The Forgotten Wargames Army: XIVth Army in Burma (Part 5 – 7th Armoured Brigade & 50th Indian Tank Brigade)

The recent 75th anniversary of VJ Day and conversations with our friend Olivia on the Battle of Wetlet thread prompted me to re-read some history of the Burma Campaign and suitably inspired, I thought I’d add another post about the XIVth Army in Burma.  This time I’m looking at the British and Indian Armoured Regiments and Brigades that fought in the campaign (as well as some earlier armoured units that were fighting in Burma prior to the creation of XIVth Army).

7th Armoured Brigade

The first Allied armoured formation to arrive in Burma was the British 7th Armoured Brigade, which was originally ordered to reinforce Singapore (from North Africa), but was diverted to Burma, where it would come under the command of Eastern Army (the precursor to XIVth Army).  The brigade consisted of two regiments, the 7th Hussars and 2nd RTR, each with 52 Stuart Mk I (M3) light tanks, plus a Brigade Headquarters of 11 tanks, for a total of 115 tanks.  The brigade’s vehicles were repainted green to better suit the Burmese terrain and as part of the repaint, the red jerboa sign of 7th Armoured Brigade was changed to green.  The Stuart was an excellent tank and was in all respects far superior to the Type 95 Ha-Go light tanks being used by the Japanese in Burma, though the brigade was completely lacking in 37mm HE and canister ammunition and this considerably hampered their anti-infantry capability.

7th Armoured Brigade arrived in Rangoon in late February 1942, in the midst of the Japanese invasion and two days before the disaster of the Sittang Bridge and almost immediately was forced to retreat along with the rest of I Burma Corps.  The arrival of the 7th Armoured Brigade (along with the arrival of Lieutenant General William ‘Bill’ Slim to take command of the deteriorating situation) had a decisive effect on the course of the campaign; while not being enough to bring victory, the armour succeeded in turning what would otherwise have become a disorderly rout into a relatively orderly withdrawal to India (one of the longest fighting retreats in military history). 

Stuart Mk Is of ‘B’ Squadron, 2 RTR, 7th Armoured Brigade 1942

The tanks gave Slim’s command and his Chinese allies the power to break through roadblocks, to counter-attack and to break through to units that had become isolated.  Without them, it’s highly likely that the 17th Indian Division, the 1st Burma Division and the various garrison units, as well as various Chinese units retreating toward the Indian border, would have been utterly annihilated. 

Stuart Mk I of HQ 7th Armoured Brigade 1942

As mentioned above, the Stuart was far superior in all respects to the Japanese tanks in Burma (which initially consisted of a light tank company of the 2nd Tank Regiment which marched over with the first wave from Thailand, later joined by the 1st & 14th Tank Regiments which landed with the second wave at Rangoon in April).  The Stuart’s armour was largely impervious to Japanese 37mm anti-tank guns, but they could still blow off a track.  Japanese 75mm infantry guns and artillery had better luck against the Stuarts and the (thankfully rare) Type 88 75mm anti-aircraft gun was especially deadly.  The Japanese even tried knocking Stuarts out with chemical weapons!  These were glass ‘grenades’ (simply small glass bottles) filled with hydrocyanic acid that would turn to a gas when the glass was broken.  The gas attacks were unsuccessful, but further Stuarts were lost to air attack, to determined infantry with pole-charges, to breakdown and to simply running out of fuel (the Stuart’s powerful engine was particularly thirsty and required specialist high-octane aviation fuel).  One was even lost to a surprise attack by a captured Stuart!

Stuart Mk Is of ‘B’ Squadron, 2 RTR, 7th Armoured Brigade 1942

Captured Stuart Mk Is

By the time they reached the Chindwin River eleven weeks later, 44 Stuarts had been lost and as mentioned above, some of those had already been recovered and pressed into service by the Japanese, who were also making good use of enormous quantities of captured motor transport.  Only one of the remaining 71 Stuarts was successfully ferried across the river.  The remaining 70 were ‘scuttled’ either by blowing them up or in most cases, by draining the engine oil and running the engines until they seized.  The solitary survivor (named ‘Curse of Scotland’ – a reference to another historical Stuart) re-crossed the Chindwin in 1945 (now missing its turret) as the CO’s tank of the Indian 7th Light Cavalry. 

The few tanks recovered intact by the Japanese were formally adopted as the 6th Company of the 14th Tank Regiment and five of these were still running (along with a captured Lee) when the regiment intervened in the Battle of Imphal two years later.

‘Curse of Scotland’, the last survivor of the 7th Armoured Brigade, in its new role as CO’s tank of the Indian 7th Light Cavalry (254th Indian Tank Brigade) in 1945

The markings of the 7th Armoured Brigade are shown below.  However, note that they painted them in non-standard fashion, with the brigade sign on the ‘starboard’ mudguard and the Arm-of-Service sign on the ‘port’ side (I painted mine the wrong way round!).  7th Hussars and 4 RTR used standard squadron signs; red and yellow respectively, with the troop number painted in the same colour.

