NZ 4th Armoured Brigade 1943

Desert Rats

4th New Zealand Armoured Brigade In 1943

By Dion Holswich

Forming The Brigade

Because of the poor reputation British armoured support had in the eyes of New Zealanders,  mainly due to 4 New Zealand Infantry Brigade at Ruweisat Ridge and 6 NZ Infantry Brigade at El Mreir being overrun by German tanks when  British armour failed to show up,  General Freyberg felt, overall commander of the New Zealand forces, he had to take matters into his own hands. Failing to convince the New Zealand government that there was a need for an armoured brigade he decided to convert an existing Brigade, namely the 4th New Zealand Infantry Brigade, into the 4th New Zealand Armoured Brigade.

After training until October 1943, the brigade was shipped to Italy, disembarking at Taranto on the 22nd of October.

Combat History for 1943

19th Armoured Brigade were the first New Zealand tanks to see action, they were asked to assist the 3/8 Punjab Regiment, 19th Indian Brigade, 8th Indian Division to attack Perano to check the state of the Sangro bridge.

Initial reports were of little German resistance but as the battle progressed they encountered some selfpropelled guns and anti-tank guns which  knocked out 6 of the 19 tanks that assisted the attack.

Right: A Sherman in Italy, probably from 19th Armoured Regiment, ‘C’ squadron.

A Sherman in Italy
A Sherman from the 18th Armoured Regiment

Less than two weeks later 2nd New Zealand Infantry Division launched an attack against the German defenders in their new position on the Northen side of the Sangro river. The 6th NZ Infantry Brigade led the charge with tanks from  19th Armoured Regiment providing support, losing a majority of its tanks to boggy conditions crossing the swollen Sangro river. They were slowly recovered and brought forward as fire support for the infantry.

The attack swept through to Castelfrenano, overlooking the Sangro valley, which had been abandoned by the German defenders. 

Left: A Sherman from the 18th Armoured Regiment, ‘C’ squadron waiting to cross Po River.

The next obstacle was the Moro river and the two comanding towns of Guardiagrele and Orsogna. Two squadrons from 18th Armoured Regiment attacked with 22 Motor Battalion, which progressed well until they met strong German resistance in the town of Melone and then withdrew.

Orsogna became the final objective for the Armoured Brigade on 7th December 1943.

There, attacks by 18th and 19th Armoured Regiments were repulsed by German Panzer IV tanks, allthough some ground was gained. On the 14th tanks from 18th Armoured Regiment supported attacks by 21 and 23 Battalions dealing with two Panzer IV’s. C Squadron, 20 Armoured Regiment went in to reinforce the position and lost six of their tanks in exchanges with German tanks and anti-tank guns. On the 16th December, 20th Armoured Regiment pushed towards Orsogna again, only to be repulsed by the German defenders who were now well dug in and prepared. The front then stabilised, ending their efforts in 1943.

Right: A Sherman from the 18th Armoured Regiment painted in mud-grey with blue-black patches.

A Mud and Grey Sherman
Modelling The 4th New Zealand Armoured Brigade

Prior to the tanks arriving in Italy they were painted with an all-over camouflage scheme of a basecoat of mudgrey (Military Khaki (FWP327)) with patches of blue-black (Panzer Grey (FWP303)) in a disruptive pattern.

Tactical insignia was directly based on the currrent British doctrine (see page 42 of Desert Rats). The system adopted in the desert and commonly carried on through to the Sangro front involved painting the tanks number
above the squadron insignia for the squadron and troop commanders, to the left for the next most senior officer in the troop and to the right for the junior officer of the troop. If there was a fourth tank in the troop, it was painted underneath the squadron insignia.

In some cases the tank number was painted much larger on the side of the tanks hull, in the squadron colour with a white shadow painted behind the number, this system was adopted and became prevalant starting in 1944.

Upon entering Italy  the divisional symbols change from the common British system of having the unit and divisional symbols on opposite sides of the tank, to a combined insignia of a white fern leaf on black, in the top half and the unit number on the unit colour in the bottom half (see the diagram on the following page).

Shermans entering Guardiagrele

Shermans from the 18th Armoured Regiment entering Guardiagrele. 


When the brigade was first formed it was initially going to armed with tanks in the same manner of other regiments in the Middle East, ‘A’ squadron with Shermans, ‘B’ squadron with Grants and ‘C’ squadron with Crusaders. All that were recieved were a few Lees and Crusaders, these were retained by the armoured training school.

In July 1943 the regiments were to be fitted out solely with Sherman III diesel tanks and the Crusaders were given back.


Breaking from the traditional British armoured squadron size at the time of 61 tanks, the New Zealand armoured regiments had 52. These were organised into a Regimental HQ of 4 tanks and three squadrons of 16. The squadrons consisted of a Squadron HQ of 4 tanks and 4 Troops of three tanks.
Organisation and Markings

Happy Gaming!


New Zealand Text Center,

4th NZ Armoured Brigade in Italy, by Jeffery Plowman and Malcolm Thomas. ISBN 0-473-06534-7

Last Updated On Wednesday, September 27, 2017 by Wayne at Battlefront