Austin Armored Car (Series)
Over 200 Austin Armored Cars were produced from World War 1 and beyond, the last in service during the 1930s.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
The armored car prove its military value during the fighting of World War 1 (1914-1918) where mechanized forces were just beginning to find their place on the battlefield. Such vehicles offered mobile firing platforms and armored scouting services and able to affect any one given engagement of the conflict. While indispensible as they seemingly were, many of the early armored cars were simply built upon existing, civilian-minded, commercial automotive chassis that were never truly sound for frontline military service, particularly across uneven terrain while carrying the added weight from armor, armament and ammunition.
With the assassination of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire in June of 1914, Europe mobilized for war as long-standing alliances were brought into play. Among these was the Russian Empire who aligned with Serbia against Austria-Hungary and Germany and, in response, the Russians moved on forming their own mechanized armored corps stocked with armored cars for the war years ahead.
However, such a commitment soon found that Russian industrial infrastructure lacked the capacity to produce the vehicles needed. It was decided that Russian authorities would be sent abroad in the hopes of finding an armored car design suitable for use by its military forces and the search led to Britain where, in response, the Austin Motor Company moved to fulfill the Russian Army requirement and took a civilian car chassis, applied the needed military components and presented the product for review. In September of 1914, the Russians ordered the first 48 cars of what were known as the "Austin 1st Series".
The Austin cars still retained their general civilian appearance, particularly in their length and four, heavily- spoked, rubber-tired wheels set at the extreme corners of the design. Replacement wheels were carried into battle as an emergency measure while armor plating was added to the hull superstructure which accommodated four crew within. The crew consisted of the driver, the vehicle commander and a pair of machine gunners each manning 0.30 caliber machine guns in separate side-by-side traversing turrets set behind the driver's position. Armor protection ranged from 3mm to 4mm across the various facings. The 30 horsepower engine remained in a compartment at the front of the vehicle though the added armored superstructure made the vehicle back-heavy, putting considerable pressure on the rear axle and their driving wheels. The crew was allowed entry/exit through a double-panel, rear-mounted door and another door lay at the front-left side of the cabin. Power for the vehicle was served through an Austin 4-cylinder, inline, liquid-cooled, gasoline-fueled engine providing 50 horsepower. This was coupled to a four-speed (with 1 reverse) transmission system and the entire vehicle suspended atop a 4x2 wheeled suspension system which offered some cross-country capability. Operational range reached 125 miles while road speeds peaked at 35 miles per hour on ideal surfaces.
Once the first batch of Austin cars were delivered to Russia, authorities there arranged for improved protection by adding thicker armor plates along the front facings, the facings expected to see the most action from enemy guns. Despite this initiative, early actions shown the vehicles to be ill-protected and a complete reworking of their protection scheme was enacted through Izhorski Works (improved to 7mm). While crew protection was improved, this led to overweight vehicles that additionally stressed both their chassis and wheels all the more while limiting driving performance. Despite this drawback, the vehicles were nonetheless pressed into action mainly due to a lack of better alternatives.
Come March 1915 with the war now in full swing, a new improved version of the Austin appeared as the "Austin 2nd Series". Unlike the previous offering, a more heavy-duty chassis was selected in the 1.5-ton range and thusly a higher output Austin brand powerplant (50 horsepower) used to provide the needed performance. The rear entry-exit door was deleted and a completely new armored hull superstructure added which benefitted the machine gun firing arcs. At least 60 units were ordered by Russia and, upon their arrival, were reworked to better suit Russian Army needs. This included armored shields added along the sides of the machine gunner positions and a whole new rear-facing driver's position (adding one crew) which allowed the vehicle a method of escape without having to turn the entire car around its large turning radius.
Following closely to the specifications of the 2nd Series cars became the "Austin 3rd Series" which was ordered on August 25th, 1916. The side vision ports were reduced in size and bulletproof glass added at the front vision ports. Machine gun shields at the turrets were standard and the rear hull included the rear driving cabin.
The 3rd Series cars were selected by the Russian government for local manufacture and sixty chassis arrived from Austin while the armored hull superstructures were then worked on by the local concern of Putilov Works of St. Petersburg. The cars were expected for delivery in 1917 but Russian Revolution delayed their eventual entry until March of 1918 to which thirty-three cars were rolled out until production stopped in 1920. These came to be known popularly as "Russian Austins" or "Austin-Putilov" cars due to their true Austin origins.
At least sixteen of the Austins destined for Russia were claimed by the British Army after the Russian Revolution had taken hold. Notable British Army actions and Austin cars occurred during the Battle of Amiens (1918) where these vehicles were transported, under protection behind lumbering British tanks, and released after crossing No Man's Land. With their mobility and armament, the cars wreaked havoc on the stationed German forces which resulted in the capture of a whole headquarters.
Also in 1917, just prior to the Russian Revolution, the "Austin Model 1918" became another evolution of the Austin car line. The new model series included a reinforced chassis and double-tired rear wheel drive to counter the rear weight. However, the model was not shipped due to Russia (70 were on order) due to its internal turmoil and some of this model series were then acquired by the Japanese Army which used them into the 1930s.
One of the final Austin Armored Car versions of note utilized Austin-Putilov hulls mated to the halftrack running gear and chassis of the French Kegresse tractor which, in turn, produced the "Austin-Kegresse" model seeing twelve vehicles completed. Manufacture spanned from July of 1919 to March of 1920.
Beyond their use in World War 1, the Austin Armored Cars were heavily leaned on during the Russian Civil War by both the Red Army and White Army. One of the last Austin Armored Cars removed from service was an Austrian Army unit retired in 1935.