50th Indian Tank Brigade

With the departure of the 7th Armoured Brigade from the theatre, General Noel Irwin‘s Eastern Army had only three partially-formed armoured formations; the 50th, 254th and 255th Indian Tank Brigades.  These had only started forming at the end of 1941 and progress was further hampered by a severe shortage of tanks; a situation not helped by constant demands to send tanks to the Middle East!  However, with several Indian cavalry regiments being converted to armour for the first time, personnel were unlikely to be in short supply, even if the supply of British personnel dried up.

First to be combat-ready was the 50th Indian Tank Brigade, which was established in October 1941.  Its main ‘teeth’ units were three former British infantry battalions converted to armoured regiments of the Royal Armoured Corps, namely the 146th, 149th and 150th Regiments RAC, equipped with Valentine Mk III infantry tanks.  These were supplemented by Indian support elements (hence the ‘Indian’ part of the title). 

The organisation of these three tank regiments was very much the same as the regimental organisation used by 7th Armoured Brigade, with 52 tanks per regiment, though with two significant differences.  First, instead of the more commonly-used Daimler Dingo, the scout cars of the Recce Troop were India Pattern Wheeled Armoured Carriers Mk II.  Secondly, while the Valentine was an excellent, reliable and thickly-armoured tank, its firepower was somewhat anaemic, being limited to a 2pdr (40mm) gun, which at this time lacked an HE round, only one co-ax MG and no bow MG. 

India Pattern Wheeled Armoured Carrier Mk II

Ordinarily, British armoured squadron HQs of the time would normally include a pair of Close Support (CS) tanks armed with 3-inch or 95mm CS howitzers, though for some reason the British Army did not adopt a 3-inch CS version of the Valentine (the New Zealand Army by contrast equipped around one-third of their Valentines as 3-inch CS tanks when fighting in the Pacific).  Thus the Valentine had most of the tactical disadvantages suffered by the Stuarts of 7th Armoured Brigade.  However, to offset this lack of tank firepower a regimental Mortar Troop was added, consisting of six 3-inch (81mm) mortars, transported by Universal Carriers.  This Troop could be held centrally as a single fire support element, or could be distributed as sections of two mortars to each squadron.  Regiments equipped with Stuart in India were also eventually equipped with a Mortar Troop.  

A Valentine Mk III of ‘B’ Squadron, 149 RAC, 50th Indian Tank Brigade 1942-43

By late 1942 plans were afoot to launch a counter-offensive into Japanese-occupied Burma, initially with the limited aims of re-taking the Arakan coastal belt and the island of Akyab, with its all-weather airfield and port.  This plan was designated Operation CANNIBAL.  The heavily-reinforced 14th Indian Division, taken from Slim’s newly-created XV Corps was selected for the task, though the prickly General Irwin opted to by-pass Slim’s HQ and micro-manage the battle in person, feeding more and more brigades into the battle until the poor GOC 14th Division was controlling no fewer than nine brigades instead of the usual three! 

As the attack down the Mayu Peninsula stalled in the face of the heavily fortified Japanese ‘citadel’ at Foul Point, 50th Indian Tank Brigade was finally called upon in January 1943 to provide armoured support to take on the bunkers.  Slim and the local brigadier insisted that a full tank regiment was required to support the attack, but they were overruled by Irwin and just a half-squadron of eight tanks from ‘C’ Squadron 146th RAC (two troops of three Valentines and an HQ of two) was allocated.  The attack was a disaster, with some of the tanks being bogged in ditches and the rest being destroyed or immobilised by artillery fire and overrun by Japanese infantry.  The Japanese counter-attack drove 14th Indian Division back out of the Arakan.  Thankfully, Slim had once again been called forward to ‘pull the fat out of the fire’ and was again able to prevent the defeat from turning into a disaster.

In the recriminations that followed the disastrous First Arakan Campaign, Irwin sacked Slim out of sheer spite.  However, Field Marshal Wavell, C-in-C India took a very different view; he immediately reinstated Slim and removed Irwin from his command.  Irwin was sent home on ‘sick leave’, being replaced by the much more amenable George Giffard, whose priorities were to restore morale and train the British and Indian Armies for jungle warfare; a process that was continued and expanded under Slim when he was appointed as commander of the newly-created XIVth Army in November 1943.  Slim was adamant that tanks were essential to victory in Burma and were never again to be thrown away in tiny penny-packets. 

Valentine Bridgelayer (it should really be missing the sand-skirts, but at the time Martin was converting it the only available 15mm Valentine model had cast-on sand-skirts)

The freshly-blooded 50th Indian Tank Brigade meanwhile, was sent to the newly-formed XXXIII Corps, to prepare for the planned Operation ZIPPER (the re-conquest of Malaya) and for future amphibious operations along the Arakan coast.  However, it had been determined that the Valentine was unsuitable for jungle warfare and was therefore to be replaced in 50th Tank Brigade with medium tanks, namely the Lee and the Sherman.  However, around a regiment’s-worth of Valentine DD tanks were obtained for amphibious operations (later supplemented by large numbers of Sherman DD tanks) and Valentines were relegated to training, as well as being converted to ‘Scorpion’ flails, armoured bridge-layers and armoured observation posts.

