ww1 british tanks United Kingdom (1914)
Armored car – 120 built

Development history

In 1914, despite its early endeavors, armored car development in Great Britain was near to nil. The first Rolls Royce ACs were conceived almost by accident. In August 1914, the Eastchurch Squadron of the RNAS (Royal Naval Air Service) was based in Ostend under the command of Wing Commander Charles Rumney Samson. On the road to England, they were ordered to stay in Dunkirk and help spotting the enemy incursions. Two of the cars were equipped with a 0.3 cal. (7.62 mm) Maxim machine-gun, to supplement the lack of aircraft. After a few sorties, they were armored with boiler plates, and later used in coordination with other airplanes that spotted the enemy.

Silver Ghost 1914
Samson’s squadron Silver Ghost, August 1914.

So successful were their actions that, by decision of the War Office in October, all other Rolls Royce Silver Ghost chassis were converted as armored cars. A committee headed by the Admiralty Air Department rationalized the conversion and set up the new tactical units, giving birth to the Armored Car 1914 Pattern. These vehicles also acquired fame during the Middle-Eastern campaign. Modernization will follow after WWI, with the 1920, 1921 Indian and 1924 patterns, which survived long enough to see service during WWII in Africa.

Design of the 1914 Mk.I Pattern

The Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, as a car, was not yet associated to the image of immense luxury we know today. Although they were already much costlier than other sedans and coupés, they were built with a very high quality level and a quite remarkable engine which did most for its reputation. It was a carefully crafted 6-cylinder petrol, water-cooled engine, giving 80 hp (60 kW) or a 19 hp/tonne weight ratio. The early series’ aetheric name came from its all-silver finish, but could also stem from the ability of the engine to run almost without vibration and noise. It is said to have been customary for a seller to put one customer’s coin on its edge, right on the engine hood central hinge and start the engine to illustrate this.

1920 Mk.I Pattern at Bovington

The chassis was a 2×4, with a single front and a double rear axles, and metal wire wheels, with two to four in spare. The armor was made of 0.47 in (12 mm) rolled steel plates, riveted around the chassis to a light frame. As defined by Flight Commander T.G. Hetherington, the armored bodywork’s most important feature was its rear revolving turret (Admiralty turreted pattern), fitted with folding panels on each side and a small hatch for the commander in the middle. It housed a regular water cooled standard naval 0.303 cal (7.62 mm) Vickers machine gun. The engine hood and radiator were completely armored. The rear of the chassis, between and above the axle, was left for storage boxes, spare parts and everything else, as well as the side catwalks.

Later development: The Mk.I 1920, 1924 and other Patterns

It is estimated that 120 vehicles were so converted for the RNAS until 1915. Rolls Royce was then requested to built aero engines. After the war, in 1920, it was decided to modernize the type, which became the 1920 Pattern. These had thicker radiator armor and new wheels with fully metallic rims. The Mk.Ia was characterized by a commander cupola added to the main turret. The machine-gun was also upgraded. Three years later, survivors undergone a second modernization phase, 1924 Pattern Mk I, which had a permanent commander cupola.

Montage - 1920-1924 Pattern
Montage – 1920-1924 Pattern

Rolls Royces sent in India were modified as the 1921 Indian Pattern, featuring roomier, extended hull armor, and a redesigned domed turret with four machine-gun ball mount emplacements. 76 vehicles survived. Some were again modified with a new open-top turret like those used on the Marmon-Herrington armored cars serving in Africa. These turrets housed a variety of weapons, a 0.303 (7.62 mm) Vickers machine gun, a coaxial Bren AT rifle and an extra AA mount for a light Lewis machine-gun.

In service

By December 1914, the first three 1914 Mk.1 Pattern armored cars appeared in service with the first Dunkirk RNAS squadron. In all six squadrons of cars were used until August 1915 and then the unit was disbanded, with some cars transferred in the Middle East theater. They distinguished themselves in Syria-Palestine, in Aden, Iraq, and Iranian operations against the Turks, and notably in the desert with the Arabs irregulars of the “Arabian revolt” led by Col. T.E. Lawrence (which used a squadron of nine vehicles). He estimated them “more valuable than rubies”. They also saw action in German South-West Africa and, later, East Africa. Two squadrons were sent to Gallipoli in April 1915, and were the only ACs to see action there. Others accomplished an absolute record-breaking mileage under Commander Locker-Lampson’s force in Russia, until the 1917 Revolution, almost without repairs or maintenance.

