Alvis Saracen

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Alvis Saracen Mk 1
Alvis Saracen APC (1953).jpg
FV 603 Saracen at Woodvale Transport Festival 2015.
TypeArmoured personnel carrier
Place of originUnited Kingdom
Service history
In service1952–present
Used bySee "Operators"
WarsAden Emergency
Malayan Emergency
30 September Movement coup
The Troubles
Nigerian civil war
South African Border War
Soweto uprising
Sri Lankan civil war
Black September
Yom Kippur war
Lebanese Civil War
Invasion of Kuwait
2003–2004 Indonesian offensive in Aceh[1]
Production history
Mass11.0 t
Length4.8 m
Width2.54 m
Height2.46 m
Crew2 + up to 9 troops

Armour16 mm Rolled homogeneous armour (RHA)
Browning M1919 machine gun or L37 GPMG
Bren LMG, 6–12 smoke grenade launchers
EngineRolls-Royce B80 Mk 3A or Mk 6A, 8 cyl Inlet over Exhaust petrol
160 hp
Power/weight14.5 hp/tonne
Suspension6x6 wheel, independent torsion bars
400 km
Maximum speed 72 km/h (off-road 32 km/h)

The FV603 Saracen is a six-wheeled armoured personnel carrier designed and produced by Alvis since 1952. It has been used by a variety of operators around the world, and is still in use in secondary roles in some countries.[citation needed] The Saracen became a recognisable vehicle as a result of its part in the policing of Northern Ireland as well as for its role in the South African government's enforcement of apartheid.[2]


The FV603 Saracen was the armoured personnel carrier of Alvis's FV600 series. Besides the driver and commander, a squad of eight 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 could fire. Although removed from active service,[when?] it saw extensive use into the 1980s in Northern Ireland and was a familiar sight, nicknamed 'sixers', during "The Troubles". At times, they appeared on the streets of Hull, a less-hostile atmosphere for driver training in a city of similar appearance to Belfast, and only a few miles from the Army School of Mechanical Transport.

As a member of the FV 600 series, it shared a similar chassis to the FV601 Saladin armoured car, the Salamander airfield crash truck and the Stalwart high mobility load carrier. The punt chassis, suspension and H-drive drivetrain 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 Royal Artillery (ACP): no turret and higher roof to the armoured compartment allowed headroom for the battery command post officer and technical assistants of the Royal Artillery to sit at a fitted table and use their plotting instruments and ALS 21 in front of the command post officer. There were also fittings for a canvas penthouse to the rear and sides. A small generator was sometimes 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. They are popular with collectors due to their prices being as low as $20,000 in Australia and $11,000 in the Czech Republic.

Combat history[edit]


Military operators[edit]

The 8x8 Saracen variant at the South African School of Armour, Bloemfontein.
A Saracen armoured vehicle deployed by a private security firm in Papua New Guinea

Civil operators[edit]


Saracen Water Dispenser based on MK 6

Saracens were initially equipped with an L3A4 (0.30-inch Browning) machine gun in the turret, and a Bren light machine gun for the gun-ring at the rear of the vehicle. Later Marks carried the LMG, and L37 GPMG.

Alvis Saracen Marks
Mk 1: Early version with a small 3-door turret and turret weapon 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.
Concept 3 New Generation Armoured Car: Mk 3 suspension and drive train with chassis redesigned by the South African Defence Force to accept a 77mm HV tank gun. Prototype only.[8]

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 1967 episode "Mission... Highly Improbable" of the TV series The Avengers (the penultimate episode with Diana Rigg in the female leading role), the villainous Dr Matthew Chivers (played by Francis Matthews) is trying to smuggle a Saracen FV 603 out of a British Army testing area by shrinking it to toy size with the help of a machine invented by his boss Professor Rushton (played by Noel Howlett).

In the Tom Sharpe novel Riotous Assembly, a Saracen is destroyed by an elephant gun fired by Constable 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.[11]

In the Irish rebel music song Kinky Boots (a parody of The Combine Harvester) reference is made to the Saracen in the opening line of the song.

