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.

Armament

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.

Performance and power

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.

Crew

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 action

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.

 



5 Comments

  1. Andy
    August 13, 2012 @ 1:16 pm

    M1919 and the GPMG are totally different guns one is the Browning .303 and the other is based on the FN Mag.

    The gearbox has five forward and five reverse gears you cannot throw it into reverse whilst the vehicle is still moving forward as this implies if you do you won’t have any drive. As for starting in any gear you can try but you will soon to destroy the brakebands in the gearbox by trying to start in fifth or fourth gear. Try starting and moving a car in fifth gear it won’t happen.

    Crew compartments the Ferret has only two one contains the engine and the other contains the fighting compartment that the commander and driver occupy. No internal division between driver and commander the petrol tank is the division between the fighting compartment and the engine.The bins on the side of the vehicle are unarmoured the escape hatches are armoured.

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  2. Eric Bryan
    October 10, 2012 @ 1:57 am

    Keeping in mind the variants of the M1919, most experts acknowledge that it was developed as a medium machine gun (MMG), though some refer to it as a light machine gun (LMG). Others regard the M1919 as a general purpose machine gun (GPMG). There is a lively MMG vs. GPMG debate over the M1919.

    Some experts note that the M1919 meets the criteria to be classified as a GPMG; others say the M1919 doesn’t meet all of the requirements. To some, the M1919 Browning and the FN Mag are both GPMGs.

    Regarding the forward/reverse selector, and the idea of throwing the gearbox “into reverse whilst the vehicle is still moving forward” (previous comment), the article doesn’t state or suggest such a thing.

    About the Ferret’s compartments: Though the driver’s and commander’s seats aren’t separated by a barrier, several sources, such as Jane’s, describe the Ferret as having three internal compartments: driver’s, fighting, and engine. The driver’s position is forward; the commander’s is central; the engine’s is rear. In any case, when the commander was looking out the top or manning the turret, he was at least partially occupying a space physically separate from that of the driver.

    Regarding the Ferret’s ability to start off in any gear, this is according to Grant’s Militaria, an Australian source, which informs me that this attribute is gleaned from a Ferret handbook and personal experience.

    Reply

  3. a2zwebservice
    April 11, 2013 @ 7:41 am

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    Reply

  4. harry haug
    July 17, 2013 @ 11:06 am

    Thanks for your input. My mate has a 1956 model and is doing another one up. He is in the Light Horse Regiment in Rockhampton QLD. Am trying to find out if some one can tell me for sure and certain what oil goes in the torque converter please, as we only know the old name for it was aero hydraulic. Wood appreciate if you could tell me please via my email harry.haug@gmail.com

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  5. George
    October 23, 2013 @ 5:47 pm

    What does it weigh in lbs?

    Reply

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