Rolls-Royce Armoured Car

The Rolls-Royce Armoured Car was a British armoured car developed in 1914 and used during the First World War, Irish Civil War, the inter-war period in Imperial Air Control in Transjordan, Israel and Mesopotamia, and in the early stages of the Second World War in the Middle East and North Africa.

Rolls Royce Armoured Car
Rolls Royce 1920 Mk1 Armoured Car at The Tank Museum, Bovington
TypeArmoured car
Place of originUnited Kingdom
Service history
In service1915 - 1944
WarsFirst World War
Irish War of Independence
Irish Civil War
Second World War
Production history
No. built120 (First World War)
VariantsRolls-Royce 1920 Pattern, Rolls-Royce 1924 Pattern, Fordson Armored Car, Rolls Royce Indian Pattern[1]
Mass4.7 tonnes[1]
Length4.93 m (194 in)[1]
Width1.93 m (76 in)[1]
Height2.54 m (100 in)[1]
Crew3 (commander, driver, and machine-gunner)[1]

Armor12 mm (0.47 in)
.303 (7.7 mm) Vickers machine gun[1]
Engine6-cylinder petrol, water-cooled [1]
80 hp (60 kW)[1]
Power/weight19 hp/tonne
Suspension4x2 wheel (double rear wheels), leaf spring[1]
240 km or 150 miles[1]
Maximum speed 72 km/h (45 mph)[1]

Production historyEdit

The Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) raised the first British armoured car squadron during the First World War.[2] In September 1914 all available Rolls Royce Silver Ghost chassis were requisitioned to form the basis for the new armoured car. The following month a special committee of the Admiralty Air Department, among whom was Flight Commander T.G. Hetherington, designed the superstructure which consisted of armoured bodywork and a single fully rotating turret mounting a regular water-cooled .303-in (7.7 mm) Mk I Vickers machine gun.

The first three vehicles were delivered on 3 December 1914, although by then the mobile period on the Western Front, where the primitive predecessors of the Rolls-Royce cars had served, had already come to an end.[2] Later in the war they served on several fronts of the Middle Eastern theatre.[3] Chassis production was suspended in 1917 to enable Rolls-Royce to concentrate on aero engines.[4]

The vehicle was modernized in 1920 and in 1924, resulting in the Rolls-Royce 1920 Pattern and Rolls-Royce 1924 Pattern. In 1940, 34 vehicles which served in Egypt with the 11th Hussars regiment had the "old" turret replaced with an open-topped unit carrying a .55 (13.9 mm) Boys anti-tank rifle, .303-in (7.7 mm) Bren light machine gun, and smoke-grenade launchers.

Some vehicles in Egypt and Iraq received new chassis from a Fordson truck and became known as Fordson Armoured Cars. Pictures [1] show them as equipped with what appear to be turrets fitted with a Boys ATR, a machine gun and twin light machine guns for anti-aircraft defence.

In addition to RNAS and Tank Corps-supplied armoured cars, the RAF had Rolls Royces built to equip its armoured car companies. This was done independently of the War Office. They were designated Car, Armoured, Rolls Royce Type A. Shaped like the 1914 RNAS car, they were fitted with the 1920 turret.[5]

Combat historyEdit

A 1924 Pattern Rolls-Royce Armoured Car with a "new" open-topped turret in the Bardia area of the Western Desert, 1940.

Six RNAS Rolls-Royce squadrons were formed of 12 vehicles each: one went to France; one to Africa to fight in the German colonies and in April 1915 two went to Gallipoli. From August 1915 onwards these were all disbanded and the materiel handed over to the Army which used them in the Light Armoured Motor Batteries of the Machine Gun Corps. The armoured cars were poorly suited to the muddy trench filled battlefields of the Western Front, but were able to operate in the Near East, so the squadron from France went to Egypt.[3]

Lawrence of Arabia used a squadron in his operations against the Turkish forces.[1] He called the unit of nine armoured Rolls-Royces "more valuable than rubies" in helping win his Revolt in the Desert.[1] This impression would last with him the rest of his life; when asked by a journalist what he thought would be the thing he would most value he said "I should like my own Rolls-Royce car with enough tyres and petrol to last me all my life".[1]

Irish Rolls-Royce Armoured Car Co. Cork 1941
Two of thirteen Rolls-Royce armoured cars used during the Irish Civil War: The Fighting 2nd (ARR3) and The Big Fella (ARR8)

In the Irish Civil War (1922–1923), 13 Rolls-Royce armoured cars were given to the Irish Free State government by the British government to fight the Irish Republican Army.[1][6] They were a major advantage to the Free State in street fighting and in protecting convoys against guerrilla attacks[citation needed] and played a vital role part in the retaking of Cork and Waterford. Despite continued maintenance problems and poor reaction to Irish weather, they continued in service until 1944, being withdrawn once new tyres became unobtainable. Twelve of the Irish Army examples were stripped and sold in 1954.[6]

At the outbreak of the Second World War, 76 vehicles were in service. They were used in operations in the Western Desert, in Iraq, and in Syria.[6] By the end of 1941, they were withdrawn from frontline service as modern designs became available. Some Indian Pattern cars saw use in the Indian subcontinent and Burma.


