Patron: Air Marshal Sir Ian Macfadyen
The early months of 1944 saw the Manx Regiment re-equipping and retraining in preparation for the invasion of Europe and it was at this time that it was issued for the first time with Morris-Commercial C9/B Self-propelled Bofors guns which they used with great effect against both air and ground targets, ending the war as the British Army’s highest-scoring Ack-Ack unit. The SP guns were designed as a private enterprise by the Morris-Commercial company using a lengthened version of the well-known C8 “Quad” artillery tractor. The War Office realised that the company had come up with a very effective design and an order followed.
A very basic body was installed, providing four-abreast seating for the driver and three of the crew, with no cab and only the very first vehicles had a windshield. A cab would have prevented the gun from having a 360 degree traverse; even the steering wheel was hinged so that it could be folded out of the gun barrel’s way. The gun itself was mounted on a slightly modified Bofors mounting in the mid part of the chassis, with flat platforms behind it upon which ammunition boxes could be stowed. Tools and the crew’s kit were housed in several stowage boxes slung underneath various parts of the vehicle and the whole ungainly outfit was rounded off by having four very hefty scissor-type jacks at the front, rear and both sides to raise it off its wheels and provide a stable firing platform.
Just over 1700 C9/Bs were made in 1943-44. In 2005 the search began for one which would be suitable for exhibition at the museum and it very quickly became evident that they were rare. Most had been fitted with cranes or other specialist gear upon demob and their original bodywork was more often than not discarded. Three were found in museums, and until an advertisement for one appeared on a military vehicles website in mid-2008 we had almost decided that those were all that were left. A phone call to the seller resulted in a number of photographs being received and a deal was struck. The Morris was shipped to the Isle of Man in September 2009.
Contact was made with many people and organisations in a search for information and manuals. The amount of help that we received was phenomenal. A copy of the workshop manual was supplied by Brian Baxter of the REME Museum of Technology and a fellow C9/B owner provided us with a copy of the Army key card relating to the vehicle. These cards provide details of the vehicle’s serial number, date of demob and sometimes details of their last unit. The survival of key cards for different vehicle types is rather hit and miss so it was a great relief to find that the truck’s card was still at the Tank Museum at Bovington – although the Museum’s staff didn’t seem to be aware of it! We had no idea what our truck’s Army number had been as it would have been painted on the bonnet and was long lost. The key card listed both the vehicle’s chassis number and its serial number so it now carries the correct number. Unfortunately we still have no idea what units the truck served with as this information does not appear on the key card. The very helpful David Fletcher at the Tank Museum provided a copy of the contract card for the C9/B which showed that the ex-works price was £769/10/0!
The truck had first been restored in the 1990s. After demob in 1955 it had been used as a recovery truck for many years and had lost its special bodywork but a dedicated search of scrapyards throughout England turned up most of the original parts and fittings. Compared to the original feat of restoration our efforts were puny, consisting mainly of replacing a few inaccurate details, a few minor repairs and a repaint.
Modern rear lights had been built into the truck and in order for it to be displayed in its 1944 condition these were scrapped. Originally the only lights on the back were a single tail lamp and a convoy light which shines onto the white-painted rear axle differential case; there was no stop light at all. This system was accurately replicated but modern lighting requirements are met with two easily-removable self-contained units which are each fixed by a single wing-nut and hidden multi-plug. The front indicators are hinged so as to fold out of sight behind the bumper.
No trace of the original paint could be found so we pondered long and hard whether to repaint the truck in the brown and black “Mickey Mouse Ear” camouflage of 1943 and early 1944 or in Olive Drab which was introduced in Spring 1944. The latter scheme was chosen, and the drab colour was livened up by the application of the many different markings which adorn most wartime vehicles. These include the 7th Armoured Division’s famous “Desert Rat” symbol and markings for a vehicle of “B” Troop of 1st Battery of the Manx Regiment. Many visitors ask why the Morris wears the American white star - this was adopted by all the Allied forces shortly before the invasion of Normandy. The eagle-eyed will note that the Allied stars on the gun shield are upside-down but this is correct, being copied from our a clear period photo of a Manx Regiment C9/B. The reason for the inverted stars is probably that, due to the gun shield narrowing from bottom to top, the stencil used in 1944 was of such a size that it would only fit upside down!
The truck is currently only fitted with its standard equipment, ammunition boxes etc. Period photographs invariably show these vehicles well laden with various items of personal kit, camouflage nets and tarpaulins so we shall be attempting to replicate this lived-in appearance in due course.
Acknowledgements are due to the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company who provided a free passage for the truck and its transporter. The Manx Lottery Trust, the Manx Heritage Foundation and the Gough Ritchie Charitable Trust all made significant contributions towards the purchase and restoration of the vehicle and the construction of its new display area.