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Cold War Soviet APCs

BTR-50

USSR (1954-1970) Amphibious Armored Personnel Carrier – 6500+ built

Introduction

The BTR-50 was the first mass-produced tracked and amphibious Soviet-built armored personnel carrier (APC). It was developed from the desperate need of a more mobile APC, capable of keeping up with tanks in rough terrain and be able to operate in the difficult terrain of eastern and central Europe. Despite not having any weapons and being very vulnerable to enemy fire, it served for a long period of time within the Soviet and later Russian armed forces, but also in many other countries.

Development – The Need for an Armored Personnel Carrier

All throughout the Second World War, or the Great Patriotic War for the Soviets, the massive Soviet Army felt the need for a domestic armored vehicle capable of transporting troops to the front and into battle in a safe fashion. The BA-64 and BA-10 armored cars simply did not have enough space to carry any additional troops, neither were they designed for this, despite attempts at such projects. Soviet trucks and half-tracks were not armored and thus could not be used for frontline combat transportation in the way the German Sd.Kfz. 251 half-tracks were used.

The Soviets did receive copious amounts of M2, M3, M5, and M9 half-tracks and Universal Carriers from the USA and UK through the Lend-Lease program during the war. Yet, once the war was over and tensions with the West grew, a domestic APC was needed. The need for a designated APC was accentuated by the practices of Soviet military doctrine – Deep Operation, which relied on armored penetrations deep into enemy territory, fast mobilization of infantry, and multiple waves of combined arms attacks. The lack of an armored personnel carrier was a considerable setback on a modern battlefield.

Shortly after the end of WWII, the BTR-152 was developed. It was an attempt to quickly (and cheaply) motorize the vast Soviet Army by building on the chassis of the ZiL-151 truck, which was a formidable platform. Yet, as a modern APC, the BTR-152 fell short. Primarily, the mobility of the BTR-152 was limited, as it simply could not keep up with tanks off-road. Additionally, it was not amphibious, which was seen as something crucial for fighting in eastern and central Europe. Thus, the need for a tracked, amphibious APC became apparent.

BTR-152 in Yerevan, Armenia.
Source: Wikipedia

In 1948, the GABTU (Main Directorate of Armored Forces) [Rus. Главное автобронетанковое управление] requested the development of two types of Armored Fighting Vehicles (AFV); an amphibious light tank and an amphibious APC. The two were to share as many components as possible, be able to be converted into many versions, and have versatile hulls for the development of future AFV designs. These vehicles were to have the ability to cross bodies of calm water with no prior preparation. Another requirement specific to the APC was that it had to be able to carry 2,000 kg (4,400 pounds) of equipment on water. Development had begun through a collaboration between the Sormovo factory No.112, the Chelyabinsk factory (ChTZ), and the VNII-100 research institute of the Kirov plant, Leningrad. The project manager was the famous Josef Kotin, a renowned AFV designer, having designed tanks from the KV and IS series of heavy tanks.

Josef Kotin, the chief engineer of the BTR-50 and PT-76 program.
Source: kpi.ua

First Prototypes

The Sormovo No.122 plant was tasked with the design of the first prototypes in 1948. By 1949, these were ready and were documented as the ‘Object 101’ (R-39 light tank) and ‘Object 102’ (R-40 APC). They, however, failed the factory tests. The reliability and strength of certain components were poor and the vehicles did not even reach the desired speeds of 10 to 12 km/h (6 – 7 mph) over water. They were as well underpowered on land, not reaching the desired top speeds of 50 km/h (31 mph). On the second prototype, to fix the slow speed, the propellers were mounted externally and were supposed to be lifted onto the engine deck when not used, causing them to be vulnerable to enemy fire and overall damage. The second round of testing was done at VNII-100 institute in Leningrad, but they failed those too. The poor performances led to the Sormovo No.112 factory being removed from the program. After this disappointment (the program was supervised by Stalin himself), some of the heads of No.112 factory, alongside certain engineers, were removed from their offices and held accountable.

Object 102, also known as BTR R-40, from the No.112 factory. Source: Rulit.me

The Council of Ministers of the USSR decided on 15th August 1949 that the VNI-100 research institute in Leningrad should restart the development of the two vehicles, with testing to be started in 1950.

Object 750

Work started immediately on the new combat vehicles on the 15th of August, 1949 and the blueprints were ready by the 1st of September. The project was moved entirely to the Chelyabinsk factory, receiving the GABTU designation ‘Object 750’ for the APC and ‘Object 740’ for the light tank. In ChTZ, there were four different systems proposed for the steering and propelling of the light tank (Object 740) in water. These were:

    • propellers in water tunnels
    • conventionally mounted propellers on hinges
    • water-jets
    • tracked propulsion.

Engineers Kotin and L.Troyanov wanted to implement hinged propellers, as they had worked on vehicles with the same propulsion before, however, Nikolai Shashmurin (the famous Soviet tank designer behind the IS-7 and others), who was also involved in the project, wanted to implement water jets. Shashmurin went to the Minister of Medium Machine building, Viacheslav Malyshev, to get his idea materialized. Malyashev agreed, and this meant that all alternative propulsion system projects were terminated, focusing entirely on a vehicle with two waterjet engines. The first Object 750 prototype was completed in April 1950.

The reasoning behind why the water propulsion system was first designed as part of the light tank was that, because the light tank was expected to weigh more than the APC (in reality, they were almost identical), whatever system would work on the tank would surely work on the APC.

