The British army in World War Two had many thousands of small armoured vehicles called "carriers". At the start of the war, the main two types were the scout carrier and the Bren gun carrier. These had armour just down one side at the back, and were the ancestors of the "universal carrier" which came to dominance in the later stages of the war. As its name suggests, this vehicle had a thousand and one uses, and several variants and marks. It must have been a quite successful design, since so many other vehicles were based on it, such as the American T-16, and some larger vehicles developed late or after the war, such as the Windsor Carrier.
It is confusing whether or not carriers were true "AFV"s or armoured fighting vehicles. Some people class them as such, and others not. The army numbered them with "T" numbers, which all tanks had, which suggests that someone in high office thought of them more like tanks than like lorries. The term carrier suggests that the vehicles' prime role was for carrying things, not fighting. They were armoured, however, so that they could be used at the front under fire, which suggests a fighting role. They were something in between. They were for carrying things right into the thick of it. They were little armoured taxis for towing guns, delivering men and ammunition to the front, and getting them out again.
Many carriers were deployed behind the front line, and would perform tasks according to the whims of the moment. Being fully tracked, they could cross rough terrain where wheeled lorries could not go, and their armour would protect them from stray bullets and artillery blasts. Many infantry companies had one carrier in the HQ and four other carriers
at the disposal of the company commander. Cynics might suggest that they were used for fetching the officers' champagne.
A late war infantry battalion would typically have a carrier platoon. In recce regiments, the carriers were organised differently from what follows. For a start,
they carried three men, not four. What follows refers to the carrier platoons of standard infantry battalions, and much of it comes straight out of the training manuals of the period (1943) and of course this did not always reflect actual practice. I am grateful for the help Les Jackson gave me in researching this page. See his restored mortar carrier here.
13 universal carriers, making up four sections of three vehicles each, plus a command vehicle. 7 motorcycles, four of which attached out to the sections.
- One carrier which would dismount a Bren gun and a 2" mortar
- One carrier which would dismount a Bren gun and a PIAT
- One carrier which would dismount a Bren gun and a No.38 wireless set
- One motorcycle
This would carry the captain in charge of the whole platoon. His vehicle would have a number 18 wireless set in it, enabling him to talk to battalion command. No. 18 sets had a range of 5-8 miles. The captain would talk to battalion command, and Battalion would talk to Company, and he would get his orders that way. The rifle company commander would be in
charge of the carrier platoon.
The radios of the time were not just delicate, but also very much affected
by weather conditions, and were difficult to tune, and would often drift
out of tune. Some wargame scenarios, therefore, might reflect this. On a clear
day in the flat desert, radio checks might be made on a 2+ on 1d6,
and in stormy weather, immediately after a night drop in a mountainous
area, paratroop radios might need to roll a 5 or 6.
In practice, carriers in carrier
platoons fought in sections of three vehicles. Each section of three vehicles would have the spread of equipment - one 2" mortar
(with 36 rounds - twice what a foot-carried 2" would have), one PIAT, as
well as the LMGs. Therefore, if the sections kept together, the PIAT and
the mortar could protect the section as a whole. The senior vehicle in
the section would have a sergeant in command, and he would have a No.38
wireless set, which would dismount with him, worn on a chest-rig. This
kept him in contact with the other sections of the platoon, but not with
the other vehicles of the section, which would therefore have to be
nearby. A No. 38 set had a range of 1-3 miles. Each section had an attached motorcyclist, whose main function
was to ride back and forth to company/battalion command, not across the
front from section to section. These riders had stens for personal
protection. The platoon had three other motorcyclists, making 7 in all.
There must have been an awful lot of message sending.
Three men would dismount, taking a Bren, and in the case of the junior
vehicles, a PIAT and/or a 2" mortar. This means that one man would gun the Bren, another either a 2" mortar or a PIAT, and a third would act as assistant to the to the other two. The sergeant would be too busy
commanding to man a weapon. The driver/mechanic would then drive the
vehicle back to safety, possibly digging it in or camouflaging it, and
then, sometimes, would join the other dismounted men until it was
time to leave. Smoke from the dismounted mortar would be fired a long
way forwards, to cover the retreat.
