The Not So Secret Life of the Saxon

If ever there was a Cold War warrior it is the Saxon protected mobility vehicle.

It was designed in the late seventies and came into service in the early eighties with the British Army as a means of providing some measure of protection for personnel deploying from the UK to the continent in response to a Warsaw Pact invasion. It was built on the chassis and automotive components of the Bedford TM series trucks, a nice bit of commonality for reducing maintenance and in life support costs.

Modified versions were used in Northern Ireland and they have been deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans.

All forces deployed to the Balkans suffered from mines, the images below (with thanks to Cold War Warrior) show the aftermath of a TMA3 mine strike on a Saxon in the hills above Rama Lake, Bosnia, in 1994.

[tabs] [tab title = “SFOR Mine Damage 1”]
Saxon mine damage SFOR (Image Credit - Flickr Cold War Warrior)
Saxon mine damage SFOR (Image Credit – Flickr Cold War Warrior)
[/tab] [tab title = “SFOR Mine Damage 2”]
Saxon mine damage SFOR (Image Credit - Flickr Cold War Warrior)
Saxon mine damage SFOR (Image Credit – Flickr Cold War Warrior)
[/tab] [/tabs]

Anti sniper turrets also were fitted to a number of AT105 Saxons deployed to the Balkans, taken from surplus FV432’s.

Before and since, the Saxon has been on an extensive world tour and developed into a number of variants.

[tabs] [tab title=”Northern Ireland”]
AT105 Saxon Internal Security 01 (Image Credit - Cold War Warrior)
AT105 Saxon Internal Security 01 (Image Credit – Cold War Warrior)
[/tab] [tab title=”Saxon”]
AT 105 Saxon APC (Image Credit - Cold War Warrior)
AT 105 Saxon APC (Image Credit – Cold War Warrior)
[/tab] [tab title=”Ambulance”]
Saxon ambulance
Saxon ambulance
[/tab] [tab title=”Iraq”]
Pictured here is a Saxon armoured personnel vehicle of 1st Battalion of the Queens Lancashire Regiment as it carries out a routine patrol of Al Hayyaniya. A Shia flat area of Al Basrah city in the south of Iraq. To maintain law and order and improve relationships between the local community and our forces. 2003/07/30
Pictured here is a Saxon armoured personnel vehicle of 1st Battalion of the Queens Lancashire Regiment as it carries out a routine patrol of Al Hayyaniya. A Shia flat area of Al Basrah city in the south of Iraq. To maintain law and order and improve relationships between the local community and our forces. 2003/07/30
[/tab] [tab title=”Iraq”]
Saxon and Snatch of the Queens Lancashire Regiment, Basra September 2003
Saxon and Snatch of the Queens Lancashire Regiment, Basra September 2003
[/tab] [tab title=”Afghanistan”]
Saxon Vehicle, ISAF Kabul 2004
Saxon Vehicle, ISAF Kabul 2004 (Image Credit – Cold War Warrior)
[/tab] [tab title=”with a Mexeflote!”]
AT105 Saxon and Mexeflote
AT105 Saxon and Mexeflote
[/tab] [/tabs]

Out of service now the fleet is being busily sold to second users, including the Ukraine it would seema commercial arrangement between Withams and Ukroboronprom (the Ukrainian Defense Industry)

The announcement is below (click to view)

Saxon Ukraine
Official news on Saxon deal

 

There is not an English version on the Ukroboronprom site but using Google Translate it looks like the contract was agreed in December 2013 for 75 vehicles at a cost of less than $50k each including delivery and documentation, which makes them a bargain, however old they are.

Click the image below to watch a video and view images of them being inspected and tested against small arms.

Saxon Ukraine
Saxon in Ukraine

 

The timing might be unfortunate but that hasn’t stopped the media whipping a story out of thin air.

Perhaps the most interesting of those stories is former Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt, criticising the deal on the basis that Saxons are rubbish.

