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MLR Pt.14 ~ French D110 Station Wagons

Consecutively numbered 6072-series French Army Defender 110 Station Wagons spotted in Norway in late October during Exercise TRIDENT JUNCTURE 2018 [©BM]

In this article we look at some rarely seen French Defender 110, or D110, Station Wagons including a pair spotted in Norway during TRJE18, writes Bob Morrison.

 

The two French Station Wagons spotted on the multinational NATO Exercise TRIDENT JUNCTURE 2018 (TRJE) were consecutively numbered vehicles from the 6072-series. According to their chassis numbers these were Model Year 2007 build standard and powered by the 2402cc Ford Duratorq ‘Puma’ engine.

 

The convex bonnet is an indicator of a Ford Duratorq ‘Puma’ engine being fitted [©BM]

Used as convoy escort vehicles, and waiting to accompany armoured vehicles displayed at the TRJE18 Distinguished Visitors Day over a hundred kilometres south to rejoin the battlegroup participating on the main exercise, these Defenders appeared to be special to role conversions. In addition to fold-down CONVOI EXCEPTIONNEL boards and three orange beacons on the roof, each had a spare wheel rack on the left side inside the rear compartment, rather than the spare being carried on the rear door, and the rear door window had been plated with a special frame attached to accept a drop-in signboard. The tacsign, front and rear, included a wagonwheel which depicts a Transportation (or Movements) formation but as I am unfamiliar with the French Army system of unit designations I am afraid I can only guess which one.

 

These convoy escort vehicles had a fold-back roof board and three orange beacons [©BM]

France’s armed forces, Britain’s nearest overseas neighbours, have not traditionally made widespread use of the Defender and because they rarely play a major part in NATO multinational exercises involving Land Forces contingents it is not all that often I have had the opportunity to photograph those they do use. Carl, on the other hand, has worked a fair bit with the near 30-year old Franco-German Brigade and photographed the French contributor’s vehicles many times but unfortunately units dedicated to that binational formation use few, if any, Land Rovers.

 

Note how the rear door window is plated with a frame for a drop-in board [©BM]

On those other occasions where we have worked with our Gallic neighbours participating on bilateral exercises with their British equivalents, mostly until relatively recently in the airborne and amphibious spheres, the Forces Armées Françaises have primarily brought the ageing Peugeot P4 as their light utility vehicle. Based on the Geländewagen, but with a slightly different bodyshell and French engine, this light utility vehicle is gradually being replaced by the new VT4 and in due course most of the ageing French Defender pool will no doubt also be replaced by this Ford-based conversion.

 

As I have mentioned previously elsewhere in print, in response to the assassination of Charlie Hebdo magazine staff by fundamentalist terrorists, in early January 2015 the French Government raised their VIGIPIRATE national security alert system to ‘Attack’ status in the Paris region and speedily flooded armed troops into the area as part of Operation SENTINELLE. Land Rover Defenders with military registration plates and carrying VIGIPIRATE stickers or windscreen cards subsequently made several fleeting appearances on news channel footage whenever soldiers were deployed on the streets as a reassurance measure in times of heightened tensions or after terrorist incidents.

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Those VIGIPIRATE Defenders I have spotted on the television, and occasionally on relatively obscure internet websites, have all been the five-door D110 Station Wagon model and base colours have varied from sand to sage green to, occasionally, NATO Green. The sand and sage coloured vehicles I have observed, usually bearing French Army (Armée de Terre) 6092-series registration plates, were clearly newer models based on the civilian specification Defender with minor modifications for military use, but until I spotted the convoy escort pair in Norway during TRJE18 virtually all NATO Green coloured Rovers I was previously aware of were from the earlier 6061-series and appeared to be militarised Core Model versions.

 

This sage green with white wheels 6092-series D110 was spotted during Exercise COLIBRI in 2016 [© Carl Schulze]

Since 1962, except when operational commitments have prevented it, the airborne forces of France and Germany have conducted annual bilateral training manoeuvres under the COLIBRI banner and our man Schulze has photographed many of the more recent exercises in the series. In recent years the French have turned COLIBRI into an invitational exercise and other NATO nations, including Spain and the United States, have sent troops as well; in September 2016 a platoon from the Royal Gurkha Rifles became the first British Army participants on COLIBRI. While Carl was in south-western France covering the German and British contingents on that particular exercise he spotted a number of the rarely photographed French Army D110 (Defender 110) Station Wagons and made a point of snapping them for my military Land Rover image archive.

 

After a fair bit of delving I discovered that those NATO Green 6061-series Defenders, which have the concave bonnet indicating they are probably powered by the 2,493cc Td5 ‘Puma’ engine, were primarily procured for use on France’s training areas and establishments. This could explain why I had not previously encountered any on bilateral exercises and why they so rarely appeared in photographs; nobody other than enthusiasts ever seems to pay much attention to Land Rovers as the brand has been so ubiquitous over the last seven decades.