It must be added that carrier crews would supplement their standard issue weaponry and equipment with anything they could lay their hands on. It was common to see carriers with bolted on .3 or .5 calibre Browning MGs, PIATs in the position of the vehicle-mounted Bren, and Brens on AA mountings. The vehicle as standard had a Bren gun poking through a hole in the front. This partially explains why universal carriers were often inaccurately called "Bren carriers". The Airfix kit of a "Bren carrier" is actually a universal carrier. Very common was for the vehicle to have a 2" mortar mounted up front on the inside, next to the gunner. Early carriers often had a 4" smoke launcher mounted on the outside. They would also carry a few rifles and personal weapons. One frowned-upon practice involved adding many sandbags to the inside floor of the carrier. Carriers were very vulnerable to mines, having thinly armoured flat undersides, but the sandbags made them very heavy.
Carrier Platoon Tactics
In attack, they were used for supplementing the firepower of infantry,
relieving the infantry, and releasing it for attack. They were vulnerable to
counter-attack, though, in this role. They would mount feint attacks to
distract the enemy from the real attack. They would if possible encircle
the enemy to cut off retreat. They might dismount on a flank, to protect
it, or be used as a mobile reserve, or for carrying ammunition and wire to
the front line.
In defence, they might be used to form outposts; to patrol between strong
nodes; to support counter-attacks; for communication and evacuation; to
deploy out in front, ready to fall back quickly, as an early-warning
system of an attack; to retreat to an intermediary position, through which
friendly forces might retreat.
The carriers withdrew after dark, since they were too easy to stalk by
Carriers were little use in street fighting, since enemy on upper floors
of buildings could so easily shoot down into them.
A common specialist variant of the universal carrier was the 3" Mortar carrier. These were in units of 6 + 1 command vehicle, but the individual
carriers were usually attached out singly on a semi-permanent basis to infantry units. They
bore a diamond with an M in the top half, and the number (1-6) of the
carrier in the platoon underneath.
Another variant was the Wasp flame-thrower. The Germans would shoot captured Wasp (and Crocodile) crews, believing these
weapons to be ungentlemanly.
The bridging weight of a carrier was 5. This was often displayed on a yellow circular disc on the front of the hull. It is roughly the weight of the vehicle in tons, and would give the officer in charge of a bridge an idea of how much weight he was allowing onto his bridge.
I have corresponded and spoken to a few people who have ridden in carriers, and they report pretty much the same thing: that a carrier speeding across terrain at 30mph bounces and lurches about alarmingly. It is particularly apt at tipping up and down. When it comes to a halt, it tips forwards, before rocking back violently. To fire from the back of the vehicle on the move would be to waste ammunition, and to risk being thrown out.
Carriers had an unusual method of steering. Central bogey wheels would move in and out, bending the tracks, and causing the vehicle to turn. For sharper turns, other methods could be used, involving slowing one track down relative to the other. Carriers could turn very sharply indeed, which was handy in an emergency.
Carriers were not fully bullet-proof. The armour on the front was fairly bullet resistant, but the armour on the sides was thin enough to permit rounds from MGs and rifles to penetrate. Glancing hits, long range shots, and most splinters from exploding shells would bounce off the armour, but if the vehicle came under accurate fire, the most sensible response was to move as quickly as possible. It was not a mobile pillbox.
Another place to find out about carriers is Maple Leaf Up
Carriers in Crossfire
The Carrier platoons as published in the Crossfire rules are in ONE carrier! Given the Crossfire official scale, and the inseparable nature of the carrier
sections, I would use one carrier per section, perhaps plus one for
command, per platoon, so the platoon of 13 vehicles would be represented
by four or five models, each section having 2" mortar, and PIAT. The section in reality would have three Bren gun teams, and would have few men to defend these in close combat. Accordingly, I would treat the dismounted crew as equivalent to an "HMG" in the Crossfire rules, so it would fire 4 dice, but be -2 in close combat, counting as a crew-served weapon. In 1:1 figure
scale games, a carrier might dismount a single three-man stand.