Universally Used: A 15mm Universal Carrier FireFight! | Print |  E-mail
Written by Don MacVittie   
Monday, 07 July 2008


All the vehicles in this review. 

Everyone recognizes the Sherman as the hallmark of American tanks, and most people whether they wargame or not think of the Germans when they see an Sdkfz 251. But there is one vehicle that was more pervasive than either one of these icons, and receives passingly little credit for its achievements outside of the UK, and as time goes on it is less recognized even by native Britons.

But it was the only truly universal vehicle, seeing service everywhere in both Pacific and European fronts, counted on by the troops that used and heavily modified them, and taking a beating while still doing their job. 

For armor protection, they weren’t much at all, for weaponry they were under-gunned for most jobs originally planned for them, and being open-topped, they were more susceptible to indirect fire than most AFVs. And yet as many as 100,000 of them were produced in every role from AT Gun tow to mortar carrier, Armored Observation Post, Machinegun carrier, and reconnaissance.

This review is our tribute to this redoubtable little carrier and the men who bravely drove them into battle on all fronts. We salute the men and the vehicle that served them from 1940 to the 1960s.

We offer a huge thank you to Dom Skelton of Dom's Decals for reading this one for us and offering excellent input, and for allowing us to pass some decals he sent us along to a reader.

 

If a model had figures included with it, we used those when putting that model together. If a model did not have figures included, we used Command Decision figures from a pack of British riding figures. We note in each product write-up where the figures came from.


All the UC Mark IIs in this review. 

And you’ll be seeing some of these carriers again – we are taking a selection of the UC2’s and adding them to a British Infantry Company box set along with some Cromwells and some Shermans to make a Polish army. We might have to do some modifications, but so far it’s looking like we won’t. That review will go with the “Bag to Base in Five Days” article. That army will be painted to Polish Commonwealth colors, and the decals will be Polish 1st Armored as we review Dom’s Decals’ Polish transfers.


All the UC Mark I’s in this review – up for grabs.

One of you will see the UC1’s also. These vehicles were all painted up for the 8th army (sans transfers/decals), and the person who has the most funny/inspired/interesting comment on the forums about this article will be receiving them from us as-they-sit. We’ll even throw in some of the extra CD UC rider figures and some of Dom’s fine LRDG decals.  Why would we do that? You all read our articles a lot, but you don’t have much to say about them in the forums. Indeed, your in-depth conversations tend to happen on other sites – GHQ, TMP, Reaper, even occasionally Frothers and BF. We’re hoping we can convince you all to have the conversation here, improving the article by putting reader commentary right here in the forums. The rules? One month from the original publish date – which is two weeks from the date the article goes public – we’ll look at this thread, and the best comment will be the winner. “Best” is relative, and up to the staff of Wargames @ Nordalia – specifically The Editrix, The Dungeon Delver, and The GM. Our decision is final of course, so there’s no squabbling. Since you have to be a member to post to the forums, that becomes a default requirement. Good ideas are posts like: Historical bits we didn't include in the article, commentary on the article (good and bad, having a case and being articulate is more important than if you agreed with us!), or painting tips.

BattleFront Miniatures

In the middle of our review, BattleFront re-released several of their Universal Carriers. This caused us much dismay until we found out about QRF (read below), and then we had longer timelines to worry about.


Unassembled Mortar


Unassembled MMG/AOP.


Unassembled Basic Universal  Carrier


Unassembled Wasp Carrier

The BF miniatures are nice enough, the figures are as expressive as always, and at least the AOP/MMG version comes with plenty of options to load down your UC with)

These are the newer BF approach to non-tank vehicles, all resin on a resin base. It makes them look inordinately tall for a vehicle that wasn’t. Next to a 15mm figure the top edge of these UCs is far too tall, but much of this is the base size, and if you’re the type to file down or cut off the base, or you base up your figures quite a bit, they will look fine.


Completed Mortar Carrier. 

