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Armoured Command Vehicles & Gun Carriers

It was rapidly discovered that mobile armoured warfare required properly constructed and protected armoured command vehicles (ACV) from which to control operations. Command tanks were all very well for squadron and regimental commanders, but formation commanders and their stalls needed larger, roomier vehicles in which could he carried all the radio sets, maps and mapboards, plans, files and all the other equipment the staff needed to make the headquarters function. A number of modified vehicles were initially pressed into service, but eventually in 1941 a proper ACV, the 4×4 ARC Mk I was built on an AEC Matador truck chassis, powered by a 95hp diesel engine. Two of the most famous of these vehicles were used by Rommel having been captured by the Afrika Korps in the Desert. Known as Max and Moritz, after characters in a German childrens' story, these two Mammuts (Mammoths) as the Germans called them were used extensively by the Desert Fox (Rommel) who on one occasion, when his HQ was attacked by aircraft and the driver of his Mammut badly wounded, took over the wheel himself and drove all night.

The Coventry Mk II armoured car mounted a powerful 6 pounder gun instead of the original 2 pounder, which meant the crew had to be reduced to three men. (TM)

The Coventry Mk I armoured car was designed to replace the Daimler but the war ended before enough could be produced. The 11.5 ton, four man crew vehicle saw no active service during World War Two. (TM)

A headquarters unit training in Britain, the leading armoured command vehicle (ACV) is an AEC 4×4 LP (Low Power) version. There was also an HP (High Power) version, carrying more powerful radio sets. Rommel captured and used three of these vehicles in North Africa. (TM)

Later in the war a new ACV was built, the Armoured Command Vehicle 6×6 AEC Mk I. which was larger than the 4×4 ACV and powered by a more powerful 150hp diesel engine. Both classes of ACVs, 4×4 and 6×6, were produced in two types: HP (High Power) and LP (Low Power), depending on the range of radio sets fitted.

Also there were a number of gun carriers (such as the Foden gun carrier, AEC Deacon gun carrier, Morris AA gun carrier) and various armed jeeps used by such fast moving units as Popski's Private Army and the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG). The former carried weapons ranging from 4-inch naval guns to 40mm Bofors, while the latter bristled with .50in and .30in brownings, Vickers and other machine guns, giving them impressive firepower, but no armour was fitted so as not to slow them down!

A T16 carrier, from the Canadian Army is being loaded into a Buffalo amphibian, behind the River Rhine dykes. March 1945. (TM)

An AEC 6×6 armoured command vehicle (ACV), which was larger and more powerful (150hp diesel engine) than the 4×4. As before there were HP and LP versions. (TM)

A Universal Carrier Mk II, as used by the scout platoon of a motor battalion. Note the Boys anti-tank rifle, the WS 19 wireless set (to its right), .303in Lee-Enfield rifles in their racks and other stowage. (TM)

A Canadian driver repainting the vehicle signs on his carrier. It is equipped with a wading screen, which enabled it to travel through water 5ft deep instead of the normal depth of 2ft 3 ins. (TM)


One of the most widely used and recognisable light armoured vehicles of World War Two must be the British Universal Carrier, known popularly as the Bren Carrier. However, there were in fact many varieties of this ubiquitous little vehicle, stemming from the machine gun, scout and Bren carriers of the immediate prewar days, and stretching even further back to the light Dragon gun tractor of the early 1930s, whose ancestry goes back to the gun and supply carriers of World War One. Dragon was a corruption of' Drag gun' which indicates the primary use of these vehicles; so they are not within the scope of this book. The carrier was really a spin-off from the development work done on the Dragon light gun tractor, by Vickers in the early 1930s, which produced a vehicle that could not only tow guns but could also carry a machine gun and its crew about the battlefield, with a degree (albeit small) of armoured protection. The Carrier Machine Gun No 1 Mk I. which entered service in 1936, mounted a Vickers .303in machine gun and carried a crew of three in a 3.15 ton, 12ft long body, with 10mm armour but no overhead protection. The Carrier Machine Gun No 2 Mk I, which came in the following year had a Bren gun in place of the Vickers, and in some cases, also a Boys anti-tank rifle. In 1938, a range of carriers came into service:

Type Crew Weight Armament
Bren No 2 Mk I & II 3 3.75tons .303in Bren LMG or a .55in Boys anti-tank rifle
Carrier Scout Mk I 3-4 3.3tons Boys anti-tank rifle and Bren

CARRIER ARMOURED OP - as for Scout Carrier, but with a shutter instead of the machine gun aperture, which could be adjusted to allow binoculars to be used. It was also fitted with a No 11 radio set and a cable drum (on rear). Armament was one Bren light machine gun.