 

The tubular side sill protection bar is common to all French D110 Station Wagons [© Carl Schulze]

As can be seen from Carl’s photos these NATO Green French vehicles, which have had some panels replaced or repainted, have been at least partially militarised with elongated hemispherical antennae mount bases on the left front wing and both sides at the rear in place of the small glazing panels. They also have a small roof-mounted antenna, above the front passenger, which is possibly for VHF communications. Both front and rear light clusters are protected by cages and an LMT steering guard is fitted. Note also the tubular sill protection each side.

 

Seating configuration in these older vehicles is for up to nine, with two in the front, three in the row behind, and four more on simple inward-facing bench seats in the rear. If necessary, the rear seat squabs could be hinged upwards to give more usable cargo space in the back. Tyres fitted to 6061-series NATO Green Defenders were Michelin 4×4-O/R radials on plain steel wheels, with the spare being mounted on a plain carrier on the rear door; the 6072-series vehicles in Norway sported a mix of mostly road-biased tyres including both Michelin and Bridgestone types.

 

Light cluster protection cages appear to be common to all French Army Defenders – note multi-height combination towball and jaws [© Carl Schulze]

From published sources it would appear that in 2009 the French military procured some 300+ new Defender 110 Station Wagons, primarily to be used in support roles in France rather than issued to frontline formations or despatched to the French overseas territories. Their main function appears to be similar to that of the UK Forces White Fleet but, unlike their British equivalents which are contract leased and carry civilian registration numbers, the French Ministry of Defence owns them and they carry military number plates complete with the French Army tricolour bisected by a sword.

 

This 2009 batch of Defenders, along with a subsequent order which brought the new fleet total to somewhere between six and seven hundred, was primarily delivered in a civilian specification gloss colour which, for ease of description, I call sage green; for the purists, the precise colour is most likely Keswick Green. This is not, however, the only colour that the more recent Station Wagon batches can be seen in as there is photographic proof that both Desert Sand and and NATO Green vehicles are in use; one French source says the former were originally procured for use by French military based overseas and they appear to be of similar colour to the small fleet of rarely seen French Special Operations five-door WMIK-style gunships.

 

French Army Defender 110 seven-seat Station Wagon on the Caylus Training Area – flat bonnet suggests 300 Tdi engine [© Carl Schulze]

It is my belief that these later Station Wagons were all supplied by coachbuilders Durisotti, with whom both French government departments and Jaguar Land Rover have had close working relationships. If you look closely underneath ROVER on the bonnet of these vehicles you might spot a small badge with the Sallaumines-based company’s name and most, though not all, similar vehicles sport that same identifier; the vehicle with the dayglo air identification panel on the bonnet has this small badge.

 

These newer vehicles, as it to be expected as they are post-2007, all have the convex bonnet denoting a Ford Duratorq – i.e. Puma – engine is the power source; only close inspection would confirm whether 2402cc or 2199cc model was fitted, but that was not possible as the images were taken in passing by Carl. While looking at the bonnet area, note the single antenna mount base on the front left wing; this is of a different style to that seen on earlier French Defender Station Wagons, and no rear mounts are fitted to the newer models.

 

Rear antenna mounts on metal plates are fitted in place of the small rear windows on this 6061-series French Defender [© Carl Schulze]

The tyres fitted to the later Durisotti Station Wagons are the Michelin LATITUDE CROSS model, which the manufacturer claims is a “multi-purpose 4×4 tyre with the traction of an off-road tyre, the comfort of an on-road tyre and excellent mileage” though I suspect their idea of off-road might not match that of some readers of this page. If looking for traction on muddy ground I would prefer their 4×4-O/R, though as the newer French military Defenders probably spend most of their working life on tarmac, similar to the UK MoD White Fleet, these road-biased tyres probably make more sense. The standard steel wheels fitted to these Rovers are painted cream or white.

 

Just like the earlier 6061-series and 6072-series NATO Green vehicles, the 6092-series Durisotti Defenders sport tubular side sill guards, light cluster cages and LMT steering guards. Their rear internal seating arrangement, however, is different with just two forward-facing folding seats making them seven-seaters; in recent years EU legislation changes have mostly ruled out the fitting of inward-facing seats.

 

ARQUUS VT4 photographed at EUROSATORY 2018 [© BM]

With production of the Defender model ceasing in 2016 there was no possibility of the type being considered for the recently ordered VT4 programme to replace the P4, and in due course those ageing French Army Land Rovers will be replaced by the new Ford-based 4×4, however as quite a few of the British vehicles are used in specialist roles it is a fair bet that some will remain in service for quite some time yet.

 

In a future article in this section, as and when time permits, I plan to look at the Durisotti ambulance conversion used by the French armed forces.

{ images © Bob Morrison and Carl Schulze }

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