At last a chance to catch up! I'll go about it in reverse order, starting with your matter #4:
I am afraid you are wrong here - both vehicles are Mark IIs. The more obvious distinguishing features between Marks II and III being the conical turret and opening, slotted radiator doors of the Mark II whereas the SARC Mark III had a larger eight-sided turret and a fixed nose made possible by the addition of an auxiliary radiator system. At this point I'm not 100% sure but it appears that the spare wheel was moved to the rear on the Mark IIIs with the elimination of the twin rear doors. Headlamps on the Mk II were protected by square guards but these were omitted on the Mk III. The difference in wheelbase - 134" for the Mark II versus the shorter 117½" of the Mark III is less apparent in photographs.
IMO, the upper image you refer to, is somewhat squashed horizontally (have a look at the tyres) giving the impression of a shorter wheelbase when compared to the vehicle in the second image. Also, the serial number (E22752 ) of the vehicle is lower than that of the vehicle (E22768) in the second image, thus not a later variant - yes, I'm pretty sure both are Mark IIs.
WRT matter #3 - thanks for the link to Andrew Warland's website; I was not aware of the existence of this photo series.
#2: Several reports mention the 175 SARCs sent to Malaya but I am struggling to find any evidence of this being the case. I still think that despite the numbers built, not many were available to be sent East and apart from the 16 allotted to the Indian 3rd Cavalry, very few, if any other SARCs were deployed in Malaya. Also bear in mind that the 49 sent to the NEI (as compensation for the 49 Vickers light tanks confiscated by the British in 1939) were not newly built ex-factory units but were well-used discards from the North Africa campaign - reportedly in poor condition.
You quoted Mike Taylor: "The Marmons, of which some 175 were delivered to Malaya, were brought down from Kuala Lumpur by Lt. Montgomery-Campbell and four drivers early in 1941." - OK, if not all 175, how many did Monty and his 4 drivers take down to Singapore in early 1941? How many trips would that have taken? (The distance today, on a presumably much improved road, is 220 miles) No wonder the Indian 3rd Cavalry only got theirs in December of that year!
#1: I do see other vehicles in the background but these do not appear to be Marmon Herringtons... uh, I mean South African Reconnaissance Cars, Mark III. While on the subject - I think I now know how this vehicle came to be generally (but still incorrectly) known as "The Marmon Herrington": See, initially there was no official classification and in service with South African Forces, the early 2-wheel drive SARCs were simply known as "Fords" whereas the 4-wheel drive versions were called "Marmon Herringtons" - and this is the name that the British adopted. Probably also because it's easier to spell than "Reconnaissance"!
We both agree that the SARC series were not the best armoured cars of WW2 but in the early stages of the war, not much else was available. It was relatively cheap and easy to manufacture and well suited for its intended role of reconnaissance but when up against anything other than small arms fire, it was let down by its light armour and armament. Nevertheless, it was adopted by virtually ALL combatant countries in WW2 (including the US) and saw service with some forces right up to the nineties. Let's look at the development of this vehicle:
Following Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia in 1936, authorities in South Africa came to a sudden realisation of how vulnerable this county itself was to attack. The total armour force of the Union of South Africa at that time consisted of 2 Crossley armoured cars, two Vickers Mk. II Medium tanks (all puchased in 1925) and a single Whippet light tank of WW1 vintage!
Early in 1937, the SA War Supplies Board became interested in a proposal by Ford Motor Company of SA, to build an armoured car based on the Crossley design adapted to a Ford commercial truck chassis. After countless delays the project was shelved and in April 1939 an order was placed in the US for 22 M1 Ford 6-wheeled armored cars.(pictured below)
With the anticipation of receiving the M1s, local development became less urgent but in June 1939 it was discovered that there were insurmountable problems in adapting the M1 design to the Ford truck chassis. The M1 order was cancelled and a delegation was sent to the Indianapolis factory of Marmon Herrington to look at other options and to gain insight into the engineering requirements of the project.
