The Gnat and the Salamander

Written by Historian, David Fletcher, MBE

3rd August 2015

The Hillman Gnat was designed, in about 1940, as a two-man light armoured car, it was intended to be a replacement for the machine-gun armed motorcycle combination that were rapidly going out of favour in the British Army although they remained popular in Germany for somewhat longer. The project was sponsored, within the Army by Brigadier Vyvyan Pope, a one-armed RTR Officer of considerable promise.

Hillman GnatThe Gnat was designed around the mechanical components of the Hillman 10hp Utility or light truck. The engine was moved to the back and the transmission rearranged accordingly, but even so there was no drive to the front axle, so no four-wheel drive. The driver sat at the front while above and behind him was the other crew member, the car commander, who was provided with a tiny, open-top turret armed with a single Bren machine-gun. There was no obvious evidence of a wireless being fitted and very little room for one.

The Morris Salamander was very similar except that it seems to have used components from the Morris 10hp Light Utility. The Salamander also had a rear engine but it had four-wheel drive and a two-man crew although the turret was taller and more angular than the one on the Morris Salamander1Gnat and looks very similar to the Bren gun turret on the three-man Morris Light Reconnaissance Car. The Morris also had wider wings (they were just small mudguards on the Hillman) and deeper stowage boxes but again no external evidence of a wireless and precious little room inside for one anyway. An artist’s impression of the Salamander shows it towing a two-wheel trailer, carrying a pair of floats. These could be hung on each side of the car to make it float but in the water it would have to rely on its tyres for propulsion, still towing the trailer which also floated, so progress, even in the stillest of water would be dismally slow.

Trials revealed that the little vehicles would be too underpowered to be of much use and that without four-wheel drive the little Gnat was seriously handicapped, and when Vyvyan Pope (now a Major General) died in an air crash in the Middle East on 5th October 1941 all the impetus went out of the project, although four examples of the Hillman Gnat had been built by then. Both schemes ended in 1942.