The Beaverette Light Reconnaissance Car

A freshly built Mk.2 Beaverette of the type used by Canada. (Standard Motor Company Archives)

The little known and much maligned Second World War armoured car with a connection to the Canadian Army, a prominent Canadian and indirectly named after the Canadian community of Beaver Brook Station, New Brunswick.

An Improvised AFV

In June 1940, the British Expeditionary Force in France was forced to retreat across the English Channel from the advancing German Army. The evacuation of Dunkirk ultimately saw the escape of 340,000 British and allied troops from continental Europe but the haste in which it was performed resulted in most of the vehicles and equipment of the force being left on the beaches of France.

In the aftermath of the fall of France, the British government was faced with the reality that England would be next on the list for axis invasion and replacement fighting vehicles were desperately needed. During this time, all manner of stop-gap and improvised armoured vehicles were hastily developed with many serving in both regular and Home Guard units until defence production could replace the early war losses.

One of the requirements received during the summer of 1940 was for a light armoured car that could be used by the Royal Air Force (RAF) and British Army for airfield defence and reconnaissance duties. Sir Max Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook), the prominent Canadian and then Minister of Aircraft Production in Britain, supported the basic design of a lightly armoured wheeled vehicle that could be created using the chassis of a civilian saloon car as its base. This car could be quickly produced by the existing British automotive industry and with minimal engineering and materiel requirements.

The 4×2 light armoured car was put into production quickly and the first examples were in use by the RAF and army by late July 1940. The production model, that came to be known as the Beaverette Mk1 in service, was based on the chassis of the Standard Motor Company, Model 14 Touring Saloon. The cars were converted to open top and lightly armoured with 11mm of steel plate over 76mm of oak planking on the front and sides of the  basic fighting compartment. They were then armed with one Bren light machine-gun with stowage for 8 additional Bren magazines and two Lee-Enfield rifles for use by the crew.

The Mk.1 and Mk.2 cars were considered to be treacherous to drive by their crews. They suffered from overtaxed brakes and suspension due to the added armour and hardwood fighting compartments and from poor vision due to the limited number of small vision slots and blackout lighting. These limitations combined with the high gearing of the original touring saloon transmission and rear axle made for a fast but terrifying experience on the narrow, often dark, English country roads. The crew was originally intended to be made up of two, although in practice the cars were assigned a third member, a commander who aided in directing the driver in addition to his other duties.

The initial Beaverette Mk1 was quickly improved upon with the Beaverette Mk.2 in late 1940. This upgrade of the light reconnaissance car (LRC) saw few changes from the initial model but reflected user feedback and the slightly improved access to steel plate. Key changes introduced in the Mk.2 were the addition of horizontal armoured slats to the front grill and folding armoured panels to the rear of the fighting compartment. These rear panels were not wood backed but did allow for the firing of the Bren light machine gun to the rear of the vehicle with an opening between the two sections behind the co-driver position.  The cars saw little modification beyond this but it is noteworthy that the British were still developing Bren anti-aircraft mountings for the car as late as late as August 1941.

 In addition to the Standard Motor Co. of Coventry produced Mk.2 cars, there is evidence that Jensen Motors of West Bromwich, a prominent coachbuilder, assembled a Mk.2 pilot model based on a Ford car chassis. Unfortunately the Jensen factory was bombed with incendiary bombs by the Luftwaffe in November 1940 and no details relating to further development or production has survived.

 In total it is estimated around 500 Beaverette Mk1 and Mk.2 cars were built using the remaining inventory of Model 14 Saloon chassis at Standard Motor Co. After this time the completely re-designed Mk.3 and Mk.4 cars were introduced although these latter models were not used by Canada.

Canadian Army Use

When the Canadian forces started arriving in Britain, they found themselves without armoured fighting vehicles for a considerable period of time. This shortage primarily stemmed from the slow speed that Canadian Industry converted to military production but also was a result of the British losses in France. 

Under the organisational structure of the Canadian army, it was stated each of the infantry divisions in Britain should incorporate one reconnaissance battalion made up of forty-five light reconnaissance cars. Due to the delay in equipping the force, the first squadrons of eight armoured cars were not issued to the 1st and 2nd Infantry Divisions until April, 1941. The 3rd Infantry Division did not receive its first cars until November 1941, all of these were classified as “Improvised AFV’s”.  

