The British Expeditionary Force that landed in France in 1939 was a fully mechanized formation. Perhaps the loss of about 90,000 vehicles in France was a blessing to the British military transport organization as it cleared all the ‘dead wood’, and thus paved the way for fresh ideas. The chronic shortage of transport forced a further temporary introduction of impressment until specific types of vehicles could be produced in greater numbers. The Commonwealth with its many assets was given the orders to produce many of these urgently needed types. Canada made a contribution out of all proportion to the size of its small automotive industry with its series of all-wheel-drive tactical trucks ranging from 15-cwt 4 x 4 to 3-ton 6×6, produced with various types of cabs from 1940 to 1943. During the early period the Canadian chassis and cabs were built to Canadian designs but to British specifications. The early wooden bodies were later replaced by pressed steel bodies.
The invasion of Europe was soon in the minds of the Allied planners, and considerable thought was being given to supplying the vast armies that would make the attack across Europe into Germany. It would require a supply system of a magnitude never before envisaged, and the production of trucks would be at a premium for the next two to three years. The British truck industry thus began to produce its own four-wheel-drive vehicles, with such established names as Bedford, Ford, Karrier, Thornycroft and Albion being to the fore. Once the Allied assault had gained momentum the supply lines would soon be overstretched, and to help overcome this problem heavier 10-ton trucks were also put into production.
A brief Survey of Types
Just before the outbreak of war in 1939 the British army was in the process of intensive mechanization, and several classes of load capacity had been defined for ‘B’ vehicles. The second class was the 8-cwt truck which fulfilled such roles as the OS (General Service) and FFW (Fitted For Wireless). Such 8-cwt trucks with both 4×2 and 4×4 wheel arrangements were produced in considerable numbers from a period just before the war, but were eventually phased out of production in order to rationalize output and reduce the number of types in service. The 5-cwt and 15-cwt classes could carry out any duties that had been allocated to the 8-cwt class. These vehicles were manufactured by Ford, Morris and Humber. Similar in appearance, these vehicles had detachable well-type bodies with seating for three men (two facing offside and one nearside) and canvas tilts, though the wireless version had seating for two men only.
Together with the Ford 4×2 Heavy Utility, the Humber Heavy Utility Car was the basic staff and command car of the British army during World War II at all levels of command. Nicknamed the Humber ‘Box’, this was the only British built four-wheel drive utility car, and production began during May 1941, continuing for the duration of the war. Employed on a very wide scale, this staff car remained in service until the late 1950s.
The Morris Company produced a whole range of vehicles for the British army, one of the most successful being the Morris C8 Artillery Tractor (popularly known as the Quad). Introduced in 1939, this vehicle had four-wheel drive and was equipped with a 4-ton winch driven from the transfer case. It had a distinctive beetle-shaped body and usually a towed limber and 18- or 25-pdr gun/howitzer. As far as the army was concerned the vehicles built for gun-towing had to have the same characteristics as the horse-drawn gun carriage team which they replaced, such as good cross-country performance, seating for the gun crew, and adequate stowage space for equipment and ammunition.
During 1935 the War Office carried out trials with new lorry models, and the Bedford Truck Division of Vauxhall Motors Ltd submitted various prototype vehicles. One of these was a modification of the commercial 2-ton lorry with rear-wheel drive. Following the trials the vehicle was fitted with a new radiator and larger tyres. After further trials in 1936 the chassis was modified to increase the ground clearance and a new engine cooling system was incorporated. In 1937aspecial-totype Bedford WD prototype was produced on this chassis, rated at 15-cwt payload capacity.The most noticeable feature was the flat full-width bonnet necessitated by the extra-large air filter specified by the War Mechanisation Board. During 1938 a more powerful engine was used. An initial order for 2,000 Bedford 15-cwt Truck vehicles was placed in August 1939, the first 50 being constructed as special portée vehicles to carry the 2-pdr anti-tank gun. Originally, the vehicle had an open cab with folding windscreen and collapsible canvas tilt, but from 1943 an enclosed cab with side-doors, canvas top and perspex side screens was adopted. By the end of the war Bedford had produced a total of 250,000 vehicles, a large proportion of which were this model. The vehicle remained in service with the British army until the late 1950s. Although intended mainly as a workhorse for the infantry, the Bedford 15-cwt GS eventually became used by all arms including the Royal Navy and the RAF.