The first prototype of the Object 750. The holes in the rear of the hull are for the reverse water jets. These would throw out water forwards, at high pressure, allowing the vehicle to go backward. Source: http://btvt.info/1inservice/btr-50.htm

Rivals; K-75 & K-78

The R-39 and R-40 were not the only competitors for the new amphibious light tank and APC. The Central Design Institute D.M. Karbyshev, Moscow, headed by A.F. Kravtsev, was also in this competition. Kravtsev understood the difficulties of supplying parts in remote areas or on the frontline, so he and his team wanted to use as many automotive and readily available parts. Truck engines and retired light tanks, such as the T-60, were a great source. They came up with a series of vehicles using these parts, the APCs were the K-75 and K-78. The K-75 had a very low profile and was cheap, yet the small engine and lack of designated water propulsion system made it swim with hope and prayers, rather than waterjets. It was also considered too small. Nonetheless, it still somehow managed to pass the requirements set by the Chief of Engineering forces in 1948, but it was not ordered into production, likely because of the superiority of the R-39 and R-40 designs. The K-78 was developed simultaneously with the K-90 light tank, a competitor for the PT-76. While the K-78 did have two propellers and rudders, it was deemed to be too slow on both land and water, despite the boat-shaped hull. Additionally, the crew compartment was still too small. Both failed prototypes survive today in Kubinka.

The K-75 prototype in Kubinka.
Source: Tumbral
The K-78, like the K-91 hull it shared, used a boat-shaped hull and large propellers with a rudder each to boost speed and maneuverability in water. It today stands in Kubinka.
Source: Encyclopedia of Safety

Trials

During June and July of 1950, factory testing of the first Object 750 prototype began. Allegedly, it flawlessly passed the tests, one of which was to drive for 1,500 km. Another trial was testing the buoyancy of the vehicle with the specified 2,000 kg payload. After the first swim, the vehicle showed no problems, deeming the first test as successful. However, due to the good performance on the first test, the trialing manager decided to repeat it, this time with 20 men aboard. As soon as the vehicle entered water, it began to flood and, by the time it was in the middle of the basin, it had sunk. Fortunately, the body of water used was very shallow and those who stood on the engine compartment “only” had water to their knees. The crew itself also climbed onto the deck of the vehicle. It was only after the transporter was pulled ashore, that they found out that screws and drain plugs for the hull hatches had not been mounted back onto the APC after the first swim.

Object 750 prototype during swimming trials. Note the frontal water guard (or ‘trim vane’), offering stability and preventing water from reaching and entering into the driver’s hatches. Source: http://btvt.info/1inservice/btr-50.htm

Shortly after, two more Object 750s were built and, in August 1950, presented to state officials. State trials of these two prototypes were undertaken between 4th and 29th September in Brovary, Kiev. However, the prototypes failed the mileage testing and, according to the Council of Ministers of the USSR, on 31st December 1950, VNII-100 and ChTZ were required to fix the issues by 1st May 1951.

The new prototypes were delivered in July and state trials began in August 1951. They passed trials and three more vehicles were ordered and delivered by August 1952. Testing was carried out between September and October of 1952. One of the tests was firing the 57 mm ZiS-2 and 85 mm D-44 field guns mounted on top of the BTR while afloat! This was done out of the factory engineers’ own will, as the state requirement was to transport the guns, in no way whatsoever to be able to fire them. Regardless, the tests went well. The BTR sustained no damage and stability while firing was acceptable. The Object 750 did not capsize or flood, thanks to the vehicle’s long and wide body. Weirdly, it did not pass firing tests with a 12.7 mm DShK heavy machine gun, which was mounted on a ring around the commander’s hatch, probably because the roof was too thin. Instead, a 7.62 mm SGMB machine gun was mounted.

One of the later Objet 750 prototypes with the 12.7 mm DShK heavy machine gun. Source: http://btvt.info/1inservice/btr-50.htm

On 30th January 1954, after decisions made by the Council of Ministers of the USSR, the BTR was put in service and and additional 10 new vehicles were ordered under the name BTR-750P (BroneTransporteR Russian: Бронетранспортер, meaning Armored Personnel Carrier). The Volgograd Tractor Plant (VgTZ) was selected for their production. By 1955, the name was changed to BTR-50P and mass production was in full swing. It would be unveiled to the public for the first time in November 1957.

Design and technical data

The BTR-50’s lower hull was identical to that of the PT-76, a wide and spacious body for good stability and buoyancy in water, and a heavily sloped front to give better fording capabilities. A large lightly armored box was mounted over the front of the vehicle. The driver sat in the middle and the commander was on the left, with three TNP-B periscopes to look out from. The driver had a small hatch right in front of him which could be opened in non-combat environments, however, it could not be used for entering or exiting. On the other hand, he did have an emergency exit port on the floor of the vehicle, which was not recommended to be used while in water.

