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Morris-Commercial light Military Trucks 1924-45

On Jan Ist 1924 William Morris ( later known as Lord Nuffield ) aquired the assets of Wrigley and Company Ltd of Birmingham . Before WW1 Wrigley had been supplying Morris with axles and transmissions for his successful Oxford and Cowley cars and on Feb 4th 1924 the Wrigley works became incorporated as Morris Commercial Cars Ltd. During WW1 The French Hotchkiss company had established a branch factory in Coventry making armaments and post war Morris had engines of his own design built by Hotchkiss . By the early twenties the Hotchkiss branch company had  been taken into the growing Morris empire and renamed Morris Motors Ltd Engines Branch .  During the early 1920’s Morris established his own radiator factory at Osberton Rd in Oxford and in 1926 he travelled to the USA to learn about the all steel bodies being built by Budd. This led to a short lived association with Budd in establishing a steel body making facility in the UK between 1926-1930 . He also purchased the ailing SU ( Skinner Union ) carburettor  works and by the late 20’s had added Wolseley to his growing  list of interests. 

It is interesting to note that the MC products that were exported to Australia during the mid to late 1920’s quickly developed a reputation for not being robust enough for Australian road conditions . Many cases of cracked chassis members and stub axle failure  forced the Australian MC agent ( S.A. Cheney of Adelaide ) to embark on a trip to the U.K. to demand a audience  with WR Morris himself . Cheney discovered that the MC designers had no idea of the atrocious road conditions that the average  truck user had to deal with in Australia at the time. Eventually a party from the UK including WR Morris himself arrived in Australia for a publicity tour in 1928 . The party set off on a tour of Victoria and NSW in three cars including a Morris Oxford and Cowley . The Cowley failed to complete the tour , suffering a twisted rear axle housing and a broken axle on one of the better roads over which the group travelled . Morris returned to England with a better understanding of the situation and the next generation of MC trucks had design improvements to cope with the arduous roads.

MC began its association with the British War Dept. during the mid 1920’s when it was believed that the half track would be the way to the future . Various British manufacturers including MC submitted some experimental half-track vehicles for evaluation but the  trend did not last very long and the emphasis turned towards more conventional civilian based designs . The WD eventually turned towards a idea with French origins , the 6 X 4 . Renaults 6 X 4 system had been trialled during forays into the Sahara desert in the early 20’s and the WD became interested and obtained a Renault to experiment with . A new and improved version of the system was eventually patented and became known as the famous WD articulated 6 X 4 design  . A subsidy scheme was set up that encouraged  UK vehicle builders  to manufacture the design and make it available for civilian users , the idea being that in time of war the civilian owned vehicles would be quickly impressed  into military service .

MC became involved in the 6 X 4 subsidy scheme in the form of the D (1926-33) and CD / CDF  (1933-39) models of 30cwt capacity . Also, It was hoped that the better off road capability of the 6 X 4 would prove to be a winner in the more remote parts of the empire such as Australia . In reality the few MC  6 X 4’s  that did make it to the antipodes were considered to be underpowered and too expensive when compared to the contemporary US makes available . The MC 4 cyl engines and light chassis construction – a result of the British taxation system , were not good incentives for a prospective new truck owner in 1930’s Australia . A few late 1920’s outback expeditions did make use of D models and Jacksons Transport Co. of Hobart Tasmania was another noted user of  a D model 6 X 4.

In the UK, the spartan military cabwork and the high loading height of the cargo body were always against the 6 X 4 configuration in civilian use and the subsidy scheme was never popular. Civilian owners were permitted to build enclosed cabs for their subsidy scheme trucks but the WD cab had to be kept in storage and be available for remounting on the chassis at short notice . Also very few civilian operators  had need for the higher off road capability of the 6 X 4.

Between 1939-45 MC continued its association with the 30 cwt 6 X 4 with the CDSW . Seen in both breakdown and Bofors gun tractor roles , the wartime model adopted the familiar bonnet and grill design of the smaller 15 cwt CS8 4X2 .  Fitted with a 4 ton power winch , it used a 5 speed gearbox coupled to the 25 HP ‘O’ series engine . The CDSW’s were actually built by the Morris owned Wolseley plant between 1939-42 ( Almost 6000 units) and also by Morris’ peacetime competitor Austin between 1940-44 ( 6686 units ).  Only a handfull of surviving CDSW’s are known to exist today , a nice example is on display at the REME museum.  During the 1930’s MC also supplied 4 X 2  30 cwt trucks to the WD,  some effort was made to enhance their off road performance by fitting large section tyres which would be more suitable for use in  the Middle East protectorates  . Pre WW2 , military vehicles in various forms were also supplied to the RAF, RN and colonial governments , notably India.

