The FV1620 Humber Hornet was an early British ATGM carrier, which mounted two Malkara missiles on a vehicle based on a Humber Pig armoured lorry chassis. The missiles were carried on a retractable boom at the rear, which was elevated for firing. Primarily intended to provide airborne forces with an anti-tank capability, it could be carried by a Blackburn Beverley transport aircraft, and air-dropped with a special cluster of parachutes.
The Malkara missile was jointly developed by the UK and Australia from 1951 to 1954. Whereas most anti-tank missiles have a HEAT warhead, Malkara had a 26kg HESH warhead, capable of destroying any tank in service at the time. It was too large and heavy to be man-portable, and so had to be fired from a dedicated launch vehicle, such as the Hornet. Its dual thrust solid rocket engine propelled it at a speed of 327mph to a maximum range of 4km. It took around 30 seconds to reach maximum range.
The operator used a small thumb joystick to control the missile, tracking its path by observing a pair of flares on the missile’s wings. Guidance commands from the control console were transmitted along a thin wire. Although a hit rate of 90% was achieved during testing, in practice accuracy was much lower. The control system was awkward to use and the missile was easily blown off course by side winds. Exacerbating the problem, there was no simulation system, and practice rounds were rare.
The Malkara’s flight path was fixed until it had travelled a distance of 450m, and so could not engage targets closer than this. However, it took some time for the missile to be brought fully under control, so a more realistic minimum range was about 700m.
The Hornet was developed in the 1950s, based on the FV1611 Humber Pig 4×4 1-tonne armoured lorry. Two Malkara missiles were mounted on an elevating boom. Infra-red headlights were initially fitted, but the filters were later removed, and so they became additional standard headlights. Attempts at providing infra-red night-fighting systems for use with the missiles were unsuccessful. A 7.62mm GPMG was fitted in an anti-aircraft mount on the roof, accessible by the driver or commander via roof hatches. The armour was between 8mm and 16mm thick.
The vehicle had a crew of three. The commander and driver sat in the front, with the radio operator in the rear. The commander also fired and controlled the missiles. A sighting unit was fitted on the cab roof, above the commander. The driver sat to the commander’s right. As well as driving and servicing the vehicle, he helped to acquire targets. The radio operator faced rearwards, and controlled the missile elevation system as well as the radios.
The missile boom would normally be kept in the lowered position. When a target was acquired, it would be raised for firing. As soon as the missile’s flares were visible the boom would be lowered again, reducing the vehicle’s height and the chance of it being seen. A pair of reload missiles were carried inside the vehicle. The driver and radio operator would fit the reloads, taking roughly two minutes to mount both missiles on the launch rails.
In 1963 a remote control system was introduced. This allowed the commander to control the missiles using a small external control unit, which could be connected to the vehicle by an 80m long cable. In this way, the vehicle could remain out of sight, with only the commander in a position to see the target. The cable included an intercom link to allow the commander to communicate with the driver. It took about 35 minutes to deploy the remote control system ready for use.
Early Hornets had problems with control wires breaking during missile launch, leaving the commander unable to guide the missile. Later vehicles resolved this issue, and also had smoke dischargers, in two banks of three, near the headlights.
The Hornet served with the British and Australian armies. It was replaced by the Ferret Mark 5, a variant of the Ferret armoured car armed with Swingfire anti-tank missiles.
Specifications: Humber Hornet
Weight: 5.70 tonnes
Maximum road speed: 56mph
Maximum road cruising range: 260 miles
Engine: Rolls Royce B60 No. 1 Mark 5A, 6 cylinder, water cooled, developing 120bhp
Main armament: 2x Malkara anti-tank missiles
Secondary armament: 1x 7.62mm GPMG
Armour (max): 8-16mm
Guidance: MCLOS (wire link)
Warhead: 26kg HESH