The driver’s workstation. He controlled the tracks with two tillers and had three periscopes to see out from.
Source: btvt.narod.ru

The compartiment where the 12 troops sat on benches running across the width of the APC was open-topped and had no side hatches. This meant that the soldiers had to climb over the sides of the vehicle and sit in the open air. This issue was fixed in later versions. The main engine was a V-6, being a 6 cylinder in-line, 4-stroke, water-cooled diesel capable of delivering 240 hp (179 kW) at 1800 rpm, giving the 14.5 tonne (32,000 lbs) APC a top speed of 44 km/h (27 mph) on roads, a power to weight ratio of 16.6 hp per tonne and a range of 400 km from three 400 liter fuel tanks (two in front of the engine compartment and one at the rear of the vehicle). Tests also showed it could run along 30° side slopes, climb 60° gradients, climb 1.1 m high vertical obstacles, and negotiate trenches up to 2.8 m wide. The engine cooling system had a pre-heater to start at extremely low temperatures. The manual shaft-type transmission had 5-gears (4 forward/1 reverse), similar to the T-34-85 system. The side clutch helped the driver for turning, assisted by a mechanical transmission and a band-brake. Taking the harsh Russian weather conditions into consideration, it could operate in a range between -40 C° to 40 C° (-40° to 104° Fahrenheit). The radio was a 10 RT-26E and for internal communication, a TPU-47 tank intercom was used.

The V-6, a 6 cylinder in-line diesel engine, found on the BTR-50 and PT-76.
Source: Bemil.chosum.com

The running gear had 6 wheels per side with no return rollers. These wheels were hollow and helped with the buoyancy of the APC. Additionally, the wheels used simple torsion bar suspension. This layout proved to be very reliable, with countless Soviet vehicles using similar running gear and tracks, such as the MT-LB and BMP-1. This goes to show that the original GABTU request of making the PT-76 and BTR-50 hull very modular and interchangeable truly paid off.

The armor of the vehicle was very thin and was designed to only protect from shrapnel. It was made out of cold-rolled homogeneous steel sheets welded together. In the front, the armor was 13 mm (0.5 inches) thick, 10 mm on the sides and just 7 mm in the rear (0.3 inch). For later versions that had a 10 mm (0.4 inches) thick roof.

Propulsion in water was done through two main jets with openings in the floor of the APC. Water would be pumped up and propelled out the back of the vehicle through two holes, creating thrust. To steer, either one of the holes was shut. For example, to turn to the right, the right whole was closed while the left was still running. Closing the ports to the jets forced the water to exit under pressure through the ports on the side, forcing the water forwards. When reversing, both rear jet holes were shut, redirecting the water to the two smaller ports on the side of the vehicle. This system was designed by Nikolai Konowalow and was identical to that of the PT-76.

Diagram showing steering of PT-76 in water. The system on the BTR-50 was identical. Source: m.blog.naver

As mentioned earlier, the BTR-50 was supposed to be able to carry 2,000 kg over water. The reasoning behind this rather high carrying capacity was to transport a large variety of equipment over water. This included towed weapons and cannons, such as 57 mm, 76 mm, 85 mm guns, 107 mm recoilless rifle, 120 mm mortars, and even GAZ-69 cars. This would have sped up crossing rivers considerably, and having an APC that could transport both the troops and their weapons was a massive upside to the design. Engineers experimented with two different types of mounting systems for the equipment, either an electric crane or a winch with a simple ramp. The crane, run by the main engine, would lift the equipment over the sides and onto a bed. This option was deemed too mechanically and operationally complex, added weight, and, most importantly, expensive. As a result, the winch and ramp alternative was chosen. The winch was mounted underneath the hull, meaning that the cable was running through the center of the fighting compartiment. The winch had a lifting power of 1,500 kg. The system was only used on the BTR-50P and was eventually dropped, as designated amphibious transporters were developed, such as the PTS.

The ramp/winch system of the Object 750 showing loading and transportation of a 85 mm D-44
anti-tank gun. Source: Weaponews.com
A BTR-50 with a ZiS-2 gun undergoing firing trials.
Source: Reddit
While the BTR-50P is often shown carrying smaller guns, it was able to carry guns up to 85 mm in caliber. In the image above, the steps necessary for mounting a towed field gun are shown.
Source: army.lv

BTR-50P

The BTR-50P was the first production version to be accepted into service in 1952. It was very rudimentary, with no roof over the crew compartment. The crew and soldiers had to climb over the sides to enter and exit. Likewise, it had no firing ports for the soldiers inside, but considering the vehicle was designed to drive the troops to battle, from where they go off by foot, it was deemed as acceptable. Inside the troop compartment, 12 soldiers could sit on three benches.

Because it had no roof, it completely lacked NBC (Nuclear, Biological & Chemical) protection, which was a large problem considering the military and political environment of the 1950s and 60s. This was also the version with the ramps for transporting material. A similar version, the BTR-50PA, had a 14.5 mm KPV heavy machine gun instead of the DShK machine gun which was mounted on some vehicles. It also lacked the loading ramps and winch system.

As aforementioned, the BTR-50P had the ability to carry a variety of equipment while afloat thanks to its winch and ramp system. These were:

    • 3x 82 mm D-10 recoilless rifles with 24 rounds (6 boxes), spare parts (6 boxes) and individual gun crews, each crew consisting of 4 men.
  • 3x 82 mm M1937 mortars with 120 projectiles (12 boxes), spare parts (3 boxes) and individual gun crews, each crew consisting of 4 men.
  • 1x 107 mm D-11 recoilless rifle with ammunition, spare parts and 5 man crew.
  • 1x 120 mm gun with 32 projectiles (16 boxes), spare parts and 6 man crew.
  • 1x 57 mm or 76 mm gun with 25 rounds (5 boxes), spare parts and 5 man crew.
  • 1x 85 mm gun and two gun crews.
  • GAZ-69 light utility car.
BTR-50P APCs at the Red Square on 7th November 1961. Note the folding ramps and extra fuel tanks which were removed in later versions. Source: Topwar.ru

BTR-50PK

During the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, the Soviet Army experienced considerable BTR-50 losses. The lack of a roof meant that Molotov cocktails and grenades could be dropped into the crew compartment. Thus, an armored roof with two large hatches for exit/entrance for the troops and a round hatch for the commander were added. Considering this additional weight, a torsion bar was added that prevented injuries when closing the door. The roof also allowed for NBC protection for the crew. When the engine was on, air was distributed into the compartment by a supercharger. When the engine was turned off, a ventilator was used.