  • 1920 Pattern Mk I - thicker radiator armour and new wheels.
  • 1920 Pattern Mk IA - commander's cupola.
  • 1924 Pattern Mk I - turret with commander's cupola.
  • 1921 Indian Pattern - based on the 1920 Pattern. Had extended hull armour to provide extra space and a domed turret with four ball mounts for machine guns.[6]
  • Fordson - based on a 1914 Pattern. Some vehicles in Egypt received new chassis from Fordson trucks.

A single experimental vehicle had the turret removed and replaced by a one-pounder automatic anti-aircraft gun on an open mounting. Some cars had Maxim machine guns instead of the Vickers gun.


Rolls Royce Armoured Car modified for desert warfare, on display at the Haynes Motor Museum.
  • ARR-2, Sliabh na mBan, 1920 Pattern Rolls-Royce was retained by the Irish Army and is generally accepted to be the car that was accompanying the Commander-in-Chief of the National Army, General Michael Collins, on the day he was killed.[1] It is the world's oldest serving armoured vehicle[7] and one of only two original Rolls Royce armoured cars still running today. It is regularly aired during parades and open days, often being driven under its own power. It has recently undergone a complete refurbishment, which involved a complete strip down and rebuild.[6] It is maintained by the Irish Defence Forces Cavalry Corps in the Curragh Camp.
  • A Rolls-Royce 1920 Pattern Mark I is on display at The Tank Museum in Bovington, England. The vehicle is displayed in the museum's inter-war years gallery. David Wiley, curator of the museum, called it "one of the best exhibits we have" [1]
  • One of the 12 sold (ARR-1 Danny Boy/Tom Keogh) survives with a collector in England.[citation needed] This vehicle carries replica bodywork.
  • A 1920 pattern Rolls Royce armoured car is displayed in sand colour at the RAF Regiment Heritage Centre at RAF Honington. It had previously been on display at the RAF Museum at Hendon. The armour is a facsimile of the original, built on an original Rolls-Royce chassis in the 1960s.
  • A Rolls Royce armoured car replica is on display at Eaton Hall, Cheshire, home of the Duke of Westminster, and can be viewed at charity open days of the Hall.
  • A Rolls Royce 1921 Indian Pattern is on display at Cavalry Tank Museum at Ahmednagar, India.
  • Haynes Motor Museum has a 1914 pattern Rolls Royce with replica bodywork, restored to resemble the Desert Rolls that accompanied Lawrence of Arabia.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Jim Motavalli (April–May 2009). "The Bulletproof Ghost". Military History. Leesburg VA: Weider History Group. 26 (1): 58–63.
  2. ^ a b First World War - Willmott, H.P., Dorling Kindersley, 2003, Page 59
  3. ^ a b Rolls S.C. (1937). Steel Chariots in the Desert. Leonaur Books.
  4. ^ Pugh, Peter (2001). The Magic of a Name - The Rolls-Royce Story: The First 40 Years. Icon Books. ISBN 1-84046-151-9.
  5. ^ Warwick, Dr Nigel WM (2014). In Every Place: The RAF Armoured Cars in the Middle East 1921-1953. Rushden, Great Britain: Forces and Corporate. p. 608. ISBN 978-0-9574725-2-5.
  6. ^ a b c d e Advani, Sabu (2009). Carpenter, Rhonda; Iwalani, Kahikina (eds.). "Rolls-Royce Armored Cars". The International Club for Rolls-Royce & Bentley Owners Desk Diary 2010. Tampa, FL USA: Faircount: 40–45.
  7. ^ Combat Camera, Issue 8, May 2014, Page 14 & 15
  • I. Moschanskiy - Armored vehicles of the Great Britain 1939–1945 part 2, Modelist-Konstruktor, Bronekollektsiya 1999-02 (И. Мощанский - Бронетанковая техника Великобритании 1939–1945 часть 2, Моделист-Конструктор, Бронеколлекция 1999-02).

External linksEdit