New Zealand Armor in WW2

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Kiwis in the Boer war and ww1

Prior to ww2 where New Zealanders fought with distinction in many theaters of operations, previous interventions included the Boer War (1899) under the direction of Major Alfred William Robin, where ten contingents in total were mobilized and sent, mostly mounted riflemen providing their own equipments. however through the Defence Act 1909 the old volunteers system was replaced by an age-based territorial defence whixh amounted to thirty thousand men. There was a gradual military training and after service, all men could be still gathered as a militia. During ww1, where the New Zealand Expeditionary Force was deployed at Gallipoli, alongside the Australians as part of the ANZACS, forging through all their pains and suffering, a part of the Kiwi national identity. Another famous unit, the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, distinguished itself in Palestine. In total, 100 000 fought over a population of a million, and 16,697 New Zealanders were killed and 41,317 wounded, an astonishing 58% rate of all troops engaged, and also after the war, resulting of the wounds, making New Zealand country the highest casualty-and death-rates per capita of any warring nations. New Zealanders in World War Two

The early war (1939-41)

New Zealand declared war with Britain, and started mobilization in late 1939. Later personal were ent to the RAF and the Royal Navy, before local forces could be mustered, the RNZAF, which operated in Europe and elsewhere. Early on in december 1939, its only cruiser, HMNZS Achilles engaging the Graf Spee. The RNZN received a few British Destroyers for service, in several campaigns. Despite its solidarity with Great Britain, new Zealand itself was ill-equipped locally to sustain a local assault by a major power, which turned to be Japan after december 1941. Under near panic before the swift conquest of asia and the south pacific by the Imperial Japanese Forces, defence minister Robert Semple organized an embryo of amoured force with whatever means available, which turned to be the “Bob Semple tank“. An improvization which acted more as a morale booster than a real means of defeating attacking forces.

It was clear to anyone then in the ministry and head of staff that Great Britain cannot divert any of its war production, in dire need, to New Zealand. In the same idea of local improvization, “Beaverettes” armoured cars were imagined in the most desperate times in the summer of 1940 by Lord Beaverbrooke, then minister of the aircraft production. These improvized armoured cars, called Standard Car 4×2, Car Armoured Light Standard, and better known as the Beaverette, were built upon a Standard Motor Company chassis and engine. Armour was simple and conversion quite fast, which helped secure high numbers (3,000) in no time. A local production known as the Beaverette NZ took place and grew rapidly. These were built by the New Zealand Railways workshops, in Hutt Valley, with a Ford 3/4 or 1-ton truck chassis, plus plates salvaged from Port Bowen and Mokoia moored hulls for armour. 208 units were built, which were the only local armoured means of defence for the whole island during the war. Units raised for combat and sent to fight either the Japanese, German and Italians, were gradually given more substantial armour. Around 100,000 were mobilized through the war as the Home Guard, but later reduced to 11,530 in early 1943 when the threat of an invasion seemed unlikely.

The Mediterranean war

The first unit mounted for service overseas was the 2nd Division, which distinguished itself in Greece, Crete, North Africa and Italy until 1945. Like early Australian units, armoured means were reduced to the prolific and ubiquitous Universal Carriers. In North Africa, the LRDG (Long Range desert Groups) using Jeeps and Ford trucks were famously driven by many New Zealanders, creating havoc well behind enemy lines.

The first unit operating with tanks was the 4th New Zealand Armoured Brigade (part of the 2nd NZ Division), formed from the 4th New Zealand Infantry Brigade in October 1942, taking a large part in the battle of El Alamein. It was equipped initially with Sherman and Stuart tanks supported by M5 half tracks and Lynx scout cars for reconnaissance. The unit most distinctive actions were condensed from the time it landed in Italy in October 1943. This brigade then counted the 18th, 19th, 20th armoured brigades, and the 22nd New Zealand Motor Battalion (from October 1943 to November 1944). Its Italian battles and campaigns comprised the Sangro river crossing (October–December 1943), the Battle of Monte Cassino (February–March 1944), the Central Italian campaign from May to December 1944 and the Adriatic Coast campaign from April to May 1945.

