Post Without an Interesting Title: The Swedish Army of the Seven Years War

Normally when I write an article, I’m able to find an interesting battle painting, some interesting and quotable military characters, an interesting or exciting historical event or some pithy and amusing phrase to use for a title and/or introduction…


No, me neither…

While Sweden was a fairly major player in the Seven Years War, its star which had shone brightly through the 17th Century, was most definitely on the wane in the 18th.  An ill-advised war with Russia from 1741 to 1743, launched to regain territories lost at the conclusion of the Great Northern War in 1721, proved to be a humiliating defeat.  In 1757 the Swedes joined the allied powers of France, Austria and Russia in the war against Prussia, hoping to regain those parts of Swedish Pomerania (on the Baltic coast of Germany) that had been lost to Prussia in 1720.  The ‘Pomeranian War‘ as that part of the Seven Years War is known, proved to be an extremely indecisive non-event for both sides, with only a few very minor engagements being fought and with Sweden completely failing to effectively prosecute, let alone achieve its war-aims.

So you might be wondering why I bothered getting a Swedish wargames army… Well in the mid-1990s I was running a very large, Europe-wide 1740s campaign and we already had armies in the club for Prussia, Austria, France, Russia, Britain, Hanover, the Reichsarmee and Ottoman Empire (those were the days!), so Sweden was the only missing army for the main players.  The Swedish army also looks great, with the very striking national theme of blue and yellow running right through the army.  Added to which, Pengel & Hurt produced an excellent organisation and uniform guide AND I managed to pick up a sheet of printed flags from Andy Grubb. 🙂 

The uniforms of the Swedish army were very old-fashioned for the period, being largely unchanged since the Great Northern War, with only the headgear having changed significantly.  The infantry also now whitened their belts instead of leaving them natural buff.  Instead of canvas gaiters, they still wore long woollen stockings, secured with a leather garter-strap below the knee and these stockings (usually white or matching the facing colour) add a huge splash of colour to the uniform.  I do rather like them and in our campaign, the King of Sweden (King Bruce I) managed to regain all of Sweden’s lost territories!

Above:  The Swedish army commander and his staff, seated on STEFAN flatpack dining chairs.  According to Pengel & Hurt, Swedish generals and staff usually wore a very plain uniform in the national colours of blue with yellow linings, cuffs and small-clothes, with white stocks and gold buttons and hat-lace.  I’m not aware of a specific range of 15mm figures for the Swedish Army of the period, so these chaps are taken from Old Glory 15s‘ Austrian Generals & Staff pack. 

The Commanding General wears a cuirass under his coat and the red sash of the ancient Swedish Order of the Secret Ways.  This ancient order confers on the holder the ancient knowings of the secret pathways through Swedish life, until at last one is rewarded in Swedish paradise with the Sacred Meatballs.  

Above:  The attendant hussar officer and orderly (holding a leather map-tube – these are lovely figures) are from the ‘Yellow’ (‘Gula’) Hussar Regiment, which was raised late in the war, in 1761.  The dolman is black, with yellow facings and barrel-sash and white braid and buttons (silver for officers) and the pelisse is yellow edged with black fur and braid and buttons as before.  The shabraque is black edged in yellow vandycking and the sabretache is black edged yellow with a crowned yellow ‘G’.  Belts are buff and the busby is brown with a yellow bag and silver death’s-head badge.  Breeches are straw, while boots are black with white lace edging and tassels.  Thigh-length leggings could also be worn and these were black cloth with a white lace upper-edge.

Above:  A pair of ADCs.  Again, these are Austrian figures by Old Glory 15s.  The chap on the right is an officer of the general staff and just wears the usual blue and yellow staff uniform.  The chap on the left is an officer of the Swedish horse guard corps, the Upplands Liv Regiment.  This regiment had white facings, with gold lace for officers and polished steel cuirasses (usually, but not always worn under the coat).  However, when I painted my Swedes in the Pre-Internet Age, the Pengel & Hurt booklet was my only source of information and they just described the coat-colour as ‘blue’.  The Kronoskaf Seven Years War Project website describes the coat-colour of Swedish Regiments of Horse as ‘medium blue’, so the colour should probably be quite a bit brighter than this.

Above:  The Dalarnas Infantry Regiment.  For my Swedish infantry I used Old Glory 15s ‘French Infantry With Turnbacks’, as they have suitably old-fashioned, baggy coats with big cuffs and a waist-belt worn outside the coat, which is ideal for Swedes.  This uniform was virtually the standard uniform for Swedish infantry regiments of the period, with the majority conforming very closely to this scheme of dark blue coat, yellow facings, yellow small-clothes (i.e. waistcoat & breeches), black neck-stock and white stockings, held up by a brown leather garter-strap.  The hat-lace matched the button-colour, which in this case was white (silver for officers).  Speaking of officers, Pengel & Hurt describe Swedish infantry officers as wearing very plain uniforms in the field, being dark blue, without coloured cuffs, small-clothes or stockings (though the linings might sometimes be in the facing colour).  Black canvas gaiters or tall leather boots were worn.

Above:  The Dalarnas Infantry Regiment (again).  There are a couple of differences of opinion between my painting (based on Pengel & Hurt) and the more modern research on Kronoskaf:  First, Kronoskaf describes the Dalarnas Regiment’s small-clothes as being white, not yellow.  Second, Kronoskaf states that the button-hole edging matched the facing colour for all regiments, while P&H says it was white for all regiments (the button-hole edging is hardly visible in any case, so it matters little).

Above:  The Hälsinge Infantry Regiment.  The uniform details for this regiment are exactly the same as the Dalarnas Regiment described above, though the sources this time agree that the small-clothes were yellow.

Above:  The Hälsinge Regiment (again).  As with many other armies of the period, the Swedish infantry carried two types of flag.  The first was the Colonel’s Colour or Liffana.  This was basically the same pattern for all regiments, being a white field bearing the royal coat of arms.  The only difference being that the  provincial ‘badge’ was shown in the canton of each Liffana.  The other type of flag was the Kompanifana, which simply carried the provincial coat of arms, with the field colour matching the armorials.  The 1st (or Colonel’s) Battalion of a regiment carried the Liffana and one Kompanifana, while the 2nd (or Lieutenant-Colonel’s) Battalion carried two Kompanifanor.  However, as with my Prussians, I’ve simplified things slightly by giving the 1st Battalion a single Liffana and the 2nd Battalion a single Kompanifana.  

Above:  The Hälsinge Regiment (again again).  I bought these flags from Andy Grubb of Grubby Tanks in about 1998ish.  I think he printed them himself, but I’ve no idea if they’re still available.  Needless to say, the more modern research in Kronoskaf has highlighted some mistakes:  The flag-staves should apparently be yellow for all regiments and the Kompanifanor should have steel finials (gold for Liffanor).

Above:  The Nylands Infantry Regiment.  The uniform for this regiment is the same as that described above for the Dalarnas and Hälsinge Regiments, except that this time the buttons are brass and the hat lace is yellow (gold for officers).  However, Kronoskaf disagrees, stating that the hat lace remained white instead of yellow (still gold for officers though).

Above:  The Nylands Infantry Regiment (again).  I should discuss the Swedish Army’s system of of ‘Varvade‘ (‘Permanent’) and ‘Indelta‘ (‘Alotted’ – i.e. to the army in wartime) regiments.  Along with the Household Troops, the Varvade regiments were the only permanent, peacetime force of the Swedish army and were mostly used as garrison regiments.  The Indelta meanwhile were raised for one or two months every year in peacetime and would then be placed on furlough, becoming full-time during war (the Prussian Army operated on a similar system, with only the Garrison Regiments and small cadre elements of the other regiments being full-time soldiers).  Consequently, when the Swedish Army was mobilised for war, the field armies consisted mainly of Indelta regiments.  Of the eighteen infantry regiments deployed to Swedish Pomerania during the Seven Years War, fifteen were Indelta regiments, two were Household regiments and only one was Varvade.  All five regiments shown here are Indelta regiments.

Above:  The Skaraborgs Infantry Regiment.  At last, we have a slight change of colour here, with the yellow stockings of the Skaraborgs Regiment!

Above:  The Skaraborgs Regiment (again):  However, Kronoskaf disagrees with the yellow stockings and instead shows them as boring white!  🙁 

Above:  The Närke-Värmlands Infantry Regiment.  This time we have a PROPER splash of colour, with one of the very few infantry regiments in the Swedish Army to have a different facing colour (red).

Above:  The Närke-Värmlands Infantry Regiment (again).  However, Kronoskaf disagrees once again re the stocking colour and instead describes them as white.  In fact, Kronoskaf describes the stockings of ALL regiments as being white.

Above:  The Swedish Artillery had a very plain uniform of dark blue, which lacked contrasting facings, linings, hat-lace or small-clothes.  This was worn with buff belts and dark grey gaiters.  Gun-carriages were painted light blue, as shown here.  However, I now know that metal fittings were either polished brass or were iron painted with yellow ochre, thus reflecting the national colours.  These will therefore need a repaint, as I did them with black iron fittings, like the Prussians.  For these chaps I used Old Glory 15s Austrian Artillery.

Above:  Swedish Horse (‘Ryttare‘) Regiments were theoretically equipped as cuirassiers, being equipped with a polished steel cuirass that was normally to be worn beneath the coat.  However, in practice it would seem that this cuirass was rarely worn.  I’ve used Old Glory 15s French Chevauxleger figures for the Swedish cavalry, as again they have that ‘old-fashioned’ baggy-coated look about them.  Like the Swedes, the French Chevauxlegers were meant to wear a cuirass beneath their coat but rarely did so.  As mentioned above, according to Kronoskaf the coat colour should probably be a brighter ‘medium blue’ shade for all these regiments, but I painted mine according to Pengel & Hurt, which just described them as ‘blue’.

Above:  The Östgöta Regiment of Horse.  This regiment had red cuffs, linings and shabraque-edging with brass buttons (gold buttons and hat-lace for officers).  Small-clothes, gauntlets and belts were buff leather and these were common to all regiments.  My Swedish cavalry are especially glossy, so don’t look all that great in photos!

Above:  A rear view of the Östgöta Regiment of Horse, showing the obverse of the standard.  There weren’t any printed flags available for the cavalry, so I had to paint my own.  Swedish Horse carried one standard per company (there were typically four companies per regiment, though some regiments had more), with the 1st or Colonel’s Company carrying the regimental Lifstandar and the others each carrying a single Kompanistandar.  For simplicity’s sake I’ve given each regiment a single standard.  The Lifstandar was very much like the infantry Liffana, being white and bearing the royal arms on both sides, with the provincial badge shown in the canton.  The Kompanistandar was in the provincial colours, with the provincial badge on the obverse and the crowned royal ‘AF’ cypher within a laurel wreath on the reverse (some regiments had palm-wreaths instead of laurel-wreaths).  All standards had gold finials and were heavily fringed with gold.  I now also know from Kronoskaf that all standards had yellow & blue spirals on the stave. Bah… 🙁 

Above:  The Södra Skånska Regiment of Horse.  This regiment was dressed in the same manner as the Östgöta Horse above, but the facing colour this time was straw.  Note also the general urging them forward; this is another Austrian general figure.

Above:  A rear view of the Södra Skånska Regiment of Horse, showing the reverse of the Kompanistandar.

Above:  The Västgöta Regiment of Horse.  This was again dressed in the same manner as the regiments above, though with yellow facings.  For some reason I’ve given these yellow hat-cockades, but I don’t think that’s correct, as Swedish units normally did not wear any cockade during this period.

Above:  A rear view of the Västgöta Regiment of Horse, showing the obverse of the standard.  I really do love the bold, heraldic designs of the Swedish flags. 

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got painted thus far.  I still have another five infantry regiments, two grenadier battalions, two horse regiments, a dragoon regiment, a hussar regiment and some more guns waiting in the lead-crypt to be painted.

Posted in 15mm Figures, Eighteenth Century, Painted Units, Seven Years War & War of Austrian Succession, Shako Rules | 4 Comments

Visited By The Ghost of Demo-Games Past…

Just a quick one today: Following the recent resurrection of my Seven Years War mojo, I was visited by the Ghost of Demo-Games Past, who sent me this photo he’d scanned from a 1998 copy of Wargames Illustrated. The photo is of our 1998 demo-game of the Battle of Lobositz 1756, which was the first battle between the Prussian and Austrian armies during the Seven Years War. 

This photo was taken by Duncan MacFarlane at the Partizan show in Newark.  We also took the game to Warfare in Reading, where we won a runner-up prize for the best demo and also to John Tuckey’s excellent little show at Marston Magna, where we won the Best Demo Game prize, with the maximum number of points (the only time that had ever happened).

Gareth Beamish and I built the terrain, which was definitely one of our best, though making those vineyard walls from cat-litter and PVA glue was something that I vowed never to repeat…  Which of course I did only three years later, when building Fuentes de Oñoro for the 2001 AB Figures Wargames Weekend…

Doug Wetherall provided the Austrian army (painted by Gareth Beamish) and I provided the Prussians (as seen in recent posts).  The rules were our 18th Century-modified version of ‘Shako’, which I’m currently editing and will post here soon.

Posted in 15mm Figures, Eighteenth Century, Games, Partizan (Show), Seven Years War & War of Austrian Succession, Shako Rules | 3 Comments

“Rogues! Do you want to stay in the toolbox forever?!” (My 15mm Seven Years War Prussian Army – Part 3: Cavalry)

My freshly-rekindled interest in the Seven Years War is progressing well and my painting output has increased by several orders of magnitude.  Having finished the Würzburg ‘Red’ Regiment (my first SYW unit to be painted in 23 years) at the start of the month, I then set myself the ‘Württember Challenge’; to paint the thirteen battalions of the Württemberg Auxiliary Corps (156 figures, plus a general, a gun and four gun-crew) by the end of this month.  So far, so good, as I now have eleven of the thirteen battalions plus the general painted.  I’ll post some pictures of the Württembergers later, but here’s a taster:

Once the ‘Württember Challenge’ is finished, I’ve got some lovely new SYW figures from Eureka to paint (including an entire new SYW French army) and some games to play, plus some more Reichsarmee troops along the way, before cracking on with the ‘Bavarianuary Challenge’ (i.e. the remaining six battalions, general and gun of the Bavarian Auxiliary Corps).  Once the Bavarians and a few Eureka Prussian units are done, we’ll have enough troops to refight the Battle of Leuthen, which I’ve been wanting to do for the last 25 years or so!

Anyway, back to the subject…

If you haven’t been paying attention, I recently dug out my old models of Frederick the Great himself and some of his infantry regiments that I’d painted in the 1990s, so here’s a selection of Prussian cavalry regiments.  These are all 15mm models by Old Glory 15s, which when I bought them were still manufactured by Old Glory themselves, but were split off as a separate company in the late 1990s, now sold in the UK by Timecast.  I’ll start with the Hussars…

Above:  General Zieten, with detachments from the 1st ‘Szekely’ Hussars (on the left, in green) and 8th ‘Seydlitz’ Hussars (on the right, in red).

Above:  A closer view of Zieten and the 1st ‘Szekely’ Hussars.  As with the infantry, regimental numbers weren’t actually used during this period and Prussian cavalry regiments were instead referred to by the name of their Chef (the regiment’s proprietor/colonel-in-chief, not the regimental ‘slop-jockey’…).  However, there was a strict order of seniority and the later regimental numbers directly reflected that order of seniority, so it’s often easier to refer to that instead of a regimental name that changed every time they changed Chef!  As it happens, this regiment its changed Chef and name in 1759 to ‘Kleist’.

Above:  Regardless of regimental numbering and naming, this regiment was usually referred to as ‘The Greens’… Buggered if I can work out why…

Most Prussian hussar regiments fielded a whopping ten squadrons, so at my 1:50 ratio, this is only a half-regiment or ‘battalion’.  ‘Battalions’ of five squadrons were a very common tactical grouping and they could sometimes be detached to entirely separate corps or theatres of war.  Two Prussian dragoon regiments the 5th and 6th also fielded ten squadrons.

Above:  Prussian hussars of the Seven Years War did NOT carry standards… However, the 1st to 6th Regiments did indeed have standards during the early days of their existence and carried them during the First Silesian War of 1740-42 before their standards were laid up in 1743.  Old Glory also included bloody standard-bearers in the pack, so I had to do something with them…  The standard shown here is an Eskadronstandarte, which was carried by the 2nd to 10th Squadrons.  This was coloured much the same as the regimental shabraque, with a field of dark green and light green vandycking around the edge.  The 1st or Leib Squadron of the regiment carried the Leibstandarte, which had a white field, still with light green vandycking.

Above:  While trying to finish off the army for our show demo-game of the Battle of Kolin in 1998 and inevitably running out of time to paint all the remaining units, I commissioned my good friend Gareth Beamish paint a few units for me (most of my armies seem to contain hussar regiments painted by Gareth in a frantic rush…).  However, we seem to have got our wires crossed somewhere, as he duplicated the Green Hussars! 🙂 So here’s his take on the regiment – the full regiment, this time!  Note that these chaps are carrying the regimental Leibstandarte.

Above:  The 2nd ‘Zieten’ Hussars, also known as the ‘Leib‘ or ‘Red’ Hussars (not to be confused with the 8th Hussars, who were also known as the ‘Red’ Hussars) were General Hans Joachim von Zieten‘s own regiment.  

Above:  As previously mentioned, there was no stipulated Prussian general officers’ uniform during this period, so generals wore uniforms based on that of their own personal regiment.  Zieten’s uniform modelled here was a very extravagant ‘gala’ version of the normal officers’ dress for this regiment.  In the field Zieten probably looked more like he does in the painting below, which is still very extravagant!

Above:  Again, to avoid leaving a gap in the ranks, we were stuck with having to use the supplied standard-bearer, so I’ve given them a pre-1743 Eskadronstadarte, which again is coloured like the regimental shabraque, being blue with red vandycking.  The Leibstandarte had a white field with red vandycking.

Above:  As mentioned above, just to add even more confusion, the 8th ‘Seydlitz’ Hussars were also known as the ‘Red’ Hussars!  The regimental Chef, General Alexander Gottlieb von Seydlitz, was a relative of the more famous cavalry general Friedrich Wilhelm von Seydlitz.  In 1759 the regiment became the ‘Gersdorff’ Hussars.

Above:  The regiment had ten squadrons at the start of the Seven Years War, so I’ve still got half the regiment to paint!  However, they surrendered along with the rest of the army at the Battle of Maxen in November 1759 and the regiment was re-raised with only three squadrons after that date.  The regiment was finally disbanded in 1763, with the 9th ‘Belling’ Hussars then taking the 8th slot and also later adopting the red uniforms. 

Above:  General Normann leads a brigade of Dragoon regiments forward.  His own 1st Regiment (black facings) is at the front-right, while alongside them is the 11th Regiment (yellow facings).  In the rear-rank are a pair of Lancashire Games regiments: the 3rd (rose-pink facings) and 4th (straw facings) Regiments.

Above:  The 1st ‘Normann’ Dragoons’ combination of black facings with the standard Prussian cobalt-blue dragoon coat is a very nice one, I think (especially with the gold officers’ lace added to the black lapels).  This combination was also used by the Prussian 12th ‘Herzog von Württemberg’ Dragoons and indeed on the other side of the battlefield, by the Imperial Württemberg Dragoon Regiment!  This latter regiment had to undergo a frantic change of uniform to dark blue following the Battle of Rossbach in 1757, when the Austrian ‘Szecheny’ Hussars captured their standard in an unfortunate case of ‘Friendly-Stab’… 🙂 

The ‘Normann’ Dragoons were renamed to ‘Zastrow’ with their change of Chef in 1761.

Above:  The 11th ‘Stechow’ Dragoons.  In 1758 a change of Chef meant that this regiment was re-titled ‘Jung-Platen’.  Sadly, the hand-painted flag on this regiment didn’t survive  (or rather, Old Glory’s rather weak cast-on flagpole didn’t), so I replaced it last week with a brass wire flagpole and printed standard by Fighting 15s.

