WORLD WAR TWO. ARMOURED FIGHTING VEHICLES & SELF-PROPELLED ARTILLERY
A Number armoured car, passes through the aims of a French town, on route to Falais, France, 1944 (TM)
As always I am grateful to those who have helped me in the preparation of this book, in particular Jasper Spencer-Smith of The Book Package Co Ltd. also sincere thanks once again to David Fletcher and Roland Groom of the Tank Museum, Bovington, Dorset. England, for providing the majority of the photographs and allowing me complete access to the Museums incomparable library. My gratitude also to Bob Fleming for supplying photographs from his collection at such short notice.
Lieutenant Colonel George Forty, OBE, FMA.
Bryantspuddle, December 1995
The popularity of the armoured car with the troops in the field waxed and waned according to the various phases of different operations.... At the war peak some 24,400 carriers and armoured cars were produced per annum.
British armoured cars had. with the rest of the Tank Corps played a major part in the defeat of Germany in 1918. indeed the 17th (Armoured Car) Battalion had the privilege of leading the triumphal march to the Rhine, crossing the German frontier on 1st December 1918 and entering Cologne a few days later, the Tank Corps colours flying proudly on the leading armoured car. Postwar, despite all the cuts in the army, it was quickly realised that armoured cars were an extremely cost effective way of 'policing' the British Empire and the twelve armoured car companies of the Royal Tank Corps (RTC) served all over the world, in such distant places as India and Shanghai as well as in the Middle East, Britain and Ireland. They were assisted by the armoured car companies of the Royal Air Force (RAF), so there was a constant demand for armoured cars and many new types were built. Some of these were adapted from commercial vehicles, however, a fair number were initially designed as armoured cars and, as well as equipping RTC and RAF units, they were also offered for sale to other nations worldwide.
In the period from the late 1920s up to April 1939, when the Royal Armoured Corps (RAC) came into existence, several of the mechanising cavalry regiments were equipped with armoured cars from the outset and continued to use them throughout the war, gaming an enviable reputation fur their professional expertise and bravery.
A total of 7720, Stag III AusFG were built in World War Two. (TM)
Some of the best of these cavalry regiments were undoubtedly the 'eyes' of the 7th Armoured Division (the Desert Rats), namely the incomparable 'Cherry Pickers' (11th Hussars), the Royals (The 1st Royal Dragoons), the King's Dragoon Guards and the 4th South African Armoured Car Regiment. Operating in the vastness of the Western Desert, with a continual requirement for distant reconnaissance anything up to fifty miles ahead or to the flanks of the main body of the division - was a difficult and dangerous job at which they all excelled.
After the debacle in France, the Reconnaissance Corps was formed in 1941 to replace the divisional cavalry regiments which had traditionally performed this reconnaissance role, but were now part of the Royal Armoured Corps. Regiments of the Corps fought in every theatre of war, providing reconnaissance battalions for infantry divisions, making use of reconnaissance cars, universal carriers and trucks to collect, collate and send information back, usually by radio. Their three reconnaissance squadrons were supported by both mortar and anti tank troops, so they could give a good account of themselves when the need arose.
The popularity of armoured cars varied according to which phase of the war was in progress, for example they were considered indispensable in the Western Desert but after D-Day were little used in the close fighting in Normandy, Lateron, as the front became more mobile they returned to popularity. In Italy however, their use was always limited by the terrain. The estimated numbers of these wheeled armoured vehicles built by Britain during the war is 9,000 armoured cars, 11,000 scout cars and 8,750 light reconnaissance cars.
In 1938, the Mechanisation Board invited Alvis, USA and Daimler to submit prototypes to meet the specifications which they had laid down for a new class of turretless vehicle to be used for scouting purposes. Alvis produced the Dingo (the name went on to be used as the generic name for all scout cars but NOT this Alvis model!) which weighed 2 tons and mounted a Bren light machine gun (LMG); BSA's scout car was some 1,120lbs lighter and had a marginally inferior performance but was cheaper to produce and had a lower centre of gravity. It was chosen and went on to do very well, covering 10,000 miles during further trials without any problems. The hull was then redesigned and had a roof added - in accordance with a War Office ruling that all scout cars must be fully armoured including the roof.
