This article has been submitted by Ben Skipper. If you want to learn more about military Land Rovers, check out his book, Land Rover: Military Versions of the British 4×4, which was illustrated by our talented founder, David Bocquelet.
The Lightweight Land Rover was a wonderful example of making the contents fit the parcel, as well as intelligent design. Initially, the Lightweight was to fulfill a 1964 War Office (UK) specification that sought a Short Wheel Base (SWB) Land Rover that could be air-portable by the then contemporaneous RAF Transport Command air fleet and the Wessex helicopter. The Royal Marines (RM) were also hankering after a lighter Land Rover around this time, having resorted to stripping down Series II Mk8’s in an effort to make them air transportable. To achieve this standard, the Series Land Rover would have to be extensively modified, with the main effort of design addressing width, which, dependent on the Series, was between 62 and 64 in (157 cm – 163 cm).
Design and Development
For the new design, the desired width was 60 in (152 cm), which would allow for two units to sit side by side in the Armstrong-Whitworth Argosy. By the time the Lightweight was introduced into service, the Argosy had ironically been replaced by the C130 Hercules, at which point the vehicle width no longer mattered. The weight, however, was all-important, especially for movement by rotary aircraft.
Two of the aircraft originally intended to carry the Lightweight Land Rover, the Armstrong-Whitworth Argosy and Westland Wessex. Source: Wikipedia
The specifications were exacting and would require some significant work for any design to be successful. For the 12v model, the unladen weight was to be 1,136 kg, whilst for the 24v model, the unladen weight was to be 1,409 kg. The total payload, including the driver, was to be 455 kg and the unit had to be able to pull a ½ ton trailer and have a range of 300 miles (483 km). The War Office wanted the steering, engine, suspension, and drivetrain to be identical to those of other Land Rovers then in service. This meant that the weight savings were to come from adapting the bodywork
The initial design team, consisting of Mike Broadhead as Project Manager, and Norman Busby, with assistance from the Fighting Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (FVDRE) and their organizational successors, the Military Vehicles and Engineering Establishment (MVEE), had a prototype ready for tests by 1965. By this stage, Mr. Broadhead had been replaced by Bob Seagar.
The most important task for the team to address was the track width. Given the War Office’s insistence that the drivetrain specifications be unchanged, it was clearly too wide, so a compromise had to be reached. The first step was to reduce the width of the bodywork. This was achieved by designing a new bulkhead and replacing the curved sides with Series I style slab-sided panels.
The wings were all but eradicated and replaced with slimline protrusions upon which were mounted side and indicator lights. The headlights were placed on the front grill for the early Series IIa version, before being moved to modified wings for the later Series IIa and Series III production models. Even with all these changes, the width was still too great.
Thankfully, a compromise was reached with the newly established Ministry of Defence (MoD) regarding axle designs. Clearly, sense had prevailed and the Lightweight would be fitted with re-designed drive flanges and a narrower axle with shortened half-shafts.
Further weight savings were made in the use of standard civilian springs and omission of the oil cooler. Narrower 6.00 x 16 tires were fitted to single-piece rims instead of 6.50 x 16 tires on the traditional military split rims. The most iconic piece of re-designed furniture was the trapezoid-esque bonnet, which was the only piece of the bodywork that required new tooling.
The next step was to revise which parts of the superstructure and bodywork were absolutely necessary. The intention was for the Lightweight to be transported by air in a manner of ways; from an under-slung rotary load, ordinary air cargo, or dispatched at height via Medium Stressed Platform (MSP). Thus, the external design had to be as clean as possible. To achieve this, the plan was to remove all non-essential fittings, leaving only a drivable unit with the bare minimum of fixtures to hit the ground running. FVDRE was consulted and a decision was made regarding which pieces should go.
It was deemed that the front bumper, windscreen, doors, rear side panels, seats, and soft top and frame could all be removed. The intention was that these items would follow the deployed unit by other means and be reattached. With these elements, the Lightweight achieved its desired weight, but only just.