The organisation of medium tank-equipped armoured regiments in India and Burma remained much the same as the previous organisation, though the Mortar Troop was disbanded and the scout cars of the Recce Troop reverted to Daimler Dingos, though it’s certainly possible that some India Pattern Carriers were retained.  However, the Indian Armoured Corps history records that some units found wheeled scout cars to be unsuited to jungle warfare and so switched to a mixed organisation of Jeeps and Universal Carriers.  Nevertheless, some units (such as the 3rd Carabiniers of 254th Tank Brigade) kept their Dingos until the end of the war.  The Indian Armoured Corps history also discusses a reduced tank regiment establishment, with RHQs reduced from 4 to 3 tanks and SHQs reduced from 4 to 2 tanks, for a total of 45 tanks.  However, several regimental war diaries, histories and personal accounts discuss having the full 52 tanks on hand at various times throughout the campaign, so this may merely have been a temporary measure for when tank replacements were in short supply.

A Grant medium tank of 146th RAC, 50th Indian Tank Brigade 1944-45 (N.B. the squadron sign should be an ‘A’ Sqn triangle, not a ‘C’ Sqn circle, as only ‘A’ Sqn had Grants, while the rest had Lees)

While waiting for Operation ZIPPER, 50th Indian Tank Brigade acted as something of an armoured reserve pool for the formations at the front line.  In March/April 1944, in the wake of the Japanese offensive Operation Ha-Go (the Second Arakan Campaign), and the subsequent Operation U-Go (the Japanese offensive to take Imphal and invade India), most of the personnel of ‘C’ Squadron 150th RAC were flown into the besieged city of Imphal to take over the reserve Lee medium tanks of 3rd Carabiniers (254th Indian Tank Brigade, which was the armoured component of IV Corps).  This ad hoc unit formed the Carabiners’ fourth squadron and was designated ‘YL’ Squadron (for Yorks & Lancs – the infantry regiment from which 150th RAC was formed).  These men fought at Imphal until May, when the trickle of tank losses meant that a fourth squadron was no longer viable and the men of ‘YL’ Squadron were then flown out to rejoin 150th RAC.  In the meantime, the remaining personnel of ‘C’ Squadron 150th RAC were sent to Dimapur in Assam, where along with some spare artillerymen and signallers, crewed five more reserve Lee tanks.  These five tanks were initially the only armour available to support the leading elements of XXXIII Corps as they advanced to relieve the garrison at Kohima and the besieged IV Corps at Imphal.

A few days later the bulk of 149th RAC (minus ‘C’ Squadron’), equipped with Grant medium tanks (essentially the same as the Lee, though with a larger, British-designed turret) arrived at Dimapur to greatly increase the armoured ‘punch’ of XXXIII Corps.  This growing mass of tanks was further reinforced by the armoured cars of the Indian 11th (Prince Albert Victor’s Own) Cavalry (Frontier force) (or ‘PAVO’) and the Stuart IIIs of the Indian 45th Light Cavalry.  The armoured cars and Stuarts were mainly used to keep lines of communication open while the Lees and Grants provided close infantry support.

A Grant of 149th RAC and a Stuart III of the 45th Light Cavalry carrying a strange mine-detecting device, near Kohima 1944

In the meantime, ‘C’ Squadron 149th RAC, equipped with 16 Sherman V medium tanks, was sent to join the XV Corps Armoured Group in the Arakan, reinforcing the 25th Dragoons who had been instrumental in defeating the Japanese offensive.  This squadron was the very first unit in the theatre to use Shermans operationally and fought in the Arakan from April to May 1944, before returning to the regiment which was now fighting at Kohima.  The squadron left its Shermans with HQ 50th Tank Brigade and picked up new Grant tanks en route to Kohima.  

Following the relief of Imphal in late June 1944, the 45th Light Cavalry were sent to the Arakan and were transferred from XXXIII Corps Troops to the 50th Indian Tank Brigade.  149th RAC meanwhile, came under the command of 254th Indian Tank Brigade at Imphal and was formally transferred to that formation in August, though was immediately sent back to India to re-train and re-equip with the Churchill infantry tanks.  149th RAC would not see action again.  In November 1944, 150th RAC was also brought to Imphal and was transferred from the 50th Indian Tank Brigade to the 254th Indian Tank Brigade, thus filling the gap left by the departure of the above two regiments.

A Grant medium tank of 146th RAC, 50th Indian Tank Brigade, on Ramree Island, February 1945

Aside from the previously-discussed transfers of armoured regiments, the composition of 50th Indian Tank Brigade was a constantly moving feast.  From August 1942 the 1st Cameronians were added as a Motor Battalion until April 1943.  There was then no Motor Battalion in the brigade until August 1944 when the 2/4th Bombay Grenadiers were assigned.  Also assigned in August 1944 were the Indian 19th (King George V’s Own) Lancers, who were equipped with Sherman V, many of them being DD tanks.  The brigade also included the 1st Independent Bridging Troop RAC, equipped with Valentine bridge-layers, as well as the most unusual 400th Independent Scorpion Squadron RAC, equipped with Valentine Scorpions.

