The Universal Carrier

Published in Artefacts, Issue 5 (September/October 2020), Volume 28

By Lar Joye

The Universal Carrier was a tracked vehicle designed by Vickers Armstrong for the British Army in 1940. During the Second World War it was used by all the Allies; over 2,000 were sent to the Soviet Union, while the German Army used captured ones from Dunkirk. Overall it was the most-produced tracked vehicle of the war, with over 100,000 built in the UK, the USA, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The vehicle had a crew of four and was designed to carry soldiers and their equipment to the battlefield. Its armour was too light for use in combat. It was equipped with a Bren light machine-gun and the carriers were quickly nicknamed ‘Bren gun carriers’. The Irish Army acquired 26 carriers in September 1940 and they were used by the Cavalry Corps until 1943 as part of a carrier squadron. Their common name, Bren gun carriers, gave rise to the joke that the Department of Defence had ordered a number of Bren guns from the British, and when asked whether they wanted ‘carriers’ had said yes, assuming that they were an optional extra. In November 1942 another 200 were ordered, with the final ones arriving in May 1945. The Irish Army used them for both reconnaissance and infantry support, and they were in use until October 1965, when the surviving carriers were scrapped at Hammond Lane Foundry. The one shown here is on display in the permanent Soldiers & Chiefs exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks. It has been painted in two colours; grey was used by the Irish Army during the Emergency and green was used by the 38th (Irish) Brigade of the British Army as it fought its way from North Africa to Italy (1942–5). So one common vehicle tells the story of the c. 70,000 Irish-born soldiers who served in the British Army during the Second World War and the 38,000 who served in the Irish Army over the same period.

Lar Joye is Heritage Officer, Dublin Port.

Above: The Universal Carrier on display in the permanent Soldiers & Chiefs exhibition in the National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks. (NMI)

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