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FV 603 Saracen

The Alvis Saracen was a British six-wheeled armoured vehicle, part of the FV600 series, developed after the Second World War. The Saracen entered production in 1952 and was phased out of service during the 1960s, though it remained in service in Northern Ireland until the 1980s. By 1958 the order for the Saracen armoured personnel-carriers has been fully met and all the infantry serving with armored brigades had it. It was replaced by a much more mobile tracked personnel carrier, the first battalion re-equipped by May 1964, and the whole within two years.

Using a common six-wheeled chassis designed by the Fighting Vehicle Research Establishment, the Sarcen armoured personnel carrier and Saladin armoured car aimed to solve the problem of huge numbers of army vehicles, all with incompatible parts and servicing routines.;Manufactured by the Coventry firm of Alvis, the Saracen and Saladin were joined by another variation on the theme - the Salamander. Alvis also designed one more member of the family, a highly versatile amphibious load carrier called the Stalwart.

Design work on a new series of 6x6 vehicles, the F600 range, began shortly after the Second World War. Design parent for the series was Alvis Ltd. of Coventry. Due to the situation in Malaya in the late 1940s work was accelerated on the Saracen, which was urgently required at the expense of the first vehicle in the series the Saladin armoured car. Production vehicles started to be delivered in 1952. The six-wheel drive layout gives very good mobility, the downside being a rather high silhouette due to the complex drive train, gearbox and fuel tanks under the floor.

Alvis Saracen Armoured Personnel Carrier was introduced in 1953 to transport troops in increased safety on the battlefield. A top speed of 45mph, powered by 160hp Rolls Royce engine. Replaced in the 1960s it continued to be used in Northern Ireland for riot control, bomb disposal and ambulance. Many, like this one were upgraded with additions of armour to give extra protection. Its ability to remain operational after any two of its wheels were blown off proved invaluable on many occasions. Also used for driver training in Bordon during the 1970s, and finally released from service in 1986.

Unlike the Saladin, the engine is at the front. The Saracen was the standard armoured personnel carrier of the British Army for some eleven years until 1963 when the FV432 fully tracked APC started delivery. However, like its predecessor, the Humber Pig, Saracen then became a desirable commodity again with the deteriorating situation in Northern Ireland in 1969. Production continued for export until 1972, some 1838 vehicles being built. As well as the standard APC, some other variants were produced, the most widely used being a command variant with a higher roof, map tables, extra communications etc, and an ambulance variant which can carry ten seated patients or a lesser number if stretchers are used.

The Saracen Armored Personnel Carrier provided units with the ability to move personnel (such as Assault Troopers) within an armoured vehicle and signalled a change in role towards transporting personnel around the battlefield. It weighed 10 tons and could reach a top speed of 70km/h. It had a crew of two, could carry 10 personnel and was armed with a .30 cal machine gun. The Saracen carried a crew of two plus ten passengers protected by 16 mm thick armour and was armed with two 7.62 mm machine guns. A Rolls-Royce B80 Mk 6A eight-cylinder petrol engine provided a top speed of 72 kmh and a range of 400 km.

The Beverley, which was the UK's medium-range transport aircraft of the 1960s, was capable of carrying, and did carry, armored ears or field artillery over ranges of up to 1,500 miles. The Beverley could carry at 5,000 ft. over a distance of 1,680 nautical miles two Ferret scout cars weighing 19,000 lbs. It could carry one Saracen armored personnel carrier weighing 22,400 lbs. a distance of 1,500 miles at that altitude. It could carry one Saladin armored car weighing 23,520 1291 lbs. 1.430 nautical miles.

It was the policy of successive Governments in the UK to meet the defense requirements of all Commonwealth countries. In the mid-1950s eighty Saracen armored vehicles were exported to the Union of South Africa. These were supplied to South Africa in 1955, when she was a member of the Commonwealth. No such vehicles have been supplied since South Africa left the Commonwealth. No permits were required for the export of military vehicles to South Africa. By 1963 the UK supplied spare parts for the Saracens under existing contracts, but intended to make no new contracts. The obligation to supply spare parts ended in 1968.

Many people in Britain were shocked by the fact that armored vehicles provided from this country had been used by the Union of South Africa against the African people struggling for equality. The vast majority of progressive opinion in Britain deeply deplored the use to which these vehicles were so obviously to be put. Saracens shot down 56 Africans at Sharpeville. The Saracens built in Britain left an indelible blot on the history of South Africa.

During the Nigerian civil war the UK had a policy of supplying arms to the Federal Government in order to prevent Russian involvement. Russian influence in Nigeria is increasing and had been for some time. By 1968 the UK supplied Saladins and Saracens to Nigeria. Parliamentary critics found it intolerable that supplies of Saracens with 76mm. guns should go out to Nigeria when British forces in South Arabia were prevented from using these freely because of the devastation and civilian casualties which would arise.

By 1972 actions taken to protect British soldiers in Northern Ireland from high velocity tungsten tipped bullets when travelling in Army vehicle included the deployment of further Saracen APCs to Northern Ireland as well as the making of arrangements to increase the armour protection of the 1-ton APCs. In July 1981 five young crewmen of a Saracen lost their lives in South Armagh, protecting law abiding citizens in the community there, when a culvert bomb exploded beneath their armoured vehicle, completely destroying it.

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