The story of the NZ 2nd Division’s is one of the longest and toughest of any Allied unit. For four years the division battled its way across Greece, Crete North Africa and Italy, facing some of the best units the Axis had to throw at them. They fought through deserts and snowy mountains, thousands of miles from their home with little chance of seeing their loved ones again until the job was done.
As a Kiwi myself I wanted to put these battlers on the table for my games of Chain of Command. The starting point was the already-published lists for British forces. Like all Empire troops they were organised and equipped almost identically to the British Army, but there were some differences. There’s a decent list for the North African campaign, but nothing for Italy.
Italy gets a bit overlooked by wargamers, who seem to jump straight from the end of the desert war to D-Day for British, US and Empire forces, when there was actually fighting all the way through. The transition shows in these lists, with the Kiwis originally entering Italy organised the same way they were in the desert (lots of AT guns and vehicles, fewer infantry) and by the end of it they look much more like a typical Late War force (PIATs, Wasps, Fireflies, etc).
The Division itself is an interesting unit. Originally an infantry division it re-equipped one brigade with Sherman tanks while in the desert, doing so by actually retraining the infantrymen as tankers. It also used some unusual equipment in Italy, such as Sherman tanks and Priest SP gun carriages as “kangaroo” APCs.
Its most famous unit was 28th (Maori) Battalion, who earned the respect of their German foes through tenacity and aggressiveness in combat, and it’s a tradition the NZ army is still proud of today. In fact the division as a whole was given the nod by none other than Rommel himself in his memoirs:
“This division, with which we had already become acquainted back in 1941–1942, was among the elite of the British Army and I should have been very much happier if it had been safely tucked away in our prison camps instead of still facing us.”
Throughout most of the war the division was commanded by Bernard Freyberg, who is still a household name in NZ. I used to go swimming as a kid in a pool named after him. And speaking of Kiwi household names the division’s 20th Battalion also boasted Charles Upham, the only combat soldier to ever have been foolish enough to earn himself two VCs. That’s an act made even more remarkable by the fact he survived earning both medals and several escape attempts from Colditz and went back to farming in NZ. Legend has it he wouldn’t let anyone bring a German car on his land to the day he died.