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The Humber 1 ton CT Truck in Australian Service

 

The first Humber 1 ton Truck on trial at the Trials and Proving Wing, Monegeetta. Here the vehicle is being driven through rail height gauges, which determine the vehicle’s ability to pass through all Australian State railway systems when carried on standard railway wagons. The snorkel is fitted to the vehicle. (Australian Army Photo)

 

by Paul D. Handel

 

 
Introduction

The Humber 1 ton CT Truck was probably one of the least auspicious vehicles to serve in the Australian Army. The original design concept, for a vehicle using specialised components to deliver outstanding cross-country performance, proved flawed, and the execution of the design concept was further flawed.

This article will provide an insight into some of the trials of the vehicles which took place in Australia, and show some of the less than satisfactory results achieved. A short resume of its Australian service life will also be provided.


Concept

The Combat (CT) range of B vehicles was conceived in the UK during the late 1940s as “super” General Service (GS) vehicles. They were designed entirely for military purposes, with little use of standard automotive components, and that many of their specially designed parts were to be interchangeable. A range of 1/4 ton, 1 ton, 3 ton 10 ton and 30 ton types were envisaged. The UK Fighting Vehicle Research and Development Establishment (FVRDE) was to be the design leader. In the end, only 1/4, 1 and 10 ton vehicles were produced in any quantity. By 1951, however, the CT vehicle development was being questioned due to many design problems encountered.

The 1 ton range was known as the FV 1600 Series, and was developed from the original FVRDE concept by the Rootes Motor Group. Capital assistance was provided by the UK Government to Rootes in order to establish their production line. They were commonly known in Australia as “Humber 1 tonners”.

 

Australian Trials

The Trials and Proving Wing (TPW) of the (then) Technical Services Establishment (TSE) at Monegeetta in Victoria conducted trials of a “Truck, 1 ton, 4x4, CT” in 1954, along with an Austin Champ, the 1/4 ton vehicle in the CT truck range. The test identification number was TI 1562, and the vehicle tested carried the Chassis number 6300001. This trial took place in Victoria and South Australia, and its aim was to test vehicles on terrain peculiar to Australia. The vehicle was loaded during the trials to a weight of 10920 pounds, not including the crew. A comparator vehicle, “Truck, 15cwt, 4x4, CVT”, was loaded to 9744 pounds. This was a CMP vehicle from wartime production.

Trials conducted included high speed highway work in 100 miles non-stop running sections between Warrnambool and Whyalla. 1000 miles was done in these tests. A 50 mile gibber country drive around Port Augusta and a 200 mile drive on gravel roads in the Victorian mallee area gave the suspension a good workout. The mallee provided an 800 mile test in dust whilst towing a laden 1 ton trailer. Other tests included the traverse of mud, sand and scrub. A total of 3430 miles were covered.

 

A Humber belonging to B Squadron 12/16 Hunter River Lancers based at Muswellbrook in NSW. The roof hatches are open as is the left side of the bonnet. The vehicle carries the RAAC Unit Sign (red/yellow) with the number 107 in white. This number signifies an Armoured Personnel Carrier Regiment. (Photo via Barry Marriott)

 

The report discussed an element of vehicle cross country ability known as Mobiquity. Mobiquity was defined as the power of locomotion without using roads or other prepared surfaces. The Humber was described as lacking in mobiquity, and it showed no appreciable improvement over the performance of the Truck 15 cwt 4x4 GS CVT in tidal mud and sand. Interestingly the 15 cwt 4x4 was itself described as notoriously lacking in such cross country performance. The Humber was noted as having poor self-recovery characteristics, as not only could it not reverse itself out of trouble, but the winch (a 2 ton single drum unit) kept tripping the overload switch which cut the engine ignition. Subsequent testing of the winch showed the overload was tripped at 34 cwt. There was no indication in the available documents on how to adjust the setting.

The tools provided in the vehicle kit were not suitable for normal maintenance – the first parade servicing (that normally done at the beginning of each day’s operation) took one man hour. This would have been reduced if special tools were provided.

The design of the steel cargo body was also brought into question. It contributed to poor weight distribution, making the vehicle back heavy when loaded with the test payload.

A number of defects including gasket failure in the hub flange, oil loss in the Tracta joints and subsequent overfill in the axles, and excessive tyre wear were noted. The repair of the Tracta joints under field condition was considered to be difficult, given the need for scrupulous cleanliness.

The ride quality, however, was judged as outstanding because of the independent four wheel torsion bar suspension, especially at speed over second class roads. This was overshadowed by the passenger’s seat being cramped for long distance travelling, and the floor under the passenger becoming overheated due to the exhaust position.

Trial results noted that the vehicle proved to be disappointing. Main problems included:

  • Lack of torque in reverse gear.

  • Poor distribution of the payload which produced light steering.

  • Lack of passenger comfort.

  • Position of the winch did not allow use if bogged in mud or sand.

Overall, the initial cost increase over a GS vehicle produced limited advantages.

 


Tropical Trials

A significant Tropical Trial took place between October 1955 and May 1956, in which a Ferret Scout Car, Saracen Armoured Personnel Carrier and 1/4 and 1 ton CT vehicles participated. Interestingly, the Australian Army lists show that a total of 153 1 ton CT vehicles were purchased in 1955, so the outcome of the trials was unable to influence the purchase that had already been made.

It was noted that the Humber vehicle arrived late for the trial, and had numerous defects even though it was a new vehicle. The report stated that it gave the impression of little maintenance being carried out prior to our receipt. The vehicle came with no CES, no spares and no technical data.

