British Universal Bren Gun, Cavalry and Scout Carrier

The Bren Carrier

Prior to November 1937, British Vickers-Armstrongs had produced a prototype carrier named the Bren No1 Mk I which had been based on the Armoured Machine Gun Carrier. It had a mild steel hull and was probably a prototype model as no records seem to exist showing production numbers.

Subsequently it was Thornycroft that received the first large contract for Bren No 2 Mk I Carriers when an order placed in November 1937 for 300 Armoured Machine Gun Carriers was altered in favour of the Bren Carrier after only 90 of the originally ordered vehicles had been completed.

At about the same time, the company also received an order for 100 Scout Carriers, but this contract was later cancelled. Nuffield, along with Aveling-Barford, were both producing the Machine Gun Carriers and they too shifted production to the Bren Carrier after producing one Bren model each to test their production capabilities.

The Bren No 2 Mk I entered service in 1938 and was issued to the infantry as a support vehicle. As such, it was the main type of Carrier taken to France by the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). After the withdrawal of British troops in 1940, many were left behind and commandeered by the Germans who made good use of them. In fact, there were so many left in France that the Germans collected them all, damaged ones as well, and modified them to produce their own range of Carriers.

Bren CarrierUnfortunately, Bren Carriers were gaining a reputation for throwing their tracks. However, the imposition of a stringent maintenance regime along with extensive driver training improved the situation. The Carrier was also fitted with a track adjuster bracket with a diagonal retaining spring on the front idler wheel.

It almost goes without saying that the Bren light machine gun was fitted as the norm, ammunition for which was carried in the gunner’s compartment and rear crew compartment. A pintle mount and the fact that the gunner’s flap was hinged to the side, allowed for the gun to be removed quickly.

The Bren No 2 Mk II was fitted with the 79F 6000CS Ford V8 engine as opposed to the 79E version fitted to the Mk I. The 79F had American electrical equipment and 18mm spark plugs. Different part numbers for various longitudinal hull plates on the Mk II suggest that it was also longer, as all the plates that form the width of the hull are numbered the same for both marks.

The Cavalry Carrier

In 1937, Vickers-Armstrongs, still conscious that a vehicle was required by cavalry regiments for towing field guns and carrying the crews, converted the Armoured Machine Gun Carrier CMM986 (T1830). This prototype was called the Cavalry Carrier and, as well as a commander and driver, was able to transport the six members of a gun-crew as well as ammunition and tow an artillery piece. The prototype retained the sloping flat glacis plate of the Armoured Machine Gun Carrier, although later Cavalry Carriers had the front styling of the Bren Carrier.

Cavalry CarrierOnly 50 Cavalry Carriers were built, all by Nuffield Mechanisation &Aero Ltd, and although some did go with the BEF to France, it is unclear how many. It was one of the first types to incorporate a cover over the whole vehicle. This had been tried on the Dragon Carrier but then subsequently omitted on the Armoured Machine Gun and Bren Carrier ranges. The cover stays were stacked at the front when not in use.

Stowage arrangements were particular to the Cavalry Carrier, but the one strange development was that the rear track guards, with the addition of folding back supports, became inward-facing seats for the gun crew. There were also protective mesh guards over the track edges. The engine deck was used to accommodate crew weapons and ammunition, plus a tool box and oil can. The height of the gunner’s compartment front armour remained the same as in front of the driver, a leftover from the Armoured Machine Gun Carrier, with a Bren gun pintle-mounted near the top edge. The Cavalry Carrier was also fitted with left and right auxiliary fuel tanks which added another 10 gallons (45 l) to the overall amount of petrol carried and thus extended the vehicle’s range.

The engine used in the Cavalry Carrier was the Ford 79E 6000 CS, which proved under powered for the total load carried. It was subsequently decided that four-wheel drive lorries should replace the Cavalry Carriers, so no further orders were issued and production was completed in November 1938.

The Scout Carrier

Several Armoured Machine Gun Carriers had been retained for use as prototypes.