Bedford’s involvement in four-wheel drive vehicles began in 1938, during the development stages of the square-nosed 15-cwt Bedford. It was suggested that the War Office be approached with permission to proceed with this design. Some degree of interest was expressed, but as no immediate requirement was envisaged the matter proceeded no further. Then Bedford decided to undertake private development on a low-priority basis with an eye to future military orders. After the outbreak of war the War Office issued orders for large quantities of 4 x 2 vehicles and also told Bedford to proceed with a prototype 4×4 3-ton general-service truck. In October 1939 a specification was approved, and on 1 February 1940 the first prototype was completed and was out on road tests. Within a month two more had joined it for extensive factory and military tests. The usual army tests were completed and the fitments for special tools installed, and drivers began training to operate this new truck. It had taken one year exactly from the first prototype to the first production vehicles, a commendable feat in a time of great stress and shortages. The Bedford QL was designed to use its four-wheel drive on rough terrain, but could disengage the front drive for use on hard roads to ease the wear on tires and gearbox, the change being effected by moving a lever on the secondary gearbox. Another feather in Bedford’s cap (and a surprise one) was the lack of normal teething troubles during the QL’s early use. It was only after about one year in service that the first sign of trouble occurred, and a rather peculiar one at that: a tendency for the vehicle to shudder when the brakes were applied slightly. These reports were followed up immediately, and it was found that only a small proportion of vehicles were showing this fault. After some time spent on investigation the fault was found to be simple, and the deep-treaded cross-country tires were replaced by normal road tires, whereupon the problem ceased.
The first production vehicle was the steel-bodied OLD issued to units of the Army Service Corps as a general carrier. From this model stemmed many variants, including the QLT 3-ton troop carrier with a modified and lengthened chassis to accommodate the extra long body to carry 29 troops and kit. The QLT was popularly known as the ‘Drooper’. The QLR wireless house type was used by all arms of the signals. The truck featured an auxiliary generator, and other variants on this house type body were command, cipher office and mobile terminal carrier vehicles. A special requirement for use in the Western Desert was a 6-pdr portée, a vehicle designed to transport and fire a 6-pdr anti-tank gun from the body. It was necessary to modify the cab by cutting off the upper half and fitting a canvas top, and when this type became redundant the surviving vehicles were converted back to general-service types after being rebodied, The RAF was a major operator of, the Bedford QL, many being used as fuel tankers with swinging booms to refuel aircraft. Two experimental vehicles that never progressed beyond the prototype stage were the Giraffe and Bren. The Giraffe was designed for amphibious landings: all the major components were raised (along with the cab) on a special frame for deep wading. When fully elevated the vehicle’s automotive parts were raised 2.13 m (7 ft) and the driver 3.05m (10ft). The vehicle was approved for production in the event that the waterproofing system then in use failed. The Bren was developed by the Ministry of Supply by taking a standard Bedford QLD and replacing the rear wheels with components from the Bren Gun Carrier, thus creating a halftrack. The aim of this scheme was to reduce rubber wear. The vehicle was considered adequate during tests, but the shortage of rubber did not materialize and the project was dropped.
To meet her urgent need for motor transport the UK turned to the Commonwealth for a degree of support, the major supplier to the UK from the Commonwealth being Canada. Canada herself, once on a war footing, had urgent need to supply her own armies with equipment as every transport vehicle then in service was of civil origin. During early 1937 Ford of Canada had been approached to produce 15-cwt trucks based on similar lines to those of British design. General Motors of Canada also participated. Ford’s experimental vehicle was produced in no great haste at the Windsor plant, the pilot model being built up around a Ford V-8 chassis with wheels and tyres imported from England. When completed in 1937 the vehicle was tested at the then small army testing ground at Camp Petawawa, near Ottawa. On arrival it was discovered that the specification had changed to a four-wheel drive application. Nevertheless, the type gave a good account of itself, and the Canadian Military Pattern Chassis formed the basis of many 15-cwt and 8-cwt trucks. During early 1940 the standard pattern of Canadian truck began to emerge with four-wheel drive, and in July of 1940, after Dunkirk, the UK placed a preliminary order for 7,000 vehicles. By 1941 Canada was the Empire’s main supplier of light and medium trucks.
Standardization was again of the utmost importance within a range of trucks including 8-cwt, 15- cwt, 30-cwt and 3-ton 4×4, 3-ton 6×4 and 3-ton 6×6 vehicles. Various Canadian cabs were produced through the different stages of development: the number 11 cab was identifiable by the radiator externally mounted to the bonnet; the number 12 cab had the radiator mounted inside the bonnet; the number 13 cab was a complete revision in design to allow more cab interior space and better placing of the foot pedals, and also had a forward sloping windscreen; and the number 43 was basically a number 13 with a soft top.
