No. 3/2002 - September 2002
Editor: Fran Bock

The Belarus SIG Newsletter wishes to thank Vitaly Charny for another in his series of articles on famous Belarusian Jews.

Reproduction of this article is not authorized without the permission of Vitaly Charny and the Belarus SIG.


Boris L. Shaposhnik (1902 - 1985)

by Vitaly Charny

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Belarus, a country with a thousand years of history but rarely independence, is looking for its new identity among European nations. Belarus was one of the main manufacturing areas of the Soviet Union and the people of the country were proud of the tractors and heavy trucks they built, among many other things. The Belarus Post Office already issued several sets commemorating the history of truck production. One of the key figures in this successful field was Boris Lvovich Shaposhnik.

He was born into a Jewish family in what was at that time the predominantly Jewish Belarussian town of Pinsk. There were 21,065 Jews out of the 28,368-person total Pinsk population according to the Census of 1897. Boris Shaposhnik could have spent his life in native Pinsk doing a job that was reflected in his surname (Shaposhnik = cap maker). But what could a provincial town give to an energetic young man - a quiet sleepy existence? So Boris left for Moscow, where he enrolled in MVTU (Moscow Higher Technical School), Russia's leading technical University, where in 1929 he gained a diploma in engineering.

In the summer of 1928 Boris was accepted to the Moscow plant AMO (Moscow Auto Works) and later to the new ZIS (Stalin Auto Works) plant where he become a designer and a division head. He designed the ZIS-32 truck and in 1939 he became the chief designer of the plant. War did not give him a chance to develop accumulated experience and he was occupied by the completely prosaic matter - the modernization of ZIS-5v trucks for mass production. From 1942 he was chief designer of UAZ (Ulyanovsk Auto Works), where ZIS was relocated during the war.

In 1949 Shaposhnik was appointed the chief of the design bureau at newly built MAZ Auto Works in Minsk, where he headed the design of career dump trucks MAZ-525 (above left) and MAZ-530 (above right). These trucks were shown on two stamps of the USSR: one in 1957 representing the achievements of the Belorussian Republic, issued in honor of the 40th}Anniversary of the Russian Revolution of 1917, and in 1960 a set demonstrating the best models of the Soviet automobile industry. MAZ-530 was built in 1957 and was the first 40-ton dump truck in the world. It became the symbol of USSR advances in science and technology, along with Sputnik, launched in the same year. In autumn of 1958 it received Grand Prize at the World Expo in Brussels.

After mastering their series production, Boris Lvovich had apparently been forgotten. He went incognito, becoming a "closet" designer. Thousands of his designs forged Russia's military power. Soviet people saw at the military parades their nameless inventions, the pride of Russian technology, but manufacturing plants and the creators of these machines were, for the majority of Soviet citizens, also incognito. From this time Shaposhnik headed MAZ Special Design Bureau with the mission of creating self-propelled chassis for rockets.

He began to work on a multi-wheel formula with independent suspension of all wheels. Shaposhnik developed the ideas and placed them into chassis (MAZ-535, MAZ-537 and others) that were put in production and received high evaluations by the military. Their chief designer received high evaluation, too. In 1968 the State Prize was awarded to B.L.Shaposhnik for the creation of the tractor-trailer family.

But meanwhile the caliber, length, and mass of rockets grew and machines of increased load capacity were required for them: not tractors, but carriers. Thus the family of four-axis MAZ-543 with two parallel cabs came into existence. It is possible to consider this as one of the bureau's greatest successes. Shaposhnik received the order and the title of Hero of Socialist Labor in 1973 and in 1976 was awarded the Lenin Prize.

In the picture above you can see MAZ-543 with SKAD rocket. These systems went into production in the mid-1960's and they still are in good working condition because of their highest quality Shaposhnik-designed trucks. Below are pictures of Belorussian stamps, depicting (left) MAZ-543m with "Rubezh" system and (right) MAZ-543m with "Smerch" system.

Further designs created by Shaposhnik were constructed on the modular principle. Thus appeared the machines of the 547 series with six and seven axes, as customers required. Further developments of the concept were placed into the MAZ-543. His merit was in the fact that such self-propelled chassis were produced in series and that heavy weapons were mounted on them.

At Shaposhnik's design bureau were born the most interesting experimental machines, such as MAZ-7907 with the 1200 horsepower gas turbo engine and electro-transmission with 24 motor-wheels! The stamp below shows MAZ-7907.

Many of his designs and the present work of his design bureau found use in peaceful applications as well. You may see it on the two stamps below. On the left is MAZ-74131 70-ton trailer and on the right is MAZ-8007 chassis with excavator EO-4540.

In 1985 the Soviet Union issued a set of stamps with a history of Russian fire engines. On the 45-kopeks stamp below (Sc# 5414) you can see airfield fire engine AA-60 based on Shaposhnik's self-propelled chassis MAZ-543.

Famous dump trucks and self-propelled chassis designed by Boris Shaposhnik can also be found on stamps depicted on matchbox labels. The MAZ-530 is shown on the left below, and the MAZ-543 on the right. The matchbox labels were issued by Russian matches factory "Krasnaya Zvezda" in 1976.

Boris Lvovich retired in March of 1985, and he passed away in September of the same year. His wife and daughter left for Israel after several years, where they settled in a small town. During the Gulf War of 1991, the vicinity of their town was hit by a SKAD rocket, launched by Iraqis from the chassis MAZ-543, which was created by Shaposhnik.

Copyright 2002 Belarus SIG and Vitaly Charny

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