GENERAL SERVICE CARRIER - this had a special grooved-rail on the top of the front gunner's compartment onto which was fixed a mobile mounting for a Boys anti-tank rifle, thus enabling the gunner to traverse through 90 degrees from front to side. A Bren was also carried.

SMITH GUN - this carried the Smith 3-inch smooth bore gun/projector which could fire both HE and anti-tank projectiles to ranges of over 275 metres. It was used by the British Home Guard between 1940 and 1942.

It soon became evident that building such a wide range of carriers was both uneconomic and unnecessary, as one basic carrier could be adapted to suit all requirements. So in 1940, the Carrier Universal No 1 Mk I (followed by the Mk II and III) came into service and remained as the standard carrier throughout the rest of the war. The basic model was a light, fully-tracked reconnaissance and combat vehicle, which had a crew of two or three, weighed 4 to 4.5 tons and had bullet-proof armour plate 7-10mm thick which was riveted at all joints. It was armed with a Boys anti-tank rifle and a Bren gun. The 12ft long, 6ft 9ins wide, 4ft 9ins high carrier was powered by a 65hp Ford V8 petrol engine which gave it a top speed of 30mph. Power was transmitted to the tracks through a standard clutch, four-speed transmission and a conventional rear-axle with sprockets instead of wheels Steering was initiated by making lateral movements of the front bogie assembly, then by applying a brake to either sprocket so as to slow down or stop the track for tighter turns. All this was achieved merely by the driver turning the steering wheel. Its load carrying capacity was around 1,2121bs. A wide range of manufacturers built them in Britain including; Thornycroft, Morris, Sentinel, Aveling and Ford. However, demand always exceeded supply so more had to be built by Commonwealth countries.

As explained, the basic Universal Carrier was adapted to a number of uses, specific variants being designed for the following roles:

OP CARRIERS - Five versions were produced of the Carrier Armoured OP namely: No 1 Mk II (the No 1 Mk I had been based on the Scout Carrier). No 1 Mk II, No 2 Mk III, No 2A Mk III and No 3 Mk III*. All basically had the same function, but were based on different marks of Universal Carrier. They were all FFW (fitted for wireless) the sets were usually the No 11 and No 18, they also carried cable drums for line communications to gun positions.

A Universal Carrier fitted with a thin armoured roof. Some of the carriers in Britain were so fitted during the invasion scare of 1940. The carrier is from the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars. (TM)

A line of carriers and other vehicles on training exercises in Britain. The leading vehicle is a Carrier Machine Gun LP No. 1, which mounted a Vickers medium MG in the front gun housing. (TM)

Carriers were adapted for many special uses, such as the Wasp flamethrower. (TM)

MORTAR CARRIER 3-inch - In 1942, the Universal Carrier was adapted to carry the standard infantry 3-inch mortar with crew and ammunition. The mortar, baseplate and bipod were carried on the rear of the vehicle, mortar bombs in racks inside of the vehicle on both sides. The four-man mortar crew was inside, in addition to the driver. The mortar was merely transported over the battlefield, dismounted, assembled and went into action. Fight marks of Mortar Carriers were produced, all with slight modifications depending upon which Mark of Universal Carrier was being used.

FLAMETHROWER CARRIER - Trials in 1940 with various flamethrowing devices led to the prototype Ronson flame projector being fitted. However, this was not accepted by the War Office and was transferred to Canada. Instead, after further British development, the Wasp flamethrower was produced and fitted into a Universal Carrier. It was known as the Wasp Mk I (FT, Transportable, No 2 Mk I). Its flamegun had a range of 80-100yds and 1.000 had been produced by November 1943. A Mk II version was tested in August 1943 and proved to be a more effective flamegun. It also was safer, weighed less and was therefore adopted, seeing action in North West Europe.

MACHINE GUN CARRIERS - During 1943 it was decided to reintroduce the Vickers medium machine gun in Motorised Machine Gun (MMG) battalions, and the Universal Carrier was the vehicle selected. The gun was located on a pedestal mount, behind the driver's compartment, fitted on the strengthened engine cover. This permitted all-round traverse so the gun could be fired in any direction. In addition, the normal gun tripod was carried, so that the gun could be dismounted and fired from the ground. A crew of four was also carried.

