ELMRA Articles - Guide to vehicle markings

Post-war vehicle marking followed the same principle as WWII. The major change came about in 1949-50 with the introduction of the “two digit, two letter, two digit" system (white on black 00 XX 00). This standardised the type and location of the registration plates for all vehicles, i.e. one on front and one at the back.

Registration plates, location and size,
Land Rover all types
EMER Wh Gen U082 Mod No 1 (16 Aug 1954) + amendment 12 Sept '58. This became Wh Gen A017, Mod No 2 (by order of Wh Gen A019, misc No 3, 28 Nov '62). All this was cancelled by Wh Gen A017 Mod No 2 (issue 2) 5 Oct '64!

The point of which was as follows:

Rover Mk 1 to 7 (Series I to II)

Plates: Front n/s wing and rear o/s body. 7½" x13½" (special service).
Letters: 2½" x 3½",
Spacing: horizontal = ½", vertical = ¾”

Rover Mk 8 and 9
(Lightweight and later marks can be different)

Plates: Front centre of bumper (top) and rear o/s body as above.
Size: Rear as above, front 20½" x 4 ½" (standard service).
Spacing: Rear as above, front 1/2" between characters, 1" between “pairs”.
All hand painted, until pressed aluminium plates were introduced to WD use.

Circa 1970
The basic vehicle colours were green (deep bronze) or desert. Matt green was used on "A" vehicles (armour) and others during conflict (but not always!). The shades varied between manufacturers and dates of use.

The introduction of black/green disruptive camouflage resulted in the gradual simplification of markings and the use of "stick on" codes for unit identification, ie 2S/7 = 2nd Army, Signals 37 Regt (V).

Tyre pressures etc were (are) stencilled in black on green or vice versa (or white). The bridge plate became grey instead of yellow.

Before 1970
We can divide vehicle marks into five groups
(A) Tyre pressures etc.
(B) Arm of service mark.
(C) Unit mark
(D) Tactical sign.
(E) Local (non-standard) mark.

The methods of application used were transfers or stickers, hand painted or stencils. Depending on unit and CO, some marks were very simple (none) to very elaborate ones (Military Police, Royal Artillery). Add to this painted hubs, bumpers, towing hooks etc, and you ended up with a multi-coloured vehicle that would stand out! My 4x2 had white hubs, and I have painted them thus.

Group (A) Tyre pressures etc.
(including oil fillers, plugs & drain taps).
Application: Mainly hand painted (1950s), later mainly stencils.
Colour(s): White or yellow (rare). Desert: black or red (rare).
Types & styles: How long is a piece of string?
Trailer sockets: Yellow (12V). Blue (24V). Desert: red (on some). During 1950s all were yellow, again, desert: red (on some).
Fuel caps: Red (petrol). Yellow (diesel).
Wheels: Nuts—white, divided rim nuts—red.
Hub bolts: Red.
Oil plugs: Yellow (not always done)

Until now Army, Navy and RAF vehicles are the same.

Group (B) Arm of Service Mark (Army only)
Application: Hand painted, stickers were used near the end of this system.
Colour(s): Varied with branch of service, i.e. red over blue: Artillery with either a white band on top with unit title in black or white numbers on colour(s) as a code to unit title.
Note: Signals used red, as their colours were white on blue. Corps, Division, & Brigades used numbers (mostly).
Types & styles: Square or rectangle in various sizes and locations. Always front and rear of vehicle.
Numbers: Followed a pattern. All HQ vehicles carried “40” on black - (Artillery HQ (Div) “40” on red/blue etc).
Armoured Div. used “74”, “75” etc for Artillery units etc. Infantry Divisions used “41”, “42” etc for Artillery units and so on.
Another example “52” on red in an Armoured Division indicated the 2nd Army Regt. within the Division.
TA units used a similar system (up to a point!). I have seen Artillery units using 66, 67, 75 and 96. One vehicle in the 42 (Lancs) Div (TA) used 96: Artillery, 84: REME, and 96: REME from 1953 to 1963.

Group (C) Unit Marks
(including Regimental Badges)
Application: Hand painted or stencil (depending on badge).
Note: Regiments use transfers or stickers.
Colour(s): Varies with unit.
Types & styles: Varies with unit.
Location: Unit (Corps, Div etc), front and rear of vehicle. Regimental badges on Land Rovers are mainly on doors.

Group (D) Tactical signs
Application: Hand painted (although I have seen some metal castings!).
Colour(s): Varies with unit.
Location: Mainly front and rear of vehicle.
Use: Artillery and Armoured Corps are main users of “Tac” signs, i.e. a diamond is HQ Sqn Armoured Corps etc.

Group (E) Local (non-standard) marks
Application: Mainly hand painted.
Colour(s): Varies.
Types & styles: Varies, ie “4” in a circle (yellow) used by one Battery in an Artillery Regt, meant “4x4” drive! Lightning bolt indicated "screened", "OC" for Officer Commanding. I have also seen BQ, AOC, A, and so on.

To end all this, I can add that registration plates were sometimes moved to another position and badges or markings were applied to plates which were then bolted to the vehicle or directly applied to the vehicle. Some were bigger on the front than the back. The n/s could be longer than the o/s or vice versa, and so on.

While stripping an ex-MoD vehicle, look everywhere, you can be surprised what you can find. A camera is essential in preserving evidence of insignia etc for later reproduction or identification.

John Mastrangelo