Armoured Car Units

 

The Royal Navy's

Armoured Car Units

 

For those well acquainted with the development of the tank, its history has been intimately associated with the Royal Navy at the early stages. The reason why the Navy took an interest under Churchill was because of the initial success of Samsonís Armoured car squadron in the opening stages of the war.

The Dunkirk Armoured Car Force.

On The 27th August 1914, a brigade of Marines was landed at Ostend, in support of the Belgian Army retreating in the face of the advancing German Army. A RNAS squadron (The Eastchurch Squadron) was landed in support of the Royal Navy Marine Brigade, though the Marines did not remain very long, as the situation rapidly deteriorated. The Marines were ordered to withdraw on the 30th August. The RNAS squadron withdrew to Dunkirk. Commander C. R. Samson, the squadrons leader, contrived a reason for remaining in France, which Churchill seized upon for keeping a Naval force on French soil.

Churchill saw that a Squadron based at Dunkirk would enhance the aerial defence of Britain. From the outset, the squadron had realised the value of the motor car for reconnaissance and rescuing downed pilots. At Dunkirk the squadron continued its reconnaissance activities in unarmoured cars, but an incident occurred on the 4th September 1914 that convinced Samson that the cars should be Armoured. Armoured Plate was improvised by attaching boilerplate to the outside of the vehicles. By mid October 17 such vehicles had been converted.

At Home, Commodore Murrey Seuter (Director of Air Division) and Churchill took steps to provide 50 to 60 Armoured Cars based on the Rolls Royce Silver Ghost and the Lanchester touring cars. These vehicles had Armoured Plate applied and were fully enclosed with a revolving turret. Experience in France had shown that open topped Armoured Cars exposed their crews to undue risk. The first Armoured cars arrived in France in December 1914, by which time mobility on the Western Front had been lost, as the Armies of Europe had starting digging the trench system that would eventually reach from the Channel to the Swiss boarder.

David Fletcher in "War Cars" does suggest that by this time Samson's force had been divided into 4 Armoured Car Squadrons. Each squadron was supposedly to have had an establishment of 15 AC. The Force was made up of a combination of  Rolls- Royces, Worseley and Clement-Talbots.

 

AC Squadrons

Formed

Disbanded

Comments

 

 

 

 

Eastchurch Squadron

Aug 1914

 

This was an improvised squadron made up of vehicles available at the time with adhoc armour applied, this being mainly Boiler Plate.

No 1 Squadron

Oct 1914

 

 

No 2 Squadron

Oct 1914

 

 

No 3 Squadron

Oct 1914

 

 

No 4 Squadron

Oct 1914

 

 

 

The Royal Navy Armoured Car Division.

Due to Samsonís success, it was decided that a Royal Navy Armoured Car Division would be formed. The HQ was opened at 48 Dover Street near Piccadilly. The Division was placed under the command of Commander F.L.M. Boothby. Men for the Division were recruited from all over the Empire. These men were required to sit a rigorous Mechanical Competence and Medical examination. Those who passed were rewarded well, with higher rates of pay and given the rank of Petty Officer (Mechanic). The Army was less farsighted; those who were mechanically competent entered the Army as a private, with a private's pay.

The original organisation of the Division consisted of 15 Armoured Car Squadrons, each squadron had an establishment of 3 sections and each section was equipped with 4 AC,  1 Armoured Lorry, 2 Supply Waggons and 8 Motor Cycles . The Divisions Establishment was increased to 20 Squadrons after a number of re-organisations. When mobility was lost on the Western Front, the RNACD was ready to enter the field. The need for the formation in the short term vanished and gave fuel to the arguments of those who felt this was an inappropriate venture for the Navy to undertake. The formationís fate was sealed once Churchill left the position as first sea Lord after the debacle at Gallipoli.

Before the unit was disbanded in the summer of 1915, its Armoured Cars were transferred to the Army. However, by this time a number of units had been sent overseas. The 2nd Squadron was sent to France in March 1915 followed by the 5th, 8th and 15th Squadrons. The 16th, 17th and 18th Squadrons were formed in France. The 3rd and 4th Squadrons were sent to the Dardanelles, but after landing a small number of AC, which could not contribute to the campaign due to the terrain, the squadrons were dispatched to Egypt. They arrived at the end of August 1915. Further Squadrons were dispatched to German East Africa, to assist with the capture of German territories in Africa.

Not all of the RN Armoured car Squadrons were disbanded with the demise of the RNACD. The Commander of the 15th Squadron (Lampson) was a well connected, ambitious and politically creative animal. However, with his connections, he was able to convince the Russians of the virtues of using Armoured Cars within the Russian Army. The Russians did not need to be convinced as they were at this time buying up as many Armoured cars as possible. Lampson volunteered his unit for service within the Russian Army, which the Russians were more than willing to accept. He then convinced the Admiralty that one squadron was not sufficient and a division of three squadrons was more suitable. The three squadrons came from the 15th and 17th Squadrons and volunteers from the other units being disbanded. These units became known as The Russian Armoured Car Division. The formation consisted of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Squadrons. The formation fought in Russia with some distinction up until the Russian revolution, when things became difficult and the men were sent progressively home on leave. The final Members of the formations rear elements finally escaped via train to Murmansk and arrived back in the UK in February 1918.

Another unit was also to remain as part of the Royal Navy. This unit was the 20th Squadron, which was formed as a technical and experimental unit of the RNACD. This unit assisted the Landships Committee with tank trials and development throughout 1915 and 1916. At the end of the war, the Squadron had over 600 members.

 

 

Units of the RN Armoured Car Division (RNACD).

 

AC Squadrons

Formed

Disbanded

Comments

 

 

 

 

No 1 Squadron

1914

 

One section sent to East Africa

No 2 Squadron

1914

 

Formed by the Duke of Westminster. Sent to France in 1915, later to Egypt 1916

No 3 Squadron

1914

 

Sent to the Dardanelles, later transferred to Egypt.

No 4 Squadron

1914

 

Sent to the Dardanelles, later transferred to Egypt.

No 5 Squadron

1914

 

Sent to France

No 6 Squadron

1914

 

Sent to France

No 7 Squadron

1914

 

Remained in the UK carrying out anti invasion duties.

No 8 Squadron

1914

 

Sent to France

No 9 Squadron

1914

 

Sent to the Dardanelles

No 10 Squadron

1914

 

Sent to the Dardanelles

No 11 Squadron

1914

 

Sent to the Dardanelles

No 12 Squadron

1914

 

Sent to the Dardanelles

No 13 Squadron

1914

 

Remained in the UK

No 14 Squadron

1914

 

Part Sent to France

No 15 Squadron

1914

 

Formed by Oliver Locker Lampson. Sent to France. Later became part of the Russian Armoured Car Division as 1st Squadron.

No 16 Squadron

1915

 

Formed in France from misc. RNACD units.

No 17 Squadron

1915

 

Formed in France from misc. RNACD units.

No 18 Squadron

1915

 

Formed in France from misc. RNACD units.

No 19 Squadron

 1915

 

Never completely formed.

No 20 Squadron

 1915

 

Formed by AJ Balfour, and became the experimental arm of the Landships Committee. It remained part of the RN until December 1917, when it was transferred to the Royal Marines.

 

There were another 3 Squadrons projected but never completely formed by the time the divison was disbanded.

 

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Copyright Stuart Groombridge

All Rights Reserved 2000

Created 7th June 2000, 2001

Updated 19th November 2000.

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[1] David Fletcher "War Cars", HMSO, 1987 pp22

[2] Bryan Perret "Iron Fist", Arms and Armour Press, 1995

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