One of the opponents for my Second World War Japanese force for Chain of Command will be British and Commonwealth units. The earliest clashes began in December 1941 with the Japanese invasion of Malaya and Hong Kong and were followed the next month with the invasion of Burma. At that time the British tropical uniform was essentially the same as that worn in North Africa - khaki drill shorts and shirts.
The same uniform was worn by Commonwealth units including the Canadians in Hong Kong and the Australian Militia and AIF units in Papua New Guinea in the early stages of that campaign. This means most ranges of miniatures for the 8th Army in North Africa will have suitable figures to cover units for the fighting in 1942 and in some cases into 1943 and early '44.
As the war progressed it was clear that the tropical uniform was not suited for the jungle. During 1943 and 1944 uniforms changed in colour to a more suitable jungle green. The shorts were replaced by longer pants and a range of lightweight fabrics such as Aertex used for the shirts. However that is to run ahead of ourselves. As I want to be able to game the entire period of the war in the Far East I have created forces in both khaki drill with shorts and in jungle greens with long pants. The latter are covered in this post.
In the interwar years the tropical issue helmet was not metal but one made from pith or cork designed for use in hot climates. This was standard issue to all units posted to tropical destinations and there is much evidence that these were still in use at the time. However what is not so clear is whether they were ever worn in combat. By 1940 a soldier posted to a tropical destination was supposed to be issued with both a pith helmet and a steel helmet. While the steel helmet was issued for use on active service there is some photographic evidence to suggest this may not have always been the case. The images below show British units training in Malaya in November 1941 and would appear to suggest that troops were expected to wear these in combat. It's hard to imagine why they would undertake combat training wearing them otherwise.
I am aware that there were units in the early stages of the Burma campaign that had not yet been issued with steel helmets and so they would have had no option but to wear the pith helmets. The Osprey Men-at-Arms book 'The British Army 1939-45 (3) The Far East' states that this was certainly the case for 2nd Bn King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, who had been in Burma since 1936 and had not yet been issued steel helmets. They also lacked a full complement of Bren guns and so used Lewis guns to fill the gaps. While it's not clear exactly how much the pith helmet was worn in combat (if it was at all), what is certain is that the Lewis gun was still in use in many units in Burma, Hong Kong and Malaya. What were considered remote postings like the Far East were often the last to be issued with new equipment, with units closer to home taking top priority.
Also worth noting that the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders photographed below while training in Malaya in November 1941 may be in the tropical helmet, three men are armed with a Thompson sub machine gun (presumably the NCOs) and the man second from the left is carrying a Bren gun. Their helmets may belong to a different era, but their weapons do not.
Early War Miniatures produce a range of tropical British in pith helmets and with Lewis guns and so just in case the opportunity arises I have added a platoon of these to my collection for the Far East theatre.
Even if they don't end up seeing much action in the Far East they wear uniforms suitable for some units in East Africa, as well as campaigns in Syria and Lebanon. Let's just call them a small indulgence.
The basic organisation for all Commonwealth units is the standard British infantry platoon, composed of a platoon HQ and three rifle sections, each made up of a team of riflemen and a light machine gun team. The bulk of my platoon is made up of figures from the AB Figures Western Desert range. These will represent British and Commonwealth units from December 1941 and for much of the fighting throughout 1942-43. There is some evidence of units in Burma still wearing this uniform until early 1944.
In some cases the section corporal (junior leader) could be armed with a rifle. For these men I have used figures from the Wargames Foundry 20mm 'British infantry in North Africa' set to help differentiate these figures with a pose that distinguishes them from the other ranks which are from AB.
You can find one of these large, heavy Boys anti-tank rifles in the collection of the Australian War Memorial museum.
That makes up the core platoon. For support units I have a Vickers medium machine gun team, also from AB. The prone figure on the single base is from Dixon Miniatures. Their 20mm range has some lovely sculpts but they really are 'true 20mm' and look small in comparison to the AB and Foundry figures. While the prone figure is shorter than the others it's less noticeable because he's lying down.
The Australian War Memorial museum has a 2 pounder gun on display that you can inspect up close.
There were not many AFVs present in the early stages of the war with Japan. The Universal Carrier was available in various forms and was seen in most theatres. The problem of transporting tanks to the north coast of New Guinea meant the Australians made one attempt to use the available carriers like tanks in an assault at the Duropa Plantation during the battle for Buna in New Guinea. Ill suited to the task assigned to them it was little surprise that all five carriers were disabled within half an hour.
This carrier is from the Plastic Soldier Company with a crew from AB Figures.