Military Wiki
Alvis Saracen Mk 1
FV 603 Saracen in Yad la-Shiryon museum, Israel.
Type Armoured personnel carrier
Place of origin  United Kingdom
Weight 11 t
Length 4.8 m
Width 2.54 m
Height 2.46 m
Crew 2 + up to 9 troops

Armour 16 mm Rolled homogeneous armour (RMH)
2 x machine gun
Engine Rolls-Royce B80 Mk.6A, 8 cyl Inlet over Exhaust petrol
119 kW
Suspension 6 x 6 wheel
400 km
Speed 72 km/h(off-road 32 km/h)

The FV603 Saracen is a six-wheeled armoured personnel carrier built by Alvis and used by the British Army. It became a recognisable vehicle as a result of its part in the policing of Northern Ireland.


The FV603 Saracen was the armoured personnel carrier of Alvis' FV600 series. Besides the driver and commander, a squad of 8 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, it saw extensive use into the 1980s in Northern Ireland and was a familiar sight during "The Troubles". At times they even 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 with the FV601 Saladin armoured car, the Salamander fire engine and the Stalwart High Mobility Load Carrier. The chassis, suspension and final drive 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 RA to sit at a fitted table and use their plotting instruments and ALS 21 in front of the CPO. 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.

Combat history


An Australian Saracen at the Edinburgh, South Australia military vehicles museum

  • 1965 to 1966 with the 4th/19th Prince of Wales Light Horse.[1]
 Hong Kong
  • Royal Hong Kong Police Force Retired 1984 Replaced by SAXON APC to 2009 Unimog U5000 current
 United Arab Emirates
  • 30
  • Possibly Retired
  • 120
  • 20
 South Africa
 Sri Lanka
  • 49
  • 20
 United Kingdom
  • General Service 1954 to 1969. Cyprus Armoured Squadron (Command and APC) mid-1980s. Northern Ireland only to 1991
  • Space Hijackers – 2007–present – Mark 1 Saracen used for publicity stunts
United States
  • Tulsa Police Department, 1; Saracen hull re-mounted on a commercial truck chassis
  • Sierra Vista Police Department, 1; SWAT
  • San Francisco Police Department, 1; SWAT


Saracen Water Dispenser based on MK 3

Saracens were initially equipped with an L3A4 (Browning .30 Cal) machine gun in the turret, and a Bren gun for the gun-ring at the rear of the vehicle. Later Marks carried the LMG, and L7 GPMG.

Mk 1: Early version with 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: Mark 3 suspension and drive train with chassis redesigned by the South African Defence Force to accept a 77mm HV tank gun. Prototype only.[3]

In popular culture

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 Tom Sharpe novel Riotous Assembly, a Saracen is destroyed with an elephant gun by Constable Els of the South African Police.

In the 1992 film The Crying Game,a character who was kidnapped by the IRA was accidentally run over and killed by British Saracen.

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.[5]

The Saracen was used in the 1995 film of Judge Dredd as carriers for prisoners and personnel carriers for Judges. 101 FCs were also used as taxis.

During the 2009 G-20 demonstrations in London, members of the Space Hijackers protest group[6][7] drove their Saracen into the City of London[8] and parked it outside the Royal Bank of Scotland in Bishopsgate.[8] The Saracen, which had been painted bright blue with black and white chequered stripes, was equipped with CCTV[6] 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,[9][9] and were later charged with impersonating police officers, although the case was dropped before coming to court.[10][11]

See also


  1. "Saracen". Digger History: an unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Forces. 
  2. Munro, Bill (2002). Alvis Saracen Family. Ramsbury, England: The Crowood Press Ltd. ISBN 1-86126-537-9. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Lesakeng". South African Armour Museum. 2012-12-6. Retrieved 2013-6-18. 
  4. "Saracen FV 603 Wheeled armoured personnel carrier" (in French). Retrieved 2011-08-09. 
  5. "Script for a Jester's Tear". Marillion Online. Archived from the original on 18 July 2011. Retrieved 2011-08-09. 
  6. 6.0 6.1
  7. Matthew Weaver and Haroon Siddique (2009-04-01). "G20 call for action amid protests". BBC News. Retrieved 2011-08-09. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 BBC News video of Saracen outside RBS (no commentary) (1 April 2009)
  9. 9.0 9.1 Weaver, Matthew (2009-04-01). "G20 summit and protests: live blog". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2010-04-23. 
  10. Times Online: "Black bra, red stockings: is that a fair cop?"
  11. The Independent: "G20 protesters to sue Met Police"

External links

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