It has not been unusual to find a non-tactical Land Rover carried aboard Britain’s Amphibious Task Group flagship to serve as the Captain’s shore transport, writes Bob Morrison.
Now for something a little different. I have been regularly penning articles on military Land Rovers for well over three decades and as a bit of a specialist in this field I naturally keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary in this field, as indeed does my colleague Carl Schulze.
Almost since my first overseas media assignment, with the Royal Marines to Norway way back in 1988, I have spotted various non-tactical Land Rovers, and the occasional Range Rover or Discovery, aboard Royal Navy ships I have visited. For example, back in the late eighties and nineties the Landing Platform Dock amphibious ships HMS Fearless and Intrepid tended to carry either a Lightweight – i.e. an 88” wheelbase Series III Land Rover – often painted Navy Blue rather than NATO Green, or a civilian registered Ninety or Defender 90, stowed under the vehicle ramp. In 1999 when HMS Ocean took part in her first major amphibious exercise, complete with a fleet of the new Winter Water Wolves aboard, she carried a civilian registration Land Rover Discovery but by 2006, while on a routine Winter Deployment exercise to Norway it was a white R-registration Defender 110 hard top which filled this role.
Roll forward to the massive biennial multinational Exercise COLD RESPONSE 2012 and it was a very smart late 2011 civvy registration Range Rover Vogue SE TDV8 L322 model which was aboard the Royal Navy’s flagship for the deployment, HMS Bulwark. Our man Schulze, recently back home from the pandemic-cancelled COLD RESPONSE 2020, was on the beachhead during the 2012 exercise when a British Landing Craft Utility slowly nudged ashore in a snow-dusted Norwegian fjord to deposit not Royal Marines Defenders but the Task Group Commander’s Range Rover, which would later be used for high profile official visits. As well as providing training opportunities for the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines of 3 Commando Brigade plus tri-service support personnel, major multinational exercises often also have a diplomatic and political dimension so it is not uncommon for VIPs, and occasionally even Royalty, to visit along with top brass from both the host nation and the participating nations. In peacetime sending ashore the top British officer in a manky old, and possibly battle-scarred, Land Rover Defender possibly doesn’t send out the right message to other Distinguished Visitors but a Range Rover catches the eye.
A Range Rover, in addition to offering swish transportation for dignitaries and having the ability to cope with all terrains and climates likely to be encountered as the Royal Navy flagship deploys from Arctic to Tropical theatres, is actually just as good off-road as the Defender and indeed in some conditions its additional electrickery (a term conjured by my veteran journalist colleague Frank Elson many years ago) can get it places that only a hardened off-road driver might tackle in a base model Land Rover. Just like its more basic siblings designed specifically for military use, even the posh Vogue SE model can, without preparation, negotiate the steep vehicle ramp of a Royal Navy amphibious assault vessel onto a landing craft for shore transportation and then wade off through up to half a metre of surf onto the beach.
The Range Rover deployed on COLD RESPONSE 2012 was, I suspect from numberplate clues, most likely one of Land Rover’s VIP loan fleet but at the time the company’s Press Office refused to confirm or deny this on the grounds that they were “not allowed to comment on any vehicles loaned to the military or otherwise.” As the Royal Navy’s budget doesn’t stretch to the procurement of a Range Rover for this type of role and clues suggested it was not a ‘White Fleet’ contract lease vehicle, I have always been pretty confident that this, just like many other Land Rovers which pop up on high profile television shows and films, was a courtesy car from the manufacturer’s large fleet. (Incidentally, even I have been loaned one of the fleet vehicles as when my daughter, who through her childhood and teens accompanied me to many Land Rover shows I was covering, expressed the wish to have a smart Defender driven by her Dad as her wedding car the company was only to happy to arrange it.)
Move on 18 months from COLD RESPONSE 12 to the autumn of 2013 and the helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious was off the coast of Albania as part of the Royal Navy’s Response Force Task Group deployed to Mediterranean and further afield. While aboard the carrier during the ALBANIAN LION phase of COUGAR 13, to cover a Distinguished Visitors Day, I was allowed to briefly visit the vehicle deck to take a few record photographs. A different Range Rover Vogue SE, this time the more rounded new SDV8 L405 model on an early 2013 registration plate, was being carried below decks as the Captain’s VIP transport. Incidentally, the peculiar colour cast in the two shots of this vehicle is caused by the deliberately subdued lighting below decks – use of a flashgun to correct colours was prohibited in this area, but I felt it better to have very orange shots than no shots at all.
Somewhere in the depths of my archives I have old photographs of the Discovery in UK military service and if / when I track these down I’ll pen a brief article on this other rare Military Land Rover subject.
[images © Carl Schulze or Bob Morrison]