…more valuable than rubies
Col. T.E. Lawrence
“Lawrence of Arabia” describing the Rolls-Royce Armoured Car
The Rolls-Royce Armoured Car was the first ever Armoured Fighting Vehicle (AFV) to enter production for the British armed forces pre-dating the tank by nearly two years. However the way in which it came about was not so much through a government issued requirement or even the Army for that matter but actually the Royal Navy. A handful of Rolls-Royce Silver Ghosts served with a Royal Naval Air Squadron unit based in France and in August 1914 these were used to assist the RNAS’ aircraft in spotting the German advance. The only defence came from a 0.3 cal machine gun and the men driving these vehicles obviously felt very vulnerable because soon they began welding pieces of iron boilers on to the sides to give some level protection from enemy bullets. Thus the first armoured Rolls-Royces came in to existence.
These early armoured cars were still open topped vehicles like the car it was based on which meant that if the crew found themselves caught by enemy fire they were forced to duck down while they tried to make good their escape. Although rudimentary, the Admiralty were quite taken by the initiative of their officers and engineers and so established a committee to investigate the concept further and establish an improved and properly manufactured version offering all round protection. The result was the Rolls-Royce Armoured Car (1914 Pattern). This finally offered all-round protection for the crew from small arms fire and the build quality was naturally higher. Mechanically the vehicle was identical to the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost using all the same running gear and suspension and as proof of how much importance was placed on the new vehicle all of the chassis and components for civilian Silver Ghosts were requisitioned by the War Office.
Just 120 vehicles would be built for the Royal Naval Air Service and their usefulness would be later recognised by the Army who ordered upgraded vehicles in the post war period. More vehicles were desired by the RNAS during the war but Rolls-Royce found themselves in such demand for aero engines that it lacked the facilities to meet demand for both and so the war in the air was given priority. Although born out of the fighting on the Western Front it would be in Africa and the Middle East where it would distinguish itself. Superb reliability for the time coupled with great agility and reasonably good protection (there were few infantry weapons available in World War I that could destroy any armoured vehicle) produced a war winning vehicle. Its reliability was proven dramatically by Commander Locker-Lampson and his force that operated on the Russian Front achieving extraordinarily high mileage for the day with very little support from the UK.
Rolls Royce specifications (1914 Pattern)
- Dimensions: 194 in x 76 in x 100 in (4.93 x 1.93 x 2.54 m)
- Total weight: 4.7 tons (9400 lbs)
- Crew: 3 (commander, driver, machine-gunner)
- Propulsion: 6-cylinder petrol, water-cooled 80 hp (60 kW), 19 hp/t
- Suspensions: 4 x 2 leaf springs
- Speed: 45 mph (72 kph)
- Range: 150 miles (240 km)
- Armament: 1 x Vickers Water cooled cal.303 (7.62 mm) machine gun
- Armour: 12 mm (0.47 in)
- Total production: 120