Military Boxes, Pallets and Containers – Part 2 Pallets

A detailed study of military pallets and containers, the building blocks of modern military logistics. The post looks at pallets
Ammunition Unit Load Container (ULC)

Continuing my look at boxes, pallets and containers, the basic building blocks of military logistics.

This post, pallets


One of the main influencing factors behind the introduction of the pallet was the desire to replace wooden packing boxes with corrugated cardboard boxes. Corrugated cardboard boxes emerged in the 1870’s and saw gradual adoption in the packaging industry which sought to decrease cost. By the mid twenties the concept of stacking multiple boxes with electric lift trucks beginning to gain popularity and by the late thirties the combination of pallet and ‘fork lift’ was in common use. WWII logistics, notably in the Pacific theatre, were revolutionised by the combination of pallets, pallet strapping and forklift trucks. Norman Cahner, a US Navy officer, designed the 4 way entry pallet, a significant improvement in pallet flexibility.

WWI Pallet and forklift truck
WWI Pallet and forklift truck, Guam

The definitive study of early pallet use in a military context is by Erna Risch, The Quartermaster Corps: Organization, Supplies and Services Volume 1, click here to read.

As pallets evolved the inevitable next steps were in standardisation; size, construction methods, strengths and various other features.

The first standard size pallets were 48″x48″, chosen because it could accommodate most commodity stores and placed easily into standard 8’6″ railcars with minimum wasted space.

The 4 way entry Euro pallet defined in 1961 was the next significant milestone, using blocks instead of stringers reduces time to align the forks.

Euro Pallet Dimensions and Types

The 800m wide Euro pallets are designed to fit between a standard 850mm door opening. Packing boxes for all manner of goods are designed with Euro Pallet compatibility, interchangeable and optimised (more on these later in series)

Euro Box and Euro Pallet
Euro Box and Euro Pallet

As can be seen in the table above there is also an ISO pallet type.

ISO technical committee TC51 is responsible for ISO pallet standards . These include such interesting works as ISO 6780: General purpose flat pallets for through transit of goods – Principal dimensions and tolerances, ISO 8611: 1991: General-purpose flat pallets for through transit of goods – Test methods, ISO 12777-1: 1994: Methods of test for pallet joints – Part 1 – Determination of bending resistance of pallet nails!

ISO 6780 defines 6 pallet sizes, 3 Euro Pallet 3 from the US Grocery Manufacturers Association.

In the military domain, STANAG 2828 is to go to standard for pallets, packaging and containers.

Unit loads are used for the storage and transport of ammunition and the standard 1 tonne wingless pallet is the most common type but ULD’s do not necessarily have to use pallets, as long as there is access for forks, the actual dimensions and design may vary. The Unit Load Specification (ULS) data sheet will contain information such as assembly, security, weights, dimensions and strapping requirements for various types of stores, ammunition and explosives, rations, Petroleum Oils Lubricants (POL), general and other stores.

Ammunition Unit Load Container (ULC)
Ammunition Unit Load Container (ULC) for Hellfire Missiles

So called ‘pallet furniture’ will be used to facilitate security, stacking and load stability.

These may include packing, formers, battens, edge protectors and tension steel strapping.

The importance of these additional items if often overlooked, they are vital. The correct use and tensioning of pallet steel or polypropylene strapping is important to ensure the stability and security of the items on the pallet especially given the likely physical environment for military pallets i.e. being carried off road.

‘Shrink wrapping’ now common in the logistics industry may also be used in some instances but not as a replacement for strapping for heavier items.

Shrink wrapped pallets. Civilians from Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) organisation manifesting loads ready for onward movement from Reverse Supply Chain (RSC) area in Camp Bastion.
Shrink wrapped pallets. Civilians from Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) organisation manifesting loads ready for onward movement from Reverse Supply Chain (RSC) area in Camp Bastion.

Even though pallets for ammunition and other unit loads are well defined and governed by a number of defence standards there is still sufficient flexibility within the system to utilise other types such as post, cage and wheeled pallets, tank containers and pallet collars.

All get used to one degree or another, there are also various combinations and bespoke designs.