The nicest thing about these vehicles is the volume of bits that come with the MMG/AOP carrier set. Seriously, there are two of everything – check out the pictures. You can build these as two MMG carriers, two AOP carriers, or just plain unmodified carriers. We built an MMG carrier and an AOP carrier so that you could see what BF had in mind. Since we have a separate set of basic carriers included in the review, you’ll get the broadest range this way. The basic carriers are nice enough, and getting three of them in the pack is great. The Wasp is the Canadian-designed Wasp Mk.IIC with the fuel in a large drum mounted on the hull rear.  This design was later adopted by the British too, as the arrangement made room for a third crew-member with a Bren gun in the back.


Completed MMG/AOP Carrier. 

Each of the BF UCs comes with at least two figures, most with three – the plain Universal, MMG, and AOP carriers with three figures, the Mortar and Wasp carriers with two. The figures are good looking BF figures, and all things considered, the BF offerings are solid.


Completed Universal Carrier 

If there’s a large weakness to the BF offerings, it is that they currently do not offer a single Universal Carrier Mark I. That will no doubt change (again) in the near future, but at this time if you are building a force based on UC Mark Is, you should look elsewhere. A secondary issue with BF – only a problem if you don’t already own them – is that the mortar carriers and MG carriers do not have dismounted teams. This is not unique to BF, only QRF supplies the mortar and Vickers teams with their UCs.


Completed Wasp Carrier 


BattleFront Universal Carrier – BR210

UK Source 

MSRP: £ 6.50 (3 models)

Battle Honours UK

US Source:

MSRP: $12.00 (3 models)

The War Store

 

BattleFront MMG/AOP Carrier – BR212

MSRP: £ 6.50 (2 models)

Battle Honours UK

 

MSRP: $11.00 (2 models)

The War Store


BattleFront Mortar Carrier – BR213

MSRP: £ 5.50 (2 models)

Battle Honours UK

 

MSRP: $11.00 (2 models)

The War Store

 

BattleFront Wasp  – BR214

MSRP: £ 5.50 (3 models)

Battle Honours UK

 

MSRP: $12.00 (3 models)

The War Store

 

Command Decision


The Command Decision Carriers as delivered. 

It is interesting that Command Decision is one of the vendors with a single Universal Carrier. Normally Command Decision has a great selection of items for any given vehicle, but this once, they feel that a single carrier suits all needs. To be honest, how many Universal Carriers do you see on tables? They could well be right in their assessment.

The one vehicle that CD offers is not a bad carrier. It is a UC Mark II, with a decent amount of gear. We like their crew figures also, and they fit all of the carriers except for Quality Casting (which doesn’t need them), and Gaming Models. For the others, even if they come with crews, a bag of 50 of these crew figures can provide you some great variety in your UC forces. While these are sold as “Bren Universal Carriers”, they are Mark II Universals by the layout, and the stowage is actually very nice. There is some small amount of gunk around the road wheels on all of our models, but it’s not too much, and we don’t mind painting a little road-wheel gunk up as mud because it forms much as mud would. You might have a different opinion.


They definitely paint up well enough. 

The best part of this vehicle is the overall look. They’re relatively clean and have stowage laid out well, the sand-skirts and footholds are well done, they just look good. We also like the cleanliness of the seating (most vendors don’t have clean seat-lines), and the well-done mounts for AAMG that would allow you to put a Bren gun facing forward or back.

This is balanced by the lack of crew – the only way to get CD crews is in a 50 count bag, and unless you’re a glutton for punishment like us, you’re unlikely to need 50 figures for your UCs. Other issues include the lack of a hole for the forward gun (be it Bren, PIAT, or Boys ATR), and the already-mentioned build-up around the road wheels. 

It is a bit inconvenient that there is only a Mark II, but honestly, most people won’t care too much either way since the major change between Mark I and Mark II was the engine and that is not represented in most rulesets. The sand skirts are different from Mark I to Mark II, but other than that they are much the same from a visual perspective. So whether the lack of a Mark I is an issue or not for you is strictly a personal taste thing.

 

Command Decision Bren Universal Carriers - CD-106

MSRP: $14.00

WarWeb

 

Command Decision Bren Carrier Crew - CDBC-7

$14.00

WarWeb

 

Gaming Models Bren Carrier


The Gaming Models product as delivered.

