WW2 British Armored Cars WW2 US Armored Cars

Autoblinda AB41 in Allied Service

United Kingdom/United States of America (1941-1943)
Medium Armored Car – Unknown Number in Allied Service

The Autoblinda AB41 was an Italian medium reconnaissance armored car used during the whole duration of the North African campaign, mainly deployed by the Italian Regio Esercito (English: Royal Army) and by the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana or PAI (English: Italian African Police). During this campaign, many German and Italian vehicles fell into Allied hands, including, among others, Australian, British, Free French, Polish, and South African units. After Operation Torch, when the Allied forces attacked the Axis in North West Africa in early November 1942, they captured a number of AB41s and redeployed them.

The Autoblinda AB41 prototype at the testing ground in Rome during tests to be accepted into service. Source: La Meccanizzazione dell’Esercito Italiano fino al 1943

Italian Vehicles in Allied Service

Unsurprisingly, the AB41 was not the only Italian armored vehicle to be put into service with Allied forces. For instance, six Carri Armati M11/39 and an unknown number of Carri Armati M13/40 were used by the Australian 2/6th Cavalry Regiment and the British 6th Royal Tank Regiment, until spring 1941, when they ran out of spare parts and they were destroyed.

An M13/40 of the 1st Series captured by the Australian soldiers of the 6th Australian Cavalry Regiment being painted with the distinctive Australian kangaroo to avoid friendly fire. Note the nickname ‘Wally’. Source: Australian War Memorial

One of the most used vehicles in North Africa by the Italians was the Autoblinda AB41 armored car that, in addition to performing reconnaissance tasks, was also used as a vehicle to support infantry assaults. In fact, thanks to its protection and armament, it could perform the support task with success if the enemy forces were only equipped with light weapons.

The unquestionable fame of the vehicle made it an interesting vehicle for Commonwealth and Allied troops to reuse it after capture.


An Autoblinda AB40 of the Pinerolo Training School. Source:

The AutoBlinda Modello 1940 was the first of the AB medium reconnaissance armored car series. It had two driving positions, at the front and at the rear. This feature was designed to permit the armored car to disengage from skirmishes even on narrow mountain roads or in the dense North African villages.

The AB frame at the Ansaldo-Fossati plant of Sestri Ponente. The two driving positions are clear in this photograph. Source: Ansaldo

The armor on the entire hull, superstructure, and turret consisted of bolted plates. This arrangement did not offer the same efficiency as mechanically welded plates, but facilitated the replacement of an armor element in case it had to be repaired. The hull plates were bolted onto an internal frame.

Internal structure on which the plates were bolted on the original AB40 and AB41’s chassis. Source:

There were 4 crewmembers: the front and rear drivers, a commander/gunner, and the rear machine gunner. The engine was a petrol FIAT-SPA ABM 1, 6-cylinder in-line with an internal volume of 4,995 cm3. It had a 78 hp (some sources mention 80 hp) output at 2,700 rpm. The maximum speed was 76.4 km/h. In the rear driving position, the driver could use only 4 of the 6 gears with a maximum speed of 36.4 km/h.

Scheme of the AB series engine’s cooling system and the FIAT-SPA ABM 1. Source: Autoblindo AB41 & AB43

Influenced by the experiences gained in the Spanish Civil War, the Regio Esercito’s High Command ordered a more potently armed version of the AB40. For this, the Torretta Modello 1941 (English: Turret Model 1941) of the Carro Armato L6/40 (English: L6/40 Tank) was mounted. It was armed with a Cannone-Mitragliera Breda da 20/65 Modello 1935 (English: 20 mm L/65 Automatic Cannon Breda Model 1935) with a coaxial Breda Modello 1938. A second machine gun in a spherical support on the vehicle’s rear, on the left of the rear driver.

A Bersagliere of the VIII Battaglione Bersaglieri Blindato Autonomo cleaning up a Breda Modello 1938 on the turret of his AB41, Cyrenaica May 1942. Source: @Museo Virtuale Bersaglieri

With 667 built, the AutoBlinda Modello 1941 (English: Armored Car Model 1941), or, more simply, AB41 Medium Armored Car, was the most produced Italian armored car of the Second World War.

The Torretta Modello 1941 turret being mounted on a AB chassis at the Ansaldo-Fossati plant in Sestri Ponente. Source: Ansaldo

The designers planned for the new Autoblinda AB41 to be equipped with a FIAT-SPA ABM 2 engine. At 88 hp at 2,700 rpm, it was more powerful than the previous ABM 1. This allowed for a maximum velocity of 78.38 km/h in the 6th gear and 37.3 km/h in the 4th gear. Due to delays in producing FIAT-SPA ABM 2 engines, a total of 435 ABs with Torretta Modello 1941, up to the vehicle with license plate Regio Esercito 551B, were equipped with the FIAT-SPA ABM 1 engine of the AB41. The vehicles with different engines are impossible to distinguish from the outside and are considered AB40 and AB41 hybrids.

The FIAT-SPA ABM 2 6-cylinder engine mounted on the Autoblinda AB41. Source: Pignato

The AB series armored cars were equipped with a powerful 60 km range radio with a 7 m fully-extended antenna on the left side.

A series of AB armored cars (the first one is an AB40 with Torretta Modello 1941) of the III Gruppo Autoblindo ‘Nizza’ with fully extended radio antennas. Source: Archivio Lancia

Allied Operational Use

Some AB41s were captured by Commonwealth troops during the North African campaign (10th June 1940 – 13th May 1943). The British Army supplied some of these armored cars to Australian and Polish forces.

