Researching a Vehicle history

Vehicles can be identified by their registration number or (more correctly) ERM, their chassis number or during WW1 or WW2 by their War Department number. Chassis number was allocated by the manufacturer, and is recorded on the chassis number plate of a vehicle, and is often also stamped on the chassis (although you will often need to know where on the chassis to find it). Registration number was allocated by civilian and military authorities. As the name implies, the War Department number was issued by the War Department - one series was used during WW1, and a new series started after WW1 in 1920.

1904 - 1921

From 1904 - used normal series registrations, mostly London codes and the surrounding area, but also the area in which the army vehicle was based.

During WW1

Upward arrow followed by up to a 5 digit number. Sometimes a code before the arrow indicated the service and vehicle

1921 - 1949

All military vehicles displayed civilian AND military registration. It is unusual to find the original civilian registration as most of the codes were for Middlesex, and were re-issued after 1949, when the new military numbering system was introduced.


  • RAF - followed by up to 6 digit number
  • RN - preceded, or followed by a number
  • Army - a prefix letter, denoting vehicle class, followed by a number


  • A = Ambulance
  • C = Motorcycle
  • D = Dragons (tracked towing vehicles)
  • F = Armoured Vehicles
  • H = Tractor units
  • L = Trucks > 0.75 tons
  • M = Cars
  • P = Amphibious vehicles
  • R = Rota trailer
  • S = Self-propelled guns
  • T = Tanks
  • V = Vans
  • X = Trailers
  • Z = Trucks < 0.75 tons

1949 - 1982

[2 numbers] [2 letters] [2 number]
AA to AZ = RAF
RN = Royal Navy
Army = All other 2 letter codes (except KA to KZ)

1982 -1994

Unified series for vehicles of all 3 services
[2 numbers] [2 letters KA to KZ] [2 numbers]

2004 onwards

Unified series for vehicles of all 3 services
[2 letters starting with AA] [2 numbers] [AB]

We hold two types of vehicle records - Key cards and B Vehicle Data cards. See Vehicle records for more details. We also hold some contract ledgers which summarise purchase contracts between 1939 and 1974 (see a section towards the bottom of the "Vehicle records" page). You also see some research aids on the dropdown menu under Home on the top toolbar.

Vehicle histories are generally indexed by their ERM, so you will need to establish what this was. It is usually stamped on the vehicle chassis number plate. However, if this is missing, we may be able to identify the ERM from your vehicle's chassis number.

Please note that our records are far from complete, as many records were destroyed after the vehicles were no longer in military use.

If you cannot find your vehicle on our web site there are records held elsewhere, and other organisations who may be able to help.

To obtain a vehicle record from any of these sources you will need to know the ERM of your vehicle

RAF Museum

Until 1974 the RAF managed its own vehicle fleet. It holds a substantial number of B Vehicle Data Cards at its museum in North London.

Royal Navy Library

Until 1974 the Royal Navy managed its own vehicle fleet. It holds about 3,000 B Vehicle Data Cards at its Library at the Royal Dockyard in Portsmouth.

Tank Museum

The Royal Tank Regiment hold a A vehicle records (Armoured Vehicles) at their museum at Bovingdon in Dorset.

Royal Engineers Museum

The Royal Engineers hold a number of vehicle records for C Vehicles (Construction Vehicles) in their museum at Gillingham.

Military Vehicle Trust

The MVT exists to encourage restoration and preservation of military vehicles of historical interest and also the preservation of records. They offer a number of services, including a vehicle verification process. They have many activities and are extremely knowledgeable. Visit their web site

British Motor Industry Heritage Trust

Located at Gaydon on the same site as the Heritage Motor Museum, the Trust Archive holds records of the marques obtained by British Leyland, inclduing Land Rover. They can determine the date of manufacture and first owner from their ledgers, and of course have many other records. Visit their web site

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