The troops sat behind the crew’s compartment that ran along the entire width of the vehicle. There was no separator of any sort in between the two spaces, so communication between the crew and troops was simple. Now that the roof was closed, two gun ports were added on each side wall through which the troops could fire.

Other changes were made, such as the addition of a TVN-2B night vision device for the driver, a P-113 radio, and an automatic carbon-dioxide fire protection system. A new fuel tank was installed, extending the range with 150 km (93 miles). It entered service on 27th October 1958 and was the largest upgrade for the BTR-50 during its service life within the USSR. It received the codename Object 750PK. Many BTR-50Ps were converted to the PK standard.

BTR-50PK during a parade. Note the open roof hatches and InfraRed (IR) light. Source: Pinterest
Top view of the BTR-50PK
Cutout side view of the BTR-50PK. Various details, such as the driver’s position and controls, machine gun ports for the troops and transmission are well shown. The large tube in the rear is the water jet. Source: Btvt.info
All three hatches open on the crew compartment in the BTR-50PK. Interesting to note are the driver’s position and commander’s seat in front of the benches for the troops. Source: BTR-50 – Modimio Collections
BTR-50PK troop compartment, view from commander’s position. Note the three, longitudinally-mounted benches.
Source: Source: army.lv

BTR-50PU

This was the most produced and exported version of the BTR-50. In addition to being a conventional troop transporter, the PU version was a command version of the BTR. These had new radios, an auxiliary power supply, a new ‘cupola’ in the front with three additional TNP-B periscopes, four antennas, and lacked weapons. A TVN-2B night vision device was also added for the driver. A third crew member was also added, responsible for navigation. He sat to the right of the driver. For communication between the crew members, an R-120 intercom system was used.

This version was heavily exported to many nations. Poland and Czechoslovakia produced this version under the name OT-62 and had an entire array of other versions. There was also a marine version with an elongated ‘nose’. Three other versions were the BTR-50PU-2 with R-123 and the R-130M radios and a portable generator, the modernized BTR-50PUM with an AMU telescopic antenna mast and R-123 (3x), R-130, R-326, R-405D, and T-218 radios, and the BTR-50PUM-2 with a reduced crew of 8 and the same equipment as in the BTR-60 R-145BM. Both M versions were converted between 1972 and 1980.

BTR-50PU. The new antennae and new sponson with TNP-B periscopes on the front can be seen. Source: Flickr
BTR-50PU crew compartment from the vehicle manual. Note the addition of the third crewmember location, to the right. Source: BTR-50PU manual
BTR-50PU command version working space. Source: BTR-50PU manual
BTR-50PU schemes. The changes and detail of the command version become apparent. Note that it does not have the second bulge for the navigator. Source: BTR-50PU manual
BTR-50PU top view. Referring back to the similar image of the BTR-50PK, the differences become clear, such as the larger, rounder exit hatches. Source: BTR-50PU manual

Soviet variants

Given the versatility, huge production, and reliability of the BTR-50, many versions were produced within the USSR.

UR-67

The UR-67 (Ustanovka Razminirovaniya Eng: Mine clearer) is a mine-clearing vehicle equipped with a UR-67 rocket launcher system, with extra UZP-67 or UZR-3 explosive tubes stored inside the hull. This innovative system launches a rocket and an explosive charge. The charge detonates mines, thus clearing a path wide enough for tanks and other vehicles to pass.

UR-67 in the Togliatti Technical Museum, Russia. Source: survincity.com

MTP-1

The MTP (Mashina Tekhnicheskoj Pomoshchi, Eng: Technical Assistance Machine) was an armored technical assistance vehicle built on the base of the BTR-50PK, featuring an electrically operated crane mounted on the left side of the vehicle. For easier transportation, the crane was stored on the side of the vehicle, and when needed, it was lifted and mounted into place. To provide better comfort and more working space for the crew, the hull was raised significantly.

MTP with the crane in operation. The upper hull was extended, making the vehicle much taller.
Source: Topwar.ru

Object 209 ‘Penguin’

This peculiar vehicle was born in 1957 when M.M. Somov from the Soviet Academy of Sciences addressed Kotin from the Kirov plant for the need for a new vehicle to be used in the explorations of Antarctica. Due to the short time for development and strict requirements, a proven platform was needed, thus the BTR-50 chassis was used. The vehicles were very reliable, transporting over 15,000 tonnes of material during the Antarctic expeditions. Thanks to the large, insulated interior compartment, work could be done inside of the vehicle without any need for thick clothes, despite the temperatures being as low as -50°C outside of the vehicle. There was also the Object 210, for the Northern Fleet, but was fundamentally the same vehicle.

Object 209 before transportation to Antarctica. Note the enlarged interior compartment, external fuel tanks, and wider tracks.
Source: Topwar.ru
Model of the Object 209, note the smooth wheels, as opposed to the stamped wheels. This was a mistake or omission in the model, the real vehicle had standard wheels.
Source: Saint-Petersburg.com

Prototypes

While the BTR-50 itself did not serve as a chassis for many derivatives (thanks to the use of the PT-76), there were attempts to mount anti-aircraft guns on top of the troop compartment of a BTR-50P in 1955. These were the ZTPU-2 (BTR-50P2) and ZTPU-4 (BTR-50P4). The first had two 14.5 mm KPVT machine guns while the latter had four. The effective range was around 600 meters. They fell short because of the conception of the ZSU-23-4 Shilka in 1957, based on the PT-76 chassis.

