Universal Carrier

The Universal Carrier, also known as the Bren Gun Carrier from the light machine gun armament, is a common name describing a family of light armoured tracked vehicles built by Vickers-Armstrong and other companies.

The first carriers - the Bren Carrier and the Scout Carrier with specific roles - entered service before the war, but a single improved design that could replace these, the Universal, was introduced in 1940.

The vehicle was used widely by British Commonwealth forces during the Second World War. Universal Carriers were usually used for transporting personnel and equipment, mostly support weapons, or as machine gun platforms. With some 113,000 built by 1960 in the United Kingdom and abroad, it is the most produced armoured fighting vehicle in history.


Universal Carrier
Class Vehicle
Type Armoured Fighting Vehicle
Manufacturer Vickers-Armstrongs
Production Period 1934 - 1960
Origin United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain)
Country Name Origin Year
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 1940
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Argentina View
Australia View
Canada View
China View
France View
Germany View
Greece View
Israel View
Italy View
Netherlands View
Russia (USSR) View
Switzerland View
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) View
United States of America View
New Zealand View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Vickers-Armstrongs 1934 1960 113000 View

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.

Variants

The widespread production of the Carrier allowed for several variants to be developed, manufactured and/or used by different countries.

British variants

  • 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.
  • Wasp
    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.

Australian variants

  • 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.[20]
  • 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.

Canadian variants

  • 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

  • T-16
    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.

German variants

  • 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.

Italian variants

  • 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.

The Universal Carrier was ubiquitous in all the theatres of war during the Second World War with British and Commonwealth armies; from the war in the East to the occupation of Iceland[8] Although the theory and policy was that the carrier was a "fire power transport" and the crew would dismount to fight, practice differed.

United Kingdom

The seven Mechanized Divisional Cavalry regiments in the BEF during 1939–1940 were equipped with the Scout Carriers - 44 carriers and 28 light tanks in each regiment. There were 10 Bren Carriers in each infantry battalion in the same period.

The Reconnaissance Corps regiments – which replaced the cavalry regiments in supporting Infantry divisions after 1940 – were each equipped with 63 carriers along with 28 Humber Scout cars.

Universal Carriers were issued to the support companies in infantry rifle battalions for carrying support weapons (initially 10, 21 by 1941, and up to 33 per battalion by 1943). A British armoured division of 1940–41 had 109 carriers in total; each motor battalion had 44.

The British Carrier Platoon originally had ten Universal Carriers with three Carrier Sections of three Universal Carriers each plus another Universal Carrier in the platoon HQ. Each Universal Carrier had a non-commissioned officer, a rifleman and a driver/mechanic. One Universal Carrier in each section was commanded by a sergeant and the other two by corporals.

All the Universal Carriers were armed with a Bren light machine gun and one Carrier in each Carrier Section also had a Boys anti-tank rifle. By 1941 the Carrier platoon increased in strength to contain four Carrier sections and one Carrier in the Carrier sections also carried a 2-inch mortar.

By 1943 each Universal Carrier now had a crew of four, an NCO, driver/mechanic and two riflemen. The Boys anti-tank rifle was also replaced by the PIAT anti-tank weapon. The Universal Carrier's weapons could be fired from in or outside of the Carrier. A Carrier platoon had a higher number of light support weapons than a rifle company.

To allow the Universal to function as an artillery tractor in emergencies, a towing attachment that could allow it to haul the Ordnance QF 6 pounder anti-tank gun was added from 1943. Normally the Loyd Carrier - which was also used as a general utility carrier - acted as the tractor for the 6-pdr.

Australia

Universal and the earlier Bren carriers were used by Australian Army units in the Western Desert campaign.[15]

Type Armoured personnel carrier/weapon carrier
Place of origin  United Kingdom
Production history
Number built 113000
Specifications (Universal Carrier, Mk 1)
Weight 3 ton 16 cwt (3.75 t) laden
3 ton 5 cwt (3.19 t) unladen
Length 12 ft (3.65 m)
Width 6 ft 9 in (2.06 m)
Height 5 ft 2 inch (1.57 m)
Crew 3
Armour 7–10 mm
Main
armament
Bren light machine gun or Boys anti-tank rifle
Secondary
armament
Vickers machine gun; M2 Browning machine gun; 2-inch mortar; 3-inch mortar; Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank carried
Engine Ford V8 petrol
85 hp at 3,500 rpm
Suspension Horstmann
Fuel capacity 20 Imperial gallons
Operational
range
150 miles (250 km)
Speed 30 mph (48 km/h)

End notes