Sherman Vs of the 19th Lancers, 50th Indian Tank Brigade, in the Arakan, 1945

With the commitment of XXXIII Corps to the Battle of Imphal and re-conquest of Burma, a new XXXIV Corps was formed in India to take over the long-postponed Operation ZIPPER role.  25th Dragoons, now equipped with Sherman and Valentine DD tanks, were allocated to the new corps, thus freeing up 50th Indian Tank Brigade, who were now transferred en masse to XV Corps.  At long last, the entire brigade was committed to action in support of XV Corps in the 3rd Arakan Campaign from October 1944 to February 1945, though the 146th RAC (mostly equipped with Lee, though ‘A’ Squadron included 10 Grants) and 19th Lancers (with standard Shermans and no DDs) were involved in amphibious operations along the Arakan coast until April 1945. 

Finally on 2nd May 1945, ‘A’ Squadron 19th Lancers landed at Rangoon as part of Operation DRACULA.  However, the Japanese had gone and the Lancers assisted 26th Indian Division in taking the city without firing a shot.  On 15th May the Lancers, driving north, linked up with the 3rd Carabiniers of 254th Indian Tank Brigade, who were the lead element of XXXIII Corps driving south.  After much celebration, the two units joined forces to attack a Japanese strongpoint, even engaging Type 95 Ha-Go Light Tanks and capturing one in perfect running order!  This was to be 50th Indian Tank Brigade’s very last engagement of the war.


All the models pictured above are 15mm models by Battlefront Miniatures/Flames of War.  The Valentine Bridge-layer was converted by my good friend Martin Small.

If your chosen model manufacturer only refers to US type-numbers or even more vague descriptions such as ‘Honey’, here’s a quick guide:

Stuart Mk I – In US terms, this is the early-model M3 Light Tank with octagonal turret and protruding commander’s cupola.  Having just come from North Africa they were also fitted with sand-skirts, though these were quickly damaged or ripped off by combat and terrain.

Stuart Mk III – In US terms this is the M3A1 Light Tank with the same hull as the Stuart I (M3), but with a cylindrical turret.  By the time these entered front-line service in 1944 they were amply supplied with 37mm HE and Canister rounds, so were much better equipped to take on Japanese infantry than the Stuart Mk Is of 7th Armoured Brigade.

Lee Mk I – In US terms this is the M3 Medium Tank.  Some other marks (Lee Mk II (M3A1), IV (M3A3), V (M3A3 variant) & VI (M3A4)) were used in Burma, though these looked very much like the original Mk I and were rather rare.  Both short (M2) and long (M3) 75mm guns were employed and some of these also had prominent muzzle-counterweights.  Many Lees in Burma had the prominent commander’s cupola removed and instead replaced with a Sherman-style cupola with two semi-circular hatches.  Of those that kept the cupola, I’ve never seen one with the cupola MG fitted.  One unusual feature is that some Lees in Burma retained the twin bow MGs that were usually removed; these were operated by the co-driver, who could only elevate or depress the guns and relied upon the driver traversing the entire tank!

Grant Mk I – This was exactly the same tank as the Lee Mk I, except that it had a larger, British-designed turret.  Curiously, the British turret was also fitted to some Lee Mk IV/V.  The Grant Mk II (M3A5) was also used in Burma, but somewhat confusingly, these mostly had Lee turrets (some may have had British turrets)!  As with the Lee, both short (M2) and long (M3) 75mm guns were employed and some of these also had prominent muzzle-counterweights.

Sherman Mk V – In US terms this is the M4A4 Medium Tank.


British and Indian vehicles in the Far East were painted a single uniform camouflage colour.  There were no official disruptive camouflage schemes and to date I have not come across any confirmed examples of locally-adopted disruptive schemes.  However, photographs of the 7th Armoured Brigade’s Stuarts in 1942 do tend to suggest a banded camouflage in some photos.  Some have suggested that this might be the remnants of their previous Middle Eastern camouflage, though records do state that the brigade repainted its vehicles in transit to the Far East.  It may therefore be merely a trick of light, dust, damp or poor photographic reproduction. 

The standard camouflage colours used by the British and Indian Armies are described below.  The suggested paint recipes come from the primary expert on the topic, Mike Starmer.  However, please note that having tried mixing up various shades of greens, I found that the difference on the table was so minimal that I simply stuck with my standard late-war ‘S.C.C. 15 Olive Drab’ for all vehicles, for which I start with a thinned Humbrol 33 Black undercoat, then a base coat of Humbrol 75 Bronze Green, a highlight coat of Humbrol 159 Khaki Drab and then a final light ‘weathering’ dry-brush of Humbrol 72 Khaki Drill.

Middle Bronze Green (a.k.a. ‘Khaki Green No.3’):  This was the standard colour for all British vehicles in the Far East in the late 1930s and early 1940s and this was the colour used to repaint the Stuarts of 7th Armoured Brigade onboard ship, en route to Burma.  The closest match is Humbrol 80, though note that prior to the Japanese attack, vehicles belonging to garrison units would normally be polished to a shine resulting in a deeper, darker tone.  A suggested match is Vallejo 895(88).