ZTPU-4 with the 4x 14.5 mm KPVT heavy machine guns, a distant relative of the ZSU-23-4 Shilka SPAAG.
Source: Kubinka tank museum

Object 211 (BTR-50 with GTD-350 engine)

In the 1960s, engineer J.Y. Kotin got together with the head of the Klimovsk plant, S. P. Izotov to work together on a gas-turbine engine for the Object 288 tank. They used the GTD-350 helicopter engine found on the Mil Mi-2. They placed the engine into a K-700 tractor and a BTR-50 to study the possibility of using such an engine in a ground vehicle. The engineers noted that it offered pros in terms of mass and size and did not need liquid-cooling, however at the cost of poor efficiency and fuel consumption, plus lack of engine braking.

Object 211 during trials. Note the superstructure was made taller to fit the engine.
Source: Tив

Muromteplovoz upgrade

Russian company OJSC Muromteplovoz offered an upgrade package for the BTR-50 in the 2000s, replacing the engine with a turbocharged 300 hp YMZ-7601, elevating the top speed to 63 km/h. The main addition is the new turret, similar to that on the BTR-80A, it has a 30 mm 2A42 autocannon, automatic smoke grenade launchers and a PKT machine gun. The company claims that this upgrade could extend the service life of a BTR-50 by 15 years.

The Muromteplovoz upgrade, with the new turret.
Source: Muromteplovoz.ru

Exports

Like many Soviet vehicles of the era, the BTR-50 was exported in massive numbers in various nations across the world. Exporting military hardware was one of the ways the superpowers of the Cold War era attempted to keep or bring states into their spheres of influence. It is thus not surprising that a large number of the states which received BTR-50s were communists or socialists. Keeping track of the exact versions and names can be difficult, as each nation has its own modifications, own designations, etcetera. There are also many private companies offering their own upgrade packages for BTR-50s.

Belarus

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Belarus inherited a large number of BTR-50PKs. An upgrade package has been developed, but Belarus no longer has BTR-50s in service. The upgrade, BTR-50PKM, had new brakes, steering, transmission and a new engine; the UTD-20, giving 300 hp. An ARV (Armored Recovery Vehicle) upgrade package is also available. The upgrades are carried out by Minotor Service in Minsk.

Belarussian BTR-50PKM. Source: Minotor Service

Czechoslovakia & Poland

The OT-62 TOPAS (Obrněný Transportér vzor 62 – Eng: Armored Personnel Carrier model 62) was a joint development between Czechoslovakia and Poland in the 60s. These were based on the BTR-50PK and were built into a variety of different designs and variants, such as ARVs and SPAAGs. Unlike their Soviet counterparts, they often had machine gun turrets to give the vehicle better protection against enemy infantry, an issue with the BTR-50.

OT-62 TOPAS at the Wojska Polskieg Museum in Poland. The vehicle is a Polish version armed with a 14.5 mm KPVT heavy machine gun and a 7.62 mm SGMT coaxial machine gun. Note the side exit hatch, a feature missing on Soviet-designed BTRs.
Source: Wikipedia

East Germany (DDR)

East Germany produced and imported a large number of BTR-50s and built many specialized versions. The Soviet-built BTR-50Ps were named SPW-50P (Schützenpanzerwagen Eng: Armored Personnel Carrier). Many variations were built, including reconnaissance, ARV, air defense observation unit, minesweeper, command vehicles, and many more. After the unification of Germany, the BTR-50s were scrapped or sold.

SPW-50PK of the DDR. Source: Pinterest

One of the more interesting East German variants of the SPW-50 was the Minenräumfahrzeug (MRF) mine-clearing vehicle. Using a similar basis as the UR-67, it used two ‘coffin’ shaped containers containing the explosive charges and the rocket. These were able to create a 100 meter (328 feet) long alley inside a minefield. Two slides were mounted on either side of the engine deck for loading the containers.

The East German SPW-50 MRF. The rocket and explosive charge are located inside the transport containers. Note the angled slide on the engine deck.
Source: Panzer der NVA 1956-1990

Finland

Finland bought 118 BTR-50s from the USSR between 1964 and 1969 and has converted them into command versions and upgraded APCs. These were withdrawn from service in 2018.

A Finnish BTR-50YVI with modern Finnish camo. Source: Deviantart

Indonesia

In 1997, Indonesia purchased 34 BTR-50s from Ukraine, with subsequent orders in later years. These were upgraded with new engines, brakes, radios etcetera. They are used by their Marines. Another version used by the Indonesian Marines is the PAL-AFV, which is a local modernization of the BTR-50. Two large issues had been identified by the Indonesian Marines with the standard BTR-50, the first being water entering into the radiator. The water pumps tasked with removing the water can fail in powerful currents. The second issue was that the engine deck was too low, which can be problematic in a high-rise, powerful waters. To fix this, the entire engine deck was elevated.

Indonesian BTR-50PK. Note the smoke grenade launchers.
Source: IndoMiliter
PAL-AFV in a parade. The much taller engine deck can be seen.
Source: Indonesia Defence

Iran

There are still a number of BTR-50s left in Iran, after they purchased around 270 in 1966 from the USSR. A heavily modified BTR-50, known as the ‘Makran’, was unveiled in 2020, with additional armor and a new turret. This conversion was made by the Iran Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC).

