Armored Cars of WWI

by Michael Satterfield

World War I changed the way wars were fought forever, it was the first conflict where fighter planes took to the skies, the horror of chemical weapons was unleashed, and the humble cars of the day were transformed into machine-gun equipped armored vehicles. 

The first cars to go into battle were not armored, some of the early uses of cars in WWI were to rescue downed airmen who were behind enemy lines. In the summer of 1914, Wing Commander Charles Rumney Samson attached a Maxim machine gun to the back of his Rolls-Royce tourer and started conduction patrols.

Samson had his men patrol the French and Belgian countryside in privately owned cars, his Rolls-Royce and a Mercedes. These cars would eventually become Britain's first armored battle cars, under the Royal Naval Air Service branch. Sampson's success prompted the Royal Navy to design purpose-built armored cars and trucks to be used by the Royal Marines in Europe.

RNAS armored cars during the Battle of Gallipoli, 1915.

Most of these early armored cars looked like boilers on wheels but they changed the way battles were fought. The early concept was tested by the Belgian Army in 1914 called the "Minerva Armored Car", essentially militarized touring vehicles dressed up for war.  Lieutenant Charles Henkart arranged for two of his civilian Minerva Motor Works tourers to be armored, while those two cars were bespoke, Minerva would go on to produce a standard design that would go on to be used with great success by the Belgian Cavalry, organized in three-cars platoons that could conduct hit and run raids, rescue missions, and reconnaissance.

Armoured Autocars of the Canadian Automobile Machine Gun Brigade

Another early design was employed by the Canadian Automobile Machine Gun Brigade was the Autocar an open-top armored truck with two machine guns mounted on it. The Brigade also had officers cars and its own ambulance and played a major role in halting the German Spring Offensive of 1918.

Rolls Royce armored cars
But as the war wore on more advanced designs were produced. When the European theater shifted to trench warfare, armored cars were shifted to Russia, China the Middle East, where Lawrence of Arabia, said, “A Rolls in the desert is above rubies.” Many of the cars sent to the Middle East remained in service through World War II.

Minerva Armored Car
The Germans also built their own armored vehicles like the Panzerkraftwagen Ehrhardt E-V/4, which weighed nearly 9 tons, had a crew of eight, and could support up to three machine-guns. The E-V/4 was used in Germany until for internal policing until the mid-1930s, serving a similar role as a modern SWAT vehicle.

 Panzerkraftwagen Ehrhardt E-V/4 note the forward wheel flanges to help deflect mud build-up between the tire spokes. 

Check out more photos of the Armored Cars of WWI:

Austin armored car

Austin armored car

Austin armored car

Austin likely being operated by Russian Forces

 Rolls-Royce WWI armored car

Rolls-Royce armored car