Friday 27 August 2021

British Army Vehicles - 2 September 2021

Writing about these stamps on Commonwealth Stamps Opinion my fellow blogger White Knight questions the reasons for this stamp issue.  "The vehicles are well illustrated but what is the point of this issue? I can not see any particular anniversary or event that is commemorated by this issue and so far no explanation for it from Royal Mail."

He's right, of course.  Even if you accept that some special stamp issues are necessary, why these?   Some time later it occurred to me that whilst all three services had a 'Uniforms' issue (the Army twice), only the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force have had stamps showing their means of transport.

1997 stamp issue, British Aircraft Designers - but all military SG 1984-88.

And some of these had already appeared in 1986, and would appear again later.

1996 History of the Royal Air Force (SG 1336-40)

2018 set of 6 marking the centenary of the Royal Air Force (SG 4058-63) There is also a MS showing the Red Arrows display team. 

The following year the Royal Navy had eight of their vessels, ancient and modern, in 'Royal Navy Ships'.

2019 Royal Navy Ships (SG 4264-73 including two self-adhesive of the 1st class. As well as the Mary Rose and HMS Victory, HMS Dreadnought and the new HMS Queen Elizabeth are included.

In 2001 Royal Mail marked the Centenary of the RN Submarine Service with four stamps (plus a PSB which included four new Naval flag stamps).

2001 Royal Navy Submarine Service Centenary set (SG2202-5).

As some remarked in 2019, the Mary Rose, HMS Victory and Dreadnought, plus two others, had already appeared on the Maritime Heritage set in 1982!

1982 Maritime Heritage set (SG 1187-91)

And so it is fitting, that if Royal Mail is doing anything more for the Armed Forces, the British Army deserves a turn, albeit the Ministry of Defence currently getting some bad press over the situation in Afghanistan.

British Army Vehicles - 2 September 2021 - details from Royal Mail unless in red.

In its long history, the British Army has at times led the world in military technology, while at other times it has had to borrow, adapt or improvise to meet the wide-ranging challenges it faces. The equipment and vehicles it uses are not just tools for the job – they often become a means of national identification and icons of an era. The stamps are illustrated by Mike Graham using acrylic paint for the paintings. Mike was part of the 4th Royal Tank Regiment, serving fifteen years, and was a Gunnery Instructor on a Chieftain before turning his hand to art.  

The 8 stamps feature stunning paintings of 8 iconic British Army Armoured Fighting Vehicles (AFV’s) since the First World War and are accompanied by a 4 stamp miniature sheet with photographs of vehicles currently in service.

This stamp issue continues the military transport thematic series which includes Royal Navy Ships and the RAF.

2021 - British Army Vehicles set of 8, 4 each 1st class and £1.70.

The tanks and other armoured vehicles.

1st Class – Mk IV
The first use of Mark I tanks on the Somme in September 1916 had mixed results, but British Commander-in-Chief General Douglas Haig saw their potential and ordered 1,000. The Mark II and III tanks were made in small quantities, but it was the Mark IV, with over 1,200 made, that saw the most use before the war’s end. Tanks were designated either ‘male’ or ‘female’, according to gun types fitted. The male Mark IV tanks had shorter six-pounder guns than on the Mark I, and the housings could be pushed into the vehicle to simplify rail movement. The eight-strong crews saw their tanks work well at the Battle of Messines in June 1917 but then flounder in mud at Passchendaele. Doubts were raised about the expense and usefulness of the tank, but the Mark IVs were to prove their worth in a mass attack by over 400 at Cambrai in November 1917.

1st Class - Matilda Mk II
The A12 Infantry Tank, or Matilda, was the second in a series of infantry tanks that Britain put into production just before the Second World War. It was thought that three types of tank would be needed: small light tanks for reconnaissance, cruiser tanks to exploit breakthroughs and infantry tanks that would attack a defended position with the infantry. As they were more heavily armoured, infantry tanks were slower (9mph off-road), but this was considered adequate as they were to support infantry on foot. The Matilda II saw action in France in 1940, its thick armour making it impervious to the standard German 37mm anti-tank gun. Against Italian opposition in North Africa, the success of the Matilda led to it being called ‘The Queen of the Desert’. Its small turret prevented the fitting of a larger gun, so from 1942 the Matilda was relegated to use in the Far East, where the Japanese fielded only lighter tanks.