Surprisingly, the Makran maintains its amphibious capabilities, courtesy of the original Soviet design. The entire front and sides have been up-armored. The turret is armed with a 30 mm autocannon and is unmanned.
Source: Tasnim News

Iraq

Iraq ordered around 250 units in 1968 from the USSR and they have been used in the Iran-Iraq War and Gulf War. More recently, some have been converted with large armored turrets, housing ZU-23-2 AA guns. The Iraqis have also converted OT-62s with, amongst others, Cascavel turrets.

As recently as 2019, Iraqi BTR-50s have been modified with 23 mm ZU-23-2 guns, with more being salvaged from graveyards.
Source: IraqBasic
Older Iraqi conversion, with a different turret.
Source: Bukoved.Livejournal

Serbia

Serbia still has 12 BTR-50s in service in addition to 28 in reserve it inherited from Yugoslavia. Yugoimport offers an upgrade package, the BTR-50S, fitted with an M91 E turret with a 20 mm M-55 autocannon, 7.62 mm coaxial machine gun, 9M14 Malytuka ATGM, and smoke grenade launchers.

BTR-50S with the M91 E turret in 2011.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Other operators

– Afghanistan (total of 660 vehicles from 1963 to 1988; large amount most likely destroyed). First 100 ordered from the USSR in 1963, delivered between 1965-66.
– Albania (200 BTR-50s, withdrawn from service)
– Algeria (130 BTR-50s, withdrawn from service)
– Angola
– Bangladesh (withdrawn from service)
– Republic of the Congo
– Croatia (26 BTR-50s, replaced by Patria AMV)
– Cuba (200)
– Egypt (500 BTR-50s upgraded to BTR-50PKM in 2014)
– Guinea
– Germany (Passed over from DDR, sold/scrapped)
– Hungary (150 ordered in 1959. 20 BTR-50PU-2 still in service)
– India (200 BTR-50s in service)
– Indonesia (70 in service)
– Iran (150 in service)
– Iraq (Various rudimentary conversions, such as a turret equipped with ZU-23-2 AA gun).
– Israel (captured from Egypt and Syria, now withdrawn from service)
– Kazakhstan (inherited from former USSR)
– Liberia
– Libya (many still in service)
– Nicaragua
– North Korea
– Romania (withdrawn from service)
– Russia (withdrawn from service)
– Serbia (12 are active and 28 in reserve)
– Slovenia
– Somalia
– Somaliland
– Sudan
– Syria
– Ukraine (none in service; BTR-50M upgrade package available under the name BTR-50M).
– Vietnam
– Yemen
– Zimbabwe

Type 77

The Chinese APC, Type 77, has many visual similarities to the BTR-50. However, it is a completely independent design, based on the Type 63-I, itself derived from the PT-76, ironically coming back full circle. It was produced by Norinco into the mid-1980s and entered service in 1978. The Type 77 was not exported and was declined into four versions, a gun carrier, ammunition carrier, ambulance, and command vehicle.

Chinese Type 77 APC
Source: Military Today

In Combat

Due to the large export numbers, BTR-50s have seen plenty of combat in recent history, however, being an unarmed APC, there are not many notable combat stories and scenarios, as opposed to battle tanks. Used as early as the Vietnam War, they also saw action in the Middle East. Both Egypt and Syria used them during the Six-Day War in 1967, leading to a handful being captured by Israel. The Syrian armored units consisted of 31 MBTs (T-55s/T-62s/T-72Ms), 2 BTR-50s/BTR-60s, and 10 trucks. They were also used in the War of Attrition by both sides.

BTR-50s were used again by all sides during the Yom Kippur War, in October 1973. BTR-50s have and are being used in the Hungarian Revolution 1954, Prague Spring 1968, Iran-Iraq War (1989-1988), and as recently as the War in Donbas (2014-present).

Likewise, they have been used in the war in Syria by various factions with many homemade adaptations. The lack of armor and the Soviet doctrinal design of the BTR-50 makes it a poor IFV/tank, in the way that it has been used by rebels and fighters in Syria.

Hungarian Uprising

In the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 against the Soviet-controlled communist government, Soviet troops stationed within Hungary entered Budapest on 4th November. Sources disagree on how many tanks and AFVs were used by the Soviets, with numbers ranging between 4,000 to as low as 1,100, with the latter being more realistic. Revolutionaries had no weapons to reliably fight off Soviet tanks, many of which were IS-3 or T-55 tanks. However, due to the narrow streets of central Budapest, Molotov cocktails were used by revolutionaries to set tanks on fire. This posed huge dangers to the open-topped APCs then in service, such as the BTR-40, BTR-152, and BTR-50. Around 700 Soviet troops were lost.

A burning BTR-152 during the Budapest Uprising. The lack of a roof and unseparated internal crew and troop sections made it very vulnerable from Molotov cocktails thrown from the buildings. The BTR-50 suffered from the same issues.
Source: The Budapest Beacon

Prague Spring

The Prague Spring began in January of 1968 after Alexander Dubček was elected as First Secretary in the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. He strived for decentralization from the Soviet Union, and encouraged more democratic reforms, loosening control and restriction on media or freedom of speech. The main reform was the splitting of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Socialist Republic and the Slovak Socialist Republic.

