My ‘first time’

Hello, guys! I am a new face here. I have been playing War Thunder for about 5 years now and this is my very first post on EWT.

I have speculated for a long time as to which vehicle I should write in my very first article about. In the end, I have decided to write about the very first vehicle I have ever played. So, without further ado, let me introduce the one and only…. GAZ-AAA 4M!

Yes, you read that right. When I first opened War Thunder on my PC back in 2016, my go-to country was the Soviet Union. My first battle was on Ash River with a line-up of three vehicles: T-26, BT-5 and the GAZ-AAA. And because I knew it was a war game and anticipated to be shot at without warning, I naturally chose the truck over the two tanks. And the rest is history.

Before I get into more sentimental memories of the old days of War Thunder when I had nothing but three basic vehicles, I thought I might give you a little bit of background on the GAZ-AAA itself.

A brief history lesson

When Stalin came to power in 1927, USSR was far from the great superpower that it would become after WW2. In the last 10 years, the country had experienced WW1, two revolutions and a civil war. The damage suffered in these last 10 years was enormous. Tsarist Russia was never exactly an industrial superpower, but most of the industry and infrastructure that Russia did have had been destroyed as the result of heavy fighting in WW1 and the Russian Civil War. The estimates vary wildly, but it can be concluded that over 12 million people, including civilians, perished in WW1 and Russian Civil War combined. Those who managed to survive were on their knees. In fact, it can be said that just 5 years after its establishment, the Soviet Union was already close to falling apart again.

But Stalin had other plans. He had a vision of creating a dominant superpower out of USSR. To do so within his lifetime, he had to adopt brutal measures. A series of five-year plans was passed by the communist government to quickly rebuild strategically important sectors of industry and infrastructure. To achieve more efficient agricultural production, farms were nationalized and merged to create giant state-run megafarms. All this was of course done at the expense of the average Soviet citizen, as working hours were long, wages low and the communist state assured that everybody stayed poor and miserable.

So much for a history lesson, now comes the interesting part!

GAZ-AA

Stalin’s country-wide process of speedy transformation of USSR from a developing country into an industrial superpower naturally required a high level of mechanization. Materials had to be transported, the Red Army needed tractors and infantry carries. In other words, Stalin needed trucks. A lot of trucks.

Being a poor country in its early days, the Soviet Union suffered from a shortage of motor vehicles. And most of the cars they did have had to be imported, there was shortage of spare parts and the imported machines often failed to operate in the inhospitable conditions of the USSR.

To solve this shortage and to save his emerging superpower from falling apart once and for all, Stalin ordered that a new model of truck is developed, one that could be extremely simple to manufacture, rugged enough to survive Soviet conditions and cheap enough to be produced in large numbers.

Because this new truck was needed quickly, and because Soviet engineers did not have much knowledge or experience in building cars, the go-to solution was to buy an already existing model from abroad, and then slightly modify it to “adapt” it to usage in the specific conditions of the Soviet Union.

The year was 1928. In the search for the right truck, Soviets turned to Ford. Ford’s legendary Model AA truck seemed like a good choice: it was simple, rugged and easy to assemble. Ford agreed to provide the Soviet Union with Ford-AA kits that were assembled in Nizhny Novgorod, where a factory called NAZ was established. NAZ stood for Nizhegorodskiy Avtomobilniy Zavod – literally “Automobile Plant of Nizhny Novgorod”

Ford-AA assembled in Soviet Russia. The banner reads: “WE ARE FULFILLING THE FIVE-YEAR PLAN: FIRST SOVIET FORD”

In 1932, Ford-AA was discontinued. The car had been in production since 1927 and was, at least by western standards, already considered obsolete.