The final design was then taken over by the Daimler Company, who produced the Daimler Scout Car Mk I in 1939, after an order for 172 had been placed by the War Office. Weighing 2.8 tons, fitted with a 55hp six-cylinder Daimler petrol engine, it had a top speed of 55-60mph and a range of 200 miles. The rear-mounted engine drove through a fluid flywheel to a five-speed preselector gearbox. Final drive was by four individual shafts, one to each wheel. It was 10ft 5ins long, 5ft 7½ins wide and 4ft 11ins high. It was followed by the Mk la (which had a folding instead of a sliding roof) and a Mk lb (which had the cooling fan draught for the engine reversed); the Mk II which had no four-wheel steering because it had been found to be too difficult for unskilled drivers to manage. Tile final version was the Mk III, which now weighed 3.15 tons, had a fully waterproofed engine and the roof removed.
In total 6,626 of all marks of Dingo were produced during the war. It was an excellent, robust and reliable little two-man vehicle, and as the proud possessor of twelve of them when I commanded Reconnaissance Troop 2 RTR, I can fully vouch for their fine performance, even though I managed to get all twelve bogged down whilst route finding on my first regimental night march!
Two Humber Mk II armoured cars stand by on guard while RAF transport planes are unloaded during the Eighth Army offensive in Libya. 1942. The Humber Mk III had a more roomy turret, allowing the crew to be increased to four. (TM)
Prototype Alvis Dingo scout car. This was one of the two versions produced by Alvis to meet the Mechanisation Board's specifications. It weighed around 2 tons. (TM)
A rear three quarter view of the second version of the Alvis Dingo. It did not have sloping top armour, but did have the same rear mounted engine. (TM)
The BSA, which was the other contender for the scout car project. It weighed 1120lbs more than the Alvis model and had marginally inferior performance, however. It was cheaper and had a lower centre of gravity. It was chosen for production, with a re-designed hull and roof. (TM)
So great was the need for scout cars, that other companies, such as the Rootes Group, who built the Number motor car, were also requested to produce them. Slightly heavier than the Dingo at 3.39 tons and larger - 12ft 7ins long, 6ft 2½ins wide and 6ft 11½ins high - the Humber scout car was similar in layout to the Daimler, its engine still mounted in the rear, hut it could comfortably carry three men. Top speed was 60mph and range 200 miles. Sometimes it was re-armed with a Vickers-Berthier machine gun (known also as the Vickers K), A Mk II version was even heavier, with improved transmission. A total of 4,300 Humber scout cars were built during the war.
Humber also produced a range of other armoured reconnaissance vehicles, such as the Humber Mk I, Ironside I, light reconnaissance car. This was built on the chassis of the front-engined Humber Super Snipe, but with War Department pattern wheels, run flat tyres and other minor changes. Three of these cars were specially modified for use by the Royal Family and cabinet ministers, and were known as 'Special Ironside Saloons'. The Dumber Mk I weighed 2.8tons, had armour 12mm thick and a top speed of 45mph.
The Humber Mk II Light Reconnaissance Car, was similar to the Ironside 1. but had root armour and a small half-circular conical shield for the LMG, all of which increased its weight to 3tons. Armament was a Boys anti-tank rifle (next to the driver) and a Bren light machine gun behind the shield on top. The 0.55in calibre Boys could penetrate 21mm of armour at 300metres, five steel-cored rounds being carried in its vertical magazine. The Bren gun was the standard British infantry LMG which had a rate of fire of 500 rounds per minute (rpm) and was fed by a twenty-nine rounds top-mounted box magazine. The three-man vehicle was 14ft 4ins long, 6ft 2ins wide and 6ft 10ins high. It was followed in 1941 by the Mk III. which had a small turret instead of the shield and four-wheel drive. In total over 3.600 of all marks were built and saw service with reconnaissance regiments and also the RAH Regiment.
