Pre-WW1 British Armor

Mann’s Armoured Steam Cart

United Kingdom (1901-1902)
Armored Tractor – None Built

At the turn of the 20th century, the British Empire was vast, and it had been embroiled in a long conflict in South Africa. This was happening at the same time as perhaps the greatest industrialization era ever known moving from an age of propulsion by animal power or the wind, to one of machines. Steam-power was still king and the first armored vehicles were starting to appear, although they were not quick to be adopted. Motor transports reliant on internal combustion engines were still relatively crude, heavy, and slow affairs as the technology for that type of propulsion was yet to reach maturity. This was the era of men such as Mr. Frederick Simms and his 1901/1902 War Car, and the armored Fowler steam-road-train ordered in 1900 for service in South Africa. It is perhaps the armoring of the Fowler steam engine which is the closest analogy and possible inspiration for Mann’s Armoured Steam Cart, even though the delivery of the design was different. Incongruous as it may sound today, in 1900-1902, the idea of a steam-powered traction armor carrying armor and weapons was a viable military idea, as proven by the Fowler engine, and Mann’s idea went one crucial step further – he proposed mounting a heavy cannon on his.

Simms’ War Car. Source: Engineering Times, June 1902


In 1900, Lord Roberts, who was managing the British war effort in South Africa against the Boers, was having serious problems with his supply lines. The only mechanical transport available to Lord Roberts as an alternative to the vulnerable animal-drawn carts were railway lines, but these were also subject to attack and sabotage. Horse and bullock-drawn supplies could go places where the railways could not, but were much more vulnerable to attack by the enemy, and pests, and also required fodder. Boers could and did, with relative ease, raid and otherwise harass the wagon trains and interrupt supplies.

The solution for moving supplies to his forces over the huge open areas of the South African landscape was to add mechanical traction to his supply system, something not reliant upon fodder, not vulnerable to animal disease and, with the addition of armor, immune to the Boer bullets as well. Not only this, but the added advantage of being able to haul very heavy guns as well was a significant military advantage.

The result was an order for 6 engines from the firm of John Fowler and Co. Ltd. of Leeds. This firm produced a series of steam traction engines known as the ‘Lion’ series, ranging from the 7 hp ‘Little Lion’ up to the 10 hp Super Lion. Capable of towing up to 60-tons (61 tonnes), these 17.5-ton (17.8 tonne) Super-Lion engines were clad in armor up to 8 mm thick, rendering them proof against both British and German (the Boers used the German Mauser) ammunition at point blank range. The vehicle were slow, just 2 to 6 mph (3 to 10 km/h), but were limited in range only by the amount of water they could carry, as they could burn anything from coal, to wood, and even dried dung. Towing an equally protected train of armored carriages behind it, the Fowler engine rendered Boer ambushes of the supply lines effectively obsolete overnight. Or, rather, it would have done so if the war was not already winding down by the time they arrived. These otherwise very promising vehicles arrived too late to make any difference in the war and simply ended up having the armor taken off them and used for general traction duties instead. What they did achieve though was a very significant amount of publicity at the time and expanded the interest in armored vehicles. A rival steam traction-engine maker, Mann’s Patent Steam Cart and Wagon Company Ltd., from the same city (Leeds) as Fowler, could not have been unaware of this vehicle.

Fowler armored road-train during testing in Britain before being sent to South Africa 1900-1901. The engine is armored and it is hauling three armored carriages and a field gun. Source: Author

Mann’s Company

Originally formed in 1894 in Leeds by a pair of mechanical engineers, James Mann and Sidney Chatsworth, the firm was originally known as ‘Mann and Chatsworth’, before being reformed and renamed in 1899. The reason for this was the development of an agricultural cart powered by a small steam boiler. Mann then left Chatsworth in 1898 to pursue the exploitation of this design on his own, initially forming J.H. Mann and Co. and then Mann’s Patent Steam Cart and Wagon Company in October 1899, having been capitalised with ‎£25,000. A new plant was built and was operating by the end of 1901 producing his patent trucks.

