Universal (Bren Gun) Carrier
Website of the Royal New South Wales Lancers Lancer Barracks and Museum
Carden-Lyod Series: Universal (Bren Gun) Carrier
Crew: Varied between 2-5 depending on the role of the
vehicle. Length: 3.75m, Width: 2.lOm, Height 1.6m
Power-plant: Ford V8 water-cooled petrol engine developing 85 bhp. Armour: 12mm
Armament: Usually one Bren Gun .303 or a Boys .55 Anti-tank rifle.
Performance: Speed 50 kph range 256 km. trench crossing 1.6m
Makers: Major UK automobile manufacturers, also made in great numbers in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and USA (where it was known as the T16)
The original role envisaged for the Universal Carrier was for a fast, lightly armed vehicle to carry infantry across ground denied by small-arms fire and specifically, the Bren light machine gun and its team, hence the name Bren Gun Carrier. (NB: A broad parallel can be drawn between that concept and the tactics of the APC (Ml l3Al) Troop which carried an In fan try Company. Each infantry section, comprising ten men [one section to a vehicle] possessed a light machine gun crew of three men and a GPMG M60, cal. 7.62 mm).
There was only one version of this vehicle named the "Bren Gun Carrier" but whatever the task, the entire family of vehicles was known by its users as Bren Carriers. In fact, numerous copies of the original Bren Carrier were produced and these were commonly known as the Universal Carrier
The hull of these vehicles comprised a simple steel box with a motor compartment situated in the centre. In front, sat a driver and alongside him, a gunner. A radiator was mounted in a bulkhead between them, and the noise generated by the fan effectively drowned out any conversation between these crew members (NB: vehicles of this type were not fitted with any form of internal communications).
Behind the two crew, were two rectangular compartments, one each side of the engine, these were used to carry a variety of stores and/or personnel.
Loads varied, and it was common to find the Carrier employed in a number of roles e.g. carrying ammunition, infantry support weapons such as medium mortars (81 mm), medium machine guns (usually the .303 Vickers machine gun). They were also used for towing anti-tank guns and trailers.
Because it was fully tracked, it proved to be a reasonably good, cross country vehicle and it was both agile and very fast, for its time. It was controlled by a small steering wheel and steering brakes.
Carriers were used extensively in every campaign during World War II. Such was their versatility, that many of those captured by the German Forces in France during the Blitzkrieg' of 1940 were quickly put to use in patrolling and policing captured territory.
Because of their general usefulness, Bren Gun Carriers were allocated to all types of Australian Army Units. Within the Armoured Corp, they were used by a number of units. For example, they were used in the Western Desert by 9th Cavalry and in Syria by the 6th Cavalry, as machine gun carriers.
Owing to the shortage of tanks, in the newly formed 1st Australian Armoured Division (1st July 1941), a great number of Carriers were pressed into service to provide tactical training for tank crews.
An example of its limitations are best summed-up in the following account: On 23rd November 1942, General Clowes at Milne Bay, New Guinea ordered a small number of Bren Gun Carriers to Cape Endaiadere as direct support to American troops operating in this area. It was made clear to the Americans that the Carriers were too lightly armoured and the crews too exposed for them to be used as tanks. In addition, they lacked any overhead protection from sniper fire, shell splinters and were extremely vulnerable to flank attacks. Thus they were forced to work with infantry support.
The aftermath of an attack at Cape Endaiadere on 5th December, resulted in vehicle crews being roughly handled and resulted in the abandonment of five vehicles. The supporting American infantry found they could not advance any further and the attack was called off. Sadly, it proved yet again, the futility of attempting to use inappropriate vehicles as tanks'.
At the end of the War, the remaining Carriers were relegated to a training role and numbers of vehicles were allocated to Reserve (CMF) Forces to make up the balance of equipment needed by newly formed tank units. Bren Gun Carriers were quickly phased out of service as more appropriate vehicles became available.
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