Standard Camouflage Colour (S.C.C.) 13 ‘Jungle Green’:  This colour replaced Middle Bronze Green on British vehicles in the Far East from 1943.  It was a very drab and muddy green and darker than US Olive Drab.  The title ‘Jungle Green’ was not official and it was significantly different to the Jungle Green dye used in uniform manufacture, which was rather bluish and faded to a greyish tone.  S.C.C. 13 was however, used for weapons and personal equipment such as helmets.  Mix Humbrol 159 + 155 + 33 in ratio 4:3:1.  A suggested match is Vallejo 893(95).

S.C.C. 15 Olive Drab:  This was introduced in April 1944 and although not officially used in the Far East, vehicles and equipment delivered from the UK or Canada would normally arrive painted in S.C.C. 15 and might not be repainted prior to deployment in the field.  The colour was introduced to match US Olive Drab, which it did when fresh, though it faded to green unlike US Olive Drab, which faded to grey.  Mix:  Humbrol 150 + 159 + 33 in ratio 5:5:2.  A reasonable match is Humbrol 159 + 33 in ratio 8:1.  A suggested match is Vallejo 924(94).

S.C.C. 16 Very Dark Drab:  This colour was introduced in the Far East in 1944, though according to Dennis Oliver’s work, does not appear to have been employed in the field until 1945 and possibly only by 50th Indian Tank Brigade.  It was certainly used for the Shermans of 19th Lancers in the final Arakan battles.  It was a very dark, dull, dirty brown green.  Darker than both S.C.C. 13 and US Olive Drab.  It is also sometimes referred to as S.C.C. 207 and was recorded as being too dark to be used in the painting of personal equipment.  Mix  Humbrol 155 + 66 + 33 in ratio 10:2:1.  A suggested match is Vallejo 897(98).

US Olive Drab:  US equipment delivered directly from the USA would normally arrive painted in US Olive Drab and would often find its way into the field still painted in this colour.  The closest match is Humbrol 155.  A suggested match is Vallejo Brown-Violet 887(93).

Armoured crew were initially dressed in Khaki Drill (‘KD’) tropical uniforms, for which I use a Humbrol 72 Khaki Drill with a heavy highlight.  Uniforms gradually changed to Jungle Green (‘JG’) from late 1943 onwards, for which I use Humbrol 116 US Army Green with a heavy highlight.  However, tank crew seem to have continued to wear KD long after the infantry had universally adopted JG (see photo above of a tank commander in KD talking to Indian infantry in JG).  Berets were black for all regiments, though crewmen could also wear the RAC helmet, US tank crew helmet or for Sikhs, the traditional turban in KD or JG.


It has to be said that the markings for 50th Indian Tank Brigade have been an absolute nightmare to research and there is still much conjecture.  It doesn’t help that there are very few photos of 50th Tank Brigade tanks in existence and these are largely limited to the Grants of 146th RAC and the Shermans of 19th Lancers in 1945.  I have not found any photos of Valentines belonging to the brigade, no photos of 146th RAC Lees in the Arakan and no photos of 45th Light Cavalry Stuarts after their adoption by 50th Tank Brigade.  The only photos seem to be of a few Grants belonging to ‘A’ Squadron 146th RAC on Ramree Island in 1945 and of 19th Lancers’ Shermans at the latter end of the 3rd Arakan Campaign in 1945.  There is also a short sequence of film showing ‘C’ Squadron 149th RAC’s Shermans in action in April 1944.  There are however, lots of photos of random Lees from non-specific locations and seemingly devoid of markings (save perhaps a squadron sign), which does tend to indicate that tanks were frequently either devoid of markings or were so covered in crud as to make them invisible in black and white photography!

From the available evidence, it would appear that 50th Indian Tank Brigade initially used the same marking scheme positively recorded as being used by 254th Indian Tank Brigade.  This is indicated by the film of 149th RAC Shermans, who are marked with the Arm-of-Service (AoS) serial ‘5’ on a two-tone (red/yellow) square and light-coloured (yellow?) squadron signs, which would fit as the second-most-senior regiment of the brigade (squadron signs would be red, yellow and light blue for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd regiments of a brigade).  If this assumption is correct, here is how the marking scheme would work:

Note that I have not included the full array of support units, as I’ve no idea what their AoS serials would have been.  Note that when the 149th RAC and 150th RAC were transferred to 254th Indian Tank Brigade, their seniority would have been unchanged, so would have simply carried on with the same markings, just changing the formation sign (if it were painted at all).

In 1944 a new standard marking scheme was ordered for all Indian Tank/Armoured Brigades.  254th Indian Tank Brigade is known to have simply carried on using the old scheme shown above for a time before painting the new markings after the end of major operations in 1945.  255th Indian Tank Brigade meanwhile, immediately adopted the new scheme and was already carrying the new markings when they went into action for the first time in 1945. 

