|Opening Salvo: The Humber Scout Car|
|by Michael J. Canavan, Sr|
Command Sergeant Major
US Army (retired)
Britain's focus in 1939 was on the production of heavy tanks, which led to a shortage of badly needed reconnaissance vehicles., Using readily available parts, the Allies put together vehicles such as the Beaverette. This was a Humber automobile equipped with armor plating and a machinegun. The Royal Air Force first used the Beaverette and cars like it for airfield security. Many of Britain's new Reconnaissance Corps units trained on these vehicles before using the light armored reconnaissance car (LRC) or armored reconnaissance car (ARC).
The Rootes Group began production of the Humber in 1941. It was based on a chassis design used as an artillery tractor (Karrier KT 4) for the Indian Army. General Motors and Hamilton Bridge manufactured a Canadian version of the Humber. Despite its initial role as airfield security, the Humber quickly found use as a reconnaissance asset. It was designed to scoot around the battlefield and probe enemy positions, find minefields and other obstructions, clear convoy routes, and provide escort or liaison. The little scout car was also used to range ahead of the main forces, either harassing the enemy or seizing and holding objectives until relieved by heavier forces.
The Humber Mark I through Mark IV were officially designated as Light Armored Scout Cars, though the crews often referred to the later models as "heavies" in comparison to the earlier versions. The initial production Humber (MK I) rode on solid axles supported by semi-elliptic springs. Its armament consisted of one 15 mm BESA machinegun and one 7.92 mm BESA machinegun. It had a crew of three and weighed almost 7 tons. The engine was a Rootes 6 cylinder gasoline engine that developed 90 horsepower at 3,200 rpm. The Humber had a range of 250 miles and a top speed of 45 miles per hour.
The Humber Mk 2 had better armor for the driver and radiator. The Mk 3 was manned by four men instead of three and had a bigger turret. The Humber Mk 4 featured a 37 mm gun and also carried a crew of four. Over 3,600 vehicles of all models were built by the end of World War II. Variants of the Humber included a radio vehicle packed with equipment to retransmit signals from forward armored cars to headquarters in the rear. The Humber continued to see service for many years after the war.
Armored scout cars and armored reconnaissance cars served throughout World War II in almost all theaters. These lightly armored, highly maneuverable vehicles were used by both the Axis and the Allies. Armored cars functioned as the cavalry of the British Army in World War II. They usually operated ahead of their own forces as well as behind enemy lines. They were the eyes and ears of commanders, maintaining continuous observation and communication from forward elements to the rear.
In addition to observing the enemy, a regiment would often be ordered forward to locate and engage the enemy or to capture prisoners. Armored cars often operated under conditions where they were cut off and surrounded. It was not uncommon for them to be subjected to friendly fire because of their forward position on the battlefield. The crews of these vehicles had to have great personal courage as the cars were often used to deliberately draw enemy fire in order to accurately pinpoint enemy positions and guns. They were often the first Allied forces to enter areas previously held by the enemy, and their crews had to take control of the local populace to prevent violence, crime, robbery, and looting. They were also used to escort enemy prisoners quickly and safely to the rear.
The crews of these versatile little machines were a hardy lot. Extreme temperatures, limited rations and water, and long patrols far from friendly support made them self-sufficient and creative. Their contributions and pioneering spirit contributed greatly to success on the battlefield and in the war.
Armored car regiments were harassed the enemy with their high mobility. They got behind enemy lines and cut lines of communication, destroyed supply and fuel dumps, and destroyed enemy aircraft on the ground at forward operating bases. When needed, armored cars acted as the rear guard for retreating forces; they also reported on enemy movements while conducting friendly forces to safety. Armored car units helped salvage friendly armored units, rescue downed air crews, and assist stranded tank crews.