Rolls-Royce Armoured Car (1914 Pattern)

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…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.

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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.

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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
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Vickers Medium Mk.III

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The Vickers Medium Mark.III tank was a brief footnote in British tank development. Only three were built for trials purposes and it was intended that they would replace the previous Mark.II. Despite being the spiritual successor to the Medium Mark.II the two vehicles had very little in common and was one of a number of multi turreted designs that several tank manufacturers the world over had taken an interest in during the 1930s.

The origins of the tank can be traced back to 1926 when the War Office wanted a replacement for the proven but increasingly obsolete Mark.II tank which had served the Army well after World War I. There was an increasing interest in multi turreted designs (particularly in Britain and the Soviet Union) and as such a new design was drawn up comprising of four turrets;

  • A single 3 pounder (47mm) gun in a central turret as the main weapon with two crew. This turret was powered and had separate cupolas for the commander and gunner.
  • Two one-man turrets mounted at the front armed with single .303 machine guns for use against infantry. These were manually trained and induced high fatigue on the operators.
  • A fourth turret was mounted behind the main turret and was equipped with an anti-aircraft gun.

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The result was an extremely complex vehicle designated “A6” that was wrought with problems. It was underpowered even after efforts to re-engine it and a plan to combine two Rolls-Royce engines was shelved on cost grounds. Suspension problems made for an uncomfortable ride and testing showed that it was inferior to the Mark.II making it a poor gun platform.

Development of the A6 was discontinued in 1929 and Vickers reworked their design which resulted in the Mark.III. This had a similar arrangement to the A6 but with the deletion of the AA gun turret and the two machine gun turrets being moved further forwards. Armour ranged between 9 and 14mm in width which was adequate for the time but quickly becoming obsolete. While improvements were made in most areas the new type still suffered from the chronically bad suspension that plagued the A6. A third prototype would alleviate this problem with a new set up but by then the Mark.III had failed to win an order and it served for trials purposes only.

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Despite the fact it never entered production the third prototype with its improved suspension was taken briefly in to service as a command vehicle and was used by Brigadier Percy Hobart on a military exercise at Salisbury Plain in 1934. After that the prototypes were scrapped.

Although an interesting design the type would certainly have been of little use against equivalent types with its thin armour and clumsy performance but it can be argued that development was not complete and therefore an accurate comparison can’t be made. The multi-turreted tanks of the 1930s were almost universally a failure but they could have been used as an infantry support vehicle with their mix of weapons.