In the 1984 Indonesian film Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI, Saracens were used by the Indonesian Army and the Kostrad as patrol vehicles during the infamous 30 September Movement coup d'etat. Saracens are also used as transport during state funerals of the six Army generals who became victims of the coup.[12]

Saracens were used almost unchanged in the 1995 film of Judge Dredd as carriers for prisoners and personnel carriers for Judges. 101 FCs were used as the basis for taxis, fitted with a prop bodyshell.

The Saracen is mentioned in the Irish Republican song "Little Armalite".

In the 1992 film The Crying Game, on the main characters is killed, "he were run over by a Saracen" when he attempts to escape his IRA captors.

An Alvis Saracen in a community protest against the sale of Fort Largs, South Australia

During the 2009 G-20 demonstrations in London, members of the Space Hijackers protest group[13][14] drove their Saracen into the City of London[15] and parked it outside the Royal Bank of Scotland in Bishopsgate.[15] The Saracen, which had been painted bright blue with black and white chequered stripes, was equipped with CCTV[13] 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,[16] and were later charged with impersonating police officers, although the case was dropped before coming to court.[17][18]

A community protest against the sale of heritage-listed Fort Largs by the state government of South Australia took place on 25 October 2014. The protest, organised by the National Trust of SA,[19] featured an Alvis Saracen and other vintage military vehicles.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Foto Foto Darurat Militer Aceh 2003-2004, Operasi Militer Lawan GAM". (in Indonesian). 12 May 2019. Retrieved 22 April 2022.
  2. ^ McClintock, Anne (April 1987). "'Azikwelwa' (We Will Not Ride): Politics and Value in Black South African Poetry". Critical Inquiry. 13 (3): 597–623. doi:10.1086/448410. S2CID 153523232.
  3. ^ AWM126 19 – Army vehicle registration books. 114438-122646. Canberra, Australia: Australian War Memorial.
  4. ^ Jowett, Philip (2016). Modern African Wars (5): The Nigerian-Biafran War 1967–70. Oxford: Osprey Publishing Press. pp. 24–46. ISBN 978-1472816092.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "Trade Registers". Retrieved 28 May 2015.
  6. ^ Munro, Bill (2002). Alvis Saracen Family. Ramsbury, England: The Crowood Press Ltd. ISBN 1-86126-537-9.
  7. ^ Guy Martin (7 October 2013). "Nigerian Armed Forces". Retrieved 15 February 2015.
  8. ^ a b c "Lesakeng". South African Armour Museum. 6 December 2012. Archived from the original on 3 July 2013. Retrieved 18 June 2013.
  9. ^ "Saracen FV 603 Wheeled armoured personnel carrier" (in French). Army Recognition. Retrieved 9 August 2011.
  10. ^ a b "Hong Kong's Saracen armoured police cars on patrol in small-town England". 23 January 2016.
  11. ^ "Script for a Jester's Tear". Marillion Online. Archived from the original on 18 July 2011. Retrieved 9 August 2011.
  12. ^ "Alvis Saracen: Panser Sepuh Dari Era Revolusi 1965". (in Indonesian). 5 October 2009. Retrieved 22 April 2022.
  13. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 4 April 2009. Retrieved 2 April 2009.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ Matthew Weaver and Haroon Siddique (1 April 2009). "G20 call for action amid protests". BBC News. Retrieved 9 August 2011.
  15. ^ a b BBC News video of Saracen outside RBS (no commentary) (1 April 2009)
  16. ^ Weaver, Matthew (1 April 2009). "G20 summit and protests: live blog". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 23 April 2010.
  17. ^ Times Online: "Black bra, red stockings: is that a fair cop?"
  18. ^ The Independent: "G20 protesters to sue Met Police"
  19. ^ "History buffs protest sale of Fort Largs site in Adelaide". ABC News. 25 October 2014. Retrieved 17 January 2015.

External links[edit]