“Eland” The African Antelope
The Eland armored car, more affectionately known by its nickname, “Noddy Car”, (with reference to the popular Noddy in the Toyland TV program of the time) takes its Afrikaans name from the African Eland, the largest antelope in the world. Similar to its namesake, the Eland evolved to adapt to the tough Southern African environment. Its design, adaption, and production happened just before South Africa became the subject of international embargoes (1977) because of its racial segregation policies (Apartheid). Against the backdrop of the Cold War in Southern Africa which saw a steep rise in liberation movements backed by Eastern Bloc communist countries such as Cuba and the Soviet Union.
Eland 90 Mk7 troop – Grootfontein mid-1980s, with permission from Eric Prinsloo
Up until the late 1950s, the Union Defence Force (UDF), which would become the South African Defence Force (SADF), made use of the Ferret armored car. A subsequent macro environmental study in the early 1960s showed that the most likely conflict South Africa would become involved in would take the form of expeditionary missions and counter insurgencies for which the Ferret was not suited. This shortcoming necessitated the acquisition of more modern lightweight, lightly armored, well-armed, long-range reconnaissance vehicle. Initially, three armored cars were considered namely the Saladin, Panhard EBR (Panhard Engin Blindé de Reconnaissance: Armored Reconnaissance Vehicle), and Panhard AML (Auto Mitrailleuse Légère: Light Armoured Car). Ultimately, the four-wheeled AML was deemed the most appropriate to fulfill the desired role South Africa had in mind.
Eland 90 Mk7 troop – Grootfontein mid-1980s, with permission from Eric Prinsloo
The initial testing of the AML 60 with it’s 60 mm Brandt Mle CM60A1 breech-loading gun-mortar was deemed lacking in firepower and South Africa requested more firepower. This led Panhard to design a new turret which would accommodate a DEFA 90 mm low-pressure quick-firing gun. South Africa purchased 100 AMLs as well as additional turrets, engines, and parts for the assembly of 800 more armored cars. The manufacturing of the AML 60 and 90 (rebranded the Eland 60 and 90) would become one of South Africa’s most ambitious weapons manufacturing programs, post-World War 2. Production by the South African industrial firm Sandrock-Austral of the AML 60 and 90 subsequently began in 1961 with the first batch entering service trials in 1962 as the Eland Mk1. In essence, they were still French AML 60 and 90s. These armored cars contained 40% local content, with the majority of parts being purchased from Panhard.
South Africa acquired the licenses to produce the vehicle chassis and turret independently from Panhard in 1964. The turret was manufactured by Austral Engineering in Wadeville and the hull by Sandock-Austral in Boksburg and Durban. What followed was a series of improvements which would make the armored car more suited for the African terrain. The Eland Mk2 featured an improved steering system and brakes, of which 56 were delivered. The Eland Mk3 saw the installation of a new custom-built fuel system. The Eland Mk4 incorporated two more modifications which included the replacement of the electric clutch with a more reliable conventional model and the movement of the fire control from the gunner’s feet to the turret hand crank. Additional smaller improvements were made, such as replacing the chain holding the fuel cap with a cable which made less noise. By 1967, the South African manufactured armored cars resembled their French counterparts externally while making use of 66% South African produced parts.
Eland 90 Mk6 outside Grootfontein 1977. With permission from Neville Bowden
From 1972, 356 Eland Mk5 armored cars would be built. They featured a new Chevrolet 153 2.5 liter, water-cooled four-cylinder inline petrol engine which was mounted on rails to facilitate quicker replacement in the field (40 minutes) and reduce maintenance. Additional improvements included new communication equipment, spring shock absorbers, wheels, and run-flat tires.
In 1975, the Mk6 upgrade brought 1,016 (all the previously produced Eland Marks) up to the Mk5 standard. The final version of the Eland, the Mk7, was put into production in 1979 and featured a new raised commander’s cupola derived from the Ratel ICV, movement of the headlamps from the lower glacis to a raised position, new power brakes, improved transmission, and a lengthened frontal section to make the drivers station more comfortable for taller than average South African soldier.
