Sunday 1 November 2015

World of Tanks History Section: Armoured Cars of the Pre-Tank Era

How do you protect a soldier from bullets, fragments, and shrapnel? Can you quickly move a machinegun or a cannon over tens of kilometers without using horses? These problems were solved with cars at the start of the 20th century. By that time, they moved past the stage of awkward boxes on wheels. There were no more problems with speed, carrying capacity, or off-road performance. The military had its carrying platform and decided to protect the crew and driver with armoured plates. This is how the armoured car was born. Here is some information about some armoured cars of the pre-tank era.

Astro-Daimler Panzerwagen

This is one of the first armoured cars in history, designed and built in Austria-Hungary in 1905. The design was ahead of its time, and it's no wonder, as it was designed by a representative of the famous engineering dynasty, Paul Daimler.

He added a series of features which later became classic: all wheel drive, a fully armoured hull, a hemispherical turret with a port for a 7.7 mm Maxim gun (later there were two). The front and side armour was 3.5 mm thick, the turret armour was 4 mm thick. The armoured plates were curved, increasing protection. Daimler was right to be proud of his design. One thing remained: a successful demonstration and an order from the Imperial army.

The project met its end due to the sound of its engine. It frightened the horses of some high ranking people attending the trials. Emperor Franz-Joseph was discouraged and infuriated. He claimed that there is no room for these vehicles on a battlefield and left Daimler no chances.


Belgium was one of the first countries to hear the thunder of the Great War in 1914. Lieutenant Charles Ankar of the Belgian General Staff drove to the battlefield in his personal car. In order to protect his life, he armoured it. Ankar's superiors considered his experience promising. Several other Minervas were covered in armour, armed with 8 mm Hotchkiss machineguns, and sent into battle.

These cars showed themselves well during the maneuver period of the First World War, turning out to be an unpleasant surprise for the Germans. However, once positional warfare started, Minervas became harder to use. As a result, the Belgian armoured car squadron was gifted to Emperor Nikolai II and moved to the Russian front.

After the end of WWI, Minervas were repeatedly modernized and remained in service wit the Belgian army until 1935.

Rolls-Royce Armoured Car

Today, Rolls-Royce cars are a symbol of luxury more than a method of transportation. Little is known about the military career of this car. In 1914, the famous Silver Ghost was armoured by the British, following the Belgian Minerva design.

It was covered with 8-9 mm thick armour, with a rear fighting compartment. The turret had a cylindrical turret with sloped sides to increase protection. It also featured a platform big enough to transport several soldiers or equipment. The Rolls-Royce was armed with a heavy 7.7 mm Vickers machinegun, propelled by an excellent 6-cylinder engine. The first three vehicles were ready and sent to Europe in December of 1914.

By that time, the war became positional, and the effectiveness of armoured cars became limited. Nevertheless, these cars participated in battle inside the United Kingdom in 1916 during the Easter Uprising in Dublin. Rolls-Royce armoured cars fought alongside improvised armoured cars built with boilers from the Guinness brewery on three-ton trucks. The last Rolls-Royce armoured cars were used by Great Britain as late as 1944.

Bussing A5P

As a rule, armoured cars on the battlefields of WWI earned their way there through a tender, but there were exceptions. Facing the first armoured cars of the Entente armies, the Germans attempted a symmetric response to their enemy. The Bussing prototype was inferior to its competitors, but still managed to make it to the battle.

The Bussing A5P was a rather large all wheel drive car. This design differed from others with its rear and front driver's compartments and the ability to bring a large amount of guns on target. The Bussing had ten portholes for machineguns, but only three were fixed in place. The crew (10 men) were supposed to move between the remaining ones.

All three assembled Bussing A5Ps participated in battle on the Western Front. When Romania entered the war on the side of the Entente in 1916, the armoured cars were sent there. These grotesque children of WWI survived the war. The last Bussing was lost somewhere in the Ukrainian steppe during the Russian Civil War.

