NZ Army Camouflage 1949-1979

In the 1960s, the New Zealand Army introduced a distinct camouflage pattern for its lightweight individual shelters. The pattern was a unique blend of blotches and brushstrokes, featuring dark green and olive-green blotches, russet brushstrokes, and a lime green background. This design remained in use for over two decades and piqued the interest of camouflage enthusiasts. This article will delve into the history of this camouflage pattern.

During the Second World War and through the 1950s, the standard combat uniform of the New Zealand Army was the khaki drill, which proved to be largely ineffective as camouflage in a jungle environment. In response, modifications were made to the standard khaki drill uniforms in 1942 at three different camouflage sections in Auckland, Christchurch, and Wellington by manually applying a camouflage pattern using spray equipment. This resulted in a mottled scheme with little recognisable design, which functioned more effectively than the plain khaki drill in the jungle combat zones of the Pacific theatre. Several thousand of these uniforms were in service by 1943 and saw action with the 3rd Division/2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force in the Pacific, specifically in the battle of the Treasury Islands and the action of Vella Lavella in the Solomon Islands.

Following the disbandment of the 3rd Division in 1944, no further use was made of these expedient combat suits. In the post-war era, as the New Zealand Army was reorganised and equipped into a Divisional structure supported by a Compulsory Military Training (CMT) scheme, advice was sought from Australia and the United Kingdom on using camouflage clothing for field craft and battle drills in peace and war.

Australia was waiting for the United Kingdom to decide on camouflage clothing before formulating an Australian policy. In October 1949, the United Kingdom clarified their position on camouflage clothing, stating that the new combat clothing for temperate areas would be coloured ‘Olive Drab’ (SCC15). Troop trials of the combat suit in SCC15 were underway in the UK, BAOR and MELF to be completed by 31 March 1950. It was, however, thought that disruptive camouflage may be better than plain SCC15, but no further decision on this point would be taken until the reports of the troop trials had been studied.

As this reply from the United Kingdom was indefinite, New Zealand took the position in November 1949 that dying suits of Khaki Drill uniforms Olive drab would provide a suitable camouflage uniform for New Zealand infantry units undertaking field craft and battle drills. Trials of bulk dying of Khaki Drill uniforms were undertaken by Taylor Drycleaning of Wellington in January 1950, with 2397 camouflage (Olive Drab) jackets and 2393 trousers distributed to the three Military Districts in May 1950, and a further batch of 1488 jackets distributed in February 1952. With the adoption of Drill Green uniforms in December 1955, the requirement for the dyed camouflage suits passed, and they were progressively wasted out of service.

By 1962 the New Zealand Army was embarking on a program of modernisation of its clothing and equipment. Enquiries with industry indicated to the Quartermaster General (QMG) that it was technically possible to manufacture Parkas, Overtrousers, Shelters Lightweight and Bedrolls with a camouflage effect if required.

The advice provided to the QMG from the Directors of Infantry and Training indicated that as Parkas and Overtrousers were primarily used only for training within New Zealand, Olive Green or some other inauspicious shade be used. Although a Recommendation was made that there was no requirement to have a camouflaged bedroll and they too should be Olive Green, there was merit in having camouflaged shelters.

The green New Zealand lightweight Shelter had been developed from the Australian shelter with an initial purchase of 5910 commencing in late 1965 to selected Field Force and District training pools. The New Zealand lightweight shelter was fitted with the same fittings allowing two shelters with the addition of poles and flaps to be joined to form a two-person tent.

It was recommended that a camouflage pattern of irregular shapes about 12 inches in diameter, 12 inches apart, should be printed against the Olive green base colour to break up the outline of the green shelters. Dark Brown was suggested as the camouflage colour. However, further trials were required to determine the best size and colour.

SME Trials

With the requirement to camouflage personal shelters with the suggested pattern of irregular patches of dark brown patches against an Olive Green background, the New Zealand School of Military Engineering (SME) was tasked on 28 March 1963 to investigate the problem to determine the best size and colour for the personal shelters. SME was given until 30 April 1963 to report on their progress. However, to allow the required resources to be purchased and comprehensive trials conducted, SME submitted their report in December 1963.