Pallet - Cage 1

Pallet - Cage 2

Pallet - Cage 3

Pallet - Post 1

Pallet - Thatcham Type

Pallet - Plastic

Pallet - Roller

For movement of palletised stores with specific Unit Load Specifications, the MoD uses the NATO standard wingless 1000mm x 1200mm wood construction pallet with a carrying capacity of 1.814 tonnes. For commodity items the standard pallet is of the same dimensions and configuration but with a reduced capacity of 1 tonne.

The Royal Navy has opted to continue using winged version of this pallet (I think they just like to be different :) )

Newer injection moulded pallets are also available and Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBC’s) can also be used for liquids and free flowing materials. IBC containers are of rigid construction or folding types that use a disposable liner. The collapsible types take up much less space on the return leg so both are used to the same degree.

Stackable plastic pallet

IBC Container 1

Temperature Controlled Pallet

All sorts of containers for all sorts of commodities

What unites them all is the simple fact that they cannot be handled by hand, unless by doing something like this…

Pallet handling
Pallet handling

Pallet handling devices are needed.

Pallet Handling

Following the McLeod Report the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) was disbanded and the Royal Corps of Transport (RCT) formed in 1965.

During the Cold War the highest value stores were Royal Artillery ammunition and the RASC/RCT used a series of interlocking loops to move combat stores forward, the loops operating on corps, division and brigade basis. At the intersection points (Exchange Points) of these loops stores would be laboriously transferred from one vehicle to another. For other stores, unit echelon vehicles would collect from Delivery Points or Immediate Replenishment Groups just behind the fighting units.

By the early seventies the RCT had introduced an increasing number of truck mounted cranes called Crane Attachment Lorry Mount (CALM) and various forklift trucks which reduced the handling times but it was not until the introduction of DROPS that the interlocking ring system was changed (more on DROPS later)

A number of vehicles since then have seen service from manufacturers such as Michigan, Muir Hill, Hydrema and Volvo.

A notable evolution of the all terrain fork lift truck was the venerable Eager Beaver.

Eager Beavers came into service in the late sixties and served until the mid eighties when they were replaced with heavier all terrain forklifts with cabs and a reasonable degree of safety!

The Tractor, Wheeled, Fork Lift 4,000 lb was developed and manufactured by  the Royal Ordnance Factory in Nottingham to meet a requirement for a lightweight, air droppable fork lift truck.

Eager Beaver

Eager Beaver

Eager Beaver EOD 1

Eager Beaver EOD 2

The Eager Beaver was one of the unsung superstars of the Falklands campaign in 1982, read more here

Today, the Royal Logistics Corps and others, through the C Vehicle PFI, have access to a number of pieces of MHE. Medium and Light Wheeled Tractors are used for a variety engineering roles; earth moving, excavating, mechanical handling trenching, dozing, grading and digging and supplementing the wheeled tractors are a couple of telehandler designs, also from JCB.

These are the most numerous C Vehicle equipment and have a broad span of users, replacing the Volvo 4440’s and JCB 410’s (both of which are not telehandlers but converted loaders). The requirement for loading and unloading ISO containers dictated some of the size and mobility specifications.

There are two models, the Telehandler 2,400Kg which is a JCB 524/5-50 and the higher capacity JCB 541-70 called the Telehandler 4,000Kg.

LIFT TRUCK - Telehandler JCB 524-50 (W) 04
LIFT TRUCK – Telehandler JCB 524-50 (W)

LIFT TRUCK - Telehandler JCB 524-50 (W) 05

LIFT TRUCK - Telehandler JCB 524-50 (SS) (W) 01

Telehandler JCB 524-50
Telehandler JCB 524-50


Each has a number of sub variants with the smaller version coming in standard (qty 150), standard with sideshift (qty 150), winterised (qty 15) and winterised with sideshift (qty 15).

The larger version has two variants, standard with sideshift (qty 85) and winterised (qty 6)

LIFT TRUCK - Telehandler JCB 541-70 (W)
LIFT TRUCK – Telehandler JCB 541-70 (W)

Telehandler JCB 541-70

The video below shows one of the JCB Telehandlers in action, with various pallets, containers and flat racks

The Army Air Corps used the Moffett (now Hiab) Mounty demountable and air portable fork lifts for moving air launched munitions around a Forward Arming and Refuelling Point (FARP), they are now out of service and replaced with the JCB’s.

