Eric Bryan recalls a long-serving stalwart of British military reconnaissance.
In 1949, the British Army approached Daimler to upgrade its World War Two light armoured vehicles. Having previously designed the Dingo Scout Car, Daimler created the Ferret.
The Ferret was a development of the Dingo design, but it had more interior space for the crew, and could be fitted with an optional small machine-gun turret.
It was built with unibody construction instead of an internal frame. This gave the Scout Car a low profile – a positive in battle – though since the engine and transmission were situated inside the shell, the internal operational noise-level was high.
The four-wheel drive Ferret had run-flat tyres which resisted deflation when punctured, holding their shape enough for the vehicle to drive at reduced speed. This was a great advantage in combat, since a Ferret suffering one or more punctures would not be incapacitated.
Turreted Ferrets were usually fitted with a 7.62mm general purpose machine-gun. Often this was an M1919 Browning weapon rechambered for 7.62 x 51mm NATO ammunition.
The Ferret also had six smoke-grenade launchers, three mounted on each side over the front wheels. Some Ferret marks were converted to carry Vickers Vigilant anti-tank missile launchers, and later, Swingfire anti-tank missile launchers.
The Ferret was strong off-road, and because of its size and top speed of 58mph, it excelled in urban environments. With a 130hp (an average derived from engine variations) Rolls Royce B60 series inline six-cylinder petrol engine and a five-speed transmission, the Ferret had fully independent suspension.
A selector allowed the driver to throw the whole gearbox in reverse mode. This enabled the Ferret to drive in forward or reverse – and start off – in any gear. This, combined with rear observation ports, gave the driver the ability to reverse the Ferret quickly out of danger.
The Ferret crew consisted of commander, gunner, and driver; or gunner/commander and driver. The number of crew was sometimes dictated by whether or not the Ferret was turreted.
The Scout Car’s interior had three compartments. In the centre was the fighting compartment, in the rear the engine compartment, and in the front the driver’s compartment. The latter was surrounded by three hatches, each with a periscope. The front hatch could be folded down, and the aperture filled with a shatterproof windscreen.
On the sides of the turret ring were vision slits fitted with block glass. There were escape hatches on each side – protected by a stowage box on the right, and by the spare wheel on the left.
The Marks 1 and 2 Ferrets could carry steel channels to form a bridge over trenches or ditches or for extrication when stuck in sand. Ferrets Marks 3 and 4 featured wrap-around floatation screens enabling them to cross rivers and lakes, propelled by their rotating wheels.
In battle or during armoured manoeuvres, three Ferrets were attached to each tank squadron. Each Ferret trio formed a reconnaissance troop which scouted forward of the heavy armour to locate an enemy’s position.
Ferrets were used in the 1950s and 1960s in Aden for joint Anglo-Arab operations against border tribes. The vehicles also saw service in the Cyprus conflict and in Northern Ireland. The last major British use of Ferrets was in Operation Granby, during the 1991 Iraq War.
Years of service
Over 4,400 Ferrets were produced from 1952 to 1971. The Ferret served throughout the Commonwealth and in up to 40 countries outside Britain, including Cyprus, Ireland, Malaysia, and Yemen. Retired from the British Army, some Ferrets are still active in various Commonwealth countries.