So, what did the Soviets do? They offered to buy not only rights for the manufacture of the truck, but also the entire assembly line and all documentation and know-how that went with it. Now, Americans and Soviets weren’t exactly the best of friends, but apparently Ford didn’t let politics to get in the way of business. They probably thought that as long as the money is green, it would be unwise to let cultural differences ruin a good deal. And so the company agreed to the offer and sold-off the entire production line with all rights and documentation to the Reds. You can’t blame Ford, can you? After all, the Ford-AA was primitive, obsolete and there was no way they were going to make it big with a vehicle like that. Or was it?

In 1932, the automobile plant in Nizhny Novgorod began producing a slightly modified version of the Ford-AA. The first models were called NAZ-AA, but Nizhny Novgorod was renamed Gorkiy in 1932 and so the factory became known as GAZ-AA (read as “dva A” or “double A”). GAZ stands for, you guessed it, the Automobile Plant of Gorkiy.

NAZ-AA being assembled in Nizhny Novgorod. Note the simple angular cabin. This would later be replaced by a more streamlined design.

I mentioned that the Soviet version of Ford-AA was slightly modified. To be precise, the clutch and the drive shaft had been reinforced, as was the steering mechanism. The suspension had also been reinforced to cope with the harsh Soviet roads, or, better said, lack thereof.

The truck was powered by a 3.3 litre air-cooled inline four delivering a staggering power output of… wait for it… 40 horsepower at 2200 RPM. it was quite a low-revving engine, which contributed to its long service life. On top of the unimpressible power output, the motor only delivered 165 Nm of torque, which isn’t great either. But that didn’t stop it from consuming astronomical 19 litres of petrol per 100km on road. A combination of factors contributed to this giant number. The truck weighed 1.8 tons, but it only had a 4-speed gearbox. On top of that, the compression ratio was just 4.22:1.

Now a physics lesson. I am very bad at physics, so I will try not to confuse you… If you’re familiar with the term compression ratio, skip this paragraph. If not, read along! Compression ratio it is the ratio of the cylinder volume to the amount of space left when the piston reaches its highest point – that is when ignition happens. See, if you have a compression ratio of 4:1, it means that the space in the cylinder is 4 units before compression and only 1 unit after compression. In the moment of full compression, the piston only reaches to three quarters of the cylinder’s volume before ignition happens, so it leaves a lot more space than in an engine with compression ratio of, say, 10:1. In a 10:1 engine, the piston would only leave one tenth of that volume free.

What is the big deal here? The more pressure is applied to the air in the cylinder, the easier it is to ignite the fuel. This happens because the same amount of air is packed into a tighter space, technically increasing its concentration of oxygen. Because, that gas does not go anywhere, it is just packed into a tighter space. And petrol needs oxygen to burn. And the more oxygen is at hand, the easier it is to set the petrol ablaze. So, simply put, the higher compression ratio = more efficient engine. In today’s cars, compression ration tends to be around 10:1. So 4.22:1 was rather poor, even back in the day.

The upside of having a low compression ratio was that the engine could run on a whole scale of flammable substances, like kerosene, wood gas, etc. without problems.

To give you some perspective, I have recently been looking into buying a ZJ Grand Cherokee which has a 4-litre inline six-cylinder with 184 horsepower at 4700 RPM and around 300 Nm of torque, all the while consuming *only* 15 litres of petrol per 100km. Those are some seriously unimpressive characteristics for an engine like that, but it gives you an idea just how pathetic the engine in GAZ-AA would be today. By the way, the compression ratio of the ZJ is 8.80:1, twice that of GAZ-AA.

Back to our story. Yes, the performance was far from optimal, and the fuel consumption was high. But on the other hand, the truck could be loaded with 1.5 tons of cargo. Even more if you were brave enough to overload your little lorry, which most farmers were. That is where the truck earned its nickname “Polutorka” (From Russian “Polutora”, meaning “one and a half”, as in “one and a half tons”).

What really mattered was that the truck got the job done, no matter what the conditions were.

GAZ-AA truck produced from 1932. Note that the cabin is now more streamlined.

