The Registry Of Ex-Military Land-Rovers Au, NZ, etc Land-Rover Series 2 ¾ Ton Ambulance
Land-Rover Series 2A ¾ Ton Ambulance

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The Australian Land Rover Series 2 and 2A, 4-Stretcher Ambulance


Mike Cecil
Head of Military Heraldry and Technology
Australian War Memorial


Following the end of the Second World War, the Australian Army’s main tactical ambulances continued to be those developed locally during the war on Canadian Military Pattern Chassis. There were two types, both equipped to carry 4 stretcher patients. The ‘Truck, 3-ton Ambulance No.1 (Aust)’was based on the Chevrolet C-30 cab-chassis. This had a solid rear 'Indian pattern' body of composite construction with canvas rear tilt and a two piece rear curtain. The Truck 3 ton Ambulance No.2 (Aust) was based on the Ford F30 chassis with conventional integrated cab and rear bodywork of composite construction. This design allowed movement between the front cabin and the patients in the rear. The conventional style body had a pair of swinging doors at the rear that helped to seal the interior from dust. These two ambulances formed the mainstay of the fleet in the immediate post-war period, but by the early 1950s, the fleet was becoming aged and unreliable. By 1956, the existing fleet was no longer sufficient to meet projected operational requirements, and a replacement was urgently needed.

A specification for the new ambulance was developed during mid to late 1956. This specification drew heavily on the British War Office ambulance specifications, Australia's experience with the existing CMP based fleet, and the probability that future operational deployments were likely to be into South East Asia. This latter point in particular, dictated that the new ambulance would need to be in a lighter weight class than the existing fleet, and a 1-ton 4x4 was specified.

With the draft specification issued in late October, the Design Establishment began looking seriously at what was available. The US Army's ¾ ton Dodge M43 ambulance was put forward as a possible replacement, as was a version of the M43's bodywork mounted on a Chrysler 1-ton chassis then under trial as a possible light GS truck. Both were rejected. By mid-1958, the possibility of useing a locally manufactured International Harvester Company chassis was gaining some momentum. At that time, International Harvester, in close cooperation with Army, were developing a 3 ton 4x4 General Service vehicle on a 145-inch wheel base chassis. A shorter 110-inch wheelbase version for use as a dump truck was also on the drawing board, and it was thought that this could be further modified as the basis for the new ambulance. Modifications would include lighter springing and 9:00x20 tyres and wheels, rather than the 11:00x20 assemblies utilised on the GS truck. For a relatively specialised vehicle, with a projected requirement of just 244 vehicles, maximising commonality with the wider fleet would enable significant savings on the initial purchase cost and on longer term maintenance. On that basis, it was decided to build the rear body as a separate structure, and utilise the standard truck cabin, rather than produce a special integrated body and cabin just for the ambulance.

While the Director General of Medical Services (DGMS) expressed some considerable disquiet over the use of a 3-ton rather than a 1-ton chassis, the Design Establishment proceeded with the development of engineering drawings and an artist mock-up. As the ultimate user of the vehicle, however, the DGMS had some sway over what would be acceptable, so it was decided to review the relative merits of the International Harvester based ambulance with the existing Dodge M43 at a conference to be held on 11 August 1958.

But the development of the Australian ambulance was about to make a very significant change in direction. In June 1958, during a liaison visit to the United Kingdom, a senior Australian Army representative was shown the new ¾ ton 109-inch wheelbase Land Rover which was to be marketed in Australia from February 1959. The Army was already looking very favourably on the ¼ ton 88-inch wheelbase Land Rover to fulfil the ¼-ton GS truck role, following the release of an interim trials report on 30 June. As a result, a comparative analysis between the International 3-ton and Land Rover ¾ ton Series 2 chassis, with 'concept' ambulance bodies, was undertaken. At a meeting on 12 August, it was agreed that an ambulance based on the ¾ ton Land Rover Series 2 was an attractive proposition in terms of its smaller overall size and weight, together with significantly lower purchase and maintenance costs. Procurement was dependant, however, on the Land Rover being chosen for the ¼ ton role, and proving the capacity of the ¾-ton version to fulfil the ambulance requirements. The choice of the Land Rover as the basis for the ambulance would not be dependant upon the choice of Land Rover in the ¾-ton GS role, though this would obviously be of considerable additional benefit. (It is a commonly held, but incorrect belief that the ambulance design followed the introduction into service of the Land Rover ¾ ton GS. See for example, Paul Handel's article 'Land Rover Part 2: Series 2 109-inch Long Wheel Base Models' on the Anzac Steel website, where he states "A four berth ambulance was conceived by the Australian Army shortly after the introduction of the Series 2 LWB models, and two types were subjected to trials in central Australia." This is clearly incorrect: the ambulance design preceeded the decision to adopt the Land Rover long wheel base as the ¾ ton truck.)

