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Cold War British Other Vehicles

GKN Sankey AT104

United Kingdom (1972)
Internal Security Vehicle – 28 Built + 1 Prototype

The AT104 was an internal security vehicle designed and built by the British firm GKN Sankey. With only 28 vehicles sold, it was not a great success. This was mainly due to the short period during which it was offered, for just three years, between 1972 and 1975. By then, Sankey had developed the improved AT105, which would later enter service with the British Army as the Saxon. Thanks to the success of the Saxon, the AT104 was rightfully sidelined, but has received very little attention ever since.

The AT104 prototype, featuring right-hand-drive. Source: unknown

Development

GKN Sankey was the developer and producer of the British FV432 APCs, but, more importantly in this context, the producer of the armored hulls for the Humber Pig. They realized in 1970, presumably due to the deployment of armored vehicles during the troubles in Northern Ireland, that there was a requirement for a well-armored internal security vehicle. They came up with the 4 x 2 AT100, a prototype of which was completed in 1971. It was aimed for urban operations. The vehicle did not gather any interest, notably from Sankey itself either. The next vehicle received more attention, the AT104. A prototype of this 4 x 4 vehicle was completed in 1972 and was supposed to be much better suited for rougher terrain and less developed roads.

The AT100 prototype from 1970/71. Just one was produced and no customer was found, because the AT104 and AT105 were favored over it. Source: Yuri Pasholok

Design

The armored hull was of all-welded steel construction, consisting of armor plates between 6 to 12.5 mm thick, although according to Dutch sources, the armor was up to 16/17 mm thick. The engine was located at the front of the vehicle and fully armored. The driver sat behind it, either on the left or the right, depending on the wishes of the customer, and was provided with three bullet-proof glass vision blocks. The personnel compartment was located at the rear of the vehicle, where a troop of nine could be seated on padded seats running down each side of the hull. On each side was a door, with one specifically for the driver. In the rear of the hull, a twin door was installed. Positioned around the hull were a total of seven firing/vision ports. As an option, GKN also developed a ball-type mount so that men could fire their weapons from within.

The commander’s cupola was located in the centre of the roof, and had a single piece hatch cover that folded forwards, and four bullet-proof vision blocks, with one facing to each side of the square cupola. Alternatively, a small turret could be fitted, equipped with three vision blocks and one periscope facing forwards. GKN Sankey also offered a variety of armament installations and fittings that also included a pintle-mounted machine gun.

Propulsion

In terms of propulsion, either a diesel or a petrol Bedford 6-cylinder were offered. The petrol version produced 134 bhp at 3,300 rpm, while the diesel produced 98 bhp at 2,600 rpm. The engine was coupled to an Allison AT540 automatic transmission with one reverse and four forward gears and a power take-off provision. This provision was basically an access port to the transmission to allow the mounting of an accessory like a hydraulic pump.

A Dutch Sankey on 9th January 1974. Two of them were stationed at Schiphol airport as a deterrent and for defence against possible Palestinian hijackings and terrorist attacks. Source: Dutch National Archives

The AT104 was standard fitted with power assisted steering and servo-assisted hydraulic brakes. The wheels, shod with run-flat tires, were suspended with Bedford semi-elliptical springs and hydraulic shock absorbers, as they would be fitted to regular Bedford MK trucks. The 24V electrical system was coupled to a battery with a 100 Amp/hr capacity that could be charged by an engine-driven alternator that had an output of 790 watt.

GKN Sankey offered various accessories to be fitted, like grenade dischargers, air conditioning and heater units, searchlights, auxiliary electrical generators, a hydraulically operated barricade remover, a hydraulic winch with a pull of 5,000 kg, and a variety of similar equipment.

Sold to Brunei

As a British Protectorate, Brunei was defended by the British Army. However, Omar Ali Saifuddien III, Sultan of Brunei since 1950, was keen on the military and decided to raise a small Brunei Military Force. It was formed on 31st May 1961 and training took place in neighbouring Malaysia. Due to a major conflict between Malaysia and Indonesia, the Brunei Regiment moved back to Brunei and British officers and N.C.O.s arrived instead to resume training in April 1964.