The Telegraph reports him saying…

I took these out of service by the UK Army in 2005/6 as completely unsuitable for current operations, so I find it incredible that they are being sold/gifted to Ukraine. I am incensed by the thought we are supplying, even via a 3rd party, SAXON APCs to the hapless Ukrainians. They are quite useless, semi-armoured lorries that should be nowhere near anyone’s front line.

My concern is the inadequate nature of these vehicles which I ordered out of British Army front line service when I was Commander in Chief Land Command 2005-2006. They were withdrawn from Iraq and never deployed in southern Afghanistan. To suggest that the UK is making a significant gesture of support by supplying vehicles which we took out of service ten years ago, because we deemed them unsafe, seems bizarre at best and downright dangerous at worst.

Those comments might be seen as somewhat rich for reasons we all know (Land Rover Snatch cough cough)

Perhaps the ultimate irony is a vehicle that was intended for use against Russian forces during the Cold War yet used pretty much everywhere else is finally being used for the purpose it was designed, fighting the Russians.

[UPDATE]

 

 

38 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Tenor
Tenor
February 14, 2015 12:53 pm

How is it ironic? They’re still not being used in their intended role, as they were set to face 70’s/80’s technology, not 2015 technology. Of course times change and their protection is no longer deemed worthwhile.

Of course, even less ironic is that them being regarded “unsuitable” is 100% wrong. They aren’t being sent to frontlines anyway, neither were they ever intended to be in history. They were essentially protected utility, for general transport behind the lines protected against stray shrapnel, bullets and Anti-Per Mines. Which is all they were ever designed to be.

DavidNiven
DavidNiven
February 14, 2015 1:13 pm

‘against stray shrapnel, bullets and Anti-Per Mines’

They were designed against AT mines as well as Ant-Per mines. Hence the vehicle surviving the mine detonation in the picture above and for it’s use in NI where large culvert bombs could be found.

Phil
February 14, 2015 1:17 pm

Heard them described as being a 4 Tonner in a Tin.

DavidNiven
DavidNiven
February 14, 2015 1:54 pm

@TD

I always assumed they were based on the Bedford TM series due to their bridge class being 12 and the bog standard Bedford having a bridge class of 9.

Hohum
Hohum
February 14, 2015 1:59 pm

Just as I thought Dannatt couldn’t become anymore contemptible.

A Different Gareth
A Different Gareth
February 14, 2015 2:32 pm

Perhaps the General would prefer the Ukrainians bought SNATCH Land Rovers instead.

DavidNiven
DavidNiven
February 14, 2015 2:40 pm

TD

I think they were about mid to late eighties, I think the 14 tonner was the mainstay of the loggie btns during Granby before DROP’s was introduced after the war.The axles and wheels of the Saxon always looked like they came off an 8 tonner to me.

Chris
Chris
February 14, 2015 3:28 pm

I’ve done a bit of rummaging about in Google – first visually the Saxon wheel hubs are similar to TM hubs but TL/ML/MJ hubs are different, secondly the Saxon shares the 205hp 6 cylinder diesel with TM but the older 4-tonner has a lower power engine, thirdly the year of manufacture aligns better to TM. Seems likely then the Saxon underpinnings are Bedford’s TM components.

Overseas
Overseas
February 14, 2015 4:54 pm

I like this deal. Bargain for Ukraine, they get some armoured trucks, and the UK sells off half of its surplus stock.

as
as
February 14, 2015 5:25 pm

It all comes down to how you use a vehicle. Saxon and snatch land rovers were fine in Bosnia we only started to have problems when we started to use them in roles they were not designed for. So there is not a problem with the vehicle its a problem with what you were asking them to do. Think MBT in the Falklands they would have spent more time being dug out of the mud the fighting or for a real example unarmoured land rovers patrolling in northern Ireland proved death traps.

Chris.B.
Chris.B.
February 14, 2015 6:29 pm

Sorry I just need to check to make sure I read that right.

