Review by Peter Brown
The middle of 1942 was a turning point in Allied fortunes in North Africa but was also a low point for New Zealand when two whole Infantry Brigades were overrun due to the lack of armoured support. This led to three infantry regiments were retrained as armoured battalions, which had the huge advantage that many tank crewmen had trained and fought as infantrymen so they knew how the foot-soldier operated and what they needed from their armoured support. These units fought in the Italian campaign as 4th New Zealand Armoured Brigade from November 1943 until the end of the Second World War and were present at the start of the next world conflict, the Cold War.
These simple facts are only the bare bones of New Zealand's introduction to armoured warfare. While tanks, formations and battles are one part of that story, it is the experiences of the men who manned the tanks which are related here. Jeff Plowman has already published several book on the armoured units of his native land which have been reviewed here on PMMS. As part of his continuing researches, he has been in contact with over fifty veterans and has recorded their memories not only for posterity as time fades memories and thins their ranks, but also as the basis for this account.
This is their story, told in their own words. Their accounts have been linked together with short sections describing background events but the memories of the men who were there is the main part of the book. They speak of training and action, tanks and comrades, battles and life in the front line. They tell of good times and bad ones, happy experiences, humorous episodes, of battles won and tanks bogged down in mud, and of friends wounded and killed in action as well as heroic deeds and some deeds less honourable. All are here, woven together to form a fascinating and readable account of what could so easily be overlooked in a theatre of war not immediately thought of as one where tanks saw action.
As such this is not a technical book though there is enough detail included for those who do not know much about tanks along with a section showing side views of the main New Zealand and opposing AFVs. For the technically minded and the non-technical alike, specialist terms, abbreviations and even foreign words are explained. Maps of the main areas of operations help us to follow the routes the tanks took. Photos show machines and men, with many taken by the participants themselves most will be new though they may lack the clarity of official, posed shots.
Above all, this is an account by and of, and a tribute to, New Zealanders who fought in tanks during the Second World War. It is skilfully edited into a fascinating book which the author has had the courage to publish himself in order to make it known, hopefully, to a wider audience than those lucky enough to meet these survivors. As they gradually diminish, they have at least this book as their legacy and it deserves to be read by anyone interested in the nation and the campaign in Italy.
Price $40 NZ plus postage and packing, approximate charges New Zealand $5,
Australia $10 airmail and rest of the world $15 airmail. Payment by cheques
and money orders please.
Email the author at email@example.com for more details
Page created 28 July 2003