The Eland 60 and 90 became the standard armored car for the SADF`s (South African Defence Force) armored car regiments and served in a reconnaissance role when assigned to the tank regiment. The SADF deployed the Eland with the permanent forces at the School of Armour, 1 Special Service Regiment and 2 Special Service Regiment. With the reserve forces, the Eland was used by Natal Mounted Rifles, Umvoti Mounted Rifles, Regiment Oranje Rivier (Cape Town), Regiment Mooirivier (Potchefstroom), Regiment Molopo (Potchefstroom), Light Horse, President Steyn, Prince Alfred Guards, 2 Armoured Car Regiment, 8th Division (Durban), Head of the Armed Forces Mobile Reserve and Armed Forces Mobile Centre (formerly 7th Division) . In South-West Africa, the Eland was used by the South West Territorial and 2 South African Infantry Battalion Group (Walvisbay) Forces.
The Eland was removed from frontline service in the late 1980s, when its indigenously produced replacement, the Rooikat 76 armored car, began to enter service. The Eland was officially retired from South African National Defence Force( SANDF) service in 1994. In South Africa, the Eland can be found at most military bases as gate guards and several pairs, in working condition, are preserved at military museums which includes the SA Armour Museum in Bloemfontein. Several Elands have also found their way into the hands of private collectors and foreign museums.
By the end of its production, more than 1600 vehicles were built. The Eland family of armored cars which also includes a 20 mm quick-firing cannon are still in service with foreign armies which include, Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Gabo, Ivory Coast, Malawi, Morocco, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Senegal, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.
Eland 90 Mk7 outside Katima 1980. With permission from Antonie Goosen
The Eland saw continued design improvements over the original AML throughout its production, making it more adept to the African battlespace. In line with its role as a lightweight, heavily armed reconnaissance vehicle, the Eland could pack a decisive punch when needed, making it a versatile weapons platform for its time. The following sections will specifically cover the Mk7 variant unless otherwise stated.
The southern African battlespace favors a wheeled configuration, in which the Elands permanent 4×4 configuration was well suited. It was fitted with four split rim 12:00 x 16m run-flat Dunlop tires (designed to resist the effects of deflation when punctured) which resulted in more reliability and mobility.
The Eland has a manual transmission with a constant mesh gearbox. The gear selection range consists of both low and high range, with six forward, one neutral, and one reverse gear. For cross country use, the two low gears, one top gear, and reverse are used. When in low range, the normal drive’s four ratios of the high range are used for the four upper gears of the range (4-6). The high range is used for road driving and has three low gears and an overdrive.
The Eland is not amphibious, but it can ford 1.5 m of water with preparation (fitting plug in the floor). It is powered by a Chevrolet 153 4-cylinder, 2.5-liter petrol engine, which can produce 107 hp (80 kW) at 2400 rpm. This provides a 20.6 hp/t power to weight ratio for the Eland 60 and 17.8 hp/t for the Eland 90. The maximum official road speed is 90 km/h (56 mph) however non-standard and the unofficial test has reached a speed of 140 km/h (87 mph). The safe cruising speed is 80 km/h (50 mph). Over terrain, it could achieve 30 km/h (18.6 mph), which was sufficient to keep up with the Olifant Mk1A.
A 0.5 m wide ditch can be crossed at a crawl and it can climb a 60% gradient. On the front of the vehicle are two unditching channels which allow the Eland to cross ditches up to a meter wide. The Eland is equipped with a fully independent active trailing arms, coil springs, and shock-absorbers. The driver makes use of a power-assisted steering wheel which controls the front two wheels and foot pedals for acceleration and braking. The Eland has a ground clearance of 380 mm which, in combination with only four wheels, sometimes resulted in it becoming stuck over very rough terrain, which is far from ideal.