It was in the early 1930’s that MC became involved in what was to be  its most successful liason with the WD . The British army had a need for a general purpose light truck with a carrying capacity of 15 cwt and MC used many components from the 1933 civilian C series truck range in a new innovative design .   The new 15 cwt truck was called the CS8 model . The  first CS8 prototype ( S stood for 6 cyl and 8 stood for the approx. 8ft wheelbase ) was delivered to the WO Mechanisation Establishmeant at Farnborough for trials in Sept. 1934 . It was purely a military truck from its beginning as it had little use in the civilian transport field . The CS8 was short stubby truck with a semi-forward control position for the driver, the short wheelbase gave the little MC truck good ground clearance and the cab position allowed maximum use of the cargo area . It could be claimed that MC set the standard for a whole new genera of military vehicles with its inovative design .  In the years that followed on from 1934 , other companies such as Guy Motors Ltd, Vauxhall Motors Ltd ( Bedford ) and Ford ( UK ) adopted the basic MC  design and a whole new class of  military trucks was eventually produced in large numbers . The successful WW2 Canadian built  CMP range had its roots in the pre – war 15 cwt class of British origin . The MC CS8 was eventually built in three marks with over 21,000 being produced . It was  fitted with various bodies including anti-tank portee, compressor, wireless house body , office and water tanker to name a few.  Mechanically the design was conventional , the  contemporary Morris side valve ‘O’ series  6 cyl 25 HP  engine was  fitted , but it used a special military dustproof updraft carburetor  which was governed to 2650 rpm by a built in velocity governor. A four speed crash box drove the spiral beval diff ( 6.57 to 1 ) in a split housing . Around 1942 a 4 cyl variant was released that replaced the CS8 in production , this was identical to the CS8 except for being fitted with a 4 cyl engine of similar capacity   . A few MC CS8 ‘s have been found in Australia and NZ but as yet, none have been restored  .  The 1960’s TV series “Hogans Heroes”  featured  a  MC CS8  in many episodes .

The CS8’s smaller brother, the PU 8 cwt ( Personnel Utility ), appears to have been developed around 1936 . The PU may have been designed specifically to cope with the desert conditions encountered in the British Middle East protectorates such as Egypt and Palestine . The chassis is very similar  to the 1935 Morris-Commercial Junior taxi chassis and it is very likely the MC designers used the taxi chassis as a basis of the PU because it was already in production . Again , the 25 HP 6 cyl series 2 engine from the Morris 25 saloon was used  . Because the vehicle was only two wheel drive , wide section  9.00 - 13” balloon tyres were fitted , this was possibly an attempt to improve its off road performance in sand and mud . The PU evolved over a three year period from the  Mk 1 version into the main production Mk 2 model . The  Mk 1 featured  hub caps and the early style rounded bonnet . The 8 cwt MC PU seems to have been intended for use in the signals role from its beginning . Approx. half of the vehicles built were the FFW ( Fitted for Wireless) version , these had elaborate fittings including a table  for the wireless set and floor mounted wireless batteries .The PU was produced in two Mk’s from 1936 to 1941 and research done in UK archives reveals that approx. 11500 were built. The MC PU served in the early campaigns of WW2 including Nth Africa , during the BEF retreat from France in 1940 many  MC PU’s and CS8’s were left behind and subsequently used by the Germans . Because of a need to rationalise the many different makes and sizes of the British army‘s transport fleet, the MCC PU along with other makes in the 8 cwt class ceased production in 1941. The MC PU shared some components with its bigger brother , the  15 cwt CS8 - the  engine , gearbox, steering box , autovac petrol pump and smaller parts like instuments etc.  Rubber cushioned LEYRUB universal joints were employed on both the CS8 and PU models . A Vokes concertina air filter was fitted . A feature of the PU FFW vehicles was a gearbox driven PTO generator for charging the wireless batteries .

During 1940/41 a small batch of the PU 8/4  4X4 vehicles were built . The 4X4  PU vehicles have flat angular front wings and 16” wheels fitted . The PU 8/4  used the same series 2  25 HP Morris engine but it was a modified slightly by re -profiling the cams to give an extra 12 BHP   .  Only two complete examples of the PU 4X4 model are known to exist today , one in the UK and another in mainland Europe . The 8 cwt 4X2 PU was also built by two other British companies , Humber and Fordson during 1939 / 40  The Humber was based on the Snipe saloon chassis while the Fordson WOC1 was based on the 1939/40 Ford light commercial chassis .  These vehicles used  the same rear body design of the MC PU and many were fitted out as wireless trucks. A Humber Snipe PU survives in NZ and a few more in the UK .  A Fordson WOC1 survivor is known of in the UK .  Most surviving examples of the MC PU model seem to be located in the UK and France where they  were employed as  garage breakdown trucks in civvy street after WW2.  A few MC PU trucks have been located in Australia where they were converted into super phosphate spreaders for farm use .

During 1940-42 , Australian army AIF units posted to the Middle East were issued with vehicles of British origin and among them were MC products .  Archive photos reveal PU , CS8 and CDF Morris’ being used by the 6th Aust. division in Palestine and Egypt circa 1940 , some of these Middle East AIF units returned to Australia with a few MC vehicles tucked away in the cargo holds of their ships . Another source of surviving MC ex WD trucks in Australia  would have been vehicles on route to the the Dutch East indies and Malaya , these were diverted to avoid capture during the Japanese advance in early 1942. Eventually in Australia,  these odd bod British trucks were classed as non - standard vehicles as , by 1944 , the army had standardized on the Canadian CMP range and most of the odd ball makes were relegated to vehicle parks where they waited for disposal  . These little known MC military vehicles have become lost and mostly forgotten about among the mass produced standard types we often seen at Military Vehicle shows today . During those desperate early days of WW2, MC trucks were involved in the thick of the fighting ,  trying to halt the advancing ememy forces ,  very few of these trucks survived those battles , hence their rarity today .

Mike Kelly

Copyright Sjoerd van de Wal- Krebs 23-06-2017