Humber Mk I scout car. So great was the demand for scout cars that other firms were asked to produce them, including the Rootes Group who built the heavier (3.19 tons), slightly larger Humber. (TM)
Leading a British column into Arnhem in April 1945, are three Humber scout cars from the 79th Armoured Division whose 'Bullshead' flash is painted on the front plate of the leading vehicle. (TM)
A Humber scout car leads a convoy over a Class 40 (maximum weight allowed 40 tons) bridge. (TM)
A Ground Liason Officer dismounts from his immaculate postwar Daimler Dingo, 'somewhere in the desert' - possibly during Operation Musketeer - note the 'F' and French roundel also on the front of the scout car. (TM)
Another range of light reconnaissance cars was known as the Standard Car 4×2 (and by the RAF as the Car Armoured Light Standard Type-C Beaverette I. This was a 2 ton lightly armoured car, produced at the instigation of Lord Beaverbrook (hence the name) then Minister of Aircraft Production, for the defence of airfields and aircraft factories. With a length of 13ft 6ins, it was 5ft 3ins wide and 5ft high, and a top speed of 40mph. The Mk II had all -around armour - the Mk I had 3inch thick oak planks at the rear, such was the desperate shortage of metal after Dunkirk. The Beaverette Mk III was also known as the 'Beaverbug'. it weighed 2.6 tons, had thicker armour plate, a small turret with a hinged lid, sometimes open at the front and sometimes mounted with a plastic dome. It was 10ft 6ins long, 5ft 10ins wide and 7ft 1in high. In all 2,800 Beaverettes were built for home defence service with both the Army and RAF.
Yet another series of reconnaissance cars were built in large numbers by Morris Motors Ltd. The Mk I weighed 3.7 tons, had a crew of three and was powered by a 72hp petrol engine, giving it a top speed of 50mph. With armour 14mm thick, the car was 13ft 3½ins long. 6ft 8ins wide and 6ft 2ins high. It was followed by the Mk II, which had four-wheel drive and leaf-spring suspension. Both were armed with a Boys anti-tank rifle and a Bren gun. Total production of both cars was 2,200. Very similar to the Mk II was the Morris Experimental Tank, which had two turrets, but never entered production.
Leading a 'Speed the Tanks' parade through Bath, England in early September 1941, a Daimler Dingo precedes a Matilda II and the Bath Home Guard. The numerals '51' denote the senior armoured regiment of an armoured division. (TM)
Airborne! This Daimler Dingo has literally 'taken off', during a trial run. (TM)
Daimler scout car fitted with full amphibious equipment to both engine and crew compartment. (TM)
Deep wading at Weymouth, Dorset during AFV amphibious trials held in late 1943 and early 1944 (TM)
This Daimler scout car Mk 1b from Regimental Headquarters 5 RTR, then serving in 7th Armoured Division, was being used by a cameraman from the Middle East Film & Photographic Unit in 1942, as he photographed a Stuart light tank. (TM)
Mention must also be made of the earlier Morris Light Armoured Reconnaissance Car (Model CS9/LAC), which was built just prewar based on a standard commercial 4×2 15cwt truck chassis. It was powered by a six-cylinder engine, which gave it a top speed of 45mph. Its armament was either a Vickers machine gun in a traversing turret, or a Boys anti-tank rifle and a Bren LMG, both of which were demountable for ground use. The prototype was tested in 1936 and a further ninety-nine vehicles ordered. These were delivered in 1938. Thirty-eight of these cars were taken to France by the 12th Royal Lancers, which was the only armoured car regiment in the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), who used them to good effect during the Battle of France in 1940 protecting the flanks of the BEF. However, after Dunkirk they were all abandoned or destroyed. Thirty more were issued to the 11th Hussars, who used them in the Western Desert in conjunction with their Rolls-Royce armoured cars, some being used as light armoured command vehicles. Despite only being 4×2, it was found that the Morris CS9/LAC, once fitted with desert tyres was ideal over soft sand. The car carried a crew of four - commander, gunner, driver and radio operator who sat beside the driver.
A late Mk III Dingo, which had no roof, a fully waterproofed engine and weighed 3.15 tons. This photograph was taken postwar as the Dingo remained in service for many years. (TM)
A Dingo scout car under construction. Here a main hull assembly is mounted on a production welding jig. (TM)
Humber Mk III, light reconnaissance cars of the RAF Regiment in Middleburg, capital of the island of Walcheren in the Scheldt Estuary, Germany soon after its capture in November 1944. (TM)
Humber Mk I, Ironside I light reconnaissance car, built on the Humber Super Snipe car chassis. Three were specially modified for use by the Royal family. (TM)
A range of locally modified armoured/reconnaissance cars also appeared in the dark days of 1940. These were mainly normal civilian saloon cars such as Rolls-Royce, Sunbeam and Buick. with sheets of metal fixed around them in strategic places. One which really looked the part was the General Motors Home Guard armoured car. a stubby, four-wheel drive coupe with a box-like hull. In addition, there were anti tank lorries some of which were armoured with boiler plate (Bedford OXA and Armadillo), whilst others such as Bison carried pillboxes constructed of reinforced concrete.