Perhaps the most famous use was the Autoblinda AB40/AB41 hybrid of the Polish Independent Carpathian Rifle Brigade. It had most probably been captured from the III Gruppo Autoblindo ‘Nizza’ (English: 3rd Armored Car Group) at some point after March 1941. Contrastingly, the book Italian Armored Cars Autoblindo AB41 & AB43, Pz.Sp.Wg AB41 201(i) & AB43 203(i) written by Daniele Guglielmi, mentions that the armored car was captured from the Polizia dell’Africa Italiana. This seems to be incorrect, as the coat of arms of the IV Plotone Autoblindo (English: 4th Armored Car Platoon) of the III Gruppo Autoblindo ‘Nizza’ is seen painted on the right side of the armored car in a contemporary propaganda video.

A screenshot of the Autoblinda AB41 in Italian use showing a crewmember removing the sand cap from the main gun. The same symbol as seen on Polish-captured AB is partially visible here too. Source: Archivio Cavalleria Italiana via Le Autoblinde AB40 AB41e AB43

The armored car was used alongside Marmon-Herrington armored cars against its former owners and the Germans in Egypt between May and August 1942. After that, it was requisitioned by the British High Command.

A Polish crewmember poses near the Autoblinda AB40 with Torretta Modello 1941 captured from the IV Plotone Autoblindo of the III Gruppo Autoblindo ‘Nizza’ and deployed by the Polish Independent Carpathian Rifle Brigade together with the Marmon-Herrington Mark 2 armored cars in the background. Source:

The Autoblinda AB41 of the Polish Independent Carpathian Rifle Brigade was probably not the only AB41 captured and reused by Allied troops, even if no concrete information has emerged. Many Italian sources mention that two Autoblinde AB41 armored cars were sent to Chobham, in Surrey, England, although British reports mention only one armored car tested.

Some of the AB series armored cars that were used by France post-war to regain control of its colonies were delivered by British or other Allied forces in North Africa after the end of the North African campaign. It is known that French forces deployed at least 10 and probably more AB41s after the war, so, this could be a partial number of AB41s in service with the Commonwealth forces in North Africa during the last stages of the campaign.

From British veterans’ memoirs, an unknown, but limited number of Italian captured vehicles were used by British forces in training camps located in Egyptian territories. They were used to familiarize British soldiers with enemy vehicles. It seems that even few AB41s were deployed to teach their armored car crews to train to drive and fight Italian armored cars. Sadly, no photographic evidence has been found.

An AB41 is exhibited at the South African National War Museum in Johannesburg alongside other Second World War-era Allied and Axis vehicles and Cold War-era NATO and Soviet vehicles. How and why the vehicle arrived in South Africa is not known, even if it is probable that this vehicle was captured by Commonwealth troops, used for training in Egypt, and that it arrived in South Africa only after the end of the war.

The US Army also used some captured Autoblinde AB41s when they entered the war in North Africa in November 1942. At least two were captured and deployed in Tunisia but further details of their operational history are unknown. Only one image of these vehicles is known. The US vehicles were repainted in the common olive drab painting and received white stars for aerial recognition on the front and sides.

The only known photo of the two Autoblinde AB41 deployed by the US Army in North Africa. Source:

The British School of Tank Technology Report

In May 1943, Major J. D. Barnes and Major D.M Pearce published a detailed report of a captured AB40 armored car with a Modello 1941 turret that had been transported to the United Kingdom and thoroughly inspected at the School of Tank Technology of Chobham. The vehicle was the one previously belonging to the Polish Independent Carpathian Rifle Brigade.

At some point between March 1941 and the first months of 1942, the British High Command decided to take the armored car of the Polish Independent Carpathian Rifle Brigade and transport it to Britain for evaluation. The AB41 was perhaps withdrawn from the frontline in August 1942, then sent to the rear lines, probably a harbor in Egypt or Palestine, before being sent to the United Kingdom, where it was analyzed by the School of Tank Technology 9 months later.

The analysis revealed it was built in 1941 and had the chassis number ‘40788’ and had the ‘ABM40’ name on the chassis plaquet. The engine had production code ‘100041’ and was built on 21th November 1940.

The first note in the report was about the status of the vehicle when it arrived in Chobham:

“The car arrived in this country in good condition. This is accounted [sic] by the comparatively small mileage covered, and by the considerable troubles taken to protect components from corrosion or damage during transit. After a few minor adjustments the car was made a runner, and mechanically it appeared to be fairly sound with the exception of the steering which needs some attention.”

From photographic evidences it is possible to determine that it was equipped with 3 Pirelli Tipo ‘Libia’ tires (front axle and rear left ones) and 3 Pirelli Tipo ‘Sigillo Verde’ tires (rear right axle and spare wheels) even if British report claimed 4 Tipo ‘Libia’ and 2 “heavy duty” tires or Tipo ‘Sigillo Verde’. These were two Italian low pressure tires developed for sandy soils. The first type was developed for armored vehicles, while the latter type was developed for the Camionette Desertiche (English: Desert Scout Car) SPA-Viberti AS42 ‘Sahariana’ but used on various vehicles with the same rim sizes, including the armored cars of the AB series.

The Autoblinda AB40 with Torretta Modello 1941 at the School of Tank Technology. The vehicle’s provisorial code was ‘A222’ painted in white on the left side. Source: Imperial War Museum
Left side of the Autoblinda AB40 with the Modello 1941 at Chobham. The coat of arms is once more visible, as is the early type radio antenna mounted on the right side. Source: Imperial War Museum

The all-wheel steering and al-driving wheels were praised:

“Mechanically the car has many interesting and certain commendable features. The distributed drive to all four wheels and the four wheel steering, make it possible to use a single differential at the expense however of a very large number of bevel gears.”

