Daimler Motor Company – World War II
Preparation for War – Shadow Factories – Daimler at Browns Lane
In 1936, faced with a real possibility of war the British Government pledged a large sum of money into building ‘shadow’ factories to produce armaments. With the dedicated military suppliers already busy, it was natural that the government turned to the motor industry which had the expertise of volume production and a quick turn around. The new factories were built quickly to supplement the established concerns already producing military matériels and ‘shadowed’ the main manufacturers. An area that had to be addressed was the need for aircraft engines and by the end of 1937 the various shadow factories were operational and under the control of the Ministry of Aircraft Production.
Daimler had two such shadow plants, Number 1 was on their main Radford factory site in Coventry and the other, Number 2 Shadow Factory, was located on what had been open countryside by the village of Allesley outside Coventry – Browns Lane.
Number 2 shadow factory was built on 6.2 acres (2.51 hectares) of land and work commenced a week after the required official documents had been signed. The first building to be completed was an assembly shop of around 308,200 sq ft (28,633 sq m), with attached offices, test area and a canteen. Quite soon afterwards the buildings were expanded and the assembly area was increased to 844,936 sq ft (78,497 sq m) with additional office space and an accommodation section. Much of the design for the layout of the factory buildings was planned by George Hally, who would later become Managing Director of Daimler in February 1941.
World War II
By the time war was declared in September 1939 the facility was 1,530 ft long, 400 ft wide and 20ft high; this allowed overhead gantries to be installed. The shadow factories were set up to build components for aircraft, as well as engine parts and eventually, as the war progressed, complete aircraft and engines. In the case of Daimler at Browns Lane they were to manufacture engine parts which were then shipped to Bristol Engines at Filton or Austin at Longbridge for assembly into complete units. However, a decision was soon made to allow Daimler and Standard Motors, also in the scheme, to manufacture complete engines.
When Coventry was bombed severely on 14 November 1940, many factories in or near the city centre were put out of action or badly damaged; this included the Radford plant, but it was the raid on 8 April 1941 that almost put paid to Daimler at Radford. Half of the factory was wrecked, all the stores, erecting shops, tool room and spare parts department were wiped out. The drawing offices, planning office and works office were burned to the ground; the general offices were set on fire and all the ledgers, wages books, cost books and most of the sales records were destroyed.
The 1896 prototype Lanchester which was on display in the museum at the factory, was also destroyed.
Later it was found that over 150 high explosive and numerous incendiary bombs had fallen on that factory that night. Shadow factory No 2 was out of the danger zone and was not affected. Some work and personnel from Daimler’s Radford plant were transferred to the Allesley (Browns Lane) factory. Some of those Daimler employees who had been made homeless as a result of the bombing were given shelter in the accommodation block. During the war Daimler factories also produced gun turrets, engines, Bren and Browning machine gun parts, rocket projectors and various sundry items in their thousands.
Daimler Armoured Scout Car
With the approach of war, the Daimler Company was not found lacking and submitted plans for an armoured Scout / Reconnaissance car (as did Alvis) and Armoured Car to the War Office. The Army wanted a tough, lightly armoured wheeled vehicle that would carry two people over very rough terrain. It would also be able to wade through water up to three feet deep (0.91 m) and, if necessary, make a quick retreat from unexpected unpleasantness.
The Daimler Scout Car was chosen over the Alvis version and the first order for 172 vehicles, of ‘Car, Scout, Mark I’ was placed in May 1939 with the first vehicles delivered in December. Alvis had coined the name ‘Dingo’ for their version and this name is sometimes applied to the Daimlers.
Sidney Shellard and a team of engineers produced a design that was quite different from anything Daimler had done before and unlike anything the British army had dreamed of.
With a 2½ litre six-cylinder Daimler engine mounted between its rear wheels; a five-speed clutchless sequential gearbox with optional ratio leap-frogging and four-wheel drive via a central transfer differential; a steel punt chassis with deep sides that form a full length undertray; all wheels suspended independently on forged double wishbones by variable rate coil springs; a divided braking system; wheels shod with run flat tyres and radio communication between the driver and navigator, it was ground-breaking and came at the right time. This was Daimler’s first attempt at four-wheel drive and proved very successful. The transfer box meant that the five speed gearbox could be used in either forward or reverse. The driver’s seat allowed to see either backwards or forwards.
The overall dimensions of the car needed to be very compact and an incredibly short wheelbase was adopted, 6 ft 6 in (2 m) – less than a pre-war Austin Seven. All the armoured panels of the bodyshell were angled to encourage deflection of bullets, and the wings if damaged could be removed in the field. An interesting refinement was the fitting of War Department wheels. These were made in two pieces, dished in the same plane, but with reversed flanges. The two halves were bolted together by a ring of setscrews.
The Dunlop RF (Run Flat) tyres were specially constructed to withstand 25 miles (40 kms) running when deflated by damage. They could then easily be replaced without tyre levers by splitting the wheel into its two components. It was not necessary for the car to carry a spare wheel. Very quickly the Scout Car prototype was ready for testing by the military who could not fault it and it was ordered into quantity production in 1939 for an in-service date of January 1940.