So, Saxon – a mine protected armoured vehicle – was inadequate and unsafe for ongoing operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. But Land Rovers were ok? That has to be a misprint surely?

Mike W
February 14, 2015 9:20 pm

I am pretty sure that, a few years ago, at the time that the Saxon was being withdrawn from British service, I read that 140 or 150 vehicles (I can’t remember the exact number) were to be kept in storage. Presumably this decision was taken as a precaution against another Ireland-type security crisis arising. Now I don’t suppose that another situation of that kind will occur in that country. I certainly hope not. However, the possibility of another internal security situation somewhere else, similar in nature, could easily arise.

The point I wish to make is that there were previously both an armoured personnel carrier (or General War Role (GWR)) version of the vehicle and a version called Saxon Patrol (an IS version) and it is presumably the latter variant which has been retained (if it has). The main difference from Saxon GWR was that the Patrol version had a more powerful Cummins 6BT 6.91-litre diesel engine installed. Other enhancements for the security role that I remember included improved armour, side skirts, top cover hatches, a barricade removal fender, a revised radiator protection, an anti-wire device and spotlights.

If another serious IS situation were to arise, then surely the “improved” IS version of Saxon would be invaluable. I cannot think of another in-service vehicle which could substitute. Mastiff – too large, Ridgback (well, maybe), Foxhound – too small, Husky – too small, Warrior too big and threatening, Bulldog – similar etc, etc.

If the Saxon IS version has also gone, is this yet another yawning gap in the British Army’s inventory or am I being alarmist?

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
February 14, 2015 9:37 pm

They were useless in Bosnia, we discovered. C of G far too high, they got tippy.

Still, pack the back with 1,000 Kgs of explosives, fit a remote control to the steering wheel and a simple radio, good for unmanned explosive delivery.

tweckyspat
February 14, 2015 9:50 pm

Minor Pedantry ; Obvs the Saxon pic in the minestrike is from the UNPROFOR mission which extended into 1995, The IFOR mission didn’t start until later in that year and SFOR not until 1996 eg see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SFOR
Cold War Warriors blog post has got some good shots of the blast damage and incidentally praises the sloping hull shape of the SAXON for its blast deflection !! https://www.flickr.com/photos/16498755@N07/4948174715/

Can anyone confirm a story on SAXON which was I am sure apocryphal; that the original design was at one stage called the NORMAN until someone suggested that no self respecting tom would want to be a Norman driver

as
as
February 14, 2015 9:56 pm

Has anyone ever seen a break of casualty’s by vehicle they were riding in for Afghanistan and Iraq?
and some previous wars. That would be useful for assessing there effectiveness if anyone has a source.

tweckyspat
February 14, 2015 10:30 pm

I also didn’t know that the GKN Sankey Saxon private venture had its roots in a riot control vehicle the AT 104. see here a pic of an AT 104 in Dutch Police Service https://www.pinterest.com/pin/262194009529390211/

clearly this being the 1970s the original design of the AT105/Saxon would have been from the MK parts bin, I wonder how much was updated to TM parts (TM production did not start until 1980, in service 1981) – maybe just the better hubs ?

dukeofurl
dukeofurl
February 14, 2015 11:58 pm

Another thing to consider is the engine and driver controls predate the modern electronics era. Thus will be an easy fix for a place like Ukraine where their military hardware is from the same era.

as
as
February 15, 2015 12:05 am

There is also the GKN Simba built for the Philippine Army. Which looks almost identical but are left hand drive.

Hohum
Hohum
February 15, 2015 1:25 am

Saxon is like any other vehicle, if it gets caught in a small enough mine blast or is far enough away from artillery shell impacts it will be fine, if it gets hit with a large EFP device everyone dies. But if it was a choice between a Saxon and one of Dannatt’s Snatch land Rovers I know which one I would rather be in.

IIRC Saxon originally competed for the British Army requirement against the Vickers Valkr which was an evolution of the various Simony 4x4s.

