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The Armoured Autocar in Canadian Service

The Armoured Autocar in Canadian Service Book Review

By Cookie Sewell

Date of Review September 2007 Title The Armoured Autocar in Canadian Service
Author Cameron Pulisfer Publisher Service Publications
Published 2007 ISBN 1-894581-38-7
Format 24 pages, softbound MSRP (CDN) $9.95


When I got the change to visit the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa back in 1992, one of the oddest things I found in the main collection was a vehicle that looked for all the world like an armored buckboard with two Vickers machine gun and a Lewis mounted on it. At the time I looked for a signboard and description but couldn't fine one other than something saying it was a WWI armored truck.

Fast forward 15 years, and now Dr. Cameron Pulisfer, who is the historian for the Canadian War Museum, has written another nice little Service Pub "Weapons of War" book that describes this vehicle in great detail. This is an Armoured Autocar 4 x 2 truck purchased by Canada from the United States during the First World War to form the first full-fledged Canadian armored vehicle unit.

When WWI broke out, Canada, like many other countries, decided to use motorized vehicles for war purposes and began to seek out a suitable vehicle for use. The officer responsible for this project, Raymond Brutinel, began to conduct his search for a machine gun carrier. While much in the manner of the US Civil War patriotic citizens funded the odd mechanized unit such as the "Eaton Battery" and the "Borden Battery," Brutinel found what he was looking for at the American Autocar truck company. Autocar had a handy sized truck chassis powered by a two-cylinder "boxer" motor producing 22 HP, which fit under the floor and thus provided a "cab-over-engine" design that made it compact but powerful. In late August 1914 Brutinel signed a contract for eight armored versions of the truck, but in the end Canada received 19 Autocar trucks: eight armored machine gun carriers, five support vehicles, one gasoline and oil carrier, four "roadster" personnel carriers for officers, and an ambulance provided free by the Autocar company.

The trucks had light armor protection which was only capable of stopping conventional bullets at ranges of 60 yards or more (so it was claimed). Folding shields protected the gunners in action, and the vehicles were armed with two Model 1914 Colt .30 caliber machine guns. These guns, modified versions of the famous Model 1895 "potato digger," were ill-suited to their intended purpose and were replaced when the vehicles got to France with Vickers .303 guns.

Designated "Automobile Machine Gun Brigade No. 1" the unit trained until October 1914 and then deployed with the first Canadian contingent. But the unit remained in England for a number of reasons, most likely being that somebody doped out the fact that in the burgeoning trench system just beginning to flower wheeled vehicles were useless. The brigade finally got to France in 1916 and began to provide mobile machine gun support to Canadian forces.

With its two machine guns and an ammunition capacity of 12,000 rounds, the Autocars did eventually provide good service as a "flyaway" response team to deliver extra machine gun support to the infantry in the trenches, deploying nearby and using indirect fire and "beaten zones" to suppress enemy troops. Four of the vehicles were lost in combat and four survived the war, but when the dust settled only one remained long after the war, and Captain (later Major General) F. F. Worthington, the "father" of the Canadian armoured forces that fought in the Second World War, managed to save it for posterity. A photo in the book shows him passing in review in the survivor during one of its last driven performances.

The plans are very nicely done and show the markings of the survivor. Since Service uses color covers, there is a "Photoshop" version of the surviving Autocar on the cover, but unlike many other publications Service does "fess up" inside when describing it.

Overall this a really nice little book about one of those forgotten pages in both American and Canadian history.

Thanks to Service Publications for the review copy.