New Zealand’s Armoured RL Bedfords

In late 2022, the New Zealand Army will receive the Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicle. Although not a combat vehicle, the Bushmaster will provide the New Zealand military with greater protection while deployed on operations. Although touted as a new capability, the Bushmaster is the long overdue successor to the Bedford RL “Pig” armoured truck utilised by New Zealand’s Infantry Battalions in Malaya and Malaysia from 1957 to the mid-1960s.

It is described as an armoured monstrosity that, when travelling in it on a hot day (every day in Malaysia), as compared to being in a mobile sweat box. RNZAOC Conductor Dave Orr, then a rifleman in the 1st Battalion of the New Zealand Regiment from 1957 to 1959, drove these vehicles and, in an article provided to the First Battalion Association Newsletter, described his experience of driving the Pig.

The technical details of the Pig escape me as it is 53 years since I was behind the wheel of this great workhorse. We were told at the time, that beneath the steel in front lived an RL Bedford Engine which was required to push along 7 tons of armour plate. It was the original 6 door hatch back, having the driver and passenger front doors, two side opening doors, a double opening rear door and a roof hatch half way along the passenger/troop compartment. There were several steel sliding firing ports along each side of the vehicle.

The normal driving position was to elevate the steel shutters in front of the driver and shotgun rider to allow beautiful moist Malayan air to flow through the vehicle. This of course allowed all manner of mean spirited Malaysian bugs to come storming into the drivers eyes. Glasses were a handy item to have in the cab. The vehicle could be put in complete lockdown and still be driven when the front hatches were dropped. Both sides were fitted with driving ports with 6cm thick armoured glass about 20cm long.

Difficult to drive and very tiring in Malayan heat. Inside the passenger compartment were drop down slat seats. We could cram a section into the vehicle providing there was not too much gear.

Imagine the smell of eight or nine sweaty bodies, especially if the boys had been on the rum the night before and if someone farted!!! Gas masks were required but never supplied.

The Pigs were used for all manner of tasks, such as various types of stores deliveries as well as troop movements. They were used at night to drop off ambush parties and the driver was required to drop off the troops at the side of the road whilst on the move. The vehicle would be gradually slowed about half a mile from the drop point. the troops would de-bus out the back of the vehicle on the move and the vehicle would move on. A mile or so up the road, after gradually gaining speed the driver would stop and secure the rear door himself if he did not have a shotgun rider and return to base. It would be a lonely ride back to Tana Hitam if you were on your own with only convoy lights on. The old No5 with 10 rounds mag were poor company.

Dave Orr, First Battalion New Zealand Regiment Newsletter, Vol 1 Issue 26 November 2011
A shifty looking driver at the wheel in Taiping about to depart for one of the satellite camps with a load of stores. Dave Orr

Having the official nomenclature in the British Vocabulary of Army Ordnance Stores (VAOS) as the “Truck, 3-Ton 4×4, Armoured (Bedford RL)”, it was more commonly known as the “Bedford RL APC.” To the soldiers who operated it, it was known as the ‘Pig” or, as noted by the curator of the Bovington Tank Museum, David Fletcher, due to its poor riding comfort, it was also called “The Bastard” by troops in Malaya.

Development of the Bedford RL APC

The origins of the Pig were based on a requirement in post-war Malaya for protected mobility for British and Commonwealth forces who were combating a communist insurgency. Apart from some heavy armour based in Hong Kong, the only armoured vehicles available to the British were second-hand WW2 armoured cars and trucks with few purpose-built Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC) available. With the United Kingdom stretched for resources and maintaining the British Army on the Rhine (BAOR) the priority for modern APCs, a decision was taken by Malayan Command to convert some of the new and just landed Bedford RL trucks into APCs.

The conversion of standard 1950 Bedford RLs into APCs was carried out by the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) 40 Base Workshops in Singapore between 1951 and 1959. During this period, 40 Base Workshops converted around fifty standard RLs to the armoured configuration.

New Zealand Armoured RL of the Malaya insurgency. http://www.tanks-encyclopedia.com/coldwar/UK/bedford-rl-pig.php

Design

Using armour plating recovered from the scuttled Japanese Heavy Cruiser IJN Takao by the Royal Navy’s Sembawang Dockyard, 40 Base Workshops manufactured a simple slab-sided armoured body over the entire standard RL Chassis. The engine compartment consisted of a flat compartment forward of the driver’s cab, creating a “snout nose”. The driver’s cab had an open windshield but was provided with two armoured shutters with thick glass.

Detail of Armoured RL engine compartment and cab. Image courtesy of William Ormsby

The driver’s cab and troop compartment shared the slab-sided body. Two hatches were provided on the roof, a circular front hatch fitted with a ring to mount a machine gun and a second rectangular hatch at the rear. The Armoured RL had six doors, driver and passenger doors in the driver’s compartment, cargo doors mid-way on both sides of the troop compartment and twin doors at the rear.

Armoured RL Troop Compartment, Image courtesy of William Ormsby

In the troop compartment, Inwards facing folding seats were provided, allowing the carriage of up to ten soldiers. Several ports with sliding shutters were provided; in theory, these allowed soldiers to fire on the move but were more helpful in providing ventilation.

The armour was bolted; however, its thickness is unknown, considering that it was taken from a warship’s superstructure and is estimated to have been 8 mm. The basic RL Bedford weighed 8 tons, so given the weight of the armour, the overall weight was around 11 tons.

Bedford RL Armoured Truck Specifications (estimated)

Length6.35 m (247 inches)
Width2.45 m (95 inches)
Height3.35 m (130 inches)
Total weightcirca 11 tons (30,000 lbs)
Crew2 + 8-10 infantry
PropulsionBedford 6 cyc. 400 cu, 110 hp
Suspension4 x 4 Leaf springs
Speed (road)40 kph (50 mph)
Range   400 km (250 mi)350 km (200 miles)
ArmamentFitted with ring mount able to accept a Bren
Armour8mm front and sides
ProductionCirca 50, 1951-1959

New Zealand Usage

With only a small production run of around 50 vehicles, the Bedford RL APC was a theatre-specific vehicle with a likely allocation of a fixed number per battalion with spare and reserve vehicles held by 221 Base Vehicle Depot at Tebrau, Johore Bahru. Utilised by the New Zealand Regiment in Malaya from 1957, the Bedford RL APC remained in use with the 1st Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, on the formation of that unit in 1964. With the improving security situation in Malaysia allowing security operations to be taken over by Malaysian Forces, the Bedford RL APC was withdrawn from New Zealand service and returned to 221 Base Vehicle Depot sometime around 1965/66.

No longer required for their intended use in Malaysia, the Bedford RL APC remained in use with British Forces in Aden and Cyprus.

New Zealand Armoured and Standard RL Bedford’s Malaysia 1960s. Image courtesy of William Ormsby
New Zealand Armoured RL Bedford Malaysia 1960s. Image courtesy of William Ormsby
New Zealand Armoured RL Bedford Malaysia 1960s. Image courtesy of William Ormsby

The Bedford RL APCs used by New Zealand are known to have used the following Tactical Signs.

New Zealand Regiment C1957

1 RNZIR C1964

1 RNZIR C1964

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