LIFT TRUCKS - FLRT Cat C Attack Heli Support 01

LIFT TRUCKS - FLRT Cat C Attack Heli Support 02

LIFT TRUCKS - FLRT Cat C Attack Heli Support

Although no longer in service, the Supacat All Terrain Mobility Platform (ATMP) had a clever trailer that was designed specifically for pallets. The trailer would be maneuvered onto an air dropped or otherwise ground dumped pallet and ‘flipped’ into the drive position.

Supacat All Terrain Mobility Platform (ATMP) - Pallet Handling

The MoD also has a fleet of over 3,000 items of MHE in 300 or so locations in addition to the ones painted green including;

  • Counterbalance trucks and side loaders
  • Container handlers
  • Pedestrian, ride-on and electric pallet trucks,
  • Telescopic reach trucks,
  • Very narrow aisle trucks,
  • Tow vehicles including tracked
  • Agricultural tractors including trailers and ancillaries
  • Various trailers, ancillaries and MHE attachments

The MoD recently let an £87m contract to Briggs Equipment for the Defence Mechanical Handling Equipment requirement for pieces of equipment ranging from forklift trucks to container handling equipment, much of it from Hyster

Hyster 01

Hyster 03

Hyster 02

Hyster 05

Operation Come Dine With Me - The Flying Chef


As pallets became more widespread in the Army in the late sixties the existing truck fleet was rendered obsolete because their load beds were not dimensioned or suitable for pallet carriage, the old AEC 10 tonners and Bedford RL’s would give way to trucks that had carrying capacities in multiple of 4×1 tonne pallets.

These 4, 8 and 14 tonne trucks would be found at first, second and third line respectively. It was also during this period when bulk refuelling was introduced in place of jerrycans with the Unit Bulk Refeuelling Equipment (UBRE) called ‘pods’ mounted on Bedford 4 and 8 tonne trucks (and also Stalwarts) with double pole switchgear, modified exhausts and other safety features.

Bedford TM4x4 BAEE88-3- Image Plain Military
Bedford MK- Image Plain Military
Bedford TM – Image Credit Plain Military
Foden 14 tonne truck
Foden 14 tonne truck

The current logistics truck fleet is the MAN Specialist Vehicle.

The £1.3 billion Support Vehicles (SV) contract was to replace DAF 4 tonners and Bedford TM 8 and 14 tonne trucks plus assorted vehicles based on these chassis like the old Bedford TM UBRE POD’s and Foden recovery vehicles. The original contract was for 4,815 cargo trucks, 314 recovery vehicles and 69 recovery trailers but following a decision not to upgrade the existing Leyland DAF 4 tonne vehicles an option for an additional 2,077 vehicles was exercised. As part of this revision, the number of recovery vehicles was reduced to 269.

This was reduced slightly again and the final contracted breakdown was as follows

Type Axles Name Qty
HX60 2 Cargo (Light) Medium Mobility GS 3394
HX60 2 Cargo (Light) Medium Mobility Cargo 958
HX60 2 Cargo (Light) Medium Mobility GS CALM 84
HX60 2 Cargo (Light) Medium Mobility Cargo CALM 209
HX60 2 Cargo (Light) Medium Mobility GS tail lift 28
HX58 3 Cargo (Medium) Medium Mobility GS 264
HX58 3 Cargo (Medium) Medium Mobility Cargo 63
HX58 3 Cargo (Medium) Medium Mobility GS CALM 3
HX58 3 Cargo (Medium) Medium Mobility Cargo CALM 46
HX58 3 Unit Support Tanker Medium Mobility 230
HX77 4 Cargo (Heavy) Medium Mobility GS 464
HX77 4 Cargo (Heavy) Medium Mobility Cargo 328
HX77 4 Cargo (Heavy) Medium Mobility GS CALM 12
HX77 4 Cargo (Heavy) Medium Mobility Cargo CALM 119
SX44 3 Cargo (Medium) Improved Medium Mobility GS 41
SX44 3 Cargo (Medium) Improved Medium Mobility Cargo 59
SX44 3 Cargo (Medium) Improved Medium Mobility Cargo CALM 5
SX44 3 Unit Support Tanker Improved Medium Mobility 81
SX45 4 Recovery Vehicle (Heavy) Improved Medium Mobility 288
Recovery Trailer AT DBT30 69
TOTAL Excluding Trailers 6,676

