The origins of the Universal Carrier family can be traced back generally to the Carden Loyd tankettes family which was developed in the 1920s, and specifically the Mk VI tankette.
In 1934 Vickers Armstrong produced, as a commercial venture, a light tracked vehicle that could be used either to carry a machine gun or to tow a light field gun. The VA.D50 had an armoured box at the front for driver and a gunner and bench seating at the back for the gun crew. It was considered by the War Office as a possible replacement for their "Dragon" artillery tractors and took 69 as the "Light Dragon Mark III". One was built as the "Carrier, Machine-Gun Experimental (Armoured)" carrying a machine gun and its crew. The decision was made to drop the machine gun and its team and the next design had a crew of three – driver and gunner in the front, third crew-member on the left in the rear and the right rear open for stowage. A small number of this design as "Carrier, Machine-Gun No 1 Mark 1" were built and entered service in 1936. Some were converted into pilot models for the Machine gun Carrier, Cavalry Carrier and Scout Carrier – the others were used for training.
The carrier put the driver and commander at the front sitting side-by-side; the driver to the right. The engine was in the centre of the vehicle with the final drive at the rear. The suspension and running gear was based on that used on the Vickers light tank series using Horstmann springs. Directional control was through a (vertical) steering wheel. Small turns moved the front road wheel assembly warping the track so the vehicle drifted to that side. Further movement of the wheel braked the appropriate track to give a turn.
The hull in front of the commander's position jutted forward to give room for the Bren gun (or other armament) to fire through a simple slit. To either side of the engine were two areas in which passengers could ride or stores be carried.
Initially, there were several types of Carrier that varied slightly in design according to their purpose: "Medium Machine Gun Carrier" (the Vickers machine gun), "Bren Gun Carrier", "Scout Carrier" and "Cavalry Carrier". However, production of a single model came to be preferred and the Universal design appeared in 1940; this was the most widely produced of the Carriers. It differed from the previous models in having a rectangular body shape in rear section, with more space for crew.
The widespread production of the Carrier allowed for several variants to be developed, manufactured and/or used by different countries.
- Pre Universal
Carrier, Machine-Gun No. 2 - 1937
Carrier, Bren No.2
Carrier, Scout Mk 1
Carrier, Cavalry MK 1 - 50 built by Nuffield, discontinued with reorganization of cavalry light tank regiments of Mobile Division
Carrier, Armoured Observation Post
Carrier, Armoured, 2-pounder
- Mk. I
The original model.
- Mk. II
Equipped with a towing hitch.
A flamethrower-equipped variant, using the "Flame-thrower, Transportable, No 2". The Mark I had a fixed flamethrower on the front of the vehicle fed from two fuel tanks with a combined capacity of 100 gallons. 1000 produced. The Mk II had the projector in the co-driver's position. The Mk IIC (C for Canadian) had a single 75 gallon fuel tank on the rear of the vehicle outside the armour protection, allowing a third crew member to be carried.
- Praying Mantis
The Praying Mantis was an attempt to produce a low-silhouette vehicle that could still fire over obstacles. A one-man design based on Carden Loyd suspension was not adopted, but the inventor was encouraged to design a two-man version. This version appeared in 1943 and was based upon the Universal Carrier. The hull was replaced with an enclosed metal-box structure with enough room for a driver and a gunner lying prone. This box, pivoting from the rear, could be elevated. At the top end was a machine-gun turret (with two Bren guns). The intention was to drive the Mantis up to a wall or hedgerow, elevate the gun, and fire over the obstacle from a position of safety. It was rejected after trials in 1944. A Mantis survives in the Bovington Tank Museum.
- Carrier, Machine Gun, Local Pattern, No. 1
Also known as "LP1 Carrier (Aust)". Australian production similar to Bren carrier but welded and some minor differences.
- Universal Carrier MG, Local Pattern No. 2
Also known as "LP2 Carrier (Aust)". Australian-built variant of the Universal Carrier. Also produced in New Zealand. Used 1938–1939 Ford commercial axles; the 2A had 1940 Ford truck axles.
- 2-pounder Anti-tank Gun Carrier (Aust)
The Carrier, Anti-tank, 2-pdr, (Aust) or Carrier, 2-pdr Tank Attack was a heavily modified and lengthened LP2 carrier with a fully traversable QF 2 pounder anti-tank gun mounted on a platform at the rear and the engine moved to the front left of the vehicle. Stowage was provided for 112 rounds of 2pdr ammunition. 200 were produced and used for training.
- 3 inch Mortar Carrier (Aust)
The Carrier, 3-inch Mortar (Aust) was a design based on the 2 Pounder Carrier with a 3-inch mortar mounted in place of the 2 pounder. Designed to enable the mortar to have 360 degree traverse and to be fired either from the vehicle, or dismounted. 400 were produced and were ultimately sent as military aid to the Nationalist Chinese Army.
- Carrier, 2-pdr Equipped
Canadian modification to mount 2-pdr gun. 213 used for training.
- Wasp Mk IIC
Canadian version of the Wasp flamethrower variant.
- Windsor Carrier
Canadian development with a longer chassis extended 76cm and an additional wheel in the aft bogie.
United States variants
The Carrier, Universal, T16, Mark I. was a significantly improved vehicle based upon those built by Ford of Canada, manufactured under Lend Lease by Ford in the United States from March 1943 to 1945. It was longer than the Universal with an extra road wheel on the rear bogie, the engine was a Ford Mercury delivering the same power. Instead of the steering wheel controlling the combination brake/warp mechanism, the T-16 had track-brake steering operated by levers (two for each side).
During the war, it was chiefly used by Canadian forces as an artillery tractor. After the war, was used by Argentine, Swiss (300) and Netherlands forces.
- Fahrgestell Bren (e)
Captured carrier of 1940, reused by the Germans and fitted with a 3.7 cm PaK 36 gun.
- Panzerjäger Bren 731(e)
Bren carriers captured by the Germans and fitted with a triple Panzerschreck mount, probably the first armoured vehicle to be fitted with anti-tank rockets.
- Fiat 2800
In 1942, at the request of the Italian Army (Regio Esercito), Fiat produced a prototype carrier copied from a captured Universal Carrier; it was known as the Fiat 2800 or CVP-4. It is uncertain whether production vehicles were manufactured.
Bren carriers captured by the Italians in the field were often fitted with Breda M37 machine guns.