Above:  There’s nothing quite like the sight of a mass of cuirassiers to stir the blood! 🙂

Above:  Another view of the massed Prussian cuirassiers, with Seydlitz to the fore!

Above:  The 3rd ‘Leibregiment zu Pferde‘ Cuirassiers.  Along with the 10th ‘Gens d’Armes‘, 11th ‘Leib-Carabiniers‘ and 13th ‘Garde du Corps‘, the 3rd ‘Leibregiment zu Pferde‘ were known by their historic title, rather than by the name of their Chef.  The pipe-smoking general at the front is a ‘Seydlitz’ figure from the original Lancashire Games range, painted as General Schönaich, in the uniform of his regiment, the 6th Cuirassiers.

Above:  Another view of the 3rd Cuirassiers.  I gave them an Eskadronstandarte, which unusually had a white, instead of coloured field.  The Leibstandarte was exactly the same, except that the central panel was white , instead of the silver centre shown here.

Above:  The 6th ‘Baron von Schönaich’ Cuirassiers.  In 1759 the regiment was re-titled as the ‘Vasold’ Cuirassiers.  The facing colour for this regiment was ‘light brick red’, though isn’t what we would consider to be ‘brick red’ (i.e. orangey-brown) from a modern perspective.  It’s more akin to the deep orangey-red of 18th Century German roof-tiles.

Above:  Another view of the 6th Cuirassiers.  I’ve given them an Eskadronstandarte, which was officially ‘light blue’, but the exact interpretation of the shade varies from source to source.  I went with Bleckwenn and gave them a more ‘medium blue’ shade, although it does look quite dark here.  The Leibstandarte was white, with a blue centre.

Above:  The 7th ‘Driesen’ Cuirassiers.  In 1758 they became the ‘Horn’ Cuirassiers and in 1762 they changed again to the ‘Manstein’ Cuirassiers.  Again, I’ve given them an Eskadronstandarte.  I usually do this, as it adds a greater splash of colour than a mainly-white Leibstandarte (which in this instance was white with a red centre).  General Seydlitz is out in front, wearing the uniform of his 8th ‘Seydlitz’ Cuirassiers (previously ‘Rochow’).

Above:  The 11th ‘Leib-Carabiniers‘ Cuirassiers.  As mentioned above, this was one of the regiments known by its historical title rather than its Chef.  

Above:  Due to a confusion caused by the limited written sources I had available to me at the time describing the standards of the 11th Cuirassiers as ‘royal blue’ and the facings as ‘light blue’, I did the Eskadronstandarte in the same mid-blue as I used for the 6th Cuirassiers and distinctly darker than the facing colour.  However, from more recent sources such as Bleckwenn, it’s most likely that the colour of the standard should actually match the facing colour.  So either the flag should be lighter or the facings should be darker, but it’s probably more likely that they should meet somewhere in the middle as more of a ‘dragoon blue’ shade.

Above:  The 12th ‘Baron Kyau’ Cuirassiers.  The regimental Chef and title changed in 1759 to ‘Spaen’.  

Above:  However, there are disagreements in the sources regarding the details of regimental colourings for the 12th Cuirassiers.  All sources agree that the regiment’s facings were ‘dark orange’ (so far, so good).  However, the sources I was using at the time described the shabraques and standards to be of the same colour.  Later sources such as Dorn & Engelmann and Bleckwenn generally agree, though Bleckwenn shows the shabraque to be a slightly darker, more red shade of orange.  Kronoskaf (linked above) meanwhile, describes the shabraque as ‘crimson’ (though shows the same red-orange as Bleckwenn in the picture) and the standards as ‘buff’…

Above:  Lastly, here are Fred’s mounted bodyguard unit, the 13th ‘Garde du Corps’ Cuirassiers.  This regiment actually started the Seven Years War as a single squadron, but in 1756 was increased to three squadrons with the forced incorporation of the captured Saxon Garde du Corps!  Despite this injection of presumably unwilling recruits, they don’t seem to have done too badly in subsequent battles.  

Above:  The Garde du Corps unusually wore polished cuirasses instead of the usual black-enameled  cuirasses and uniquely carried a ‘vexillum’ standard.  Old Glory, to their credit included a free extra Garde du Corps vexillum-bearer in every pack of 30 Prussian Cuirassiers, which partly made up for having to snip the anachronistic flippin’ plumes off every hat… However, they then went and ruined my goodwill by giving one of the two officers in the pack a sodding Garde du Corps tabard instead of a cuirass… This was an item of dress that didn’t appear until AFTER the Seven Years War (along with hat-plumes).  Consequently, if you look carefully, you’ll notice that half of my cuirassier officers have tabards cunningly painted to vaguely resemble cuirasses…

As mentioned earlier, Old Glory’s sculptor appears to have only looked at the pretty pictures in the Osprey book and not read the text… 🙁 Nevertheless, despite their anachronistic items of dress, their congenitally-deformed horses and the lengths of 4×2 masquerading as swords, they do have plenty of ‘character’ and I like them… 🙂

Anyway, that’s enough for now.  Next time I’ll write an extremely dull article about an  extremely dull army…

Posted in 15mm Figures, Eighteenth Century, Painted Units, Seven Years War & War of Austrian Succession, Shako Rules | 5 Comments

“Rogues! Do you want to stay in the toolbox forever?!” (My 15mm Seven Years War Prussian Army – Part 2: Infantry)

As discussed recently, I’ve been dusting off my ancient Seven Years War collection, which hadn’t seen the light of day since the 1990s.  In my last post I looked at Fred The Big, his generals and artillery and this time I’m looking at a few of his infantry regiments and grenadier battalions.  I’ve presently got fourteen Prussian infantry regiments and six grenadier battalions in my collection, but these are my favourites.  As discussed last time, I started out with skinny Lancashire Games ‘Mk 1’ figures, then the considerably more ‘corn-fed’ Lancashire Games ‘Mk 2’ figures and then with Old Glory 15s (now available in the UK from Timecast).  I’ve still got the old figures, but I’m not showing you those! 🙂

I’ve just this week received my first batch of Eureka figures and they’re absolutely exquisite!  Once I’ve got some painted I’ll post some pictures, with some size-comparisons for the various makes.

Anyway, here are some of my Prussian infantry.  To save on the text, I’ve added a link to each regiment’s entry on the excellent Kronoskaf website if you want to get the exact uniform details.

Please note that when I painted these I was still using gloss varnish and painting my own flags.  The bases were also mostly painted grass green and dry-brushed yellow.  The very last units to be painted (in about 1997 or thereabouts) were among the very first to be based using my current method of brown, dry-brushed sand and then ‘patchily’ flocked.

With regards to flags; Prussian infantry regiments of the period actually carried FIVE colours per battalion.  The Leibkompanie of the 1st Battalion would carry the regimental Leibfahne, while the other nine companies each had a Kompaniefahne.  In the field, all five colours of a battalion would be grouped together in the centre.  The Leibfahne usually had a white field with other colours and designs usually reflecting those of the other flags or Kompaniefahnen of the regiment (‘reversing’ the colours was common, where the centre of the Leibfahne would be the field colour of the Kompaniefahnen, sometimes with the colours of the ‘darts’ or ‘flames’ also being reversed).  For an excellent explanation of Prussian flags have a look at this link on the Kronoskaf website.  By the time of the Napoleonic Wars regiments had been reduced to two colours per battalion.

However, I only gave each of my battalions a single colour… This was partly because I was only painting 12-figure battalions, but mostly because I was having to paint the colours myself (printed flags were very limited back then) and was trying to save myself the extra work!  I gave the 1st Battalion in each regiment the Leibfahne and the 2nd Battalion a Kompaniefahne.  I’m now about to paint some more Prussians and am wondering whether or not to give them two colours per battalion…

Above:  Musketeer-Regiment 17 ‘Manteuffel’.  Although regimental numbers were not actually used at the time of the Seven Years War, this regiment was the 17th line infantry regiment in order of seniority.  Regiments are almost always referred to by their anachronistic regimental number in histories (possibly because it makes battle maps much easier to label), so I’m sure you’ll forgive me if I also use that convention, as it’s far easier to use numbers than the name of the regimental Chef (roughly the equivalent of a colonel-in-chief, though ‘proprietor’ would be a better term), which could change frequently (although Gerd Heinrich von Manteuffel remained the regimental Chef for this regiment for the duration of the Seven Years War).

Above:  Musketeer Regiment 25 ‘Von Kalckstein’ (became ‘Ramin’ in 1760).  Prussian line infantry regiments normally consisted of two battalions plus two companies of Grenadiers.  The Grenadiers would be detached in wartime and grouped with the grenadiers of another regiment to form combined Grenadier Battalions.  The only exceptions were Infantry Regiment 3 ‘Kahlden/Anhalt-Bernburg’, which consisted of three battalions and three detached grenadier companies, Infantry Regiment 6 ‘Grenadier-Garde’ (see below), which consisted of a single battalion (designated and dressed as grenadiers) and a detached grenadier company and Infantry Regiment 15 ‘Garde’, which consisted of three battalions (one of them designated and dressed as grenadiers) and three detached grenadier companies.

Above:  Musketeer Regiment 25 ‘Von Kalckstein’ (again).

Above:  Musketeer Regiment 29 ‘Schultze’.  This became ‘Wedel’ in January 1758, though the post of Chef became vacant again in April of the same year, as Carl Heinrich von Wedel was instead offered Musketeer Regiment 26 (former ‘Meyerinck’).  The regiment was known as ‘Vacant Wedel’ for the rest of the Seven Years War, though some sources, most notably Duffy, refer to the regiment as ‘Knobloch’ from 1758 on.

Above:  Infantry Regiment 6 ‘Grenadier-Garde.  This unusual regiment was the only single-battalion infantry regiment in the army and had once been the (in)famous regiment of palace footguards of Frederick’s father, Frederick-William I, known as the ‘Potsdam Giants’.  Frederick-William famously had a weakness for tall soldiers and if volunteers and conscripts could not be found within his own domains, he would buy tall soldiers from other monarchs and would even resort to kidnap when likely candidates were identified in other countries!  Most bizarrely, he even attempted to start a grenadier breeding programme, using similarly-large women!

When Frederick-William died in 1740 the regiment had grown to 3,200 men and was ridiculously expensive to maintain.  Frederick II immediately reduced the regiment to a single battalion and designated his own regiment, the 15th as the new ‘Garde‘ (which was expanded to three battalions using transferees from the down-sized 6th).

As a mark of their historical lineage, the 6th retained the title ‘Grenadier-Garde‘ and the entire battalion was dressed as grenadiers.  The only other permanent battalion in the army to be dressed as grenadiers was the III Battalion of the 15th ‘Garde Regiment.  The 6th and III/15th were therefore the only grenadier battalions in the entire Prussian army to carry colours and I’ve given these lads a Kompaniefahne.  The regiment’s Leibfahne was exactly the same, though had a white centre with blue scroll, instead of the blue centre with white scroll shown here (I made one mistake though – the corner ‘medallions’ should have blue backing for both Kompaniefahnen and Leibfahne).

On the subject of grenadier standard-bearers: Old Glory 15s always included a pile of the bloody things in their grenadier packs, along with lots of officers wearing mitre-caps… Of course as mentioned above, only two grenadier battalions in the entire army had colours and Prussian grenadier officers NEVER wore mitres and instead wore hats.  Consequently, I have a lot of spare, redundant figures… 🙁 As I’ve mentioned before, Old Glory’s research did seem to consist purely of looking at the pictures in an Osprey book and not reading the text…

Note also that even though the 6th ‘Grenadier-Garde‘ were all grenadiers, they still had the usual company of ‘flanking’ grenadiers that was detached in wartime to form part of a combined grenadier battalion.  The same was true of III/15th ‘Garde‘.

Another oddity that crops up in research is that Duffy refers to the 6th as the ‘Garde-Grenadier-Bataillon‘ and the III/15th as the ‘Grenadier-Garde‘.  Kronoskaf and various German sources such as Bleckwenn refer to the 6th ‘Grenadier-Garde‘ and the otherwise untitled III/15th ‘Garde‘, with the only titled battalion of the 15th being the I/15th ‘Leibgarde.  I’ve gone with the Germans on this…

Above:  Garrison Regiment 5 ‘Mützschefahl’ was one of fourteen such regiments in the Prussian Army, being primarily responsible for the garrisoning of Prussia’s fortresses.  This regiment had a change of Chef in 1759 and was renamed ‘Sydow’ (aka ‘Jung-Sydow’).  Most of these regiments initially consisted of two battalions and two grenadier companies apiece, though the 9th & 13th Regiments had only one battalion and one grenadier company apiece, while the 12th Regiment had a single battalion with no grenadiers.  The ‘New Garrison Regiment’ (being the un-numbered 14th regiment) instead had eight independent companies and two grenadier companies.

In peacetime the Garrison Regiments were permanently-manned in contrast to the bulk of the ‘regular’ army, which would be placed on furlough and only called up for annual training and war.  Most of their grenadier companies were therefore massed into permanent grenadier battalions in peacetime and were known as ‘Standing Grenadier Battalions’ (see below) and in wartime these battalions mostly served with the field armies.  Additionally during the Seven Years War, Frederick ordered most of the Garrison Regiments to expand to four battalions, so that the 1st & 2nd Battalions could serve in the field, leaving the 3rd & 4th Battalions to continue garrison duties.  No additional grenadier companies were formed.

Above:  The uniforms of the Garrison Regiments were extremely drab, with dark blue waistcoats and breeches matching the coats and no hat-lace.  The only distinguishing feature for each regiment was the colour of the cuffs and hat-pompoms.  However, the detached grenadier companies could sometimes have a very different uniform including white or buff waistcoat and breeches.  Aside from the 1st and 2nd Garrison Regiments, who had colours of the usual pattern with the central ‘black eagle’ motif, the colours of the Garrison Regiments had Frederick’s ‘FR’ cypher in the centre and were usually very plain, with a single coloured field, though the 3rd and 4th Regiments had black corner ‘darts.

When I painted this regiment in the pre-internet era, my only (printed) references made no mention of regimental Leibfahne other than those of the 1st and 2nd Regiments, so I gave the regiment a pair of black Kompaniefahnen.  However, more recent research shows that these regiments did have Leibfahnen and in this instance would be a plain white flag, with details the same as the Kompaniefahnen.

As mentioned above, the regimental grenadier companies were detached in wartime and combined with those of another regiment to form a semi-permanent grenadier battalion.  These grenadier battalions would not necessarily serve in the same army or even the same theatre of war as their parent regiment.

Each Grenadier Battalion was identified by the name of its commander and in latter histories by the number of their constituent regiments (e.g. GB 3/6 ‘Kleist’ being the battalion formed from the 3rd & 6th Regiments and commanded by Major Kleist).  All grenadier battalions formed for the Seven Years War remained in the same groupings for the entire duration of the war, though as they were known by their field commander rather than an absentee aristocratic regimental Chef, the battalion name could change frequently as commanders were killed, wounded or transferred.  So GB ‘Kleist’ became ‘Hacke’, ‘Wechmar’, ‘Enckevort’, ‘Plotho’ and back to ‘Hacke’ again as the war progressed.  Consequently it’s a lot easier to track them by their regimental numbers, even though these weren’t used at the time.

The Austrians used grenadier companies in a very different manner, generally keeping them with their parent regiments on the march, though detaching them on the eve of battle to be  assigned on an ad hoc basis as baggage guards, or to defend a specific location, or to beef up the Grenze skirmish screen and only occasionally as combined grenadier battalions.

Oh and with the exception of IR 6 and III/15 mentioned above, GRENADIER BATTALIONS DIDN’T CARRY FLAGS!  Figure manufacturers please take note…

Above:  Grenadier Battalion 13/26 was formed from the grenadier companies of Musketeer Regiment 13 ‘Itzenplitz/Syburg’ (in their pale straw facings and silvered caps) and Musketeer Regiment 26 ‘Meyerinck/Wedel/Linden’ (red facings, yellow lace and brass caps).  This hard-fighting battalion got through quite a few commanders (and associated name-changes) during the course of the war (more than any other unit in the army, in fact!), being successively known as ‘Finck’, ‘Bornstädt’, ‘Kreckwitz’, ‘Homboldt’, ‘Billerbeck’, ‘Schwerin’ and ‘Kalckstein’.

Above:  Grenadier Battalion 47/g7 was formed from the grenadier companies of Füsilier Regiment 47 ‘Wietersheim/Rohr/Grabow’ (yellow facings) and Garrison Regiment 7 ‘Lange/Itzenplitz’ (crimson facings). The battalion was initially named ‘Wangenheim’, then became ‘Carlowitz’ and lastly ‘Bock’.  Note that this was the only grenadier battalion to include Garrison Grenadiers that wasn’t a Standing Grenadier Battalion.

Since painting these some 25 years ago, both Bleckwenn and Kronoskaf disagree with me re the colour of these Garrison Grenadiers’ breeches and waistcoats.  They should probably have white breeches and waistcoats instead of dark blue.

Above:  Standing Grenadier Battalion 1 was unusual in that it comprised the grenadier companies of three regiments: Garrison Regiment 3 ‘Hellermann/Grolmann’, Garrison Regiment 4 ‘Grape/Jungkenn Müntzer/Lettow’ and the New Garrison Regiment.  The battalion was initially named ‘Kahlden’, but changed successively during the war to ‘Wangenheim’, ‘Buddenbrock’ and ‘Carlowitz’.

However, as mentioned above, I was painting these based on my only printed sources of the time – the relevant Osprey book by Haythornthwaite and Duffy’s ‘The Army of Frederick The Great (2nd Edition)’ and therefore based these uniforms on those of the parent regiments (with the exception of the New Garrison Regiment – these grenadiers were mentioned by Haythornthwaite as having different uniforms).

Having since got my hands on Bleckwenn’s four-volume guide to the uniforms of the Prussian Army, I find that these grenadier companies wore totally different uniforms to those of their parent regiments.  Bleckwenn describes the grenadiers of G3 as having red facings and white smallclothes (the mitre cap is not described), while those of G4 again have red facings, but also have red smallclothes, white metal buttons and an old-fashioned red cloth-fronted mitre cap, blue bag, red band and white piping.  Bleckwenn also shows an alternative silver mitre cap with blue bag, white band and white piping.

Kronoskaf meanwhile shows the same brass-fronted mitre for all three contingents, with brass band, red bag, yellow piping and red-within-white pompom.  Buttons are brass for all.  G4 and the NGR both have straw-coloured smallclothes, while G3 has white.

Above:  Standing Grenadier Battalion 6.  I’m pleased to report that this time the grenadiers of this battalion did at least wear a uniform that vaguely resembled what I’ve painted!  The battalion comprised the grenadiers of Garrison Regiment 6 ‘Lattorf/Saß’ (orange facings and pompoms) and Garrison Regiment 8 ‘Nettelhorst/Quadt’ (black facings with rose-pink pompoms).  The battalion was initially named ‘Plötz’, but changed during the course of the war to ‘Rohr’ and ‘Busche’.

