted into service.
The new octagonal turret was open-top, so that the machine gun could also be fired at aerial targets.
The armament consisted of a Degtyaryova Tankovy (English: Degtyaryov Tank – DT) gas-operated, flapper blocking light machine gun chambered for the standard Soviet 7.62 x 54 mm R cartridge with a firing rate of 550 rounds per minute. This type of machine gun was the tank version of the famous Degtyaryova Pekhotny (Degtyaryov Infantry – DP) Model 1927, developed by Vasily Degtyaryov in 1927. The DP had entered service with the Red Army in 1928.
The version for armored vehicles was developed and entered service in 1929 starting from the base of Degtyaryova Aviatsionny (Degtyaryov Aeronautica – DA), also being named DT-29.
The machine gun did not have a wooden stock but an adjustable metal stock, so as to occupy less space when not in use. The ammunition consisted of 20 round-shaped 63-round magazines, for a total of 1,260 rounds. The vehicles fitted with RP-12 radios (about 40% of the vehicles produced) had only 17 magazines, for a total of 1,071 rounds.
The crew consisted of only two, a driver and a commander/machine gunner/radio operator. The interior of the armored car was very basic. Eleven magazines for the machine gun were stowed on the right, with 9 on the left. On the left side was a medical kit, an engine ignition battery, a fire extinguisher and, on the vehicles on which it was mounted, a radio.
The driver had a steering wheel, a dashboard with a speedometer and other dials and a gear shift lever, clutch, accelerator, and brake as well as 4 spare vision blocks in a rack on the right side.
There were two access doors, one on either side of the driver. There was also a large frontal armored slot to see where to drive. On mid-production vehicles, two vision slits were added, allowing a driver to see towards the sides of the vehicle and use their personal weapon for close defense.
A commander could exit the top of the turret and had two side slits from which to observe the battlefield. In addition to the DT-29 machine gun, the crew could also rely on their personal automatic weapons and 6 to 8 F-1 fragmentation hand grenades (depending on the model of BA-64) stowed on the sides of the armored car.
The motor was the GAZ-MM (sometimes called GAZ-64-6004) in-line 4-cylinder liquid-cooled 3,280 cm³ engine delivering 50 hp at 2,800 rpm. This guaranteed a top speed on-road of almost 80 km/h. The fuel tank was mounted at the rear, behind the gunner, holding 90 liters of fuel and offering a 560 km range, adequate for a 2.4 tonnes vehicle.
The BA-64B version was based on the chassis of the GAZ-67, which was almost identical to the GAZ-64, but with new K-23 carburetors (and later K-23B carburetors). These increased the maximum power of the engine to 54 hp. This engine is sometimes called GAZ-64-6004-B.
The gearbox had four forward and one reverse gears. The drive to the front-wheels could be disengaged by the driver to consume less fuel. The front suspension consisted of two elliptical springs and one hydraulic shock absorber for each wheel. The suspension of each of the rear wheels consisted of one semi-elliptical spring and two hydraulic shock absorbers. From February 1943 onward, two additional shock absorbers were added to the suspension on the front wheels and the springs were strengthened.
The wheels of the armored car were of the size 7.00-16″ and were of two types: ‘GK’ or ‘Combat’, filled with spongy rubber that resisted bullets but limited the maximum speed to 40 km/h; or conventional tires of the same size, that guaranteed a maximum speed of almost 80 km/h on the road.
A total of 9,069 BA-64 armored cars were produced between April 1942 and 1946, of which 6 were prototypes of various experimental models, 3,903 BA-64s, and 5,160 BA-64Bs.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
Exactly 3 months after the end of the hostilities in Europe, on August 8th, 1945, Stalin declared war on Japan. On August 15th, the troops of the Soviet Red Army crossed the border that separated the Soviet Union from Korea, advancing without meeting Japanese resistance and entering Pyongyang on August 24th.
As previously agreed with the Western Allies, the Soviet troops ended their advance about halfway down the Korean peninsula, at the 38th parallel. There, they waited for the US troops that landed on the southern part of the peninsula on September 8th.
After an attempt to unify the two states failed, on August 15th, 1948, the Republic of Korea was proclaimed in the south, with its capital at Seoul and presided over by Syngman Rhee. On September 9th, 1948, the birth of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was proclaimed in the north, with its capital at Pyongyang. This embryonic Stalinist state was guided by the first of a dynasty, the ‘Great Leader’, Kim Il-sung.
