Everyone must have seen military vehicles plying in most Commonwealth Countries with a number beginning with a vertically upright Broad Arrow↑. This number is called a Broad Arrow Number in military parlance or BA Number. It is used by the Army, Navy and Air Force and also some civilian establishments that work under the Ministry of Defence.
Many, including those in military service have humorously referred to this ↑‘Up Arrow’ to indicate ‘This Side Up’ as seen in many packing cartons. Is it there so that no one erroneously parks it upside down?? Is it to indicate ‘Right Side Up’ in case the vehicle topples???
The ‘Broad Arrow’ was used by the British to depict an item to be a military property. It was also referred to as the ‘Crows Foot’, or the ‘Pheon.’ The Broad Arrow number with other symbols, numbers and/or letters convey various details of the equipment – manufacturer, year of entry into service, ownership, inspection, alteration, repair, etc.
The origin of the Broad Arrow is unclear. It could have originated from the actual arrow to depict anything military. It is believed that Broad Arrow was used as a symbol to identify British government property by Henry Sidney, Earl of Romney who was Master of Ordnance to William and Mary (1689-1694 AD). In order to reduce theft of British property, Henry was asked imprint a mark on all government property. He is said to have chosen his family emblem – The Broad Arrow. In those days the prisoner’s uniforms were also stenciled with a Broad Arrow ↑, but later this practice was discarded.
In the book ‘A Complete Guide to Heraldry’ by AC Fox-Davies, he states that “Perhaps the case which is most familiar is the broad arrow which is used to mark Government stores. It is a curious commentary upon heraldic officialdom and its ways, that though this is the only badge which has really any extensive use, it is not a Crown badge in any degree. Although this origin has been disputed it is said to have originated in the fact that one of the Sydney family, when Master of the Ordnance, to prevent disputes as to the stores for which he was responsible, marked everything with his private badge of the broad arrow, and this private badge has since remained in constant use. One wonders at what date the officers of His Majesty will observe that this has become one of His Majesty’s recognised badges, and will include it with the other Royal badges in the warrants in which they are recited. Already more than two centuries have passed since it first came into use, and either they should represent to the Government that the pheon is not a Crown mark, and that some recognised Royal badge should be used in its place, or else they should place its status upon a definite footing.”
Most British Military equipment in the earlier days was marked ‘B↑O’ as all these equipment came under the Board of Ordnance. Then ‘W↑D’ was used to denote War Department. During World War II, a standalone ↑ depicted British military equipment.
That was the history of the Broad Arrow ↑. Now let us decipher the Broad Arrow Number on an Indian military vehicle which begins with symbol ↑.
The Broad Arrow is followed by two digits depicting the year of entry. Up to 1971, a letter depicted the year of entry. It was ‘Z’ in 1971 and from 1972 onward, the last two digits of the year of entry into service was used (as English language has only 26 letters of the alphabet) and the practice outlived the number of letters in the alphabet.
This Jeep is displayed at Grenadiers Regimental Centre, said to be the Jeep with which Late Company Quartermaster Havildar Abdul Hamid, Param Vir Chakra (Posthumous) of 4 Grenadiers hunted down eight Pakistani Patton Tanks during the 1965 Indo-Pak War. Look at the BA Number of this Jeep. Letter ‘Y‘ indicates its year of entry into service as 1970.
All vehicles Indian military used during 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak war would not bear the last two digits of year, but a letter. Can you make out the repainting error in the BA number of the Jeep in the image above? If the year of manufacture 1968 is correct, then it should have been letter ‘W‘ instead of ‘68’, as per the then prevalent policy.
The two digits depicting the year of entry is followed by an alphabet indicating the class of the vehicle. Some of the letters I came across during my military service are A-motorcycle; B-car or a jeep; C-light truck; D-heavy truck; E-towing vehicle; K-ambulance; P-water bowser, and there are many more.
It is then followed by the serial number of the vehicle, given by the Ministry of Defence. The last alphabet is the check-alphabet for the serial number using the ‘Modulus 11’ formula. A check digit is a form of redundancy check used for error detection on identification numbers.
Now readers must be able to decipher the Broad Arrow number on an Indian Military vehicle. It is not surely to indicate ‘This Side Up.’