The Lithuanian Army, who until the Iron Curtain fell used the Soviet UAZ-469, have being fielding Land Rover Defenders since the 1990s, writes Bob Morrison.
Following the reunification of East and West Germany and the subsequent demise of the Warsaw Pact, the three now independent Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania gradually aligned with both the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
Initially those Baltic States troops participating on multinational PfP (Partnership for Peace) exercises used donated ex-US Army pick-up trucks as replacements for their ageing Soviet-produced UAZ-469 light utility vehicles while they commenced integration with NATO. As part of the 1990s ‘peace dividend’ large quantities of, mostly German and Dutch, pre-owned Mercedes-Benz Geländewagens became available allowing Estonia and Latvia to obtain sizeable batches of refurbished examples but neighbouring Lithuania went down a slightly different route and also bought a quantity of Core Model Land Rover Defenders.
Although these Lithuanian Defenders, powered by the 300Tdi engine, are now well over 20 years old they still have plenty of life left in them and have been regularly deployed on field training exercises for a wide range of communications, logistics and liaison duties. When in 2017, in response to recent Russian expansionism, NATO established four mutually-supporting multinational eFP (enhanced Forward Presence) battlegroups to form a defensive shield ranging from Poland through Lithuania and Latvia to Estonia from spring through to autumn that year I did my best to document this new Alliance mission. This, naturally, allowed me to also snap military Land Rovers operating in a region which had formerly been on the other side of the Iron Curtain.
Above: Two more views of the lead photo D110 Hard Top, callsign R31 [©BM]
The accompanying images of Lithuanian Defenders were all captured on the linked exercises IRON WOLF ’17 (National) and SABER STRIKE ’17 (NATO) in the June of that year. For these major manoeuvres Lithuania’s Iron Wolf Mechanised Infantry Brigade, with the German-led NATO eFP Battle Group Lithuania (BG LTU) under its command, faced up to a mock attack from Yellow Force invaders and the neighbouring NATO battlegroups from Poland and Latvia came to their assistance. Some of my photos were taken on consecutive days near a bridging site over the Neris River operated by British and German combat engineers and others were taken at the Iron Wolf Brigade’s deployed tactical headquarters.
Above: This D110 Hard Top, callsign R01, had no antenna mounts fitted [©BM]
Many Iron Wolf Defenders I saw on this trip were Hard Top D110 models and all VIN plates I managed to check revealed them to be 1997 Year Model with the 300 Tdi engine. All were Core Military range – i.e. slightly militarised rather than full military specification – but had the ability to be Fitted For Radio or FFR; many had up to four antennae mounts bolted to the hard top, but not all vehicles were rigged this way. These long wheelbase Hard Tops had bench seats each side in the rear compartment and those rigged for radios carried sets transversely behind the rear cab bulkhead. D110 Hard Tops not rigged with radios and being used for light logistics / transport roles still had blanking plates at the forward end of the upper body sides and in the roof back panel either side of the door to allow mounts to be speedily fitted.
Above: Four shots of D110 Soft Top, Z14 – note similar canopy to the CUCV above [©BM]
There were also a couple of Soft Top Defender 110 models busying around in the logistic role, but I was unable to confirm their Model Year; I suspected these might have been a little older than the Hard Tops but was unable to confirm. The example seen here, which close inspection confirmed was not a converted Hard Top, had a bottle green canopy which may well have been a locally-made replacement as it did not look to be a genuine Land Rover item; this was similar to one fitted to an Iron Wolf Brigade former US Army Chevrolet CUCV (Commercial Utility Cargo Vehicle) I photographed on a PfP exercise in Poland back in 2002.
Above: This D110 Station Wagon was spotted at the Iron Wolf Brigade HQ
Two other Land Rover models I spotted in service with the Lithuanian Army were three-door Defender 90 and five-door Defender 110 Station Wagons used for liaison duties. I suspect the D110 SW may be standard civilian specification rather than Core Military, but I snapped two of the shorter wheelbase D90 Station Wagons which had pairs of FFR blanking plates and/or mounting boxes for antennae on their roof back panels suggesting they were Core Model.
Above: D90 Station Wagon, callsign O22, appears to be a Core Model [©BM]
All Lithuanian Defender variants were painted in a three-colour scheme of forest green / red brown / black which was broadly similar to that found on both German and French Army vehicles. Limited markings were mostly just light grey call signs, consisting of one letter and two numbers, on the doors or body sides with the occasional tacsign or unit crest also sported.
Lithuania also has a fleet of Defender-based WMIK gunships use by her Special Operations Forces, LITHSOF, but that is a topic for another day.
[images © Bob Morrison]