The BA-64 during the Korean War
At the outbreak of the Korean War, on June 25th, 1950, the forces of the Korean People’s Army were divided into two armies. The 1st Army, under the command of General Kim Ch’aek, consisted of the 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 6th Infantry Divisions, and the 105th Armored Brigade. They were ordered to take the Ongjin Peninsula and Seoul, the capital of the ROK.
The 2nd Army, commanded by General Kim Kwang-hyop, was instead composed of the 2nd, 5th, and 7th Infantry Divisions, with the task of invading the central-eastern part of South Korea, in the direction of Inje. In total, there were 54 BA-64 and BA-64B armored cars in the KPA’s ranks, which had arrived from the Soviet Union before the war.
Along with a few GAZ-AA trucks equipped with DShK heavy machine guns, the armored cars were used in the early stages of the war as infantry support vehicles, a task not suitable on a vehicle with such limited protection and armament.
During the fighting of the early days of the war, the BA-64s encountered many difficulties. Although the ROKA had no armored vehicles, apart from 200 M8 Greyhounds donated by the US Army before the war, the poorly organized ROKA forces made extensive use of anti-tank weapons such as 57 mm M1 cannons, M1 Bazookas and derivatives, and 57 mm and 75 mm M18 and M20 recoilless rifles. These were not very effective against the mighty T-34-85s, in large part, due to their technical limitations and the training and inexperience of their operators, but could deal with the lighter and far less protected BA-64.
At about 1800 hrs of June 26th, 1950, around 20 junks and less than 10 motor gunboats and motor torpedo boats of the Korean People’s Navy approached Gangnyeongpo, the northern tip of the Gimpo peninsula, controlled by the Republic of Korea Army. The 5th Company of the 2nd Battalion of the 12th ROKA Regiment opened fire and annihilated the KPA troops that were landing, as well as sinking a platoon of armored vehicles. These were probably BA-64 light armored cars or simple trucks mistaken for armored vehicles. They were aboard a junk that was hit by several 37 mm Armor-Piercing (AP) shells from an M8 Greyhound armored car.
As the offensive continued, the BA-64s became increasingly rare. After the first phase of the Korean advance there was a counter-attack by UN troops, led by a daring landing at Inchon, 40 km southeast of Seoul. This amphibious operation, planned by General MacArthur and executed on September 15th, 1950, led to the almost total annihilation of the Korean People’s Army troops south of Seoul.
To avoid being surrounded, the North Korean soldiers had to flee north, abandoning some intact BA-64s due to a lack of fuel. In some cases, some BA-64s were ditched during the replacement of a blown tire or other minor repairs, not due to a lack of spare parts, but due to a lack of time. One of these, abandoned down to a lack of fuel, was the BA-64B of the 603rd Reconnaissance Battalion assigned to the 105th ‘Seoul’ Armored Division. It was captured together with the GAZ-67 staff car of some North Korean officer near Busan in September 1950.
In Incheon, after the landing of the Marines of the X Corps, composed of the 1st Division supported by the 1st Marine Tank Battalion, 7th Marine Division, and the 73rd Tank Battalion, no DPRK tanks were encountered. The only armored vehicle that engaged the U.S. troops was a BA-64, which was hit and destroyed by a 90 mm shell fired from M26 Pershing number 34, commanded by Sergeant Cecil Fullerton, of the 1st Marine Tank Battalion.
During the Second Battle of Seoul, fought between September 22nd and 27th, 1950, some BA-64s of the Korean People’s Army 43rd Tank Regiment were destroyed, but there is no more information.
During this initial part of the war, several tens of BA-64 and BA-64B armored cars were lost. By late December 1950, the time of the arrival of some replacements from the Soviet Union and China, the KPA had only 60 BA-64 armored vehicles in service.
As the fighting progressed, the number of BA-64s on the frontlines diminished, being relegated to patrolling the conquered areas and maintaining law and order in cities such as Seoul.
As the war progressed, they returned to their reconnaissance role, patrolling areas where there was a possibility of encountering enemy units. If they sighted enemy troops, the armored cars would turn around and return to friendly positions.
While this tactic worked during World War II when German patrols were armed at most with automatic weapons, it could not work in the 1950s. UN troops almost always patrolled with the support of an anti-tank squad armed with Bazookas or recoilless rifles which could easily destroy BA-64s even at long range. M20 75 mm recoilless rifles, for example, could easily destroy BA-64s before they were even in range of the DT-29 machine gun.