1st Class – Churchill AVRE
The costly failure of the raid at Dieppe in 1942 led a Canadian Royal Engineer Lieutenant JJ Denovan to propose a conversion of the Churchill infantry tank. In the turret, a spigot mortar, called the Petard, could fire a 40lb (18kg) demolition charge to a range of 200 yards. This would have a devastating effect on defensive structures or obstacles. Fixtures on the tank allowed it to be adapted – to carry large loads or devices such as bobbin to lay trackway or demolition charges. The AVREs – Armoured Vehicles Royal Engineers – were issued to the 79th Armoured Division, 60 for each of three assault regiments, and they first went into action on D-Day (6 June 1944).
Along with other specialised vehicles of the 79th Armoured Division, the AVREs were issued across Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery’s 21st Army Group in the North West Europe campaign, and they were considered a great success.

1st Class - Centurion Mk9
The Centurion was the British answer to the German Panther tank, developed in the Second World War. It missed seeing wartime action by a month but went on to have a long service life. The tank went through 13 marks (or models) in British Army service, showing an ability to be upgraded. It started with a 17-pounder gun, then a 20-pounder, followed by the very successful L7 105mm gun. The Rolls Royce Meteor engine gave the tank 650 horsepower – double that of most other wartime tanks.
However, earlier models had a range of only 60 miles (97km), so a fuel mono-trailer was used until a larger internal tank was provided. The Mark 9 tank was an improved, rebuilt version of the Mark 7 with the L7 105mm fitted. This powerful gun became a NATO standard. The Centurion tank first saw action in the Korean War and was a huge export success, with some tanks still in service.

£1.70 - Scorpion
The Scorpion was part of a family of vehicles designed by Alvis in the 1960s around a number of common components. The 76mm low-velocity gun could fire a range of ammunition types and gave the small, light (8 tonnes) tank quite a punch. With aluminium armour (to keep weight down) and the Jaguar J60 4.2-litre petrol engine (the same as the E-type sports car), the tank’s top speed of 45mph made the Scorpion a difficult target to hit as a reconnaissance vehicle. Two Scorpions could fit inside a C-130 Hercules transport plane, and the original width specification was to allow it to pass through Malaysian rubber plantations. It was exported widely, and Scorpions are still in service. The vehicle saw action with the British Army in the Falklands conflict and in the First Gulf War before being withdrawn from service in 1994. Many remember the vehicle as the Action Man toy tank

£1.70 – Chieftain Mk 5
Britain decided that the priority for a main battle tank (MBT) in the Cold War was to have the best firepower and great protection; mobility was seen as less important. The stabilised 120mm gun was tremendously accurate compared to those of the wartime generation, and it was placed in a new style of mounting without a traditional mantlet (or shield). The driver had a semi-recumbent driving position, meaning that the hull could be lower, to present a smaller target. The steel armour was sloped to increase the level of protection, and additional ‘Stillbrew’ armour was added when the Soviets introduced the 125mm gun. However, the L60 engine had many reliability issues in service – a definite weakness of the tank. The tank was upgraded, running through 12 marks, after being introduced to the Army in 1967. It had some export success in the Middle East and left British service as a gun tank in the late 1990s.

£1.70 – Challenger II
The Challenger 2 tank was initially started as a private venture by Vickers Defence, given that the Army saw the Challenger 1 (a design originally intended for the Shah of Iran) as only a stop-gap vehicle. The Challenger 2 was issued to regiments in 1998 after extensive testing. It has Chobham armour, a still-secret composite arrangement of material including ceramics that gives much greater protection than steel alone against modern weapons. When going into action, extra armour can be fitted to the tank, along with a range of other devices, such as electronic countermeasures. The Challenger 2 has a 120mm rifled gun that can fire a range of ammunition types and a thermal imaging system to allow it to fight at night. The Perkins diesel engine creates 1,200 horsepower. As with many tanks, the vehicle is being upgraded to respond to new threats and challenges on the modern battlefield.

£1.70 - Ajax
Ajax is the scouting vehicle in a new family of 589 medium-weight armoured vehicles just coming into service with the British Army. Using state-of-the-art digital technology, the Ajax has advanced intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) capabilities and can process and share digital information with other vehicles and higher formations. The Ajax has a turret mounting a new 40mm cased telescoped armament system (CTAS) that can fire a variety of ammunition types accurately on the move. The vehicle is protected by modular armour and a number of defensive systems to detect threats, one of which has acoustic shot detection sensors that can tell the crew the direction of incoming fire. The Ajax family consists of six variants based on a common chassis: Ajax (turreted, reconnaissance and strike vehicle), Ares (reconnaissance and armoured personnel carrier), Argus (engineer reconnaissance), Athena (command and control), Atlas (equipment support recovery) and Apollo (equipment repair).  [This range of vehicles has had development problems, including being too noisy to drive, and commanders being unable to be in the turret over certain speeds.  Whilst this is interesting there are plenty of website discussions on this, so I don't intend to allow much of this nature as comments, unless somebody comes up with a really useful link.[

2021 British Army Vehicles miniature sheet.

The Minisheet
1st Class - Coyote
The Coyote Tactical Support Vehicle is based on the Jackal but has six wheels instead of four. The extra wheels allow it to carry a heavier load and up to five soldiers, and it can act as a support vehicle for the Jackal. The Jackal and Coyote have superb off-road capability and are used for reconnaissance and patrolling.