However, it’s anyone’s guess if 50th Indian Tank Brigade implemented the new marking scheme, as no photos show AoS markings of any type.  19th Lancers’ Shermans were clearly painted with the ‘mailed fist’ formation sign of 50th Tank Brigade, alongside a badge of unknown provenance, showing a hand rising from the waves holding a kris sword (colours thought to be yellow on blue).  These signs are painted centrally on the transmission housing below the glacis plate, as well as on the left side of the rear hull plate.  No AoS signs are visible, though some seem to have a curious white square on the tank-telephone box at the rear-right, which might be an over-exposed photo of an AoS sign. or might be an old painted-out AoS sign or a partly-painted new AoS sign…

This is the full list of AoS markings that would be carried if the 1944 regulation was applied:

Some markings were meant to be universal to all vehicles, but were not always painted.  Yellow ‘bridging discs’, with weight-class in black were almost always seen painted at the front-right of the glacis plate.  War Department registration numbers were painted on the tank sides.  From mid-1944 onwards, white Allied stars were meant to be painted on the sides and top of all AFVs and this order was enthusiastically obeyed by the 254th and 255th Tank Brigades, but seemingly not by the 50th Tank Brigade.  It’s been suggested that tanks in Burma, like most in NW Europe, did have a circled star painted on the turret-top or engine deck, even though no star was visible at the sides.

One mysterious marking that is commonly seen on photos of Lees, Shermans and Universal Carriers in India/Burma is a small white rectangle with ’20’ in black, painted at the front-right of the vehicle, usually just above or below the bridging disc.  The meaning of this marking is not known, but it has been speculated that it may relate to the capacity of auxiliary water tanks commonly fitted to ‘India Pattern’ vehicles.

Squadron signs were meant to be of the universal type; diamond for RHQ, triangle for ‘A’ Sqn, square for ‘B’ Sqn and circle for ‘C’ Sqn.  These were then coloured by regimental seniority; red, yellow, sky-blue or green.  However, 19th Lancers had a squadron signs of a completely unique type – seemingly black on a white background, with the troop designation painted in black in the centre.  This was in the format ‘HQ, 1, 2, 3 or 4’, so the number ‘1’ within the ‘B’ Sqn square would indicate No.5 Troop (the 1st troop of ‘B’ Sqn).  Other regiments used the actual troop number (1-4 for ‘A’ Sqn, 5-8 for ‘B’ Sqn or 9-12 for ‘C’ Sqn) or an individual tank number (between roughly 1 & 63, including the Recce Troop scout cars).

Anyway, enough for now!  Next time I’ll cover the XV Corps Armoured Group, 254th Indian Tank Brigade and 255th Indian Tank Brigade.

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.

23 Responses to The Forgotten Wargames Army: XIVth Army in Burma (Part 5 – 7th Armoured Brigade & 50th Indian Tank Brigade)

  1. Paul Smith says:

    Hi Mark

    Great blog!

    As an aside, 2 RTR named their squadrons rather than using simply letters. In my time there was Ajax, Badger and Cyclops for the 3 ‘sabre’ squadrons, Huntsman for the HQ squadron and Nero for the ‘B’ echelon squadron. Not sure how far this went back (and indeed if it applied in Burma) and as far as I know 2 RTR was the only regiment in the RAC to do this.

    Cheers Paul

    • jemima_fawr says:

      Cheers Paul!

      I think it was a postwar ‘thing’, but I could be completely wrong! 🙂 It’s certainly not mentioned in the War Diaries and general histories. However, you’ve just reminded me that I completely forgot to mention that 150 RAC’s squadrons were X, Y & Z! That said, everyone else referred to them as A, B & C for the sake of simplicity… It’s apparently a Yorkshire thing…

  2. George Lee says:

    My father 149 RAC and his crew were killed at Kohima, April 28/29 1944, I have tried all my adult life to find out what happened to him. The only tank loss I have read about was May 5th. That one was attacked with fuel and when the crew evacuated it they were machine gunned. That was one story I was told, but the date is not the date on my father’s grave in the Kohima war cemetary. If anyone can give me more info I would appreciate it. My father’s commander was Ezra Rhodes, my father is George E J Lee.

    • jemima_fawr says:

      Hi George, I’m very sorry for your loss, however long ago it was. I think this might help:

      “The following day, 28 April, was designated for another attack on the Bungalow Sector, but the commanding officer of the Dorsets, Lieutenant Colonel WHITE realised he needed tank support to clear the sector of the Japanese bunkers. An assessment by officers from the 149th Regiment was that it appeared unlikely a tank could be driven up the drive of the former commissioner’s bungalow, so the Commander Royal Engineers of the 2nd Infantry Division, Lieutenant Colonel John GARWOOD, agreed to use a bulldozer to make a new track up the back of the bungalow. A bulldozer came up protected by two Lee tanks, one in front and one behind, to a point from which it could start work on the new track. Aided by some sappers with picks and shovels, they constructed a rough track, albeit it was still steep in parts. The sappers attached a hawser
      between the bulldozer and the tank, in order to help pull it up to the top of the hill above the bungalow. The bulldozer and tank managed to reach about half-way up the slope when the Japanese began firing on the two vehicles. The tank began to manoeuvre in order to get into a position to return fire, but it crashed into the bulldozer. The bulldozer was not out of action, so the two vehicles retreated down the slope.