The first prototypes were delivered to the FVDRE for evaluation early in 1966. By mid-1966, a short run contract for six vehicles was made for further evaluations, with these becoming ‘Special Project’ vehicles. These were supplied in both right and left-hand drive (RHD and LHD) versions and in 12v and 24v. The name Rover 1 was chosen to identify the new vehicles. The vehicles were now classed as ½ ton vehicles by a new system that identified total load-carrying capability rather than that carried on the load bed.
Adoption and Production
The new vehicle was designated as ‘Truck, General Service, ½ ton, 4×4, Rover 1’ and given the Fighting Vehicle number FV18101. However, the new Lightweight was more costly than the 88 in (224 cm) vehicle it was replacing in air portable units, so army-wide adoption at this point was not an option.
In 1967, even whilst trials were ongoing, the first orders were made; 92 for the Royal Marines and 1,000 for the Army, with priority given to the Royal Marines. Once the Royal Marines vehicles had been delivered, the 1,000 units for the Army found themselves at home with the Air Portable brigades of 3 Division. The Royal Air Force and Royal Navy also received a small number, with Rover keeping back 4 of them for research and development purposes.
The Series IIa lightweights were all soft top and powered by a 2.25 l petrol engine. The oil cooler and 6.50 x 16 tires also made a return, as the weight savings that had been initially planned were now negated by the arrival of the C130 and more powerful rotary aircraft. Indeed, the arrival of these new air assets single-handedly wiped out the need for the Lightweight, as they could carry original Series Land Rovers with ease. As a result, the Lightweight was rarely transported in stripped-down form, yet this ability was to prove itself useful for certain ground-based operations.
As with all Land Rovers, there were several variants, including a 24v Fitted For Radio (FFR) model, known as the FV18102, which had a demountable radio bank that sat width-ways across the cargo bay. Powered by a large battery box, these radio banks must have been quite weighty, as they were designed to be carried separately by helicopter and would be reattached to the lightweight on arrival at the drop zone.
The Series IIa based lightweights remained in production until 1972, after the Series III models were in service with the military. Some were retrofitted with hardtops as they replaced the older 88 in (224 cm) models, especially those in command roles. Hardtops were often fitted to improve the physical security of the vehicle and its contents, with Station Wagon tops occasionally fitted. These vehicles were fitted with either a conventional swing door or a split tailgate and hatch system, which was favored by the RAF. Interestingly, because the design of the hardtop was based on the 88 in (224 cm) model, the body would slightly overhang the sides of the Lightweight.
The WOMBAT portees were a version operated by the Royal Marines. They had their windscreens removed and a special frame, upon which the barrel of the weapon rested, took its place. Linelayer versions were also supplied and some were equipped with the GRP (Glass Reinforced Plastic) Vehicle Protection Kit (VPK) for service in Northern Ireland.
The RAF operated the Lightweight as part of their global tactical assets, such as the RAF Regiment. It was also employed on airfields as a glider recovery vehicle, often equipped with an amber oscillating light and a transparent panel above the heads of the crew. Adorned in high-visibility yellow with a khaki tilt, it would have been pretty hard to miss this very colorful vehicle darting about on task.
By the early 1970s, the military landscape had changed and the Lightweight, now in its Series III incarnation, had usurped the 88 in (224 cm) in service. The Series III version saw no major changes to appearance but did incorporate the mechanical changes that the general Series III range had introduced, such as the larger clutch and key start ignition. The dynamo was gone and an alternator was now fitted in its place.
The Series III was by far more numerous in military use, with over 15,000 made by the end of production in 1985. Of this prodigious number, some 4,000 went to overseas buyers, including the Dutch, Jamaicans, and Omanis. Built-in either 12v or 24v versions dependent on role, all models were delivered again as soft tops, with nearly all being built as petrol versions. There was the odd diesel model, which was supplied to the RAF to work in areas where sparks may not be conducive to health and safety, and some finished in the RAF’s blue-grey livery.
