The Bren carrier, a tracked vehicle resembling a light tank, was armoured against small arms ammunition, had good cross country performance and could reach speeds of up to 40 mph on good surfaces. It had a crew of three, the gunner and driver and a third man. The gunner and driver sat in front, the third man in the rear. Normally all three sat in a semi exposed position but when going into action a lever would drop the front seat so the gunner and driver are brought below the level of the front bullet proof shields. The third man could crouch below a similar screen in front of his own seat. Its role was to move the light machine gun and its crew form fire position to fire position, from which the gun could be fired on the ground. The gun could be fired from the carrier and in the Battle of Flanders 1940 carriers occasionally made sorties against the enemy firing from the carrier. As well as Bren guns, the carrier platoon also carried Boys anti-tank rifles for protection against light armoured fighting vehicles. An integral part of the carrier platoon was a number of motorcycle troops.
Infantry Section Leading 1938 gives the following roles for the carrier platoon:
(a) In attack
(i) In a tank attack to advance rapidly from fire position to fire position to give close support to tanks unaccompanied by infantry.
(ii) To assist the advance of riflemen by the infiltration method.
(iii) To protect flanks.
(b) In defence
(i) To move fire power within the position from place to place i.e. to produce counter-attack by fire only.
(ii) To support tank and infantry counter-attacks.
(iii) To provide depth to the defence by fire at long range, working in groups.
(c) In withdrawal to act as the rear guard.
At first the Home Defence forces in Suffolk (as in the rest of the country) were desperately short of equipment following the losses the B.E.F suffered in France. The War Diary of 2/4th South Lancs notes that in April 1940 the battalion had no carrier platoon (as well as the mortar platoon having no mortars and the rifle companies no 2” mortars). The Diary notes that a full compliment of equipment was achieved by July 1940 (but does not state if this included a carrier platoon).
The role of carriers in the defence of Suffolk, as indicated by the unit Defence Schemes, was to act as a mobile reserve. The War Diary of the 9th Lancs states that on action stations the carrier platoon was to report to battalion HQ to form part of the battalion reserve. The War Diary of 2/8th Lancs gives the role of the carrier platoon to act as a mobile reserve with its principal tasks as follows:
(i) To increase the fire power of any threatened post held by Home Guards or the A.M.P.C.
(ii) To co-operate in any counter attack by rifle platoons by providing fire power.
(iii) To act as mobile fire units in street fighting.
(iv) To provide protection for artillery units near Mutfordbig Wood.
This Diary also gives the strength of the carrier platoon as 10 carriers with 10 Bren guns (1,200 rounds per gun), two Boys anti-tank rifles (40 rounds per gun), 84 hand grenades and 100 rounds per rifle.
But the War Diary of 1/6 Lancs states that its Carriers formed part of the Brigade Reserve. On 'Action Stations', carriers were to move to hideouts near their own battalion HQ and to come under Brigade orders to carry out:
(i) Counter attacks against enemy airborne troops
(ii) Counter attacks against any enemy penetration of the beaches.
If a break down in communications occured, the carriers were to act under Battalion orders.
During the routine battalion stand to at dawn and dusk, the carrier platoon was often detailed to mount standing patrols (e.g. 11th Highland Light Infantry and 7th Manchester War Diaries). A standing patrol would watch important locations such as likely places for an enemy attack (e.g. sections of beaches), road junctions and bridges or places of prominent vantage which the enemy would have to capture. For this type of patrol, carriers were ideal as they could deliver sufficient fire power to disrupt the enemy. Unlike a defensive post, the patrol was allowed to withdraw. Carriers would also carry out mobile patrols – the War Diary of 11th Highland Light Infantry mentions carriers patrolling Sutton Common.
According to the Defence Scheme of 1 Herts (54 Div, 1942) Carriers, on 'Action Stations', were to take up position on the rear anti-tank ditch to cover any evacuation from the forward zone.
Finally carriers were frequently involved in training exercises often representing enemy tanks (e.g. Exercise Donnerwetter Force)
Above: Carriers in Action
Infantry Section Leading 1938, HMSO
11 HLI papers, TNA
7th Manchester papers, TNA
2/4 South Lancs papers, TNA
2/8 Lancs papers, TNA
1/6 Lancs papers, TNA
Engines of War, WO, Adam & Charles Black, 1941
Britain's wonderful Fighting Forces, WO, Oldhams Press, 1941