I’ve mostly got these uniforms correct, though both Bleckwenn and Kronoskaf describe the smallclothes as being white, not dark blue.  They also describe the backs of the mitres as being in the facing colour (orange and black respectively), piped white.  I followed the Osprey and did them dark blue, piped in orange for GR6 and pink for GR8. 🙁

Anyway, that’s enough for now!  Next time I’ll look at some Prussian cavalry regiments, which I’ve hopefully painted at least half-right… 🙁

Posted in 15mm Figures, Eighteenth Century, Painted Units, Seven Years War & War of Austrian Succession, Shako Rules | 6 Comments

“Rogues! Do you want to stay in the toolbox forever?!” (My 15mm Seven Years War Prussian Army – Part 1: Generals & Artillery)

As discussed last time, I’ve recently decided to rekindle my painting and wargaming mojo.  I’d grown slightly tired (for the time being) of the tedium of bold colours, facings, buttons, lace, cross-belts and shakos of the Napoleonic Wars, so have renewed my enthusiasm with the TOTALLY different bold colours, facings, buttons, lace, cross-belts and tricorns of the Seven Years War

My Seven Years War collection last saw the light of day in 1997 and has since then lain forgotten and unloved in the darkest crypts of Fawr Towers.  One of the steel toolboxes used to store the little chaps had even rusted shut!  However, I’ve been rummaging through the old boxes, repairing bits and pieces, replacing the odd flag and photographing some of the best units in some rare November sunshine.  So here are some of my Prussians, starting with the man himself, Fred the Big

Fred and his staff are produced by Lancashire Games and I really do like them.  These are probably the last remnants of Lancashire Games’ original range of figures, which I seem to remember was originally produced by another company.  The mounted staff and background infantry are Old Glory 15s figures, which are now sold in the UK by Timecast

Oh and note that I was still using gloss-varnish and painting my own flags in those days, as well as painting the bases old-skool green, dry-brushed yellow…  I was just starting to change my basing-style in 1997, so the last regiments to be painted were among the first to use my current basing-style of dark earth, dry-brushed sand and patchily flocked with Woodland Scenics’ ‘Blended Turf’.

These figures were very slender and ‘anatomically-realistic’, though that sadly made them very prone to breakages and aside from Fred and his friends they were all ditched from the range.  They fit really well with other ‘slender’ 15mm ranges such as Freikorps.  The Lancashire SYW range was remodelled in the late 90s to be MUCH chunkier (though strangely, no less prone to breaking at the ankles).  I still have quite a few regiments of both Prussian and Austrian ‘Mk 1’ Lancashire Games figures, though they do look distinctly weedy when standing next to their ‘Mk2’ Lancashire Games and Old Glory brethren.

The mounted officers standing behind Fred’s group are the Duke of Brunswick-Bevern (wearing the rose-pink facings of his regiment, Infantry Regiment #7 ‘Alt-Bevern’) and Prince Moritz of Anhalt-Dessau (wearing the regimental uniform of Infantry Regiment #22 ‘Prinz Moritz’).  There was no prescribed uniform for general officers in the Prussian Army of this era, so generals always wore a version of the regiment to which they were appointed as Chef (i.e. colonel-in-chief/proprietor).  Fred’s own uniform was the simple ‘field’ version of Infantry Regiment #15 Garde.

A Flügeladjutant of the King’s staff (dressed in white with red facings, yellow small-clothes and silver lace) is interrupted by a Feldpost postillion, who has an urgent dispatch for the King.  Again these are Old Glory 15s figures.  The Flügeladjutant figure is one of Old Glory’s legendary ‘comedy figures’, having a hussar boot on one leg (here covered up by black paint) and a heavy cavalry boot on the other… Though not as amusing as the Napoleonic French Hussar ADC figure with a third hand sticking out of one of his pelisse arms… 🙂 

Also standing behind the King is the veteran Berlin Correspondent for The Times, Sir Timothy Paget.  Knighted for his services to journalism and comedy following our War of Austrian Succession campaign, his battle reports and other musings from the courts of European royalty were the stuff of legend, though won him as many enemies as admirers… Gareth Beamish created him from an Old Glory officer figure and he would roam campaign games at will, conducting interviews with the participants.  While he could never be deliberately targeted, Mr Paget could frequently be found at the receiving end of an ‘accidental’ bounce-through or cavalry charge…   Subsequently denied a peerage due to a Times editorial comparing the Duke of Cumberland with the eponymous sausage, he has now returned to Europe to document the coming war and to insult the nobility of Europe once again…

Above:  Here is Frederick the Great’s premier hussar general, General Hans Joachim von Zieten wearing the ‘gala’ version of his regimental dress for Hussar Regiment #2 ‘Zieten’ (aka Leib or ‘Red’ Hussars). 

This spectacular gala uniform included a leopard-skin cloak, eagle-wing plume and very natty yellow boots.  This version of dress would not have been worn on campaign, but it does look spectacular and I’m glad that Old Glory included a figure of Zieten wearing his finest clobber! 🙂 

Above:  Here is Fred’s great heavy cavalry leader and reformer, General Friedrich Wilhelm von Seydlitz.  Again, this is a figure by Old glory 15s and is based on the famous Richard Knoetel print of Seydlitz hailing a cab.

Seydlitz actually started the Severn Years War as the mere colonel of Cuirassier Regiment #8 ‘Rochow’ (which became the ‘Seydlitz’ Cuirassiers in 1757), though quickly proved his mettle as a superb cavalry leader, particularly at the Battle of Kolin in 1757, when he took command of General Krosigk’s cavalry brigade following Krosigk’s death and then threw back the Austrian pursuit force.  Frederick promoted him to general’s rank on the spot and he rose meteorically to become the Inspector of Cavalry in only a few years.

Above:  General Carl Ludwig von Normann was another of Fred’s heavy cavalry leaders.  As Chef of Dragoon Regiment #1 ‘Normann’, he wears the light blue coat of a dragoon, with the black facings and gold lace of his regiment.  Again, this is an Old Glory 15s figure.  Note that Old Glory’s designer, having looked at the Osprey Book pictures but not read the text (he did that a lot…), added plumes to the Prussian Cuirassier and Dragoon figures, even though these were not a feature of Prussian uniform until just AFTER the Seven Years War (the Cuirassier pack also included a Garde du Corps officer figure in tabard, which again was a post-SYW uniform item).  I clipped most of them off, but left them on Normann and Seydlitz, as it made them look a bit more ‘generalish’.

Above:  This figure is a little anachronistic for the Seven Years War, as it’s meant to be Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Dessau (‘The Old Desauer’ and Prince Moritz’s dad) calling down divine retribution on the Saxons at the Battle of Kesselsdorf in 1745, during the Second Silesian War (part of the War of Austrian Succession).  The Old Dessauer had been a superb infantry commander during the War of Spanish Succession, where he rose to command the Prussian contingent of the Allied army, leading them under Marlborough’s command at Blenheim.  He then went on to train and modernise the Prussian infantry, forging it into a formidable weapon.  His hard-won experience was to be of enormous value to the young King Frederick II during the Silesian Wars, though he died shortly after his greatest achievement at Kesselsdorf.  Prince Moritz here is dressed in the uniform of his Infantry Regiment #3 ‘Alt-Dessau’, albeit of a slightly old-fashioned style.

Above:  Prussian artillery prepares to fire.  These are foot artillery; Fred did develop a single horse battery during the course of the Seven Years War, but I don’t have those yet (well, not until the post arrives from Eureka, anyway).

Above:  I was obviously feeling keen when painting these gunners, as the officer is studying a plan of a the fortress he’s presumably bombarding… I’m not sure I can paint that sort of thing nowadays… 🙁  

That’s it for now.  I’ll show off the Prussian infantry next time! 🙂 

Posted in 15mm Figures, Eighteenth Century, Painted Units, Seven Years War & War of Austrian Succession, Shako Rules | 8 Comments

Regaining the Mojo & Resurrecting The Seven Years War

I suppose like a lot of people at the moment, the current situation combined with a lack of wargaming opportunities has been killing my painting mojo.  I did initially have a good gallop at the Napoleonics, finally completing my French Imperial Guard Cavalry and Army of the Duchy of Warsaw, as well as some odds and sods and quite a lot of Russian Napoleonics, which I’ll post here later, as well as a side-order of Indian armour for Burma.  However, my painting (and blog-posting) has slowed considerably in recent months and I clearly needed a break from all those bright facing colours, buttons, lace, cross-belts and shakos…

But then a rare game of Napoleonics using Shako 2nd Edition and conversation with Phil Portway last month (just before going back into flippin’ lock-down) prompted me to delve into the crypts of Fawr Towers to dig out my old 15mm Seven Years War (SYW) collection.  I used to use my own conversion of Shako 1st Edition rules for the Seven Years War and for a couple of years ran an epic Europe-wide campaign in the Pre-Internet Age… But that was all 23 years ago… I’m suddenly itching to do SYW again…

Yes, that’s right…  What I needed to get my mojo back after painting all the bold colours, facings, buttons, lace, cross-belts and shakos of Napoleonics was the bold colours, facings, buttons, lace, cross-belts and tricorns of the Seven Years War… And playing wargames using a set of Napoleonic rules…

My own SYW collection consists mainly of a fairly sizeable Prussian army (35 infantry bns & 17 cavalry regts) which is big enough to refight most of the historical battles of the period, including the Battles of Lobositz and Kolin, which we ran as show demo-games (our Lobositz game appeared in Wargames Illustrated around 1997ish).  However, it could still do with a little bit of expansion for the Battle of Leuthen and some of the other big’uns such as Prague and Torgau.

My other armies are a small, half-completed Swedish army and a small contingent of Reichsarmee and Saxon cavalry.  I’m also very fortunate to have been left a very large Austrian army (66 infantry bns & 24 cavalry regts) by my friend Doug, who passed away some 15 years ago.

Doug’s Austrian infantry, freshly re-flagged

However Doug had only given flags to a very few of his Austrian units and all of those flags had faded, perished, broken or simply dropped off in the intervening decades.  So the army needed a complete re-flagging, including the replacement of all (mostly broken or about to break) cast-on poles with rather more resilient brass rod.  The flags are pre-printed infantry flags from Fighting 15s and cavalry flags from Wargames Designs.  These are mostly Lancashire Games figures, which to be fair, aren’t the best figures in the world, but were given a cracking paint-job (some 23-25 years ago) by our mate Gareth Beamish.  Quantity also has a quality all of its own…

Doug’s Austrian cavalry, in the process of being re-flagged.  Each regiment is based in line, on a single base.  This may seem unusual, but in the age of ‘linear’ warfare it works very well and really speeds up play.

So 44 infantry battalions and 30 cavalry regiments later…

Doug’s Austrian cavalry, freshly re-flagged and with all finials and fringes picked out with metallic paint.

As always, the Fighting 15s flags (used for the infantry) are exquisite, being very crisply laser-printed.  In fact, I think these are the best of his that I’ve used to date.  The Wargames Designs flags (used for the cavalry) however, are nowhere near as good.  They’re inkjet-printed and absolutely need varnishing in order to sharpen up the details.  However, they are about the only SYW Austrian cavalry standards on the market, are cheap and are no worse than pre-printed flags I was using 20 years ago, so I’m happy with them and the finished result above looks good.

With Doug’s Austrians re-flagged and a few of my Prussian and Reichsarmee units similarly repaired, I’ve started painting some new SYW units for the first time in this century!  I’ve started with the Würzburg ‘Red’ Regiment, which was an excellent Imperial auxiliary regiment raised by the Arbishop-Elector of Würzburg to serve with the Austrian army and which held Leuthen Church until being finally ejected by the Prussian Footguards, as shown above.

The figures used here are Old Glory 15s, which were still being sold by Old Glory themselves when I bought them, but which were then split off as a separate company in the late 1990s.   They are now sold in the UK by Timecast.  These are the Austrian ‘German’ Infantry, which I think are the best figures in the range, having stacks of ‘character’.

The flag is a speculative design for the regiment’s Leibfahne based on a historical description and published on the excellent Kronoskaf Seven Years War Project website, which is the ultimate ‘one-stop shop’ for all things Seven Years War (and which didn’t exist when I was last researching the topic).  I then printed it off on my own laser-printer.  The regiment’s second battalion (seen half-painted at the back of this photo) is also now painted.

Next in the painting queue are some more Old Glory 15s figures I bought around 25 years ago; namely the Württemberg and Bavarian Auxiliary Corps, who fought for Austria from 1757 onward and who had the misfortune of being the focus of Frederick’s attack at Leuthen.  These corps each have ten 12-figure infantry battalions, plus three grenadier battalions for the Württemberg Corps.  I actually painted four of the Bavarian battalions during the 90s, so that cuts down the ‘to-do’ list somewhat.

After that I plan to generally expand the Prussians and add a few more Hungarians to the Austrian army (Doug only had two Hungarian regiments), before moving on to getting a French army (may mate Andy is getting the Russians).  But there’s now a lot more choice of high-quality figures, with both Blue Moon (Old Glory’s 18mm replacement for their old 15mm range) and Eureka producing exquisite Seven Years War figures.  Despite dire warnings of them being ‘too big’ for my existing armies, I’ve ordered some Prussian Fusiliers, Prussian Grenadiers and Hungarian Fusiliers from Eureka and can’t wait to see what they’re like.

In terms of gaming, I plan to break the boys in gently with a small historic refight; probably the Battle of Mollwitz of 1741, which was Frederick the Great’s first victory and was actually fought during the War of Austrian Succession.  I’ve then got a small campaign based on the Prussian invasion of Bohemia in 1757 (which led to the Battles of Prague and Kolin) that I’ve been itching to try out and then, if there’s sufficient interest, I might run a ‘global’ Seven Years War campaign along similar lines to our very successful 1990s campaign.  At least this time we have e-mail and can save a fortune on postage! 

Posted in 15mm Figures, Campaigns, Eighteenth Century, Painted Units, Seven Years War & War of Austrian Succession, Shako Rules | 12 Comments

Some More French Napoleonic Allies

It’s all been a bit wordy and rather ‘Jungle Green’ around here just lately, so I thought I’d throw some Napoleonics in to brighten the place up a bit!  As has been mentioned here before, everyone needs friends and that’s doubly true if you’re French, so here are some Germanic allies for Napoleon.  These are mostly from the darkest crypts of my collection and some were painted nearly 30 years ago.

This article is also brought to you by the letter ‘W’…

The Kingdom of Westphalia

The Westphalian Army is one that I really need to expand, but I’ve been holding out for the day when the sainted AB Figures sculptor extraordinaire Tony Barton adds some full-dress Confederation of the Rhine figures to the range.  He has recently added some infantry figures with covered shakos which would be suitable, as would the recent release of 1815 Young Guard figures, but I’m hoping that he might also eventually add some Confederation infantry in bearskins and full shako-ornaments (as well as some Westphalian Kürassiere and horse artillery).  Once upon a time he sculpted these little beauties for Battle Honours and I painted one solitary regiment of Westphalians (the 5th Line Infantry Regiment).  I’d love to have more of these figures, but they disappeared from Battle Honours’ listings years ago and I’ve lost track of who actually sells the range these days.

Westphalian infantry regiments initially had differently-coloured facings (the 5th initially had yellow facings), but in 1810 all regiments changed to dark blue facings with brass buttons.  Drummers’ livery varied by regiment, but the drummers of the 5th had sky-blue coats with yellow facings and yellow/red lace edging and chevrons down the sleeves.

The style was very French, though the coat was of the square-lapelled ‘Spencer’ style, which was used by a lot of Confederation of the Rhine nations and which was eventually adopted by the French Army (as the Habit-Veste) with the Bardin Uniform Regulations of 1812.  

Organisation, headgear and company distinctions were wholly French: Grenadiers had scarlet cords, plumes and epaulettes (the 1st Regiment’s grenadiers had bearskins).  The Voltigeurs had green cords, green plume with yellow tip and green epaulettes with yellow crescents.  The four Fusilier companies in each battalion had white cords and pompoms coloured by company; 1st – sky-blue, 2nd – white, 3rd – yellow and 4th – green.  Fusiliers initially had white shoulder-straps piped in the facing colour, but from 1809 or 1812 (sources vary) could also wear dark blue epaulettes with white crescents.

The Westphalian Army wasn’t issued with Eagles and just used spear-pointed gold finials for its flags.  Staves were black and the infantry flags were modelled on the French 1804 Pattern infantry flag, though with dark blue corners and German inscriptions.  As these were painted waaaaay back in the mists of time (about 1992ish) you’ll note that I was still painting all my own flags at this time and the base is painted old-skool grass-green with a dry-brush of yellow.  I’ve re-done a lot of my old bases to my ‘new’ standard (new in 1997, anyway) of dark earth, dry-brushed sand and patchily flocked, but these are some that have thus far avoided being altered.

I’ve posted these here before as I only painted them a couple of years ago, but my only other Westphalian unit is this battery of Westphalian Guard Horse Artillery.  Unlike other Westphalian units, they wore the French-style coatee with exposed waistcoat, so are identical in style to pre-1812 French Horse Artillery.  Most uniform details are the same as for the French, except that the shako had the white/blue Westphalian cockade, the collar was scarlet with two bars of yellow lace on each side, the cuff-flaps had two bars of yellow buttonhole lace, the waistcoat was scarlet with yellow hussar-braid and the cross-belts were pale buff (the waist-belt seems to have been white though). 

Guns were French Year XI Pattern, though manufactured in Westphalia and were painted the usual French olive green with black metalwork and brass barrels, though some sources suggest yellow ‘stripes’ on the wheels or yellow spokes.  I’ve stuck with plain olive green, as it allows me to swap the (loose) gun models around between the French and Duchy of Warsaw.

The Grand Duchy of Würzburg

The Grand Duchy of Würzburg (which had briefly been part of Bavaria from 1803) was formed in 1805 as part of Napoleon’s new Confederation of the Rhine or Rheinbund and as such, was required to provide the Rheinbund with an infantry regiment of two battalions.  The Würzburg regiment was designated as the 3rd Rheinbund Infantry Regiment (though some sources seem to be confused, alternatively suggesting that they were the 7th or 8th Regiment).  Würzburg also raised a company of artillery (eight captured 6pdrs, being either Austrian or Prussian guns) and a squadron of chevaulégers. 

In 1809 the infantry regiment and artillery company were sent to Spain and suffered catastrophic losses.  By the end of the year they had been reduced in strength by two thirds.  Consequently, the 2nd Battalion was disbanded and amalgamated into the 1st Battalion, which spent the rest of the war in Spain.  A new 2nd Battalion was raised in 1812, closely followed by a 3rd and 4th Battalion.  The new battalions spent 1812 in Poland, but in 1813 the 2nd & 3rd Battalions took to the field as an infantry regiment of 1,800 men with the Grande Armée in Germany, fighting at the Battles of Bautzen and Leipzig with Brayer’s Brigade of Durutte’s 32nd Division, Reynier’s VII Corps.  The 4th Battalion remained in Poland as a fortress garrison, while the Chevaulégers Squadron, consisting of a little over 200 men, served with MacDonald’s XI Corps (being brigaded with the Italian 4th Chasseurs à Cheval) and fought at Lützen, Bautzen, the Katzbach and Leipzig.  

The infantry battalions were organised along French lines, with four Fusilier Companies, a Grenadier Company and a Voltigeur Company.  These were initially dressed in the uniforms of the pre-1803 Würzburg Army, which was essentially identical to the Austrian infantry uniform of the period, being a white single-breasted coat with scarlet facings, brass buttons and a black leather helmet with brass front-plate and reinforcing.  The only noticeable difference to Austrian infantry was that the woollen helmet-crest was plain black instead of the Austrian black & yellow.  However, unlike the Austrians, the elite companies eventually adopted French-style distinctions; namely a plume on the left-side of the helmet and fringed epaulettes on the shoulders.  These were scarlet for Grenadiers and green for Voltigeurs.  The Fusilier companies had no differentiating distinctions.  The drummers followed the Austrian style of having the same uniform as the rest, except for scarlet ‘swallows’ nests’ laced with white.  Drums were brass with red/white striped hoops.  The Artillery Company had Austrian-style brown uniforms with scarlet facings.

Like many other French-allied contingents in Spain, supply problems meant that they soon changed to French-style uniforms with shakos.  Shako cockades were yellow/blue/red (yellow outermost).  The 1st Battalion in Spain seems to have retained the single-breasted coat style and the elite company distinctions remained the same (plain red plumes and epaulettes for Grenadiers and plain green for Voltigeurs), though with yellow shako-cords for all companies.  The Fusilier companies’ pompom details are unclear (sources variously show white pompoms, sky-blue pompoms or nothing at all being worn apart from cords and cockade). 