Russo-Balt Type S

The first Russian armoured car was designed and sent to production in a surprisingly short time. Minister of War V.A. Sukhomlinov approved the project on August 17th, 1914, and in mid-October Nikolai II wrote in his diary: "At 11:00, on the palace grounds, I was shown a newly formed company of cars with 47 mm guns, machineguns, and steel shields. It leaves for a campaign."

The hurried design stunned the enemy. Its 5 mm chrome-nickel armour reliably protected the front and rear of the Russo-Balt, and the 3.5 mm sides could still take a hit. The secret to its protection lay in the sloping of the armour, designed by Colonel A.N. Dobrzhanskiy and engineer Staff Captain A.Ya. Grawen.

The Russo-Balt was armed with a menacing trio of 7.62 mm Maxim machineguns, but the machineguns had to be supported with cannon fire. Steel-lined gun trucks were only a band-aid solution. As a result, the Garford cannon-armed armoured car was built.


Minister Sukhomlinov wanted to increase the size of his armoured car park after approving the Russo-Balt by buying armoured cars from Entente allies. British-made Austin armoured cars were ordered in the fall of 1914 and arrived in Russia by the end of the year.

These two-machinegun armoured cars with horizontal armoured plates demonstrated a weak transmission and vulnerable armour. Despite that, a second batch of Austins was bought in March of 1915.

In November 1915, commander of the Reserve Armoured Company Captain Khaletskiy made a series of comments about the design: "One exit hatch in the side... Small internal volume... Difficulty steering while reversing... Lack of space for a spare wheel..." It is hard to tell if this was nitpicking or reasonable criticism. In August of 1916, the Military Directorate ordered another 60 Austin armoured cars and the same number of chassis for domestically built cars. The latter had doubled driver's controls. Khaletskiy's criticism must have been heard.


The idea of a fully fledged cannon-armed armoured car was brought to fruition by the chief of the infantry officer school, N.M. Filatov. American five-ton Garford trucks were a suitable chassis for the project. 33 cars were shipped to Petrograd in December of 1914. Assembly began at the Putilov factory in January.

The Garford's size allowed the use of thicker armour (6.5 mm), mostly placed vertically. Since the engine and fuel tanks were placed above and to the left and right of the driver and commander, armour protection was of utmost importance. The slow but powerful trucks were armed with the 76 mm anti-assault mod. 1910 gun and three Maxim guns.

The vehicles were assigned to machinegun armoured car platoons, reinforcing a duo of Austins. Each Garford had a personal name. These armoured cars fought in WWI, Civil War, and small wars of he 1920s and 1930s.

AB Ansaldo

Italy entered WWI on the side of the Entente in 1915. The Joe Ansaldo company designed a machinegun armoured car for the army. The 60 hp engine let the car accelerate to 70 kph. The hull was made from chrome-nickel steel. The armament of the Automobile Blindato Ansaldo consisted of three machineguns in a two-level turret. The crew consisted of 6 men.

The Ansaldo fought at the Austro-Hungarian border, and later against the Germany army. In late January of 1916, the creators of the Ansaldo armoured car sent a proposal to the Russian GAU for a purchase. The armoured car's protection was advertised to be "...protected with special armour, impermeable from 100 meters to the bullet of the Italian model 1891 rifle. The motor and wheels are completely protected by shields." The Italians asked for blueprints of machineguns and data on shells of Russian artillery, allegedly to modify the armoured car.

The Ansaldo did not have a chance to fight on the Russian front, but they had a much more exotic fate. After the Spanish Civil War they fought in the African campaign of the Italian army.


In the summer of 1915, the "Archer automobile-machinegun" was offered to the Russian War Directorate by the French engineer J. Archer.

The French hyped up their design, and its characteristics were quite high: a four-cylinder 16 hp engine, top speed of 60 kph, 7 mm chrome-nickel armour. The only armament was a rear-mounted machinegun.

The creator of Russian armoured car forces Major-General P.I. Sekretev familiarized himself with this proposal and categorically declined: "... the Archer armoured car does not protect the crew from shrapnel, its engine is weak for Russian roads, one machinegun is insufficient, moving backwards is difficult... The starter is complicated and unreliable."

Original article available here.

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