For a time, work proceeded on both the International Harvester and Land Rover based ambulances, and the project was given the official identification number V150. However, with the medical services adamant that the 3-ton vehicle was too big and heavy for their requirements, and the acceptance of the ¼-ton, 88-inch wheelbase Land Rover as the new light GS truck, the effort was concentrated on building the mock-up of the ¾ ton Land Rover ambulance. This was viewed at the Design Establishment on 27 February 1959. Comments were very favourable, particularly from the DGMS who stated that the mock-up was '.... the type of vehicle that we want, it is small,... this mock up vehicle is ideal from our point of view.' Participants also viewed the shortened International Harvester chassis for comparative purposes, but no further work on this as the basis for an ambulance was undertaken.

From this point, all efforts were concentrated on development of the Land Rover Series 2 109 inch wheelbase as the basis for the new Australian four stretcher ambulance, with the construction of two pilot models based on the mock-up to be commenced as soon as possible. In subsequent discussions, it was decided to have the two pilot models constructed with some significant differences. One prototype would have a body constructed without insulation, and have a cloth flap as the rear door. This became known as the 'Indian Pattern' Pilot Model. The other was to be built with a fully insulated body and full height rear doors that could be folded flat and secured against the sides of the vehicle if required. One of the vehicles was to be equipped with a winch. The specifications also called for 9:00x16 tyres in place of the 7:50x16 tyres normally provided by Land Rover, which necessitated the local manufacture of longer shock absorbers. (See Table 1)

The pilot models were manufactured to the Army Design Establishment specifications by the Pressed Metal Corporation of Enfield, Sydney, during the latter half of 1959. Both were available for viewing at ADE on 18 December, and were enthusiastically received.

Early in 1959, the British Ministry of Supply had requested that the Australian Army conduct a series of tropical 'hot-wet' and 'hot-dry' trials on the FV1119 heavy recovery tractor and the FV601 Saladin Mk2 armoured car. Negotiations were successfully concluded in late 1959 for trials to be undertaken in the 1960-61 summer season. Although primarily for the British MOS, the trials would also be used to test several items of equipment of interest to, or under development in, Australia. Preparations for the trials included a route reconnaissance, so the opportunity was taken to conduct this using the pilot model ambulances, together with a prototype International Harvester 'Truck, Cargo, 2-1/2 ton No.1 Mk 2 with winch'.

As a consequence, the two pilot model ambulances, one towing a ˝ ton trailer, together with the cargo truck towing a 200-gallon water trailer, left ADE Maribyrnong, Victoria on 6 January 1960, bound for Innisfail, Queensland via inland New South Wales. Once there, a series of hot-wet trails were conducted, including automotive trials in jungle terrain, through swamps and on beaches, and an extended storage trial in tropical rainforest at Tully for nearly three weeks. Following maintenance and assessment, the vehicles then set off westward into the outback of Australia for the 'hot-dry' phase. They travelled to Alice Springs in the centre of Australia, then south to Woodside in South Australia before turning eastward on the final leg back to Maribyrnong, Victoria, arriving on 8 April. The reconnaissance covered nearly 5,000 miles during the three months, and crossed some of Australia's harshest terrain.

Progress reports had been provided to ADE during the course of the trials, with some important deficiencies coming to light in the early stages. These included the poor performance of the ambulances on steep grades when both were still travelling on 7.50x16 tyres. As expected, this was only made worse when the insulated ambulance was fitted with 9.00x16 tyres at Innisfail. Another major deficiency was the inadequate ventilation in both vehicles, with the Indian Pattern ambulance being the worst in this regard.