The British appreciated the dual driving position, but listed a number of shortcomings. They reckoned that the directional control lever that permitted the front driver to take control of the vehicle was in an awkward position and that the rear driver’s seat did not allow tall soldiers to seat comfortably.

“While the general mechanical layout appears to have been well thought out and designed specially for the job, the mechanical details in certain cases contrast strikingly in their inadequacy or shoddyness. The whole construction and layout of the rear driver’s section savours of modification or afterthought. The main petrol tank under the floor is only protected by a light gauge tray and is extremely inaccessible. The forward tank feeds into the main tank by gravity and no stop cock is provided in the line. There are other similar examples of bad design.”

The British technicians were less enthusiastic about the armament and its positions on the armored car.

“With regards to the armament and armour, it is noticeable that again the lack of attention paid to detail design considerably reduces the potency of the car as a fighting vehicle. The one man turret does not conform to the latest British requirement for a three man turret. The exposed traverse gears, the akward position of the 2 cm. cocking handle and the limited observation in the turret are in our opinion decidedly undesirable feature: There is no electrical equipment in the turret and consequently no rotary base junction. The commander is therefore faced with the problem of what to do with his headphone and microphone leads when travelling the turret.”

Autoblinda AB41 angled armor scheme made by the School of Tank Technology. Source: Preliminary Report on Italian Armored Car Autoblinda 40

The rear machine gun position was considered to have various deficiencies.

“It is impossible to sight the rear hull gun when it is fully depressed and extremely difficult to do so at any angle under zero. The gunner’s seat is not in line with the gun and he must lean awkwardly in order to sight when the gun is traversed left. His back is fouled by the turret gunner’s seat when the turret is straight ahead or traversed left. These points and the improvised appearance of the gun mounting suggest the possibility that the rear hull gun was added as an afterthought.”

The engine was judged adequate by the front line soldiers, even if the British considered it difficult to maintain, due to the presence of brackets for the armored plates that were welded to the hull frame, which limited accessibility in the engine compartment. Interestingly enough, Italian crews never reported this as a problem.

During driving tests, the British noticed that the first 4 gears were noisy and it was difficult to change them. The last two gears were not as noisy and were easier to change. The engine performed perfectly at slow speeds and was considered quiet from the front driver’s position, even if the vehicle did not have a bulkhead. The engine was found to be noisier from the rear driver’s position, and due to the absence of a bulkhead, part of the engine’s fumes entered the crew compartment. During the driving, it was noticed that at 24 km/h, the vehicle tended to glide with a swaying motion. At 32 km/h, the armored car was almost uncontrollable.

The hydraulic brakes were found easy to operate but, for maintenance reasons, were not very effective. The independent suspension was judged excellent during off-road and on-road driving and it provided the crew with great comfort. The spare wheel’s position was also praised. This was a common feature on AB series armored cars and it permitted the spare wheels to help the vehicle to overcome obstacles during off-road driving, and at the same time, avoiding ‘bellying’ on rough terrains.

The armor was considered to be badly bolted to the superstructure with dangerous gaps between the armored plate and the structure on which these were bolted.

“The fitting of the plates is generally bad, and even in such exposed positions as the nose, considerable gaps occur between the plate edges. Very little attempt has been made to protect the crew against bullet splash. Turret ring protection is provided only at the rear by a length of 6 mm. angle section bolted to the top plate.”

During a test done by British technicians of the School of Tank Technology with a Poldi portable tester, Brinnel hardness was registered between 320 BHN and 340 BHN, harder than the Italian tank’s armor. These Brinell results showed this Italian armor used on the armored cars to be quite similar to US armor, which had a hardness of 280-320 BHN, and far softer than the 413-460 BHN of Soviet steel.

The abbreviation BHN – Brinell Hardness Number (unit of measurement kg/mm²) is a figure used to determine the hardness of a material from a hardness test. The harder a steel is, then generally, the better it will be at resisting shell impacts, but also more vulnerable to shattering.

The Autoblinda AB41’s armor scheme. This scheme made by the British at the School of Tank Technology seems incorrect. In fact, the AB armored car series were protected by 8.5 mm armored plates, not 9 mm thick ones. Source: Preliminary Report on Italian Armored Car Autoblinda 40

The Autoblinda AB41 tested at Chobham was scrapped probably shortly after the tests concluded, in fact, it was never again mentioned in British reports.

Recognition Pictorial Manual on Armored Vehicles – Italy

On 3rd November 1943, the US Army War Department published the Recognition Pictorial Manual on Armored Vehicles – Italy, which briefly described the Autoblinda AB41’s main features: double drive, all steering and all driving wheels, the presence of spare wheels free to rotate, and a maximum velocity of 49 mph (78 km/h) with front driving and 24 mph (38 km/h) with rear driving. The vehicle that they analyzed at the Aberdeen Proving Ground was probably captured during the Sicily campaign in May-June 1943. The US technicians did not analyze it as thoroughly as the British, and after a short time, scrapped it.


Despite the School of Tank Technology’s not very positive final judgment on the Autoblinda AB41, some Allied units reused several in North Africa. It was fast, with great off-road capabilities, adequate protection, and armament to combat against other Axis reconnaissance vehicles. At least one or two vehicles captured were sent to the School of Tank Technology in the United Kingdom and another to the Aberdeen Proving Ground in the United States.

