Some armies have thousands of military Land Rovers at their disposal but others have just a few, like these Latvian Military Police D110 Station Wagons, writes Bob Morrison.
Whenever I am on my travels I keep an eye out for interesting or unusual Land Rovers in military service to both expand my image library and increase my specialist knowledge in this niche area. My recent trip out to Estonia to cover KEVADTORM 2019 in Estonia provided yet another, and quite unexpected, opportunity to document one of the rarely seen Latvian Defender Station Wagons.
For thirty years, from shortly after the Land Rover One-Ten and Ninety models entering widespread British Army service until shortly after production ceased of what had by then become the Defender 110 and Defender 90, I penned a monthly magazine column on these ubiquitous utility vehicles and I would still be doing so today if I had my way as I know there is major enthusiast interest in this topic. Land Rover magazine editors may no longer have the space, or inclination, to allow me to cover my favourite topic in print but on the positive side by continuing my coverage online on J-F I am not constricted by space or restricted on what I write about so I can produce more esoteric subjects and provide more images, especially walk-rounds, to hopefully keep the enthusiasts happy.
The two Stations Wagons on this page, a non-matching pair, might well be the only two Defenders (Special Forces excepted) currently fielded by the Latvian Army and if you look closely you will spot that they are subtly different. Rover LA-946, which I photographed in Latvia during Ex SILVER ARROW 2017 is a 300 Tdi engine version built in 1998, and LA–2626, photographed in Estonia this May, is a much younger Puma-engined version which I believe entered service in or around 2010. Both were, as is obvious from the photos, serving with the Latvian Military Police.
When I was covering SILVER ARROW 2017 on the Ādaži Training Area I kept spotting LA–946 on patrol and asked the LVA MoD Press Officer if it would be possible for me to take some static photos. As can be seen, the vehicle was battered and dirty, like many hard-working military Land Rovers at the height of a field exercise or deployment, and the Press Officer was at first reticent to organise the photo opportunity as the MP unit had a newer and less dented Station Wagon at its disposal. However, as what I now suspect was LA–2626 was undergoing a routine service in Riga during my visit it was reluctantly agreed that I could photograph its older sibling during a brief break in the exercise action and it was duly summoned to briefly pose outside the main camp where there were no restrictions on photography.
From images I have been able to uncover during my research it would appear that the Latvian MPs first obtained a pair of 1998 model year Defender Station Wagons for their service with KFOR (Kosovo Force) which was, and still is, a multinational peace-enforcing mission in a part of the Former Yugoslavia. First deployed to Kosovo in August 1999, as part of the Baltic Nations Squadron, the primary Latvian Contingent role was to provide Military Police support in order to facilitate integrated and flexible Multi-National Task Force operations. Both LA–946 and sibling LA–947 were quite possibly procured specifically for this deployment, and individual photos exist of the pair with KFOR markings, but by the start of 2009 they were back in Latvia where they were damaged in the Riga rioting that January. Interestingly, by now the Military Police were also using a pair of Spanish-built Santana Anibal Land Rover copies and these too were in use during the Riga Riot.
I suspect that the later pair of MP Defenders, LA–2625 and LA–2626, might have been procured as a result of the damage done to the two earlier Defenders as they appear to have been accepted for service in 2010; unfortunately I was unable to check the VIN plate for the vehicle I snapped in Estonia earlier this year to determine its model year. By 2007 the Puma (Ford Duratorq) 2402cc engine was standard fit for the Defender and the convex bulged bonnet on LA–2626 confirms its power source. The basic Station Wagon body shell hardly changed from the introduction of the One-Ten coil sprung chassis in the mid-1980s through to end of production at the start of 2016, so externally both the older and newer Land Rovers are near identical, but the keen-eyed will spot that the younger vehicle does not have vent flaps under the windscreen and its rear crossmember has more holes punched in it.
For modellers, the base paint colour is that shade of green found on many Core Model Defenders – i.e. near civilian specification vehicles offered to armies which did not require full militarisation. MP markings are self-evident, but the white door and bonnet panels only appear to have been used on the earlier pair. Both older and newer Defender batches had light bars, of different styles, and originally the earlier pair had occulting blue lights on the front bumper but these had been removed from the near 20-year old LA–946 when I photographed it in Latvia. Finally, on the detail side, although all Defenders appear to have been procured with plain wheels, originally painted white, LA–2626 was sporting a Wolf-style pierced steel rear right wheel when I snapped it in Estonia.
On both occasions when I photographed one of these vehicles, in 2017 and 2019, I was told that the Latvian Military Police currently only have two Defenders which would make this pair quite rare, though not as rare as the lone Maltese EOD Station Wagon which I will try to cover in a future feature.
[ images © Bob Morrison unless noted ]