During the Axis occupation of Yugoslavia during the Second World War, the ever-increasing resistance movements caused great destruction to the Axis infrastructure and manpower. The Germans were particularly hard-pressed as they could not provide proper forces and equipment. Instead, they often relied on captured weapons and units of mixed experience and quality. Regarding the armor used, these were also mostly captured vehicles that were for the most part obsolete. To further increase their number, some improvised vehicles were also used, including one based on a captured British Morris CS8 truck.
A Brief History of the Yugoslavian Occupation
After the unsuccessful invasion of Greece by Italian forces, Benito Mussolini was forced to ask for help from his German ally. Adolf Hitler agreed to provide assistance, fearing a possible Allied attack through the Balkans would reach Romania and its vital oil fields. On the path of the German advance towards Greece stood Yugoslavia, whose government initially agreed to join the Axis side. This agreement was short-lived, as the Yugoslavian government was overthrown by an anti-Axis pro-Allied military coup at the end of March 1941. Hitler immediately gave an order for the preparation for the invasion of Yugoslavia. The war that began on 6th April 1941 was a short one and ended with a Yugoslavian defeat and the division of its territory among the Axis powers.
Following the collapse of Yugoslavia, the occupying Axis forces did not expect any significant trouble to come from this part of Europe. Unfortunately for them, two resistance groups emerged very quickly, the Royalist Chetniks and the Communist Partisans. What followed was five years of heavy struggle, suffering, and destruction on all warring sides in Yugoslavia.
Early Field Modifications
To battle the ever-rising numbers of Partisans attacks, the Axis forces, particularly the Germans, had limited available resources in the early stages of the armed uprising. After the April War, the Germans captured at least 78-80 Yugoslav armored fighting vehicles. These were to be transported out of occupied Yugoslavia by the end of 1941. As a result of the uprising, most of these vehicles were instead distributed to German occupation units. However, even these were not enough, as most of them were the older and obsolete WW1-era Renault FT tanks. They lacked mobility and suffered from engine reliability issues due to their age.
In an attempt to increase mobility and add firepower to their units, the Germans could only add machine guns and other light armaments on any truck or car that they could get their hands on. These vehicles did not receive any kind of armored protection, and, in general, had limited combat potential.
The Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army) found itself in an identical situation. Whilst the Italian occupation divisions were equipped with a number of Italian-built armored cars and tanks, almost all also had improvised armored personnel carriers used to patrol the most important roads to escort convoys. These improvisations were made mostly on Italian-built trucks, such as Bianchi Miles medium trucks, Isotta Fraschini D80 heavy-duty trucks, OM Taurus medium trucks, and even some French Renault ADRs captured during the French campaign.
Luckily for the Germans, during their Balkan campaign in April 1941, they managed to capture a variety of British equipment in Greece. This includes trucks, cars, and even some tanks. Some of these vehicles were put to use as anti-partisan vehicles in their original form. A few of them were reused for other projects, such as the modification of a Morris CS8’s 4×4 chassis with the addition of an armored compartment armed with one machine gun. Not much is known of this vehicle besides the fact that it was a German field modification, possibly made in 1942, and likely used by the 7th SS Volunteer Mountain Division ‘Prinz Eugen’.
Identification of the Frame
The exact frame on which the armored superstructure of this improvised armored car is not known. From the images, it is easy to identify it as a British-built Morris CS8 light truck.
Unfortunately, on the frame of this vehicle, 3 more vehicles were produced: the Morris C8 Quad prime mover, the 4×4 Morris C8 GS light truck, and the Morris CS9 armored car. It is logical to exclude the CS9 armored car as the possible frame since it would have made no sense to build an armored structure for a vehicle that already had one.
The armored superstructure could be mounted on a Morris C8 Quad prime mover with a 4×4 traction. The Morris C8 GS (GS for General Service) can also be excluded, as it entered service only in 1943.