 

A Humber crossing a river during the tropical trials near Innisfail. The shipping information is still visible on the driver’s door, and the vehicles right front mudguard shows signs of damage. All hatches, windows and windscreen are closed. (Australian Army Photo)

 

The main problem during the tropical trials was that the engine had heavy oil consumption. The trials personnel had difficulty in achieving the required mileage target due to the constant need for repairs or waiting for spares to arrive. The main point noted was that the old engine assembly was stripped down for an examination, but one does not expect in field working conditions to be dismantling a Rolls Royce power unit. No matter how careful a tradesman is in protecting against dust and rain, the protection level was only 20%.

The vehicle covered 2000 miles of which 1500 were on hard roads, 400 were in jungle and 100 on soft going. A majority of miles were done loaded or towing a trailer of total weight 1 ton 14 cwt.

 

The Humber during tropical trials bogged on the edge of a swamp. The cab roof hatches are open, showing the split arrangement, and the canopy over the cargo body has been removed. A Diamond T Wrecker and a jeep can be seen in the background. The Diamond T appears to be fitted with dual wheels on the front axle, a common expedient when operating in poor terrain (Australian Army Photo)

 

A summary of trials results for the tropical trials was not available to the author.

 

Australian Service Use

As noted above, 153 Humber 1 ton trucks entered Australian Army service beginning in 1955. The vehicle ID plates carried the nomenclature Commer, not Humber, and it is believed that this was due to identification of export vehicles. Humber and Commer were both part of the Rootes Group. The vehicles were always known as Humbers in Australian service. The vehicles were given Army Registration Numbers (ARNs) from 105671 to 105823. Interestingly, numbers 105671, 672 and 673, have no details of engine or chassis numbers listed in the Registration book examined by the author in Melbourne some 25 years ago. Perhaps the vehicles were the original trials vehicles, although the ones shown in some trials photos shown Commonwealth (C) registrations rather than Army registrations. The Chassis Numbers noted are all in the series beginning 6310001 with 6310150 being the highest number noted. The chassis numbers are not sequential with the registration numbers.

The original issue of the Electrical and Mechanical Engineering Instructions (Aust) (EMEIs) Data Summary is dated October 1958  and gives the nomenclature as Trucks 1 Ton CT, Humber, Mk1 (Census Code No. 6041). The Data Summaries for those vehicles fitted with radios are dated August 1962, and show the nomenclature as Truck, 3/4 Ton, Cargo, CT, Humber (FFR) Fitted with Radio Set xxx. The author has no explanation for this change in load capacity of the vehicle.

 

A staged photo of a Humber after entering Australian Service in 1955. It exhibits a Bronze Green paint finish, yellow bridge classification disc and the AMF number plate 105700. (Australian Army Photo)

 

The vehicles saw service mainly with armoured regiments, both Regular and Citizen Military Forces (CMF). This was probably due to the commonality of engines with the Ferret Scout Car family with which most CMF armoured units were equipped.  At least one unit, 12/16 Hunter River Lancers, was issued these vehicles as substitute armoured personnel carriers, although they were never armoured in Australian service.

The vehicles were able to be fitted with a number of radio installations of the period. The radios were mounted in the cargo body, usually on a wooden table mounted at the cab end of the body. Underneath were four 75 Ah batteries which could be charged from the vehicle engine or by a charging set when stationary. Pole aerials for static use were also provided.

Their total service life in Australia was not long, as most were disposed of between 1967 to 1969.

 

Conclusion

This article represents a small part of the story of the  Humber 1 ton truck in Australian service. It is not meant to be the complete story but merely an overview of some of the trials and tests.

 

A Humber with mud applied as a camouflage being readied for recovery by a Kenworth/Ward La France Wrecker. The Humber belonged to 4/19 Prince of Wales’s Light Horse Regiment. (Photo by John Belfield).

 

The Humber 1 ton truck was too complicated for normal service use, and offered few advantages over the normal GS vehicle for substantially increased costs. Whilst its ride was excellent on poor roads this did not compensate for its overall disappointment to soldiers and its high maintenance liability was a drain on the limited resources at unit level.

 

Acknowledgements

Some of the Test Instructions for the Trials and Proving Wing are to be found in the National Archives of Australia. A small number of EMEIs (mainly data sheets) have been saved from destruction by the author throughout his military career and these have proved invaluable references. Photographs come from the collections of the late Laurie Wright, Barry Marriott, John Belfield and the author. Max Richards in the UK, an original Humber enthusiast and long-time friend, was the catalyst for me to find out more about these vehicles.

 

Notes

This article first appeared in the Khaki Vehicle Enthusiasts Inc. magazine KVE News Issue No. 8 January 2011. It was provided to support the 2011 Corowa Swim-In, the theme of which was The Year of the British Vehicle.

 

The last photo in the article has been identified by Richard Coutts-Smith, a Humber enthusiast of Victoria.

The photo was taken by Barrie Wilson during his National Service days in Puckapunyal, probably 1956 or 1957. The vehicle belonged to A Squadron, 8/13 Victorian Mounted Rifles.

Thanks to Richard and Barrie for their interest and apologies for the lengthy wait to update the article.


Imperial units have been used in this article rather than metric equivalents as they reflect the details contained in the reference material of the time.

Article Text and Photographs Copyright 2011 by Paul D. Handel
Page Created 25 April 2011
Last Updated 25 April, 2010

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