The Forgotten Wargames Army: XIVth Army in Burma (Part 2 – Indian Engineers & Valentine Bridgelayer)

As discussed in Part 1, I’ve been photographing a lot of my old stuff during the recent spell of sunny weather amid Plague Lockdown.  It’s occurred to me that I’ve got nowhere near enough WW2 stuff on this blog, even though my 15mm WW2 collection is rather huge, so it’s time to rectify that omission.  One of my favourite WW2 campaigns is Burma and we put on a huge Burma demo game at Bovington in 2011.  However, that rather killed the bug for a while and the Burma stuff then sat in its boxes until last December, when I renewed my love for the period with a refight of the Battle of Wetlet.  So expect to see a lot more WW2 games once the current crisis has eased, but in the meantime, here are some more troops:

Above:  A Field Company of Indian Engineers.  I painted these for our Bovington demo game, as the scenario required a Field Company of the Bombay Sappers & Miners, who were tasked with supporting the assault by bridging nullahs (ravines), clearing minefields and destroying enemy fortifications.  These are a mixture of Flames of War ‘Italy British’ Sappers, Peter Pig XIVth Army Infantry in Bush-Hat and Peter Pig XIVth Army Sappers.

They’re painted in exactly the same manner as the Sikh infantry in Part 1, except for the helmets and bush-hats.  Helmets and vehicles in this theatre were normally painted in British Army Standard Camouflage Colour (SCC) 13 Jungle Green, which was introduced in 1943 (replacing the brighter ‘No.3 Green’ shade) and was a very similar, though slightly darker shade to the later SCC 15 Olive Drab or US Olive Drab.  To be honest, the differences in shade are so miniscule and when subjected to the effects of damp, weathering, strong sunlight, deep shade, mud and dust, are completely non-existent.  I therefore simply paint them the same colour as my NW European British kit: namely SCC 15 Olive Drab, for which I use a base of Humbrol 75 Bronze Green and a top-coat of Humbrol 159 Khaki Drab and a final dry brush of Humbrol 72 Khaki Drill, all over a black enamel undercoat.  The bush-hats were very much the same shade of khaki-brown as temperate Battledress uniform, so I use the same shade – Humbrol 26 Khaki, with the puggri band in lightened Humbrol 72 Khaki Drill.

Engineer Field Companies were roughly double the strength of Infantry Companies.  Like the infantry they had three platoons, but each platoon had six sections instead of three (this is essentially the same basic organisation as that used in Europe).  In game terms, there’s one Commander stand and eighteen Sapper Section stands (three platoons of six), three of them armed with flamethrowers (one per platoon).

Unlike Indian infantry, Indian Engineer platoons were commanded by a King’s Commissioned Officer (KCO – either British or increasingly, Indian), with a Viceroy’s Commissioned Officer (VCO) as second-in-command.  In the infantry, platoons were normally commanded by a VCO.  Field Companies were normally assigned to a brigade and platoons would then be split off to provide engineering support to the constituent infantry battalions of the brigade. They could be brought back together as full companies for specific Sapper tasks.

A Sapper of the Madras Sappers & Miners, drinks water from a Chaggal (water-skin) that was widely used by Indian and British troops alike

Another curious organisational feature of Indian Engineers is that they were segregated by race/religion on a platoon-by-platoon basis, whereas in the other combat arms, segregation was normally by company/squadron/battery. In his superb memoir ‘Sunset in the East‘, John Hudson describes how he commanded a platoon of Sikh Sappers, while the rest of the Field Company (of the Bombay Sappers & Miners) consisted of a platoon of Muslims and a platoon of Hindus. They were then assigned to the all-Gurkha 48 Infantry Brigade of 23rd Indian Infantry Division.  Nobody makes any Sikh Sapper figures at present, but it would be a relatively straightforward job to swap heads… If I wasn’t terminally lazy…

The vehicles are marked up for 62 Field Coy Indian Engineers (Queen Victoria’s Own Madras Sappers & Miners), 7th Indian Infantry Division (‘Golden Arrow’).  The unit arm-of-service marking is the usual engineers’ cobalt-blue square, with ’51’ serial.  The divisional sign was a golden arrow (pointing roughly to 10 o’clock) on a black disc.

Units in Burma frequently had little access to motor transport, so there are only enough CMP 15cwt trucks here to lift one platoon or heavy engineering stores, plus a Dodge WC-51 Weapons Carrier for the Company HQ.  Jeeps, CMP 15cwt, Dodge and Chevrolet light trucks were ubiquitous in this theatre and performed magnificently in the extreme terrain.

The Wheeled Armoured Carrier India Pattern Mk II (hereafter referred to as an ‘India Pattern Carrier’) represents the Field Company HQ’s Recce Section, whose task was to seek out and survey routes, assess weight-loading of roads and bridges, seek out bridging points, etc.  These vehicles were fairly uncommon in Burma, but Bill Slim mentioned having a ride in one belonging to 7th Division Engineers, so it HAD to be included in my XIVth Army.  Most Engineer units in Burma would have made do with Jeeps for this task.  India Pattern Carriers were generally not used by recce units in Burma, except as command vehicles and as 3-inch mortar-carriers.  Some Brigade and Divisional Tactical Headquarters also used them as armoured liaison vehicles (General Cowan of 17th Indian Division is known to have used one as his personal transport).

The Valentine Armoured Bridgelayer isn’t actually an Engineer vehicle.  They were operated by Independent Bridging Troops of the Royal Armoured Corps (RAC), with one such troop being assigned to each Indian Tank Brigade Headquarters (50, 254 & 255 Indian Tank Brigades).  The supremely talented Martin Small converted this for me from a standard (and very ancient) Valentine Mk III model by pre-Flames of War Battlefront Miniatures.  In reality the bridgelayers lacked sand-skirts, but the only available model at the time had cast-on sand-skirts, so we were stuck with them.  Although difficult to see, this one carries the markings of Brigade HQ, 254 Indian Tank Brigade.

I’ll leave you with some more photos of Martin’s lovely model bridgelayer:

This entry was posted in 15mm Figures, Battlefront: WW2, Painted Units, World War 2, World War 2 - British Commonwealth Armies, World War 2 - Burma Campaign. Bookmark the permalink.

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