EARLY US ARMOR Armored Cars 1915–40
STEVEN J. ZALOGA
ILLUSTRATED BY FELIPE RODRÍGUEZ
NEW VANGUARD 254
EARLY US ARMOR Armored Cars 1915–40
STEVEN J. ZALOGA
ILLUSTRATED BY FELIPE RODRIGUEZ
CONTENTS EARLY ROOTS
ARMING THE WORLD
COMBAT DEBUT: THE MEXICAN PUNITIVE EXPEDITION
NATIONAL GUARD ARMORED CARS
MARINE ARMORED CARS
THE GREAT WAR
THE LEAN YEARS
THE QUARTERMASTER ARMORED CARS
THE M1 ARMORED CAR
LAST OF THE ARMORED CARS
THE TUCKER TIGER TANK
TRACKED AND HALF-TRACK ARMORED CARS
EXPORT ARMORED CARS
THE RISE OF SCOUT CARS
THE M3A1 SCOUT CAR
THE HALF-TRACK CAR
EARLY US ARMOR ARMORED CARS 1915–40 EARLY ROOTS
The Winans Steam Gun, built in Baltimore in 1861 at the outset of the Civil War, is often cited as an antecedent of American armored cars. In fact, the steam unit was used to power the centrifugal gun, not to propel the vehicle itself. The device did have an armored shield, but it had to be towed into position by horse. This is a contemporary illustration from Harper’s Weekly, May 25, 1861.
There are a host of legends about the origins of American armored cars, some dating back to the Civil War. The Winans Gun is sometimes described as an armored car, though in fact it was not self-propelled. With the advent of automobiles in the late 19th century, the first primitive armed cars began to appear. These were typically gasoline or steam-powered automobiles fitted with a machine gun. The machine guns were often fitted with small armored shields, leading to their classification as armored cars. By today’s definition, these were not true armored cars since they lacked significant armored protection. Here they are called “armed cars.” The Regular Army of the United States showed very little interest in early armored cars. However, state National Guard units were spurred on by the local automobile industry and became the vanguards of armoredcar development in the United States prior to World War I. The individual most responsible for the early efforts was Major (later Colonel) Royal P. Davidson of the Wisconsin National Guard, and superintendent of the Northwestern Military and Naval Academy on Lake Geneva in Wisconsin. Davidson designed several armed automobiles, constructed with the aid of the academy’s cadets. The first of these, in 1899, was built on a Duryea three-wheeled automobile fitted with a Colt-Browning M1895 .30cal machine gun. Davidson felt that these vehicles could form the core of a flying machinegun patrol, supported by armed motorcycles. In the summer of 1900, Davidson and the cadets drove this armed car from Fort Sheridan, Illinois, to Washington, DC, to deliver a message from the commandant of
the Wisconsin National Guard to General Nelson A. Miles, the Army Chief of Staff. Miles was impressed enough with this demonstration that in 1903 he recommended to the Secretary of War that five existing Cavalry regiments should be converted to an automobile corps with Davidson’s cars. The Cavalry was not amused by this radical proposal and ignored it. In 1900, Davidson and the cadets completed a second armed car on a Duryea quadricycle. After the academy had relocated to Highland Park, Wisconsin, Davidson and his cadets assembled two more designs on steam-powered automobiles. In 1909, Davidson armed a Cadillac automobile as a “machine-gun car.” This was followed in 1910 by a pair of Cadillacs armed with machine guns in high-elevation mounts as “balloon destroyers.” The first Davidson design that was a true armored car was built in 1915 on a Cadillac chassis. In contrast to the previous designs, it was enclosed on all sides but the top with armor plate. It was armed with a single ColtBrowning .30cal machine gun on a pintle mount with an armored shield. The academy’s cadets staged a demonstration, starting on July 10, 1915, with a convoy of Cadillac-based vehicles from Chicago to Los Angeles to demonstrate the viability of army motorization. The trip took 40 days, in no small measure due to the absence of adequate roads in many parts of the western United States.
The steam-powered Davidson Automobile Battery armored car of 1901 was built by the Peoria Rubber and Motor Vehicle Manufacturing Company, based on patents of the Duryea Motor Wagon Company. The vehicle’s fuel tank and engine were covered with armor. This is the sole surviving example of Royal Davidson’s designs and is preserved at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. (Wikimedia Commons)
Royal Davidson built his first fully armored automobile in 1915 on a Cadillac chassis by Wisconsin’s Naval and Military Academy. It is seen here in 1917 during maneuvers at Fort Sheridan, Illinois.
