Universal Carrier

The Universal Carrier was a development of the earlier Bren Gun Carrier, and was designed to perform the same roles as the Bren Gun, Scout and Cavalry Carriers, but without having to produce separate dedicated vehicles. It was produced in very large numbers for the British Army, with around 52,000 produced in the United Kingdom (including the 3in Mortar Carrier and Armoured Observation Post variants) and another 29,000 in Canada. The Universal Carrier was used by every Commonwealth Army and in just about every theatre of the Second World War, often in roles that it had never been designed for.


The Universal Carrier came at the end of a long series of tracked carriers produced for the British Army. An early form had been produced towards the end of the First World War, the Supply Tank. Next came the Carden-Loyd Mk VI tankette. This was the most successful in a series of Carden-Loyd vehicles that begin life as a one man tankette (the Mk I, Mk II and Mk III). These were tiny tracked vehicles, with a simple body capable of carrying one man and a machine gun, and with a rather odd armoured shield that makes it look rather like a toy dog! This was followed the two man Mk IV, which rather resembles a miniature Universal Carrier. The most successful version was the Mk VI, which was slightly larger and was the only version to enter mass production. The basic version was a two-man opened topped machine gun carrier, armed with a single Vickers gun that could also be removed and used by the dismounted crew. It was 8ft 1in long and 5ft 7 wide, making it the largest of the Carden Loyd vehicles, making it shorter than a modern hatchback car, but around the same width. A range of variants were produced, included some with turrets. 

Universal Carrier in Holland, 1945 Universal Carrier in Holland, 1945

In 1934 Vickers-Armstrongs, who by then owned Carden-Loyd, built a new, larger carrier, the D50. This introduced a new steering system that eliminated one major flaw with the Carden-Loyd carriers, reverse steering, where a vehicle going downhill could sometimes end up turning in the opposite direction to the one intended. This was a left hand drive vehicle, with the gunner on the right. The two crew sat inside a rectangular armoured box. Four seats were carried running lengthways along the inside of the tracks

This was followed by the Experimental Armoured Machine Gun Carrier, which swapped to right hand drive, added back rests for the rear seats but kept the same tracks, engine and transmission as the D50.

In April 1936 an order was placed for thirteen modified vehicles, as the Carrier, Machine Gun, No.1 Mark I. This eliminated the seats on the tracks, but added a small protected compartment for a third crewman behind the machine gunner. It kept the simple box shaped superstructure for the driver and gunner.

This was followed by the Carrier, Machine Gun, No.2 Mark I, the first to enter mass production. The biggest change made to this version was the addition of an enlarged gunner’s position that jutted forward over the glacis plate, giving the gunner a much better field of fire. It also had a raised upper section, improving his protection.

In 1937 it was decided to change the gun in the carrier from a Vickers gun to the new Bren Gun. This produced the famous Bren Gun Carrier. It was otherwise very similar to the Machine Gun carrier No.2, with the same distinctive shape to the front and the same crew of three. The idea was that the carrier would bring the Bren gun to the battlefield, and the two man gun crew would then dismount and use the gun, while the vehicle withdrew to a safer place.

The Bren Gun Carrier was produced alongside two similar models, the Scout Carrier, which carried a radio, and the Cavalry Carrier, which could carry eight soldiers into battle. The Bren Gun Carrier and Scout Carrier served in France in 1940, and it is possible that the Cavalry Carrier was used as a crew transport by the 1st Army Tank Brigade.

By 1939 it was clear that the idea of producing three different but similar carrier designs was rather wasteful, and so production moved onto the Universal Carrier, a single design that could quickly be adapted to perform any required role.

The first contract for the Universal Carrier was placed on 1 April 1939 and was for 2,275 vehicles to be produced by Aveling-Barford, Sentinel Waggon, Nuffield and Thornycroft. This was followed by larger orders in September, and the Universal Carrier remained in production throughout the war.

Description of Universal Carrier

The Universal Carrier retained the same front cabin as the Bren Gun Carrier, with the driver on the right behind a straight panel and the gunner on the left behind the jutting out gun position (their seats were level with each other, giving the gunner more space in front to operate the gun). At the back was a fully enclosed rear compartment, with armour on both sides and the rear. The engine ran down the middle of this compartment, with an armoured top but detachable mild steel sides. On either side were two small compartments, which could carry more men, supplies or a combination of both.