The Autoblinda AB41 of the Polish Independent Carpathian Rifle Brigade
AB41 as deployed by the US Army in North Africa. Illustrations by the illustrious Godzilla funded by our Patreon Campaign.
Front view of AB41 as deployed by the US Army in North Africa. Illustrations by the illustrious Godzilla funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Autoblinda AB41 Specification

Size (L-W-H) 5.20 x 1.92 x 2.48 m
Weight, battle ready 7.52 tonnes
Crew 4 (front driver, rear driver, radio operator/machine gunner and commander/gunner)
Engine FIAT-SPA 6-cylinder petrol, 88 hp with 195 liters tank
Speed 80 km/h
Range 400 km
Armament Cannone-Mitragliera Breda 20/65 Modello 1935 (456 rounds) and Two Breda Modello 1938 8 x 59 mm machine guns (1992 rounds)
Armor 9 mm Hull Turret: Front: 40 mm Sides: 30 mm Rear: 15 mm
Production 667 in total, unknown number in Allied service


Preliminary Report on Italian Armored Car Autoblinda 40 – Major J. D. Barnes and Major D.M Pearce – May 1943

Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano, Volume II, Tomo I – Nicola Pignato and Filippo Cappellano – Ufficio Storico dello Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito – 2002

Italian Armored Cars Autoblindo AB41 & AB43, Pz.Sp.Wg AB41 201(i) & AB43 203(i) – Daniele Guglielmi – Armor PhotoGallery #8, Model Centrum PROGRES – 2004

Le Autoblinde AB40 AB41e AB43 – Nicola Pignato and Fabio d’Inzéo – Modellismopiù.com

WW2 British Armored Cars

Bison Mobile Pillbox

United Kingdom (1940)
Mobile Pillbox – ~200 Built

In the years since the Second World War, the Bison has been roundly mocked for being a terrible AFV and a bad idea. This is often held up as part of the ‘Declinist’ view of Britain’s war effort, an attempt to ridicule the entirety of the British armor design process or just as a meme on the internet. However, with an understanding of the context and the intended use of these vehicles, their merits and worth are apparent.

On the 18th of June 1940, Winston Churchill stood up in the House of Commons and gave the first of three speeches which would become some of his most famous works. One passage was:

‘Our Army and 120,000 French troops were indeed rescued by the British Navy from Dunkirk but only with the loss of their cannon, vehicles and modern equipment. This loss inevitably took some weeks to repair, and in the first two of those weeks, the battle in France has been lost.‘

He was, of course, talking about the evacuation from Dunkirk. The second sentence, where Churchill talks about the losses in equipment being made good, might seem quite peculiar, especially given the extent of the losses incurred in France. However, this was quite accurate, as the British war machine was rapidly churning out weapons to fill the ranks. However, the problem was the massive increase in the size of the armed forces. For example, the Home Guard was a quarter of a million men strong by the end of May. Three months later, it was a million men strong. Equally, the regular armed forces were undergoing massive expansion, and all of these new troops required weapons and equipment far in excess of what had been available even before the debacle in France.

On top of this situation, there was the threatened invasion by the Germans. While a daunting prospect for many in the English public and administration, the realistic chances of success of such an operation were non-existent at best. This was not common knowledge in the UK at the time, and the country lept to face the threat. This common drive was a useful tool for the British Government, as the emergency reinforced in people’s minds the need to come together, and that they were in a very real war. This enabled the complete conversion of the British economy to a wartime footing.

Mr J. G. Ambrose and Mr C. B. Mathews, founders of Concrete Ltd. Source:

Like most inhabitants of the UK, John Goldwell Ambrose and Charles Bernard Mathews turned their minds to the apparently impending German invasion after Dunkirk, and asked themselves: ‘what can we do?’ As they were the owners of Concrete Ltd, a company based at the Stourton Works near Leeds, they could do quite a bit more than most. Both Ambrose and Mathews were ex-Royal Engineers, and had served in the First World War. They had met each other when both began working on the problem of bunkers for the front lines and the time it took to erect them. Together, they had created pre-cast concrete bunkers which could be installed relatively quickly. After the First World War, they had formed Concrete Ltd, which specialized in the construction of precast structures. During the Invasion Scare, they hit upon the idea of using reinforced concrete pillboxes on the back of trucks. Mathews set the company to work and soon, a prototype was ready. This was demonstrated as a proof of concept vehicle to the military authorities, who gave some helpful criticism. The feedback was incorporated into the designs and production was begun. The vehicles were named after the logo of Concrete Ltd, a blue bison.

An unusual Bison. There are secondary sources stating there are more pictures to this sequence, and you can see it under construction. It is possible that this is the prototype Bison. Some modern historians suggest it is a third type of Bison, but it is the only time this style has been photographed, which raises questions about that suggestion.


No two Bison’s were alike, although they can be pigeonholed into two distinct types. It should be stressed that it appears the two types do not appear to be official designations, and are nomenclature added after the event by historians.

The first and more common design featured a separate octagonal bunker, which was elongated along its length, on the bed of a heavy truck, which could be either four- or six-wheeled. The driver’s cab and engine were protected by a thick square concrete body.