The performance on steep grades was of particular concern, and various possibilities for improving the overall performance of the ambulance were considered. These included fitting a larger capacity engine, dispensing with the requirement for 9.00x16 tyres, or retaining the larger tyres and changing the axle ratios by installing low ratio Kirkstall axle assemblies. The lower ratio axle installation was considered to be the most viable option.

Several other important deficiencies were discovered during the trials. These included the route and location of the exhaust, which was vulnerable to damage in rough terrain and injected heat through the floor into the front passenger compartment, inadequate rust proofing of steel components, and bodywork fastenings that worked loose. One deficiency that would have a profound effect on the whole Australian Army Land Rover fleet in the future was the discovery that the mudguards had insufficient clearance to allow clearing of debris built-up. In muddy conditions, the soil packed around the inside of the guards, both front and rear, to a point where steering was diminished and there was a marked increase in rolling resistance. The closeness of the rounded mudguards both exacerbated the build up of soil, and made clearing it away very difficult. As a result, ADE project engineers designed a cut away front mudguard which became standard on Land Rovers supplied to the Australian Army. The ambulance bodies also had a square mudguard with considerably more clearance incorporated into the rear body as well, together with increased height clearance under the body behind the rear wheel arch.

Based on these findings, and while the trials were still in progress, decisions about the future of the pilot models were made at ADE. As the insulated body was proving to be far superior to the Indian Pattern body it was decided to accept the insulated body, subject to improvements in the air ventilation. Both vehicles would, once they had returned to ADE, be reworked in Sydney by the Pressed Metal Corporation. This rework would include the various improvements recommended by the trials team, the resulting design being regarded as the prototype.

With the results from the first trials showing a clear way ahead, it was estimated that up to two more years would be required to finalise the design and commence series production. This, however, was unacceptable, so it was decided to immediately procure 30 ambulances to the prototype design using standard Land Rover axles. The springs, spring hangers and shock absorbers were to be capable of accepting 9.00x16 wheel assemblies and Kirkstall axles at a later date, if required. Consequently, Contract Demand C100021 for 30 ambulances based on Land Rover Series 2 chassis was issued in early August 1960, with delivery expected in June 1961. This was later increased to 31 ambulances.

The tropical trials for the British MOS vehicles had commenced late in 1960. The opportunity had also been taken to include vehicles of interest to the Australian Army, including a Bombadier Muskeg tracked load carrier. The first of the trials ambulances to be completed to the revised design left Richmond, NSW, on 12 April 1961, and proceeded via the coast to Innisfail. In addition to incorporating all the design modifications, the rear body was also painted gloss white in order to test temperature differences between that and the normal deep bronze green colour. While obviously not acceptable from a tactical viewpoint, the white body recorded substantially lower surface temperatures than areas finished in Deep Bronze Green.

Arriving in Innisfail on 16 April, the ambulance was subjected to hot-wet trials until 28 April, when, in company with the other trials vehicles, it commenced the long hot-dry phase through the arid Australian interior. The ambulance arrived in Melbourne, Victoria, on 31 May, having covered over 6,000 miles. The trials confirmed that the modifications devised after the first trials were satisfactory.

By the end of June 1961, the first 31 ambulances, all on Series 2 chassis, had been delivered to 2 BOD at Moorebank, NSW. Further user trials were carried out during the second half of 1961 and early 1962 by 3 Camp Hospital and the Jungle Training Centre, and served to confirm that the design was satisfactory. Orders were then placed for additional ambulances, but on the improved Series 2A chassis. In all, five orders for Series 2A ambulances were placed over the next few years, with the last delivered in late 1967. In all, 151 Series 2A ambulances were procured. Together with the two original trails vehicles and the order for 31 interim vehicles based on Series 2 chassis, the total number of Australian Land Rover 4-stretcher ambulances was 184 vehicles. The Army Registration number ranges are given in Table 2.

Like many equipment items that see service over extended periods, various modifications and improvements were made to the fleet, though these were not always universally applied. Operator and passenger safety belts were fitted in the front compartment of all vehicles, while safety belts for seated patients were fitted to only a proportion of the fleet. Vehicles so fitted are recognisable by the additional anchor plates bolted to the outside of the rear body. A flashing red light was mounted on the roof of some vehicles, but this proved vulnerable, so some vehicles also had a heavy wire cage fitted. The early generator proved incapable of keeping up with the additional power demands of interior lighting, flashing red light, heater and ventilator, and was replaced on most vehicles by an alternator with greater capacity.