British Patent GB21085 filed November 1900 (left) and US Patent US682262(A) filed February 1901 by Mann for his steam cart (right)
Mann’s Patent Steam Cart and Wagon Company’s new works at Leeds, as depicted in July 1901. The plant covered 4 acres (1.62 hectares) Source: Automotor

The firm was soon producing this very successful light steam traction engine adapted for a variety of uses, both agricultural and commercial. Even so, while it did not compete with the size or power of Fowler’s designs, Mann’s steam cart was smaller and more affordable, making it more practical for everyday use. As such, the vehicle found itself used for a variety of special roles and one of those was for field artillery.

The Field Artillery Version

The artillery version of Mann’s patent steam vehicle first appeared in a patent application, dated 27th April 1901, innocuously titled ‘Improvements in or in connection with the Mounting and Transport of Field Artillery’. It had a very clear goal. The intention was to replace the horse and limber team, which at the time was the standard method of moving a field gun around and had gone virtually unchanged in two hundred years, in the same vein as the Fowler. The idea was to use mechanical traction to replace vulnerable animals and, in doing so, present a smaller target to the enemy (than a long line of animals) and protect the vehicle and gun crew with armor.

Where the Mann vehicle differed substantially from the Fowler was that the Fowler was literally an armored traction engine, an engine to be used for its original purpose (heavy haulage) and clad in armor. The only armament on the Fowler engine was the crew’s personal small arms as it towed a gun and wagons with troops who could also use their weapons. The Mann went a step beyond this and was to mount the actual gun on the vehicle itself, producing direct haulage and a self-propelled field gun with armor protection.


No armor thicknesses were specified in Mann’s patent, as the design is not for armor but for the use of his vehicle as a platform for a gun. Nonetheless, he describes the shield for the gun and crew as being of:

“a suitable shape… fitted to the gun, turntable or carriage, so as to cover the gunners, and the motor and its attendants from a direct hit in front of the gun”

This was later expanded in description to clarify that the armor shield should be attached to the barrel, which was a poor choice for mounting considering that the gun was already mounted on a pedestal on the back. What this might mean in reality is almost certainly just that the idea was to provide bullet-level protection along the lines of a normal gun shield, albeit larger and curved. If the Fowler’s armor is anything to go by as a metric on which to assess how much armor this vehicle would have, then this would be around 8 mm thick.

A Mann’s steam lorry showing the novel flatbed. Source: The Engineer May 1901 and Automotor Journal, June 1901


The area between the side plates was intended to be able to be used for ammunition storage for the gun, but it is important to note that Mann did not add any armor to the vehicle itself, just to the gun. Other than the addition of ammunition stowage and obviously the pedestal for the gun and shield, the vehicle was little-changed from the original patent. The only significant change was the addition of a supporting gun tail attached to the rear axle on each side. This would be lowered or raised by means of a screw thread controlled by a large handwheel on the platform on which the operator sat.

The driver sat in the same position as he would normally in the front cab of the vehicle, with the boiler alongside his legs and the funnel at the front. Steering, just like the normal vehicle, took place at the front and was controlled by chains pulling to the left or right to guide the front wheels. This arrangement was very conventional for the time and would otherwise suggest that the vehicle would usually drive forwards. In battle, however, one particular problem with towing guns behind a vehicle or horse team was that the gun was always facing away from the direction of travel. Bringing the gun into action compelled the crew to brave enemy fire until they could unlimber and swing the gun around.. Mann’s design resolved this problem as his vehicle could be driven ‘backwards’ just as easily as it could go forwards, enabling it to drive with the gun and shield ahead of it facing the enemy. This is likely the reason why there was no other armor on the machine, as the very large shield over the gun served to protect the whole vehicle behind it.

Mann’s field artillery carrying steam cart from patent GB8654 April 1901.

With just two gears, it had a top speed in bottom gear of 5 mph (8 km/h), and in top gear up to a potentially bone-rattling 21 mph (34 km/h) on a good smooth road. Power was provided from a steam boiler with a pressure ranging from 18 psi (0.12 MPa) up to 20 psi (0.14 MPa), as the design of the short-type boiler and large firebox were progressively improved in the first decade of the 20th Century.

