09 Mar 2017
The late Sidney Horstmann, was the son of German clockmaker Gustav Horstmann, who designed the first micrometer accurate to one ten thousands of an inch (and which is still on display in the Science Museum), originally formed the company in 1913.
Awarded an OBE for services in support of the war effort, Horstmann’s innovative spirit flourished in Britain with pioneering automotive work in the 20’s and 30’s, manufacturing around 3,000 cars; shortening the company name to Horstman and frequently racing at Brookwood and LeMans with some success.
One of his farthest-reaching impacts was the development of alternative suspension systems, most famously the Horstman bogie that was used for both light tanks and the universal “Bren” gun carrier. With over 113,000 built, these were the most produced armoured fighting vehicle of all time and produced in the UK, Canada, and even the US – this was the go-anywhere tracked infantry vehicle of the Commonwealth armies and they saw service in multiple hotspots around the world.
Horstman remained synonymous with the best protected vehicles of the cold war: from the world-export success of the Centurion tank to the workhorses of the British Army of the Rhine in the Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle, the Chieftain tank and then the huge mobility breakthrough provided by their Hydrogas® suspension used in the Challenger Main Battle Tank. Since then Horstman has grown in turnover, workforce, productivity and worldwide footprint.
A Horstman Tale for Valentine’s Day: The Vickers Valentine was a small infantry tank of early 1940’s. Unlike many British tanks of the era, it was well built and reliable. As gun and armour technology developed at a frantic pace the Valentine tank was obsolete as a gun tank by 1942, and the chassis used for other roles such as bridge-layers.
The suspension is also known as the Slow Motion Type – patented by Sidney Horstman and used with success on ubiquitous Universal Carriers and Vickers light tanks. The Valentine’s suspension is not strictly Horstmann’s, but rather is of Sir John Carden’s so-called “bright idea” type. Carden and Horstmann were contemporaries: both innovators, automobile manufacturers and both involved as early pioneers in armoured vehicle design. They will have certainly interacted – if not indeed cooperated – on this and other mobility innovations of the 1930’s.