The Rolls-Royce armoured car was a British armoured car developed in 1914 and used in World War I and in the early part of World War II.
The Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) raised the first British armoured car squadron during the First World War. In September 1914 all available Rolls Royce Silver Ghost chassis were requisitioned to form the basis for the new armoured car. The following month a special committee of the Admiralty Air Department, among whom was Flight Commander T.G. Hetherington, designed the superstructure which consisted of armoured bodywork and a single fully rotating turret holding a regular water cooled Vickers machine gun.
The first three vehicles were delivered on 3 December 1914, although by then the mobile period on the Western Front, where the primitive predecessors of the Rolls-Royce cars had served, had already come to an end. Later in the war they served on several fronts of the Middle Eastern theatre. Chassis production was suspended in 1917 to enable Rolls-Royce to concentrate on aero engines.
The vehicle was modernized in 1920 and in 1924, resulting in the Rolls-Royce 1920 Pattern and Rolls-Royce 1924 Pattern. In 1940, 34 vehicles which served in Egypt with the 11th Hussars regiment had the "old" turret replaced with an open-topped unit carrying a Boys anti-tank rifle, .303-inch Bren machine gun and smoke-grenade launchers. Some vehicles in Egypt received new chassis from a Fordson truck and became known as Fordson Armoured Cars. Pictures show them as equipped with what appears to be turrets fitted with a Boys ATR, a machine gun and twin light machine guns for anti-aircraft defence.
Six RNAS Rolls-Royce squadrons were formed of 12 vehicles each: one went to France; one to Africa to fight in the German colonies and in April 1915 two went to Gallipoli. From August 1915 onwards these were all disbanded and the materiel handed over to the Army which used them in the Light Armoured Motor Batteries of the Machine Gun Corps. The armoured cars were poorly suited to the muddy trench filled battlefields of the Western Front, but were able to operate in the Near East, so the squadron from France went to Egypt.
Lawrence of Arabia used a squadron in his operations against the Turkish forces. He called the unit of nine armoured Rolls-Royces "more valuable than rubies" in helping win his Revolt in the Desert. This impression would last with him the rest of his life; when asked by a journalist what he thought would be the thing he would most value he said "I should like my own Rolls-Royce car with enough tyres and petrol to last me all my life".
In the Irish Civil War (1922–1923), 13 Rolls-Royce armoured cars were given to the Irish Free State government by the British government to fight the Irish Republican Army. They were a major advantage to the Free State in street fighting and in protecting convoys against guerrilla attacks and played a vital role part in the retaking of Cork and Waterford. Incredibly, despite continued maintenance problems and poor reaction to Irish weather, they continued in service until 1944, being withdrawn once new tyres became unobtainable. Twelve of the Irish Army examples were stripped and sold in 1954.
At the outbreak of World War II, 76 vehicles were in service. They were used in operations in the Western Desert, in Iraq, and in Syria. By the end of 1941, they were withdrawn from the frontline service as modern armoured car designs became available. Some Indian Pattern cars saw use in the Indian subcontinent and Burma.
- 1920 Pattern Mk I - thicker radiator armour and new wheels.
- 1920 Pattern Mk IA - commander's cupola.
- 1924 Pattern Mk I - turret with commander's cupola.
- 1921 Indian Pattern - based on the 1920 Pattern. Had extended hull armour to provide extra space and a domed turret with four ball mounts for machine guns.
- Fordson - based on a 1914 Pattern. Some vehicles in Egypt received new chassis from Fordson trucks.
A single experimental vehicle had the turret removed and replaced by a one-pounder automatic anti-aircraft gun on an open mounting. Some cars had Maxim machine guns instead of the Vickers gun.