Because the Regiment was privately formed, it was not backed up like regular British Regiments, and all equipment was acquired through a special Administrative Officer. Several Ferret armored cars were acquired in 1964/65, and formed into a ‘Ferret troop’; the first armored unit within the Regiment. Training was received in Australia with the 4th Royal Tank Regiment. The training was headed by a British officer, Captain B.A.C. Duncan.

One of the two customers for the AT104 was the Royal Brunei Malay Regiment. According to The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), 24 Sankeys were delivered between 1972 and 1976, after an order from late 1971. This was due to a new agreement signed between Britain and Brunei in November 1971, which granted Brunei full internal self-government, while the UK would be responsible for external affairs and defence. In terms of defence, it was further agreed that both parties would become responsible for security and defence. In light of this, additional equipment was ordered for the Brunei Military. By 1977, all vehicles were in service. On 1st January 1984, Brunei became fully independent. The Sankeys never saw real action and were mainly used for mechanized training.

The AT104 at the Royal Brunei Armed Forces Museum. The front louvers immediately stand out, with 18 narrow slats. Armored plates have been put around the vision blocks, which would have decreased vision further. The opening ports are visually different from the prototype and Dutch versions, and feature flat plates. Most notable is the small commander’s turret that replaced the fixed cupola and features a machine gun mount, smoke dischargers and a large periscope on top. Source: Review on Google Maps by 怪しい東洋人

In 1988, an additional 26 VAB-VTT 4 x 4 APCs were ordered from France, including two ARV vehicles (VAB ELI). The Sankeys remained the nucleus of the VAB armored fleet, formed in three armored transport platoons (Malay: Platun Kenderaan Angkut Perisai) in 1989.

According to the publication ‘Military Balance’, all were taken out of service by 1995. However, as of 2021, two Sankeys still remain in storage in a serviceable state.

Besides these two vehicles, at least one was preserved and has been put on display at the Royal Brunei Armed Forces Museum in the capital Bandar Seri Begawan. Contrary to the prototype and Dutch vehicles, this vehicle is fitted with a machine gun-armed turret. This makes the vehicle, as a military version, quite distinctive from the police version. Other unique features include a front louver with many small slats, instead of fewer big ones, and flat vision parts that slide open.

The Ferret, the first armored vehicle to serve with the Brunei Regiment, with the Sankey in the background. Note the extension on the side below the turret. Source: Review on Google Maps by 怪しい東洋人

Sold to the Dutch State Police

The second customer would be the Dutch State Police (NL: Rijkspolitie). For many European police forces, the year 1972 was an important year. The terrorist attack on the Munich Olympic Games in West Germany led to the creation of various counter-terrorism units. The police forces sought new tactical and protective equipment for this role. The Dutch police had no modern armored vehicles for the internal security role and had to rely on assistance provided by the Royal Constabulary (NL: Koninklijke Marechaussee). Therefore, in 1973, the State Police took delivery of four AT104s, specifically for airport defence, while two UR-416s were bought for the Communal Police (NL: Gemeentepolitie) of Amsterdam and The Hague.

The idea to acquire armored vehicles was not new. In 1970, a team of technical specialists of the police had made a list of requirements for a lightly armored personnel carrier meant riot control and airport security. The requirements called for an air-tight vehicle, fast and maneuverable, equipped with bulletproof glass and armor that would be able to resist small explosives and Molotov cocktails, to protect ‘the living contents’. In the summer of 1970, tests were carried out with French vehicles, but adoption of these never followed.

On 9th August 1973, the first two vehicles were handed over at the factory to Police Commissioner J. Schouten of the Mobile Unit (NL: Mobiele Eenheid, ME, a riot squad). The other two would be completed sometime during the following months. In total, about half a million guilders (US$156,000 in 1972 values) were spent for the four vehicles. After completion, the vehicles were first tested by technical personnel of the police and, after arriving in the Netherlands, the vehicles were first sent to the Police Technical Service in the city of Delft, where some final adjustments were made. They received the registration numbers DB-47-94, DB-47-95, DB-60-34, and GM-89-66. The Dutch had some trouble with the name Sankey, which was often written incorrectly, like Shankey or Sjenkie.

