Back in the 1980s the Cold War was still in full swing, and there was a real threat of Warsaw Pact forces popping over the border – and not just for a shopping trip to Germany! As a young trooper serving with a tank regiment based not too far from the East German border, besides keeping the vehicles maintained and battle ready we spent many hours in the classroom doing armoured fighting vehicle (AFV) recognition. We weren’t just studying their stuff either, but ours too. Not much point going to battle if you can’t differentiate between friendly forces and the enemy!
We were shown various ‘spy’ shot photographs, models and video footage of Soviet kit, as well as books with photos and profiles of all their wheeled and tracked equipment. Occasionally, the American Red Ball Express would arrive with captured Soviet armour and we were allowed to crawl over it, examining the weak points. The world changed when the Berlin Wall came down a few years later; conflicts such as Operation Desert Storm, Bosnia and so on meant that not only was there more contact with former Soviet kit, but we were now allied and working with former USSR nations such as Poland. This meant we could play with their stuff as well!
Obviously, serving on main battle tanks I already had a massive interest in tanks and armoured vehicles in general. Nowadays there is plenty of former Soviet armour on the open market, so when a good friend bought a BRDM-2 and asked if we could store it I was more than happy to oblige.
After World War II, and with the implementation of the Iron Curtain, the Soviet Military Machine went into overdrive. A huge array of new vehicles was developed for various tasks on the battlefield. The BRDM-1 (Boyevaya Razvedyvatelnaya Dozornaya Mashina, which means Combat Reconnaissance/Patrol Vehicle) had only been in service since 1957 but its limitations and drawbacks had quickly become apparent and a replacement had to be found. The design team set to work…
The BRDM-2 had to remain a lightly armoured, wheeled, amphibious reconnaissance vehicle. But the few years since the BRDM-1 had entered service had changed things and the design now needed to incorporate an NBC protection system, night vision equipment for the crew members as well as some form of armament for protection.
The finished design was known under the designations BTR-40PB, BTR-40P-2 and GAZ 41-08. This vehicle, like many other Soviet designs, has been exported widely and is still in service with nearly 50 countries. It entered service with the Soviet Army in 1962 but was not publicly seen until 1966. Because the BRDM-2 in all its variants was so popular, production carried on until 1989 with over 7,200 made.
Externally the BRDM-2 was designed with a box-like hull and boat-like bow to help its amphibious capabilities. It was designed with a crew of four in mind (a driver, co-driver, commander and gunner). There are two pairs of chain-driven belly wheels which allowed trench crossing when lowered by the driver. To help when crossing various types of terrain an early centralized tyre pressure regulation system was also fitted. This can be used to adjust the tyre pressures in all four tires at once or individually to suit the terrain as required. The engine (a GAZ-41, 140hp V8 petrol) is situated at the rear and separated from the crew compartment by an armoured barrier. An NBC filter system was fitted too.
The armour on the vehicle itself is composed of welded steel, with a maximum thickness of 14mm, that protects fully from small arm fire and small shell fragments. However it cannot withstand hits from .50 calibre rounds or larger armaments. As with all wheeled vehicles of this vintage, the tyres are not protected and, while vulnerable to punctures from small arms fire, the tyre pressure regulation system could keep a tyre inflated for up to a maximum of seven rounds! There is also a winch mounted internally with a 30m cable and a four-tonne capacity. This winch was designed for use for self-recovery when stuck in difficult terrain.
The engine also supplies power to a circular water jet, which is equipped with a four-bladed propeller at the rear of the hull. This is covered by an armoured shutter while on land which needs to be removed before entering the water (and doubles up as extra frontal protection when on land). The water jet allowed a speed of 10km/h for up to 19 hours. There is a trim-board stowed under the nose of the hull which again has to be erected before entering the water.
For the driver and commander, who are both seated at the front of the crew compartment, a (supposedly) bulletproof windscreen was provided for protection. There are two armoured shutters which could be lowered over the windscreen when going into combat. When in the open position though, these shutters also protected them from being blinded by sunlight, snow or rain. For more surround vision they could use their periscopes, which could also be swapped out for night vision scopes when required. To that end, the BRDM-2 is also fitted with an IR (infrared) spotlight and four IR driving lights.