Universal Carrier from the front left Universal Carrier from the front left

The Universal Carrier used a modified version of the Horstmann slow-motion suspension system, also called the ‘double spring’ type by Vickers. This was used on the pre-war Vickers Light Tanks, and on the Dragon artillery tractors. On those vehicles there were two bogies on each side, each carrying two wheels. In the original version of this system both wheels on the bogie were carried on a bell crank. The horizontal arms of the bell cranks were connected to each other by a hinge. The vertical arms were connected by a spring. If one wheel was pushed up the vertical arm of the bell crank would be pushed towards the other wheel, compressing the spring.

A modified version was introduced on the Light Tank Mk III which had one wheel on a bell crank and the other on a simple straight bar. The spring was connected diagonally from the top of the bell crank on one wheel to a position close to the central point on the other wheel.

On the Universal Carrier, and all vehicles descended from the D50 there were only three road wheels on each side (although some related vehicles produced in Canada and USA had four). The front two were paired in a bogie similar to that used on the Light Tank Mk III, with the bell crank on the middle wheel. The rear wheel formed a ‘half bogie’. This had a fixed bell crank in front of the pivot, attached by a spring to the centre of the rear wheel.

The Horstmann suspension provided a relatively smooth ride and good cross country performance. The position of the springs meant that it didn’t take up much space, and didn’t need any room above the road wheels. The front pair of wheels operated together, making it less likely that either of them would come off the ground leaving too much weight on the other.

The Universal Carrier used the same steering system that had been developed on the D50. The front road wheels were carried on a single strong axle that could move sideways. Gentle turns on the steering wheel moved this axle in the required direction, curving the tracks and making the carrier steer in that direction. For tighter turns the wheel could be turned further, activating brakes on the required side. This was a simple system to use, and eliminated the danger of ‘reverse steering’ which been present on earlier Carden-Loyd Carriers, where on a slope they could turn in the opposite direction to the one required.

All of the carriers were powered by a Ford V-8 engine. However four different types of this engine were used. Vehicles powered by the British built 65hp Type 79E were designated as the Carrier, Universal, No.1 Mark I. Those with the 85hp American built EGAE engine were the No.2. Those with the 85hp American built EGAEA were the No3. Those with a 95hp Canadian CO1UC engine were the No.3. These numbers remained standard throughout all later versions of the Universal Carrier.


Some Universal Carriers went to France in 1940 with the 52nd (Lowland) Division towards the end of the battle of France.

After the evacuation from Dunkirk Britain was desperately short of tanks, so the Universal Carrier had to step into that role

The original 1940 plan was for each Infantry Battalion to have a Carrier Platoon, made up of ten carriers – one with the platoon HQ and three sections of three. As more Universal Carriers began available that was raised to four sections of three, for a total of 13 carriers. Each vehicle would have a crew of three and carry a Bren gun. One vehicle in each section would also carry a Boys anti-tank rifle. The idea was the Bren Gun Carrier would get the gun and its crew to where it was needed. They would then dismount with the gun to fight, while the driver moved back to a safer location.

Universal Carriers in Southern England, summer 1944 Universal Carriers in Southern England, summer 1944

In 1941 new Divisional Reconnaissance Battalions were formed, to be administered by the Reconnaissance Corps. Each battalion was to contain one infantry platoon in trucks and three scout platoons. Each scout platoon was to have three sections, one with Beaverettes or Humber Light Reconnaissance Cars, two with three Universal Carriers each. In 1944 the Corps moved to the Royal Armoured Corps and the platoons became troops, but otherwise remained the same.

The Universal Carrier was used in the armoured reconnaissance regiment of the Airborne Divisions. This was made up of a number of squadrons, each made up of three troops equipped with two carriers and two Jeeps. The support squadron contained two more troops each with three carriers. The Universal Carrier could be carried by the Hamilcar Glider.

In 1943 Motor Battalions were formed to act as integrated parts of an armoured brigade. In 1943 each of these battalions had a Scout Platoon. The HQ had two Universal Carriers, two scout cars and two motorbikes. It also contained three sections, each with three carriers and a motorbike. The Scout Platoon had three jobs – reconnaissance, protection when on the defensive, and to act as al ink between the armour and follow up troops during an assault.

