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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Armoured Cars

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"ARMOURED CARS. - The armoured car is a mechanically propelled vehicle equipped with protective armour and adapted as a fighting machine. Its first form consisted of a motor chassis with iron-plated sides fitted with loopholes for the crew to fire from. It rapidly developed into a miniature armoured fort on wheels with machine-guns and searchlights mounted in the most effective manner. This first type was liable to be put out of action by bombs thrown over the iron plating or from the windows of houses, and the iron plating was not proof against modern high-velocity rifle fire. The next improvement, therefore, was to place armour over the top. It was soon found that the requirements in the armament and arrangement of armoured cars were similar to the practice in the navy, and that, provided a car could be kept mobile, the next main essentials were a good range of observation and an all-round field of fire. This soon produced the turreted cars, with a single revolving turret and one Vickers machine-gun; and subsequently a type of car with two turrets abreast of each other, and containing each a Hotchkiss gun, was evolved. The advantage of a second gun in action was evident when it was found that bullets hitting the single gun penetrated the water jacket and thus rendered the gun useless. On the other hand the extra weight of the double turret placed a load on the chassis, which was already loaded to its full capacity in order to carry armour that would be proof against modern fire.

The use of the armoured car is limited to the roads, although in some seasons in open countries it is possible to operate over large areas of terrain away from the roads. Obstacles can hinder the progress of cars to a certain extent, but with determined and skilful drivers, and well-trained crews, there are very few roads over which cars cannot be taken. In civilized warfare the maintenance of large armies necessitates roads being kept open for wheeled transport, and once the line formed by the fighting troops is overcome there is very great scope for the employment of armoured cars if placed under the control of a skilful and enterprising commander.

At the outbreak of the World War in 1914 several well-designed types of armoured cars were produced, but the enormous demands for motor transport on the part of all the combatants to equip their rapidly increasing forces prevented the production and development of armoured cars in sufficient numbers to do effective work at the beginning of the war. During the fighting in the autumn of 1914 there were many opportunities for their use, and a few naval cars and some small units did very useful work in France and Belgium, but when the armies on the western front settled down to trench warfare the blocking of the roads prevented the further effective use of armoured cars on that front. The armoured cars that had been made were then sent to the distant fields of operation in Egypt, Mesopotamia, East and South-West Africa, while the detachment of naval armoured cars that fought in Belgium were employed in Rumania and southern Russia, where they were almost the only representatives of the British army in those countries. During the periods in which the contending armies were stationary and gathering their forces for the decisive contest there was no scope for the armoured cars, owing to the shell-torn roads, trenches and barbed wire, but the value of the armoured protection, mobility and fire-power of the armoured car contained the basis of the idea which was to have considerable effect on the latter phases of the war. In the stationary warfare of trenches the deciding factors were machine-gun fire, wire and mud. The armoured car could withstand the first by its armour .protection, and could return it on equal terms with its own machine-gun fire. If it could be made to cross mud and wire the attack could then meet the defence of trenches on more than equal terms. The best machine for crossing soft and broken ground at that time was the tractor with the endless steel belt, and by a compromise of the armoured car and the tractor the British tank was evolved (see Tanks).

Under peace conditions armoured cars form an essential part of most standing armies. As a means of policing the enormous areas in which the British army is responsible for keeping the peace the armoured car provides a unit which can be kept mobile, ready to move at the shortest notice, and can cover the greatest distances with the minimum fatigue and the maximum speed. It can only be exceeded in these respects by the aeroplane, but, unlike that machine, the armoured car unit can provide the armoured protection of a miniature mobile fort, equipped with machine-guns, searchlights, a plentiful supply of ammunition, food and water, that can hold its ground until a well-organized and well-equipped enemy has been assembled to meet it. In cases of civil disturbances, apart from armed rebellion, the armoured car provides a means by which the civil forces of the law can penetrate into the middle of a crowd in a way that would be impossible under ordinary conditions of police duty.

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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Armoured Cars'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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