Vehicles - VPK Ambulance

As the crowd became more and more restless, the soldiers could almost feel the tension in the air. A brick, thrown from deep within the mass of people, seemed to act as the spark that exploded the crowd into a fury of aggression. Bottles, bricks and pieces of paving stone rained down upon the young soldiers, most of whom were thinking “if this had been shown on the recruiting posters I would have joined the Air Force”. A nervous (but trying not to show it) Lance Corporal staggered as a cobble stone struck him on the kneecap. The riot shield he carried fell to the floor. The flak jacket, good as it was, could not stop the chunk of concrete from breaking his collar bone. Help was at hand from a couple of ‘medics’ who, within minutes had him in the back of a Land Rover Ambulance. It was not long before another soldier occupied the other stretcher. Away the ambulance sped up a side street, but the crowd now hungry for blood and lots of it, blocked off the street and forced the ambulance to stop. Few of them knew where Geneva was and had never heard of any ‘convention’. The red crosses displayed meant nothing to them other than their prey were unable to run away. A complete house brick shattered the windscreen catching the driver full in the face. This was followed by a jam jar filled with battery acid. Within seconds a nail bomb exploded alongside the ambulance shredding the thin aluminium side and wounding again the Lance Corporal.

This account showed the problem facing the British Army on the streets of Belfast, Northern Ireland.

The fact of the matter was that the Land Rover ambulance was much too vulnerable for work in a riot situation. Other Land Rover vehicles were being given the VPK (Vehicle Protection Kit) treatment using Glass Fibre Reinforced Plastic appliqué armour. Most parts would already fit the standard Land Rover shape and so panels were designed to fit roof, sides, rear doors and the floor space between the stretcher racks of the ambulance. The full kit comes with heavy steel mesh grille for driver and passenger door windows. Steel mesh over the headlights and a mesh cage over the blue rotating beacons. The armour was designed to withstand low velocity bullets, nail bombs and canisters packed with gelignite and scrap metal, this was “Belfast Confetti” When I first obtained the Land Rover ambulance I was also able to get (for a large chunk of money) a full set of the “Northern Ireland” armour. The MoD does not usually sell this stuff, they remove it and as it cannot be burnt and is dangerous to chop up, they dig a big hole and bury it. With all the pieces spread out like a jigsaw puzzle I began to fit each moulded shape. Firstly the bonnet, and the first problem, because each item is individually tailored for a certain vehicle. With the aid of a hacksaw and angle grinder I had to hack off bits to make it fit. The front wing pieces went on without too much trouble. The belly plate, being large and cumbersome was a struggle. Door panels on next, little covers over the door handles are a nuisance; they bang at every bump in the road. Many soldiers removed these covers as it slowed down the time it took to get into the vehicle. The mesh covers for the door windows kept popping off until I put some big bolts in.

Side panels complete with polycarbonate windows (which had been painted over) were put on next. Then the job I had not looked forward to, the roof, big and very heavy. It fits over the ventilators and spare stretcher carriers. The only thing I had to remove was the rear lifting shackles. A panel on each rear door, a panel across the lower portion of the back, a cover for the fold down step. Panels under the front wheel arches, a panel across the bottom of the windscreen. Last of all, the windscreen mesh was fitted and used a wire rope and handle inside the cab to swing it up to protect the glass windscreen. Headlights are covered with mesh and a steel mesh panel protects the radiator. The weight of the Land Rover is now two and a half tons and, as it is somewhat top heavy, needs to be driven with care, especially round sharp corners. A heavy duty ‘Salisbury’ rear axle and stronger rear springs have been fitted. One must remember that this armour was very much a rapid way to solve the problem of soft skin vehicles in a very dangerous situation. It does not look pretty but it does the job. I have had many members of the public say it looks as though I have nailed on odd shaped bits of glass fibre board, and that is exactly what has happened. It’s rough, crude, but it is effective. In really bad areas the bigger and more heavily armoured Saracen ambulances were used.