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British WW2 Armoured Car Designations and Serial Numbers

by Peter Brown - Wimborne, Dorset, England

Sometimes using a set system makes things easier, and sometimes it males it harder if you did not know what the system was. Two British systems to classify wheeled AFVs and serial numbers can confuse, and these notes may help clarify matters.

During the 1939-1945 conflict, the British army operated three classes of vehicles with could be termed 'armoured cars' and like all British Army vehicles had a number allotted to them. All vehicles taken into service from about 1920 until 1948 when the later style of two numbers - two letters - two numbers was introduced used a number prefixed by a letter which denoted its class. This number was first assigned and painted on the vehicle in the factory, and remained with the vehicle until it went out of service. Those older vehicles renumbered in 1948 received a new number, usually for AFVs with ZR as the letters.

Numbers were controlled from central registers maintained at the Chilwell ordnance depot. There were three lists covering A or armoured vehicles, B or soft-skin vehicles and C for specialist engineer types construction vehicles. As there were three lists, in theory numbers could, with a different prefix letter, quite correctly appear on three different vehicles

These numbers appear on various contract records and official, overall lists. I have seen those for A and B vehicles for November 1944, the former going up to 339800 and the later extended to 6277385 though higher numbers were used later. It should seem to be a simple task to decide if the vehicle should be on the A or B list, and then look it up on that list. However, due to the classification system, some vehicles present problems, as they can appear on either of these lists.

Going back to the three types, these were -

Car, Armoured which was the fighting car, such as the AEC, Daimler, Guy and Humber, as well as the U.S. M8 Greyhound and 'M6' T-17E1 Staghound. In short, if it had a turret mounted gun it is a Car, Armoured, and this applies to the .50" Vickers or 15mm BESA of the Guys and Humbers as well as the 2pdr, 37mm and larger guns of later vehicles. All are A vehicles. Just to confuse things further, the Guy was originally classified as Light Tank, Wheeled as it was equivalent to the contemporary light tanks, but this idea was soon dropped.

Car, Scout covers the Daimler Dingo and the three-man turretless Humber type, and is an A vehicle. Early U.S. White Scout Cars were termed Car, Scout before becoming Truck, l5cwt, Armoured on the B list.

Car, Light Reconnaissance are those which stemmed from car chassis armoured up to produce the Beaverette, Humberette or Humber Ironside which was developed into the Humber LRC, and the purpose-built Morris LRC. These were finally deemed to be B vehicles, although early Beaverette and Humberette were marked as A's.

Some other wheeled armour also came into both categories, notably the AEC Armoured Command Vehicle or Dorchester as it was known in its four-wheel form, though the six-wheel version was classed as an A vehicle. The related Deacon 6pdr self-propelled gun which used the same AEC Matador chassis as the Dorchester was an A vehicle yet from photos was sometimes prefixed as an armoured car and sometimes as an SP gun.

As to prefixes, the letters denoting the types which applied to wheeled armour were:

F - Car Armoured, Car Scout and Car Light Reconnaissance plus Armoured Command Vehicles on the A register. Includes some White Scout Cars.

M - Car, Light Reconnaissance classed as B vehicles. It also appeared on Armoured Cars such as the Rolls-Royce and Lanchester during the inter-war years. This was more usually used on cars, both staff cars and vehicles like the Jeep.

T - Tanks including the Light Tank, Wheeled, it was also applied to other tracked armour including the widely-used Carrier series.

L - Trucks over l5cwt or 3/4 ton, can be seen on Dorchesters.

Z - Lighter trucks to l5cwt, including U.S. scout cars and half-tracks.

S - Self-Propelled Guns, including Deacon

I hope this makes things clearer.

Peter Brown

April 2005