Back in Germany, the newly-raised battalions adopted a white French-style pre-1812 light infantry coat with scarlet collar, lapels, cuffs and turnbacks, with white cuff-flaps and shoulder-straps piped scarlet.  Buttons were brass.  All Fusilier companies had white shako-cords and pompoms.  The Grenadiers had shakos with scarlet cords, plumes and epaulettes.  The Voltigeurs had green cords, yellow plumes with a green tip and green epaulettes with yellow crescents.  Sources are split over whether the Voltigeur plume had a white or green pompom at its base.  Sources are also split over whether the drummers continued with a white uniform, decorated with scarlet swallows’ nests, or changed to a more ostentatious sky-blue uniforms with scarlet facings and yellow lace edging.  Drums were brass, with hoops recorded as being either red/white striped as before or yellow/blue/red striped.  It may be that the 1st Battalion in Spain continued with the old colours, while the new battalions adopted the sky-blue uniform. 

Each battalion carried two flags (yes, I know I’ve only shown one here, but it’s a small unit), with all flags being of an identical standard pattern.  This was a yellow field, with Grand Duke Ferdinand’s ‘F’ monogram in red, surrounded by a wreath on the obverse and his arms, again surrounded by a wreath on the reverse.  Both sides were edged with red, white and blue triangles.  The stave was striped red and white, barber-pole style (Ferdinand was Italian, after all) and had a gilt finial.

It’s not clear if the 1st Battalion and Artillery Company in Spain ever received the new French-style uniform or if they continued to use their old Austrian style of coat.  However, the Knötels painted a Würzburg gunner (shown here) circa 1812, wearing a French-style uniform in brown, with scarlet facings and distinctions, with brass buttons and shoulder-scales.  It’s not clear if this uniform was adopted by the Artillery Company in Spain, or if this was the uniform of a new company being raised in Germany. 

The Würzburg Chevauleger Squadron initially wore a uniform virtually identical to the Austrian Chevaulegers, in dark green with scarlet facings.  However, the helmet had a plain black woollen crest and a black plume tipped with scarlet on the left side.  By 1812 the helmet had been replaced by a shako with the same plume (over a scarlet pompom) and scarlet cords, while the coat had scarlet fringed epaulettes added. 

The Würzburg Infantry were among the first AB Figures I ever painted back in the early 90s, for a club demo game of the Battle of Bautzen.  As with the Westphalians, I was still painting my own flags and painting the bases green!  I got them slightly wrong, as the lapels are line infantry, square-ended style, not light infantry pointed-style, but in my defence, this was pre-internet, so my sources were very limited!

The Kingdom of Württemberg

Way back in the last century, I was co-opted to scenario-plan and umpire a series of very large Napoleonic games; first for AB Figures (who were then based here in Wales) and then for Dave Brown, the General de Brigade author.  The first of those epic games was the Battle of Eggmühl 1809, which was fought at 1:20 ratio on a 16×16-foot table (actually three parallel tables) and exquisite terrain over two days.  The scenario after-action report later appeared in Wargames Illustrated and I took most of the scenery and troops up to Newark for a photo-shoot with Duncan MacFarlane, the genial then-editor of Wargames Illustrated.  The end result appeared in Wargames Illustrated No. 153 (June 2000) and I think spilled over into the following month as well.

There was one slight problem… A pivotal moment in the battle was when Von Hügel’s Württemberg Light Infantry Brigade (closely supported by Von Wöllwarth’s Württemberg Cavalry Division) stormed the bridge at Eggmühl and ejected the defending Grenzer, thus clearing the way for Napoleon’s heavy cavalry reserve to deploy onto the battlefield.  However, AB didn’t make any Württembergers…

Thankfully, the sainted Mr Barton came to our rescue and produced a range of Württembergers just in time for the game! 🙂 I don’t think I’ve ever painted such a quantity of figures in such a short space of time, but I managed to paint two 32-figure Jäger battalions, two 32-figure Light Infantry battalions, 64x skirmishers (16 for each battalion), two four-gun artillery batteries, a brigade headquarters and a load of casualties in about three weeks!  However, I really don’t now need all those troops for my own collection, so I’ve actually given around half of them away to a friend.

Here’s the 1st (König) Jäger Battalion.  Purists will notice that these are actually in the 1812 uniform.  The shako worn in 1809 had green fabric inserts and a tall green plume, as shown here on the right.  In full dress the lapels were also coloured black and had white buttonhole lace.  By 1812 the shako had been simplified and the lapels had changed to dark green, edged white, without buttonhole lace.  The uniform for the 2nd (Neuffer) Jäger Battalion was exactly the same, except buttons and officers’ metalwork was yellow metal instead of white metal.

None of these units carried flags of any sort, but I tend to find that a mounted officer serves as a nice focal point for a unit if it doesn’t have a flag.  However, there aren’t any mounted Württemberg light infantry officers in the range, so I converted them from AB Figures Saxon mounted infantry officers simply by filing off the lower portion of their lapels to turn them into Württemberg-style half-lapels.

This is the 2nd (Brüselle) Light Infantry Battalion.  The uniform was of the same cut and style as the Jäger, though instead of their sombre black facings and belts, the Light Infantry had a very striking combination of sky-blue facings with buff belts and instead of green legwear they had white breeches or grey overalls.  The uniform of the 1st (Wolff) Light Infantry Battalion was exactly the same, except the buttons and officers’ metal work were white metal instead of the yellow metal shown here.

Purists will again note that these chaps are in the uniform worn in 1812.  In 1809 they would have had green fabric inserts in the body of the shako and scarlet plumes.

As all veteran wargames know, a newly-painted unit, regardless of elite status, will always perform badly in its first battle and this was certainly true of the Württemberg Light Infantry Brigade… Dave Brown threw them repeatedly across Eggmühl Bridge, only to meet volley after volley of double-sixes being rolled in their face!  The casualties were horrific and included both the brigade AND divisional commander.  In desperation, Dave finally the the Württemberg cavalry across the bridge, only to meet the same fate and the death of yet another Württemberg general… Never in the field of miniature human combat have so many double-sixes been rolled by so few… With the aid of an absolute crap-ton of casualty figures, I recreated this infamous scene in the pages of Wargames Illustrated, only for Duncan to then receive letters complaining about the amount of dead being depicted on our table… In response, we of course ensured that the next game (Auerstädt 1806) had CONSIDERABLY  more casualty figures on show… 🙂 

We didn’t actually need any Württemberg Line Infantry for the Eggmühl game, but the line infantry master figures arrived first from Tony, so they got painted first as insurance.  These would act as stand-ins if the light infantry and jäger figures didn’t arrive in time for the game.  In the event they never got used, but they’re certainly seen a lot of action in other games since.

The orange facings, white metal buttons and scarlet flag identify these chaps as the 2nd (Herzog Wilhelm) Infantry Regiment.  They wore helmets until 1813, whereupon they switched to a shako, which had a rear-peak like the Austrian infantry shako.  Some sources suggest scarlet facings, matching the flag, but the general weight of opinion seems to suggest orange.  While most Württemberg regimental flags matched the facing colour, that wasn’t always the case. 

Speaking of flags, I’ve just noticed that the paint has popped off the stave due to getting bent… Sigh… This was one of the first printed flags I ever used.  I had already painted a load of Minifigs Württembergers and painted the flags, but time here was short, so I used one of the printed flags sold at the time by Mike.  I think this was by ‘Flags for AB’, which became ‘Fighting 15s Flags‘.

Although I haven’t painted any Württembergers for 20 years, AB have just this week released a Württemberg Grenadier figure, so I might have to get a few of those to add grenadier companies to my battalions.  They wore a curious variation on the infantry helmet; instead of the ‘fore-and-aft’ woollen crest they had a transverse ‘ear-to-ear’ bearskin fur crest.  So from the front they look rather like Austrian grenadier caps, but still have the brass ‘comb’ running up the back.

Unfortunately, we didn’t quite receive ALL of Tony’s new Württemberg figures in time for the game and this included both the foot and horse artillery.  I therefore converted these Bavarian foot artillery figures into Württembergers by clipping off the Bavarian shoulder-scales and again shortening the lapels.  The helmet is slightly too tall for Württembergers, but the difference isn’t too noticeable.  AB did eventually produce Württemberg Foot Artillery figures, but I’ve just carried on using these.

I did eventually paint some pukka Württemberg Horse Artillery figures, as seen here.  The folded-down lapels should probably have yellow lace edging and may well be faced with black cloth.  I also clearly forgot to finish off the cartridge, which should be an iron ball fixed to a linen cylinder – I forgot to paint the linen bit.

Württemberg guns are described as ‘buff-coloured’ (with black iron fittings and brass barrels), though these are a little pale for my taste.  If I’m feeling bored, I might re-paint them in a darker shade.  It has been suggested that this ‘buff’ colour might simply have been plain varnished wood.

Württemberg generals were pretty indistinguishable from their French equivalents, except for the yellow/black/red national cockade and the general officers’ sash, which was coloured silver, gold and red.  I’ve therefore used an AB French general and his staff consists of officers of jäger, light infantry and horse artillery (for the latter I’ve used a line infantry officer).

When Mike decided to sell off his Napoleonic collection in 2005ish, it was slightly complicated as I’d painted quite a lot of it for the three mega-games and various other bits and pieces along the way, but no money had ever changed hands; he’d give me the figures, I’d paint them for the game and they’d all go into the box together.  However, he very generously gave me a ton of stuff, including all the Württembergers, which included some units painted by a very talented painter called Neil Mullis. 

Neil uses a very simple and effective painting technique; starting with a black undercoat, he just blocks on the colours, using no highlighting or shading whatsoever.  Many have tried to use this method, but Neil is the only person I’ve ever seen to truly master it and his use of colour is often very striking.

I should mention that this is the 2nd (Herzog Heinrich) Chevauxléger Regiment.  AB also do figures for the 1st Leib-Chevauxlégers, which have the older-style helmet with horsehair mane and plume.  However, they’ve never done the third Württemberg cavalry type, the Jäger zu Pferde which made up half of the Württemberg cavalry arm and had the same uniform cut and helmet as these chaps, though with short light cavalry boots.  However, most people I know just use these figures and ignore the wrong boots!

I originally had 34 of these fellas for a full regiment at 1:20 ratio; four squadrons of eight figures (officer, trumpeter and 6x troopers), plus an HQ of two figures.  However, that’s far more than I need, so I’ve kept 20 and given the rest to a mate.  I’ve also turned one of the waving/pointing officers into a standard-bearer with the aid of some brass wire and a flag by Fighting 15s.

Here’s a rear-view showing Neil’s horse-painting technique, which is totally different to his figure-painting.  He uses a heavy washes of colour onto a white undercoat and it looks very effective.

Anyway, that’s enough Napoleonicking for now!  That said, I recently won an astounding victory as the Spanish (!) against the French oppressor (or ‘Phil’ as I know him), so I might write about that next time… 🙂 

Arriba España! 

Posted in 15mm Figures, Napoleon's Battles (Rules), Napoleonic French Army, Napoleonic Minor States, Napoleonic Wars, Painted Units | 8 Comments

The Forgotten Wargames Army: XIVth Army in Burma (Part 8 – 254th Indian Tank Brigade on the Road to Mandalay (and Rangoon) 1944-45)

Lee medium tanks of 3rd Carabiniers on the march near Mandalay (note the ‘4’ AoS serial painted on the back)

In the Part 7 of this series I looked at the 254th Indian Tank Brigade and their decisive role in the defence of Imphal in 1944.  This time I’m following the 254th Tank Brigade as they followed the ‘Road to Mandalay’ and beyond.  Here’s a recap of 254th Indian Tank Brigade’s organisation at this time:


With the Japanese 15th Army in full retreat across the River Chindwin, Lieutenant General Bill Slim commanding the XIVth Army, anticipated that they would make a stand on the Shwebo Plain, between the Chindwin and the Irrawaddy.  A general plan was agreed with SEAC code-named Operation CAPITAL, whereby IV Corps and XXXIII Corps would mount a general advance on a broad front, in concert with the Chinese-US-British Northern Combat Area Command (NCAC), to bring the Japanese to battle west of the Irrawaddy and to establish a continuous front line from Pakokku to Mandalay to Lashio.  XV Corps would maintain the pressure on the Arakan coast, until such time as an amphibious/airborne operation code-named DRACULA could then be launched by XV Corps to recapture Rangoon.  The northern and southern arms of XIVth Army would then crush the Japanese on the central Burmese plain.

However, as the leading elements of XIVth Army crossed over the Chindwin in pursuit of the Japanese, it quickly became apparent that the Japanese 15th Army was still in full retreat and had no intention of making a stand on the Shwebo Plain.  They were instead attempting to make a stand on the east bank of the Irrawaddy.  Slim revised his plan and in December 1944 this became Operation EXTENDED CAPITAL.

A Lee of 254th Indian Tank Brigade waits to cross the Mu River in the Kabaw Valley, January 1945. This could belong to either the 3rd Carabiniers or 150th RAC, but the only markings visible are the newly-applied Allies Star, the ’30’ weight-class disc and a ‘B’ Squadron square next to the driver’s port.

The most obvious objective for XIVth Army’s advance was the city of Mandalay, the ancient capital of Burma and the main road, rail and river transport hub for central Burma.  To the Burmese, the capture of Mandalay psychologically meant the capture of Burma as a whole and to that end the Japanese were determined to hold it.  The second obvious objective was the Yenangyaung oilfields, on the lower Irrawaddy near Magwe, which was also in the heart of Burma’s main rice-producing region.  The Japanese arranged their forces to reflect these likely objectives.  However, the Japanese failed to grasp that Slim had little interest in geographical objectives and was instead chiefly concerned simply with the destruction of their armies.  His objective would therefore be the city of Meiktila, roughly 100km to the south of Mandalay, sitting astride the main Mandalay-Rangoon road, close to the main railway lines, surrounded by four Japanese airfields and serving as a major supply-hub.  The capture of this (hopefully lightly-defended) city would force the Japanese to respond and then XIVth Army could bring its full weight to destroy them.  Operation DRACULA would also then be launched to take Rangoon, in line with the original plan.

Those Allied formations already east of the Chindwin or in the process of crossing (2nd, 19th & 20th Divisions, 268th Lorried Brigade and 254th Tank Brigade), were now allocated to XXXIII Corps, which would advance on a broad front toward Mandalay, making a large demonstration to draw in Japanese formations and convince them that the assault was to be made there.  To that end, the armoured cars of the PAVO were already well-forward with elements of 19th Indian Division.  Contact was soon made on 19th Division’s left flank with the British 36th Division, which was operating under the command of the NCAC, thus establishing a continuous front line with the NCAC for the first time.  The PAVO meanwhile, were causing great havoc among retreating Japanese units, using the speed and stealth of their armoured cars to great effect.  The PAVO’s organisation had been altered slightly by this time, enabling it to be broken down into more numerous (albeit smaller) sub-units:

IV Corps meanwhile (7th & 17th Divisions, 28th East African Brigade, the Lushai Brigade and 255th Tank Brigade), screened by XXXIII Corps’ advance, would move south quickly and secretly, parallel to, though well to the west of the Chindwin, using a mountain range to mask its movements and aiming to cross the mile-wide Irrawaddy between Pagan and Pakokku.  The 7th Indian Division would first establish a bridgehead on the east bank, allowing most of 17th Indian Division and all of the 255th Tank Brigade to cross the river and then strike toward Meiktila.  Capturing Meiktila and its airfields would then enable reinforcement brigades, the RAF Regiment and other units to be brought in by air, straight into the battle.

XIVth Army’s approach to the Irrawaddy. Allied units are shown in red and the Japanese in blue.  XXXIII Corps is massing along the Irrawaddy around Mandalay, while IV Corps performs a wide flanking move the the west.

On 7th January 1945, 19th Indian Division, having reached the Irrawaddy, mounted several waterborne patrols across the river and finding little resistance, quickly established a bridgehead at Thabeikkyin, roughly 100km north of Mandalay.  A second bridgehead was established at Kyaukmyaung, roughly 70km north of Mandalay on 11th January.  Alarmed, the Japanese 15th Army dispatched two divisions (the 15th and 53rd) to throw the 19th Division back over the Irrawaddy.  Strong attacks, accompanied by very heavy artillery barrages, were mounted on the bridgeheads, but all were beaten off with heavy losses.  By the end of January the Japanese 15th Division, which had already been hammered at Imphal, had lost fully one-third of its strength during these failed attacks.  By early February, Major General ‘Pete’ Rees, the fiery Welsh GOC of 19th Indian Division felt secure enough to consider a breakout and ordered his armour support, consisting of ‘C’ Squadron 150th RAC and ‘C’ Squadron 7th Light Cavalry, to be rafted across into the bridgehead.

With the 19th Indian Division distracting the Japanese defenders north of Mandalay, on 10th February the 28th East African Brigade mounted a second feint assault at Seikpyu, around 40km to the south of Pagan, again drawing off Japanese forces as intended.  On 12th February, the 20th Indian Division mounted its own assault crossing around 50km downstream from Mandalay, sucking in elements of the Japanese 2nd, 31st and 33rd Divisions.  The Japanese 15th Army was now completely off-balance and the main assault could now be launched by IV Corps between Pakokku and Pagan.  This assault, designated Operation MULTIVITE was launched on 14th February and by mid-afternoon, 7th Indian Division had established a firm bridgehead.

Stuart of ‘B’ Squadron 7th Light Cavalry

On 17th February the 17th Indian Division (minus one brigade, but now fully motorised) also began crossing into the 7th Division bridgehead, followed by the 255th Indian Tank Brigade.  On 21st February, the 17th Indian Division, plus the 255th Indian Tank Brigade, ‘B’ Squadron of the PAVO (attached from XXXIII Corps) and the newly-arrived 16th Light Cavalry, broke out of the bridgehead and drove hell-for-leather toward Meiktila (I’ll talk more about the Battle of Meiktila in Part 9).

The 20th Indian Division sector had been particularly brutal for the Allies, with strong attacks being mounted by three Japanese divisions that reputedly equaled the worst of the Battle of Imphal.  The intensity of these battles is probably explained by the fact that the Japanese, fighting a defensive battle on ‘home turf’ and close to their sources of supply, had access to far greater quantities of artillery and ammunition.  Consequently, this bridgehead contained the bulk of 254th Tank Brigade’s armour; 7th Light Cavalry (less ‘C’ Squadron) and ‘B’ Squadron 150th RAC, plus the PAVO (less ‘B’ Squadron) and the Priest SP guns and Sherman OP tanks of 18th Field Regiment RA.

A Priest Self-Propelled 105mm Howitzer of 18th Field Regiment RA, pictured within the 20th Indian Division bridgehead on 7th March 1945. Note the circular version of the XIVth Army badge painted on the transmission housing. The regiment’s AoS sign was red-over-blue with ’25’ serial and white lower bar signifying Army Troops.

The situation deteriorated even further for the Japanese on 24th February, as the British 2nd Division launched yet another assault-crossing, this time on the left flank of 20th Indian Division’s bridgehead and roughly 30km downstream of Mandalay.  The 3rd Carabiniers (minus ‘B’ Squadron) were quickly brought into the 2nd Division bridgehead, which left only RHQ & ‘A’ Squadron 150th RAC and ‘B’ Squadron 3rd Carabiniers as the only remaining armoured reserve west of the Irrawaddy.  However, this did not immediately improve the situation for the hard-pressed 20th Indian Division, as if anything, the Japanese intensified their efforts to throw them back across the Irrawaddy.  Nevertheless, within a few days, the 2nd Division was also in intense combat and the Carabiniers were once again in constant contact with the enemy, rushing from crisis to crisis, just as they had done at Imphal.