The single Gaming Models offering is, like all of their offerings, lightweight prepainted  resin. It is smaller than any other offering in this review, and the Command Decision driver figures do not fit into it because of this difference. The model does not come with figures.

The thing we like best about this model is cleanliness. Normally for Gaming Models, we cite price as their strong point, but this model is a little more expensive in relation to the other vendors – Command Decision models cost $3.50 each if you pay full price for them, for example – and this model came to us with a smooth, ready-to-paint feel to it. 

It was difficult to classify this model as either Mark I or Mark II because there are no sand skirts on it, which is the primary indicator of which Mark the UC is. Mark I’s have rounded sandskirts with no foothold, and Mark IIs have blocky sandskirts with footholds front and rear. We finally classified it as a Mark I based on the lack of a roadwheel on the front fender. Not the best classification system in the world, but suffice it to say that you could use it as either/or. Since the model is sold as a Bren Carrier, you may think we’re pigeon-holing incorrectly, but they are listed as coming in 1940, dessert, or 1944 colors on the price sheet, so we don’t think so.

The thing we like most about this model is the ease of painting. Resin has less jagged edges and pits to paint, so in general it is more enjoyable, in our opinion. This vehicle is smooth, unlike some Gaming Models figures, and was the easiest paintjob of the entire review


And painted up for the desert.

The least appealing aspect of this model for most of you is going to be weight. It is light as a feather. We think the biggest problem is size. It doesn’t fit well with any other model in this review, and if you want to put 15mm/1:100 crew into it, you’re going to have to mod them, most likely file down the front or back of the driver to get him to fit in the seat. The generic nature of the vehicle – having all that is common to UCs and nothing that is not – is going to be a strength or a weakness according to your tastes.

As is always true with Gaming Models, they’re painted well enough on delivery to use them on your table, but the paint jobs are not detailed, and you’ll likely want to repaint them to match your armies.

Gaming Models does not currently have a website, but you may contact them for a current price list here: mailto:  

Gaming Models Bren Carrier: $4.00 each, pre-painted resin

 

Peter Pig


The Peter Pig UC as delivered.

We’re fans of the Piggies. Martin and company do a great job of turning out pretty models that have that extra bit of girth to withstand the pounding that figures take when being hauled around and mauled by non-wargamers at a game store. Peter Pig only sells a single Carrier, and mark it as both a Universal and Bren Carrier. Straight up, it’s not a Bren Carrier (which was a predecessor to the Universal along with several others), it is a Universal Carrier Mark II. We believe that all vendors doing this are trying to cover the fact that many wargamers think of every carrier as a Bren Carrier. 

Set next to the Command Decision models, you have to look at the thickness of the side walls to tell which is the Peter Pig. The side walls on this model are the thickest in this review, only Gaming Models comes close.

This is a generally pretty all-metal model that comes without figures. As with all of the models in this review, we posed some CD figures in this one to make up for the lack. 

The thing that we like the most about this model is the cleanliness of the suspension and road wheels. All of the good stuff of the CD model without the gunk? Excellent! You’ll likely also find the engine venting grillwork and the stowage to be fine. One thing we found strangely appealing was the lack of the back foothold. Reports say that the rear footholds rarely lasted any length of time during rough use, so it gives this model character.


And the finished product. 

The downside of this figure is the lack of a hole for the front gunner. Much like CD, the shields are there, and there is no place to even begin cutting. You could make a hole, but it would be work, and it would be error prone. Peter Pig is hardly alone in this category, all but two vendors suffer the same problem.

Of course, with all of the variants of the UC and a Mark I and Mark II, if you like to be very historically accurate then Peter Pig may not be your first choice. We like them well enough, but like other single-product vendors, we have to say that the variety of models makes them less than our first choice.

Peter Pig Universal Carrier (Bren Carrier) – 8-12 

US Source

MSRP: $7.35

Brookhurst Hobbies

UK source

MSRP: £3.00

Peter Pig

 

Quick Reaction Force


The QRF UC Mark I  as delivered.


The QRF UC Mark I AOP as delivered. 


The QRF HMG Carrier as delivered.


The QRF Mortar Carrier as delivered. 

