Bren Gun Carrier

The Bren Gun Carrier was most famous entry in the series of tracked carriers produced for the British Army during the Second World War, and although it was soon replaced by the far more numerous Universal Carrier it was the Bren Gun Carrier name that stuck.

Bren Gun Carrier near Arras, 1939
Bren Gun Carrier near Arras, 1939

In 1935 Vickers-Armstrong had produced the D50, a tracked carrier designed to carry the Vickers medium machine gun into battle. This evolved into the Carrier, Machine Gun No.2 Mark I, the first type to be ordered into mass production. The Machine Gun Carrier No.2 was very similar to the Bren Gun Carrier. It had the same Ford V8 engine, same Horstmann suspension system and same steering system. It was the first version to include the distinctive gunner’s position, jutting out in front of the driver. However in 1935 the British Army adopted the Bren light machine gun to replace the older Lewis gun and it was decided to modify the Machine Gun Carrier to carry the Bren Gun instead of the Vickers Gun. The logic was that Bren guns would be operating closer to the front line than Vickers guns and would this need some protect to get into action. Machine Gun Battalions were equipped with un-armoured lorries in the expectation that they would be operating some way behind the front line.

The first contract to specifically name the Bren Gun Carrier was placed in November 1937 with the Sentinel Wagon Company. All existing contracts for the Machine Gun Carrier No.2 were also changed to call for the Bren Gun Carrier.

The Bren Gun Carrier was one of a family of vehicles that were produced at the same time. The Scout Carrier was designed as a light reconnaissance vehicle for use with mechanized cavalry regiments. A larger rear crew compartment was carried to the right of the engine (making it look like the Universal Carrier from the right), with an open storage area to the left. The Cavalry Carrier was meant to carry eight men and their rifles into action. The front was the same as on the Bren Gun Carrier, but the rear was open on both sides. Seating was placed along the top of the track covers, with back rests on the outside of the vehicle. The men sat with their feet in the gap between the tracks and the engine.

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

Even as production of these vehicles was getting underway it was realised that a single ‘Universal’ carrier could do all of their jobs. Early in 1939 a design was produced for the new Universal Carrier. This had the same crew compartment at the front, and the same engine as the Bren Gun Carrier. However it had full length compartments on either side of the engine, so the entire rear of the vehicle was enclosed. This is the version of the Carrier that has now become familiar, but it is still often called a Bren Gun Carrier.

1,301 Bren Gun Carriers were accepted in 1938. Production then switched to the Universal Carrier.


The Bren Gun Carrier was a small tracked vehicle, with an open topped crew compartment at the front. This was protected by 10mm of armour. The driver and gunner sat in this compartment, with the driver on the right and gunner on the left. The Bren gun needed a crew of two, so a third crewmember sat in the back.

A slot was provided to allow the gunner to fire from within the vehicle, but the theory was that the carrier would be used to bring the gun crew to the front line, where they would leave the vehicle and fight dismounted. The driver would stay in the vehicle to allow for quick movement. 

Power was provided by a Ford V8 engine which was carried in the centre of the rear part of the vehicle, with the final drive behind it. This split the rear of the vehicle into two parts. On the Bren Gun carrier the area to the right of the engine was left open, and was used for storage. The third crewmember’s compartment was on the left. This was another open topped compartment which took up about half of the space, and ended in a sloped plate that could be folded open for access. 

Bren Gun Carriers pass refugees, Belgium, 1940
Bren Gun Carriers pass refugees, Belgium, 1940

The key advantage of the Bren Gun Carrier family compared to earlier tankettes and light carriers was its steering system. 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

The Bren Gun 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.


Each 1940 Infantry Battalion was to be equipped with a Carrier Platoon as part of the headquarter’s company. Each of these platoons were to be equipped with ten Bren Carriers, one attached to platoon HQ, the rest split into three sections of three. 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.

The Bren Gun Carrier was used in the campaign in France in 1940. It proved to be reliable, but vulnerable to enemy fire, and could easily be overloaded. In the desperate fighting in 1940 they were often misused as combat vehicles, even being used to attack anti-tank guns. Their speed and small size made them harder to hit than tanks, but their very thin armour meant they were vulnerable to all anti-tank weapons. However they were generally popular vehicles, giving the infantry battalion commander the flexibility to move at least some of his troops and guns to a trouble spot quickly.

A number of Bren Gun Carriers made it to the Middle East, where they served with the infantry divisions fighting in the western desert in 1940, although in much smaller numbers than they should have had – the British Official History has them short by 500 carriers of all types!

The surviving Bren Gun Carriers remained in service after 1940, but they had been replaced on the production lines by the Universal Carrier in 1939, and it was that vehicle that was produced in vast numbers, seeing service on just about every front of the Second World War. However it would be the Bren Gun Carrier’s name that was remembered.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (1 April 2024), Bren Gun Carrier ,

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