by John Norris
Realizing its deficiencies in the numbers of armored cars operating in the reconnaissance role with armored units, the British army belatedly set about remedying this imbalance. As WWII progressed, the British army employed a range of armored vehicles to fulfill a number of roles, in particular with the reconnaissance units whose job it was to move ahead to locate the enemy and report back their dispositions and strength. The reconnaissance units’ vehicles tended to be very light – lightly armored and armed – which meant they were usually quite fast even over rough terrain.
One such vehicle was the Morris Light Reconnaissance Car (LRC), built in two different marks. It is among the smallest vehicles of its type to be used in this role. The vehicle filled all criteria and went on to provide excellent service that continued into post-war years.
The Morris Light Reconnaissance Car entered service in 1942 and was deployed with units to Tunisia and Italy, and as the number increased during the build-up in readiness for the invasion of Europe, they would come to see service in the Normandy Campaign. The design was never intended to replace other vehicles serving in the reconnaissance role, such as the Humber or Daimler scout cars, but rather to supplement them in their duties first within the Reconnaissance Corps and then when this unit was absorbed, later with the Royal Armored Corps. The Royal Air Force Regiment used around 200 Morris LRCs for patrolling forward airfields after the Normandy Landings and security at other bases. Some Polish units used the vehicle for reconnaissance duties, also.
The Morris LRC was built in two versions, the Mk I and the Mk II. Around 2,290 vehicles in both marks were built. The first version of this four-wheeled design had two-wheel drive on the rear axle and was built by the Nuffield Group and measured 13 feet 3 inches in length and 6 feet 8 inches in width. The height to the top of the open-topped turret set to the right of the vehicle was 6 feet 2 inches. It was fitted with armor varying in thickness from 8mm to 14mm which afforded some degree of protection against small arms fire but not against larger calibers. The vehicle weighed 3.69 tons, and with a rear-mounted Morris four-cylinder petrol engine, developing 71hp at 3,100 RPM, it could achieve speeds up to 50mph on roads. This layout gave it an elongated rear deck area and a rather stubby bow-fronted appearance with a short glacis plate. A fuel tank holding 14 gallons gave it an operational range of 250 miles and was operated by a crew of three.
The crew sat in line abreast with the driver’s position in the middle. This allowed the man to his left to operate the radio and fire the Boys .55 inch calibre anti-tank rifle. The man to the driver’s right operated the .303 inch calibre Bren Gun mounted in the turret. The Boys anti-tank rifle by 1942 had little if any value against armored vehicles, but it could still be used against light trucks. It weighed 36 lbs and measured 63.5 inches in length and was probably best used mounted in a vehicle because of these factors. It fired a steel-cored armor-piercing bullet with a muzzle velocity of 3,250 fps and could penetrate 20mm of armor at ranges of over 500 yards. The Bren Gun fired 500 rounds per minute cyclic from box magazines and was useful against infantry out to the range of 600 yards and gave the Morris good self-defense armament.
The front of the turret had a long vertical opening and veterans who operated the vehicle felt vulnerable to this because they believed the opening allowed bullets to enter. The position for the Boys anti-tank rifle had a pair of hinged covers which could be folded down to give some overhead protection against shell splinters.
The underside of the Morris LRC Mk I was flat and free from any protuberances and a good ground clearance made it suitable for cross-country operations. The front wheels were equipped with large coiled springs to provide independent suspension and semi-elliptical springs absorbed the shock during cross-country operations. A variant of the Mk I was developed and this served in the observation role being given the designation of Morris Mk I OP. It was fitted with a pair of range-finders and used for spotting the fall of shot for artillery batteries. The radio operator would relay changes to be made direct to the gun positions to engage enemy targets.
As useful as the Morris Mk I was it was felt the two-wheeled drive could be improved and calls were made to produce a four-wheeled drive version for improved cross-country capabilities. This request was met in 1943 and resulted in the Morris LRC Mk II. There were no real external differences and only a slight increase in weight due to semi-elliptical leaf springs being fitted all round. Apart from that, all operational abilities remained unaltered. The role remained the same and even saw the vehicle being used by other specialist units such as the Royal Engineers who used it in reconnaissance roles and for liaison duties.
It has been claimed in some areas that the Royal Armored Corps did not entirely rate the Morris LRC very highly, but then no vehicle ever comes up to all expectations and there will always be critics saying that a vehicle could be better. One cause for this criticism may be due to the fact that the level of armor protection was never improved, not even on the Mk II, and that storage space for kit and extra ammunition was poorly thought out. Despite this the vehicle served well in its appointed role and supplemented other reconnaissance vehicles used by units such as the 43rd (Wessex) Division. The Morris LRC was never meant to be used in front-line action against armored units, but rather to operate as covertly as possible and that should be remembered when considering its overall wartime performance.
Apart from the army units’ use of the Morris LRC, the Royal Air Force Regiment employed the vehicle to provide the security and defense for airfields. Among the first operational deployment roles was to provide security at an air base at Bradwell Bay in Essex, England. During the Tunisian Campaign from March 1943 the RAF Regiment used their Morris LRCs alongside the British 1st Army at such locations as ‘Tally Ho Corner’ where they provided security. In January 1944 units of the RAF Regiment serving on the Azores deployed Morris LRCs to guard airfields. Although the Azores were and still are a Portuguese possession and the country was neutral during the war, they still allowed the Allies to maintain bases on the islands. Despite this status the airfields still had to be guarded against possible saboteurs.
After the Normandy Landings the RAF Regiment moved forward with their Morris LRCs, advancing around Bretteville in late June 1944. They were even involved with Operation Goodwood, the break-out action south-east of Caen on 18 July 1944. The Morris was used until the end of the war and for several years after, before finally be phased out of service.