Naturally, the Soviets were not too happy about these reforms, and, in the night between 20th and 21st August, invaded the ČSSR, with help from other Warsaw Pact nations – Poland, Hungary, and Bulgaria. It is worth noting that there were attempts by the USSR to reverse the reforms by Dubček, diplomatically, but to no avail. Around 200,000 troops alongside 2,000 AFVs invaded the country, according to the Washington Post. Despite the quick occupation, civilian sabotages and resistance continued for nearly 8 months, leading to around 137 dead and 500 wounded.

BTR-50PK (left) and BTR-60PA in Prague, 1968. Note they have canvases with white aerial markings.
Source: Pinterest

BTR-50 in Israeli use

Israel first captured around 240 BTR-50s and OT-62s from Egypt in the Six-Day War in 1967. The IDF used them extensively until the 1980s when they were sold off/retired in favor of M113s which were first delivered in 1971. Some BTRs were assigned to the 88th Battalion and 440th Reserve Tank Division, which consisted of only captured equipment.

Captured BTR-50 used by the IDF in the Yom-Kippur War. Note the additional machine guns mounted.
Source: Indomiliter

BTR-50s were also used by the IDF in the Ten Hour War, also known as Operation Raviv. Operation Raviv was an Israeli armored raid into the western bank of the Gulf of Suez, on 9th September 1969. Under the cover of darkness, six T-55s and three BTR-50s painted in Egyptian colors landed south of Ain Sokhna just after 0330 hours, north of their main objective; an Egyptian radar installation located at Abu-Dareg. Without stopping, the armored raiding party drove approximately 45 km south along the coast, raiding Egyptian outposts and attacking the thoroughly surprised Egyptian forces along the way. Infantry forces, consisting of elements of the 7th Armored Brigade’s reconnaissance company and Arab-speaking special forces members, fought while mounted in order to maintain momentum and prevent a protracted battle with Egyptian forces. After nine hours of operating in Egyptian territory, the armored force was withdrawn just after 1200 hours via ship north of Zaafarana, having suffered only light casualties and no known vehicle losses.

Two Israeli T-54s and a BTR-50 painted in Egyptian colors during Operation Raviv.
Source: archives.mod.gov.i

BTR-50 in VPA service & Vietnam War

By 1965, the People’s Army of Vietnam (VPA) had received 50 PT-76 light tanks and 50 BTR-50 APCs from the Soviet Union. While the PT-76 was used successfully in the south, the BTR-50 was deemed obsolete and vulnerable at close range and to airborne attacks. One thing remains certain, that even the North Vietnamese found the lack of firepower of the APC a drawback, limiting the effectiveness and versatility of the APC. It is important to note that the Vietnamese landscape is not what the BTR-50 was designed for, being rather the opposite of the plains of eastern and central Europe. Nonetheless, at least three BTR-50s were converted into SPAAGs, with two ZPU 14.5 AA heavy machine guns mounted. These belonged to the 202 Motorized Infantry Regiment and were named BTR-50 ‘phòng không’, meaning anti-air. They saw combat in Quang Tri in 1973 and 1975. Starting in 2014, Vietnamese BTR-50s were upgraded using the Belarusian Minotor upgrade package.

BTR-50 number 609 was converted with a 14.5 mm ZPU machine gun in the crew compartment and one in an armored turret on the engine deck. This particular vehicle was captured by US forces at My Chanh in May of 1973. There are photos of a BTR-50 with different turrets and dual ZPU guns.
Source: Reddit

Iran-Iraq War

By the time of the First Battle of Al-Faw, the Iran-Iraq War had been a stalemate for years. Iran’s lack of resources and spare parts meant that a lot of equipment was lost and unretrievable, having relied on human wave attacks. However, Iran had to focus more on surprise attacks to be able to break the stalemate. One of these was Operation Dawn 8, which consisted of an amphibious landing on the Al-Faw peninsula and occupying it, leaving Iraq landlocked.

Between 100,000 to 150,000 Iranian troops attacked on 9th February 1986. Human wave attacks were sustained on the north of the peninsula while, at the south, amphibious armored assaults were made. The Iranian forces used torrential rain to their advantage, taking the Iraqi forces by surprise, additionally not allowing them to use their vastly superior air force and artillery.

Amphibious ships and BTR-50s, amongst others, were used to transport troops across the Persian Gulf and Shat al-Arab River, until Iranian engineers were able to build bridges to continue the flow of troops and equipment. In the end, Iran captured the Al-Faw peninsula. The entire operation decreased the morale of Iraqi troops and population, also cutting them off from the Persian Gulf.

Iranian BTR-50 during landings on Al-Faw peninsula, February 1986.
Source: military-photo.com
While the Soviets never really used the BTR-50s capability of carrying heavy weapons, in the Iran-Iraq War, it was used in very creative manners. Here, a recoilless rifle is mounted on a BTR-50. The lack of AFVs meant that even a vehicle like the BTR-50, usually with little value in firefights, could be upgunned in many creative ways.
Source: Pinterest

Replacement

The BTR-50 was slowly replaced by the BMP-1 as a frontline mechanized brigade APC. The BMP-1 was also able to engage enemy targets, as it was an IFV. Radio and command BTR-50s and BTR-50PUs were replaced by MT-LBu after their introduction in the 1970s. The MT-LBu was much more versatile and spacious, better suited for equipping a variety of systems.