      The regiment suffered four fatalities that day, which are presumed to have occurred during the operation to support attacks in the Bungalow Sector. The most senior and eldest man to die was Corporal 4697109 George Edward James LEE, who was aged twenty-nine years. George LEE was the son of Matthew and Alice LEE of Canning Town, Essex, and was the husband of Hilda Isabella LEE of Canning Town. In addition, twenty-four years’ old Corporal 4692952 Edward WEBB from Edlington, Yorkshire, twenty-eight years’ old Lance Corporal 4696831 William DONNISON and twenty years’ old Trooper 14249808 Arthur James HILLARD from Sandy in Bedfordshire died on that day. All four are buried close together in the Kohima War Cemetery, WEBB in Grave 8.H.9., DONNISON in Grave 8.H.10., LEE in Grave 8.H.13. and HILLARD in Grave 8.H.14.

      It’s taken from this excellent history of 50 Indian Tank Brigade:

      I sincerely hope that’s of some help. Kindest Regards.

      • George Lee says:

        Jemima, that was the other story I was told, all the names were correct, my mother often spoke of Donnison. Many , many thanks, George M Lee.

        • jemima_fawr says:

          You’re very welcome. I’ll continue having a read around and see if I can find anything else,. In the meantime, it may be worth contacting the National Archives at Kew to view 149 RAC’s War Diary. War Diaries can be very disappointing, but can occasionally turn up nuggets of gold. The author of this website has certainly read 149 RAC’s War Diary, so may have a copy and save you the bother of going to Kew!

        • jemima_fawr says:

          I forgot to add that as you can see from that excellent history, Major Ezra Rhodes was the Officer Commanding ‘B’ Squadron, 149 RAC.

          Of course, 149 RAC was raised from 7th Battalion KOYLI, so the KOYLI regimental association and KOYLI archives may be able to help, in addition to those specifically for 149 RAC. The archives at The Tank Museum, Bovington would also probably be able to help.

        • jemima_fawr says:

          George, might I ask how old you were when you lost your father?

    • jemima_fawr says:

      As a Corporal, your father would almost certainly have been a tank commander and they were always the most exposed crewman in the tank. Tank commanders suffered a horrific rate of casualties, due to the simple necessity of having to expose their head above the cupola, in order to gain a better appreciation of what was going on around the tank. Unfortunately the terrain of Burma meant that enemy infantry was frequently able to get close to the tanks and tank commanders frequently fell victim to them. There are many recorded instances of tank gunners and even drivers in Burma having to take command of the tank due to the loss of the commander. My guess is that he was commanding one of those two tanks supporting the bulldozer.

  3. George Lee says:

    So I am thinking that as the dozer and tank that crashed together, it possible that the other tank was able to fight back against the enemy. Perhaps that was my fathers tank and how he was killed.

    • jemima_fawr says:

      Yes, it seems that both tanks and the bulldozer were able to disengage, though they clearly had an extremely hard fight. Both tanks seem to have been still in the fight as they withdrew, though had clearly suffered heavy damage and losses, including your father. As an aside, the Royal Engineers’ bulldozer was completely unarmoured, so God only knows how they survived.

      • George Lee says:

        My brother and I have read most books on Kohima ww2 you are the first person to pin point anything about it father. Thank you. BTW where are you from.

        • jemima_fawr says:

          You most welcome, but it was sheer luck on my part, as I only found that history a couple of months ago, when writing the article. I can’t find anything more in my library, sadly. Your best option going forward would be to try to obtain a copy of 149 RAC’s War Diary. You and your brother should also be able to request your father’s service record from the Army Records Office, as well as his medals from the MoD Medals Office if they were never claimed. My wife did exactly this for her father’s records and unclaimed medals. I live in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and my real name is Mark (‘Jemima’ is our local hero and my nom de guerre). 🙂

  4. Pingback: WW2 Painting Guide: Anglo-Indian Tanks in Burma – Steven's Balagan

  5. Pingback: Choosing my Anglo-Indian tanks for Burma – Steven's Balagan

  6. Sue Blair says:

    Dear George/Jemima (Mark)
    I loved reading this. How wonderful to find this out. Such a sadness that you never met your father.
    I am currently researching Burma/ Arakan/ Sumatra as my dad was a British Officer in the British Indian Army in ww2 with 1/18th Royal Garhwal Rifles. It is truly a forgotten war.
    Good luck to you both

    • jemima_fawr says:

      Hi Sue,

      Thank you very much, but I’m not George! 🙂

      If it’s of any use to you, the 1/18th Royal Garwhal Rifles was part of 13th Brigade until June 1942, which was a training brigade under 39th Light Division in India (a training formation). On 20th June 1942 the brigade was renamed 113th Brigade (there was a lot of re-numbering of Indian formations at this time, partly to avoid number-clashes with British formations, but also to confuse Japanese intelligence-gathering efforts). In August 1943 the battalion finally joined a ‘fighting’ brigade; the 71st Brigade of 26th Indian Division. The 71st Brigade had been heavily engaged until May 1943 in the Razabil – Maungdaw – Ngakyedauk – Mayu Valley area of the Arakan coastal strip, but had been withdrawn to Monsoon quarters in the Teknaf Penuinsula, west of the Naf River, to rest and reorganise. Following reorganisation, the brigade consisted of the 1st Lincolnshires (who had been with the brigade since March 1942), the 5/1st Punjab Regiment and the 1/18th Royal Garwhal Rifles.