In 1905, the engine was described as producing a 7” (177.8 mm) stroke with a 4” (101.6 mm) high pressure cylinder and a 61” (1,549.4 mm) low pressure cylinder producing the same tractive power as a team of 6 good horses. Power from the boiler was delivered through a two-speed box to the rear wheels (3’6” to 4’ diameter / 1,041 mm to 1,219 mm and 5” / 127 mm wide) driven not by chains, as was common in that era, but by direct gearing. This was all available for the cost (in 1905) of £425, the equivalent of just over £50,000 in 2018 values.

Mann’s boiler shop at his Leeds factory circa 1905. Source: Road Locomotive Society


Unlike the Fowler armored engine, this design from Mann did not receive any contracts, even though his trucks otherwise sold very well. No further development of the idea was carried out and the design forgotten.

Mann’s Patent Steam Cart and Wagon Company was bought out in February 1929 by Atkinson Walker Wagons Ltd. of Preston and the new company changed name to Mann’s Steam and Motor Wagon Company, a sign in the shift from steam to internal combustion engines. Just a year later, in 1930, this firm was sold off to the firm of Scammell in London. The design was, especially for the first few years of the 20th Century, a good one. A large gun on a rotating platform protected by a large shield and all mounted together. Mann’s vehicle offered an interesting balance between speed and safety. While not being as fast as a galloping horse team, the steam engine could sustain its pace over long marches and boasted better suitability for the increasingly dangerous battlefields of the early 20th century.

Illustration of Mann’s Armoured Steam Cart produced by Andrei Kirushkin, funded by our Patreon campaign.



Dimensions (L-W) 22’ 3” x 6′ 3″ (6.78 x 1.01 meters)
Weight 5 tons (5.08 tonnes) unladen
Crew Driver + gun crew
Speed 5 mph (8.0 km/h) bottom gear, 21 mph (33.8 km/h) top gear on good road
Armament Army field gun, small arms.
Armor 8mm, bulletproof


The Automotor and Horseless Vehicle Journal, October 1899, New Companies Registered
The Automotor and Horseless Vehicle Journal, June 1901, Liverpool self-propelled traffic association third trials of motor vehicles for heavy traffic
The Automotor and Horseless Vehicle Journal, July 1901, The Mann Steam Wagons,
Commercial Motor, 8/9/1905, The Mann Steam Tractors, Carts and Wagons
Commercial Motor, 28/9/1905, The Mann Steam Tractors, Carts and Wagons
Commercial Motor, 26/3/1908, Mann’s Patent Steam Cart and Wagon Co. Ltd.
Commercial Motor, 22/6/1905, Motors and Tractors at the Royal Show
Engineering Times, Volume 7 , January to June 1902
Hills, A. (2019). Pioneers of Armour Vol.2: Rookes Crompton. FWD Publishing, USA
Pease, J. (2005). The History of Mann’s Patent Steam Cart and Wagon Company, Landmark Publishing, Ashbourne, UK
Road Locomotive Society. (1972). Mann’s Patent Steam Cart and Wagon Co. Ltd. catalogue. Reprint No.5 Road Locomotive Society, Cambridge, UK
US Patent 682262(A) Filed by James Hutchinson Mann – Steam-Vehicle for Common Roads, filed 18/2/1901, granted 10/9/1901.
British Patent GB13236 filed by James Hutchinson Mann – Improvements in or in connection with Road Traction Engines and Draught Road Vehicles adapted to be used therewith, filed 14/6/1898, granted 29/4/1899
British Patent GB8654 filed by James Hutchinson Mann – Improvements in or in connection with the Mounting and Transport of Field Artillery, filed 27th April 1901, granted 3rd April 1902
The Engineer, 31/5/1901 The Liverpool Heavy Motor Car Trials
The Engineer, 7/6/1901 The Liverpool Heavy Motor Car Trials
A Brief History of Yorkshire Patent Steam Wagon Co.

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