MT-LBu amphibious multi-purpose vehicle equipped, in this case, with a 1L112 radar.
Source: Vitaly Kuzmin

While most BTR-50s had been retired from active use by 2003, the Russian Armed Forces still possessed large stocks of these vehicles. Potential upgrade plans were met with mixed feelings, some considering them as certified death traps due to the poor armor, while others saw the upgrade potential of such a vehicle, similar to the M113’s long list of upgrades.

The BTR BT-3F is a modern Russian amphibious APC based on the BMP-3F IFV. While it uses modern technology, including a RCWS (Remote Controlled Weapon Station) equipped with a 7.62 mm machine gun, the BT-3F is, at heart, a BTR-50. Intended to replace the MT-LBs and naval infantry’s BTR-82As (which have entirely replaced the BTR-80s), the BT-3F is able to carry troops and provide moderate support during amphibious maneuvers. Unlike the BTR-50, it has adequate protection, STANAG level 4, and a rear entry and exit door for the infantry.

BTR BT-3F was first shown in 2010. As of 2020, the BT-3F still has not entered service in the Russian armed forces, although Russia did sign a contract with Indonesia to replace their BTR-50s.
Source: Ensamma Vargen

Conclusion

The BTR-50 served as a formidable starting point for future Soviet IFV and APC designs. Thanks to its low price, reliability, versatility, and high production, it still serves in a lot of countries to this day, embedding itself as one of the most influential and well-known APCs in AFV history. Although later BTRs were wheeled for higher speeds and reduced maintenance costs, the BTR-50 chassis still served as a basis for other tracked transporters, like the MT-LB.

Due to its high production numbers and exports, it has seen service in many conflicts around the world, from as early as the Hungarian Revolution to the Iran-Iraq War or Operation Desert Storm. Although their combat value was very limited in these scenarios, as the war they were intended to fight in never took place, ingenious adaptations and armaments made it work.

Like many other Soviet vehicles, many countries have produced their own versions, such as the Polish/Czechoslovak OT-62 or the Chinese Type 77. Even today, private companies offer upgrade packages for the BTR-50, as there are still countries that use them. The BTR-50’s story has ended in Russia, being replaced by more capable transporters, and is nearing an end globally, as the nations that still use them seek to replace them. Nonetheless, the almost 70-year long service of the BTR-50 is surely something to be impressed by.

BTR-50P on parade durin the 1950s. Note the fuel tanks and gun loading ramps.
BTR-50
Soviet BTR-50P, the first version, with an open-air compartment for the troops (1954).
DDR BTR-50PK
East German BTR-50PK, the standard enclosed version (1958).
Hungarian BTR-50PU
Hungarian BTR-50PU (1959), the second command version.
BTR-50
Soviet marines BTR-50PK in the 1970s.
Czech OTAS-62
Czech TOPAS-62 in the 1960s
BTR-50
Iraqi BTR-50PK, Iran-Iraq war of 1985-87.
BTR-50
Egyptian BTR-50PK, war of 1967.
Indonesian marines BTR-50PK
Indonesian Marines BTR-50PK, with some modifications like the smoke dischargers.
Croatian BTR-50PK
Croatian BTR-50PK.
BTR-50
Soviet UR-67 rocket-assisted mine-clearing vehicle.
Romanian BTR-50 PU
Romanian BTR-50PU.
Cuban BTR-50PK
Cuban or Nicaraguaian BTR-50PK modified with ball-mounted and two pintle-mounted LMGs.

Sources

Soviet/Russian Armor and Artillery Design Practices: 1945-1995, MCIA
topwar.ru
BTR handbook, the universal APC, CTID
Obrněný transportér OT-62 TOPAS: historie, takticko-technická data, modifikace, Frýba Jiří
soldat.pro
Btvt.info
Weaponews.com
PT-76 amphibious tank, Mikhail Borisovich Baryatinsky
Otvaga2004.ru
Kubinka tank museum
T-54/5 To IDF Tiran 4/5: The Birth Of A Bastard Tank – Ma’or Levy
ARMOR: July – August 2012
Aresdifesa.it
Domestic Armored vehicles 1946-1965
Armor in Vietnam, Jim Mesko
Panzer der NVA 1956-1990
http://army.lv/ru/btr-50/2054/3827
http://btvt.narod.ru/5/btr50/btr50.htm
http://www.opoccuu.com/btr-50.htm
http://army.lv/ru/pt-76/2054/3834
http://www.military-today.com/apc/bt_3f.htm
https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/soviets-put-brutal-end-to-hungarian-revolution
Военная продукция (muromteplovoz.ru)

BTR-50 specifications

Dimensions BTR-50PK (L-W-H) 7.07 x 3.14 x 2.03 m
Dimensions BTR-50PU (L-W-H) 7.07 x 3.14 x 2.05 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready 14.5 tonnes
(32,000 lbs)
Crew 2; driver & commander + 12 to 20 passengers)
Propulsion V-6, 6 cylinder in-line, 4-stroke, water-cooled diesel, outputting 240 hp (179 kW) at 1800 rpm
Speed 44 km/h (27 mph) on road
10.2 km/h (6.2/6.8 mph) on water
Range 240-260km on land
60-70km on water
Armament 7.62 mm SGMB machine gun, 1250 rounds on BTR-50P
14.5 mm KPV heavy machine gun on BTR-50PA
Armor 13 mm in the front (0.5 inches)
10 mm on the sides and roof (0.4 inches)
7 mm in the rear (0.3 inches)
Total Production circa 6500+

One reply on “BTR-50”

There was also some BTR-50PK that were supplied by Israel to South Lebanon that were converted into medevac.

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