The Universal Carrier could be modified to allow it to wade through 5ft of water by doubling the height of the body with extra steel panels and waterproofing the vehicle. Vehicles modified in this way took part in the landings at Salerno in 1943 and the D-Day landings in 1944.

The Universal Carrier was used in large numbers with the British and Commonwealth armies that took part in the D-Day invasion and the campaign in north-western Europe, and feature heavily in photographs of the period. However they are less visible in accounts of the fighting, performing useful tasks but not attracting much attention.

In the Far East 57 Universal Carriers were stranded in Manila after the Japanese entry into the war, and 40 were handed over to the Americans. However they were dangerously vulnerable to Japanese snipers and were soon out of action.

A handful were involved in the defence of Singapore, being used to transport part of the 4th Battalion, Suffolk Regiment, in a failed attack on 11 February 1942.

The Universal Carrier was used in just about every theatre where British or Commonwealth troops fought. However they were often used in roles for which they weren’t designed or suited. In North Africa it was common for tank regiments to use Bren Carriers in a reconnaissance troop, where their lack of armour made them very vulnerable. The desert conditions imposed a great strain on the Carriers, causing many problems with the engines, transmission and suspension. However the vehicle was fairly easy to repair.


After the end of the war most Universal Carriers were quickly scrapped. The larger Windsor and T16 Carriers were more likely to be retained, but in 1948 there were still hundreds of the smaller Universal Carriers in use with the British Army. Many were still active in 1950 and served with the Commonwealth Division during the Korean War.

Universal Carrier donated by people of Benin, Nigeria
Universal Carrier donated by people of Benin, Nigeria

The huge number of carriers that had been built meant that many saw service around the world after the war.

The Irish Army had more than 200, with some remaining in service into the 1960s.

In March 1956 the British gave 100 Universal Carriers to the West German Army, which had been established in 1955.

A number served with the Danish Army, where some were given 106mm recoilless anti-tank guns.

Egypt operated a number of Carriers during the Suez crisis of 1956.

The Isreali army operated a number of Carriers.


Universal Carrier Mark II

The Mk II entered production in 1942, and by the end of the war over 11,000 had been built in Britain. Production of the Mk II was split between Aveling-Barford, Sentinel Waggon, Nuffield, Thornycroft and Ford of Britain. The changes were fairly minor. More joints were welded than in the Mk I, making it easier to waterproof the vehicle. The front quarter of the tracks were protected by a larger cover, or valance, which included a foot step at the back rear to help the gunner and driver get into their compartments. A spare wheel and a tow rope were carried on the front of the vehicle and a large kit box across the rear. As well as new production, many of the Mark Is were upgraded to the new standards, often at small firms scattered across Britain.

Universal Carrier Mark III

The Mk III was produced by Ford. One contract has been found, dated to 1943. This was originally for 784 Mark IIs, but was then changed to the Mark III. Another 608 Mk IIIs were added to the same contract. A July 1944 contract for another 3,200 Mark IIIs was cancelled. The Mk III was described as like the Mark II but with modified air inlet and engine cover.

Canadian Production

Canadian production of the Universal Carrier began in 1941. The scheme was run by the Ford Motor Company of Canada. Armour plate was produced by Dominion Foundries and Steel, while the plates were heat treated and flattened by the Dominion Bridge Co. They were all powered by the 85hp American Ford V8 engine and initial production was designated as the No. Mark I*, with the * indicating Canadian production. An example of the Canadian carrier went to the MEE in Britain in December 1941 for performance tests against the British model, and was found to almost identical.

From 1943 production switched to the No.2 Mark II*, which was similar to the British Mk II apart from the inclusion of extra holes to allow for easy conversion to the flame thrower role.

Universal Carrier Mk II
Hull Length: 12ft
Hull Width: 7ft
Height: 5ft 3in
Crew: 4
Weight: 4.5 tons
Engine: Ford V-8
Max Speed: 30mph
Max Range: 140 miles
Armament: One .303in Bren light machine gun, One .55in Boys anti-tank rifle, 1 2in mortar or 4in smoke generator
Armour: 4-10mm



















3” Mortar



















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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (4 April 2024), Universal Carrier , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_universal_carrier.html

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