bookRampant Dragons
New Zealanders in Armour in World War II

by Jeffrey Plowman.

Review by Peter Brown

Although there were plans to provide the 2nd New Zealand Division with its own armoured element as early as 1940, these came to nothing apart from a small number of light AFVs. Some troops were trained in Egypt and they would have formed the nucleus of the New Zealand armoured force when they travelled back home to form an AFV School in September 1941. Their first Valentines tanks arrived and work began in earnest only to be overshadowed by the Japanese entry into the war when they attacked Pearl Harbor. With an immediate threat on their own doorstep, plans for them to return to the Middle East were put on hold and instead of fighting in the desert campaign, the first armoured action was to be in the Pacific when 1st NZ Army Tank Brigade took their symbol, a rampant dragon, into action on Nissan Island in February 1942. After battling against the Japanese as well as local conditions, they became a victim of shortages of manpower and the action moved from the islands of the Pacific Ocean back to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.

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 for more details

Page created 28 July 2003

Click Browsers BACK button to return to list
Return to Home