Much to the surprise of the Canadian troops receiving their first real recce vehicles, they were greeted with now slightly used and odd looking Beaverettes. Nonetheless, the little cars were immediately put to use in the training regime then full service but the Divisional Recce units noted that the cars were capable of very little beyond limited training, mainly only on roads.

By February of 1942 the light reconnaissance car ‘situation’ within the Canadian Divisional Recce units was not much improved with seventeen Beaverettes held by the 1st, thirteen held by the 2nd and fourteen held by the 3rd. Eight of the cars were subsequently transferred to the 1st Canadian Tank Brigade in August 1942 but were found to be “fast, dangerous, near-useless vehicles“.

Luckily by mid-1942 the light reconnaissance car situation was improving with the arrival of far more advanced Ford, Daimler Morris and Humber designs. The Beaverttes were happily returned to stores where they were often re-issued to British Home Guard units and continued to see use well into 1943.

Canadian Units Known to Use the Beaverette LRC.

UnitNumber*
4th Princess Louise Dragoon Guards ( 4th Reconnaissance Regiment)17
14th Canadian Hussars (8th Reconnaissance Regiment)13
17th Duke of York’s Royal Canadian Hussars (7th Canadian Reconnaissance Regiment)14
1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade8
*The numbers recorded here are from points in time and cannot be used to determine the total number of vehicles used by Canada.

A camouflaged Mk.2 with Bren gun and crew of three, Note the corporal crew commander has to sit on the rear armour behind the driver. Interestingly the divisional sign and unit sign are both usually painted on the left fender. In this image what may be the Unit Serial is marked below these. The “41” designator for the divisional reconnaissance regiment is apparent but the colour of the divisional sign is not discernible (Library and Archives Canada)
“Snooper” is a well worn Mk.2 of the 7th Canadian Reconnaissance Regiment seen during training in England. The crew appears worse for wear in the open topped vehicle on what appears to be a cold wet day. This image shows the Beaverette in use with kit stowed on the rear deck and a unit constructed cover rolled on the top of the front glacis plate. A Lee-Enfield rifle is leaning on the interior with the muzzle protruding through the machine-gun port. The purpose of the hook shaped metal straps on the grille area are unknown but may be for tow rope storage. (Library and Archives Canada)
A camouflaged Canadian Mk.2 Beaverette seen during a training exercise in a rubble strewn urban setting. In this instance the car is crewed by four. (Library and Archives Canada)
A rear view of the Mk.2 seen above with the crew of four mounting the vehicle. the metal loops on the rear step appear to be unit made tow loops (Library and Archives Canada)
An artists impression of a Beaverette but with the chassis and front sheet metal of a Canadian CMP truck appeared on this Canadian War Savings Certificate poster. Knowing the New Zealand government manufactured Beaverettes on a commercial ford truck chassis for home defence makes one wonder if Canada considered using the early Canadian Military Pattern trucks as a basis for the cars as well? (Archives of Ontario)
A rear view of a freshly built Mk.2 Beaverette seen with an RAF crew, The large circular cover on the rear body is for the spare wheel and tire. (Standard Motor Company Archives)
An excellent reference image showing the interior of a Mk.2 Beaverette with the trials fitting of a new British MG mounting dated August 16, 1941. In this case the Bren is in the anti-aircraft position, (Imperial War Museum)
Another image showing the interior of a Mk.2 Beaverette with the trials fitting of a new British MG mounting dated August 16, 1941. This image shows firing a Bren through the rear slot position in the folding armour to good effect. (Imperial War Museum)
Another image showing the interior of a Mk.2 Beaverette with the trials fitting of a new British MG mounting dated August 16, 1941. This image shows firing a Bren over the right beam and includes the stored camouflage netting on the rear body.. (Imperial War Museum)
Detail of the new British MG mounting for the Beaverette dated August 16, 1941. (Imperial War Museum)
An advert for the 1940 Standard Model 14 Touring Saloon from “The Autocar” magazine dated August 25, 1939. The unsold chassis from these cars were the basis of the Baverette Mk.1 and Mk.2. (The Autocar Magazine)

Select Sources

Tools of the Trade, Clive law, Ottawa, 2005

A March to Manhood, Charles Hanaway, http://www.warlinks.com/memories/hanaway.php

An Historical Account of the 7th Canadian Reconnaissance Regiment (17th Duke of York’s Royal Canadian Hussars) in the World War, 1939-1945, Waleter Pavey, Montreal 1948.

The Beaverette, Phil Homer, 2021, https://www.keymilitary.com/article/beaverette