The partial reconstruction of a Bison. The bunker is original, however, the cab is made from fiberglass. The chassis also seems to be a bit too modern to have been used for a Bison, dating from just 1931. Source:

The other type of vehicle was a lengthened bunker that incorporated the flatbed and the cab into one structure, again on a heavy goods vehicle chassis. In both cases, the concrete was around six inches thick, which would have rendered the Bison immune to any contemporary infantry anti-tank or tank based gun the Germans had access to, apart from rare and extreme cases, like the 15 cm sIG 33 (Sf) auf Panzerkampfwagen I Ausf B, or other large caliber artillery pieces.

The second, rarer type of Bison, with the bunker assembled as a complete unit with the cab. Source:

These bunkers all had loopholes for armed men to fire from with their personal weapons, and had a coverage of 360 degrees, apart from the areas where the cab’s superstructure blocked them. Of course, the vision slits in the cab could cover this blind spot.

Total crew numbers, their dispositions during combat, and even what they were armed with was entirely down to the unit operating them, and what they saw as beneficial to their local conditions, although the weapons had to be of a personal nature, as the loopholes would not accept any mounted or crew-served weapons. The crew accessed the bunker through an opening cut in the base of the flatbed and reportedly climbed into the cab through the roof.

Due to the nature of the Bison, it could be adapted to any number of truck chassis, with a variety of engines, drive systems, and wheels. However, they all shared common features. They were of civilian stock, and all not useful to the current war effort. This would mean most of the trucks were of older designs, often dating back to the First World War, or earlier. There is even an example of a steam engine-powered truck being converted to a Bison, although, in this case, the steam engine and associated equipment were removed from the outset, and the chassis was designed to be a trailer.

It is unknown if the chassis were requisitioned, bought, or donated. While the Home Guard modified a great number of vehicles and operated even more, these were all arrangements between a local vehicle owner and the Home Guard unit in question. In the case of the Bison, it was an official program run by the government for use by the armed forces. This meant that a more permanent and official status would be required. Certainly, for the one vehicle for which there is something approaching a detailed history, the original owners never seem to have made any move to reclaim it, even when abandoned. This again suggests that ownership was obtained, and some form of reimbursement given by the Government by some means.


Although each Bison was a different shape, usually around the cab and bonnet, the means of construction were the same. When the donor vehicle arrived at the Concrete Ltd works, it was first stripped of all the bodywork and spare weight. Then, wooden shuttering was built up around the cab and bonnet. Into this, several layers of expanded metal were placed, then concrete poured in. On the flatbed of the truck, the precast bunker was installed. This was constructed in the same manner as the cab protection. Finally, a precast roof was attached.

The exact numbers of how many Bisons were produced are unknown. Several secondary sources suggest that the number was around 200 vehicles converted.

Bison Pillbox at Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre. You can clearly see the expanded metal that was used to add strength to the preformed body. Source: Gary Binden, via Pillbox Study Group


The only hostile gunfire a Bison would ever encounter was in the imaginations of children playing over the discarded wreckage of Bisons. Even so, the Bison served an important role in both the RAF and the Army.

Army Service was very very limited. For example, there is one entry in the war diary of the 40th Royal Tank Regiment, where seven Bisons were collected from Leeds. This is dated to the 5th of October 1940. At the time, the 40th RTR only had two tanks on its strength, one light, and one cruiser. Thus, the Bisons seem to have been a useful addition, giving them some vehicles to train on, and the manpower of the regiment received a bit more muscle in case of an invasion. The Bisons are never mentioned again and it is likely they were discarded by the following year, when the regiment was shipped to North Africa. Except for this example, very little is known of their use by the British Army, which seems to have been meant as a jury-rigged expedient.

A veritable herd of Bison. These are all of the separated body versions, which was likely cheaper to make than the single unit type. Of note is the different arrangements of the bonnets, showing how each forward part of the donor chassis needed the concrete covering modified. Also, ‘Bison’ is written on the front of each vehicle. Source:

In regards to RAF service, even less is known, as just about the only sources we have are photographs of Bisons at assorted airfields. As with most ill-documented vehicles that served but never saw combat, it is quite difficult to give a clear idea of what they did. However, in the case of the Bison, there are reasonable details on one such vehicle, which will hopefully give an idea of their service and eventual fate.

This specific vehicle was based on a 1915 Leyland box van as a donor chassis, with solid rubber tires, and a chain drive. It was owned by a company called Cammocks, in Lincolnshire, and used as a removal van. In 1940, it was sent to be turned into a Bison. After being fitted with its concrete overcoat, it was sent to active duty at RAF Digby station, also in Lincolnshire. It remained at RAF Digby until the later part of 1944 when the station was downgraded to non-combat duties. At that point, the Army Transport Corps was tasked with its collection and removal to storage at Ferrybridge in Yorkshire. It is quite possible that a large number of Bisons ended up here.

As was the case with many Bisons, the weight of the modifications caused severe strain on the chassis. The Bison from RAF Digby was no exception, and the condition of the chassis was found to be extremely poor. Thus, the Bison was donated to the Home Guard, where it was moved about nine miles from RAF Digby to Quarrington near Sleaford. There, it was placed in a copse of trees and served as a bunker in support of a Home Guard checkpoint on the A15. On the 3rd of December 1944, the Home Guard was stood down, and the Bison was abandoned in the copse. At some point, a local farmer decided to salvage the chassis. The concrete parts were pulled off the chassis, with the bunker laying upside down on its roof. The chassis was converted to a farm trailer. The abandoned bunker in the copse of trees was well known locally and often played over by local children. In 1988, a local heritage society was tipped off about the strange bunker, and in 1991, the remains were recovered and placed on display at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre.

