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The 2CV Pick-ups supplied to the Royal Navy

2CV Index

In 1957, the British Royal Navy was preparing to send two aircraft carriers, HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion, to take a detachment of Royal Marines to deal with the rebels in the Malaysian jungle. Ground transport was needed and the vehicles had to be sufficiently robust and reliable to cope with jungle tracks and worse and had to be light enough to be taken ashore by helicopter from the aircraft carriers.
An admiral on HMS Bulwark had seen a 2CV Pick-up at a CitroŽn dealer near Portsmouth, borrowed it to take it on board for his next voyage, put it through many tests and returned it to the dealer. The Royal Marines Commanding Officer on board HMS Bulwark was so impressed that he ordered four more.
The first helicopter lift tests involving the 2CV pick-up were made on-shore in the UK by the helicopter company Westland Aircraft of Yeovil sometime in 1957‚ using a standard civilian version of the pick-up, bearing the registration number 33CPP. This vehicle was then taken aboard HMS Bulwark on the aircraft carrier’s second commission (voyage) during 1957 and 1958 for sea tests in the West Indies and the Indian Ocean with the Westland Whirlwind helicopters of 845 squadron RNAS.
The tests were judged a success and as a result HMS Bulwark was converted from a fixed-wing aircraft carrier to the Navy’s first helicopter commando carrier and equipped with a batch of pick-ups ordered from CitroŽn Cars Ltd in early 1959, to serve as motor transport with the 42nd Commando regiment of the Royal Marines.
Delivery of this batch had been preceded by the construction of a prototype military version, produced by converting a standard civilian pick-up. This vehicle bore the RN military registration number 61RN91.
The first batch of 35 pick-ups‚were delivered in time to sail on the Bulwark's third commission during late 1959 and 1960 and both 42 Commando and the CitroŽn vehicles were deployed ashore when the ship reached Singapore.
A second batch of 30 pick-ups was later delivered to serve a similar function aboard HMS Bulwark's sister-ship, HMS Albion, when this vessel was also converted to the commando carrier role in 1961.

CitroŽn Make Pick-Up Vans For Aircraft Carriers

Britain’s latest aircraft carrier, HMS Bulwark has a small car park in one corner of the flight deck. Parked there are 35 small pick-up vehicles made in Slough. These ugly little ducklings in addition to being used for running around on the carrier itself are capable of being lifted by helicopters and put down ashore. They need no roads and will keep going for considerable distances in conditions which at their best are not normal.
When the Admiralty was faced with the problem of selecting just the right company to make such multi-purpose vehicles, the choice fell on CitroŽn Cars (Great Britain) Ltd. of Slough. CitroŽns had the right chassis in their famous 2VC* which as anyone who has been to France in recent years will testify, are the Frenchman’s most popular choice. They are everywhere in France. An average Frenchman is after utility, performance and economy. This little car, with a body which looks like corrugated iron, is capable of a remarkable performance for its size and price. It sells at under £400.
All the economy, however, has been made in things that really don’t matter such as sleek appearance, superb finish and hold-you-tight seats. The things that matter – the engine, the chassis, the suspension – are works of great engineering skill. It has independent suspension, front and rear, air-cooled two stroke** engine (no boiling, no freezing) and gives 60 miles to the gallon – four adults from London to Brighton at under 1s. 3d. each.
It is not unusual to see a French farmer drive a 2VC through his fields for great distances and this little wonder will take it all in its stride and get the farmer and his load there and be none the worse for it.

Royal Navy’s Role Abroad

The Royal Navy, of course, despite the diminishing size of the British Empire, has to be prepared to deal with any situation in any part of the world. It may have to land on the sandy banks of Kuwait or on the rocky beaches of certain parts of Africa. It needs small vehicles to go with the men toget them around where no roads exist. CitroŽns are justly proud that their 2VC chassis was chosen by the Admiralty.
These little pick-up vehicles were made by CitroŽns at their Slough factory. After supplying for the Bulwark the company received another order to make yet another 35 for another ship. These too have been delivered. In exercises, the pick-up has been completely successful. While it can be lifted by a helicopter and taken ashore, it needs fewer than half a dozen men to lift it up and give it a helping hand in case, without roads, it comes up against an obstacle it is incapable of jumping on its own. To be capable of being helped is a virtue in itself!
The interesting question arises as to why these wonderful 2VCs are not seen in this country. The answer is to be found in ourselves. It is not the fault of the 2VC. It will perform just as well across British fields and on our roads as it does in France. But over here we like something better looking. We either buy a new car or a good second-hand one. Experience tells CitroŽns that the British market is not for this little car which has invaded the French roads like no other before it.
But on the other hand we are not completely deprived of the virtues of this vehicle, here at Slough the same chassis and engine are brought from France and made into the more glamorised version of the 2VC – the Bijou. The Bijou is thus the British market’s creation but it retains all independent suspension, rubber suspended seats removable for picnics, flat folding rear seats to give more luggage room and other features. The body is rustless, there is no radiator and of course no water to boil or freeze.

The Unique Features

But the basic model which has made CitroŽn a name in the motor car world is the CitroŽn ID. Its de luxe model, the DS, and the estate car, Safari are among the most advanced cars made anywhere. The CitroŽn hydro-pneumatic suspension has done more to solve the problem of comfort and roadholding. The car automatically maintains a constant ground clearance whatever the number of passengers or the amount of luggage. For travelling over very uneven ground one can adjust the suspension and increase the ground clearance of the body.
In fact the entire car is of such a novel design that it appears that its designers first tore up all the books on car designing and tackled the whole job afresh. For example, the idea of putting the spare wheel right in front of the car, even ahead of the radiator under the bonnet, is unique and is designed to minimise the damage, impact and injury in case of a collision, who can think of a better thing to take the first blow than the spare wheel?
The panels of its sleek body are often bolted on with no more than one bolt. In case of damage all it requires is take the panel off, beat it out, repaint it and bolt it back again. Perhaps the car insurance companies in this country, who have to bear the bulk of the ever increasing accident damage costs, will do something to encourage this easy to make and cheap to repair method.
At the moment, despite the high tariff wall, CitroŽns are selling well, being made in this country CitroŽns pay a little less of the normal tax paid on cars imported from the Continent. Despite this, the tax barrier remains an effective hindrance to CitroŽn sales in Britain. Perhaps when we get into the Common Market the taxes will gradually come down and in about ten years from now the tax level will have reduced sufficiently for an average British buyer of cars to ignore the little extra he will have to pay for buying a foreign car.

KALIM SIDDIQUI

I am not sure of the provenance of this article - I suspect it is from a Slough local newspaper circa 1961.

* throughout the article, the author refers to the '2VC'
**the 2CV's engine was not a 'two stroke' but a four stroke 2 cylinder.

Above - civilian version of the pickup

Click here to see pictures of a pair of Louis Barbour-based 4x4 replicas seen at the 2010 2CV GB National

Below - active service entailed a few modifications to the cars - grab handles were fitted to the rear of the roof and the doors and windows were removed. The latter was done to obviate reflections and to allow the commando sitting next to the driver a wide range of fire.

Above - HMS Bulwark with 2CVs parked at the stern.

Below HMS Albion with 26 2CVs along with numerous other vehicles on board.

© 2010 Julian Marsh - thanks to Ken Smith