Community Contributor ‘Listy’ continues his look at the Universal Carrier. In this part, he looks at some of the successor and less-than-successful uses for the vehicle. Read on to see how creative the world’s militaries could be!
With so many vehicles in service, adventurous souls were bound to get their hands on a few. The simplicity of the design meant it was easy to modify. Each individual battalion would have had its own list of requirements and uses as seen by the unit’s commander. Combine all those factors together and you will soon see why such a bewildering array of local conversions happened. Most of the time, it was strapping more and bigger guns to the Carriers to increase their firepower. Often, these were captured enemy weapons. One such example is an unknown Canadian unit in the 21st Army Group, who mounted 14 PIATs on their Carrier as a type of multi-tube artillery system.
(The PIAT also had a HE round)
There were also the official variants. The Carrier itself was a small cheap armoured vehicle. Many official projects needed an armoured vehicle to help test their ideas. Step forward the Carrier.
Some of the projects included the "Praying Mantis". This was a Carrier chassis with a low body, containing two crew members who were lying down. When needed, the body would hinge at the back of the vehicle and rear up, allowing the twin Bren guns in a remote turret to fire over obstacles. The only example of this tank is currently preserved at the Bovington Tank Museum. In the following picture, the turret is facing towards the rear.
A Canadian project to mount a 2-Pounder gun was successful. This is the version which is in World of Tanks as the Tier II British tank destroyer.
The Carrier was also used in some odd, less successful experiments. In two projects, rockets were attached to the Carrier. The first had a pair of rockets pointing down and backwards at a 45 degree angle. If the carrier became stuck, the rockets were fired and their thrust pushed the carrier free of the boggy ground.
The other even crazier idea had six rockets attached, pointing straight down. The idea was that upon firing these rockets, the Carrier would be able to jump over an obstacle and presumably land amongst a group of very surprised Germans, before routing them. Despite the obvious problem that the Carrier wasn’t a very good assault vehicle, during each test, the Carrier ended up landing on its roof.
A more successful vehicle based on the Carrier, that did see active service, was called the Conger. This was a Universal Carrier that had been turned into a trailer by removing its engine.
The Conger was towed into position by a Churchill Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVRE), placed next to a minefield and then detached. The AVRE would then retire and remotely fire the device. The Conger launched a rocket that pulled a hose pipe. This hose was then filled with a liquid explosive and detonated, clearing all the mines.
Congers were used to support the 6th Guards Tank Brigade attacking Overloon. The lead squadron of the 4th Coldstreams got lost, leaving the command (HQ) squadron in the lead while the two other squadrons swept round both sides of the town. The Germans had laid a minefield in front of the town and the HQ squadron ran straight into it. The AVREs of 617 Detachment, 42 Royal Engineers, which were towing Congers, moved up, and quickly with minimal effort, they breached the minefield, allowing the 6th Guards to pour into the town and push the Germans out.
One problem with the Conger’s design was that the rocket had a curved flight path. This meant the cleared lane was curved as well, which made the life of the attacking tanks harder.
(Conger charge being detonated)
On one occasion, when refilling the reservoir on the trailer, an accident occurred which caused a massive explosion that destroyed several tanks. Unfortunately, several engineers were killed in the blast. This incident highlighted the risks involved with the Conger, and it was withdrawn from service.
(Photograph of the crater caused by the Conger accident)
The final, slightly hare-brained idea worth mentioning (although there are undoubtedly more) is one of the ideas for a Universal Carrier tank destroyer.
As you know, before the war the British had some odd ideas about tanks, thinking in more naval terms. Well, here's a naval idea that they tried to apply to tank warfare, with the poor Carrier as the basis of it.
The concept was as follows: During a swirling tank battle in the desert, Carriers were to be fitted with racks of 6-Pounder gun barrels on a swivel mount. Specifically, just the gun barrels without any other parts of the gun. The barrels were to be pre-loaded with a single shell, which could be trigged by an electrical current.
These Carriers would then act like Motor Torpedo Boats during a naval engagement. Moving at full speed through the battle; when they spotted an enemy tank, the barrels would be aimed and fired. To absorb the recoil, the now empty barrel would be used as a counter weight and launched off the back of the carrier. Once all the barrels had been expended, the Carrier would withdraw to re-arm with a new set and then repeat.
Luckily for the crews of the Carriers, this idea never left the drawing board.
After serving with distinction throughout the war, the post-war demobilisation left thousands of Carriers as surplus to requirements around the globe. These were broken up for scrap or sold to whoever needed them. Carriers have turned up in the oddest of places, and one of them ended up with a long history.
This Carrier was first captured by the Japanese in 1941. It then survived for five years with limited replacement parts, and was still operational on the day the war officially ended completely (Victory over Japan Day). This sturdy Carrier was then seized by Indonesian Nationalist rebels. Somewhere along the way, the Carrier had been converted into a light tank by fabricating an armoured roof and a simple turret. The anchor on the turret might imply that it was Japanese Marines (SNLF) who converted her.
Employed against Indian troops sent to restore order, the Carrier was captured for the final time at Surabaya.
So if you find a vehicle that looks like a Carrier in a bushfire war after World War Two, then don’t be surprised - they can turn up anywhere!