by Jared Archibald
The Age of the Machines
This mechanisation of armies continued into the 1930s. The British developed a range of small, tracked, armoured and soft skin vehicles that could be used for a range of purposes including, artillery tractors, machine gun carriers, and armoured observation posts. Australia was closely aligned with British military doctrine and developed its own mechanisation policy that mandated acquiring locally designed and built machines for defence usage.
Carrier, Machine Gun, Local Pattern, No.1 (LP1)
LP1 carriers were built from locally produced bullet-proof plate that was riveted onto an angle iron frame. Ford mechanicals sourced from Canada made up the power train: a side-valve V8 engine that drove through a four-speed crash box to a split-case differential. The power train was situated behind the front compartment and ran down the midline of the carrier. Steering was by track braking only. Two tillers, connected to a pair of hydraulic master cylinders, actuated large external hydraulic cylinders above the differential that, in turn, applied mechanical brakes inside the brake drums. This Australian-designed system proved to be a major problem for this model.
LP1 carriers were mostly used within Australia for training; however, 50 were transported to the Middle East and used by Australian forces there. Some were also used in the campaign in Greece. They were plagued with problems including engine overheating, excessive and uneven brake wear due to the steering design, and a lack of spare parts.
In all, 160 LP1 carriers were built by Victorian Railways at their vast Newport workshops in Melbourne. Although problematic, much was learnt from the experience, and a new design was produced, which corrected many of the inherent faults of this first model. LP1 carriers were declared obsolete in 1942, but many continued in service until the end of the war.
Use in the Territory
The 2/15 reported that they had severe limitations including “throwing tracks effortlessly, overheating badly, and the third crewman being cooked in the rear compartment”. On the 25 October 1940, these ten carriers were handed over to the 2/25 Battalion, as the 2/15 had been ordered to North Africa. When the 2/25 left Darwin on the 15 February 1941, the carriers remained in Darwin with the 7MD.
In June 1942, all LP1 carriers were declared obsolete. The ten 7MD carriers fell into disrepair due to a lack of parts, and the plentiful supply of the much-improved successor to the LP1, the Carrier, Machine Gun, Local Pattern No.2 and 2A (or LP2 or 2A Carrier for short).
Two of these ten LP1 carriers survived the war, scrap drives, and abandonment and are undergoing long-term restoration.
Carrier, Machine Gun, Local Pattern, No.2 and 2A (LP2 & 2A)
Mechanically, the most notable change was to the steering. The new system was purely mechanical and incorporated track displacement steering, as well as track brake steering. For small changes in direction, the steering wheel was turned, offsetting the main bogie axle to the left or right of the midline, warping the tracks, and so steering the carrier. For sharper turns, mechanical linkages applied the brake on one side to slew the machine in the required direction of travel.
The difference between an LP2 and LP2A carrier is not visible externally. LP2s were fitted with a 1938-type rear axle, which had a splined pinion, whereas LP2As were fitted with a 1940-type rear axle with a tapered and keyed pinion.
The LP2 and 2A carriers were the most prolific of the carriers produced in Australia with approximately 4800 being built. They were manufactured between 1941 and 1943 at different factories in four states: Ford Motor Company at Homebush in Sydney, Victorian Railways and Metropolitan Gas Works in Melbourne, South Australian Railways at Islington in Adelaide, and the State Engineering Workshops in Fremantle. Large numbers of subcontractors supplied the parts needed to build and equip each carrier.
Use in the Territory
Post-war they were sold off at massive surplus equipment sales in Darwin and at Mataranka. Mostly they were purchased for their drivelines which were the same as Ford trucks. Many Blitz trucks and Jailbar Fords have engines and gearboxes in them that originated from carriers. A few were used on stations but were found to be too highly geared and light weight to be bulldozers so were quickly consigned to the salvage dump.
All the hulls left at Mataranka post-war were sold as scrap to Japan in 1951 by Stan Kennon, a local Darwin engineer and entrepreneur. A few escaped, but suffered the ignominy of being cut up as a source of steel plate over the ensuing decades.
Carriers are now sought after by military vehicle collectors as they are simple, small, and relatively light, and therefore are a reasonably usable tracked armoured vehicle. There are restored running examples in both Darwin and Katherine.