The FV603 Saracen was a six-wheeled armoured personnel carrier built by Alvis and used by the British army that became a recognisable vehicle as a result of its part in the policing of Northern Ireland.
The FV603 Saracen was the armoured personnel carrier of Alvis' FV600 series. Besides the driver and commander, a squad of 8 soldiers plus a troop commander could be carried. Most models carried a small turret on the roof, carrying a Browning .30 machine gun. A .303 Bren gun could be mounted on an anti-aircraft ring-mount accessed through a roof hatch and there were ports on the sides through which troops can fire. Although removed from active service, it saw extensive use into the 1980s in Northern Ireland and was a familiar sight during "The Troubles". At times they even appeared on the streets of Hull, a less-hostile atmosphere for driver training in a city of similar appearance to Belfast.
As a member of the FV 600 series it shared a similar chassis with the FV601 Saladin armoured car, the Salamander fire engine and the Stalwart High Mobility Load Carrier. The chassis, suspension and final drive remained similar, but the engine, transmission and braking systems varied significantly.
The Saracen was in turn used as an armoured personnel Carrier, armoured command vehicle and ambulance. The FV 603 model saw many variants in detail, including radio or command fitments and specialist equipment for Artillery or Signals use.
The Saracen series also includes:
- FV 604 Armoured Command Vehicle (ACV): with extra radio equipment and distinctive "penthouse" roof extensions to support .
- FV 610 Armoured Command Post (ACP): higher sides to the armoured rear compartment allowed radios to be racked above the map tables. There were also fittings for canvas awnings to the rear and sides. A small generator was also carried on a front wing.
- FV 606 / FV 611 Armoured Ambulance.
Saracen was produced before Saladin because of the urgent need for a personnel carrier to serve in the Malayan Emergency, entering production in 1952.
The Saracen was produced both with and without turrets fitted.
Saracens were initially equipped with an L3A4 (Browning .30 Cal) machine gun in the turret, and a Bren gun for the gun-ring at the rear of the vehicle. Later Marks carried the LMG, and L7 GPMG.
- Mk 1 Early version with 3-door turret and turret pistol ports.
- Mk 2 Modified Mark 1 with later two-door turret. The rear turret door folds down and can act as a seat for the commander.
- Mk 3 Reverse-flow cooling for use in hot climates.
- Mk 4 Prototype only.
- Mk 5 Mark 1 or Mark 2 vehicles modified with extra armour specifically for use in Northern Ireland.
- Mk 6 Mark 3 modified with extra armour as for the Mk 5 for use in Northern Ireland.
In popular culture Edit
A Saracen masquerades as a German armoured car in the 1964 film 633 Squadron, which was set during World War II, a decade before the Saracen was first built.
In the Tom Sharpe novel Riotous Assembly, a Saracen armoured car is destroyed by a monstrous elephant gun by Konstabel Els of the South African Police.
In the 1983 debut album Script for a Jester's Tear, by British progressive rock group Marillion, the Saracen was referred to in the final song: "...crawling behind a Saracen's hull from the safety of his living room chair..." The lyrics of Forgotten Sons describe the conflict in Northern Ireland and the discrepancy between what was really happening and the perception of the conflict by the British public.
Saracens were used in the 1995 film of Judge Dredd as carriers for prisoners and personnel carriers for the Judges. 101 FCs were also used as taxis.
Saracens were also used in the 1992 film The Crying Game, set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.
During the 2009 G-20 demonstrations in London, members of the Space Hijackers protest group drove their Saracen into the City of London and parked it outside the Royal Bank of Scotland in Bishopsgate. The Saracen, which had been painted bright blue with black and white chequered stripes, was equipped with CCTV and marked "RIOT" (but not "police"). The group were reportedly there to protect the RBS building from "bad" demonstrators, although the police declined their assistance. Instead the vehicle was searched and police questioned the protestors, who were dressed in plain blue overalls and helmets. The vehicle's eleven occupants were arrested for impersonating police officers and for traffic offences, and were later charged with impersonating police officers, although the case was dropped before coming to court.
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