Marmon Herrington armored car supplied to Iran in 1939
Marmon Herrington T 11 armored car
South Africa entered the war in September 1939 and the project assumed a new urgency. Within a matter of days 2 prototypes, one in 4-wheel drive and the other in 2-wheel drive were completed. In December the design was finalised and full-scale production started of the first South African Reconnaissance Cars. The initial batches of both 2-wheel drive "Fords" and 4-wheel drive "Marmon Herringtons" had riveted hulls but this was very soon changed to an all-welded construction. Delivery of the Marmon Herrington kits was at first sporadic but by November 1940 sufficient stock had been built up and after completing 135 2-wheel drive units, all subsequent SARCs were fitted with 4-wheel drive systems. Sometime later, perhaps only with the introduction of the improved Mark III, did the Mark I and Mark II classifications come into being.
The Mark II was built in 2 sub-types, the MFF type primarily for the Union Defence Force's Mobile Field Force and the ME type for the Middle East campaign. The MFF type had an armament of 2 .303 Vickers machineguns whereas on the ME type, the turret was modified to accept a Bren machine gun and a Boys anti-tank rifle with an additional mounting for a Bren gun in an anti-aircraft role. Once in the battle zone many modifications (mostly unauthorised) were made and captured weapons fitted. During May 1941 a batch of 15 Mark IIs were fitted with Italian Breda 20mm guns as standard equipment. Of the Mark IIs, 549 were produced as MFF types and 338 as ME types.
Already in September 1940, work was begun on the Mark III which was to provide better armour protection. Since the Mark II already weighed in at a hefty 14 000 lbs and with the Ford chassis strained to the limit, the thickness of the armour could not simply be increased and a redesign was called for. The solution was to reduce the size of the hull, to shorten the wheelbase and to reduce the crew to three, which did bring about a massive saving in weight. Despite much improved armour (All front plating increased to ½" versus ¼" of the Mark II), the overall weight for the Mark III was reduced by more than 2 000lbs which in turn, improved speed, manoeuvrability, acceleration and range. Mk IIIs also received improved steering mechanisms and beefed-up suspension components which together with the reduced weight, greatly improved the durability of the Ford 3-ton truck chassis. Much attention was also given to improve crew comfort. Although the angles of the hull armour had also been improved, the appearance of the Mark III was still very similar to that of the Mark II. Ending in August 1942, the production run totalled 2 630 Mark IIIs - including 1 780 MFF versions, 798 ME versions and 52 LADs (Light Aid Detachment).
A SARC MkIII with a Mk I in the background (from a visit to the SA Museum of Military History)
The Mark III was succeeded by the Mark IV of which about a thousand were built. These were completely different to the earlier Marks, of a monocoque design, with the engine and gearbox moved to the rear of the vehicle and mounting a 2-pounder gun in a large open-topped turret. Marks V to VIII were prototypes which never went into production. The Mark VI was a heavy 8 x8 armoured car powered by 2 Ford V8 engines, mounting a 2-pounder, of which a pilot model was produced during early 1942 and sent "up North" for evaluation. The vehicle proved satisfactory and resulted in British forces ordering 250 units. South Africa was preparing for a possible Japanese invasion and ordered an additional 500. However, due to delays in the delivery of components from Marmon Herrington and Ford, the British order was cancelled and the South African order cut back to just 100 units. Furthers delays and the diminished threat from the East resulted in all units being cancelled.
The only surviving SARC Mk VI, still in perfect condition, rolled out for a short drive at the SAMMH.
After WW2, the UDF quickly retired their SARCs and reverted to British-made armoured cars and tanks. Local production of military vehicle was only revived during the 1970s due to the international arms embargo and some really interesting armoured and mine-resistant vehicles were developed, some of which were adopted by forces fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. To this day South African National Defence Force has a preference for wheeled rather than tracked vehicles.