Underrated: The Universal Carrier & its service in the German Army

 
 
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The Universal Carrier, first produced in the 1930s, adopted a specific nickname during the first years of WWII: the Bren Carrier. This was due to the vehicle’s armament which was a single Bren light machine gun.

Initially designed as an armored transport with a role in reconnaissance, this iconic WWII tracked vehicle was intended to carry into the midst of battle a crew of three or four, depending on the variant.

Later on, the Bren Carrier proved much more valuable as a support vehicle than as mere battle transport. It boasted the Bren gun as its main firepower, but it also sported Universal Carriers armed with Boys and PIAT Anti-Tank guns as well as 2-inch mortars.

Universal carrier (mortar carrier) in Ursel, Belgium.Photo: Paul Hermans CC BY-SA 3.0
Universal carrier (mortar carrier) in Ursel, Belgium.Photo: Paul Hermans CC BY-SA 3.0

The vehicle was exported to all Commonwealth armies and the Soviet Union via the Lend and Lease program. It participated in combat all over the world. However, since a great number of them were seized by the Germans during the Battle of France in 1940, the Bren Carrier found extensive use among Wehrmacht forces as well.

The engine was in the center of the vehicle with the final drive at the rear.
The engine was in the center of the vehicle with the final drive at the rear.

The capture and subsequent service of these Bren Carriers was part of the “Beutepanzer” (Captured Tank) practice. The Germans captured tanks not only to study the enemy design but also to reinforce their ranks. Their conquests enabled them to loot much enemy equipment.

Infantrymen of the Edmonton Regiment in a Universal Carrier, using an umbrella to provide some shade.Photo: BiblioArchives/LibraryArchives CC BY 2.0
Infantrymen of the Edmonton Regiment in a Universal Carrier, using an umbrella to provide some shade.Photo: BiblioArchives/LibraryArchives CC BY 2.0

Beutepanzers were mostly used for training, police duties, or to reinforce flanks. They were also often exported to other Axis countries, such as Romania and Bulgaria.

A Soviet Captured Tiger 1 heavy tank.
A Soviet Captured Tiger 1 heavy tank.

In the case of captured Bren Carriers, the Germans were keen to experiment with adding more firepower. In the first version, they added a 3.7 cm PaK 36 anti-tank gun, aka the “German door knocker.” Unfortunately, it proved ineffective. The gun shield offered very little protection against small arms fire, not to mention that the gun itself quickly became outdated.

3.7 cm Pak 36.Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-299-1831-26 / Hähle, Johannes / CC-BY-SA 3.0
3.7 cm Pak 36.Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-299-1831-26 / Hähle, Johannes / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Later, they made adjustments to improve the Universal Carrier, focusing on the anti-tank role of the vehicle given it was small, lightweight, and had a good turn of speed.

Unidentified personnel of the Saskatoon Light Infantry (M.G.) in a Universal Carrier equipped with a Vickers machine gun, Italy
Unidentified personnel of the Saskatoon Light Infantry (M.G.) in a Universal Carrier equipped with a Vickers machine gun, Italy

Other installments of the Universal Carrier as a tank destroyer went a step further. As well as providing more cover for the crew, the vehicles were fitted with a number of captured British 2pdr Mk.IX, French 25mm SA-L Mle, and Austrian 47mm AT guns, which had been seized from the Dutch. Although these versions proved to be more effective, they were still mainly used for training and patrol purposes in the rear.

Universal Carrier Mk II
Universal Carrier Mk II

 

T16 carrier
T16 carrier

 

German soldiers with the 3.7 cm Pak 36 anti-tank gun in Belgium, May 1940. Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-127-0391-21 Huschke CC-BY-SA 3.0
German soldiers with the 3.7 cm Pak 36 anti-tank gun in Belgium, May 1940. Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-127-0391-21 Huschke CC-BY-SA 3.0

 

British Universal Carrier.Photo D. Miller CC BY 2.0
British Universal Carrier.Photo D. Miller CC BY 2.0

 

Bren Carriers towards Bardia, Libya, January 1941
Bren Carriers towards Bardia, Libya, January 1941

 

Bren Carrier No.2. Note a single rear compartment for one soldier with a sloping rear plate.
Bren Carrier No.2. Note a single rear compartment for one soldier with a sloping rear plate.

 

Army vehicle (Universal Carrier) being driven up a slope.Photo BiblioArchives : LibraryArchives CC BY 2.0
Army vehicle (Universal Carrier) being driven up a slope.Photo BiblioArchives : LibraryArchives CC BY 2.0

 

A Universal Carrier of 52nd Reconnaissance Regiment catches air on manoeuvres, Scotland, 10 November 1942
A Universal Carrier of 52nd Reconnaissance Regiment catches air on manoeuvres, Scotland, 10 November 1942

 

A Universal Carrier in an oat field in front of the ruins of Saint Contest.Photo PhotosNormandie CC BY-SA 2.0
A Universal Carrier in an oat field in front of the ruins of Saint Contest.Photo PhotosNormandie CC BY-SA 2.0

 

A heavily-loaded Universal carrier during the advance of 3rd Division, 19 September 1944
A heavily-loaded Universal carrier during the advance of 3rd Division, 19 September 1944

 

A British Army Universal Carrier leads some German prisoners-of-war into a European town.
A British Army Universal Carrier leads some German prisoners-of-war into a European town.

 

3 inch mortar carrier
3 inch mortar carrier

Read another story from us: Jack of All Trades – 28 PHOTOS Show Why EVERYONE Used the Universal “Bren” Carrier

2-pounder anti-tank gun UC variant
2-pounder anti-tank gun UC variant
 
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