Montage - 1921 Indian Pattern - Source : Flickr
Montage – 1921 Indian Pattern – Source : Flickr

By the 1922-23 Irish Civil War, 13 British vehicles were given to the Irish Free State government. They were widely used for convoy protection against guerrilla attacks, street fighting and were instrumental in the retaking of Cork and Waterford. By 1944 they were still in service, and one, the ARR-2 Sliabh na mBan (part of the convoy which saw General Collins killed) is officially still in active service (although for parade). In 1940-1941, about seventy-six Mk.I 1924 Patterns were still in service. They were sent to the East African theater against the Italian forces. By 1941, some Fordson truck chassis received the armored bodies of former Rolls Royce ACs (Number 2 Armoured Car Company RAF). It is no mystery its legendary qualities of reliability participated in establishing the RR as one of the most famous British armored vehicles. There are four other surviving examples.

Links about the Rolls Royce Armored Car

The Rolls Royce Armored Car on Wikipedia
The Rolls Royce AC on Landships II
The Rolls Royce Enthusiasts club page about the ACs
The Irish Rolls Royce

Rolls Royce specifications (1914 Pattern)

Dimensions (L-w-h) 194 x 76 x 100 in (4.93 x 1.93 x 2.54 m)
Total weight, battle ready4.7 tons (9400 lbs)
Crew3 (commander, driver, machine-gunner)
Propulsion6-cylinder petrol, water-cooled 80 hp (60 kW), 19 hp/t
Suspensions4 x 2 leaf springs
Speed45 mph (72 kph)
Range150 miles (240 km)
Armament1 x Vickers Water cooled cal.303 (7.62 mm) machine gun (see notes)
ArmorMaximum 12 mm (0.47 in)
Total production120

RR RNAS Dunkirk 1915
Rolls Royce Mk.I 1914 Pattern, RNAS, Dunkirk, February 1915.

Camouflaged Rolls Royce Mk.I 1914 Pattern, Egypt, 1916.

T.E. Lawrence’s Rolls Royce Mk.I 1914 Pattern, Palestine, 1917.
Rolls Royce 1921 Pattern
British army Rolls Royce Mk.I 1920 Pattern, sent in Ireland in 1922. Now preserved at Bovington.
1924 Pattern
Mk.I 1924 Pattern, Great Britain, 1929. Others served in Egypt until 1940.

Rolls-Royce 1924 Pattern with a modified open-top turret in Eastern Africa, 1941.

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4 Responses to Rolls-Royce Armoured Car

  1. Col Beausabre says:

    The vehicle in which TE Lawrence entered Damascus has recently been determined

    Rolls-Royce number 60985 was a 40/50 Horsepower chassis originally fitted with a limousine body built by Maythorn of Biggleswade, U.K. The chassis was built at the original Rolls-Royce plant on Cooke Street in Manchester, U.K.

    “Diplomatic life in Cairo was very social and as diplomats, my grandparents were very much in the center of the circle. They were out on the town one evening in July 1917 when, according to family history, a man in flowing robes swept into the club they were visiting and asked the gathered crowd ‘whose Rolls-Royce is this outside?’ My grandmother Aileen indicated that it belonged to her, and the man introduced himself as Col. T.E. Lawrence and then announced that he was commandeering the car ‘in the name of his Majesty’s armed forces.’ And with that, he drove away.

    Isn’t that how we all picture Lawrence of Arabia ?!

    Complete article

    https://www.prweb.com/releases/2017/07/prweb14472745.htm

  2. Brent Buskell says:

    A very interesting article! But I’m sure that the ‘twin wheel’s were on the back axle, not the front and armour (in English) is spelt with a “u”, unless you are American. The vehicle is still British though!

    • Stan Lucian says:

      Removed the twin wheels reference, can’t get a fix on where it came from or any confirmation.

      As for armor/armour, all the website should be in American English (although some British spelling does fall through the cracks due to our large number of British writers). The origin of the vehicle bears no importance to the spelling.

  3. Andy Medland says:

    I currently have the registration ARR 11 on my daily driver and on a recent visit to the NEC saw ARR 1 on the armoured RR. I now discover ARR 2 is on the Irish car. My registration came of a Silver Ghost Boat Tail that was exported to South Africa. I would be fascinated to discover if my registration was originally off one of the armoured cars?

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