The 3-ton 4×4 became the mainstay of Canadian production, and was a reliable vehicle produced by both Ford and Chevrolet. The body variations were enormous and can only be touched briefly within this text. All models were produced in the general service role, some with timber and some with all-pressed-steel bodies, and other types included water and petrol tankers, mobile gun carriages, wireless house bodies, machinery vehicles (various types from 15-cwt mounted welding units to 6×6 fully – equipped workshops), office bodies, ambulances and other medical requirement vehicles, and breakdown and recovery vehicles. Canada also supplied many conventional types from all the large manufacturers, fitted with military tires/wheels and bodies. Over 900,000 Canadian vehicles were produced within the five-year period. The Australian commitment was not on so grand a scale, the majority of production trucks being in the light range. Most of the medium to heavy trucks were supplied in kit or chassis and cab form, usually from Canada, to which locally-built bodies were added. Some of the conventional trucks supplied were used in halftrack conversions, but this never progressed beyond the experimental stage. All Canadian Fords were reassembled at the Ford subsidiary plant at Geelong, in Victoria State some 48 km (30 miles) west of Melbourne.
The AEC Matador 4×4 tractor first appeared in 1939, and was built to a War Office specification to tow 4.5-in (114-mm), 5.5-m (140-mm) and 6-in (152-mm) howitzers. The requirement was for a four-wheel tractor with seating for the crew and ammunition stowage. The early production vehicles had a cab roof of different shape to that of later production trucks, the latter having a circular hatch for air observation; when not in use this was covered by a small canvas sheet. The basic design of the cab was very simple and robust, being built on a wooden frame with steel sheets. The body was of conventional timber construction with a drop tailboard and a side door for use by the gun crew. Special runners were fitted to the floor to allow shells to be moved to the rear tailgate for unloading. The Matador was powered by a 6-cylinder 7.58-litre AEC engine producing 71 kW (95 bhp), allowing a top speed of 58 km/h (36 mph). For pulling purposes (for example extracting guns from mud) a 7-ton winch was fitted with 76 m (250 ft) of wire rope. The Matador was used in most theatres of the war. In the desert it proved to be extremely popular with the gun crews for its reliability, and photographic evidence shows that some had the tops of the cabs cut down to door level. Matadors were also pressed into service in the desert to tow transporter trailers because of the lack of proper tractors for this purpose. Total production of Matadors was 8,612. The RAF was also a major user of this vehicle, 400 being supplied in various offerings. The General Load Carrier had a special all-steel body with drop down sides and tailgate to facilitate easy loading, and the support posts could also be removed, Special flat platform trucks were also supplied to transport heavy equipment such as dumpers and compressors. An armoured command post was also built on this chassis, called the Dorchester, in which accommodation was provided internally for high- or low-powered radio transmitting and receiving equipment, and an external penthouse could be erected. As these vehicles were considered prime targets they were carefully disguised to look like general-service trucks. Approximately 175 Matadors were built in 1942 as self-propelled gun carriages and comprised a 6-pdr anti-tank gun mounted in an armoured box. The cab and body were also armoured. Other variants included power equipment 20 kVA, power equipment 50 kVA, air-traffic control, and an experimental 25-pdr portée.
The last did not progress beyond the prototype stage. The last of the Matadors were auctioned off in the mid-1970s, this late disposal date proving the sound strength and reliability of these trucks.
Designed as a heavy load carrier, the Leyland Hippo 6×4 10-ton truck entered military service in 1944 and eventually proved its worth hauling supplies during the closing stages of the Allied advance across North West Europe. The huge bodies on these trucks had a well-type floor incorporating the wheel arches, this giving a lower loading height, an important element in the war days as fork-lift trucks were few and much loading was accomplished by hand. Steel hoops and a canvas tilt gave weather protection to the stores carried. The Hippo Mk 1 initial version was based on a pre-war commercial type with an open cab with canvas tilt and fixed windscreen, while the Hippo Mk 2 had an all-steel cab. The Hippo Mk 2 had single rear wheels, whilst the Hippo Mk 2A had dual wheels fitted with 10- 50-22 tires. The difficulty experienced with the Mk 2A was the need to carry two spare wheels, one for the front and one for the rear. It is perhaps quite amazing to see these trucks still in service in the 1980s. Besides the general service vehicle, many were fitted with large van type bodies, and several expandable body types were built, albeit of similar design. The side panels were split horizontally, the upper half being raised to form extra roof area and the lower half forming extra floor space to provide additional freedom around machinery. The vehicles could also be linked together to form a consolidated workshop area. Van bodies included an auto-processing type for developing photographs, an enlarging and rectifying type for exposing original film onto new film, a printing type with a rotary offset printing machine, and a photo-mechanical type equipped with a rotary offset printer, work tables and plate racks. Entrance to all these bodies was through a single door in the rear. Because of the length of the body, the spare wheel had to be transferred from behind the cab and placed under the rear of the chassis.
A post-war fitting was the adoption of a 9092-litre (2,000-Imp gal) AVTUR refueller body and, with the rear body removed, of a Coles Mk 7 or Neal Type QMC crane.