Eland 90 Mk6 outside Grootfontein 1977. With permission from Neville Bowden
Endurance and logistics
The fuel capacity of the Eland is 142 liter (37.5 US gallons) which allows it to travel 450 km (280 miles) on road, 240 km (149 miles) off-road and 120 km (74.5 miles) over sand.
The Eland 90 and 60 are equipped with two 7.62mm M1919 Browning belt-fed machine guns, one mounted co-axially and the other on top of the turret structure, above the commander’s station for close protection from ground threats. The Eland 90 carries of 3,800 rounds for the machine gun, and the Eland 60, 2,400 rounds. It should be noted that creative stacking would allow for more machine gun rounds to be carried. The co-axial machine gun is mounted on the left side of both variants the main armament.
At the rear right-hand side of the turret, behind the gunner, is a B-56 long-range and B-26 short-range radio set for tactical communication which allows for reliable command and control, enhancing the armored car’s force multiplier effect on the battlefield. This communication combined with well-trained crews resulted in co-ordinated (but nail-biting) attacks on T-54/55 MBTs during various Border War operations (mentioned later).
The Eland Mk7 received a much-needed storage bin at the rear of the turret. Pre-Mk7 Elands did not have a built-in drinking water tank and crews subsequently had to carry water in a 20 liter (5.2 US gallons) jerry can which was carried on the outside of the driver’s left entry door in a bracket. Crews improvised and kept non-drinking water in the used ammunition boxes and spent main gun casings on the outside of the hull. The Mk7 featured a built-in 40 liter (10.5 US gallons) drinking water tank which was installed at the rear of the vehicle from where the crew could access it via a copper push tap.
The crew of an Eland 90 Mk7 at work freeing their vehicle, after it bogged down in a flooded shona (flood plain) during the annual rainy season in Owamboland – South West Africa/Namibia. With permission from Chris van der Walt.
The Eland carries a standard complement of three crew members, consisting of the commander, gunner, and driver.
The commander’s station is located on the left side of the turret while the gunner is seated on the right. Visibility for both is achieved through four L794B episcopes which provide all-round visibility. The gunner can also use the M37 sighting episcope which provides x6 magnification. Entry and exit for the commander and gunner of an Eland 90 are via a single-piece hatch cover for each which opens to the rear. The Eland 60 had one elongated hatch for both commander and gunner which also opened to the rear. In case of emergency, the gunner and commander can escape through the driver’s entry doors located on either side of the hull in-between the forward and rear wheel. Of interest is the pistol port located in the front left side of the hull through which the commander could shoot if necessary.
The driver’s station is situated in the front center of the hull and is accessible through the side entry doors as mentioned above or a single-piece hatch which opens to the right above the driver’s station. The driver’s station has limited adjustability making it difficult for tall drivers to operate. The single-piece hatch contains three integrated periscopes for enhanced visibility and situational awareness. The central periscope can be replaced with a passive night driving episcope (manufactured by Eloptro) allowing full day/night capability.
Eland 90 Mk7 driver’s station upper, Dewald Venter (SA Armour Museum)
The Eland 90 was armed with the GIAT 90 mm F1 gun, which was designated the GT-2 in South Africa and manufactured by Denel Land Systems. For combat, it could fire a low-velocity High Explosive (HE), High Explosive Anti-Tank Tracer round (HEAT-T), White Phosphorus Smoke (WP-SMK), and Canister rounds. The HE was accurate up to 2200 m and the HEAT-T 1200 m and could penetrate up to 320 mm of Rolled Homogeneous Armor (RHA) at zero degrees and 150 mm at a 60-degree angle. The penetration and after armor effect of the HEAT-T round was devastating against the T-34/85 the South Africans faced in the early stages of the South African Border War. When the T-54/55 entered the conflict, South African Eland 90 crews had to make full use of their vehicles small size and speed to flank them. Multiple shots by the Eland 90 were necessary to disable and destroy the new tanks.