When you wonder why this review is so late, QRF is why. I was doing final checks before writing it up – all models painted and all of the research done – when QRF informed me that they were re-mastering their entire UC line. Well, we didn’t want to run the review with product that was not available for you to buy, if we could avoid it, and we didn’t want to leave them out if they were introducing new (and presumably interesting to you) product. So we waited. Due to circumstances beyond LKM Direct’s control, it took longer than any of us expected.

By the time the package arrived, we were like “these better be 10 times the product they’re replacing after all of the hoopla”. And do you know what? They are. QRF would have been dead last with a set of carriers that were less than mediocre. Now, well, now they’re beautiful. These can stand toe-to-toe with any of the other carriers in this review. Their selection of models is exceeded only by Quality Castings, and they’re better castings than several other vendors. 


The QRF Universal Carrier Mk.II  painted up.

Our one question mark with these products was the sand shields, which are not differentiated as well as other vendors’ offerings. Since this is one of the key items used to identify the difference between UC1 and UC2 models, it’s an oversight, but as is usually true with minor details like this, it is only a problem while you’re figuring out how to paint them up. Once they’re painted, it’s not such a huge deal. 

The thing we like the best about these vehicles is the new track system. While this is a cool system that lets you see through the tracks on any model, it really shines on the Universal Carriers. You can look through underneath and see the tracks on the other side, just as if it were a real carrier. Of all the UCs in this review, only QRF and Quality Castings manage this feat, and it looks good.


The QRF Wasp finished up. 

The QRF Wasp model, is the British Wasp II, with the fuel tanks inside the hull, not the Canadian model, as represented by Battlefront.  The Wasp II was standard in British formations early in the NW Europe campaign, but was gradually replaced with the more flexible Canadian model  - by VE day most British units probably had IICs.

Another great point, if you need it, is the figures supplied with the mortar and Vickers UCs. The mortar carrier has a dismounted mortar team with mortar, the Vickers carrier a dismounted Vickers and crew. So you get a UC with the parts on for its purpose (mortar or Vickers packed up and stowed), and a team to represent the weapon deployed. Of course, if you have your teams already, this will not be a benefit to you. 

The thing we like least about these is the afore-mentioned sand shields, closely followed by the lack of stowage. It doesn’t have to be built-on, but it would be nice to have some of the standard stuff like the road wheel on the front.


The Mark Is assembled and painted. 

Other than that, these are brand new castings, and there’s little to nitpick. They’re clean, they’re pretty, and they’re appropriately sized. There are enough different models to cover your needs, and the extra figures are a bonus if you don’t already own the teams.

As a final footnote, honourable mention should go to QRF for their early war range as well.  Although outside of the scope of this review, it would be remiss not to point out that QRF also offer the early war trio of the Bren Carrier (ie. really a Bren Carrier, not a Universal with the wrong name), Scout Carrier and Cavalry Carrier that were the mainstay of British units in 1939-40, prior to the introduction of the Universal Carrier.  If building a BEF army for 1940, or even assembling a defending force for Operation Sea Lion, it is these that you need.  Of the other manufacturers, Quality Castings also make a “proper” Bren Carrier, while QRF are, to the best of our knowledge, the sole source for the Scout and Cavalry Carriers. 

We are not reviewing these non-Universal Carriers here, but offer you some pictures in case you are interested in this era.




 

Quick Reaction Force Universal No1 Mk1 - BAPC 04

£ 3.50

LKM Direct

 

Quick Reaction Force Machine Gun Carrier (with dismounted Vickers MG) BAPC 05

£ 4.50

LKM Direct

 

Quick Reaction Force Universal Mortar Carrier (with dismounted mortar) BAPC 06

£ 4.50

LKM Direct

 

Quick Reaction Force Universal Carrier AOP BAPC 07

£ 3.50

LKM Direct

 

Quick Reaction Force Universal Carrier Mark II Tow BAPC 08

£ 3.50

LKM Direct

 

Quick Reaction Force Wasp Carrier BAPC 09

£ 3.50

LKM Direct

 

Quality Castings


The QC Mark I, as delivered. 