The two Sankeys at Schiphol Airport in January 1974. The front vehicle, DB-47-95, is equipped with the small kind of barricade remover. Source: Dutch National Archives
A picture taken roughly around the same time, give or take a year. Three Sankeys are parked alongside the road, next to the Airport. Furthermore, several DAF YP-408s can be seen. Source: Gemeentearchief Amsterdam

Two vehicles were permanently stationed at Schiphol Airport to serve with the Police Aviation Service (NL: Dienst Luchtvaart), while the other two were relocated to the city of Neerijnen, where the Central Training of Mobile Units (NL: Centrale Opleiding Mobiele Eenheden, COME) was located. The armored vehicles were a welcome addition at Schiphol. Since 1972, M113 C&Vs of the Royal Constabulary were used to defend the planes of El Al Airlines and Lufthansa, but using tracked vehicles was not ideal, and communication with the State Police did not go as smoothly as it should have. In January 1974, an exercise was held together with the Royal Constabulary and their M113 C&Vs to defend Schiphol airport against potential Palestine terrorists armed with Russian-supplied SAM-7 missiles.

Between 1976 and 1978, the police took delivery of more armored vehicles, namely eight Shorland Mk 3s, and four, later five of these were stationed at Schiphol Airport. Consequently, the Sankeys at Schiphol became redundant and were relocated to COME to join the other two.

Deployment

Apart from airfield defense, the Sankeys were regularly deployed by the State Police in a variety of incidents and special events. During the 1970s and 1980s, several members of terrorist groups or hijackers were put on trial and the Sankeys were often used to transport them from jail to court hearings. They also saw action when truckers blocked the border post at Wuustwezel in 1974, and provided assistance to the police in September 1981, when a nuclear reactor was blocked off by anti-nuclear protestors. They were also deployed during the ‘squatting riots’ and the riots that erupted during the coronation of Queen Beatrix in 1980.

A Sankey seen from the front. This vehicle is outfitted with the wider type of barricade remover. Source: politievoertuigen.nl

Another major action happened in May and June 1977. On 23rd May, four armed South Moluccans had entered a school in the town of Bovensmilde and taken 105 children and 5 teachers hostage, while near the small village De Punt, a train was hijacked. To understand the situation, one has to go back to the aftermath of the Indonesian Independence War. South Moluccans had fought for the Dutch during the war and were exiled to the Netherlands in 1951. The Dutch government promised it was temporary and that they could eventually return and get their own independent state. However, after 25 years of living in temporary camps and in poor conditions, nothing had changed and especially the new generation of Moluccans felt betrayed by the Dutch government. In response, some Moluccans resorted to radical actions, including the ones witnessed on the 23rd of May.

The situation lasted for three weeks, until 11th June, when Marines stormed the school, supported by armored vehicles, including M113s of the Royal Constabulary and Sankeys of the State Police, while military DAF YP408s were also present. Fortunately, no one died during the incident.

During the 1990s, the Sankeys were taken out of service, with the last vehicle, DB-47-95, being donated in 1996 to the Dutch Police Museum (Nederlands Politiemuseum, NPM). After this museum was closed down in 2007, the collection was transferred to a new museum in Almere, named Safety Museum PIT, with PIT being the name of the blue flashing light that is mounted on emergency vehicles. This new museum was opened in 2014, and the Sankey is one of its major attractions.

The interior of a Dutch Sankey. Source: politievoertuigen.nl

Dutch AT104 specifications

The Dutch opted for the version with a 98 bhp diesel engine and wanted thicker armor, up to 16 mm. The options for an air conditioning unit and heater were not taken, meaning the vehicle was very uncomfortable during the summer and winter. Although the base vehicle has a vehicle crew of two, the Dutch vehicles had a crew of three, including a commander and two drivers. The drivers switched duty regularly and acted as observers when not driving. In general, the vehicle was very uncomfortable, lacking good vision for the driver, no seatbelts in the rear, and troops that were carried in the back only had a small rope attached to the roof to stay in place during a drive.