MAN Military Trucks (now Rheinmetall) produce two variants;

SX has a stiffer chassis, full auormatic gearbox, coil spring suspension and 440bhp diesel engine so has much greater mobility, classed as Medium Mobility

HX is the lower mobility variant, classed as Medium Mobility, with conventional leaf spring suspension and tipmatic gearbox. The 2 axle variant has a 326bhp engine and the 3 and 4 axle variants each have the same 440bhp engine as the SX.

  • Medium Mobility – HX60, 4×4
  • Medium Mobility – HX61, 6×6
  • Medium Mobility – HX58, 6×6
  • Medium Mobility – HX80, 6×6 tractor
  • Medium Mobility – HX81, 8×8 tractor
  • Medium Mobility – HX77, 8×8
  • Improved Medium Mobility – SX44, 6×6
  • Improved Medium Mobility – SX45, 8×8

As can be seen from the table above, the Improved Medium Mobility was ordered in relatively small numbers, most being the specialist Recovery and Unit Support Tanker variants.

MAN SV HX60 - 01


MAN SV HX58 - 01

MAN HX77 - 03

There has been some movement on final deliveries since then and inevitably, the fleet size will fluctuate due to combat or non combat related damage. In the original contract a number of appliqué protection kits were purchased but these were called the Riotous Assembly Protection (RAP) kit so one can imagine the actual level of protection.

Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have of course influenced the programme; in 2008 Project Fortress was let to provide a protected cab, weapons mount, run-flat tires, BOWMAN twin fit, wire cutters, ECM and night driving aids for 324 vehicles.

MAN SV HX60 Project Fortress trials Vehicle
MAN SV HX60 Project Fortress trials Vehicle

As a follow on, 324 vehicles (including 211 FORTRESS vehicles) were upgraded to the more advanced Theatre Entry Standard.

The weapons mounts were provided by ISTEC Services.

ISTEC Weapons Mount for MAN SV
ISTEC Weapons Mount for MAN SV

All the SV load beds were supplied by Marshall

Marshall loadbed for MAN SV Truck
Marshall loadbed for MAN SV Truck

At the forward edge, vehicles like the Wolfhound, Husky or Cougar will be used to carry single pallets.

These are to be replaced my the Multi Role Vehicle – Protected (MRV-P), a programme currently in concept phase.

MRV-P timeline
MRV-P timeline

MRV-P is characterised as Medium Protection, Medium Mobility and Medium Capacity and will have four variants;

Command and Liaison; Crew 2+2 optimised for mobile liaison

Command and Control; Crew 2+2 with space for another 2 in the static role, primarily for static command and control

Troop Carrier; Crew 2 plus 6 personnel

Transport; Crew 2 for the carriage of unit stores

This transport version should be able to carry at least a single pallet, hence its inclusion here.

The MAN-SV’s are due out of service in 2034 and several hundred (approx 600) of the older Leyland DAF 4 Tonne vehicles will be retained in various roles because the MAN SV cannot tow some specialist trailers, FEPS for example, and the 105mm Light Gun (replacing the RB44)

A further 107 HX60’s were ordered for the Falcon communication system.

The next post will look at the next step up, containers/flat racks, and how they are handled.

The rest of the series…

Part 1 – Introduction and General Principles

Part 2 – Pallets

Part 3 – Containers and Flatracks

Part 4 – Container and Flatrack Handling

Part 5 – Boxes

Part 6 – Air Transport Pallets and Containers

Part 7 – Air Despatch

Part 8 – Issues and Solutions for Pallets, Containers and Boxes

Part 9 – Trucks and Trailers

Part 10 – More Thoughts  on Trucks and Trailers

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