The HE round weighed in at 5.27 kg and was very effective against lightly armored vehicles, trenches, and bunkers. To control the recoil of the main gun a single-cylinder with permanent stress spring and a hydropneumatic recuperate is used to return the main gun to its original position after firing. A well-trained crew could fire the main gun either in a stationary or a short halt every 8-10 seconds. The turret could be rotated a full 360 degrees in under 25 seconds although the standard practice was not to exceed 90 degrees left or right of centre. The main gun can elevate from -8 degrees to +15 degrees. Due to its small size, the Eland 90 could only carry 29 main gun rounds of which 20 was stored in the rear of the turret and 9 in a rack between the gunner and vehicle commander.
The Eland 60 retained the original AML 60 turret and made use of the South African manufactured 60 mm M2 breech-loading gun-mortar. It could fire a 1.72 kg bomb at 200 m/s up to 2000 m in the direct role. A total of 56 bombs are carried which consisted of a combination of bombs and illumination rounds. The main armament can elevate from -11 to +75 degrees. The rate of fire was on average 6-8 bombs a minute. It was primarily used in the counter-insurgency and convoy protection role as its main gun was devastatingly effective against infantry and dug in positions such as bunkers and trenches. It primarily served in South West Africa (SWA) (Namibia) northern operational areas.
Eland 60 Mk6 ammunition complement outside Kwando 1976. With permission from Carel Viljoen
Fire Control System
The gunner makes use of an Eloptro 6x gunner’s day sight. Laying the Eland 90s gun is accomplished via hand-crank while sighting by the gunner is done via telescopic sight which was linked to the main gun. The Eland 90s main gun was not stabilized due to the lack of a turret drive. This required exceptionally skilled Eland 90 crews who had to work in concert to engage enemy targets as quickly as possible while minimizing their exposure and then withdrawing before they could be shot at.
Eland 90 Mk7 gunner’s station selector switch box (note the dual Afrikaans and English designations), Dewald Venter (SA Armour Museum)
The Eland consisted of a welded steel hull which is between 8 and 12 mm thick providing all-round protection against rifle fire, grenades, and medium artillery velocity fragments. It was, however, susceptible to anything bigger than 12.7 mm. Two banks of two electrically operated 81 mm smoke grenade launchers are located on the rear left and right side of the turret and are used for self-screening in an emergency. There are two tubes to the rear of the left smoke grenade launchers which are often confused with the former. They are used to house the main gun cleaning brush and OBS (Old Brown Sherry) when crews became cold. The frontal headlamps are under armoured covers and located on the frontal glacis where they are raised to protect against damage when driving through the bush. Due to its small size, it was never equipped with a fire suppression system. Crews had at their disposal several hand-held fire extinguishers, one on the front right exterior of the vehicle, above the right wheel and one inside the crew compartment.
In 1971, the SADF placed the requirement for an Eland fitted with a 20 mm main gun. An Eland 60 (named Vuilbaard [Dirty beard]) was fitted with a Hispano-Suiza 20 mm as a feasibility test. The results were not satisfactory and, in early 1972, the same was done but by fitting a F2 20 mm (imported for the Ratel 20 ICV project) to a turret. Both turrets were tested in a shoot-off against one another and the F2 came out on top. By that time, the SADF dropped the requirement and focused on the Eland 60 and 90. The Eland 20 made use of the exact same turret as used on the Ratel 20. The 20 mm F2 cannon can fire on single, single-automatic (80 rounds per minute) and automatic (750 rounds per minute). It had the added advantage of being dual fed, which meant that the gunner could switch between HE and AP with the flick of a switch. It also retained the co-axial 7.62 mm machine gun and could also mount an additional 7.62 mm machine gun on its roof. Morocco purchased several vehicles. Ultimately, Morocco purchased several Eland 20 armored cars around 1980-1982.