Pictures taken of the Sleaford Bison just before recovery. There is an oddity in these remains, as the Bison at first glance seems to have two left panels for the cab. It is likely that one of the panels is actually from somewhere else on the cab, however, without a photograph of the original vehicle, it would be difficult to work out where. Source: Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre (, colourized by Jaycee “Amazing Ace” Davis

Most other Bisons were likely scrapped or met similar fates. Today, only the remains in Lincolnshire and a half-authentic mock-up at Bovington Tank museum survive.

The Combat Role

The Bison should not be seen as a conventional AFV. The fact that some Bisons were reportedly constructed without a power plant, and even that the massive weight of the concrete modifications caused Bison engines to fail did not stop them from remaining in service. The Bison was a mobile pillbox.

Such a device was very practical for the defenders of the airfields where they were stationed. Any attack on the airfields would quickly run afoul of a Bison for several reasons. Firstly, the German Fallschirmjager would have an anti-tank rifle at their disposal at best, which would lack the ability to harm the bunkers, even assuming the Germans could get to their weapon containers. Secondly, the ability to move strongpoints about at random on the airfield grounds meant that planning any assault would be extremely difficult, as the attacker did not know in advance where the bunkers would be.

Other things could be done with a mobile pillbox. Flying from some airfields was a day time only event. Overnight, a Bison could be placed in the middle of the airfield, blocking the airstrip, and left there until flying needed to resume again. This could be done in order to prevent enemy airplanes from disembarking troops on the airfield in case of invasion.

A single unit Bison at RAF Speke, which is now John Lennon international airport in Liverpool. There may be another Bison on the far side of the De Havilland aircraft. It would be impossible to construct a permanent bunker in this location on the taxiway, but as the Bison can move, strongpoints could be placed covering the hangars. Source:


The Bison was not a typical AFV, but a mobile pillbox. In that role, Bisons provided a flexible defensive tool for the Local Defence teams of each airfield they were stationed at, and they provided it cheaply without drawing on any scarce resources, such as armor plate. They could also be used for training, when nothing better was available. Unfortunately, their use has been ill-documented and even the vehicles themselves have disappeared, with partial remains of just two vehicles surviving.

While the Bisons were a vehicle born out of a feeling of urgency and desperation, they made sense in the context in which they were built, and they provided supplemental defensive tools without drawing on important materials which were in high demand elsewhere.

Bison, Type 2. This type featured a separate fighting compartment.
Bison, Type 2. This type featured a separate fighting compartment.

Bison, Type 3, late model. As seen in a government photo from 1940/1.
Bison, Type 3, late model. As seen in a government photo from 1940/1.


Mace, Martin (July 2001). Vehicles of the Home Guard. Historic Military Press. ISBN 1-901313-08-5.
Wheels and tracks, Issue 41 (1992).
Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre (

WW2 British Armored Cars

Guy Light Tank (Wheeled)

United Kingdom (1939)
Armored Car – 101 Built

In 1937, the British Army had just completed re-equipping its reconnaissance formations with a new armored car, the Morris CS9. However, the CS9 had one critical flaw: it only had two-wheel drive. The War Office was well aware of the superiority of a four-wheel drive armored car, however, time pressure had meant that they had selected the CS9, which was based off a commercial truck chassis, for service. With the CS9 in service, this gave breathing space to develop a four-wheel drive armored car. The first port of call was again Morris Ltd, with a joint venture with Steyr of Austria. They produced a large 4×4 vehicle that was delivered for tests. The trials went badly, with the report citing terrible mechanical performance. The final nail in the coffin for this vehicle was the Anchluss, the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany, which meant that Steyr now belonged to a hostile foreign power.

The failed Morris-Steyr armored car. Source: WO 194/44

The Morris company then adapted the technology obtained from Steyr for a new design, which also performed poorly in trials. A new contender was sought, and found, in the form of Guy Motors. The starting point for the Guy armored car, was their Quad-Ant field artillery tractor that was being trialed for use by the Army. The tractor had an armored body fixed over the chassis. The exact source of the body design is unknown, but the Guy armored car does have more than a passing resemblance to the Morris armored car, which had its body designed by the Woolwich Arsenal.

A Guy Quad-Ant FAT towing a 18-pounder Mk.IV gun on exercise somewhere in Britain. Some secondary sources state it too was equipped with a 4 cylinder Meadows engine, which produced some 58 hp. Source:

Originally, the Guy armored car was meant to mount a turret very similar to that of the CS9, which was an open-topped cylinder armed with a Boys anti-tank rifle and a Bren light machine gun. However, before production began, the War Office changed the specifications and requested a fully enclosed turret with armament standardised to that of the Vickers Light Tank Mk.VI. This mounted both a .50 and a .303 Vickers heavy machine gun in a square fully enclosed turret. With this weapon change, the vehicle was reclassified as a ‘Light Tank (Wheeled)’. The suspected reasoning behind this change is that a 4×4 armored car could come close to the performance of a light tank, but at a much-reduced cost. At least one of the five Guy prototypes was placed in comparative trials against the Morris four-wheel drive armored car and an Alvis-Straussler built design. The Guy entry comprehensively beat its competitors in every field.

Following this, two prototypes were placed under troop trials with the 2nd Dragoon Guards. One was sent to Egypt where it suffered from severe cooling problems. The troop trials caused some minor modifications to be implemented, with the size of both the tyres and the gap between the wheels and the mudguards being increased.

The Guy Light Tank would begin to enter service in 1939, and would have a very short but interesting career.