      On 19th November 1943, 26th Division was relieved by 7th Division in the Arakan and was withdrawn to become XV Corps Reserve (XV Corps being responsible for the coastal region). However, on 4th February 1944 the division was ordered to move south once again, this time in response to the Japanese Operation HA-GO offensive in the Arakan. The 5th & 7th Divisions in the Maungdaw – Ngakyedauk – Buthidaung area were soon surrounded, but in accordance with Bill Slim’s new doctrine, formed brigade ‘boxes’ while the RAF delivered their supplies by air. They would become the ‘anvil’, while 25th & 26th Divisions, striking from the north, would be the ‘hammer’, crushing the Japanese forces between them.

      71st Brigade advanced to the Taung Bazaar area and fought its first action on 13th February 1944 and by 26th February had relieved the isolated ‘box’ at Sinzweya. Slim’s ‘Hammer & Anvil’ strategy proved highly successful and the Japanese simply couldn’t understand why they couldn’t find any lines of communication to cut, as they always had in the past. They didn’t realise that the lines of communication were now in the air. This led to catastrophe for the Japanese, as they were banking upon capturing enemy stores of food in order to sustain their offensive. Instead, they now starved as they battered themselves against the ‘boxes’ of the 5th & 7th Divisions and were then crushed by the 25th & 26th Divisions.

      However, there was still considerably hard fighting to be done and 26th Division were in the thick of it; particularly when, a few weeks later, the Japanese Operation U-GO offensive erupted around Imphal and the 5th & 7th Divisions were withdrawn, to be transferred by air to the aid of Imphal. The 36th Division was moved into the Arakan to replace the two lost divisions, though XV Corps now faced renewed Japanese resistance as they approached the southern tip of the Mayu Peninsula and the Japanese fortress of Akyab. 71st Brigade even suffered an attack by large numbers of Japanese infiltrators and the division had to fall back to more-defensible positions near Buthidaung for the Monsoon.

      26th Division’s mission following the end of the Monsoon in November, was to have been the final clearance of the Mayu Peninsula and the assault on the Japanese fortress of Akyab. However, that task was passed to 25th Division and 26th Division was instead tasked with performing an amphibious assault on Ramree Island, with 71st Brigade as the spearhead. The assault was launched on 21st January 1945, covered by massive naval and air bombardment. Thankfully, 71st Brigade’s landing was unopposed and 4th Brigade was able to reinforce them on the 22nd. 71st Brigade now advanced into the heart of the island, finally facing opposition at Yanbauk Chaung on 26th January. On 7th February, the 71st Brigade, with support from 50th Tank Brigade, finally reached Ramree town, where they met considerable resistance. However, with the rest of 26th Division moving to surround the town, the Japanese defenders were crushed and tried desperately to escape through crocodile-infested mangrove swamps to the mainland, with only a few hundred making it.

      In late March 1945, 71st Brigade was withdrawn by sea to Madras, in preparation for Operation DRACULA, the seaborne and airborne assault on Rangoon. It was then decided that Ramree would be one of the points of departure for the assault force, so 71st Brigade went back to Ramree again! The assualt was launched on 2nd May, with the 36th and 71st Brigades leading the assault and 4th Brigade in reserve. That said, the 1/18th Royal Garwhal Rifles were the 71st Brigade reserve, so didn’t land until 4th May 1945. The assault was (again) thankfully unopposed and further opposition was only sporadic, enabling the division to link up with IV Corps on 6th May and with XXXIII Corps on 15th May.

      Following the capture of Rangoon, the division was shipped back to Madras from mid-June 1945, to prepare for Operation ZIPPER, the assault on Malaya. However, 26th Division’s part in that operation was cancelled on 10th August 1945, possibly as a result of the atomic bombing of Japan and the likelihood of Japanese surrender (the Emperor authorised the surrender on that very day, though the Allies didn’t know this at the time). The division was then tasked with the occupation of Siam (Thailand), but that then changed to the occupation of the Dutch East Indies. Arriving in Sumatra on 10th October 1945, after a period of peaceful occupation, the division gradually discovered that the locals were not very happy about the return of their former Dutch overlords and this boiled over at the oil town of Palembang in February 1946, with further fighting flaring up at Medan and Padang in March 1946 and again in October 1946, when rumours of the Dutch reoccupation arrived. The Dutch Army finally arrived on 26th October 1946 and the withdrawal of 26th Division was complete on 26th November 1946. The 26th Division had suffered 303 casualties during this period of ‘peace’, including 55 dead and 5 missing presumed dead.

      Anyway, I hope that’s of some use?


    • George M Lee says:

      I did get an email several years ago from Major Rhodes daughter, Major Rhodes was in charge of my fathers tank group.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.