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21st Army Tank Brigade in Italy

21st Army Tank Brigade in Italy
With Adam Brooker

So with the release of Fortress Europe and its masses of formations from four factions, there were quite a few things that caught my eye- but the one that really captured my attention was the Italy Churchill Tank Squadron. I seem to really gravitate towards this theatre of battle and I really like the look of the Churchill, especially the new plastics, which really are fantastic. The formation is very versatile it allows you to take not only the heavy behemoths of the British list, but you can also take the flexible Shermans and a troop of one of my other favourite tanks, the M5 Stuart. 

Another thing that made me think, ‘YES! I need to do this!’ is the fantastic decal sheet that came with the British Mid War Churchill Box. It has the decals to make tanks from the 21st and 25th Army Tank Brigades, which were Tank Brigades used in North Africa (1943) and Italy (May 1944 onwards) against the Axis Forces. It not only has the Brigade symbols, but also the Regiment numbers of the North Irish Horse, which was eventually in both Brigades, but also the 145 Regiment RAC, which is the Unit the North Irish Horse replaced when it joined the 21st Tank Brigade.

21st Army Tank Brigade in Italy

They were almost exclusively kitted out with Churchill tanks, but in early 1944 they also had significant numbers of Shermans as their 75mm HE round was much better at dealing with dug in positions and bunkers than the 6 pdr HE round. From this experience the Tank Brigades also made a Churchill variant called the Churchill NA75, which mounted a 75mm Sherman gun (from damaged vehicles) on to the Churchill Mk IV cast turret (see Operation Whitehot). About 200 of these were converted in the field and they did a lot of fighting around the Gothic Line

The main Churchill variant that served in Italy was the Mk IV cast turret variant, with some older Mk IIIs until they wore out. Eventually they did get more Churchill NA 75s, which replaced the Shermans, and in December 44, and January 45 they did received some of the significantly upgraded Churchill Mk VII, with the increased armour and 75mm gun. But in general for much of the fighting, the tanks seen in these Brigades were Churchill Mk I (CS), Churchill Mk III/IV, Churchill Mk V (CS) and Sherman Tanks.

21st Army Tank Brigade in Italy

Key: A – Fit, B – Temporarily Unfit, C – In Workshops, K –Knocked Out.

So given Mid War Churchill decals, the Churchills Kingforce Box set for mid-war (which has both Churchills and Shermans), I decided to do the 21st Army Tank Brigade, also because I think their Formation Symbol looks excellent. I have decided to go for a two tone Italy Scheme for my force, rather than just plain green. I have done a few forces recently that are just one colour and I wanted a break from it.

As to which Regiment, I chose the senior Regiment, the 145th Regiment RAC, in the period of May 1944 until it was replaced by the North Irish Horse in December 1944. So I can use the little yellow red and blue Diablo Formation Sign, and the red and yellow 173 that are on the Mid War decal sheet. Also there is not too much information known about how they painted their tanks, so it’s perfectly plausible that they used a two tone scheme rather than the plain (boring) green. Right is a picture that I used as my muse, not sure if it accurate, but it’s from a book, so it must be true? Right?

21st Army Tank Brigade in Italy

So let’s try and build a force which is both fun to play, reasonably competitive, and as historically accurate as possible.I will be taking this to a Tournament in early August, so I’m giving myself the challenge of getting it all painted up by then.

Now looking at the Formation, first of all I must have an HQ, so 2 Churchills will do me fine for that, and the next compulsory buy is a unit of 3 Churchill 6pdrs, so 5 Churchills so far. Next, how many Stuarts can I take? 8? 12? Looks like only one Patrol, it would be great to take up to two Patrols like the Sherman Formation, but oh well, 4 it is. These Stuarts were divvied out by the Regimental HQ, so they would have a Red Diamond for the Squadron Symbol.

21st Army Tank Brigade in Italy

What’s better than 5 Churchills? 8 Churchills! So another black box unit done. As I’m doing an early 44 Italy force I should also have 3 Shermans to help dig out pesky gun teams or machine guns, and also to basically run around with the Stuarts and cause mischief. I could have taken the option that also gives a 17pdr Firefly tank to the troop, but these were not available in mid 1944. 

Ok so far I have 8 Churchills, 3 Shermans and 4 Stuarts, that’s most of a formation filled, so let’s see what I can get in support. The next easy pick is two units of Daimler and Dingo Armoured Cars, my opponents find these very annoying, not only in that they can Spearhead and move my troops up even further, but they are also very good at harassing infantry, artillery, and have been known to flank bigger tanks and knock them out. At 2 points per Troop, you cannot go wrong. So another 4 Daimlers and 2 Dingo scout cars.

What British force goes to war without their beloved 25 pdrs? Combine it with the artillery expert card (which allows you to move a ranged in marker before the game starts) and you can counter battery or smash infantry from the first turn! So I will take four 25 pdrs if you please Mr Quartermaster.

Now I need some big guns to take out enemy armour from range, and with the British you cannot go wrong with M10, the best bet is the 17pdr version (AT14), but these were not available in the time I am looking at, so I will get the normal (AT12) version.

The British, South Africans, and New Zealanders all fielded these at this time, and I think as an Aussie, bringing some NZ M10s would be ‘choice bro’! But I think in general this unit will be key for the British player against most opponents, and if I was just playing a pick up force I would take the M10 17pdr every day.

21st Army Tank Brigade in Italy

So what else? Bofors! These guns are very good for protecting your flanks from light tanks and armoured cars, with 24” range and AT 7, and also are handy for shooting down planes if your opponent has the gall to bring them, at 3 for 4 points you cannot go wrong. 

Speaking of planes: there were quite a few Australian Squadrons flying Kittyhawks in support of the Allies in Italy even in late 1944. They would even do close air support dive bombing, or strafing the enemy with their .50 cal machine guns. At two for 6 points, they can also be annoying and are good for strafing and bailing (or even killing them if you are lucky) light armoured vehicles like self-propelled artillery or Marders. I painted mine up to be like the Australian 450 Squadron, which operated from 1944-45 in Italy, but had been operating in the deserts of North Africa from 1941.

So I have a few points left over, so that will be a unit of universal carriers for more harassment of the enemy. Then the last points on cards, Artillery Expert and the Lucky card, the last one mostly to pull my arse out of the fire when I make one of my great tactical genius moves (where I try to lull my opponent into a false sense of security by doing the stupidest thing possible!!). So that makes 100 points, I will have a few practice games to see how it goes.

My basic plan is to pick on one objective and focus on that with Churchills, and artillery, and either the Shermans or Stuarts, and then use the M10s, planes and other harassing units to slow the other. I know my force lacks infantry, but I feel if I only take one unit, it’s not enough. If you are going to take infantry then you should take at least three or more platoons. One platoon tends to just sit there and die. But we will see what the practice games recommend.

But I hope this shows how you can use Fortress Europe and a bit of digging through books and Force Orgs to field not only some very fun and playable lists, but also to be very accurate as to what was available in theatre. There are a few little things missing, but I sure most of those will be available when the British D-Day book comes out in early 2020, and it gives me plenty of time to get all this finished. But until that gets here I’ll be very happy to use this!

Last Updated On Friday, June 28, 2019