The George Cross Island, despite being one of the smallest yet most densely populated countries in the world uses many different types of Defenders, writes Bob Morrison.
This smallest member state of the European Union sits in the Mediterranean, between Sicily and Tunisia, at a key maritime crossroads between the MENA (the Middle East and North Africa) region and Europe, putting it on the very front line of the smuggler trade in both people and merchandise in a part of the world which has seen more than its fair share of troubles over the last decade or so. As a result the island’s military, the Armed Forces of Malta or AFM, has been undergoing a programme of modernisation to try to help them deal with current and potential threats and problems.
Almost exactly six years ago, in the summer of 2014, I was invited over to Valletta by AFM to cover the introduction of their then new MultiCam uniforms and while I was on the island I grabbed the opportunity to photograph some of their military Land Rovers. Back then the Maltese had also been gradually modernising their Defender fleet and on my short trip not only was I able to photograph examples of the main Land Rover variants in use but I also got to travel in one of their then comparatively new Puma-engined Defender 110 Double Cab Pick Up (DCPU) fleet; no long before James Bond had been seen on the big screen in a similar vehicle, in Skyfall, but I now suspect that might possibly have been an Otokar version rather than one built in Solihull.
During a short tour of four locations on the island where troops were based or operating, for me first to be briefed and then to photograph their new uniforms, the Maltese military also managed to rustle up several Defenders for me to point my camera at. To add icing to the cake, when my NCO escort turned up at my hotel early on the appointed morning he was driving a D110 DCPU (GVA 296) which he parked up on open ground inside one of the bases to allow me to get walk-around shots prior to my visit to AFM Headquarters for a briefing on the situation at that time.
The Maltese military favour the D110 DCPU as a light utility vehicle, because its 4-door layout with canopied rear loadbed allow it to transport up to five personnel on conventional forward-facing seats as well as cargo (or further troops) in the rear up to a payload of just over one metric tonne. The DCPU fleet on the books in 2014, which was powered by the 4-cylinder 2402cc Puma (i.e. Ford DuraTorq) engine, was neither the oldest nor newest Defender model in service with AFM, as both earlier 300Tdi D110 Pick Up and more recent 2184cc Puma D110 Station Wagon models were fielded along with civilian specification ‘white fleet’ D90 Station Wagons.
After photographing troops in their then new uniforms and with the sun now fully up and the thermometer well above 30°C, I visited the barracks where the Explosive Ordnance Disposal team from 3rd Regiment AFM is based. Here I was able to photograph Engineers from the EOD Section of the Ammunition & Explosives Company along with their Wheelbarrow remote controlled vehicle, but during the shoot a D110 DCPU in Bomb Disposal markings (GVA 031) was flagged down to allow me to snap it too.
Essentially a Core Model vehicle, that is a Defender configured on the production line for a basic military role, this NATO Green base colour D110 had a bumper-mounted Warn winch, rear military pattern bumperettes and pierced Wolf-style heavy duty wheels. As it had the Puma engine, as evidenced by the bulged bonnet, the spare wheel was carried in the rear compartment on the bulkhead; this compartment had a conventional drop tailgate and was fitted with a zipped canopy with window panels both sides and at the rear. Like all similar models, the bomb disposal pick-up had an adjustable height towing pintle at the rear.
The staple of the AFM Defender fleet prior to the introduction of the 110 DCPU model was the 300Tdi D110 Pick Up (i.e. Soft Top) model. A proper three-door model, as the rear tailgate was replaced by a side-swinging half-height door as favoured by some other European armies like the Czechs, this model of Land Rover could theoretically transport up to eight on bench seats in the rear, in addition to driver and front seat commander, but AFM realistically only listed its capability as being 1+7. This soft top utility model with laced canopy without side windows, could be FFR (Fitted for Radio) or GS (General Service), had earlier non-pierced wheels, military rear bumperettes, pioneer tool clips on bonnet and rear side-hinged tailgate. The FFR had antenna mount posts either side behind the doors with side lockers in front of the rear wheels, but the possibly slightly earlier GS version I spotted had neither.
The typical FFR with the registration GVA 139, which had its canopy rolled up for added ventilation, was photographed outside AFM Headquarters; as well as side lockers it had fold-down steps beneath each door.
The GS version with registration GVA 237 which I grabbed a shot of as it was passing, hence the photo being slightly out of focus, had neither lockers nor side steps. Both, however, sported NATO towing jaws, rather than an adjustable height pintle. The tac-signs identified these as belonging to 1 Regiment AFM, which is the island nation’s core infantry formation, and 4 Regiment AFM which includes, among other units, the training, ceremonial and band components of the Force.
Airport security and access control through the secure perimeter, as well as patrolling the perimeter, and overseeing passage to or from air-side inside the terminal building at Luqa, is the primary responsibility of ‘A’ Company from 1 Regiment AFM. For perimeter patrols they use the D110 DCPU model, but for more routine liaison and transport roles they used civilian specification ‘white fleet’ green-bodied and white-topped Defender 90 Station Wagons. Fitted with orange beacons for airfield visibility these civilian colour scheme Land Rovers sport 1 Regiment tac-signs.
The newest Defender model I photographed on my 2014 trip was the D110 Station Wagon with registration GVA 111, which was the latest Land Rover type taken on-strength by AFM and had only entered service earlier that month, so I was very fortunate to catch this one in passing as I headed to the Rescue Co-ordination Centre from where AFM oversees Search & Rescue for a massive area of the Central Mediterranean stretching from Spanish-controlled waters in the west to Greek-controlled waters in the east.
Malta’s all-professional armed forces are not very large in number but as all are career soldiers who sign up for around 25 years they pull far above their weight while standing guard over Europe’s southern flank in an uncertain climate. I plan to look at their structure and a little bit of their history in a separate feature in the not too distant future.
[images © Bob Morrison]