The Royal Navy also took delivery of the Lightweight, with vehicles being used in the general service cargo carrier role. Some helicopter support versions were also produced and, like the FFR versions, were rated at 24v.
New variants included a special conversion that allowed Lightweights to traverse the peaty ground of the Falklands Islands with ease. The conversion was carried out by Gloster Saro Ltd. and involved fitting 15.5 inch (39.4 cm) wide low-pressure tires to the vehicles. The conversion also extended the mudguards outwards, rerouting the exhaust so it ran up the left-hand side of the cab, fitting a steering damper, and a heavy-duty sump guard. The final element of the conversion was to move the spare wheel mount from the top of the bonnet to a remodeled bumper, which had a supporting box welded to it.
The RAF had a Helicopter Starting version which ran on 24v via a 90 amp electrical system. These vehicles were used only in the role of cold starting the recently introduced Puma helicopter. The reinforced hardtop featured a platform with a collapsible rail to enable serving and starting to take place.
Given the Puma was a deployable asset, the Lightweights were well equipped with extra heating Winterization packages. These kits were made by CJ Williams Ltd. and featured a large heater that was fed with coolant from the engine. This would see heat moved around the interior via ducting, with the vehicle insulated with rubber matting and external flaps which were attached to the windows and radiator grilles to retain the heat.
The Lightweight also fulfilled some high-profile roles, including a Red Arrows (Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team) liaison vehicle and as a ceremonial vehicle with the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC). The HAC vehicles were finished in a gloss Bronze Green finish, with chrome bumpers and bumperettes. All upholstery and the spare wheel cover were white along with axle end and wheel nuts. To finish off each vehicle had the HAC’s unique coat of arms emblazoned on each door.
In general service, the Lightweight was often used in the liaison role by staff, though later in life, its petrol engine became an increasing burden in another diesel-powered fleet, and often they would be transported on the back of a DROPS lorry as a pair when deploying on exercise. Enjoyable to drive, the Lightweight could carry two to six personnel depending on role, and had decent handling at speed, making it way more comfortable than GS (General Service) Land Rovers. Cross country, it seemed nippier than its larger brethren and was able to carry a useful load without too much hampering of performance.
Although its design intent was overtaken by technological advances, as well as fixed and rotary wing air transport upgrades, the Lightweight was a welcome asset to a unit’s motor pool. Its slightly smaller design enabled it to be a useful 4×4 whilst freeing up the Short Wheel Base (SWB) fleet. It also proved surprisingly flexible and capable of being adapted to fulfill a number of roles. In Northern Ireland, for example, a special Vehicle Protection Kit (VPK) was produced for the type, giving it the same ballistic protection as the larger Land Rovers.
Although lighter than the standard SWB, this did not detract from the Lightweight’s toughness and flexibility. A major boon it had was the ease of access to the engine, which made life easier for servicing as well as daily parades. Each service used its Lightweights in different ways. The Royal Navy used them as ship-to-shore liaison vehicles, often finished in Royal Navy Gloss Dark Blue as well as Bomb Disposal, helicopter support vehicles, and fire fighting appliances. The Royal Marines utilized them not only as Portees, but also as general-purpose trucks. These were often fitted with a front NATO Standard tow hitch in order to pull loads onto Landing Craft. Lightweights in this role were fitted with a snorkel device and other deepwater wading safety measures including water-protected electrics.
The Army used their Lightweights for a range of tasks, often utilizing their ability to be quickly stripped down to turn them into low profile reconnaissance vehicles. A favorite of airborne forces, the Lightweight could easily be packed onto the Medium Stressed Platform for Air Drop operations. Another interesting conversion was a two litter type used by medical services. A canvas box was added to the rear of the canvas tilt to cover the casualties being transported, as the stretchers overhung the rear of the vehicle. Their use as regimental liaison vehicles continued up until withdrawal from service, and Lightweights could be found wherever the British Army was. Such was their popularity, that they were adopted by the Dutch and Jamaican Armies.