A Lee of 3rd Carabiniers (note ‘4’ AoS serial) is rafted across to the 2nd Division bridgehead at Ngazun, 28th Feb 1945

By the beginning of March, Meiktila had fallen to IV Corps’ ‘Blitkrieg’ and all available Japanese reserves were being directed to retake the city.  The opposition in front of 19th Indian Division began to slacken markedly and ‘Pete’ Rees was of the opinion that with the bulk of the Japanese 15th Army fighting to the west and south of the Mandalay, the famous ‘Road to Mandalay’ and the city itself would be virtually undefended.  General Rees formed his available armour and most mobile elements into a mechanised spearhead battlegroup designated ‘Stiletto Column’ or ‘STILETTOCOL’ (named for the 19th Division’s dagger badge, but remarkably appropriate, given its ‘rapier-like thrust’ mission) and on 6th March launched them south, straight down the Road to Mandalay.  By 1600hrs on 7th March, STILETTOCOL had achieved the impossible and seized several key terrain features in the ancient city.  19th Division was following close behind and the hard task of house-to-house fighting began.

Sadly, the city itself was not undefended and most critically, the massive stone walls of Fort Dufferin were strongly held.  In scenes reminiscent of Wellington’s day, 5.5-inch guns and 6-inch howitzers (aided by the distinctly more modern Lees of 150th RAC) hammered the ancient walls until practicable breaches were created.  Gurkha ‘Forlorn Hopes’ then charged through the breaches, just as their ancestors had done in the previous century.  Fort Dufferin finally fell on 20th March, by which point the leading elements of 2nd Division were also pushing into the city from the south.  For an excellent account of the Battle of Mandalay, follow this link.

A Lee named ‘Caledonian’ of ‘C’ Squadron 150th RAC, with infantry of 19th Indian Division in Mandalay

With all Japanese reserves being sucked in by the battles for Mandalay and Meiktila, the previously intense pressure on the battered 20th Indian Division’s bridgehead began to slacken.  By 18th March, Japanese resistance had eased sufficiently for Major General Douglas Gracey to go onto the offensive.  Lt Col J M Barlow, the Commanding Officer of the 7th Light Cavalry, was ordered to take command of all the 254th Tank Brigade elements within the bridgehead, as well as the PAVO, the self-propelled 18th Field Regiment RA, an RAF Forward Air Controller and lastly, the 4/10th Gurkha Rifles from 100th Brigade, who were mounted in every truck that could be scraped up from within the bridgehead.  Barlow’s column was designated ‘BARCOL’ and was given the mission of breaking out to the south, thus driving an armoured stake through the heart of the surrounding Japanese forces.  They were then to make a wide, encircling movement, cutting Japanese lines of communication, destroying any enemy units encountered and if possible, making contact with 17th Division at Meiktila.  They were then to fall upon the Japanese from the rear.

BARCOL broke out of the 20th Division bridgehead on 19th March, easily punching through the encircling Japanese forces and creating havoc among rear-echelon units.   By the 22nd BARCOL had reached Wundwin (see map above), which was over 60 miles from 20th Division’s bridgehead and three-quarters of the way to Meiktila.  The Japanese garrison there was quickly overwhelmed, with over 200 being killed.  Using Wundwin as a base, patrols struck out in all directions, utterly disrupting Japanese movements, communications and supply-lines.  One BARCOL dispatch-rider even managed to reach the defenders of Meiktila following a wrong-turn and a ride through Japanese lines! 

A Stuart of 7th Light Cavalry pictured near Mandalay on 19th March 1945.

However, BARCOL’s return to 20th Division’s lines wasn’t as easy as the breakout, with three 7th Light Cavalry Stuarts being lost to Japanese anti-tank guns and a fourth damaged.  Nevertheless, BARCOL’s objective had been achieved and the Japanese were left reeling, confused and badly hurt.  Japanese opposition to the 2nd, 19th and 20th Divisions around Mandalay simply melted away during the last few days of March and BARCOL returned safely to friendly lines.

Lees of ‘C’ Squadron 150th RAC with infantry of 19th Indian Division near Mandalay. The leading tank has the name ‘Cossack’ painted on the side.

Rangoon Or Bust!

Even as Japanese forces continued to resist around Mandalay and Meiktila, Slim had already set his sights firmly upon Rangoon and issued orders for the next phase of EXTENDED CAPITAL as early as 18th March; a full ten days before the last Japanese were cleared from the vicinity of Meiktila.  Fighter-bomber squadrons were already flying into the Meiktila airfields to support the renewed advance.  The key motivational factor for Slim was the monsoon, which was now only weeks away.  While the units of XIVth Army had proved in 1944 that they could fight through the monsoon, maintaining the astonishingly long and fragile supply-lines back to Imphal was another matter entirely.  Slim calculated that XIVth Army would have to maintain a rate of advance of 10-12 miles per day, regardless of Japanese rearguards, strongpoints, bridge demolitions and other delays. 

Lees of ‘B’ Squadron 150th RAC pictured with BARCOL on 20th March 1945. The white number 14, signifying the 14th tank of the squadron, is painted on the turret rear within the ‘B’ Squadron square, which should be light blue for 150th RAC. The same markings are also just visible on the turret side.

The best, though most obvious route was the main road following the railway and the Sittang River from Meiktila to Rangoon.  This axis of advance was given to IV Corps, which was now reorganised once again.  The main body would consist of XIVth Army’s most mobile formations; the 5th and 17th Indian Divisions and 255th Indian Tank Brigade.  The 5th Indian Division had recently arrived at Meiktila, having been rested and fully motorised back at Imphal.  The 19th Indian Division meanwhile, was transferred in from XXXIII Corps and would push east from Mandalay and Meiktila, clearing the western bank of the Sittang. 

XXXIII Corps meanwhile, would now consist of the 7th Indian Division, 20th Indian Division, 268th Lorried Brigade and 254th Indian Tank Brigade and would mount a fiendishly complex manoeuvre across the rear of IV Corps, moving from the left flank of IV Corps to their right flank.  XXXIII Corps was tasked with taking the western axis of the advance, down the eastern bank of the Irrawaddy to Rangoon, thus keeping the Japanese off-balance and preventing them from concentrating all their forces in front of IV Corps.  XXXIII Corps was less mobile and arguably had the more complex task, though they were determined that they would give IV Corps a run for their money to reach Rangoon first!

In detailed terms, the 7th Indian Division, with 268th Brigade and 3rd Carabiniers under command, would advance from their bridgehead down the east bank of the Irrawaddy, to take the railhead of Kyaukpadaung, the isolated 4,000-foot peak of Mount Popa and the oil towns of Chauk and Yenangyaung, before moving on to the city of Magwe.  Elements of 7th Division would also be required to cross back over to the western bank of the Irrawaddy to clear Japanese garrisons and to intercept and destroy units of the Japanese 54th Division who, having been driven out of the Arakan by XV Corps, were making their way east t0 the Irrawaddy.  20th Indian Division meanwhile, with 150th RAC under command, would pass through Meiktila and strike southwest to take Taungdwingyi and then drive on to Rangoon, via Allanmyo, Prome and Letpadan. 

The British 2nd and 36th Divisions meanwhile, along with the 28th East African Brigade, were withdrawn back to India.  Supplies of fresh British infantry were starting to dry up in any case and by withdrawing these formations, the pressure on XIVth Army’s strained supply system would be markedly reduced. 

Another departure during early April 1945 was that of the 7th Light Cavalry from 254th Indian Tank Brigade.  They had fought valiantly and continuously in their Stuarts without a break for over a year, often doing the job of medium or even infantry tanks.  However, they were now transferred to 255th Indian Tank Brigade in IV Corps.  Nevertheless, ‘C’ Squadron 7th Light Cavalry remained attached to 254th Indian Tank Brigade until the end of the war and ‘B’ Squadron PAVO, which had been attached to IV Corps at Meiktila, was now returned to XXXIII Corps.

Having been hammered by 7th Division artillery, the Japanese garrison of the Kyaukpadaung railhead quickly fell on 12th April to an attack by 33rd Brigade, 268th Brigade and ‘B’ Squadron 3rd Carabiniers.  The bodies of 120 dead Japanese troops were found, along with a massive stockpile of supplies.  As 89th Brigade passed through Kyaukpadaung to assault Chauk, 268th Brigade and ‘C’ Squadron 3rd Carabiniers moved up onto the slopes of Mount Popa, to eject a mixed force of Japanese and Indian National Army (INA) troops.  The battle for Mount Popa proved to be prolonged and frustrating, particularly for the Carabiniers, who struggled to move their tanks across country due to steep slopes and soft going.  The enemy also frequently melted away whenever their tanks appeared.  Nevertheless, after six days of fighting, Mount Popa fell on 19th April with an estimated 500 Japanese troops being killed.  The INA managed to slip away in the confused fighting, though being trapped with their backs to the Irrawaddy, would later surrender en masse on 26th April.

Lee No.12 of ‘C’ Squadron 3rd Carabiniers on Mount Popa, April 1945

89th Brigade meanwhile, had run into stiff opposition just north of Chauk.  33rd Brigade moved west to outflank the Japanese roadblock, but by the time this manoeuvre had been performed, the Japanese had managed to slip away, unexpectedly escaping by boat, west across the Irrawaddy.  Chauk was captured unopposed on the 18th and 7th Division drove on to Yenangaung, with 33rd Brigade now taking the lead with ‘B’ Squadron 3rd Carabiniers under command and 89th Brigade performing the flanking move.  ‘B’ Squadron successfully supported an assault on the high ground overlooking the town, but further advance was delayed due to intense sniper fire and huge barriers formed by burning oil-drums.  They were determined on this occasion to prevent a repeat of Chauk and this time placed tanks to cover the river and engage boats attempting to cross, but fate played a hand and the garrison escaped under the cover of a rain-storm!  Nevertheless, the town with its associated oil-fields was captured intact on 22nd April and large quantities of materiel were taken, including artillery and trucks.

20th Indian Division meanwhile, with the armoured cars of the PAVO and the Stuarts of ‘C’ Squadron 7th Light Cavalry roaming far in front and to the eastern flank, was making rapid progress in its advance from Meiktila.  The strategically important town of Taungdwingyi fell unopposed to 32nd Brigade on 14th April, thereby cutting Japanese main supply route to Magwe.  100th Brigade then took over the lead and screened by the light armour, pushed on south toward Allanmyo.  80th Brigade, with the entire 150th RAC under command, struck out west to take Magwe from the rear. 

At Magwe, 150th RAC carried out the very first and last full three-squadron regimental-strength attack ever conducted by a regiment of Lee/Grant tanks during WW2!  In North Africa, armoured regiments had never contained more than two squadrons of Lee/Grant and in Burma the terrain often precluded fielding anything more than a squadron or two, but at Magwe the 150th RAC was able to assault the town in full battle-array!  The town was taken almost without opposition and 80th Brigade rounded up hundreds of INA prisoners, many of whom seemed overjoyed to be captured.  150th RAC meanwhile had a field-day, shooting up boats attempting to escape west across the Irrawaddy.

On 22nd April, ‘A’ Squadron 3rd Carabiniers, probing south from Yenangyaung, made contact with 20th Indian Division at Magwe and XXXIII Corps was once again united.  The HQ, ‘A’ & ‘B’ Squadrons 3rd Carabiniers were immediately sent east with 268th Lorried Brigade to join 20th Division’s advance on Rangoon, though ‘C’ Squadron remained with 7th Division.  Aside from that one squadron, the entirety of 254th Indian Tank Brigade was now under 20th Division’s command and would provide the armoured punch for the advance.

West of the Irrawaddy, the 114th Brigade of 7th Indian Division had relieved the 28th East African Brigade and on 19th April started advancing south in concert with the division’s advance down the east bank.  Japanese resistance was stiff in this sector and was only increasing due to units arriving from the Arakan and from the ejected former garrisons of Chauk, Yenangyaung and Magwe.  However, with the fall of Mount Popa on 19th April and the crushing of all Japanese resistance on the east bank, the bulk of 7th Division, including ‘C’ Squadron 3rd Carabiniers, were now transported over to the west bank.

British troops pass a former ‘C’ Squadron 3rd Carabiniers Lee, on Mount Popa 20th April 1945.

The Lees of ‘C’ Squadron 3rd Carabiniers provided the armoured ‘punch’ that 114th Brigade had been lacking in the previous weeks and consequently, 7th Indian Division with ‘C’ Squadron and 89th Brigade in the lead, was soon making good progress southward along the west bank.  On 28th April at Singaung, roughly opposite Magwe, the squadron engaged a troop of Type 95 Ha-Go Light Tanks (probably from the Japanese 54th Division Recce Regiment), destroying one and capturing two.  Capturing the town of Minbu on 29th April, they pushed on south but resistance once again stiffened and several tanks were lost to medium and large-calibre 75mm, 105mm and even 150mm artillery-pieces being deliberately sited in camouflaged, anti-tank ambush positions and firing at point-blank range. 

On 6th May one troop found itself facing its deadliest adversary yet; a captured British 25pdr Field Gun.  In a duel lasting almost half an hour, the troop commander’s tank stalked and exchanged enormous quantities of ammunition with the 25pdr until at last, his 75mm gun crew scored a direct hit, destroying the 25pdr and killing the entire Japanese crew.  This was to be ‘C’ Squadron’s final battle west of the Irrawaddy and they were released to rejoin their regiment, which was now advancing on Prome.

In the meantime, the rest of 3rd Carabiniers had been advancing south toward Allanmyo with 100th Brigade, at the head of 20th Indian Division.  150th RAC were following close behind, split between 32nd Brigade and 80th Brigade.  The PAVO and ‘C’ Squadron 7th Light Cavalry as always, were patrolling aggressively on the flanks.  ‘C’ Squadron 7th Light Cavalry suffered a tragic loss during this period, as their OC, who had won the DSO and two MCs during the previous year, was crushed as his tank rolled while attempting to negotiate a roadblock.  He was to die five months later. 

Allanmyo was reached on 28th April and 100th Brigade put in an attack, supported by the Carabiniers.  The 4/10th Gurkhas with ‘A’ Squadron in support, had a tough time capturing the northern end of the town and one Lee was knocked out by a Type 01 47mm Anti-Tank Gun.  However, the Japanese were eventually overwhelmed, suffering over 100 killed and the loss of one 47mm gun and two 75mm guns.

Shortly after the capture of Allanmyo, something new appeared in the midst of the Carabiniers… A Churchill infantry tank!  This solitary tank had been sent to 254th Tank Brigade on a trial basis, as the brigade was due to re-equip with Churchills and 149th RAC was already undergoing conversion back in India.  It appears to have been a Mk V armed with a 95mm close support howitzer, though it’s described as a 75mm-armed tank (Mk VI or Mk VII) in a number of secondary accounts.  However, reports indicate a severe difficulty in obtaining ammunition for it, which would not be the case with a 75mm-armed tank, as it would be able to use any 75mm ammunition used by the Lees and Shermans.  They were however, able to obtain some smoke ammunition for it and MG ammunition would not have been a problem, as it was armed with the same Besa MGs as the PAVO’s Daimler Armoured Cars.  Favourable reports were received regarding its cross-country and river-crossing performance, where it excelled when Lees bogged down, though it arrived too late to ever see action.

Stuart No.37 of ‘C’ Squadron 7th Light Cavalry, in the thick of the action near Prome, 29th April 1945.

‘A’ Squadron 3rd Carabiniers continued to push on with 100th Brigade toward Prome, fighting a number of sharp actions against Japanese roadblocks.  However, the monsoon had now broken and heavy rain was starting to swell the rivers, flood the paddies and make off-road movement extremely difficult.  On 2nd May, with the weather threatening to stall the advance, General Gracey ordered Lt Col Whetstone of the 3rd Carabiniers to form a column consisting of his regiment (which was still missing ‘C’ Squadron), ‘A’ Squadron PAVO, the 1/1st Gurkhas and a battery of Field Artillery and dash forward to seize the town by surprise and shock.  This mission was completed the following day without loss, the garrison having fled. 

‘C’ Squadron 7th Light Cavalry meanwhile, had a far harder time of it while screening the advance, losing an entire troop of three tanks to a single 47mm anti-tank gun and heavy artillery fire.  Nevertheless, aided by their Mortar Troop, the Indian cavalrymen exacted fine revenge over the next few days, eliminating a company-sized enemy force and capturing several 75mm guns and trucks, for no loss.  This was to be ‘C’ Squadron’s last action of the war, as they were soon ordered to halt their advance.  Baffled and angered by this order, they pretended not to hear it, but repeated orders finally persuaded them to stop.  The reason for this order would soon become clear: XV Corps had launched Operation DRACULA and preceded by an airborne assault, the 26th Indian Division had landed at Rangoon.  The main threat to XXXIII Corps was now perceived to be the Japanese 54th Division retreating from the Arakan.

However, with 7th Indian Division dealing effectively with the Japanese 54th Division on the opposite bank of the Irrawaddy, 20th Indian Division and 254th Indian Tank Brigade were ordered to resume the advance on Rangoon and prevent another Japanese formation, the 55th Division, which was based around Bassein, in the south-west corner of Burma, crossing the Irrawaddy from the west.  A cordon therefore needed to be established along the entire length of the Irrawaddy from Magwe to Rangoon. 

32nd Brigade, with 3rd Carabiniers and the PAVO under command, pressed on ever southward toward Tharawaddy, encountering little opposition except for one strong roadblock position on a river crossing, which was cleared with the support of ‘A’ Squadron 3rd Carabiniers.  Tharawaddy was taken on 15th May and as the PAVO pushed on to the south, they encountered the infantry of 71st Brigade, 26th Indian Division, accompanied by the Shermans of 19th (KGVO) Lancers (50th Indian Tank Brigade) pushing north.  They had already been beaten to Rangoon by IV Corps, but there was still much celebration at the successful completion of their mission.  However, there were still some battles to fight and a troop of Shermans of the 19th Lancers joined ‘A’ Squadron 3rd Carabiniers in an assault on a Japanese strongpoint.  Most surprisingly, Japanese tanks were encountered and the Lancers (who had not fired a shot until this point) managed to capture a Type 95 Ha-Go in running order as a trophy (the 3rd Carabiniers didn’t argue, as they already had several).

XXXIII Corps continued throughout the monsoon in fighting several sharp battles along the line of their cordon, which was stretched very thin along the Irrawaddy, especially at the railway junction town of Letpadan.  However, 254th Indian Tank Brigade’s part in the campaign was over and in June they drove to Rangoon docks and were embarked on board ships bound for India.

Models, Painting and Markings

I actually covered all this at the bottom of Part 7, but it’s worth adding that while the tanks of 3rd Carabiniers were in the main marked with AoS signs and squadron tac-signs, those of 150th RAC seem to have been largely unmarked aside from Allied Stars and individual tank names.  That said, photographs of the brigade’s tanks in Burma are very sparse, so can’t really be taken as a representative sample.  The Stuarts of the 7th Light Cavalry had very clearly-marked squadron tac-signs on the turret, but other markings were generally obscured by enormous quantities of stowage!

A new standard scheme of AoS markings was ordered in 1944, but only 255th Indian Tank Brigade seems to have followed it and the tanks of 254th Tank Brigade seem to have mainly followed the earlier version, shown here.  As discussed last time, 7th Light Cavalry are something of a conundrum, apparently keeping their old markings (e.g. yellow squadron tac-signs), even after being bumped down the seniority list from 2nd to 4th place with the arrival of 149th RAC and 150th RAC.  I expect that this is largely due to the fact that they were in almost constant combat from March 1944 to May 1945 and they had better things to do than repaint markings!

Here is the 1944 regulation list of AoS markings as they SHOULD have been painted, which definitely weren’t painted on the brigade’s tanks until well after they returned to India in June 1945.  I include it here as it shows the full range of supporting units:

I’ve had enough of Jungle Green for a while, so my next post will be something more colourful!  However, I will be back to complete the ‘Burma Armour’ story with 255th Indian Tank Brigade.