The Morris CS8 was the standard light truck of the Commonwealth Armed Forces. It was developed after the request of the War Office in 1934 for a 750 kg payload capacity light lorry. The Morris Commercial Cars company started the development of this vehicle on the base of its civilian trucks of the C series, which had entered production in 1933. It was presented as the Morris CS8 (C for Commercial, S for Six-cylinder engine, and 8 for the wheelbase in feet). When the Second World War began, it was the standard platoon truck of the British Army and Commonwealth forces with total production, until 1941, of 21,319 CS8s.
Dozens of different variants were built, including a command post variant, radio center, water, and fuel tanker, and even an armored car. Some were also modified in the field to carry the French Hotchkiss 25 mm Mle. 1934, the Bofors 37 mm, or the 2-pounder gun in portée versions, and even the Italians, who captured many Morris trucks in North Africa, modified them as truck-mounted artillery, known as the Autocannone da 65/17 su Morris CS8.
Despite being a field modification, it appears to be a well-designed project. Due to a lack of information, how the vehicle was modified is unknown. Using the available photographs nonetheless, some educated guesses can be made.
Chassis and Engine
The chassis and the engine most likely remained unchanged. Given that it was a captured vehicle with limited spare parts, little could be done in regard to improving its overall performance. The Morris CS8 was powered by a 3,485 cm3 6-cylinder inline side valve petrol engine that delivered 60 hp at 2,800 rpm. The manual transmission had four forward and one reverse gear. Its empty weight was 1.94 tonnes, reaching 3 tonnes fully loaded.
Its maximum velocity on road was 64 km/h, and thanks to a 100-liter fuel tank, its maximum range was 400 km. On the German improvised armored car, the maximum speed and range most likely decreased due to added weight.
On top of the original chassis, a new fully enclosed armored superstructure was placed. It appears to be something more than an improvised vehicle made crudely in a workshop and something more professionally put together.
The frontal armor plates are angled to provide additional protection. On the front engine plates, there was a large centrally positioned, and protected ventilation grille for the radiator. Next to it, on both sides, two round-shaped hatches for the vehicle’s lights were added. The driver had a rectangular-shaped vision port, which could be fully closed or opened depending on the need. Opposite, a small rectangular firing port for the main armament was placed. On either side of the vehicle’s armored superstructure, two large doors opening backward were added. This could give some problems to the crew if they needed to exit or enter the vehicle under enemy fire. The doors were equipped with vision slits.
As there is no photograph of this vehicle from the rear, it is unclear how its design was made. It is possible that a door was placed there too, or at the very least, a firing port for self-defense. A large rectangular-shaped hatch was placed on top of the vehicle. It provided the commander with the possibility to fully observe the surroundings, and, at the same time, permitted the crew to defend themselves from air attacks. The main armament, or, optionally, a second machine gun, could be placed on the roof and used to shoot down enemy planes or support the infantry in anti-partisan operations.
Some sapper tools were placed on the sides, a pickaxe on the right, and a jack mounted on the left door. The rest were probably stored in the rear.
The thickness of these armor plates is unknown, but in order to keep the vehicle driving performance at an acceptable level, it must have been quite light, possibly only a few millimeters thick. As the partisans generally lacked any kind of a dedicated anti-tank weapon during the early stages of the uprising, this would not have been a major issue, as its armor only needed to protect against small caliber bullets.
Another interesting detail is that it seems that the armored plates were all welded and not bolted together as many other Axis-improvised armored vehicles of the era. This provides further evidence that it was a well-designed and manufactured project.
The vehicle probably suffered from problems caused by the weight of the armored superstructure. Between 1936 and 1938, Morris produced the CS9, an armored car on the frame of the CS8. It had a meager 7 mm armored superstructure bolted to an internal superstructure for a fully loaded weight of 4.5 tonnes. It was deployed in France by the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and in North Africa, where the crew complained about its underpowered engine. The German improvised armored car on a Morris chassis would have certainly been affected in a similar way.
