A Universe of Carriers
By Peter Lloyd
When I envision a universal carrier, the silly children's riddle song about a little Chevrolet car comes to mind. (♫ I'm a little pile of tin! ♫) Those pictures of the spindly-tracked carrier bouncing across the country-side are to blame. Seriously though, the carrier was a very useful vehicle which served the British and Commonwealth forces into the early sixties. Bigger than a jeep, but less than a half-track, the carrier served as personnel transport, scout car, cargo lift, ambulance, gun platform, prime mover and engineering vehicle.
In the Panzer Grenadier system the unit is called a “Bren.” Bren is a bit of a misnomer. The original carrier was built by Vickers Armstrong, it was intended to be a machine-gun platform or light artillery tractor. The carrier design split in to several models, one of which was the light machine-gun carrier. Bren was the manufacturer of the light machine the vehicle carried. That is how the name stuck.
The universal carrier of the game was standardized in 1940. Prior to that there were medium machine-gun carriers, light machine-gun carriers, scout carriers, and cavalry carriers. All these carries, while purpose built, served in many capacities, and cross capacities, outside (sometimes far outside) of their original intent. As a result, the British armaments board decided upon a single base model, with appropriate modification kits to be provided in the field as needed. The Universal Carrier is born.
By the time production ended in 1960 113,000 carriers had been built. At four tons apiece, that makes over a half million tons of steel on those little tracks. During World War 2, at least 14 companies were engaged in its manufacture. Carriers were sent to the U.S. as the T-16, and delivered to the Soviet Union as part of Lend-Lease. The Germans used captured carriers for light anti-tank mounts and for mounting a triple tube version of the panzerschreck. The Italians tried to make a knock-off called the Fiat 2800.
Carriers were powered with 80-horsepower V-8 gasoline engines, giving them a road speed of about 30 miles per hour. Off-road they managed somewhere in the low to mid 20s. Their suspension was based on the Carden-Lloyd light tank (same as the light tanks of Afrika Korps) making the ride a little bumpy. The basic Universal Carrier was armed with a light machine-gun and a Boys anti-tank rifle. The anti-tank rifle was dropped sometime after the PIAT became generally available.
As I mentioned before, there were several variants of the original and later Universal Carrier. Some variants, like the scout carrier, would not be distinguishable in the game system. Others have more unique characteristics. Here are some of the more game-friendly examples:
Medium Machine-Gun Carrier: The logical step up from the standard carrier. The vehicle has a Vickers medium machine-gun mounted on a pedestal or tripod. This variant was built in both the United Kingdom and in Australia. The mounting of the machine-gun suggests it could have been used in an anti-aircraft role, but I haven’t read anything saying that was intended. Appearances for this unit would be in Waltzing Matilda, Kokoda Trail, and Seelöwe scenarios.
3-inch Mortar Carrier: Both the British and Australians experimented with mobile fire support. The result was mounting a 3-inch mortar in the back of a carrier. The Australian versions probably never left home until later in the war, when they went to the Nationalist Chinese army. Otherwise they are only applicable to use in Waltzing Matilda. The British seem to have shipped some examples to the Western Desert, it is reasonable to insert them into some Desert Rats and early Afrika Korps scenarios, and for use in defending the home islands.
2-pounder Anti-Tank Carrier: Probably the most ungainly variant for the carrier was mounting a 2-pounder anti-tank gun. The 2-pounder is a relatively heavy gun for its caliber. The British, Australians, and Canadians all tried this, and none of them actually deployed those carriers in combat. The approaches to mounting the gun on the carrier varied with each country. In the United Kingdom, the gun was mounted well forward, which limited its traverse. For those of you who use limited traverse rules, they should be used for this unit. The Australians moved the engine and lengthened the body of carrier to closer to the center, which allowed for firing in more directions, but lateral firing was still a problem. Use the British unit for Seelöwe scenarios, the Australian in Waltzing Matilda.
Wasp: We come to the most numerous carrier variant, the Wasp. A Universal Carrier with a Ronson flamethrower, the same flamethrower used in the Satan flamethrower tank appearing in Saipan ’44. First deployements began in November of 1943. Both Britian and Canada took these to Italy & Normandy. Use these in Liberation ’44 and Cassino to clear those tough postions. Normal flamethrower rules are in effect.
PIAT Organ: Sure, what is this really? Well it’s a mine clearing vehicle used by the Canadians in Normandy, and afterward. First deployed with the 4th Canadian Armoured Division, this contraption proved to quite effective. Treat the unit as you would a rocket launcher for prep and firing, except that it always hits the target hex and there is not friendly fire check. When it comes to actually clearing mines, roll two dice (the number in the circle), each result of 6 removes one mine point. One may also use it to fire at AFV’s the same way; each result of 6 causes a step loss. (A raneg of one hex is technically unrealistic, but it needs the range to work in the game.)
Su204: This is the Lend-Lease carrier sent to the Soviet Union. It is a standard, personnel transport kitted, Universal Carrier. Sources make different claims as to how many were actually sent. I’ve seen numbers from 200 up to 3,000. In most cases there seems to have been some axe to grind. The actual number is probably between 2000 and 2,500. Carriers were available in later 1942 onwards. Some were deployed still carring their Bren LMG’s. Most had the Bren replaced with the Degtyarev LMG. They were used by the break-through troops of the motorized battalion in Soviet tank brigades.
Normally when transport is armed, I still treat them as one-step units. As this is not the convention in the Panzer Grenadier system, I have provided two-step counters as applicable. If you are wondering if I have invaded/defended England in Operation Seelöwe? Yes, I have. Have I fleshed out the Canadian army? Yes, I (mostly) did. Yes, Ford and Chevrolet made engines and other parts for carriers.
You can download the new Carrier pieces here.
Try out your carriers! Order a Panzer Grenadier game now. Yes, now.