One such vehicle was T1834 (CMM 990), which was used as the prototype for a Scout Carrier. To fulfil the role of a reconnaissance vehicle able to locate the enemy, defend itself adequately, and be able to radio in any contact made, Scout Carriers were equipped with the No 11 wireless set and were armed with a .303cal Bren and a .505cal Boys antitank rifle. They also had an anti-aircraft Bren-mounting stem that allowed the machine gun to be pointed skywards.

Scout CarrierBetween them, Nuffield Mechanisation & Aero Ltd and Aveling-Barford produced around 636 Scout Carriers, all of which used the Bren Carrier-type hull with its higher-positioned front idler wheel and, subsequently, rounded front mudguard. Whereas the prototype featured a radio compartment in the rear on the left-hand side (behind the gunner’s position), the production models had it sited on the opposite side (behind the driver’s position). Unlike on the Bren Carrier, this compartment did away with the sloped section of side armour and rear flap, replacing it with a full-height armour surround, thus protecting the radio and operator. To either allow easier access, or provide a map table, or both, the rear section of this armour was hinged halfway up and folded outwards. The wireless battery was housed in a large armoured box mounted on the Carrier’s rear. The radio aerial was mounted on the rear corner and had a spring mechanism that allowed it to be pivoted forward and down where it was held under a rubber hook near the driver.

The need for a specific vehicle designed for the scout role at a time when the production of armour was paramount, meant that the role was to be taken up by the Bren Carrier and the next Carrier type being developed, the Universal. Production of the Scout Carrier therefore terminated in January 1940 when Aveling-Barford rolled T5550, registration RMY904, off the production line. Production could then be concentrated on the AOP Mk I and Universal Carrier Mk I. Almost all the Scout Carriers were destined for France with the BEF, with only a few finding their way to the North African campaigns.

The Armoured Observation Post AOP

In early 1939, Aveling-Barford was contracted to manufacture 95 AOP Mk I Carriers which were allocated War Department numbers beginning with T5984 and registrations starting with RMV339. The new type was based on the Scout Carrier but could be distinguished by a cable drum mounted at the rear on the right-hand side of the battery box. The aerial mount was attached to the right-hand armour with the aerial hook placed beside the rear-view mirror on the front armour ahead of the driver. There was also a new style of protected vision port where the gun aperture had been sighted. The Scout Carrier’s folding rear armour flap was retained as was the configuration of the side armour, however the left-hand side of the engine cover was altered and the top extended with an extra grille.

Then, in September 1939 and June 1940, Aveling-Barford received two orders for, respectively, 253 and 493 AOP Carrier No 1 Mk Ms. This vehicle was based on the Universal Carrier (which we will be looking at next month) but with AOP fittings. Both the battery box and the cable reel were larger, with the latter being mounted on the left-hand mudguard. No 11 and No 18 wireless sets were accommodated in the rear compartment. With an extra crewman, this AOP Carrier was to become a very successful operational unit. It carried aerial masts, signalling lamps, telephone sets, a Bren gun and ammunition and signal flares, not to mention all the usual stowage such as tools, covers, fire extinguishers and crew kit. The crew kit locker, now sited within the rear armoured compartment, was fitted with end-mounted catches.

Between June 1940 and May 1941, Sentinel Waggon produced 700 Carriers to order T9837. They were shown as Universal Carrier Mk Is but appear in other records as AOP Mk I Carriers. However, the company had produced one of the first batches of Universal Carriers in 1939 so it is safe to presume that if order T9837 had been swapped over to AOP Carriers they would most likely have been of the No1 Mk II type. Similarly, during the same period, Thornycroft and Wolseley had also received similar orders for Universal Carrier Mk Is, although records suggest these were produced as AOP types.

AOP Carrier production came to an end in 1943 when Ford completed an order for 1134 AOP No 1 Mk III Carriers. These had welded hulls and were issued with War Department numbers starting with T167832.

The AOP No1 Mk III had more organised stowage and an additional cable reel was positioned on the front glacis plate. It was equipped with a single, centrally-mounted headlamp with marker lights on each side. A ventilation grille was incorporated in the new rear stowage bin and a ladder rack was attached to the left-hand side of the body. The Mk III was equipped with either the No11 or No19 wireless set.