The list of uses to which the Universal Carrier was employed is endless, ranging, for example, from carpet laying devices (it carried a 150ft long roll of hessian carpet for crossing barbed wire), to swamp crossing devices with rocket assisted egress (two 5-inch rockets on the side of the carrier to literally thrust it out of bogs), to carriers with armoured roots to protect them against enemy air attacks. Here are a few of the more useful ones:

CONGER - Evolved in 1944, this was a stripped-out, engineless Universal Carrier, into which was coiled 200yds of 2-inch hosepipe. It was towed to the edge of an enemy minefield by a Churchill AVRE, which then did a quarter right turn to allow the hose a clear run. The hosepipe was fired across by rocket, so that it lay over the minefield. Explosive liquid (Nobels 808 or 828) was then pumped into the hose from a 200 gallon tank in the empty engine well of the carrier and the hose exploded, producing a mine-free path by sympathetic detonation. There was also a smaller version, with a 1-inch hosepipe, which had the advantage of retaining its engine allowing it to be fully mobile.

AMBULANCE - With open rear end and a lengthened superstructure to allow a stretcher to be carried on either side of the engine box.

ANTI-AIRCRAFT - Fitted with an all round traversing turret equipped with two Vickers K machine guns and a special sight.

PRAYING MANTIS - This perhaps was the strangest conversion of the Universal Carrier, fitted with an hydraulically operated fighting compartment containing the driver and gunner, who lay side by side. On top of this compartment were two remotely controlled Bren light machine guns. In the driving position the compartment was lowered to the prone position and the driver steered the vehicle, looking through a small aperture in front of him, by means of a steering wheel (under his chest) and changed gear via a Bowden cable control. The Praying Mantis was designed to be driven to a suitable firing location (a hedgerow), where the fighting compartment would then be raised hydraulically and the guns fired They could be fired singly or together, were inverted so as to allow the loading of the circular ammunition magazines from inside the compartment. The guns were fitted with a periscope-type sight.

Preying Mantis was an extraordinary looking device, which had two machine guns in a head that could be raised and lowered, so as to take advantage of natural cover. The two-man crew lay side-by-side. It was never used in action. (TM)

The 3-inch Mortar Carrier No 1 Mk I - note the mortar, bipod and baseplate all strapped on the rear, whilst inside there is room for ammunition stowage and crew. (TM)

Pilots of an RAF fighter wing, use a Loyd Carrier to negotiate the mud on a forward airfield. Photographed in Holland, February 1945. (TM)

A Loyd carrier fitted with six Bren guns in an AA mount (TM)

Carrier Tracked Mechanical Mk I fitted with three drums of cable and cable feeder. (TM)

One of the problems with the Universal Carrier was its small payload, which meant that it was invariably overloaded and underpowered. This gave rise to experimental work in both the United States and Canada, resulting in a larger version of the Universal, which was known as the Cargo Carrier T16 (later called the Universal Carrier T16). It had a bigger chassis, four bogie wheels instead of three and a more powerful engine.

The ford Motor Company of Canada had been producing carriers, but it was the Ford Motor Company of Somerville, USA which took the job over in 1942 and completely redesigned the T16. A massive build of 21,000 vehicles was agreed for Britain and these were completed by May 1945, so not that many of them reached British and Commonwealth units before the war ended, whilst only a percentage actually saw action. The T16 never entirely found favour with the British although it was used for towing the 6 pounder anti-tank gun and carrying the 4.2inch mortar.

Built by Vivian Loyd and Co Ltd. and various other companies including Wolseley and Dennis, the Loyd carrier started to enter service in 1940 and was initially only used as a troop carrier (it could carry eight men), but was later used as a towing vehicle, especially for the 2 pounder anti-tank gun and later the 6 pounder. It was not as complicated mechanically as the Universal Carrier, which meant that the steering and handling was easier. Production was also undertaken by the Ford Motor Company of Canada. Weighing 4 tons, the Loyd was powered by a 85hp Ford V8 engine which gave it a top speed of 30mph. Dimensions were: length 13ft 7ins, width 6fit 9½ins and height 4ft 8½ins (the hood added another 3ft 7ins). In addition to the range of troop carriers and gun tractors, there were a number of specialised Loyd carriers including:

AA CARRIER - centrally mounted platform with quadruple Brens and sighting equipment, produced in 1942-43.

SP GUN CARRIER - three versions, all mounting a 2 pounder anti tank gun in various positions, the third being rear mounted, with a three-sided shield and some 200 degrees of traverse.

GUN/HOWITZER CARRIER - experimental only, with a 25 pounder in the front of the hull. (The Belgians tried a similar conversion postwar for a 90mm gun).

MOBILE WELDING PLANT - containing both generating plant and welding equipment.

TRACKED MOBILE BRIDGE - tested in 1941, with a 30ft long bridge, capable of supporting 25-ton tanks.

IBAN: UA423348510000026200404121108

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