The People’s Republic of China received around 50 BA-64s in 1945 during the Chinese Civil War, left behind by Soviet soldiers in Manchuria. Some sources report that, after the victory of Mao Tse Tung’s troops, the People’s Republic of China received a number of BA-64 in 1949 from the Soviet Union. This is not confirmed by Soviet records, which state that they started to arm the People’s Liberation Army in 1950. Of the 50 BA-64s that arrived in China during the Civil War, some, which survived the fighting, may have ended up in the Korean peninsula fighting alongside communist units.
After the initial phases of the war, there was a long stalemate that lasted from July 1951 to July 1953. At this period, the few BA-64s still in service returned to a reconnaissance role and no longer undertook offensive or support roles. Nine years after its development, the small reconnaissance armored car was still effective while being vulnerable to any anti-tank weapon or reconnaissance vehicles of the UN troops, such as the South Korean M8 Greyhound armored cars, M24 Chaffee light tanks used by various nations, and British Humber medium scout cars.
Some vehicles were allegedly modified by crews on the battlefields, as Soviet crews did in World War II, with 12.7 x 108 mm DShK heavy machine guns and 14.5 x 114 mm PTRD-41 and PTRS-41 anti-tank guns. These weapons created ergonomic problems for the crew and made the armored car heavier and more unstable, but provided some additional offensive options against the more powerful UN vehicles.
During the war, at least half a dozen BA-64 and BA-64B armored cars were captured by UN troops. Two unit numbers are known, the BA-64B numbered ‘718’ and the BA-64B numbered ‘749’, which was captured together with another armored car, two Soviet M72 motorcycles and other equipment on a North Korean train on July 7th, 1950.
‘718’ and another BA-64, captured in September 1950, were packed up and shipped to the Aberdeen Proving Ground in the United States of America. Another BA-64B was modified by the mechanics of the 24th US Infantry Division by removing the turret, front plate, fenders, and headlights for better visibility. They used it with new US markings as a staff car for the 21st Infantry Regiment until spare parts ran out.
In recent years, BA-64B number ‘718’ has been restored at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, undergoing a long and laborious restoration process. It should have been on display at the Southern New England Military Museum, but that does not appear to have happened yet. The fate of the second BA-64 that arrived in the USA is unknown.
Post-War DPRK Service
After the Korean war, the BA-64 and BA-64B armored cars were kept in service in the reconnaissance units of some mechanized and armored divisions of the Korean People’s Army for another ten years.
The exact number of BA-64 and BA-64Bs used by the Korean People’s Army – Ground Force is not known, but it is possible that the DPRK received around 200 and 300 before, during, and after the Korean War.
From the experiences gained during the war, Korean commanders realized that the presence of vehicles so limited in armament and protection was not necessary. This led subsequent developments to focus on heavier and more powerfully armed tracked vehicles.
In the 1960s, the remaining BA-64s were passed on to second-line units and to the Workers-Peasants Red Guards, a paramilitary force in the DPRK, which kept them in service until the mid-1980s.
In 2013, Adam Åberg of the Blekinge Institute of Technology wrote a paper entitled “Vehicle Design – The Concept of Recontextualization” in which he made the claim that the BA-64s were still in service in the DPRK at the time.
If this was true, the DPRK was the only nation to keep this obsolete vehicle in service up to the 2010s. It can be supposed that, if this were true, the BA-64s were only used for training or ceremonial purposes. Their only value today would be their ease of maintenance.
The BA-64 was an outdated light reconnaissance armored car by the time of the Korean War, suffering a very revealing number of losses during the early stages of the war, when it was employed as an infantry support vehicle.
As the war went on, the BA-64 and BA-64B armored cars still in service were used for reconnaissance, a task that they could still perform fairly well. They would remain in service even after the war’s end, although the date they were taken out of service is unknown.
|Dimensions (L-W-H)||3.66 x 1.53 x 1.90 m|
|Total Weight, Battle Ready||2.42 tonnes|
|Crew||2 (commander/radio operator/machine gunner and driver)|
|Propulsion||GAZ-64-6004 in-line 4-cylinder liquid-cooled 3,280 cm³ engine delivering 50 hp|
|Speed||80 km/h on road|
|Armament||one 7.62 mm DT machine gun|
|Armor||From 15 mm to 4 mm|
Vehicle Design, The Concept of Recontextualization – Åberg Adam, Blekinge Institute of Technology (2013)