The RAF fielded some of the more colorful examples. Whilst the RAF Regiment and tactical organizations held the ‘Green’ versions for field use, airfield-bound vehicles appeared in a range of finishes, from RAF Blue Grey to white to yellow, with the Red Arrows having their own red and white hard-topped support vehicle. Most Airfield vehicles were required for technical support of some type or other and so were hard-topped for security but also to prevent items falling out of the vehicle and becoming a FOD (Foreign Object Damage) hazard. Some of these hard-topped Lightweights featured a safari roof which was both useful and welcome in the warm Central European summers.
Sadly, the Lightweight’s days were numbered and, by 1997, it had largely disappeared from motor pools as new Truck Utility Light (TUL) Defenders took their place in the motor pool, post-Cold War military forces shrunk and diesel became the primary NATO fuel.
Skipper, B. (2021), Land Rover: Military Versions of the British 4 x 4, Pen & Sword Books, Barnsley, UK
Ware, P. (2012), Military Land Rover: 1948 Onwards (Series II/IIA to Defender), Haynes Publishing, Yeovil , UK
Taylor, J & Fletcher, G. (2015), British Military Land Rovers: Leaf-sprung Land Rovers in British Military Service, Herridge & Sons, Shebbear, UK
Taylor, J & Fletcher, G. (2018), Land Rovers in British Military Service: Coil-spring models 1970 to 2007, Veloce, Dorcester, UK
Series IIa, Series III ‘Lightweight’ Specifications: Truck, ½ ton, General Service, Fitted For Radio (FFR) 24V, 4×4; FV18102; Rover 1
|Dimensions||Track: 52 in (1.31 m)
Wheelbase: 88 in (2.24 m)
Total length: Assembled; 147 in (3.73 m), Stripped; 143 in (3.63 m)
Overall width: Assembled; 64 in (1.63 m), Stripped; 60 in (1.52 m)
Height: Assembled; 77 in (1.96 m), Stripped; 58 in (1.47 m)
|Dry weight||3210 lb (1,459 kg)|
|Propulsion||Rover 4 cylinder-in-line.
2,286 cc (2.25 l), 70 bhp at 4,000 rpm, 124 lbf/ft at 2,500 rpm for the petrol version
2,286 cc (2.25 l), 62 bhp at 4,000 rpm, 103 lbf/ft at 1,800 rpm for the diesel version
|Steering and suspension||Recirculating ball, or worm and nut; option of drag link mounted steering damper. Live axles on multi-leaf semi-elliptical springs; hydraulic double-acting telescopic shock absorbers.|
|Body/Chassis||Welded box-section steel ladder chassis with aluminium demountable body panels over steel frame.|
|Carburettor||Zenith 36 IV Carburettor|
|Transmission||4F1Rx2; part-time 4 x 4|
|Brakes||hydraulic drums system throughout. Series III models have vacuum servo–assistance.|
|Electrical Systems||12 or 24V|
|For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index|
Land Rover: Military Versions of the British 4×4
By Ben Skipper
After the Second World War many American military vehicles become surplus stock and soon found their way into the hands of farmers and land owners across Great Britain. The subsequent heavy use and the real possibility of difficulties obtaining spares led Maurice Wilks, the Rover Car Company Chief Engineer, to design and build a replacement. Not only would the new Land Rover fill a gap in Rover’s portfolio, but also bring in much needed post-war money.
For the modeler there is nothing more important than the little things and this image-rich section of LandCraft’s Land Rover title delivers the goods. Filled with crisp images, that chart the Land Rovers development, combined with detailed accompanying text, forms an enviable visual guide for the enthusiast and modeller alike.