Interestingly, the Autocar, with no new cars to test, took a Scout Car on trial in April 1943. They were impressed and wrote: ‘It has been produced in quantity without the need of major alteration.’ The facility for the test was agreed with the Ministry of Supply, which allowed the Scout Car to be described in some detail. ‘By reason of the work it has to do such a vehicle needs to be very stable. The Scout is so designed that it has a relatively low centre of gravity as well as a high ground clearance, a combination obtained by compressing the mechanism into as low a height as possible. The underneath part of the chassis is flat and completely closed in, and drivers affirm that it is possible to “skate along on its belly” over deep soft stuff.
‘When going into action the seats are lowered, the roof closed, and vision obtained through hinged armoured traps which can be swung open for the purpose.’ Remarking on the Triplex armoured glass fitted to the drive slots, the writer noted that they were easy to see through, but only with the roof closed and ‘one looks from darkness into light.’ With the hatches closed entry was made through a shallow single armoured door on the left side, ‘well arranged on the outside for the exclusion of visitors.’
The Scout Car was first used by the British Expeditionary Force (1st Armoured Division and 4th Royal Northumberland Fusiliers) during the Battle of France in 1940. It turned out to be so successful that no replacement was sought until 1952 with the production of the Daimler Ferret. Principal users were reconnaissance units with a typical late-war recce troop consisting of two Daimler Armoured Cars and two Daimler Scout Cars. The vehicle was highly sought-after with damaged Dingoes often being recovered from vehicle dumps and reconditioned for use as private runabouts.
A modified version powered by a Ford V8 engine was also built in Canada – called the ‘Lynx’. Ten were purchased by the United States for liaison purposes during the Vietnam War, at least one turreted American prototype being tested with the 7th Cavalry Regiment.
In the mid-1970s, they was still being used by Cyprus, Portugal and Sri Lanka.
By the end of the war some 6,665 Scout Cars had been manufactured at Radford and other sites and 3,255 Lynx were built from 1942–1945.
Daimler Armoured Car
Starting from scratch the design department came up with the Armoured Car Daimler (ACD) from drawing board to running prototype in just six months. The Scout Car provided a good basis for an armoured car, although, strictly speaking, the external design owes nothing to it, many mechanical features from it were adopted.
Daimler engineers had taken the standard British two-pounder artillery gun and designed a stable vehicle to carry it, creating a totally efficient vehicle that was much valued and used in all the major theatres of World War Two.
Taken from the earlier design were the excellent independent suspension, four-wheel drive system and Daimler’s superb pre-selector gearbox coupled with the Wilson fluid flywheel. As the new vehicle was much heavier the 2½ litre engine was replaced with a completely new six-cylinder 4 litre Daimler unit, with Twin Solex carburettors, producing 95 bhp. Fitted to the ACD was the innovative Girling disc brake system that had been developed for just such a type of vehicle.
The Armoured Car saw action in North Africa with the 11th Hussars and the Derbyshire Yeomanry. It was also used in Europe and a few vehicles reached the South-East Asia theatre as part of a British Indian Army armoured car regiment for the reconquest of Burma.
Like the Scout Car, the Armoured Car continued in service for some years after the war and were still being used, along with Daimler Dingoes, by B Squadron 11th Hussars in Northern Ireland as late as January 1960 and by the territorial units of the British Army until the 1960s. The Armoured Car was not developed after the war and was replaced with a product from another manufacturer.
Daimler continued to develop the Scout Car concept and as the Ferret it saw service in the UK and abroad for many years. After Jaguar bought Daimler in 1960 the military Jaguar XK engine was fitted to the Daimler product as well as a number of fighting vehicles produced by Alvis.
When production ended 2,674 Armoured Cars had been built and delivered.
Other Wartime Production
Although Daimler had built complete aeroplanes in WWI this was not the case in WWII but they were involved in the production of huge amounts of components as well as munitions.
- 50,800 aero engines – Bristol Mercury, Hercules and Pegasus Radials
- 9,500 full sets of engine parts
- 14,356 gun turrets for Benheim, Beaufort, Lancaster, Stirling and Sunderland aircraft
- 74,000 Bren guns
The company continued to build buses for the duration, both to replace old ones as they wore out but also to replace ones that were damaged in air raids. Due to petrol rationing there was little if any private motoring allowed during the war and buses were a critical mode of transport. Some buses that had originally been destined for export were retained in the home market.
Towards the end of the war Daimler was requested to build a fleet of large cars for use by senior military personnel and ambassadors for the expected occupation of Germany. The cars supplied were based on the pre-war Straight-Eights built using whatever stock parts were available.
The Company then started working on the plans for its post-war programme which were first outlined in September 1945.
Author: François Prins and Tony Merrygold
© Text and Images – Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust (unless stated)