Canada (1942)
Light armored car – 1761 built

Built by GMC Canada

The company was founded in 1918, integrating the local McLaughlin Motor Co. stock. based at Oshawa, Ontario, and was historically one of the largest and most powerful corporations in Canada, the third largest until 1975. It was the number one provider of automobiles inside Canada before the war. So, the company was well-placed to shift to military mass production, and the occasion presented itself during WW2, when a specification came from Great Britain, open to all Commonwealth nations, for a light reconnaissance car. In 1941, the company procured itself the Humber LRC Mark III blueprints and started working on an adapted design.

The GMC Otter design

The Otter was obviously not a simple carbon copy of the Humber LRC. Although the latter had a 4×4 drive (from the Mk.III), sloped armor body and a small turret, the Otter had a stubby nose with a more capable engine in it, sloped roof, and a very characteristic “tail”. The hull section was widest just behind the side doors of the driving compartment, before the fighting compartment. It had better ground clearance, a shorter wheelbase and was 33 cm (1 ft) higher. Protection was 12 mm (0.47 in) on the front, and 8 mm (0.31 in) on the sides. The Otter was based on the Chevrolet C15 Canadian Military Pattern truck chassis, with GM parts. Only the armament was provided by Great Britain, consisting of a Bren 0.3 in (7.62 mm) LMG, located in the small dome-like turret, and a Boys AT rifle, fired from the co-driver’s seat. The Otter’s overall weight was 4.44 tons, much higher than the 3.40 tons of the Humber Mark III, and this reduced its top speed and agility, although its off-road capabilities and overall performances were still acceptable.

Production & variants

The prototype was ready in early 1941, and was accepted as the Car, Light Reconnaissance, Canadian GM Mark I. Production started at GMC Canada in mid-1942. It lasted until 1945, 1761 machines having been delivered. Of these numbers, only 1000 found their way inside operational units, the rest were kept in Canada for various duties and training. It was also known as the “Mark I”. There are no known WWII variants other than field conversions, like the RAF 20 mm (0.79 in) armed vehicles.

However, after the war, the Palestinians managed to acquire a small number of vehicles. Some of these vehicles later ended up in Israeli hands.

The Otter Light Armoured Car in action

The Otter was one of the main reconnaissance armored cars of the Canadian armored units during WW2, soldiering in Sicily, Italy, Normandy and the Low Countries. It was also in service with the British RAF and some armored regiments. British vehicles were also deployed for AA defense with a 20 mm (0.79 in) Oerlikon mounted in place of the turret. After the war, surplus vehicles were sold to the Jordanian Army, some of which apparently ended in the hands of the Palestinian Arab Liberation Army and the Arab legion. These vehicles saw extensive combat in 1948. Some were recaptured, and possibly saw briefly service with Israeli militias. The Dutch Army also bought the Otter in substantial numbers, which saw combat during the Indonesian Revolution of 1945-1949. Surviving vehicles could be seen now at the Karl Smith Collection in Tooele, Utah and at the RAF Regiment Museum, Honington.

British service in Palestine

In 1944, the Palestine Police Force (PPF – the British police in the Palestine Mandate) developed a Police Mobile Force (PMF) comprising four companies with 190 men each. These were equipped with GMC Otters, possibly obtained from the RAF. The police referred to the vehicles as ‘armoured cars’. There was also a fifth administration company and a training company. The PMF was disbanded as a separate unit of the PPF in late 1946 and the vehicles and crew were distributed in support of local police stations. It seems that, at the end of the Mandate in May 1948, many of the remaining RAF and PPF cars were dumped into the Haifa harbour. The RAF used their cars for perimeter defence of airfields in Palestine. The PPF used them for armed escort of convoys, in support of cordon and search missions looking for weapons caches, as backup at road blocks and for personnel transport requiring protection from ambush and snipers.

Links about the Otter AC

The Otter on Wikipedia
Video at KTR Achterhoek 2012
Video from the ASPHM
Thanks to Dennis O’Neill

Otter light AC specifications

Dimensions 14.9 x 7.1 x 8.0 ft (4.50 x 2.16 x 2.44 m)
Total weight, battle ready 4.44 tons
Crew 3 (driver, gunner, AT gunner/radio)
Propulsion GMC 6 cyl. gas. 106 hp (79 kW), 24.1 hp/tonne
Suspension 4 x 4 wheel, leaf spring
Speed (road) 47 mph (75 km/h)
Armament 0.55 in (13.97 mm) Boys antitank rifle
0.303 in (7.7 mm) Bren machine-gun
Armor Maximum 12 mm (0.45 in)
Total production Approx. 1761

Otter Mk.I, early production, Canada, 1941.

Otter Mk.I, British 23rd Armoured Brigade, Volturno area, Southern Italy, October 1943 – Credits: C. de Diego

Otter Mk.I from the 4th Canadian Armoured Division, 2nd Corps, NW France, August 1944 – Credits: C. de Diego

Gallery


Otter light AC at Bridgehead 2011 – Credits by Alf Van Beem.

Kangaroo APC Series
25pdr SP, Sexton
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3 Responses to Otter light reconnaissance car

  1. John Shea says:

    In the lead-in section to this article [Canada (WWII) – Canadian WWII Armour] you mention the “Ford armoured car” (ie. …and the Otter, Lynx and Ford…). Also, the caption for the Otter graphic reads, “The Otter was one of the three Canadian-built types of armored cars produced during the war, together with the Lynx (Daimler Dingo) and Ford.”

    Should this not be the Fox armoured car, which was built by General Motors, Canada, based on a construction of the British Humber Armoured Car Mk III, adapted to a Canadian Military Pattern truck (CMP) chassis? The Lynx, of course, was the “Scout Car, Ford, Mk.I” based on the Daimler Scout Car.

  2. Dennis O'Neill says:

    The remarks about service in Palestine and nearby Trans-Jordan need development. From 1944 the Palestine Police Force (PPF – the British police in Mandatory Palestine) developed a Police Mobile Force (PMF) comprising four companies (190 men each) equipped with GMC cars (Otter) obtained, I believe, from the RAF. They had a crew of three – car commander, driver and W/T operator and main armament was a .303 Bren gun. The police referred to the vehicles as ‘armoured cars’. There was also a fifth admin & training company. The PMF was disbanded as a separate unit of the PPF in late 1946 and vehicles and crew were distributed in support of local police stations. I understand that at the end of the Mandate in May 1948, many of the remaining RAF and PPF cars were dumped into Haifa harbour. The RAF used their cars for perimeter defence of airfields in Palestine. The PPF used them for armed escort of convoys, in support of cordon & search missions looking for weapons caches, in backup at road blocks and for personnel transport requiring protection from ambush and snipers. I am still trying to track down a more comprehensive compilation of their armament, radio equipment, numbers of vehicles in PMF service, etc. As a guess, the PMF companies probably had a complement of about 30-40 Otters each. Official history of the PPF (Edward Horne, ‘A Job Well Done’, The Book Guild Ltd, 2003) is sparse in its description of PMF equipment and disposition.

    • Stan Lucian says:

      Hello Dennis!
      The information you have sent us has been incorporated into the article. A thank you was also added.
      All the best!

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