Posted in 15mm Figures, Battlefront: WW2, Painted Units, World War 2, World War 2 - British Commonwealth Armies, World War 2 - Burma Campaign | 3 Comments

The Forgotten Wargames Army: XIVth Army in Burma (Part 7 – 254th Indian Tank Brigade at Imphal 1944)

Stuart III light tanks of ‘B’ Squadron, Indian 7th Light Cavalry

For those who are still awake, here’s the next instalment of my series on the XIVth Army and specifically Commonwealth armoured units of the Burma Campaign.  What was originally going to be one simple article and then expanded to become two articles, is now about to become five articles…  Please try to control excitement…

In the last part I looked at the XV Corps Armoured Group, which was a temporary grouping of armoured, armoured recce and supporting units that fought during the 2nd Arakan Campaign of 1944.  This time I’m looking at one of the main permanent armoured formations, which fought from the Battle of Imphal in 1944 to the Battle of Mandalay and the final defeat of the Japanese Army in Burma in 1945.  The 254th Indian Tank Brigade was continually in combat for far longer than the other two tank brigades in Burma, so I’ve split this article into two: this part will deal with the Battle of Imphal and its immediate aftermath and Part 8 will deal with the 254th Indian Tank Brigade’s part in the final destruction of the Japanese armies in Burma.  Lastly, Part 9 will discuss the 255th Indian Tank Brigade.

254th Indian Tank Brigade

254th Indian Tank Brigade started life in April 1941 as the 4th Indian Armoured Brigade, assigned to 2nd Indian Armoured Division at Risalpur.  A short time later, the Indian Armoured Brigades and Divisions were re-numbered, partly to avoid confusion with British formations of the same number and partly as a counter-intelligence measure.  It therefore became the 254th Indian Armoured Brigade, assigned to the 32nd Indian Armoured Division.  In September 1942 the brigade moved to 44th Indian Armoured Division at Ranchi and the title changed again in October 1942, when it was re-designated as a Tank Brigade.  This subtle difference in title indicated that their primary role was now one of close infantry support rather than massed armoured exploitation.  Tank Brigades would ordinarily be equipped with ‘Infantry Tanks‘, but following the disastrous 1st Arakan Campaign of 1942-43, the Valentine was judged unsuitable for jungle warfare and the Churchill was simply not available due to the build-up in preparation for the Normandy Landings.  Consequently, the Indian Tank Brigades were in the process of replacing their Valentines with US-built medium tanks (Lee, Grant and Sherman) and light tanks (Stuart III).

In November 1943 the brigade became independent as it was placed in the reserve of Lieutenant General Bill Slim‘s XIVth Army.  The brigade had three armoured regiments; the 3rd Carabiniers (Prince of Wales’ Own Dragoon Guards) and the 25th Dragoons were equipped with Lee medium tanks, while the Indian 7th Light Cavalry were equipped with Stuart III (M3A1) light tanks.  In addition there were the motorised infantry of the 3/4th Bombay Grenadiers, the engineers of 401st Field Squadron, Royal Bombay Sappers & Miners, a troop of Valentine bridgelayers crewed by the Royal Armoured Corps (RAC) and other supporting elements.  The armoured regiments were at full strength (plus roughly a squadron’s worth of spare tanks in reserve for each regiment) and were organised along the following lines:

Stuart-equipped regiments in India/Burma now had a 3-inch Mortar Troop to partly make up for the lack of heavy HE capability.  They were also well furnished with 37mm HE and Canister rounds, which were simply unavailable to the Stuarts of 7th Armoured Brigade in 1942.  The 37mm Canister rounds proved particularly deadly against infantry in the open and also proved effective at clearing vegetation to open lines of fire and expose hidden bunkers. 

The 3rd Carabiniers were completely equipped with Lee medium tanks and had no Grants or Shermans.  Their Recce Troop was equipped with Daimler Dingo Scout Cars.  Like the Stuarts of the 7th Light Cavalry, the Lees had HE and Canister rounds for their 37mm turret gun, but it’s not clear if their 75mm sponson guns were also furnished with 75mm Canister round.  Such a round was certainly manufactured and its use by US troops in the Pacific is well documented, but I’ve not found a specific reference to 75mm Canister rounds being used in Burma (accounts of canister fire from Lee/Grants could simply be 37mm Canister).

However, as described last time, the 25th Dragoons (along with ‘A’ Company of the 3/4th Bombay Grenadiers and a troop of the 401st Field Squadron, Royal Bombay Sappers & Miners) were almost immediately sent to form the core of the XV Corps Armoured Group in the Arakan, leaving the 254th Tank Brigade with a reduced establishment of only one regiment each of Lee and Stuart. 

Lees of ‘C’ Squadron 3rd Carabiniers


The Battle of Imphal

In December 1943 the 254th Indian Tank Brigade was sent to Imphal in Manipur province, which was being defended by Lieutenant General Geoffry Scoones‘ IV Corps (the brigade was commanded by General Scoones’ younger brother, Brigadier Reginald Scoones).  In February 1944 the Japanese HA-GO Offensive erupted in the Arakan and correctly anticipating a further offensive against Manipur, Slim placed 254th Indian Tank Brigade directly under IV Corps command.

By the end of February it was clear from reports by Z-Force covert recce parties, allied native irregular units and signals intelligence that the Japanese were massing just across the Indian-Burmese border from Imphal.  IV Corps assessed that the more exposed Commonwealth formations (20th Indian Division in the Kabaw Valley to the east and 17th Indian Division at Tiddim to the south) would probably benefit from armoured support if they had to make a fighting withdrawal back to the Imphal Plain, so ‘A’ Squadron of the 3rd Carabiniers was sent east to 20th Division and ‘A’ Squadron of the 7th Light Cavalry was sent south to 17th Division.

The Japanese Operation U-GO offensive began in earnest on 6th March 1944.  The Japanese 15th Army launched three infantry divisions over the border to surround and besiege the Commonwealth IV Corps at Imphal; The 33rd Division, with 14th Tank Regiment under command, would advance from Kalemyo to take Tiddim and advance up the Manipur Valley to Imphal, detaching one regiment to cut the Silchar Track (a minor supply route to the west of Imphal).  The 31st Division would cross the border north of Imphal and drive west to take Kohima, thus cutting the main supply route to the railhead at Dimapur.  The 15th Division would advance in the centre, to directly assault Imphal.

‘A’ Squadron 3rd Carabiniers spent the first two weeks of March with 20th Indian Division seeing no sign at all of the enemy.  However, that all changed on the 16th, when one of its troops supported two companies of Gurkhas in repelling an attack by the Japanese 213th Infantry Regiment, inflicting heavy losses.  On the 18th a second major attack was similarly beaten off with help from the Carabiniers.  With the offensive only just started, the advance of the Japanese 213th Infantry Regiment was already stalling due to the presence of just a single squadron of tanks!  In exasperation, the Japanese commander ordered forward two platoons of the 1st Company of the 14th Tank Regiment, consisting of six Type 95 Ha-Go Light Tanks in an attempt to ambush the Lees. 

The Japanese commander chose his ground carefully; attacking the Lees from the flank, where the armour would be thinnest and where the Lees’ 75mm guns would be slow to bear.  Six Japanese tanks attacked six British tanks and the result was annihilation… for the Japanese.  Five Type 95 were destroyed outright and one was captured intact (and duly driven back to Imphal, to be later presented to Slim).  ‘A’ Squadron’s losses were light; no tanks were lost, though the Squadron Sergeant-Major was killed by fire when he exposed his head above the rim of his hatch.  Thanks to the efforts of ‘A’ Squadron 3rd Carabiniers, the 20th Indian Division was able to fall back unmolested from the Kabaw Valley and establish defensive positions on the Shenam Saddle and the mountains either side, thus blocking the eastern approaches to Palel and Imphal.

However, the situation in the south had not gone as smoothly.  The order for the 17th Indian Division to withdraw from its exposed forward positions beyond Fort White had arrived too late and they were already under strong attack by the Japanese 215th Infantry Regiment, while the 214th Infantry Regiment was moving around their flank to take Tiddim and attack them from the rear.  ‘A’ Squadron 7th Light Cavalry arrived in the midst of this deteriorating situation and on 18th March a single troop was rushed forward to make contact with 17th Division.  This was to be the very first time that an Indian tank unit had gone into action.  However, that troop found the road blocked in the area of Milestone 99 and they were soon under strong infantry attack.  With one tank becoming bogged and the other two tanks being knocked out one by one, the crews fought on foot, inflicting heavy losses on the enemy with the dismounted AAMGs until being finally overwhelmed.  Only one survivor escaping to tell the tale. 

On 22nd March, ‘A’ Squadron got its revenge as it supported an infantry attack on the same area, inflicting heavy losses on the enemy.  A further attack succeeded in recovering the three tanks lost in the first engagement at Milestone 99, though the Japanese had in the meantime succeeded in getting behind them and cutting the road at Milestone 96.  An attack by Stuarts and infantry from both sides of the roadblock put the enemy to flight and then the entire squadron spent the next week supporting the 17th Division’s rearguard as it successfully disengaged and re-established defensive positions on the Imphal Plain.

On 29th March the main road from Imphal, north to Kohima and Dimapur was cut by the Japanese 15th Division and IV Corps was officially under siege.  However, reinforcements from 5th Indian Division (fresh from the fighting in the Arakan) had already made it through just before the road was cut and among them were the men of ‘C’ Squadron 150th RAC, from 50th Indian Tank Brigade.  With their tanks still stuck at the Dimapur railhead, the squadron was allocated sixteen Lee medium tanks from 254th Tank Brigade’s reserve stocks (some sources say that these were ALL of the reserve Lees at Imphal) and was then assigned to the 3rd Carabiniers as their fourth armoured squadron, designated ‘YL’ Squadron (for Yorks & Lancs – the origin of 150th RAC).  Back at Dimapur, the rest of the squadron crewed five more reserve Lees (also dragooning some Gunners, Signallers and REME fitters in as tank crew) and went into action in support of 2nd Division at Kohima.  Thus ‘C’ Squadron 150th RAC was the only armoured unit to fight both in the siege AND in the relief force!

The fighting intensified in the mountains all around Imphal and most critically, elements of the Japanese 15th Division had managed to take the Nunshigum Ridge, which is an isolated feature, rising 1,000 feet above the Imphal Plain, only a short distance to the north of Imphal and directly overlooking the northern roads and IV Corps’ critical airfields.  There was absolutely no way that continued Japanese occupation of Nunshigum could be tolerated and the 1/7th Dogras were tasked with taking it back, supported by ‘B’ Squadron 3rd Carabiniers. 

The attack was launched up two narrow spurs (the only routes up the mountain that tanks could traverse) and each spur would be scaled by a troop of Lees.  The resistance was furious as the Japanese infantry threw themselves in suicidal attacks with lunge-mines and satchel-charges in desperate attempts to destroy the tanks.  The tank commanders were forced to defend their tanks from the turret with Tommy-guns, pistols and grenades and casualties were horrific, with both Troop Commanders and the Squadron OC, as well as all of the infantry KCOs being killed or wounded.  In many cases the tank turret crews also became casualties as they took over the commander’s seat and tanks were commanded by drivers, who directed the fire of the 75mm gun crew from their driver’s hatch!  With the attack stalling and virtually leaderless, the Squadron Sergeant-Major took control of ‘B’ Squadron, while the Dogras were rallied by a junior Subedar (the lowest rank of VCO).  Working their way along the ridge, bunker by bunker, the remaining Carabiniers and Dogras finally silenced the last enemy position and Nunshigum was taken, never to fall again. 

Lees of ‘B’ Sqn 3rd Carabiniers and infantry of 1/7th Dogras advance on the Nunshigum Ridge

On 20th April, ‘YL’ Squadron was sent into action on the southern sector, supporting elements of 17th & 20th Indian Divisions in the fighting for a succession of villages on the open paddy to the west of Logtak Lake.  These villages were thickly vegetated and surrounded by earth banks and thick hedges and the Japanese quickly turned them into fortified ‘islands’ among the dry paddy.  Key among these were the villages of Bishenpur (which marked the point at which the Silchar track emerged from the western mountains and joined the main Imphal-Tiddim road), Ningthoukong and Potsangbam.  Bishenpur was strongly held by British and Indian forces, but the other villages changed hands several times in bitter fighting over the following three months.  ‘YL’ Squadron’s baptism of fire was a hard one, as the Japanese managed to bring their new Type 01 47mm Anti-Tank Gun, which while obsolete by European standards, was more than capable of knocking out a Lee or Stuart and represented a considerable threat in the open paddy fields (I have a scenario for one of the early battles for Ningthoukong here). 

‘A’ Squadron 3rd Carabiniers and a troop from the 7th Light Cavalry were also committed to the Bishenpur sector 0n 25th April, though in that disastrous action, ‘A’ Squadron was reduced to just three tanks still in action, with one tank even being knocked out by a very lucky direct hit from a 320mm spigot-mortar (which had been brought to the battle on the back of an elephant)!  Nevertheless, most of the tanks were able to be repaired and were quickly back in action within a few days.  One Lee was even recovered and repaired by the Japanese, who added it to the strength of 6th Company, 14th Tank Regiment.  This battle is the subject of another scenario here and I have another scenario for a battle fought over the same ground on 8th May 1944 here (this last scenario formed the basis for our 2011 Bovington demo-game).

Meanwhile, in the north-eastern corner of the Imphal Perimeter, most of the 7th Light Cavalry were now in the hills, supporting 23rd Indian Division on the Ukhrul Track, particularly where it crossed a key terrain feature called the Litan Saddle.  In front of the 7th Light Cavalry was the newly-arrived 50th Indian Parachute Brigade.  However, the Paras’ defensive box at Sangshak was quickly surrounded and eventually overwhelmed by the rapid Japanese advance, leaving a gaping hole through which the Japanese poured, capturing the critical Litan Saddle!  A counter-attack was immediately organised with 7th Light Cavalry and part of ‘A’ Squadron 3rd Carabiniers in support.  This counter-attack cleared the saddle of Japanese and that sector remained quiet for several weeks.  However, on 10th June the Japanese launched another strong attack and took several features overlooking the Ukhrul road, known as the Turret, the Bastion and the Beacon.  Hard fighting by the infantry, supported by ‘B’ Squadron 7th Light Cavalry soon regained the Turret and Bastion, though the Beacon was too steep for the Stuarts to climb.  The solution was found in a bulldozer equipped with a winch; the (unarmoured) bulldozer was able to climb the slope and then winch the Stuarts up the hill, allowing them to join the attack.

On the eastern side of the perimeter, the 23rd Indian Division, frequently supported by ‘A’ Squadron 3rd Carabiniers, was fighting hard to maintain control of the Shenam Saddle, once again fighting over dominant mountain peaks and high ridges, the most critical of which was known as ‘Scraggy’.  Again, the tanks were critical to the defence and the Japanese couldn’t counter them.  The Japanese army commander had originally sent the 14th Tank Regiment to that sector, hoping to break through the pass and smash the enemy’s centre using his tanks.  However, following the earlier disastrous encounter with British tanks and with the defenders of the Shenam Saddle unwilling to budge, the 14th Tank Regiment was ordered to make its way back south and then to follow the Tiddim road to join the battle at Bishenpur, where the more open terrain would theoretically be more suitable for the tanks.  This manoeuvre would take the best part of a month to complete.

North of Imphal, the Japanese units on the Kohima/Dimapur road had got closest to Imphal and had established a strongpoint straddling the road at Kanglatongbi.  123 Brigade, with ‘C’ Squadron 3rd Carabiniers and ‘C’ Squadron 7th Light Cavalry fought almost continuously from late April onwards to clear the road and on 25th May finally recaptured Kanglantongbi.

A Valentine Bridgelayer deploys its bridge, allowing the Lees of 3rd Carabiniers to bypass Japanese defences near Bishenpur.

The fighting around Bishenpur in the southern sector continued to swing back and forth several times during April and May.  ‘YL’ Squadron were in the thick of the action in the hills west of Bishenpur and on the Silchar Track, while ‘A’ Squadron 3rd Carabiniers, along with a troop of the 7th Light Cavalry, were fighting among the paddy fields and villages alongside Logtak Lake.  The Valentine Bridgelayers of 2nd Independent Bridging Troop RAC made themselves invaluable as they bridged the deep ‘nullahs’ that cut across the plain between the mountains and the lake, thus allowing the tanks to bypass fortified villages and attack from the flank.  Having been in action every day since their arrival at Imphal, on 23rd May the personnel of ‘YL’ Squadron were flown out to rejoin 150th RAC and their tanks were redistributed to 3rd Carabiniers, which was now reduced to three weak squadrons.

A Lee of 254th Indian Tank Brigade. This one has the long 75mm gun and Sherman-style cupola. Note the two holes low on the glacis plate: these are twin .30 Cal MG ports and some tanks of 3rd Carabiniers were actually fitted with the MGs at Imphal.

In late May, with the monsoon having begun, the Japanese 214th Regiment circled around Bishenpur via the western mountains, to get behind that fortified town and cut the main road to Imphal at the village of Marbam.  They also seized the isolated, steep-sided peak of ‘Red Hill’ (Point 2926, which overlooks Marbam at the northern end of Logtak Lake) and even came within a whisker of capturing 17th Indian Division Headquarters!  This new incursion was very close to Imphal itself and General ‘Punch’ Cowan, GOC 17th Division immediately organised a counter-attack. 

With the tanks of 254th Tank Brigade being run ragged all around the Imphal perimeter, numbers were starting to get critical.  The only uncommitted armoured reserve left to IV Corps was just two troops of Stuarts belonging to the 7th Light Cavalry and these were now sent to Cowan’s aid, along with an understrength Carabinier troop of two Lee tanks that were sent back from ‘A’ Squadron at Bishenpur.  After several days of fighting, the Carabiniers once again proved their mettle as ‘mountain troops’, as one of the Lees fought its way up the precipitous slope, onto the very peak of Red Hill (shortly before losing control and careering all the way down the other side)!  The back of the Japanese defence of Marbam and Red Hill had been broken and would completely collapse two days later on 29th May.  Of the 400 or so Japanese troops sent to Marbam, only 40 survived the battle.

In the north, the Japanese 31st Division was being ground down around Kohima by the leading elements of XXXIII Corps; principally the British 2nd Division, the 28th East African Brigade and the 7th Indian Division.  As mentioned above, the only armoured support available to the leading elements of XXXIII Corps was initially formed by five reserve Lees, crewed by the ‘rear party’ of ‘C’ Squadron 150th RAC (50th Tank Brigade), who had been left behind at Dimapur when the rest of the squadron went forward to form ‘YL’ Squadron at Imphal. 

Lees of ‘C’ Squadron 150th RAC laager in jungle somewhere near Kohima. the Sherman V is an attached OP tank belonging to 18th Field Regiment RA, which was otherwise equipped with Priest self-propelled 105mm guns.  It’s difficult to see here, but the Sherman has the circular form of the XIVth Army badge painted centrally on the transmission housing.

After a few days, ‘C’ Squadron 150th RAC were joined at Kohima by 149th RAC (also from 50th Tank Brigade), equipped with Grant tanks, though minus its ‘C’ Squadron, which was operating Shermans in the Arakan.  Further armoured support soon arrived in the form of the 45th Light Cavalry equipped with Stuart III and the armoured cars of Prince Albert Victor’s Own (11th Frontier Force) Cavalry (or ‘PAVO’ for short).  These latter two regiments belonged to XXXIII Corps Troops and were primarily involved in keeping the route back to Dimapur open and clear of Japanese road-blocks.  