The QC Mark I Command Carrier as delivered.


The QC Mark I Mortar Carrier as delivered. 


The QC Mark II as delivered.


The QC Mark II Command Carrier as delivered.

 

The QC Mark II HMG Carrier as delivered.

Quality Castings are known for two things – lots of detail and slightly smaller size than other 15mm vendors (though the smaller size is changing, wait for our next review to see just how much). These vehicles are no exception. While QRF has a good selection of Universal Carriers (and other carriers), Quality Castings has what can only be called an expansive selection by comparison. 

As is usual for Quality Castings, there are many metal parts to these carriers, and they have more detail than any other vendor – including the stick shift. They come with drivers, so Quality Castings figures were not used.


The Mark I Command Carrier 

Quality Castings does a great job of differentiating between the two Marks of UC with sand skirts and stowage, and also manages to do an excellent job of dividing by task (mortar/scout/AOP/MG carrier) via equipment included.

The best things about these figures is their detail. Of all the carriers we looked at, these have more detail than any other. They’re clean casts that include each rivet, spring, etc clearly defined. 


The Mark I Mortar Carrier

Another major plus of these vehicles is the Bren guns. At 15mm, these are astounding. They look every bit as good as (or better than) the 28mm Bren guns we own. Combine that with the ability to mount the Bren gun out the front of the vehicle, and you’ve got an astounding combination that looks just smashing on the table. 

The stowage is nice, and the differentiation between tasks is well done with radios, Vickers, mortar shells, etc. Very nice models overall.


The Armored Observation Post Carrier 

The largest liability to these vehicles is the number of little parts cause them to be difficult to fit together well. Of course, this is not a huge deal if you are only building a few of them, just use some patience and whatever you do, keep your self-closing tweezers on hand, you’ll need them. But the work is definitely worthwhile.


The Mark II Command Carrier 

If you are building a unit for a specific purpose – where there are a few UCs and they are all of the same Mark/purpose, then Quality Casting is for you. If you’re in the UK, having to order from the states and wait for shipment may not be to your liking, but if you can wait, you won’t regret it.

 


The Mark II HMG Carrier.

 

Quality Castings Universal Carrier Mk I (2/pkg)  Q-2044   

MSRP: $8.95  

WarWeb

 

Quality Castings Universal Carrier Mk I Command, with radio (2/PKG)  Q-2045   

MSRP: $8.95  

WarWeb

 

Quality Castings Universal Carrier Mk II 3 Mortar Carrier (1/PKG)  Q-2046   

Accidentally painted desert colors.

MSRP: $8.95 

WarWeb


Quality Castings Universal Carrier Mk II (1/PKG)  Q-2047   

MSRP: $8.95 

WarWeb

 

Quality Castings Universal Carrier Mk II Command, with radio (1/PKG  Q-2048   

MSRP: $8.95  

WarWeb

 

Quality Castings Universal Carrier Mk II Vickers MG Carrier (1/PKG)  Q-2049   

MSRP $8.95  

WarWeb
 

 

Measurements

Since the vendors have the same basic dimensions for all of their Universal Carriers, we are listing only the length of one vehicle from each.

Name

Length

Width

Height

Notes

Original/100

 

 

 

 

BattleFront

35mm

21mm

14mm

Measurements without base*

Command Decision

40mm

22mm

16mm

Height to top of UC, not mounts

Gaming Models

32mm

20mm

14mm

 

Peter Pig

38mm

19.5

16mm

 

Quick Reaction Force

37mm

19mm

15mm

 

Quality Castings

35mm

19mm

14mm

 

*BF Height with base – 17mm.

Also note that the BF Wasp carrier uses the rear tank mount, and is longer because the tank hangs off the back. The QRF Wasp uses the internal tank system and thus is not longer.

 

 

Tools of the Trade

All models in this review were assembled and painted utilizing the following tools: 

-         Armory Black Primer

-         Valejo paints

-         Future Floor Wax (magic sauce) blended with paint for highlighting

-         Brushes are primarily Reaper, Vallejo, and Floquil

-         Armory Clear Matte Sealer for dull-coating

-         GF9 Glue for gluing

 

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