GAZ-AAA

Introduced in 1934, the GAZ-AAA (read as “tri A” or “triple A”) was a 6x4 version of the 4x2 GAZ-AA developed for the Red Army. And just like the GAZ-AA, it was based on a domesticated import vehicle, more specifically the Ford-Timken 6x4 lorry.

With the extra axle, the truck could now carry 2 tons of load. But the aim of adding an extra axle wasn’t to increase usable weight. The extra set of wheels was added to increase the truck’s cross-country capabilities.

To help the GAZ-AAA handle more difficult terrain, a 2-speed transfer case was added to the 4-speed gearbox. This meant that the instead of having 5 gears (4 forward + reverse), the truck now had 10 gears (8 forward + 2 backwards).

But there was a downside to all of this improvement. The lorry now weighed not 1.8 tons, but almost 2.5 tons. Even with the 2-speed transfer case, the weak 40 HP engine couldn’t possibly cope with all that load.

That is why in 1937, the GAZ-AAA received a new engine modification. By adjusting the motor’s compression ratio (you already know what that it) to 4.60:1, engineers were able to squeeze some serious power out of that little 3.3-litre inline four and increase the power output to 50 horsepower.

Imported Ford-Timken lorries and GAZ-AAA trucks served as the basis for of a series of armoured cars: BA-I, BA-3 and BA-6 and BA-10.

GAZ-AAA with three axles

GAZ-MM

Immediately after the launch of the more powerful 50 HP engine in GAZ-AAA, engineers began planning to replace the 40 HP variant even in the two-axle GAZ-AA. However, there was initially a shortage of those new more powerful variants, so they couldn’t begin mass production right away.

The big modernisation came in 1938. The new model was designated GAZ-MM. Aside from the more powerful engine, it received several modifications which made it more durable. The frame and suspension had once again been reinforced, and a new steering mechanism equipped. Visually, it remained unchanged.

Great Patriotic War [WW2]

When Hitler’s Germany launched Operation Barbarossa in 1941, the Red Army operated 151 100 examples of GAZ-AA, GAZ-AAA and GAZ-MM. These vehicles formed the backbone of the Red Army’s logistics – whenever something needed to be moved, they did it.

Following defeats and losses of territory in 1941, the Soviet government ordered the truck to be simplified to save on resources. GAZ-MM, model of 1941 received modified front mudguards, which, instead of being stamped into a difficult round shape, were simply made from bent metal sheets. The windshield was divided into two parts, probably to make repairs easier.

Some metal parts of the cabin were replaced with wood, as metal was a precious resource needed in the production of arms and tanks. At one point, doors and roof were removed completely and replaced with sheets of canvas, to at least keep some dust and snow away from the crew.

But the most noticeable change was that the car was now being made with just one headlight.

This variant was called the GAZ-MM-V. V stands for Voyenniy, meaning “military” or “army-like.”

GAZ-MM-V. Note the simplified mudguards, missing headlight, canvas roof and missing doors.

GAZ trucks, as well as the trucks produced by ZIS, were widely used not just as supply vehicles, but there were also combat variants. Various anti-aircraft weapons were installed on lorries to compensate for USSR’s deficit of self-propelled anti-aircraft units. There were both factory-made and improvised models.

Another interesting modification was the armoured personnel carrier. At the Izhevsk factory, cabins were removed from lorries and replaced by welded armoured cabins. Armour plates were also installed along the sides of the truck’s bed to give some protection to the load or passengers that occupied it.

An improvised armoured personnel carrier from the factory in Izhevsk. This one appears to have been captured and put into service with the German army.

Road of Life

Perhaps the most well-known deployment of these types of trucks was their usage on the Road of Life.

When Leningrad (today’s Saint-Petersburg) was besieged in 1941, the city was bound to fall into Germany’s hands. But the citizens of Leningrad would not go down without a fight. Taking down Leningrad proved to be an extremely difficult task. Despite heavy fighting and great losses on both sides, the city refused to give up.