An AT104 of the Dutch State Police, Rijkspolitie in Dutch. The policemen who served with the vehicles quickly found out that it was very uncomfortable. No seatbelts were included, and it lacked both a heater and an air conditioning unit. Source: L. Goumare
A Sankey behind two M113s of the Royal Constabulary, photographed on 3rd March 1990. Source: ANP via Amsterdam City Archives

AT105

The AT100 and AT104 were short-lived, mainly thanks to the AT105, a prototype of which was completed already in 1974. It featured various improvements over the AT104, like a shorter wheelbase and an engine that was completely within the armored envelope, to name a few. The vehicle went on a sales tour to South America in early 1975 and it would enter an evaluation program of the British Army. They would eventually accept it into service as the Saxon.

Conclusion

The AT104, especially when not equipped with some additional features, was quite an uncomfortable vehicle that offered a decent balance between mobility and armored protection. Thanks to its hefty design features, the AT104 was quite the appearance, which made it intimidating and that turned out to be useful in police operations. Both in the Netherlands and Brunei, the AT104s were replaced after some twenty years of service, which is not bad for an armored vehicle. In terms of its importance to the world of armored vehicles, the development of the AT105 Saxon is probably most important, but apart from that, the influence of the AT104 was modest.

A Sankey and a M113 C&V of the Royal Constabulary in 1974. Source: politievoertuigen.nl

See the site politievoertuigen.nl for more images of the Sankey AT104 in Dutch service.

Illustration of the AT104 in Dutch State Police colors. Illustration by Yuvnashva Sharma, funded by our Patreon campaign.

AT104 Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 5.47 x 2.44 x 2.49 m (18ft x 8ft x 8ft2in)
Weight 8 tonnes (17,637lbs)
Weight loaded 8.9 tonnes (19,621lbs)
Crew 2 + 9 (commander, driver, personnel)
Ground clearance 0.46 m (1ft6in, hull) 0.33 m (1ft1in, axles)
Fording depth 0.7 m (2ft4in)
Track 2.08 m (6ft10in, front) 2.06 m (6ft9in, rear)
Wheelbase 3.3 m (10ft10in)
Turning radius 7.62 m (25ft)
Maximum road speed 80 km/h (50 mph)
Range 640 km (400 miles)
Fuel capacity 160 liters
Propulsion (two choices) Bedford 6-cylinder petrol, 134 bhp at 3,300 rpm
Bedford 6-cylinder diesel, 98 bhp at 2,600 rpm
Armor 6-12.5 mm (0,24-0,5 inch, up to 16 mm [0,63 inch] on Dutch vehicles)
Armament Optional
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index

Sources

Special thanks to ‘Giganaut’ for providing information about the vehicles in Brunei Service
GKN Sankey, politievoertuigen.nl.
Pantservoertuigen Rijkspolitie, De Sankey AT 104 Pantservoertuig, rijkspolitie.org.
Jane’s World Armoured Fighting Vehicles, Christopher F. Foss, 1976.
The Tank, I traded my tank for a tamoi, Captain B.A.C. Duncan, 1966, p.268-271.
AT104 advert, eBay, 1974.
Enorm blauw monster van de politie in strijd tegen terrorisme, Sublime Culture NL, Youtube.
Military Review, Professional Journal of the US Army, Volume 53, January 1973, p.96, Google Books.
Politie wapent zich tegen rellen, Tubantia, 10 August 1973, p.11.
Pantserwagens voor politie, Reformatorisch Dagblad, 11 August 1973, p.3.
Rijkspolitie wil pantserwagen bij rellen, De Volkskrant, 26 August 1970, p.3.
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Trade Registers, consulted on 1 March 2021.
Terrorist wacht warm welkom op Schiphol, De Telegraaf, 10 January 1974, p.1.
The Military balance 1977, International Institute for Strategic Studies.
The Military balance 1994, International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Historicalstatistics.org used for currency conversion.

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