The turret (BPU-1) was originally designed for the BRDM-2, but this design was also widely used in other later Soviet vehicles. It is unusual in its design as there is no top hatch. The turret allowed the two weapons systems (a 14.5mm KPVT heavy machine gun and a coaxial mounted 7.62mm PKT) to elevate between -5 to +30 degrees. The gunner is in the turret during battle, but when travelling normally is seated inside the hull. The crew mounts and dismounts the vehicle via two hatches located over the driver’s and commander’s stations. This proved to be one of the flaws in the design as it meant the only exit for the crew in battle was in front of the turret itself. However, this shortcoming was rectified in the later Polish BRDM-2M 96 modernisation programme and its successors. A common Polish modification was to mount the spare wheel on top of the turret.
The BRDM-2 series was extensively used by Warsaw Pact forces throughout the Cold War. Since the break-up of the USSR it has been modernised by some of these nations. In Russia itself, BRDM-2s are being replaced by BTR-60 as a divisional reconnaissance vehicle. Poland bought 450 BRDM-2s of different variants; by 2004 this had risen to over 600, and it’s Poland that kept updating the original design with its BRDM-2M series. It remains in service in many former Soviet Bloc countries including the Ukraine and Romania, and like all Soviet equipment the BRDM-2 was also sold to many Arab and African countries. What made it so popular for the export market was its ease of operation and reliability – and it was cheap to buy and run.
BRDM-2s have been seen in many theatres of battle and were used by Soviet forces in their war in Afghanistan. The vehicles that were captured, as well as some derelict ones which were restored, are now in use by the Afghan National army. It saw service with Egypt and Syria during their wars against Israel, and the Iraqi Army also had some during the first Gulf War. They were also used in the Croatian war of independence by the Yugoslav People’s Army and then by the Yugoslav Army against the KLA during the Kosovo War.
Can I Buy One?
Due to the large production figures there are quite a few available. Despite still being in service with 49 countries, they tend to be in smaller quantities. With the breakup of the USSR there are many sitting around in scrap yards and storage facilities, which have not been made available on the open market. It is important to join a society like the Military Vehicle Trust (MVT), not only for talking to other owners but as an invaluable source for tracking down vehicles and parts! From what I’ve seen prices are around £10,000-£14,000. If you are looking for something a little different, still useable, and fairly cheap to purchase and run, then the BRDM-2 series definitely has to rank high on the list.
A quick flick round on the internet found some for sale on the following: www.russianmilitary.co.uk, www.armytech.com, www.tanksforsale.co.uk, www.milweb.net.
If you are buying one that is not UK-based and you cannot view the vehicle before buying, or you are not purchasing through a reputable dealer, please take precautions before handing over your hard-earned money. Be warned, many people have fallen foul of unscrupulous ‘organisations’ in former Soviet Bloc countries where all they are interested in is your money. If you are lucky you will end up with something that has just been salvaged out of a scrapyard near Vladivostok; worst case is you will receive nothing and the vendor disappears!
Owning a BRDM-2
What better way of finding out about what an AFV is like to own, run and drive than speaking to somebody who owns one? Ian Barlow owns a BRDM-2 RKh, and explains the whys, whats and wherefores…
“I had originally sought after the BRDM as a sort of Swiss army knife of off-roaders. It had every tool it needed to cross any eventualities and was only limited by its own cumbersome dimensions or operator deficiencies. I first drove one after I had volunteered at a local museum when I was 15 and from that moment was hooked. After my life became more settled I started looking for an off-roader to fill my spare time as well as being something I could use for airsoft. I looked at Defenders, FV432s, and even considered modifying a Freelander with a GPMG mount. But if I was looking at those I may as well get what I’d always wanted: a BRDM-2! It didn’t take long to find companies willing to import one, and at a comparable cost to a second-hand Grand Cherokee.
“Two years on since I bought the BRDM-2 and it is still great to own. It has been very reliable, easy to work on and relatively easy to drive. Driving it is very similar to a normal car – only the gear lever positions are mirrored. The visibility isn’t too bad when driving either as there’s a good all-round view from the periscopes (arguably better than a lot of modern SUVs). Although I have wired a few additional cameras for improving visibility, it is still recommended to drive on the roads with a spotter (for example seeing to the right when stopped at a roundabout can be a little tricky). The mpg suffers because of the fixed rear axle – I currently average 7.5mpg on the roads.”