To keep Leningrad alive, the Soviets needed to find a way to supply the city with basic needs like food, clothes and ammunition – all of which were inaccessible to the city’s occupants because of the German blockade.

The only plausible option seemed to be to somehow reach Leningrad across the frozen Lake Ladoga. First attempts were made by sleigh, but pretty soon, trucks were brought in. In the freezing winter of northern Russia, under sustained artillery barrages and bombardments from the German army and air force, trucks loaded with supplies and their heroic crews would regularly embark on a 35km long journey across the ice to feed the besieged city, evacuate the wounded and attempt to make it back in one piece.

Naturally, a large portion of trucks was lost, their crews perishing in the freezing depths of Lake Ladoga, but ultimately, the Soviets managed to hold Leningrad and the siege was finally broken in 1944.

GAZ-AA lorries driving across Lake Ladoga, along the Road of Life

So next time you wake up feeling like you’re having a really bad day – cheer up! Remember those who had to cross a frozen lake under intense enemy fire in a column of unarmoured 40 HP lorries.

Post-War Years

After World War Two, Soviet engineers could no longer deny that the GAZ-AA was just too obsolete and needed to be replaced.

In fact, works on a new truck began much earlier, before WW2 even, but they had to be halted, because in 1941, the USSR was faced with a more pressing problem than having obsolete automobiles.

And only after this problem had been adequately dealt with, engineers in Nizhny Novgorod were once again given a free hand to continue working on whatever they had in mind before the war.

The production of a new model, GAZ-51, began as early as 1946. But don’t worry, that wasn’t the end of GAZ-AA/GAZ-MM. Because there was once again a shortage of motor vehicles (this was permanent phenomenon in the USSR), it was decided to leave the old GAZ in production until enough new GAZ-51s were built to satisfy the colossal demand.

Production was moved from Nizhny Novgorod to Ulyanovsk, where the last GAZ-MM rolled off the production line only in 1950. (some sources claim that it was actually in 1956!)

But by then it was evident that the days of GAZ-AA were numbered. The world has changed dramatically and so did automotive standards. Even in the USSR, the old lorry was now officially considered obsolete and most of them were put into army’s reserves, where they stayed until 1962.

1962 was the year GAZ-AA finally met its end. A ban on motor vehicles without power brakes made it illegal to drive.

A monument to GAZ-AA in Nizhny Novgorod

Variants and vehicles based on GAZ-AA

Aside from the already mentioned GAZ-AAA and BA series of armoured cars, a number of vehicles were derived from the GAZ-AA. Some examples worth mentioning are:

GAZ-42 – a version running on gasogene

GAZ-44 – a version running on compressed gas

GAZ-60 – a half-track version with rubber tracks

PMG-1 – a fire engine

GAZ-03 – a bus

GAZ-55 – an ambulance

BZ-38 – a fuel tanker

Final thoughts

It is safe to say that GAZ-AA was one of the most important cars in USSR’s history, and a landmark in the history of automotive industry itself. What started as an old Ford produced under license became a fundamental element of Soviet Union’s transformation into an economic and military superpower.

The truck did exactly what it was supposed to do: it got the job done. And in getting the job done, it managed to significantly contribute to the allied victory in World War 2. That is why it was just as important as the T-34 tank or the PPSh-41 sub-machine gun.

When we remember those, who have fallen in combat during WW2 and the machines they served on, we should never forget the truckers and their GAZ-AAs.

If you managed to get all the way to the bottom of this article, then you must really be fond of old automobiles, WW2 or perhaps just bored to death.

Either way, congratulations and thank you for reading. Next time I will be looking at the different variants of the GAZ-AA in War Thunder, tell you a little bit about how to play them and share some of my experiences. Stay tuned for more!

Contributor

Jan
Published June 30, 2021

Leave Your Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.