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-Armstrongs and other companies.
Universal Carrier as mortar carrier with Bren mounted at front
|Type||Armoured personnel carrier/weapon carrier|
|Place of origin||United Kingdom|
|Wars||World War II|
Indonesian National Revolution
1948 Arab–Israeli War
Costa Rican Civil War
|Specifications (Universal Carrier, Mk 1)|
|Length||12 ft (3.65 m)|
|Width||6 ft 9 in (2.06 m)|
|Height||5 ft 2 inch (1.57 m)|
|Bren light machine gun or Boys anti-tank rifle|
|one Vickers machine gun/M2 Browning machine gun, or 2-inch mortar/3-inch mortar, or Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank carried|
|Engine||3.9-liter (239 cu. in.) Ford V8 petrol|
85 hp (63 kW) at 3,500 rpm
|Fuel capacity||20 imp gal (91 L)|
|150 miles (250 km)|
|Speed||30 mph (48 km/h)|
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.
Design and development
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-Armstrongs 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. The War Office considered it 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 Ford Flathead V8 engine that powered it was placed in the centre of the vehicle with the final drive at the rear. The suspension and running gear were based on that used on the Vickers light tank series using Horstmann springs. Directional control was through a vertical steering wheel which pivoted about a horizontal axis. 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 was an area in which passengers could ride or stores could 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 that the rear section of the body had a rectangular shape, with more space for the crew.
Production of Carriers began in 1934 and ended in 1960. Before the Universal design was introduced, the vehicles were produced by Aveling and Porter, Bedford Vehicles, the British branch of the Ford Motor Company, Morris Motors Limited, the Sentinel Waggon Works, and the Thornycroft company. With the introduction of the Universal, production in the UK was undertaken by Aveling-Barford, Ford, Sentinel, Thornycroft, and Wolseley Motors. By 1945 production amounted to approximately 57,000 of all models, including some 2,400 early ones.
The Universal Carriers, in different variants, were also produced in allied countries. Ford Motor Company of Canada manufactured about 29,000 vehicles known as the Ford C01UC Universal Carrier. Smaller numbers of them were also produced in Australia (about 5,000), where hulls were made in several places in Victoria and by South Australian Railways workshops in Adelaide, South Australia. About 1,300 were also produced in New Zealand.
The Universal Carrier was ubiquitous in all the theatres during the Second World War with British and Commonwealth armies, from the war in the East to the occupation of Iceland. Although the theory and policy was that the carrier was a "fire power transport" and the crew would dismount to fight, practice differed. It could carry machine guns, mortars, infantrymen, supplies, artillery and observation equipment.
The seven mechanized divisional cavalry regiments in the BEF during 1939–1940 were equipped with Scout Carriers – 44 carriers and 28 light tanks in each regiment. There were 10 Bren Carriers in each infantry battalion in the same period.
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; each motor battalion had 44.
A 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 (NCO), a rifleman and a driver-mechanic. One Universal Carrier in each section was commanded by a sergeant, 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 had increased in strength to contain four carrier sections; one carrier in each carrier section also carried a 2-inch mortar.
By 1943, each Universal Carrier 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.
|Orderly||Private||Sten||Equipped with a motorcycle|
|Rifleman||Lance corporal||Rifle||No.38 Wireless set|
|Rifleman||Private||Rifle||2-inch mortar with 36 rounds|
|Rifleman||Private||Rifle and PIAT|
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.
In Motorised Infantry Battalions in BAOR (British Army of the Rhine) in the early 1950s the Universal was issued one per platoon carrying the Platoon Commander, driver, signaller and the 2” Mortar group Nos 1 & 2.
Universal and the earlier Bren carriers were used by Australian Army units in the Western Desert campaign.
Captured Universal Carriers were used in a number of roles by German forces.
A total of around sixty Bren No.2 Carriers and Belgian army Vickers Utility Tractors were converted into demolition vehicles. Carrying a large explosive charge, these would be driven up to enemy positions under remote control and detonated, destroying both themselves and the target. Twenty-nine of both kinds were deployed in 1942 during the Siege of Sevastopol. They achieved some success in destroying Soviet trenches and bunkers, but a significant number were destroyed by artillery. Others were disabled by land mines before reaching their target or were lost because of mechanical breakdowns. A difficulty for the Germans using these foreign-built vehicles was the lack of spare parts.
The widespread production of the Carrier allowed for several variants to be developed, manufactured and/or used by different countries.
- An attempted conversion to self-propelled artillery consisting of a single T16 carrier fitted with a six-Model 1968 recoilless gun mount was developed in the late 1960s or early 1970s.
- Mk. I (the original model)
- Mk. II (updated stowage and layout, battery moved behind the divisional plate, towing hitch)
- Mk.III (welded hull, modified engine covers)
- 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: 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 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) or Carrier, 2-pdr Tank Attack: 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): 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.
- Mk.I* (certain differences, otherwise similar to British model)
- Mk.II* (certain differences, otherwise similar to British model)
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; making for a pair of full Horstmann dual-wheel suspension units per side, the engine was a Mercury-division 3.9 litre displacement Ford flathead V8 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.
- 2 cm Flak 38 auf Fahrgestell Bren(e): Single barrel German 2 cm Flak 38 cannon mounted over the engine compartment of a captured Bren carrier.
- 3.7 cm Pak auf 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 transport rack as a tank destroyer. They were not fired from the Bren gun carrier, only transported.
- 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.
