Available from HobbyLink Japan: http://hlj.com/product/DRABL3554/Mil
Saladin Mk.II Armored Car
It could be argued that the first armored car(riage) was presented by Leonardo da Vinci.
Leonardo was a prolific thinker, a serial inventor and an unadulterated challenger of convention, as well as one of the greatest artists of his, or any other time.
If one consults his surviving journals, one will find therein many examples of his genius, from his experiments in human form to his architectural plans. However, for me his most inspiring ‘creations’ (if only theoretical) have always been his great machines: his aircraft, water hoist, helicopter, giant crossbow, thread cutter and, of course, armored car.
More thought exercise than practical plan, the armored car plans were originally probably drawn for a presentation to Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, around 1485. Ludovico had sponsored Leonardo for years, ever since he had worked with the artist on methods of painting. He eagerly consumed the artist’s plans for war materials whilst amid the Italian Wars, seeking ways to offset his own forces’ numerical weaknesses against his powerful foes.
Leonardo’s planned armored car aimed at allowing a small number of soldiers to penetrate an enemy’s ranks in an invulnerable conveyance before causing confusion in said ranks with numerous cannons, and allowing friendly forces to exploit the breach formed. Its light guns were arranged on a circular platform which was based on four wheels and provided a firing range of 360 degrees.
As unfeasible as it might have been, the idea even then was not entirely new. Leonardo himself admitted to have looked to classical Roman sources, and especially to Caesar’s siege works at the defeat of the Gallic fortress of Elysia – during which, roman troops building defenses within the range of Gallic bows often moved under cover of portable penthouses and armored screens.
Going to War, in Grand Style
Over 400 years would pass between Leonardo creating the Sforza sketch and a nation finally putting the concepts of the armored fighting vehicle together in a workable way.
Throughout the industrial revolution armies in Europe had experimented with armored horse and (steam) self-propelled artillery, but until the beginning of the 20th century only ships and trains were even remotely practical – though, of basically limited use.
The first practical contender in the armored vehicle race was the above: The 1914 Rolls Royce Armored Car for the Royal Naval Air Service, which had been put in charge of developing ‘landships’ for use in the Western Front. Several crude machines had been used in the early days of the war, and the Rolls Royce had been commissioned in the days when a classical, mobile war was still envisaged by both sides – and in such a conflict, these armoured cars would have scouted for the army and helped keep the flanks of a force clear of enemy forces.
As we know, the front soon sank in the the mire of the trench, and the armored car was rendered useless (at least until the tank turned up).
Out in Turkey and in Egypt, however, the armored car proved its worth. Indeed, when T.E. Lawrence was able to secure a number of them to supplement his raiding forces, he is said to have prized them ‘above rubies’ for their reliability and their heavy firepower.
It may seem odd that a Rolls Royce chassis would be pressed into service in this way, in our age of specialist military construction, but recall that at the beginning of the First World War, there was no better, stronger or more durable car on the market. It makes perfect sense that the British government would simply take what it needed and, as a result, give us both a first and a legend to boot.
In the wake of German defeat in 1918 and the subsequent reduction of the German army, the armored car became an important factor. With only 100,000 men under arms, and no tanks permitted, the scout cars and machine gun wagons of the ’20s and early ’30s not only taught German army commanders of the potential in fast moving armor, but also served as place holders for the panzers which were to come.
Once the gloves were off and Guderian’s ‘Blitzkrieg’ concepts were being set in stone, the armored car was recruited in full measure, not just as a scouting arm, but also as another arm of the increasingly mobile army – ranging in size and scope from the simple radio/recon vehicle above, to the massive anti-tank Puma, depicted below.
As World War 2 ground to a close, the various doctrines of the forces involved were being examined and the armies themselves assessed. In Britain, the increasingly mechanized nature of ground warfare led for calls to increase the size of the armored units and In January 1946, the British Army issued a requirement for a new armored car as a replacement for both the aging Daimler Mk II and impractical AEC Mk III, which had been the recon staple during the war.
The selected vehicle – the FV601(A) – was originally planned to have a 2-pounder gun, all-wheel drive (following British analysis of the German Puma) and armored to allow it to fit both into armored recce and infantry support roles, at a push. It showed great promise and agility in testing, as one can see from the video below. However, as British forces had greater need for an armored personnel carrier, Alvis were required to shelve the Saladin development in favor of their other MOD project, the Saracen APC. Thus, the original 1954 date of entry was pushed back until 1958.
It didn’t remain in service in Britain for very long. It was withdrawn by 1973, replaced by the Alvis Scorpion light tank, which had been designed to eliminate the one real flaw of the Saladin – its admittedly reasonably effective wheels. However, in its operation life with the British Army, it served very well indeed and so well regarded was the Saladin by the allies of the UK who bought the vehicle, that it was kept in service long in the 1990s (some of the most memorable shots of the invasion of Kuwait were of Kuwaiti Army Saladins facing down invading Iraqi T-55s).
A product of the Second World War, this lovely little armored car is redolent of its time, but not bound by it. For British modelers of a certain age this little scamp will always have a certain charm, and it is very heartwarming that Dragon has run this kit out in its Black Label range.
Some might say she’s an ugly duckling, but I reckon there’s a swan under this hood….
Let’s see, shall we?
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