Finnish Rapid Defence Force (FRDF) participants on the NATO-led PfP exercise programme used Defender 110 Station Wagons from the start of the 21st Century, writes Bob Morrison.
The five-door Station Wagon version of the Land Rover Defender has only been used in comparatively small numbers by UK Forces over the years, mostly for rear echelon roles, but this primarily civilian specification model actually saw relatively widespread use by foreign nations; indeed even the French Army, not known for buying foreign equipment when a local equivalent could be sourced, has used this model.
Our first encounter with Finnish D110 Station Wagons was during STRONG RESOLVE 2002, a gift of a multinational exercise that photographically just keeps on giving, which Carl and myself covered across much of the depth of Western Poland in his old former British Army One-Ten hard top. Incidentally the third of the ‘Three MustGetBeers’, the late Yves Debay, was also in attendance at SR-02 which was one of the few exercises or operational deployments where all three of us worked in the field as a team (I even have a team photo recording this event, but I won’t post it for fear of frightening the kids) rather than individually or in pairs.
One of the Finnish officers Carl and I met during the exercise in Poland turned out to himself be both a Land Rover owner and enthusiast, and he explained to us that the Defenders sourced for the all-volunteer FRDF (Finnish Rapid Deployment Force) contingent were procured through the Volvo dealership in Finland. Between 1994 and 2000 the Land Rover brand was owned by BMW, who pretty much destroyed the military side of the business as they had little interest in it, but unable to make a success of the company in 2000 they sold the marque off to Ford who aligned Jaguar and Land Rover with Volvo as part of their Premier Automotive Group; of course as the Swedish brand had a high profile in Finland it was only logical that they handled Defender sales to the Finnish Government.
All of the small batch of Finnish D110 Station Wagons I photographed on the exercise in 2002 started life as civilian specification vehicles and the only attempt at militarisation appeared to be the fitting of one or two roof bars with a communications antenna attached. Seating arrangement was standard, with two front seats, a bench seat for three in the second row and inward-facing double seats each side in the rear. Military markings were minimal with just the outline insignia of the Finnish Defence Forces castellated tower applied to the front doors, but for easy recognition purposes all vehicles sported the Finnish national flag. A couple of these Defenders, which were powered by the standard 2493cc Td5 engine of the day, also had orange rotating beacons on the roof as they were used as convoy escort vehicles for the SISU Pasi 6×6 armoured personnel carriers.
My next encounter with FRDF Station Wagons was in Norway during the invitational Exercise BATTLE GRIFFIN in 2005. On this exercise these Eastnor Green (a civilian range colour) Station Wagons were in use primarily as liaison vehicles between platoon locations and company headquarters. Most looked to be from the same batch first seen in Poland three years before, though noticeably the standard white wheels were gone and all sported heavy duty pierced steel rims of the type found on British Wolf Defenders; on reflection, this might just be because studded winter tyres, common in Northern European countries, were fitted rather than the factory-supplied Michelin XPC 4×4 road-biased tyres seen in Poland and rather than swapping tyres it is more convenient to have suitably shod summer and winter sets of wheels for each vehicle.
While most Finnish Station Wagons in Norway appeared to be of civilian base specification, I also spotted a slightly different and partially militarised batch with integrated bumper winches, bull bars, brush guards, steering protection guards, raised air intakes and large roof racks. These appeared to be operating in the FFR (Fitted For Radio) role judging by the number of antennae on either the roof bars or on magnetic bases positioned over roof reinforcing strips. From the bonnet shape I reckon these also had Td5 engines.
Although I have photographed the Finns more recently, on the amphibious landing phase of BALTOPS 15 in Poland and on KEVADTORM 17 in Estonia, there was no opportunity to snap their Light Utility Vehicles on the former and by the time of the latter they had replaced their Land Rover Station Wagon fleet with the four-door Toyota HiLux. Maybe if Jaguar Land Rover had launched the long-promised and long-awaited commercial version of the New Defender (L663) before stopping production of the original in late 2015, and the new kid on the block was being offered at a competitive price, the Finns might not have gone down the Japanese route… but that is another tale.
[images © Bob Morrison]