Fox Armoured Car

The PAVO were mostly equipped with Daimler Armoured Cars and Dingo Scout Cars, though also included motorised infantry, 3-inch mortars mounted in India Pattern Wheeled Carriers and MG-armed ‘Humber’ Armoured Cars in the Regiment HQ and Squadron HQs.  The ‘Humbers’ had a three-man turret, which allowed room for a radio operator, making them ideal HQ cars.  From the description, these would initially appear to have been Humber Mk III Armoured Cars, though photographic evidence actually reveals them to have been Fox Armoured Cars, which were Canadian-built copies of the Humber Mk III, being identical in terms of bodywork, but mechanically different and armed with Browning .50-cal and .30-cal MGs instead of Besa 15mm and 7.92mm.  The regiment’s ‘Dingos’ may also actually have been Canadian-built Lynx Scout Cars.

The fighting at Kohima was almost certainly some of the most intense and brutal close-quarter fighting of the war and casualties were heavy on both sides.  However, over two months of bitter combat XXXIII Corps had managed to steadily lever the Japanese out of their deeply fortified positions around the town.  As at Imphal, the tanks seemed to be everywhere, providing intimate close support to the infantry.  At last on 31st May, the starving and shattered survivors of the Japanese 31st Division began to pull back from Kohima and this withdrawal soon turned into a rout.  As the 7th Indian Division pursued the Japanese up into the mountains and over the border into Burma, the 2nd Division, with 149th RAC at the fore, pushed on down the Imphal road, tackling numerous Japanese road-blocks and strongpoints along the way.

Back at Imphal, the Japanese 33rd Division, despite having taken horrific casualties from three months of continuous attacks plus starvation and disease, now renewed their attacks around Binshenpur.  At long last, the Japanese 14th Tank Regiment was to be committed en masse to the battle.  This unit had started the campaign with 66 tanks; mostly Type 97 Shinhoto Ch-Ha Medium Tanks, with a company of Type 95 Ha-Go Light Tanks, a company of Type 01 Ho-Ni 1 75mm Tank Destroyers and a platoon-sized company of M3 Stuarts, captured from the British 7th Armoured Brigade in 1942.  The regiment had initially accompanied the 213th Infantry Regiment to the Shenam Saddle, though as described above, had lost six tanks while trying to ambush the 3rd Carabiniers and following further attempts to support the fruitless attacks in the Shenam Saddle, had then been withdrawn from that sector to support the main advance up the Tiddim Road.  The regiment was already down to 40 tanks by this point.  The Ho-Ni 1 tank destroyers (the regiment’s 5th Company) were then for some reason left behind at Fort White and the regiment then lost another six tanks in combat at Torbung.  A steady trickle of breakdowns and combat-losses continued to whittle down the regiment’s strength until they were finally committed to combat in early June, by which time they had been reduced to only three light tanks and eleven medium tanks.

At dawn on 8th June, the Ha-Go light tanks of 1st Company 14th Tank Regiment, with the mediums in overwatch support, led yet another assault on Ningthoukong.  Only one Ha-Go managed to cross the stream, yet it gave valuable support and the Japanese managed to establish a toe-hold within the village despite strong resistance from the 1st West Yorks (with Sgt Harold Turner of the 1st West Yorks earning a posthumous VC).  The 3rd Carabiniers were unable to intervene, as the paddies were now flooded and the only approach to Ningthoukong from the north was along the embanked main road, which was covered by Japanese anti-tank guns. 

The Japanese 14th Tank Regiment arrives!

Preceded by a massive artillery barrage, an even stronger Japanese attack erupted on the 12th and the rest of 14th Tank Regiment joined the general assault in an effort to eject the British and Gurkha infantry from Ningthoukong.  The 3rd Carabiniers attempted to intervene along the embanked road, but the leading tank was knocked out and the rest of the troop withdrew.  Nevertheless, most of the Japanese tanks had bogged down and the surviving 2pdr anti-tank gun claimed two of them.  A third tank was destroyed by a PIAT wielded by a Gurkha officer.  Three more bogged tanks were attacked by Gurkha Rifleman Ganju Lama, who had already won the MM a few weeks earlier for destroying two tanks on the Tiddim Road.  He now destroyed all three tanks with a PIAT and despite serious wounds, killed the crews as they attempted to escape.  Lama was awarded the VC.

A 3rd Carabiniers Lee at Imphal.

The ‘Third Battle of Bishenpur’ proved to be the last major attempt by the Japanese 33rd Division to push forward across the plain toward Bishenpur and Imphal.  Many of their battalions were now reduced to the strength of strong platoons and the survivors were starving.  On 14th June the monsoon intensified and it rained solidly for several days, flooding the plain around Ningthoukong to a depth of two feet and making offensive movement virtually impossible for either side.  However, the Japanese were still attempting to attack in the hills to the west of Bishenpur and along the Silchar Track and would continue attacking in that sector right through to the end of June.

However, events in the north were very much going the way of the Allies.  On 22nd June, at Milestone 109 on the Imphal-Dimapur road, a patrol from the 1/17th Dogras, together with tanks from the 3rd Carabiniers and 7th Light Cavalry were pushing north when they met a patrol from the 1st DLI, accompanied by tanks from 149th RAC pushing south.  With the Japanese 31st Division already broken in the north and 33rd Division starting to break in the south, only the weakened 15th Division remained fully in action, still fighting with 23rd Indian Division for control of the Shenam Saddle.  However, with the road to Dimapur finally re-opened, the Siege of Imphal was finally over.  

Relief, Reorganisation and Pursuit

Slim declared his intention to continue fighting through the monsoon.  The XIVth Army would not let up for a single moment in its pursuit and destruction of the defeated Japanese 15th Army.  Although reinforcements and replacements had once again started to flow into Imphal, there was very little opportunity for rest and reorganisation in 254th Tank Brigade.  The 3rd Carabiners pursued the defeated 33rd Division down the Tiddim road and eventually reached the 9,000 foot Kennedy Peak, thereby breaking the world altitude record for armoured warfare!  ‘C’ Squadron of 7th Light Cavalry meanwhile, was attached to 11th (East African) Division for the pursuit of the defeated 31st Division over the mountains and into the Kabaw Valley, even reaching the River Chindwin.

A Lee of 3rd Carabiniers at Fort White, near Kennedy Peak, during the pursuit of the Japanese 33rd Division.  The original photo mistakenly identifies this as a tank of the 25th Dragoons, but that regiment was already back in India, having fought in the Arakan with XV Corps, when this photo was taken.  I’m no expert, but the deleted side-doors and riveted hull would suggest that this is a Lee Mk VI (M3A4).  Note the long 75mm gun and Sherman-style cupola.

The detachment of engineers and Bombay Grenadiers who had been detached to XV Corps in the Arakan now finally rejoined the brigade and 149th RAC was permanently transferred in from 50th Tank Brigade, thereby bringing the brigade back to full strength.  149th RAC had also been reunited with its ‘C’ Squadron, which had been operating Sherman tanks with XV Corps, but which now was equipped with Lees (the rest of the 149th RAC was equipped with Grants).  149th RAC were now sent to the Shenam Saddle, to assist 23rd Indian Division in finally pushing the Japanese 15th Division out of the mountains and back into the Kabaw Valley.  However, 149th RAC weren’t at Imphal for very long, as they were withdrawn in August to India, to re-equip with Churchill infantry tanks.  Although they remained on the strength of 254th Tank Brigade, they wouldn’t see front-line service again. 

150th RAC (whose ‘C’ Squadron had seen action at both Imphal and Kohima) was also being formally transferred from 50th Tank Brigade to 254th Tank Brigade at this time, though their move to Imphal was delayed first by the need to fully re-equip from Valentine infantry tanks to Lee medium tanks and also by the monsoon.  They would finally join 254th Tank Brigade on a permanent basis in November 1944, thus bringing the brigade’s front-line strength back up to three armoured regiments; 3rd Carabiniers, 150th RAC and 7th Light Cavalry in Burma, with 149th RAC in India.

There was a further boost to the forward-deployed armoured strength of XIVth Army with the arrival at Imphal of 255th Indian Tank Brigade, which was powerfully-equipped with three regiments of Sherman V (M4A4) medium tanks.  With 254th Tank Brigade still in action, the 255th spent its time at Imphal wisely learning the lessons of the recent battles and training intensively in infantry/artillery/air cooperation and combined-arms battlegroup tactics.  This intensive period of training would reap dividends during the coming offensive, but I’ll talk more about the 255th Tank Brigade in Part 9.

There is one curious footnote to this period of reorganisation; The excellent ‘Warwheels‘ website lists 13x Daimler Armoured Cars, 18x Fox Armoured Cars and 4x Lynx Scout Cars as being on the strength of the 7th Light Cavalry at Imphal during this time.  The document even lists all their registration numbers and gives their Arm-of-Service serial marking as ‘7’, which is the correct serial for 7th Light Cavalry after the reorganisation, so this seems to be based on solid evidence.  However, apart from a few Dingo or Lynx scout cars with the Recce Troop, I can find no evidence that the 7th Light Cavalry ever used armoured cars and every scrap of evidence right up to the end of the war mentions (or photographs) Stuart light tanks.  It’s possible that these were part of a planned (though cancelled) reorganisation, such as that being undertaken by 11th (East African) Recce Regiment in India at this time, who were reorganising as a mixed regiment of Stuart light tanks, Universal Carriers and Fox armoured cars.  Or perhaps they were already in storage at Imphal before the siege started and were being maintained as reserve vehicles?  Alternatively, perhaps they were being held administratively by HQ 7th Light Cavalry for an armoured car regiment such as the 16th Light Cavalry, pending the arrival of personnel?  Or perhaps the author has simply mis-identified the regiment? It’s something of a puzzler.

As the XIVth Army pushed deeper into Burma, the 254th Indian Tank Brigade passed to the control of Lieutenant General Montagu Stopford‘s XXXIII Corps, with whom it would fight for the rest of the war.  Their role as the armoured element of IV Corps was taken by the newly-arrived 255th Indian Tank Brigade.  Next time I’ll look at the battles of 254th Indian Tank Brigade as they fought with XXXIII Corps to finally destroy the Imperial Japanese Army in Burma.

Models, Painting and Markings

The models shown nere are 15mm (1:100th) models from my own collection, painted by me.  The Lees are by Battlefront Miniatures/Flames of War, while the Stuarts are by Forged in Battle Miniatures.  I tried to get US Lee models, as they lack the sand-skirts of the British models (though I did also end up getting some British ones with sand-skirts, due to problems of availability).  The supporting infantry are XIVth Army infantry by Peter Pig.

I discussed the various types of tank and paint colours in Part 5.  The tanks at Imphal would have been almost universally painted in S.C.C. 13 ‘Jungle Green’.  The Stuarts of 7th Light Cavalry were all Stuart Mk III (M3A1), while the Lees and Grants of the other regiments were a mix of marks.  Most seem to have been fitted with long M3 75mm guns, with the remainder having the short M2 75mm gun.  Some of the latter were fitted with muzzle-counterweights.  The distribution of Lee to Grant is mentioned above, though some Lees may have been fitted with Grant turrets, which muddies the waters somewhat!  Of those with Lee turrets, most seem to have been fitted with Sherman-style cupolas with a split hatch, while the remainder still had their old miniature turret-like cupolas (though I’ve never seen a photo of one fitted with the MG originally installed in the cupola by the American manufacturers).

The markings for 254th Tank Brigade are something of a nightmare to exactly pin down.  To start with, the brigade sign is not visible in any photograph or film that I’ve examined.  This may be because the colours are impossible to see in black & white photography (exacerbated by layers of crud on the tanks), or it may simply be because they didn’t paint them on the vehicles. We know that the brigade patch was a red inverted triangle, with a tank-track in black, somewhat macabrely dripping black drops of blood.  This was a pictorial representation of the brigade’s motto ‘Blood on the Tracks’.  This badge was certainly used as a uniform patch, though often with the ‘drops of blood’ cut off.  However, it wasn’t unusual for a formation’s vehicle-sign to differ from the patch worn by the men; 255th Indian Tank Brigade were one such example, so it’s possible that the ‘Blood on the Tracks’ badge was not used as a vehicle sign… 

But I’ve painted it anyway… 🙂

There is also evidence to suggest that the brigade applied for permission to use the XIVth Army badge, though there is no evidence that they received permission.  However, according to a book by Bryan Perrett, one veteran officer of the 7th Light Cavalry described his tank as bearing the ‘shield-shaped’ XIVth Army badge (which is doubly curious, as the XIVth Army badge was usually shown in circular form when painted on vehicles).

The waters are muddied even further by Sandhu’s official history of the Indian Armoured Corps, which shows the brigade’s badge (minus the blood drops) upside-down and with a yellow/orange, not red backing.  I can only assume that his only reference was a faded cloth patch that he was viewing upside-down?  Sandhu’s version is shown on the right.

The brigade’s AoS markings from December 1943 onwards (following the departure of 25th Dragoons) are shown below.  Note that I’ve only listed the brigade’s main combat units, as I simply have no idea regarding the serial numbers for the various supporting elements:

I’ve shown the brigade badge above both with and without the ‘drops’, as well as the XIVth Army badge in its shield form.  As discussed above, the brigade’s tanks might have carried any one (or none) of these badges.

A Lee of 3rd Carabiniers. Note the cupola, short 75mm gun with muzzle counterweight and ‘4’ AoS serial painted centrally on the transmission housing.

There are plenty of photos showing 3rd Carabiniers Lees with the ‘4’ AoS serial, as well as dark-coloured (presumably regulation red) squadron signs on the turret sides (and sometimes on the turret rear and upper hull front).  The squadron signs were sometimes filled with black and invariably contained a number – either white or black.  I’d originally thought that these were troop numbers (e.g. a ‘C’ Squadron tank with ’12’), but I now thing that these must have been tank numbers (1 to 16) within each squadron.  for example, the ‘C’ Squadron Commander’s tank had ‘1’ and a ‘B’ Squadron tank was pictured with ’14’, which rules out the troop number idea. 

‘C’ Squadron Commander’s tank, 3rd Carabiniers, photographed in 1945. Note the black-filled circular squadron sign with ‘1’, signifying the 1st tank in the squadron.  Note also the large, wonky Allied star that was applied in 1945.

The only markings visible on tanks of the 7th Light Cavalry are the squadron signs, which were painted on the turret sides.  I’ve not found any with visible brigade signs or AoS signs, which is a shame, though not surprising as the tanks were usually liberally covered in stowage.  I decided to paint the XIVth Army shield on mine, in line with Bryan Perrett’s veteran description.  The AoS sign was red-over-yellow in accordance with Indian Armoured Corps regulations (Perrett shows it as yellow-over-red, but I’m not convinced, as the other regiments all definitely had red-over-yellow) and should have had the ‘5’ serial as the 2nd regiment of the brigade, changing to ‘7’ following the arrival of the 149th and 150th RAC.  However, Bryan Perrett’s veteran account describes the serial as ’37’, so I’ve gone with that.

A Stuart of ‘B’ Squadron, 7th Light Cavalry

The squadron signs appear in black and white photographs as being pale coloured, though not as pale as the (presumably) white numbers within.  This would make sense, as according to regulations the squadron signs would have been changed from light blue to yellow when they became the brigade’s 2nd regiment in December 1943.  This is confirmed by Bryan Perrett’s interview with a veteran who stated that as the second most-senior regiment of the brigade, the 7th Light Cavalry had  yellow squadron signs.  However, they don’t appear to have changed the colour following the arrival of 149th RAC and 150th RAC (they should then have switched to bright green signs as the 4th regiment), but that’s hardly surprising, as they were then in near-constant combat throughout the period and probably simply didn’t have time to repaint.  The squadron signs were invariably filled with black, with white numbers; e.g. ’32’ on a ‘B’ Squadron tank and ’37’ on a ‘C’ Squadron tank.  This numbering system makes sense if they were individual tank numbers as counted through the entire regiment (e.g. 1-4 for the RHQ, 5 to 20 for ‘A’ Squadron, 21 to 36 for ‘B’ Squadron and 37 to 52 for ‘C’ Squadron).  This style of numbering system was actually quite common among British regiments in NW Europe).

I’ve no idea what tank or troop numbering systems were used by 149th RAC and 150th RAC.  they may have used one of the systems described for 3rd Carabiniers or 7th Light Cavalry or they may have alternatively used troop numbers (e.g. 1-4 for ‘A’ Squadron, 5-8 for ‘B’ Squadron and 9-12 for ‘C’ Squadron, with ‘HQ’ painted for the HQ Troops) or they may have numbered the troops within each squadron (i.e. HQ, 1, 2, 3 or 4).

The brigade’s AoS markings changed in late 1944 to the scheme shown below.  Note that 7th Light Cavalry were now bumped down the seniority list.  While in 50th Indian Tank Brigade, 149th and 150th RAC actually held the same seniority positions, so didn’t need to change their markings when they transferred to the 254th, other than paint out the old brigade sign and (perhaps) paint the new one:

In 1945 all vehicles were painted with large white Allied stars.  The Lees had ENORMOUS stars on the side of the hull, which actually wrapped around the front-left corner of the hull.  The Stuarts of 7th Light Cavalry had stars either on the hull sides or turret sides.  All tanks were also required to paint a circled star on the turret roof or engine-deck, though I’ve never seen any photos taken from above to confirm this.  

Anyway, that’s enough for now.  Next time I’ll follow the 254th Indian Tank Brigade on the Road to Mandalay (and Rangoon).

Posted in 15mm Figures, Battlefront: WW2, Painted Units, World War 2, World War 2 - British Commonwealth Armies, World War 2 - Burma Campaign | 3 Comments

The Forgotten Wargames Army: XIVth Army in Burma (Part 6 – XV Corps Armoured Group)

As discussed in the last part of this series of articles, I’m presently looking at the British and Indian armoured units that fought in the Burma Campaign of World War 2.  In the last article I looked at the British 7th Armoured Brigade, which fought to delay the Japanese advance into Burma during 1942, then the 50th Indian Tank Brigade, which after having a difficult ‘birth’ in the 1st Arakan Campaign of 1942/43, went on to provide armoured units to XXXIII Corps for the relief of Kohima and Imphal in 1944 and then to support operations by XV Corps to finally drive the Japanese out the Arakan in 1944/45. 

This time I’ll be looking at the XV Corps Armoured Group and specifically the 25th Dragoons, who gave the Japanese their first real bloody nose in Burma.  

XV Corps Armoured Group

Following the defeat of the 1st Arakan Campaign of early 1943, Lieutenant General Bill Slim‘s XV Corps immediately began the process of learning the lessons of the campaign, re-training and planning a renewed offensive.  With the elevation of Slim to command the new XIVth Army later that year, command of XV Corps passed to Lieutenant General Phillip Christison, who continued Slim’s good work in hardening the army for jungle warfare and also developed Slim’s plan for a new Arakan offensive, with the limited objective of recapturing Akyab Island and its all-weather airfield and port.

The XV Corps plan was for the 5th Indian Division to attack down the Arakan coast, with the Mayu mountain ‘spine’ on their left.  On the other side of the mountains, 7th Indian Division would attack down the Kalapanzin Valley.  On the extreme left flank, the 81st (West African) Division would use it’s ultra-light capability to penetrate the dense jungle of the Kaladan Valley and guard against any Japanese attack from that direction.  The 26th Indian Division would be in reserve at Chittagong, with the & 36th Indian Division in deep reserve at Calcutta.  Elements of these divisions, along with elements of 3 Special Service Brigade, would be made available to mount amphibious attacks along the coast.

With the 50th Indian Tank Brigade having been withdrawn to India in 1943 to re-train for Operation ZIPPER, XV Corps was lacking an significant armoured capability.  It had some light armoured recce capability in the form of the Mechanised Wing of the 3rd Gwalior Lancers and the 81st (West African) Recce Regiment, but what XV Corps needed was a full regiment of medium tanks armed with 75mm guns that would be capable of destroying the types of bunkers that had been encountered during the previous Arakan Campaign. Slim therefore ordered 254th Indian Tank Brigade to transfer one of its two Lee medium tank-equipped armoured regiments to XV Corps.  The regiment selected was the 25th Dragoons, which was a new regiment, having been raised in India in 1941 from a cadre of the 3rd Carabiniers.  They were moved with the utmost secrecy to the Arakan. 