The main armament of this vehicle appears to have consisted of only one machine gun. This machine gun was positioned on the right side of the vehicle and placed inside a small firing port. The precise machine gun used is difficult to know, but it was not of German origin. Like most weapons employed in Yugoslavia, it was presumably taken from a captured weapons stock. In this case, it appears to be the Czechoslovak 7.92 mm ZB vz. 26 or a Vz. 30 light machine gun, a highly popular and effective weapon. Before the April War, the Yugoslavian Army had in its inventory some 5,000 ZB vz. 26s and over 15,000 (possibly up to 17,000) Vz. 30Js (export version for Yugoslavia).
Both of these were excellent machine gun designs. These were gas-operated, had an easily removable barrel, and 20-round vertical magazines. The maximum firing rate was between 500 to 600 rounds per minute. The muzzle velocity of these two was 750 to 762 meters per second and weighed around 9.5 kg. Both of these guns achieved great export success being sold to countries like Afghanistan, Brazil, Bulgaria, China, Romania, Spain, Turkey, etc.
Additionally, the crew would carry their personal weapons, such as rifles, pistols and even hand grenades. An additional machine gun of the same or different model could have been mounted on the roof.
The exact crew number and configuration is also unknown. Given the existing photographs, it would at least have been two crew members: a driver and a gun operator. It is also highly likely that a third crew member, a commander, would also have been included. It is difficult to know precisely, but it is also possible that the improvised Morris may have acted as a small armored personnel carrier, so additional soldiers may have been squeezed inside it. In fact, the original Morris CS8 was a light lorry with a payload capacity of 750 kg or enough space for 8 fully equipped soldiers. In this armored car version, it may have space for a pair, or more soldiers in the cramped rear.
Not much is known of this vehicle’s combat history. While it could have been built in the first year of Axis occupation, this seems unlikely, as at that time, the use of armor by units in Yugoslavia was rare. The armor available was mostly the Yugoslavian captured tanks or simple modifications that included adding armament on trucks or cars. From 1942 onwards, more complex such modified vehicles began to be seen more commonly (but still rare speaking in the wider context of the war in Yugoslavia) by nearly all sides.
The Morris improvised armored car itself likely belonged to the 7th SS Volunteer Mountain Division. This unit was officially formed in early 1942. It mainly consisted of ethnic Germans that lived in most of the northern part of Yugoslavia. This particular Division became quite notorious in fighting the Yugoslav resistance movements by conducting many crimes against the local civilians. Its equipment was supplied by the Germans and consisted of foreign captured weapons. The evidence to suggest this vehicle may have belonged to this unit, is the photographic evidence where it is seen supporting elements of the Prinz Eugen Division fighting the Partisans, possibly in the area of Zapadna Slavonija.
This vehicle remained in use up to the end of the war. The victorious Partisans managed to capture it and other German armored vehicles that were left abandoned in Slovenia in May 1945. Its fate after this point is unknown, but it was likely scrapped as it had little combat value to the Partisans.
While appearing to be a well-made vehicle, sadly, very little is known about the German Morris improvised armored car. It was one of the many improvised vehicles of the Second World War that would have been forgotten were it not for some old photographs. Its overall performance and use is shrouded in mystery, but it did survive until the end of the war. This either indicated that its overall design was good enough to survive for that long, or that it was rarely used and mostly stored in reserve somewhere. In either case, due to a lack of information, no proper conclusion can be made.
German Morris CS8 Armored Car Technical Specifications
|Crew||3 (driver, gunner and commander)|
|Dimensions||Length ∼4.3 m, Width ∼2.0 m, Height ∼2.2 m|
|Engine||3,485 cm3 6-cylinder inline sidevalve petrol engine that delivered 60 hp at 2,800 rpm|
|Armament||7.92 mm ZB vz. 26 or 30 light machine gun|
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