In this article, Community Contributor ‘Listy’ looks at the Universal Carrier.
The Universal Carrier was one of the most successful vehicles of the inter-war period. Only the Carden Loyd tankette and the FT-17 families can claim more success. With 113,000 carriers produced, it was also the most-produced armoured fighting vehicle in history. Production ran in five countries. The Carrier fought in almost every corner of the globe for nearly 30 years, and with almost every army (and a few rebels as well) in the world. The design was even copied by the Italians during the Second World War as the Cingoletta 2800.
The Carrier also appears in World of Tanks as the Tier II British tank destroyer. So let’s have a closer look.
In the mid 1930's, Vickers Armstrong developed the D50. It was a light tracked vehicle that could carry a Vickers HMG and fire it from under armour. The D50 also had load space and seating for the gun crew, machine gun tripod and other supplies.
Caption: 138 VAD 50, Vickers-Armstrong’s original fighting tractor, ancestor of all Bren and Universal Carriers.
The British Army showed an interest and took a prototype for testing.
Their report recommended several modifications to the vehicle, but the basic concept and design were sound. The army then placed an order for thirteen modified vehicles for further testing in 1936. Later that year, a full production order was placed and the vehicle became the Medium Machine Gun Carrier.
After seeing the utility of the design, the army started testing and developing several versions of the Medium Machine Gun Carrier. In the end, six designs were built. In addition to the Machine Gun Carrier itself, there were:
(Scout Carrier in the foreground, MMG Carrier to the rear)
This was used as a radio vehicle for the armoured regiments. It looked very similar to the Machine Gun Carrier, the main difference being the wireless set and aerials.
This provided bench seating facing inwards in the back for several troops. It equipped the Cavalry regiments to carry scout sections of infantry into battle. However, the low sides and high seating position left the soldiers exposed to enemy action.
This vehicle was used as an armoured transport for a Bren gun or Boys rifle and weapon crew. The rear of the vehicle had a small armoured box for the third soldier. The weapon could be fired from the vehicle or dismounted. The Carrier and weapons team were used as mobile reserves and rear guards. They could also be used to flank enemy positions by using the Carrier’s manoeuvrability and armour to get the gun team into position with speed and protection that the weapon team couldn’t normally achieve.
This is not the vehicle available in game. Just before the war, the army tested a machine with a box body. The body looked a lot like the later Universal Carrier, but it featured a roofed-over driver and commander’s position. On the engine deck stood a semi-circular gun shield in which a 2-Pounder gun was mounted. However, for unknown reasons, the vehicle was never adopted for service.
A modified Scout Carrier, with the ability to carry and deploy telephone and radio equipment. The weapon aperture was altered to allow binoculars to be used, so that the officer could stay behind the vehicle’s armour while calling in artillery.
With the exception of the 2-Pounder Carrier, all five variants served with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France. Scout and Bren Gun Carriers were used in the early part of the North African campaign as well. Most were lost in the run-up to, and on the beaches of Dunkirk.
These losses were fortunate in a way. Before the war, the army had started to look at one vehicle to replace all five versions. In 1939, the idea of the Universal Carrier was born.
The Universal Carrier looked very much like the 2-Pounder carrier, with its box body and centrally-mounted engine. However, it featured a number of differences, such as the removal of the roof over the gunner and driver’s position. A few were used in France. It was this design that became the recognisable vehicle we all know.
(One of the early flamethrower weapons mounted on a Universal Carrier)
The Universal Carrier is often (wrongly) referred to as a “Bren Gun Carrier”. This is most likely due to the infantry who used most of the carriers, and when first issued would have been used to the first versions of the Bren Gun Carrier.
Each infantry battalion in the British and Commonwealth armies had a platoon of ten carriers. Later on in the war, this was increased to thirteen. They were armed with Bren guns and about one in three with Boys rifles (later they were replaced with Projector Infantry Anti-Tank weapons (PIAT)). To keep up with demand, Carriers were produced in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. A slightly larger version was also produced in the United States, and was called the T-16.
As well as serving with the Commonwealth forces, the Carriers were supplied to the Soviet Union and were used in service there.
Germany pressed captured vehicles into service, mostly as self-propelled weapons. There’s photographic evidence of FLAK-38's and PAK-36's being mounted on these captured carriers. They also used it as a transport for tank-hunting teams, armed with Panzerfausts and Panzershrecks.
The US Marine Corps also used Universal Carriers in Guadalcanal, while the US Army used them in the Philippines. There have been questions about how they received these vehicles, as neither should have had them officially. In the Philippines, a freighter bound for Hong Kong was diverted after the Japanese captured the city. It arrived in the Philippines, where its cargo was transferred to the US Army for the defence of the islands. This cargo included sixteen Carriers.
In the case of the USMC at Guadalcanal, it’s harder to work out, and exact records are hard to find. Some have suggested that the Marines had spent time in Australia, and so could have encountered and obtained some there.
One of the biggest problems that the Carrier never really overcame was infantry commanders thinking that "armoured" meant "Tank". Often they were used as assault vehicles. This is probably the one role that the Carriers were not suited for. In most cases, they were swiftly destroyed by enemy anti-tank weapons. However, when used for other roles, the Carrier performed brilliantly, providing good defensive ability, reconnaissance and transport for all elements of the infantry battalion.
Join us next time for an examination of what the Universal Carrier can and can’t do. What’s the most hare-brained scheme you can think of involving one? Whatever you imagine is probably nothing compared to the bizarre projects that really did take place...