Many variants of the British Universal Carrier have been fielded and used by the armed forces of the following countries, amongst many others:
Pre-war/Second World War period
Australia Belgium (used by in-exile Belgian forces in the Middle Eastern regions during the war, after the country was invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany in 1940) Canada China: 1500 UCs supplied by Australia during the war, with a sizeable number of these (about 400) being 3-inch mortar-carrier versions. The pro-Japanese Collaborationist Chinese Army also received carriers captured in Singapore by the Japanese. Czechoslovakia Mk.Is used by Czechoslovak battalion 11 in the Middle East, Mk.Is, Mk.IIs, Mk.IIIs, Mortars used by Czechoslovak Independent Armoured Brigade in UK and Western Europe, 15 UCs Mk.II received from the USSR - served in I Corps of the Czechoslovak Army-in-exile on the Eastern Front) France: used by Free French Forces Nazi Germany (by the German Wehrmacht, which operated a small number of seized UC vehicles captured mainly from the UK) Greece (fielded by Free Greek troops following the country's fall to Nazi German occupation in the Middle East, like the exiled Belgian military forces) Azad Hind: The Indian National Army received carriers captured by Japan after the fall of Singapore. Ireland: 26 Mk. I carriers received in 1940 and 200 Mk. II carriers from 1943 to 1945. Still in service in the 1960s. Kingdom of Italy: a few captured UCs used by the Regio Esercito unit of the Italian Army and one locally produced copy (the Fiat 2800) Nederlandse regering in ballingschap: used by the Royal Netherlands Motorized Infantry Brigade. Poland: operated by the in-exile Polish Armed Forces in the West Portugal: the Portuguese Army received more than 178 universal carriers from 1942. United Kingdom (the main operator in WWII) United States (57 UCs en route for Canadian troop units in Hong Kong were in the Philippines when the Japanese invaded both Hong Kong and the Philippines, with 40 UCs taken over and operated by the US 1st Provisional Tank Group) Soviet Union (received 200 before the end of 1941 and 2,560 Universal Carriers and similar Lloyd Carriers starting from then until the end of WWII in 1945) Thailand (118 UCs operated in 1944, possibly supplied (covertly) by the UK) Yugoslav Partisans New Zealand
Afghanistan Argentina (250, including T-16s, supplied by the UK between 1946 and 1950) Biafra (very likely obtained from a French trader, with some converted and modified locally with extra armour) Costa Rica Egypt (possibly provided by departing British forces from the Middle East) France (small numbers used by the French expeditionary corps, the CEFEO, fighting in Indochina) Israel (received many from withdrawing British troops in Palestine, aside from buying them from the scrapyards of various European countries after WWII and capturing them from Egypt between their conflicts) Kuwait (former British stocks, which were retired from frontline service in 1961) Federal Republic of Germany (the Bundeswehr received 100 ex-British UCs in 1956) The Netherlands: a number operated following WWII (possibly ex-British UCs), especially in the independence war in their former colony of Indonesia (the Dutch East Indies) between 1945 and 1949, as part of the Indonesian National Revolution. A small number were lost and subsequently taken over by the new Indonesian Republic's military. Some were armed with a M40 recoilless rifle. Switzerland (used and fielded predominantly US-built T16 versions of the Universal Carrier up until possibly the early 1960s)
- Chamberlain & Crow 1970, p. 124
- McNab 2003, p. 142
- Fletcher 2005, p. 5.
- Fletcher 2005, p. 3.
- "Britain's Bren Gun Carrier". WWIIvehicles.com. 10 May 1940. Retrieved 11 March 2010.
- Chamberlain & Crow 1970, p. 119-120.
- Chamberlain & Crow 1970, p. 105
- Chamberlain & Crow 1970, p. 113.
- Chamberlain & Crow 1970, p. .
- An Infantry (Rifle) Battalion, ref II/1931/12B/3, notified in Army Council Instructions 6 April 1938
- An Infantry Battalion (Higher Establishment), ref II/1931/12F/2, notified in Army Council Instructions 4 June 1941.
- An Infantry Battalion, ref II/233/2, notified in Army Council Instructions 19 May 1943, effective date 30 April 1943.
- Chamberlain & Crow 1970, p. 119.
- Chamberlain & Crow 1970, p. 118.
- H. R. Everett; Michael Toscano (13 November 2015). Unmanned Systems of World Wars I and II. MIT Press. p. 474. ISBN 978-0-262-33176-0.
- Fletcher, p47
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- WW II German Infantry Anti-Tank Weapons: Page 3: Panzerschreck
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- Cecil, Michael K. (1992). Australian Military Equipment Profiles, vol 2, Local Pattern Carriers 1939 to 1945. Australian Military Equipment Profiles. ISBN 0-646-12600-8.
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- Fletcher, David (1989). The Great Tank Scandal: British Armour in the Second World War - Part 1. HMSO. ISBN 978-0-11-290460-1.
- Fletcher, David; Bryan, Tony (2005). Universal Carrier 1936–48: The 'Bren Gun Carrier' Story. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84176-813-7.
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- Watson, Nigel (2007). Universal Carriers Volume 1: Dragon – Armoured MG – Cavalry – Scout – AOP – Bren – Lloyd – Universal. Watson Books. ISBN 978-0955600906.
- Watson, Nigel (2008). Universal Carriers Volume 2: Universal – Mortar – Medium Machine Gun – T16 – Windsor – Local Pattern – Oxford – Cambridge – Flamethrowers – Armoured Snowmobile – Variants. Watson Books. ISBN 978-0955600913.
- Watson, Nigel (2011). Universal Carriers Volume 3 (Drawing Archive): Variants – Parts – Hull Details – Restored, Project Vehicles & Wrecks – Veteran Experiences. Watson Books. ISBN 978 0 9556009 2 0.
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