Obsvr
Obsvr
February 15, 2015 3:14 am

The original Operational Requirement for Saxon crossed my desk in 1983. At that time I’m pretty sure that MK was the base platform. We didn’t have an interest although later it was used as a battery CP vehicle in AD batteries and fitted with ADCIS. The role was to transport light infantry from UK to the CRG in Sennelager (Corps Reinforcement Group commanded by 1* Corps Comd Infantry), and then to battle positions behind the armoured and mechanised bdes and rearwards.

Chris Werb
Chris Werb
February 15, 2015 4:19 am

At the time I definitely recall reading they were based on Bedford TM (4×4 8 tonner) components. According to wiki the TM entered production in 1974 and was updated in 1982. It definitely has the Bedford 500 6cyl engine of the TM.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
February 15, 2015 8:03 am

I recall an exercise in term 2 of Sandhurst (early 85) in which we had to mount counterinsurgency patrols from Sennybridge. This involved stripping a Bedford of the canvas, mounting a gimpy on the cab roof, and filling about 500 sandbags to put on the flatbed as blast protection.

That was probably a more useful wagon than a Saxon. You could actually see out of it, and fire in all directions.

Mark1603
Mark1603
February 15, 2015 8:15 am

Saxon was trialed during Lionheart 84, see the attached clip. The article re Saxon appears 6:40 into the programme.
It was based on the Bedford TM 8 chassis, and as well as being used to ship troops down the MSR to the front, was also deployed in Cyprus with the resident infantry battalion.
Had big problems with its CofG with the MG turret, and that was taken out of service after a number of roll overs in Bosnia

Jeneral28
Jeneral28
February 15, 2015 1:05 pm

Practically, what else can the UK sell? CVRTs no, Buldog no, Land Rovers no, and definitely not all on the main vehicles for Army 2020.

So of course Saxons have to go there. And yes, no one is expecting a Saxon to go up against Rebel/Russian T-90s

Jed
Jed
February 15, 2015 3:35 pm

Nice historical video there Mark !

Love two comments:

1. Not really taken them cross country but have seen some bogged down, but even 432’s get bogged down – ehehehe one for the wheels versus tracks brigade….

2. ten man section ….. ahh those were the days…..

The Other Chris
February 15, 2015 3:40 pm

How many is in a section now?

Keith Campbell
Keith Campbell
February 15, 2015 3:41 pm

TD,

Thanks for getting the full story on the Saxon & Ukraine.

Red Trousers, regarding your comment on the Bedford & sandbag protection. In their colonial wars in Africa in the 1960s and early 1970s the Portuguese Army had to do that for real. If I remember correctly, they used French Berliet trucks, with back-to-back seating down the middle of the back, with sandbags on the floor (canvas covers & their supporting frames were removed). The Portuguese, who were chronically short of everything, had not the money or the industrial base to do anything better. The result reduced casualties somewhat, but only somewhat, & did nothing to protect the driver & his number 2. The then Rhodesians and, later, the South Africans, invested a lot of effort & money in developing mine protected vehicles because of the Portuguese experience &, more importantly, casualties. I think it safe to suggest that the Portuguese, Rhodesian & South African veterans of the wars of the 60s, 70s & 80s would raise their eyebrows at your comment. Sandbagging trucks was proven to be a woefully inadequate substitute for proper protection. (Of course, your comment might have been intended to be just good fun. In that case, sorry for making so much about it; but in Southern Africa it was a deadly serious issue.)

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
February 15, 2015 3:58 pm

Keith, it was mostly tongue in cheek (I am only serious about recce and shagging, because those are the only two things I know about). But if a Bedford is all that you have got…..

What enraged me in my younger days was putting soldiers in the back of a tin box, because you waste their eyes. Protection was always a Whitehall worry.