Some peculiarities of the 25th Dragoons’ organisation were that the Recce Troop (referred to as the ‘Scout Troop’ in most accounts) consisted of Universal Carriers and Jeeps instead of armoured wheeled scout cars.  The Intercom Troop however, included four Lynx Scout Cars (Canadian Ford version of the ubiquitous Daimler Dingo).  As soon as Japanese counter-attacks became apparent on 4th February, an ad hoc reserve squadron was created from spare tanks and personnel in the regimental rear-echelon area.  This unit, designated as ‘R’ Squadron, was placed temporarily under the command of 5th Indian Division (the rest of the regiment at that time was with 7th Indian Division).  Unfortunately I have no information as to the strength of ‘R’ Squadron.

A Lee of the 25th Dragoons, fires on Japanese positions in the Ngakyedauk Pass 1944

Owing to the secrecy of their move (not only to conceal the fact that tanks were being moved to the Arakan, but also to conceal which units were on the move), all markings were ordered removed from the vehicles of the 25th Dragoons.  Hardly any photos of 25th Dragoons’ tanks show markings of any kind, not even squadron markings.  However, some bore individual tank names, which were usually painted in white above or near the top of the side-doors or  front-quarter and sometimes at the top of the glacis, and occasionally a number on the upper glacis, being perhaps a troop number or individual tank number.

A tank regiment couldn’t survive in isolation and was going to need a lot of support from other arms, so ‘A’ Company of the 3rd Battalion, 4th Bombay Grenadiers (Motor Battalion) was assigned to provide close infantry support.  The Motor Company organisation was large, with four platoons, each of three sections.  This allowed a platoon to be assigned to provide close security for each of the armoured regiment’s four squadrons.  A troop of the 401st Field Squadron, Royal Bombay Sappers & Miners, along with an independent troop of 6x Valentine Bridgelayers would ensure that roads, tracks and bridges in the area of operations were capable of dealing with 30-ton tanks.  The Engineer Field Troop included some Universal Carriers for engineer recce tasks (e.g. going forward to survey routes, bridges, harbour areas, etc).

Lees of the 25th Dragoons in the Ngakyedauk Pass, 1944

There was no Armoured Brigade Headquarters within XV Corps, so in January 1944 an ad hoc Armoured Group Headquarters was created under Colonel S. H. ‘Atte’ Persse of the Indian Armoured Corps (who had earlier been directly tasked by Slim to get the 25th Dragoons, plus support to the Arakan) to take control of the growing number of RAC/IAC units and their supporters.

As mentioned above, the only ‘armoured’ unit initially under the command of XV Corps Headquarters was the Mechanised Wing of the 3rd Gwalior Lancers.  This regiment belonged to the ‘Indian States Forces’ (ISF), which were units raised by the myriad of quasi-independent ‘Princely states’ and seconded to the Indian Army.  The Mechanised Wing comprised two squadrons of Universal Carriers.  The regiment’s Horsed Wing, comprising two squadrons of the very last horse-mounted cavalry in Commonwealth service, was assigned to 7th Indian Division as their divisional recce element.

I’ve got very little exact information on the organisation, uniforms or markings for 3rd Gwalior Lancers, though as the Corps Recce Regiment their vehicles should have carried the XV Corps badge shown above, which was three ‘V’s on a red disc.  The Vs represent a corps of three divisions advancing south and when added together as roman numerals add up to 15.  The Vs could be white or black – both are seen in photos.  The Arm-of-Service (AoS) sign should have been a green-over-light blue square, with ’44’ serial and a white bar across the top to signify corps troops, with white squadron signs signifying an unbrigaded regiment.  I doubt that these were painted on the horses’ arses however, but never say never…

As the 81st (West African) Division had been sent to the dense jungle of the Kaladan Valley, the division’s heavier elements were largely left behind with XV Corps.  81 WA Recce Regiment was therefore adopted to supplement the 3rd Gwalior Lancers in the Corps Recce role.  The regiment comprised three squadrons; ‘A’ Squadron being Nigerian, ‘B’ Squadron being from the Gold Coast and ‘C’ Squadron from Sierra Leone. 

Universal Carrier of ‘B’ (Gold Coast) Sqn, 81 WA Recce Regt

Each Squadron had two mixed Recce Troops with Universal Carriers and ‘armoured scout cars’ of an unknown type (probably Dingos) and two Assault Troops, being large motorised infantry platoons, with four rifle sections apiece.  The HQ Squadron also included a 3-inch Mortar Troop transported by Universal Carriers.

The men of 81 WA Recce Regt unusually continued to wear KD uniforms through the first half of 1944 and generally wore steel helmets.  By contrast, the rest of 81 WA Division in the Kaladan Valley left their helmets in depot, wore bush-hats and began to receive JG uniforms (by air-drop) in January 1944.  81 WA Recce Regt’s vehicles were marked with the divisional sign of Ananse, the cunning spider of West African legend, depicted in black with two white eyes, facing downward on a yellow background.  The yellow background was usually square when painted on vehicles, though circular when worn as a uniform badge and there is a photo of an 81 WA Recce Regt Carrier with the circular version painted on the side of the barbette (between the headlight and the Bren-port).  The AoS sign was that of an infantry division recce regiment; green-over-light blue with ’41’ serial.  Squadron signs were white.

As mentioned in the last article, ‘C’ Squadron 149th RAC was temporarily attached from 50th Indian Tank Brigade and was a late addition to the XV Corps Armoured Group, arriving in April 1944 to replace the departing 25th Dragoons and being withdrawn the following month to rejoin its parent regiment at Kohima.  The squadron was equipped with Sherman V medium tanks and as such, was the first Sherman unit to fight in the Burma Campaign.

XV Corps slowly built up the pressure on the Japanese 55th Division in the Mayu Peninsula through November and December 1943 into January 1944.  81st (West African) Division had crossed over the mountains into the Kaladan Valley, where it was steadily advancing on Kyauktaw, meeting only light resistance, building roads and airstrips as it went.  7th Indian Division by contrast, was meeting stiff resistance in the Kalapanzin Valley, though was making reasonable progress.  5th Indian Division advanced down the western side of the Mayu Range until it reached the Maungdaw-Buthindaung road, facing the ‘Razabil Fortress’ which had proved to be an insurmountable obstacle 12 months previously.  During this period, the 81st West African Recce Regt had one squadron guarding the Naf Peninsula west of the Naf river, while the rest of the regiment patrolled the western side of the Mayu Range from Maungdaw to Bawli Bazaar, watching for Japanese infiltration in concert with covert recce parties from ‘Z Force’.  The 3rd Gwalior Lancers did likewise east of the Mayu Range, with some patrols east of the Kalapanzin River.

Vengeance dive-bomber

On 26th January 1944, 5th Indian Division launched Operation JONATHAN; a deliberate assault on the Razabil Fortress.  The assault started with a dawn bombardment by the Allied Strategic Air Force, followed by wings of RAF and IAF Vengeance dive-bombers and a heavy barrage by 5th Division and XV Corps artillery, concentrating mainly on the fortified hilltop known as ‘TORTOISE’.  Unfortunately, while the Liberator heavy bombers were accurate, some Mitchell medium bombers attacked the wrong target and tragically succeeded in destroying one of the 25th Dragoons’ tanks and damaging two others, with one man killed and six wounded. 

As the barrage lifted, the tanks of 25th Dragoons moved forward in their very first engagement, blasting at close range the Japanese bunkers that had been exposed by the high-explosive onslaught.  The tanks proved highly effective in this role, but couldn’t negotiate all of the terrain and couldn’t be everywhere at once.  Consequently, as the infantry moved forward, the Japanese infantry, who had remained relatively safe in their deep bunkers and tunnels, some of them 30 feet underground, now re-emerged to cause horrific casualties among some units.  For example, the Sikh Company of the 1/1st Punjab Regiment was reduced to only 21 men. 

During this battle, ‘A’ Squadron of the 81st West African Recce Regiment was unfortunately misused by 5th Division to support an infantry attack in the manner of tanks and as a consequence suffered the loss of four Carriers in quick succession to a 37mm anti-tank gun.  The tanks of 25th Dragoons by contrast suffered only light damage to a few tanks (ironically in some cases to British anti-tank mines re-used by the Japanese) and had only very light casualties.

After three days of fruitless assaults, Operation JONATHAN was declared a failure and 5th Division consolidated along the road from Maungdaw to the Tunnels, as General Christison wondered what to do next.  However, the Japanese were about to take that decision out of his hands.  Since August 1943 the Japanese had been formulating a plan to launch a limited invasion of India, taking Manipur province and its capital Imphal before the Monsoon (which falls roughly June to September each year) and then using Imphal as a firm base for a further invasion of Assam once the rains ceased.  This plan, designated Operation U-GO required a preliminary diversionary attack into the Arakan and this subsidiary plan was designated Operation HA-GO

Operation HA-GO struck 7th Indian Division with thunderclap surprise on 4th February 1944.  Sakurai-Butai, being the main attack force consisting of a heavily reinforced infantry regimental group, struck north up the eastern side of the Kalapanzin Valley, infiltrating 114 Brigade’s lines to capture Taung Bazaar.  It then crossed over the Kalapanzin and attacked the main body of 7th Division from the rear.  One battalion group, designated Kubo-Butai also passed west over the Mayu Range on the 5th, to cut the main Maungdaw to Bowli Bazaar road at Briasco Bridge on the 6th.  The main part of Sakurai-Butai struck southward, cutting the Ngakyedauk Pass on the 6th and linking up on the 7th with Doi-Butai, advancing from the south.  A wedge had now been driven into the heart of XV Corps, separating the 5th & 7th Indian Divisions. 

However, the Japanese did not have it all their own way, as the Horsed Wing of the 3rd Gwalior Lancers detected the Japanese move at Taung Bazaar, giving 7th Division and XV Corps some warning of the impending attack.  As the mist lifted on that same morning, a Carrier patrol of the Lancers’ Mechanised Wing also caught a Japanese supply column in the open and completely wiped it out, thus depriving Sakurai-Butai of much-needed supplies. 

Even so, many units were in abject confusion and individual battalions fought as isolated units.  7th Division Headquarters suffered worse, as it was quickly overrun.  Thankfully though, General Frank Messervy and most of his headquarters personnel managed to escape the disaster and made their way by whatever means they could to Sinzweya.

The village of Sinzweya sits at the eastern end of strategically-critical Ngakyedauk Pass and housed the XV Corps ‘Admin Area’.  This location contained the bulk of the corps’ forward logistical, medical, engineering and administrative elements, as well as a number of field, medium, light AA, heavy AA and anti-tank artillery batteries.  It also had the misfortune to be the convergence point for Sakurai’s and Doi’s columns.

Thanks to the early warning provided by the 3rd Gwalior Lancers, XV Corps HQ at Bowli Bazaar was able to quickly and accurately assess the Japanese intentions.  General Christison ordered the 26th Indian Division to move forward immediately from its reserve position at Chittagong, to secure the Goppe Pass, re-take Briasco Bridge (with the assistance of ‘R’ Squadron, 25th Dragoons, which was now frantically forming at Bowli Bazaar) and counter-attack to relieve 7th Indian Division.  5th Indian Division was ordered to counter-attack through the Ngakyedauk Pass and likewise relieve 7th Division.  36th Indian Division was also ordered to move forward from Calcutta.  7th Division (plus 9 Brigade from 5th Division) was put immediately on to ‘air-supply’ courtesy of the RAF, while 5th Division was to be supplied by sea via the recently-captured port Maungdaw.

Brigadier Geoffrey Evans, commander of 9 Brigade, was also ordered to take command of the ‘Admin Box’ position at Sinzweya and to defend it at all costs.  Evans swiftly moved to Sinzweya, taking with him two infantry battalions (later joined by a third) and a mountain artillery regiment.  He was soon joined there by two squadrons of the 25th Dragoons and the Armoured Group’s support elements (the Engineer Troop, Bridgelayer Troop and ‘A’ Company, 3/4th Bombay Grenadiers).  Evans was also soon joined by General Messervy and the survivors of 7th Division HQ.

The Japanese assumed that they were going to defeat each isolated Commonwealth ‘Box’ in the same old way; surround them, cut them off from supply and grind them down until they folded.  However, this wasn’t the same old Commonwealth army… This army had spent the last year training intensively and organising itself for just this sort of battle.  The surrounded boxes would now sustain themselves from supplies delivered by air and hold out to act as ‘anvils’, while the 5th and 26th Divisions would act as the ‘hammers’, crushing the Japanese between them.  Slim had tried to do this before, but his men now had the training to achieve it and with air superiority and unprecedented levels of integration between land and air forces, the supplies could now be carried by air largely unmolested, while the Vengeance dive-bombers and Hurribombers could provide precision close air support and harry the Japanese lines of communication.  XV Corps also had the tanks of 25th Dragoons and the Japanese simply had no answer to this new development.

Lees of the 25th Dragoons near Razabil, 1944

Over the following weeks, the Japanese dashed themselves to pieces on the ‘boxes’ of 7th Division and particularly the Admin Box, all the while being hard pressed by 5th Division attacking from the west, 26th Division from the north, 81st (West African) Division in the east and RAF and IAF from the air.  The besieged boxes were even supporting each other, launching attacks and strong patrols to support other boxes under attack, as well as providing mutual artillery support.  The 25th Dragoons in particular were constantly on the move, sallying out with strong infantry support to attack Japanese strongpoints and break up incoming attacks. 

The Japanese had planned to use the supplies captured from overrun Commonwealth units to sustain themselves, but apart from the 7th Division Headquarters, no units had been overrun and the Japanese were now starving and running low on ammunition.  At last on 24th February, the leading elements of General Briggs‘ 5th Indian Division, supported by the tanks of 25th Dragoons, broke through the Ngakyedauk Pass to relieve the Admin Box.  XV Corps ‘switched off’ the air supply system and supplies and reinforcements were soon flowing once again from Maungdaw, Bowli Bazaar and through the Ngakyedauk Pass.  However the Japanese, although severely weakened by heavy casualties, starvation and lack of supplies, were still dug into the hills around them and for the next few weeks, the 25th Dragoons were sallying out constantly from the fortified boxes, destroying one Japanese strongpoint after another.

General Briggs, GOC 5th Indian Division (in the bush-hat) hitches a ride on a Lee 25th Dragoons as his forces relieve the Admin Box on 24th February 1944.

The Japanese had suffered their very first major land defeat in their war against the Commonwealth.  However, the main event had now opened in Manipur province, as Operation U-GO commenced with a three-pronged advance on Imphal and Kohima.  With the 26th and 36th Indian Divisions already in the process of relieving the 5th and 7th Indian Divisions in the Arakan and the 25th also moving into the region, Slim was frantically shuffling the pieces around on the board.  XXXIII Corps, which for the last year had been preparing for Operation ZIPPER, was ordered to entrain for Dimapur and from there advance by road to Imphal (the road was still open at Kohima at this point).  However this would take several weeks to achieve.  The best option to reinforce Imphal would be to fly the battle-hardened 5th and 7th Divisions straight from Chittagong to Imphal and Dimapur; literally fly them straight from one battlefield and into the heart of another!

However, the battle for the Arakan was ongoing, as the fresh 26th and 36th Divisions took over the fight, still supported by the XV Corps Armoured Group which was now reinforced by the Shermans of ‘C’ Squadron 149th RAC.  81st West African Recce Regt now took on something of a new role.  While one squadron continued with the traditional mechanised recce role in support of 36th Division near Maungdaw, the bulk of the regiment left its armoured vehicles behind and instead operated in support of the Commandos of 3 Special Service Brigade, conducting raids along the Arakan coast, causing havoc to Japanese lines of communication and destroying a number of artillery pieces.  However, with the point of crisis now moved to the IV Corps front at Imphal, the Arakan offensive was halted and the new front line established along the Maungdaw to Buthidaung road.  The assault would be renewed after the Monsoon.

Men of ‘C’ (Sierra Leone) Sqn, 81st West African Recce Regiment, posing with a Japanese rifle and helmet captured on one of their amphibious raids.

In late May 1944 and with the Monsoon imminent, the XV Corps Armoured Group was disbanded.  The 25th Dragoons and ‘C’ Squadron 149th RAC were already moving back to Cox’s Bazaar, where their tanks were to be put into storage for use by 50th Indian Tank Brigade after the Monsoon.  The men of 149th RAC were sent north to rejoin their regiment at Imphal and the 25th Dragoons were withdrawn into India to re-equip with Sherman III and Sherman V DD tanks and to re-train for Operation ZIPPER.  The Engineers and Bombay Grenadiers returned to 254th Indian Tank Brigade at Imphal.  In August the 3rd Gwalior Lancers were withdrawn to India in August to completely mechanise and finally say goodbye to their horses.  The 81st West African Recce Regiment continued in their water-borne recce/raiding role throughout the Monsoon and completely divested themselves of their AFVs.  When the 82nd (West African) Division arrived later that year, the 82nd West African Recce Regiment was also immediately converted to the amphibious role and both regiments joined the 3rd Arakan Campaign when that kicked off in December 1944. 

In May 1945, ‘A’ Squadron of the 25th Dragoons was called upon to provide armoured support for 19th Indian Division on mopping-up operations in central Burma.  Leaving their tanks in India, the men were flown to Meiktila and there took charge of sixteen ‘clapped-out’ Sherman Vs of the 255th Indian Tank Brigade.  The squadron was split into two half-squadron groups, with one group going to Kalaw and the other to Toungoo.  This proved to be a depressing and demoralising experience for both groups.  The Japanese, although beaten and fleeing from Burma, still had teeth and even succeeded in destroying a Sherman with a 75mm gun, killing a troop commander and his gunner.  In another incident, the popular squadron 2ic was also killed.  Yet the Japanese remained elusive and the tanks were unable to decisively get to grips with their enemy.  After a month of fruitless driving around central Burma, ‘A’ Squadron was finally recalled to Meiktila and the men were flown out to rejoin their regiment; there to be either repatriated home or to prepare for the long-awaited Operation ZIPPER (now assigned to 50th Indian Tank Brigade, following that brigade’s final withdrawal from the Arakan in June 1945).  However, the Japanese surrender in August 1945 meant that Operation ZIPPER never happened.  Some elements of the plan were used for the re-occupation of Malaya, but the 25th Dragoons were not required and stayed in India until their final disbandment in 1947.

Modelling & Painting

The Lee models shown above are by Battlefront Miniatures/Flames of War.  They’re actually painted for the 3rd Carabiniers of 254th Indian Tank Brigade.  As mentioned above, the Lees of the 25th Dragoons were almost completely devoid of markings and don’t seem to have even had squadron signs painted.  Similarly, the Shermans of the regiment’s ‘A’ Squadron at Meiktila in 1945 probably still carried the markings of their previous owners (254th Indian Tank Brigade) and would have been a mixed bag.

The 81st West African Recce Regiment Universal Carrier model is by Skytrex.  Markings described above.

The Vengeance dive-bomber was scratch-built for me from balsa and plasticard by the supremely talented Martin Small.

The Shermans of ‘C’ Squadron 149th RAC were marked for 50th Indian Tank Brigade and are described in Part 5.

I covered the paint colours and recipes in Part 5.  The vehicles fighting with XV Corps Armoured Group in the 2nd Arakan Campaign would almost exclusively have been painted in S.C.C. 13 ‘Jungle Green’.

Anyway, that’s enough waffle for now.  Next time I’ll be looking at the 254th Indian Tank Brigade and there’ll be a lot more photos of my models!

Posted in 15mm Figures, Battlefront: WW2, Painted Units, World War 2, World War 2 - British Commonwealth Armies, World War 2 - Burma Campaign | Leave a comment