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Post Info TOPIC: WWI and interwar Vehicle Numbering


Lieutenant-Colonel

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WWI and interwar Vehicle Numbering
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Hello,

I am trying to come to grips with the numbering system seen painted on the sides or back of British Army staff cars, lorries, and armoured cars starting in WWI. Vehicles on the Western Front appear to have had numbers starting with "M^" followed by a three or four digit number, while those in the Middle East used "LC^" and then a three or four digit number.

1916-10-15BEFFranceNYTimesM227.jpg


1918ABTPalestine-WithLawrenceinArab.jpg

Based on old photos that I have come across, it appears that the "LC^" numbers remained on the vehicles in the Middle East for at most only a few years after the end of the war. The "M^" series appears to have carried on through the 1920's on vehicles based in Great Britain, though. Is this correct?

Did "M" and "LC" actually signify the theater of service or did these designations have some other meaning?

Is there a record somewhere of what types of vehicles had which numbers?

Is it possible to tell when a vehicle received its number, based on its place in the numerical sequence, or were these numbers issued in blocks or by some other arrangement?

Any help decoding this numbering system would be most welcome.

Thank you,

MarkV

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Lieutenant-Colonel

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This is a copy of the main bits from my reply to MarkV's question, which also appears on another forum.

This is my own take on things based on the photographic evidence seen, plus input from others also working on the subject. All open for debate!

To the best of our knowledge no one has a definitive explanation of the WW1 letter/numbering system. We've not yet come across, or found someone who has seen, a master list, although there are rumours the late Bart Vanderveen had one (but they may be getting muddled with later Chilwell lists).

First the prefixes:

"L", "LA" and "LC" appear to relate to vehicles used in the Mediterranean region and India - the 'L' being common to all of these.

"M" probably relates to the western front theatre of operations. (NB This series goes well beyond four digits - the highest so far is M70054 on a Sunbeam tourer staff car.)

"A", "LA", "RA" appear to relate to ambulances - the 'A' being the common factor.

"RA", "RC", "RL", "RLX" are probably specific to vehicles allocated to the Red Cross - the 'R' being the common factor.

"C", "LC" and "RC" relate in the main to cars of various types - the 'C' being the common factor. However, Ford model 'T's of various types would also seem to be included, plus armoured cars (in the "LC" series").

"S" appears to relate to steam vehicles.

"CV" appears to mean 'captured vehicle'.

"EFC" appears to mean 'Expeditionary Force Canteens'.

"BL" and "BUL" is probably 'Bulford'.

"NZ" is probably 'New Zealand'.

"D", "K", "PL" and "SR" are a bit of a mystery.

The numbers would have been issued in sequence. You may find several vehicles of the same type with consecutive numbers simply because they came off the production line together / were allocated to units at the same time. At this point it may be worth making the observation that it is unlikely each prefix had its own series of numbers starting at 0001. Some probably did. But most prefixes seem to be bolted onto a main number sequence.

With regards to the broad arrow. I don't believe this forms part of the serial number. There are standing orders saying that the arrow should be applied to the vehicle and by and large this seems to have been followed. The exceptions seem to be, essentially, vehicles in the various Red Cross allocations and the odd local ommission. When applied, the norm is to see it between the prefix and the number.

Apparently a new series started in 1933. That means numbers appearing on RASC vehicles in the 1920s are a continuation of the WW1 series. These typically appear as the prefix & number within a large oval or circle and do not use the broad arrow, which reinforces my view that the arrow does not form part of the serial number.

To add further confusion, there are also loads of WW1 examples where there is no prefix at all - just the number (with normally a broad arrow before it).

Alan

-- Edited by Runflat at 12:56, 2008-06-28

-- Edited by Runflat at 13:01, 2008-06-28

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Legend

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I think (I am not certain) that the upward pointing arrow is a mark meaning Government issue. It can be seen in many places, including on some architecture that was originally built for the military where I live. This would also explain why it's not on Red Cross vehicles.

Gwyn

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Field Marshal

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Very clarifying: I have often wondered about this, but never understood the system. Thanks!

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/Peter Kempf


Legend

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I think the arrow means Government property rather then issue....it goes back a long wayperhaps further then the wiki suggests.....

Broad Arrow

Its curious to find a heraldic symbol still bieng used on military equipment...