Three views showing the prototype Guy Light Tank (Wheeled). The opening in the turret where the weapon mount would go is plated up for the trials. Ssource: WO 194/44


The Guy Light Tank had a body made of 14 mm of armor, with a centralised driving compartment and a box-like structure around the driver’s head. Behind this, the main superstructure mounts a square turret. The sides of the body sloped slightly outwards from the chassis to the widest point, giving an appearance similar to modern Mine Resistant Vehicles, although there is no suggestion that this was done for protection from mines. From the superstructure roof, the rear engine deck sloped backwards to the rear plate.

The first prototype Guy Light Tank had riveted construction, along with all the usual weaknesses this entailed. At the time, the idea of welding the armor plate was considered impossible. Guy Motors, however, offered the War Office a deal. They thought they had cracked the problems with welding, and they wanted to try it on the new light tank. Guy Motors signed a contract that allowed them to experiment with welding, but should it fail, then the company would absorb the cost. The welding was a total success. It made the Guy better protected against small arms and more waterproof, thus being able to ford water bodies easier. Welding even made the vehicle slightly lighter. In addition, it made the vehicle a lot cheaper and quicker to build. The Guy Light Tank became the first vehicle in British service to be of entirely welded construction. The welding technique was then given to the War Office, for free, for use during the Second World War. After the war, the invention attracted an award from the Royal Commission for inventions.

The Guy Mk.I. This view is useful as it is nearly the same as the prototype pictured above, and allows the spotting of the differences. Note how the mudguards now run along the crease in the sides of the front hull instead of below them as on the prototype. (source Wikipedia)

The Guy was a rear-engine vehicle, with a petrol 4-cylinder Meadows 4.E.L, with a 95 mm bore and 130 mm stroke. The horsepower produced by this unit is up to some debate, as one primary source, albeit for the prototype, states the output as 22.38 hp. In contrast, most of the modern secondary sources state the output is 55 hp. The answer could be differing RPM’s when the measurement was taken, or the jump from prototype to production may have included a change in gearing.

The engine on the prototype was cooled by a gallay type radial-pump, linked to a four-bladed fan with 3.75 gallons of water. Ignition was of the coil type. The engine also had a Solex 25 RFGVL carburetor. The engine output fed through a four-speed gearbox, with one reverse gear. The forward gear ratios ranged from 7.33 to 1.1, the Reverse gear had a ratio of 10.41. The clutch was a Borg & Beck Dry plate. The wheels fitted to the prototype were Dunlop TG 10.50-16, but these would be increased in size on the production model. Breaking ot the wheels was both foot and hand, linked to Bendix 14in Ferodo systems on each of the wheels. Fuel capacity was 20 gallons, with a 9.5 mpg. Lubrication was provided by 1.5 gallons of oil.

In 1939, the War Office changed the standardised armament for light tanks, switching away from the .50 and .303 Vickers guns. Instead, the new weapons were to be 15 mm and 7.92 mm BESA machine guns. Thus, the design of the Guy Light Tank was updated as well. To differentiate between the two vehicles, those armed with Vickers Guns became the Mk.I, and those armed with BESA’s became Mk.IA. The changeover happened exactly halfway through production, with fifty Mk.I’s produced, and fifty-one Mk.IA’s.

Action Guy

In 1940, the War Office was requesting much-increased production from Guy Motors. However, even with the savings in man-hours that welding provided, the company was just unable to cope with the increased workload without prejudicing its other commitments such as building trucks. Thus, the design was handed to the Rootes group, which produced an almost identical vehicle which became known as the Humber Armoured Car. This was a Guy Light Tank body placed on a Karrier KT 4 artillery tractor chassis. In this guise, it became one of the outstanding success stories of British armored cars from the Second World War.

A column of Guy Mk.IA’s somewhere in the UK. Source:

The switching of production to Rootes Group left 101 Guy Light Tanks in service with the Army. The Guy had one unique property, it had enough space to carry around 10cwt (0.56 tons) of stores. This is a remarkably large volume of space, especially considering that the standard truck of the British Army was only rated to carry 15cwt (0.84 ton). This large capacity and roomy interior meant that the Guy Light Tank would be used for two very special roles.

Six Guy Light Tanks were formed into two troops, and joined by a platoon of motorcyclists. The formation carried many names. Officially, they were called either Mission No.11 or the GHQ Liaison Regiment. They also had the code name Phantom. Commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel George Frederick Hopkinson, the force consisted of about 120 personnel, a large portion of which were trained signallers. The role of Phantom was to provide liaison between foreign armies and perform intelligence gathering duties. This information was then passed to No.3 Air Mission in order to allow the RAF to perform accurate close air support, with relatively up to date information on the ground situation. The reconnaissance was also passed directly to the British Expeditionary Force HQ without having to go through the usual chain of command, thus the data could be acted on in a much more timely manner. Phantom also utilized signal intercepts to obtain information on German movements. Although the intercepts would be encoded, the originating type of unit could be determined, which helped place German formations.

One of Phantom’s Guy Light Tanks captured in France. This vehicle collection point is stated to be at Dunkirk. Source:

During the battle for France, all the Guy Light Tanks sent to France were knocked out or captured. As the formation was atypical, it lacked the War Diaries that would normally be associated with combat and so we lack any detailed reports on how the Guy’s performed. One action involving a Guy can be pieced together from subsequent accounts and photographs.