Quite different in southern Africa, where a small minority were fighting a protracted war. Protection of rare resources took on a different level of importance.

trackback

[…] The actual vehicles being sent to Ukraine are in fact a private purchase agreed in 2013, before the current conflict had broken out, for use as protected transport – the purpose for which they were originally designed. The back story is set out in some depth in the superb Think Defence. […]

Monty
February 15, 2015 6:12 pm

I think General Dannatt was 100% right:

– This is a crap vehicle: it is inherently top heavy and the protection it offers is useless compared to the latest generation of MRAPs (.g. Mastiff and Foxhound). It has no cross-country ability and by any objective standard its automotive heart is old and worn out.
– An RPG will rip one of these open quite easily.
– We may not have mounted weapons on these vehicles, but the Ukrainians will. We cannot fail to be seen as providing the Ukraine with armoured cars.
– Giving these vehicles to the Ukraine simply antagonises Putin and for what? We probably made £10 million on the deal, if anything. And now Putin sees us as an enemy. Great job, boys!
– Are we likely to go to war over the Ukraine? i think not. Economic sanctions should be sufficient.

Of course, if Putin starts saying he wants Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia back and why not Poland too? Then we really are on course for World War 3. But FFS lets respond not provoke.

Obsvr
Obsvr
February 16, 2015 9:07 am

It was adequate for its original purpose, cruising along the Autobahn. You start using anything for purposes for which it was not designed then you should expect problems (unless you use traditional British gold plated designs, and Saxon was not traditional). There will be tears whenever you use something outside its design envelope.

Hohum
Hohum
February 16, 2015 10:05 am

Monty,

Because Putin saw the UK as one of his great allies before we sold one of his sovereign neighbours some old armoured vehicles?

Britain was selling, Ukraine was buying and has every right to do so. If the Ukrainians now try and use these as IFVs against the Russian Army its up to the officers who ordered it to explain why that occurred. Just as Mr Dannatt needs a slightly more convincing story about his involvement in the UK AFV debacle.

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
February 17, 2015 12:20 pm

Seriously who gives a shit what Putin thinks, we are in no way provoking him the Russian media is spinning a huge propaganda web of lies. I remember one of the comment last year was that Russia annexed Crimea so that NATO wouldn’t build a naval base in Sevastopol, at that stage NATO wasn’t even contemplating letting Ukraine in. This might be controversial but to me the latest Minsk deal just makes me think of Munich.

When was the export licence approved, this is the interesting question was it in 2013, and if so why would we revoke it.

On better vehicles, yes there are far better vehicles but can the Ukrainians afford them probably not, and also as I understand it IED’s/mines are not a huge issue in this conflict, it is mainly tanks and infantry with a lot of inaccurate artillery.

I would rather drive around behind the lines in a saxon than an unprotected lorry which is their current option.

Offroad capabilities probably aren’t that important in this conflict due to the fact mostly it is being fought along the roads and anyway I highly doubt these are going to be frontline vehicles.

Midlander
Midlander
February 18, 2015 12:14 am

Agree that the Saxon has many shortcomings, but we start to sound like telling hungry to eat cake because its nicer….
Lets not forget the Ukraine perspective which is something like:-
The Russians are invading. I”m broke. I don’t have enough of anything. I need any kit I can lay my hands

Raises an interesting challenge, if you were procuring for Ukraine and had a budget of 50K per vehicle to buy 75 vehicles for maximum military utility for the ukraine conflict,
what would the expert TD community buy?

Chris
Chris
February 18, 2015 8:40 am

Midlander – I suppose buying Russian hand-me-downs would not be politically acceptable. Which in the value for money basic armour domain is a disadvantage. I would guess for the market price of tired M113 or early Piranha/LAV, you might buy two BMP1/2 or BTR80? Its all different if there is direct aid resulting in assets being gifted, but if its their own cash I would have thought sticking to the Russian stuff made more sense. Particularly since Ukraine made many of Russia’s armoured vehicles anyway: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malyshev_Factory#Tank_production, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BTR-94