The AEC Armored Car Pretended to Be a Tank
Britain's heavy scout vehicle had a mean gun
The United Kingdom fielded one of the widest varieties of armored cars during World War II. All were lightly-armored vehicles designed for scouting, convoy escort, rear security and other less combat-intensive duties.
One of the more unusual British armored cars was the AEC, which came in three versions—Mk I-III—with roughly similar specifications and a weight of 11 to 12 tons, which was on the heavy side for an armored car. The AEC served in both North Africa and Europe.
The Associated Equipment Company gave the original Mk I a two-pounder cannon, but never supplied high-explosive ammunition for it. The result was an armored car that was poorly-armed to fight entrenched or fortified infantry, and was under-armored and under-gunned versus tanks.
For infantry work, all AECs came with two machine guns, a 7.7-millimeter Bren and a 7.92-millimeter Besa.
After going back to the drawing board, the company released the Mk II, which featured a larger six-pounder cannon and, just as importantly, both armor-penetrating and high-explosive shells. The Mk III had an even larger 75-millimeter gun.
The larger cannons, especially on the Mk III, were highly formidable against Axis tanks, and were extremely accurate provided the armored car sat still.
But the size of the gun also meant the vehicle had a high profile, which made them easier to be seen and shot at—and the thin armor was of little protection. Scout vehicles, of course, should have a low profile.
The AEC’s design was also ungainly. The Red Army reviewed the AEC Mk II [translation available via the Tank Archives blog] as part of the Lend-Lease program, and characterized the machine as overly-complicated owing to its mix of car and tank parts borrowed from the Valentine and Churchill tanks.
With the exception of AEC’s frontal section, its armor was generally flat, and thus more easily penetrated. The ammunition rack was poorly designed, which slowed down the rate of fire. The gun’s telescopic sight was also inferior, and the gunner had to awkwardly change the cannon’s elevation with his shoulder.
For anti-tank duties, it was better to have a proper tank; for scout duties, it was better to have a lighter and lower-profile car or half-track.
But the Red Army seemed to like its performance and the cannon’s power and accuracy. Despite the vehicle’s weight, its hydraulics and fuel-sipping 158-horsepower engine kept it moving briskly enough, and efficiently as well. However, the Red Army concluded, “the design and combat performance of the AEC is not of interest to us.”