A ‘Beaverette’ armoured car at RAF Duxford
Newspaper magnate Lord Beaverbrook was appointed Minister of Aircraft Production by Churchill in May 1940. At the time, German forces were advancing rapidly through France towards the Channel coast, and the invasion of England was a clear and present danger. Beaverbrook decided that Home Guard personnel would need armoured cars to protect aircraft factories, and commissioned the Standard Motor Company of Coventry to produce a specially designed vehicle. Officially designated the Standard Car 4×2, or Car Armoured Light Standard, it was better known as the ‘Beaverette’.
At the time, British car manufacturers were adapting existing saloon-car designs to produce a type of pick-up truck for the armed forces, generally referred to as a ‘Tilly’ (short for ‘utility vehicle’). To create the ‘Beaverette’, this concept was taken to the next level by mounting an armour-plated hull on the Flying 14 saloon-car chassis. Converting a car to a pick-up truck is one thing, but adding 11mm steel plates and backing them with 3-inch thick oak planks has a dramatic effect on a vehicle’s weight. Standard’s 46hp petrol engine struggled to cope with the two-ton ‘Beaverette’, and had to be fitted with a double-reduction back axle to propel it. As a result, the ‘Beaverette’ was painfully slow: maximum speed was just 24mph, compared to the 50mph top speed of the contemporary Morris Light Reconnaissance Car. Incredibly, the ‘Beaverette’ was 21mph slower than the Rolls-Royce armoured car of 1914.
Armoured cars are intended for use in reconnaissance, command, control, and communications roles. In some cases they are used to protect softskinned vehicles in a convoy. A slow armoured car, particularly one that could not out-run enemy tanks of the time (the Panzerkampfwagen II was capable of 25mph on roads) was of no military use.
‘Beaverette’ scout cars, Bren-gun carriers, and motorcycles of the 53rd Battalion The Reconnaissance Corps during manoeuvres at Ballykinlar in Northern Ireland, 19 June 1941.
However, the impracticality of the ‘Beaverette’ was not its only failing. Most of the British Army’s armoured vehicles had been abandoned at Dunkirk. At this critical moment, valuable armour-plating was being diverted from tank production to be used on an armoured car that was ultimately pointless.
‘The whole thing was fantastic’, wrote Field Marshal Alanbrooke, the commander of home forces. ‘How could individual factories have held out, and what part could they have played once the main battle for the country was lost?’
Fortunately, Hitler postponed his invasion plans in September 1940, and the capability of the ‘Beaverette’ was never put to the test. Although 2,800 ‘Beaverettes’ were produced, they were only ever used for home defence and training, which shows how little faith the military authorities had in this armoured car’s suitability for a combat role. Meanwhile, the Morris Light Reconnaissance Car saw service throughout the Middle East and Western Europe, and 76 Rolls-Royce Armoured Cars saw action in the Western Desert, Iraq, and Syria. You can see both a ‘Beaverette’ and a Morris LRV – and compare the two designs – at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford.