MV spotlight: Marmon-Herrington

The MK IV armored car

A product of South Africa? No, the MK IV armored car was based on a chassis supplied by Marmon Herrington of Indianapolis, Ind. The finished vehicles incorporated a mix of both Marmon Herrington parts and Canadian Ford components.

by John Norris

When it comes to identifying the country of origin of armored vehicles there is usually no doubt. The end user may be an overseas army but the actual design and company that produced the vehicle can be pinpointed due to certain identifying marks. There have been a few instances when things have become muddled, however, and a vehicle is attributed to another country even though the components have been supplied by different sources. One such occurrence happened during WWII when South Africa was credited with producing a range of armored cars called Marmon-Herringtons.

In truth, the company of Marmon-Herrington was based in the United States in Indianapolis, Ind., and produced a range of automotive components including four-wheel drive conversions for Ford trucks in the 1930s. During WWII, Marmon-Herrington supplied modified chassis to South Africa where they were used to produce armored cars and in an over simplification of things these vehicles became termed “Marmon-Herrington armored cars. A series of purpose-built armored cars were produced including the Mk IV, of which 2,116 were built in two versions.

The Mk IV and the Mk IVF incorporated a mixture of Marmon-Herrington and Canadian Ford components. Both designs were armed with a two-pound (40mm caliber) anti-tank gun mounted in a turret and a .30 inch caliber machine gun mounted co-axially with the suspension, rear-mounted engine and transmission all bolted to the hull. The design had no direct affinity with Marmon-Herrington and although built in large numbers, the requirement for the vehicle had largely passed by the time they began to enter service in 1943.

South Africa was encouraged to produce as many armored vehicles as possible, to help with the situation in North Africa to counter the Italians and the German Afrikakorps. In the see-saw campaign that saw the fighting swing eastward and then westward as first one side gained the advantage and then the other, Marmon-Herrington armored cars were involved.

The Mk IV MH carried sand channels or chutes which could be used to recover the vehicle if it became bogged down in sand. It was important to keep the vehicle mobile otherwise it could have become and easy target. Ground clearance was essential to avoid obstacles and help reduce the effect of a blast. The tyres were of the run-flat type intended for desert use.

 

DESIGNED FOR THE DESERT

While the earlier armored car designs had been useful with good turns of speed and endurance for desert warfare, they had lacked heavy armament. This led to the development of the Mk IV with a two-pound gun being fitted into a fully traversing two-man turret. The gun was the field-pattern type because it was felt the recoil of the tank-pattern weapon would be too powerful. Even so, a recuperator was fitted under the barrel and this was a prominent feature of the design. Secondary armament was a .30 inch calibre machine gun and a further machine gun could be fitted on the turret roof. On either side of the turret a smoke grenade discharger was fitted to help screen the vehicle’s movement over open group.

Both versions of the Mk IV were served by a three-man crew and the Mk IVF fitted with the Ford V-8 engine developing 95 bhp could reach speeds up to 50mph. The 4×4 design was 15 feet in length, 6 feet in width and 7 feet, 6 inches to the top of the turret. It weighed 6.12 tons and had a fuel capacity of 46 Imperial gallons that gave an operational range of 200 miles. Armor thickness was 12mm maximum and the vehicle was constructed using a combination of welded sections being bolted to the hull. This method can be seen on the gun mantlet and the bulkhead on the front of the vehicle. Carried on the vehicle were all the ancillary items necessary to maintain it in the field and sand-channels to help recover it in the event of becoming bogged down in deep sand. Positions were also provided for the stowage of a kit on the outside rear of the vehicle.

The driver’s position was well equipped with an opening to provide good visibility and an armored screen could be lowered for his protection. Steering was achieved by a standard steering wheel mounted in the middle facing straight ahead. To permit driving with the screen lowered, a vision block was fitted. Large side openings allowed the crew to enter and also give visibility to the sides. Access to the vehicle also could be achieved through the hatch in the turret roof.

It is understood the suffix letter ‘F’ in the Mk IV F version refers to the Ford components being used on the vehicle. Indeed, it was Canadian Ford F 60L three-ton four-wheel drive trucks with their driven front axles that provided the basis for the design. These components were brought in when there was a shortfall in supplies coming from the USA.

On the earlier versions with their lightweight weaponry, they were often supplemented and converted to carry heavier weapons using captured stocks of enemy weapons, including Italian heavy machine guns. With the appearance of the Mk IV, there was no need for such in-field modifications.

The Mk IV MH was a good solid vehicle and with speeds of up to 50 mph, was well suited to reconnaissance roles. The Mk IV MH looked more substantial than other comparable vehicles, which belied the fact it was only protected by armour plate only 12mm in thickness that still rendered it vulnerable to enemy fire.

 

SERVED, BUT NOT IN WWII

Unlike the earlier Mk II and Mk III vehicles that had been used extensively by British forces against the Italians in East Africa in early 1941, the Mk IV saw no combat service. The fighting had finished before the vehicles could be deployed.

The vehicle was kept in service and deployed to other regions  such as Batavia where the Royal Air Force used Mk IV Marmon-Herrington armored cars to restore and maintain the peace between the fighting factions of Indonesian nationals and colonial authorities in police actions.

 South Africa did retain some vehicles for its own use and although there were plans to develop a Mk VI version, it did not progress very far and the programme was canceled. The planned Mk VII and Mk VIII variants did not go beyond the prototype stages and they too were canceled.

After the war, the Mk IV Marmon-Herrington armored cars were sold to overseas armies, including the Greek Cypriot National Guard, but with the original Ford V-8 engines replaced by Perkins six-cylinder diesel engines.

Examples of the Mk IV are rare due to the limited numbers built but occasionally they do come up for sale to private buyers. One recently offered for sale was in reasonable condition but still requiring some refurbishment had a price tag of £10,000 GBP.

Marmon-Herrington Mk IV armored cars can be seen in some museums such as the Yad la-Shiryon in Israel. At the Bovington Tank Museum in Dorset in the UK, there is a fully operation example which the staff turn out for mobility displays. It is in the Greek Cypriot national colours and illustrates this unusual armored car in its post-war role.

The turret-mounted two-pound gun had elevation and depression and with full 360 degree traverse could engage targets easily. The gun fired “fixed ammunition” of the type used by the field gun in the anti-tank role which made it easier and faster to load. The recuperator under the barrel was a prominent feature.
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