The first armored car serial manufactured in the United States was the Armoured Autocar, built for the Canadian Army in 1914. They languished in obscurity until 1918 when the war in France became more mobile. Re-armed with Vickers machine guns, they saw extensive combat use with the Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade. The six surviving vehicles are seen here near Arras in April 1918. (Library and Archives Canada PA-002614)
ARMING THE WORLD
The Jeffery armored car built for the Canadian Eaton Battery had a single machine-gun turret, rear machine-gun sponsons, and fore and aft driver stations. This was the most numerous version of the type, with over 50 assembled in the United States and Canada.
The outbreak of war in Europe in 1914 was a major catalyst for the development of armored cars in the United States. Many of the combatants began shopping for automobiles and trucks in the United States, some of which were used to construct armored cars back in Europe. France purchased White automobiles as the basis for their armored cars, and Russia acquired several different types of American vehicles to manufacture their own armored cars including Garford, Jeffery, and White trucks. Two Canadian projects resulted in the first two American armored cars produced in significant numbers. Raymond Brutinel, a French émigré in Montreal, came up with the idea of creating a unit of machine-gun armed trucks. His scheme was backed by Sir Clifton Sifton, a wealthy businessman in Ottawa. Sam Hughes, the Minister of Militia and Defence, formally approved this project in August 1914. Brutinel took sketches of his design to the United States hoping to find a suitable manufacturing plant. He quickly selected the Autocar Company in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, which was manufacturing a suitable 4x2, 2-ton, cab-over-engine truck with 22-horsepower engine that was already in service with the US Army. A total of eight of the Autocar armored cars were built, each armed with a pair of Colt .30cal M1914 machine guns. These were delivered to Ottawa in early September 1914 and were used to create the Automobile Machine Gun Brigade No. 1. This unit arrived in Britain in October 1914, but became most famous for their actions in 1918 when the stalemate of trench warfare began to end, and more mobile operations resumed.
This is one of two armored-car designs by Standard Steel Car Co. built for a French armoredcar contract in 1915. The other configuration lacked the turret and had an open roof. In the event, the contracts were canceled as a result of the changing tactics on the Western front. (Library of Congress)
John C. Eaton, the Toronto department store magnate, offered to fund the creation of a second motorized unit equipped with armored trucks armed with machine guns. The Thomas B. Jeffery Company in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was manufacturing a very successful four-wheel drive truck called the Jeffery Quad. Jerry De Cou, the company’s superintendent, designed and built an armored car on this chassis as a potential export item. This vehicle went through several iterations. The design selected for the Canadian order had a single turret in the center, and driving stations front and rear. The Jeffery Quad trucks, along with armor plate manufactured by the Bethlehem Steel Co, were imported into Canada by the Canada Cycle & Motor Co Ltd., manufacturers of the Russell trucks. Some of the Jeffery armored cars were assembled in Canada, and so they are sometimes called the Russell armored cars. The Eaton Battery was dispatched to England in September 1915 but, by this time, the fighting had bogged down into trench warfare with little use for armored cars. The Jeffery/Russell armored cars were put into storage, but later sent to India and Ireland to deal with local troubles. Several other American firms received contracts in 1914–15 to manufacture armored cars, but most of these contracts were canceled after the European battlefield congealed into static trench warfare. The Standard Steel Car Company of Butler, Pennsylvania, designed at least two types of armored cars for the French army, but manufacturing contracts awarded in July 1915 for 200 armored cars were canceled before delivery. The Morton Truck and Tractor Company of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, designed an armored car with two small machine-gun turrets and won a $1.5 million contract for 300 of these from the Russian government in February 1915. This contract was never fulfilled for unknown reasons. Several other companies developed armored cars from corporate funds in hopes of winning export contracts. For example, the R. E. Olds (Reo) Motor Car Company designed an armored car based on their Model F car chassis. When the European market for these armored cars evaporated in late 1914 due to the advent of trench warfare, some of these armored cars were donated to local National Guard units as is described in more detail below. 7
The Jeffery armored car, called Armored Motor Car No. 1 by the US Army, was sent to Texas in 1916. This configuration had two machine-gun turrets, armed with the .30cal Benét– Mercié machine gun M1909. It is s...