Just my 2 cents

Cheers

-- Edited by Ironsides at 11:28, 2008-06-29

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Lieutenant-Colonel

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Seen today in Foyles bookshop, London, is a new book called "Warpaint: Colours and Markings of British Army Vehicles 1903-2003" by Dick Taylor.

This is the first of 4 volumes covering various aspects, rather than eras, so it is of only limited value for those interested in only WW1. The author's preface suggests that, in time, all four may be combined into a single volume. No doubt that will depend on expected sales and new information coming to light (the author is soliciting for further information / corrections).

Unfortunately, the annexes on WW1 numbering systems provide little in the way of additional information for this string. However, for the first time I've seen in print, it does quote (albeit unattributed) General Routine Order No. 944 of 26th June, 1915, that:

"All motor cars and motor lorries must have their official registration number painted on the bonnet and also on the back of the vehicle. This number is to painted on both sides of the bonnet in white paint, in a conspicuous position at the back where it is not likely to be obscured by the tyres, tarpaulins or other obstructions. The size of the figures in all cases is to be as under:-
For motor cars - 4in. high, 1/2in. wide
For motor lorries - 6in. high, 5/8in. wide

A broad arrow is to be placed on top or on one side of the numbers, according to the shape of the bonnet, as may be found most convenient. No numbers or letters are to painted on the bonnets or on the backs of the vehicles except the official registration number."



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Colonel

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Seems to me that I've seen a lot of vehicle numbers starting with "WD", but I didn't see these on Alan's list. Can anyone clarify this for me?

Al

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Lieutenant-Colonel

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I'm not aware of numbers starting 'WD'.

You do, of course, see plenty of photos of trucks with 'WD' on, say, the side of the body when it just means "War Department".

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Rob


Legend

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I've seen a photo (and currently bidding on it on ebay, so hands off!) of a Ford model T somewhere on the western front with LC

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Legend

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I notice that post WW1 tanks carry odd serial numbers in the centre of the cab front, above the visors. I have never seen an explanation of these. An example is H952. The Mark V at the Imperial War Museum in London carries ME9828 (I think - only photo to hand is a bit blurry). Do these fit into the system discussed above?

Gwyn

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Colonel

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Would you be so kind to post a copy should you be fortunate enough to win the photo?

Al



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Rob


Legend

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I'd be happy to - providing I can get my scanner to work! If not, I should be able to take a photo of the photo with my camera + tripod

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Lieutenant-Colonel

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Gwyn Evans wrote:

I notice that post WW1 tanks carry odd serial numbers in the centre of the cab front, above the visors. I have never seen an explanation of these. An example is H952. The Mark V at the Imperial War Museum in London carries ME9828 (I think - only photo to hand is a bit blurry). Do these fit into the system discussed above?

Gwyn



Both 'H' and 'ME' were vehicle licence number blocks used by Middlesex County Council, who issued large numbers of licence numbers for military vehicles right through the 1920s and 1930s.



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Runflat wrote:

Seen today in Foyles bookshop, London, is a new book called "Warpaint: Colours and Markings of British Army Vehicles 1903-2003" by Dick Taylor.

..., for the first time I've seen in print, it does quote (albeit unattributed) General Routine Order No. 944 of 26th June, 1915...



I've now bought the book and see the published quote is slightly different, although not in any real substance, and dates to May 1916.



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Lieutenant-Colonel

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Runflat wrote:

"BL" and "BUL" is probably 'Bulford'.



Sorry, bit of a correction. I don't think "BL" is Bulford. But not sure what it decyphers as. Another for the mystery pile.



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Legend

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Runflat wrote:

Both 'H' and 'ME' were vehicle licence number blocks used by Middlesex County Council, who issued large numbers of licence numbers for military vehicles right through the 1920s and 1930s.



Thank you Runflat. That's really interesting. I know that some county record offices have records of civilian vehicle licence numbers from this period (my own does - but it's not Middlesex).Do you know whetherthere is an existing register of numbers issued by Middlesex County Council from the 1920s?

Gwyn


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Lieutenant-Colonel

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One of the key works on this is, "How to trace the history of your car" by Philip Riden.

The 'H' series is said to have been destroyed. The 'ME' series is said to be in private hands in Nottingham. The book gives the address but I'm reluctant to give it out here.

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Legend

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Thanks again. Off I go to the library!

Gwyn

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Lieutenant-Colonel

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A couple more prefixes for the mystery pile: "FL" seen on a couple of Foden steamers, and "MED-M" seen on a Vauxhall staff car. Any ideas?

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