The traditional image of a classic car is a vehicle that was made to be admired. You might find it hard to picture a classic vehicle getting dirty on a battlefield, or chasing down soldiers, but this was a reality of WW1 and 2. Many classic cars were used in the war effort, with one of the most popular being an armoured Rolls-Royce. They were a common sight on the front, and here we take a look at how these cars were made.
The creation of the 1914 Mk.1
The first armoured car squadron came from the Royal Naval Air Service in September 1914. All available Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost chassis were requisitioned for use on a new armoured car. In November, a committee of the Admiralty Air Department designed the armoured bodywork and attached a single rotating turret that held a water-cooled Vickers machine gun.
The armour was made of rolled steel plates, riveted around the chassis to a light frame. The turret came with folding panels on each side and a small hatch for the commander in the middle. The first three cars were delivered to the Western Front on the 3rd December 1914 and appeared in service with the first Dunkirk RNAS squadron.
Later, the cars were transferred to the Middle East. They proved useful in Iranian operations against the Turks, most notably during the ‘Arabian revolt,’ led by Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence described the cars as “more valuable than rubies.”
Modernisation and WW2
In 1920, the Rolls-Royce was updated to include thicker radiator armour and wheels with fully metallic rims. This model was characterised by a commander cupola added to the turret, while the machine-gun was also upgraded. Later models were modified to have extended hull armour and a domed turret with four machine-gun ball mount emplacements.
When the Irish Civil War broke out in 1922, 13 armoured Rolls-Royces were given to the Irish Free State government. They were used for convoy protection against guerrilla attacks. The cars played a major role in taking back Cork and Waterford.
During the Second World War, 76 vehicles were in service. Most were sent to East Africa to deal with Italian forces. By the end of 1941, the cars were withdrawn from active service to make way for modern versions
Today, there are a few surviving examples of the armoured Rolls-Royce that can be viewed in museums across the world. For example, a 1920 Mark 1 is on display at The Tank Museum in Bovington, England.