One crucial reinforcement in the summer of 1944 was the arrival of the Firefly used as tank destroyers. The latter was essentially a Sherman with the turret modified to carry a 17-pounder, by then one of the best allied antitank gun. By the end of the war this unit was disbanded but about 100 vehicles were kept for a possible future deployment to the Pacific theater, which eventually never took place.

The Pacific Campaign

The 2nd N.Z.E.F. was deployed in the Pacific under the Allied Pacific Ocean Areas command garrisoned in the southern pacific. Its main fighting force was the New Zealand 3rd Division, participating in the Solomons, Treasury Islands and Green Island campaigns. These were infantry forces, with mortar and artillery support. They were gradually replaced by US troops in 1944, but NZRAF and NRZN personal participated in the following campaigns until 1945. The projected Japanese invasion of New Zealand never took place but German and Japanese surface raiders and submarines plagued the territorial waters until the end of the war. In case the final invasion of japan have taken place, troops from the Italian front would have been redeployed to take part in the Commonwealth Corps. At the end of the war, NZ forces apparently received Valentine Tanks, which were retained until the 1950s.

The Cold War

The 4th Armoured Brigade was reformed in April 1953, in a cold war context, but not with the Korean war in sight. Indeed these territorial forces would have been redeployed to face a Soviet invasion of the Middle East. This unit comprised the 1st Armoured (Waikato), 2nd and 3rd Armoured Regiments and the Divisional Regiment RNZAC (later 4th Armoured Regiment in 1956, while the 2nd and 3rd ARs were disbanded). This unit was later reactivated in 1958 and then renamed Queen Alexandra’s Armoured Regiment, and The Queen Alexandra’s Regiment RNZAC in 1959. The Kayforce, a total of 1,044 volunteers assisted with an artillery unit, was sent in Korea.

Also in the same timeframe, units were dispatched oi participated in the Malayan Emergency, and the Confrontation with Indonesia. By the fall 1950s the old valentine tanks were replaced by more modern M41 Walker Bulldogs, and a few Centurion tanks. Both were replaced in 1960 by FV101 Scorpion armoured reconnaissance vehicles. In the late 1960s New Zealanders participated in the Vietnam War. However the division was disbanded in 1961. In the late 1960s and 1970s also, the Army received its main motorized APC, the M113 in large quantities. They were gradually replaced by the NZLAV, a local version of the American-Canadian LAV III (derived from the Swiss Mowag Piranha) from 2003 on.

Until the 1980s the army counted six Territorial Force infantry regiments. The Army command structure was reviewed after the 1983 Defence Review. The reorganization comprised a Land Force Command and a Support Command. A Ready Reaction Force was also created, as a permanent professional corps, followed by an Integrated Expansion Force, which could be mobilized and expanded, and a Force Maintenance Group for logistical support. The largest exercise was held in the late 1980s, Golden Fleece. Contigents were sent in East Timor, and Afghanistan. Under Peace-Keeping operations NZ blue helmets were also deployed in Rhodesia (Operation Agila), but also e Sinai, Cambodia, Somalia, Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Angola, Bosnia, Bougainville, the Solomons and Sudan.

As of today, the Royal New Zealand Armoured Corps is equipped with NZLAV and Pinzgauer Light Operational Vehicle (LOV), a local high-mobility all-terrain 4WD (4×4) and 6WD (6×6) truck.

ww2 Kiwi Armour

Bob Semple, a brave attempt to built a local tank with available resources;
to come: The Beaverette NZ, a local imitation of the British Beaverette of 1940…

New Zealander Firefly in Italy. Probably the fiercest tank in the Kiwi Arsenal by 1944.

(More to Come)

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