While many small modifications were carried out, there were a couple of major changes proposed that were soon abandoned. Lower ratio Kirkstall axle assemblies and 9.00x16 wheels and tyres were considered in the early stages of development, but they were never installed as service modifications. The ambulance, at its limit when loaded and with marginal cross country performance, served its career on standard Land Rover axles and shod with 7.50x16 tyres and wheels.

In the mid-1960s, the Australian Army deployed a task force to the war in South Vietnam. This included a field ambulance unit and, later, a field hospital. Several Land Rover ambulances saw service with these units throughout the duration of the deployment. They were used for casualty transfers and evacuations, and for conducting clinics in local villages and orphanages.

The Land Rover ¾ ton Ambulance remained in service with the Australian Army from 1961 until the mid-1990s: more than 30 years of service. The first large batch of vehicles to be disposed of were transferred to the Department of Foreign Affairs for use as part of the foreign aid program. There were three batches, one each in 1971 (7 vehicles), 1972 (13 vehicles) and 1974 (19 vehicles). Two were also sold to the New Zealand Government in August 1974. Of the remainder, there was a slow wastage rate of a few at a time between 1968 and 1990. By that stage, the new Land Rover 1 ton 6x6 Ambulance had entered service, and the remaining Series 2 and 2A vehicles were gradually sold off. A few saw a new lease of life when they were converted to interim Electrical Repair vehicles during the later part of the 1980s, but by the early 1990s, the number still serving was diminishing rapidly. Interestingly, a third of the original Series 2 vehicles were not disposed of until 1991-1992, having seen 30 years of service. By 1993, however, only two Series 2 and seven Series 2A ambulances remained in service, and these were disposed of over the next couple of years.



Table 1: The Pilot and Prototype Land Rover Series 2 Ambulances

  Pilot Model 'A'

(Commercial Pattern) 1960 trials

Pilot Model 'B'

(Indian Pattern) 1960 trials

1st Prototype (1961 hot-wet, hot-dry trials)
Army Registration Number 106952 106947 106947
Chassis Number 153900182 153900183 153900183
Engine Number 151904354 151904109 151904109
Body Aluminium with fully lined interior. 'Coolite' insulation sandwiched between inner and outer skin. Aluminium with exposed interior structure without insulation or lining. Aluminium with fully lined interior. 'Coolite' insulation sandwiched between inner and outer skin.
Ventilation Electric blower fan with filter, single external inlet on front of cabin peak. Single unassisted inlet vent located in centre of roof. Dual electric blower fans with filter and dual external inlets on front of cabin peak. Manual vents on each side of rear body, above the upper stretcher level.
Rear Access Two full height, sealed doors. 'Coolite' insulation sandwiched between inner and outer skin. Two piece flap made from 11-ounce polyurethane coated nylon fabric Two full height, sealed doors. 'Coolite' insulation sandwiched between inner and outer skin.
Front Guard Shape Round Round Square, cut away for increased clearance
Rear Guard Shape Round Round Square, cut away for increased clearance and at rear to increase departure angle
Winch Not fitted Capstan type Capstan type
Wheels and tyres 7.50x16, non directional bar tread on delivery. Fitted with 9.00x16 road tread at Innisfail during trails 7.50x16, non directional bar tread on delivery and during trials 7.50x16, non directional bar tread
Springs Standard commercial pattern Standard commercial pattern Military pattern
Weight Unladen 4,350 pounds 4,300 pounds  
Weight Laden 6,050 pounds 6,000 pounds  



Table 2 Australian Army Registration Numbers

ARN range Contract Number No of vehicles Land Rover Series
106947 & 106952 n/k 2 Series 2
108082 to 108111;


C107028 31 Series 2
108640 to 108650 n/k 11 Series 2A
112209 to 112242 C410243 34 Series 2A
113896 to 113925 C115102 30 Series 2A
114175 to 114224 C116726 46 Series 2A
114540 to 114578 C104826 30 Series 2A
    184 total  


© 2005 Mike Cecil.
REMLR member 167.


Footnote: the AWM has archival photographs...

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