On 27th May, Phantom was requested to support the 144th Brigade west of Wormhoudt. The area to their front was contested and the situation very confused. A Guy Light Tank, possibly commanded by Second-Lieutenant Piers Richard Edgcumbe, with Lance-Corporal Leonard Frank Webber as one of his crew, was approaching a café on the Esquelbecq to Zegers-Chappel road, named Hunter’s Rest. It appears from photographs that the Guy pulled out of a T-junction, and was immediately hit by a German anti-tank gun. The car rolled forwards off the road, and stopped partially in a shallow ditch. It was hit a second time, and started to burn. One of the crew was killed outright, the other two managing to get inside the Hunter’s Rest. It then appears SS personnel attempted to close with the two unarmed British soldiers and a bitter round of hand to hand fighting ensued. The British were using what items they could lay their hands on to defend themselves, even resorting to using the cast iron stove lids as weapons. Both British crew were killed.

Two shots of the Guy knocked out at the Hunter’s Rest, which can be seen in the background on the second shot. The two penetrating hits can be seen on the left hand side in the first photograph. One is just in the door, the other in line with the top of the mudguards. Source:

After the six Guy’s were lost in France, the next role was as part of the Coats Mission. This was a close protection detail formed from the Grenadier Guards to protect the Royal Family. The guns and ammunition on the Guy Light Tanks were removed, and an extra seat fitted in the roomy hull. This, in effect, gave the vehicle the ability to function as an APC carrying three soldiers, or as a VIP transport able to seat one of the royal family, plus two bodyguards. The driver in both cases could double as a fighting-man or stay with the vehicle. Around eight of the Guy Light Tanks were so converted.

A column of four Guy Mk.IA Light Tanks, oddly they are all lacking guns and even smoke dischargers. Could they be from the Coats mission? Or are they simply training machines on exercise? There is unfortunately no way to tell from this photograph alone. Source:

The remaining Guy’s were handed out to various regiments, most notably Belgium, Danish and Dutch units being formed in the UK. The Belgium forces received fourteen Mk.IA Guy’s on 2nd October 1941. That winter during an exercise, a local Home Guard platoon blocked a road with a hay cart to spring an ambush on a column being led by a Belgium Guy Light Tank, named Calamité. The Belgium driver reacted exactly as one should when in an ambush; get out of the killing zone. Thus he rammed into the hay cart at full speed. Needless to say, this gave rise to an inquiry, as the Home Guard had to explain to the local farmer why he would not be getting his cart (and hay) back, and the Belgium forces were billed for the damages caused.

The Guy’s remained in their role of training vehicles until they could be replaced with more standardised equipment, and were phased out of service in February 1943.

Dutch Guy Mk.I’s during the Week of Victory parade, held in Birmingham. The Dutch markings can be seen on the front right hull. On Belgium Guy’s they carried a roundel on the mudguards. Also of interest is the large lightly colored square under the gunners view port on the turret front. This may be a patch of gas warning paint, which would change color when it encountered contaminants. Such paint was often placed on tanks in France in 1940, although it disappeared after that campaign. Source: Nationaal Archief

In Dutch use, around four to five Mk.I Guy Light tanks were issued to reinforce the Humber Light Recognizance Cars the Armoured Car Squadron was then equipped with. After brief service as training vehicles, the Guy’s were withdrawn in January 1943. The Dutch soldiers took great pains to refurbish the Guy’s back up to the best standard they could, working hard to replace worn parts and get them in to the best condition possible. They were rather annoyed when the cars were simply sent for scrapping when they handed them over.

A Dutch Guy Mk.I arriving, with the Dutch Father Christmas, Sinterklaas (Sint Nicolaas) and two Zwarte Pieten (one is mounted in the Humber LRC behind) on board to give out presents to all the well behaved soldiers, such as the officer climbing on the side. The Germans did not get presents, only .50 Vickers Machine gun fire! (source: Nationaal Archief)


Although short lived and of a small production run, the Guy’s were Britain’s first truly modern armored car, with four-wheel drive and a welded hull. Up until this point, the armored cars had all been two-wheel drive, with a bolted armored body dropped onto a commercial car or truck chassis. The Guy would show that Britain was on the right course, as the Guy quickly morphed into the excellent Humber, which could keep pace with the other outstanding success story of British armored cars, The Daimler Dingo, which appeared the following year to the Guy.

Guy Mk.1 Armoured Car, standard livery, 1940.

Guy Mk.1a Armoured Car, armed with a Besa 15 mm heavy machine gun. Anti-invasion exercises with the Southern Command, 7 May 1941

These illustrations were produced by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet

Prototype Mk.I Mk.IA
Height (turret roof) 7ft 6in 7ft 6in 7ft 6in
Width 13ft 9in 13ft 6in 13ft 6in
Width 13ft 9in 13ft 6in 13ft 6in
Length 7ft 1.5in 6ft 9in 6ft 9in
Crew Commander, gunner, driver
Armor 14mm max, rivetted 14mm max, welded 14mm max, welded
Firepower None fitted 1x .50 & 1x .303 Vickers machine guns 1x 15mm & 1x 7.92mm BESA machine guns
Engine Meadows 4.E.L
Horsepower 22.38 hp 53 hp 53 hp
Weight 4.5 tons 5.28 tons 5.28 tons
Speed Requirement asked for 40mph 53 mph 53 mph
Range 190 miles 210 miles 210 miles
Turning circle, Left 57ft
Turning circle, Right 47ft 6in


WO 194/44 Medium tanks and armoured cars, National Archives, Kew.
Mechanised Force, David Fletcher, ISBN-10: 0112904874
Armoured Car, Issue 16, March 1993
Tussen paard en pantser [Between Horse and Armour] written by Jan Hof, published by ‘La Riviere & Voorhoeve’ in 1990. (1) (2) (3)


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