WWI Armoured Cars: 2 of 3 Parts


The first British armored vehicles were not used by the Army, but rather the Royal Navy. In 1914 the Royal Naval Air Service had already sent a mixed squadron of aircraft and land vehicles to France and Belgium. Once there, some of the naval officers observed the use of the Belgian Minerva armored cars and decided to imitate them.

Within days, some of the passenger cars like the Rolls Royce Silver Ghost used by the RNAS, were armored in Dunkerque with plates on their sides and out-fitted with a machine gun behind the driver. The Admiralty, knowing the success of this conversion, endorsed the development of an armored car based on the Silver Ghost. By the end of 1914 there were already the first examples of armored vehicles in France which were armed with an Admiralty Model 1914 tower and up-armored with added plates with a maximum thickness of 9 mm becoming an improved version of the Silver Ghost. Crossbows were also strengthened so that they could support the extra weight added by the tower and shield. The shield was spread throughout the chassis and the tower which had a Vickers 7.7 mm machine gun. The radiator had a blast door and the roof of the tower could be removed at will.

In March 1915, the first squadrons with armored vehicles, mostly Rolls-Royce’s, had already been organized in France. These vehicles made recon- naissance patrols in the French and Belgian coastal areas until the advance to the sea of the German Army’s arrival at the Channel. Trench warfare was impossible with these vehicles. After the activity in the front was paralyzed, there was little need for the Rolls-Royce, which were used to make anti-invasion patrols in the east coast of Britain.

Shortly after, the RNAS squadrons were disbanded and transferred to the Army, which did not seem interested in them. However, Rolls-Royce armored cars were used on other fronts like the northwest frontier of India in the Gallipoli campaign, in German South West Africa, and in Uganda. However, in the desert of the Arabian Peninsula, the Rolls-Royce performed great deeds. There they proved to be safe, effective, and fast vehicles with a re- markable ability in difficult terrain.


After Rolls Royce, the Lanchester was the largest of such vehicles in the RNAS squadrons. Three squadrons of twelve units were organized and sent to France. Initially these vehicles were intended for the protection of air bases and the recovery of downed pilots but gradually they began to be used in offensive missions.

In appearance, the Lanchester was very similar to Rolls Royce, especially for carrying a similar tower on its sides. When the RNAS vehicles were assigned to the Army in August 1915, it was found that the variety was too much to maintain certain operational effectiveness and an overall lack of spare parts. Ultimately it was decided to standardize the Rolls-Royce and the Lanchester was dropped. One of these squadrons was delivered to the Belgian Army and the rest returned to Britain.

In October 1915, the first squadron of the Armored Car Division of the Royal Navy was organized with these vehicles and sent to Russia. Once there, it had 22 vehicles in service and they took part in countless battles in Caucasus, Romania and Galitzia all in support of the Russian forces. Some units replaced the 7.7 mm Vickers machine gun for 37 mm Hotchkiss cannon. The Lanchester remained in service with the Russian units up to the ultimate failure of the Brusilov offensive. The Russian Empire was embroiled in civil strife culminating in the triumph of the revolution. The Lanchester no longer had any objectives to fulfill and they were shipped to Britain.


Since the beginning of the hostilities in 1914, the Russian Army had been using the British armored cars Austin and Austin-Putilov which were built under license.

Some 1918 model Austin armored vehicles were used by the British Tank Corps. Sixteen of them were sent to France by May 1918 and assigned to the 17th (Armoured Car) Battalion of the Tank Corps. They were armed with 8mm Hotchkiss Mle 14 machine guns. Their first introduction into combat was on June 11, 1918 where they were in support of the French troops. One of the most important battles in which they participated was the Battle of Amiens on August 8th. The vehicles were used to tow over the trenches which allowed them to operate behind German lines. They attacked the village of Farmerville which was occupied by the Germans. At least three Austin’s were lost in the campaign. In 1919, the Austin’s were used by the British in the civil war in Ireland up until 1921.

At least twenty others were sent to the Caspian Sea in February 1918, within a British unit known as the Dunsterforce, whose job was to protect Baku oil tanks from the Turks. They were operating there until November 1918 in cooperation with the White Russians. Finally, only eight remained in service while most of them were retired due to mechanical problems.

In 1919, at least 16 other vehicles were sent to India. In 1921, they were drawn into the 8th Armored Car Company of the Tank Corps. They remained there until at least 1923.

Some were used in Iraq and some of them were converted to rail vehicles after changing out their wheels. In this role they often served in pairs joined together in the rear. One of the vehicles was used to guide the entire set in one direction while the other was used to direct the vehicles the other way so as to avoid slow reverse circulation.