Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Armored Cars

Title: Halftrack armored cars in formation
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Four- to six-wheeled ground vehicles protected by a light to moderately thick steel armor skin and armed with weapons ranging from machine guns to a medium gun. Armored cars were used primarily for reconnaissance. They were fast enough to maintain position in front of a body of tanks or mechanized infantry, armored well enough to stop most small-arms fire, and armed well enough to engage hostile infantry and armored cars with a significant chance of success. Virtually all powers in the war used armored cars, but differences may be seen in the designs of cars manufactured by the United States, Great Britain, and Germany.

The United States produced only three armored car designs in any great number: the M8 Scout Car, the M3A1 Scout Car, and the M20 Armored Utility Car. The M8 and M20 were built by Ford, and both used the same basic six-wheeled chassis, armored hull (20 mm of armor, sufficient to stop even a .50 caliber machine gun), Hercules 6-cylinder gasoline engine, and four-man crew. The major difference lay in armament. The M8 had a 37 mm cannon and two machine guns mounted on a turret. The M20 deleted the turret, replacing it with a single machine gun mounted on the turret ring. The M3A1 Scout Car was a four-wheeled design manufactured by White. Slower and having a shorter range than the M8/M20, it was thinly armored (7 mm, sufficient to stop most small arms). It boasted a pair of machine guns, one heavy and one medium.

The British army produced an array of armored car designs. The predominant manufacturers were Associated Equipment Company (AEC), Daimler, Humber, and Morris. These four companies built myriad armored cars of considerable variety, but those of Morris and AEC represent the range of British armored cars.

AEC produced a single design, the AEC Armoured Car, in three models: Marks I, II, and III. These had a common hull armored to early tank standards (57 mm); a four-wheel drive system attached to a 6-cylinder diesel engine, a top speed of 40 mph, and a range of 250 miles. Their chief difference lay in armament. The Mark I carried turreted 2-pounder cannon with coaxial machine gun, the Mark II a turreted 6-pounder with coaxial machine gun, and the Mark III a 75 mm gun with coaxial machine gun.

The Morris Company produced two designs, the Morris Armored Reconnaissance Car and the Morris Light Reconnaissance Car. The Morris Armored Reconnaissance Car went to war with a turreted Boys antitank rifle (.55 caliber bolt-action rifle) and a coaxial machine gun, a thin armored shell (7 mm thick), a 6-cylinder gasoline engine, and the ability to maintain a speed of 45 mph for a range of 240 miles. This armored car had a four-wheel drive train, but unlike most four-wheeled cars, it was also not four-wheeled drive. The Morris Light Reconnaissance Car was slightly superior, possessing 7 mm of additional armor plate and an armament of two machine guns.

Germany also produced a large number of armored car designs built by several firms including Deutsche Werke, Daimler-Benz, Bussing-NAG, and Magirus. However, the 15 vehicles produced by these companies consisted of three basic models. The first, the Sd Kfz 234/2—at nearly 12 tons the largest of German armored cars—could make a top speed of 50 mph on its eight-wheel suspension system and had a range of more than 500 miles. It was heavily armed with a 50 mm tank gun and a coaxial machine gun, but its armor—although heavy for an armored car at 30 mm—left it vulnerable to tanks. The Sd Kfz 231 was of a smaller six-wheeled design and weighed under 6 tons. It was slower, shorter-ranged, more lightly armored (15 mm), and weaker-armed than the 234/2, with a top speed of 38 mph, a range of 250 miles, and an armament of either an M42 machine gun or a 20 mm cannon. The Sd Kfz 233 was somewhere between the other two armored cars; weighing a bit more than 8 tons, it had a speed of 52 mph and a range of 185 miles. Its armor varied in thickness from 15 mm to 30 mm depending on the amount of supplemental armor welded on. Its most outstanding feature apart from its eight-wheel suspension was the open-topped frame and a 75 mm tank gun with coaxial machine gun behind a thin steel shield.

Three things are clear about armored cars of World War II: there were only so many ways of building a light, fast, wheeled vehicle; most nations produced at least one armored car designed to resemble a wheeled tank; and no matter the manufacturing nation and the components of the particular hull, the objective of the vehicle was the same—to locate enemy forces rather than to engage them in battle.

Harold R. Carfrey


Further Reading
Ellis, Chris. Tanks of World War II. London: Chancellor Press, 1997.; Foss, Christopher F., ed. The Encyclopedia of Tanks and Armored Fighting Vehicles. San Diego, CA: Thunder Bay Press, 2002.; Macksey, Kenneth, and John H. Batchelor. Tank: A History of the Armoured Fighting Vehicle. New York: Scribner's, 1970.
 

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