1st Class - Wildcat
The Wildcat AH Mk 1 Reconnaissance Helicopter has a number of roles to fulfil for the Army (‘AH’ in this variant stands for ‘Army Helicopter’): airborne reconnaissance, command and control, transport of six troops or supplies, and the carrying of a sophisticated battlefield surveillance system. The Army ordered 34 Wildcats and the Royal Navy 28 in a slightly different configuration.

£1.70 – Trojan
Trojan is an armoured engineer vehicle that is equipped to clear obstacles on the battlefield. It can have a dozer blade, or a mine plough fitted to the front, has an excavator arm and can position a fascine – a large bundle of plastic pipes – in a gap to allow other vehicles to cross. It can also tow a trailer-mounted, rocket-propelled mineclearing system

£1.70 - Foxhound
The Foxhound is a lightweight and fast patrol vehicle, with a maximum speed of 70mph. It has a V-shaped hull to channel the blast from mines or improvised explosive devices (IEDs) away from the underside of the vehicle. It has a crew of two and can carry up to four troops in the rear.

Technical Details

The 50 x 30 mm stamps were designed by Royal Mail Group based on artwork by Mick Graham Art. All copyright Royal Mail Group 2021 except for the challenger (c) Mick Graham Art.  They are printed by International Security Printers in lithography, in sheets of 48, in se-tenant strips of 4, perf 14.

The miniature sheet is designed by Studio Up and uses photographs to depict the vehicles. Acknowledgements: Coyote photo © HOT SHOTS/Alamy Stock Photo; Army Wildcat, Foxhound and
Trojan photos: UK MOD © UK Crown copyright 2021; Army logos are trade marks of the UK Secretary of State for Defence and used under licence.   The 115 x 89 mm sheet contains stamps 41 x 30 mm printed in lithography by International Security Printers, perf 14½ x14.

Products available from Royal Mail

Stamp set, miniature sheet, first day covers (2), presentation pack, stamp cards (15) and framed prints.  The sheet stamps can be bought from Royal Mail Tallents House in horizontal strips of 4 of the same value or vertical strips of 6 of each design.


  1. But there are certain rules.They must be thematic big sets plenty of miniature sheets printed by lithography because it is cheap and not in this country.

    1. There's no point in using costly gravure for short-run work, and these are essetntially short-run jobs. It just happens that ISP consolidated gravure printing in England (run by what used to be Walsall Lithographic) and litho in France. Given the number of European and worldwide customers they have for short-run work it probably makes even more sense now to have litho in France.

  2. “ ‘White Knight’ questions the reasons for this stamp issue” and I very much doubt if it’s for our withdrawal from Afghanistan !
    That 1982 Maritime Heritage set reminds me of when recess printing was occasionally used to give us more distinctive stamps, I think for 55 special stamps of 18 issues from 1964 ( Shakespeare 2/6 ) to 2015 ( Long to Reign ). “The turning point for Great Britain special issues was 2015”, as you recently explained, and I don’t expect Royal Mail to use that costly printing process again.

  3. Ian, I’m curious to know who the members of the Stamp Advisory Board are and in which area their expertise lies. I realise that they do not choose the subjects but do approve the designs that are presented to them. I’ve googled trying various combinations of words but can not find any list of the Committee members on the internet on the several occasions I’ve tried to track such a list down. I assume that the names are available somewhere. Do you know the names of the members or where a list of them can be found? It can’t be a state secret I wouldn’t have thought. Thanks.

    1. I've put out feelers, but as you say it is very difficult to find anything specific on the usual websites. Wikipedia is minimal and the Postal Museum only makes reference to the committee's involvement in the selection process.

  4. Just an observation the RM shop says these stamps come as 4 se-tenant pairs, mine arrived today as two strips of 4 x 1st & 4 x £1.70 weird or what?

    1. Copy and paste from a previous 4-value issue, I expect.


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