Like other armored cars of World War 1 (1914-1918), the Belgian Minerva Armored Car was a hastily-generated mobile machine gun platform based on an existing civilian market automobile chassis and forced into battlefield service at the outbreak of war. The cars marked the first deployment of armored car types in the conflict and the other national powers quickly followed suit - though still depending heavily on cavalry for main offensive charges. The Minerva Armored Car was officially known as the "Auto Mitrailleuse Minerva" - or "AMM".
The original armored car design approach was attributed to one Lieutenant Charles Henkart and two vehicles were converted through the Cockerill Works at Hoboken for the role by having armor plating attached all around the existing framework. The work was completed in 1914 and a total of thirty-five vehicles were completed before the German advance through Belgium into France during the opening offensive of the conflict.
The cars retained their general civilian form with their long wheelbase and forward engine compartment. The driver position remained at front-right (complete with vision port) and an armored superstructure was erected over the driver's compartment and passenger seating area at the rear. Thickness of the armor was up to 4mm and the vehicles weighed some four tons. Dimensionally the cars had a length of 4.9 meters, a width of 1.75 meters, and a height of 2.3 meters. Their length and wheelbase dictated a wide turn radius and the added weight over the rear axle forced a second tire to be added to each side while a spare was carried over the rear platform.
Drive power was through an in-house Minerva 8L series, 4-cylinder gasoline-fueled engine of 40 horsepower which allowed for a maximum road speed of 25 miles-per-hour. Cross-country travel was possible, though severely restricted, due to the vehicle's weight and fragile nature. Operational ranges reached 90 miles.
The standard operating crew was four with an additional three personnel (typically sharpshooters) carried for a full combat complement. Armament became a sole 8mm Hotchkiss Model 1909/1912/1914 air-cooled machine gun fitted over the rear section in an open-air compartment. A gunshield provided some protection for the operator. Other members of the crew could engage enemies with their own personal weapons as needed.
In practice, the cars were attached to existing cavalry units and generally operated in groups of three to provide useful firing arcs for the machine guns. Their role included such sorties as scouting and general reconnaissance where their mechanized nature allowed them to meander behind the enemy front lines to help collect information on strength, movement, and positions. They were also relatively protected - though only up to small arms fire as a nearby artillery strike could utterly destroy the vehicle in short order. The cars proved hugely useful in the early-going when the war was fluid but saw reduced value once the Western Front bogged down into a trench-versus-trench slugfest (which, in turn, pushed the development of the "tank"). During 1916, the vehicles were revised with an enclosed fighting compartment which also included a better-protected machine gun position. A handful of cars fell to the Germans during the fighting and these were reconstituted back into service to be used against their former owners.
The last Minerva Armored Cars were removed from Belgian service in 1935.