SME produced samples using a mixture of commercial off-the-shelf paints and paints mixed to meet US Army specifications, the commercial colours of the Interlux brand were.

  • Matt Manilla (Yellow Brown)
  • Matt Venetian Red
  • Matt Almond Green
  • Matt Copper Mist
  • High Gloss Black
  • Blackboard Black

The Interlux colours were hand and spray painted on shelters in the following patterns

  • Disruptive painting using French curves to join adjacent colours
  • Disruptive painting of straight lines to join adjacent colours to produce a triangle effect.
  • Painting by dabbing with a 2-inch paintbrush

The paints to US Army specifications were chosen from US Manual FM5-22 Camouflage Materials and mixed by the International Paint Company Laboratory to obtain the best match possible. The colours were

  • No 6 Earth Brown
  • No 7 Forest Green
  • No 8 Olive Drab
  • No 9 Field Drab
  • No 11 Light Green
  • No 12 Light Stone

The US Colours were hand and spray painted using the following patterns,

  • Three colour overlays by dabbing with a paintbrush
  • Three-colour cam net effect with 7-inch diamonds and 2-inch stripes
  • Two-colour cam net effect with 4-inch diamonds and 1-inch stripes.
  • Two colour disruptive painting.

Each scheme was tested over a month to determine weathering, flexibility and ease of application.

It was found that both types of paint weathered well and remained flexible. The US Colours were found easier to apply with the schemes in the US Colours that had been dabbed with a paintbrush, produced a good camouflage effect.

Each painted shelter was then photographed without regard to the background from a distance of 20 feet which provided an accurate indication of the colour schemes and design, leading to the selection of six schemes for a final test.

 In the final series of tests, the six selected schemes were arranged against as many backgrounds as possible and then photographed from different distances. The No1 Scheme (Interlux Black and Copper Mist Disruptive Pattern) was found to have the best concealment against foliage. The No 3 Scheme (US Colours of Earth Brown, Olive Drab, Light Green, Light Stone in a Dabbed pattern) provided the best concealment against light backgrounds.

Overall, the SME trial found no colour or pattern suitable for all backgrounds. Although all the types of paints trailed were easy to apply, did not fade and were flexible, it was found that the paints specifically mixed to the US Colour specifications were superior to the commercial types. The results of this trial and the practicality of hand painting individual shelters and developments in industrial cloth printing methods did not encourage further development of this idea.

Seeking advice on Australian camouflage developments, it was found that although the Australian Army was developing a camouflage material for use on their Smock Tropical Lightweight and sub-unit command post shelters, there was no intent or Australian requirement for a camouflaged lightweight shelter.

1960’s Australian Army Smock Tropical Lightweight and sub-unit command post shelter Camouflage pattern. Robert McKie Collection

However, the New Zealand Army’s requirement for lightweight camouflaged shelters remained with further development aimed at procuring printed material that could be manufactured into shelters. Based on the SME trial, the desired colours were to be based on a dabbed pattern, including the US colours of Earth Brown, Olive Drab, Light Green, Light Stone Forest Green and Field Drab.

Type A, B C and D Trials

New Zealand industry was approached to provide a polyester cloth printed with a camouflage pattern coated with polythene for durability. In August 1964 agreement was reached between the New Zealand Army and textile agents Read & Gibson Limited and their Japanese principles, the Marubeni-Iida Company Limited, to provide fifty-yard lengths of six different screen-printed designs with the option to roller print the designs in the future if the technical difficulties in roller printing were resolved.

At least four samples of the new cloth and patterns were received in December 1964, from which samples for trial were selected in February 1965. with the two preferred items manufactured for trial as,

  • Type A – Even pattern
  • Type B -Streaky Pattern

The two samples that were rejected and not preferred were also manufactured into shelters for trial as

  • Type C, and
  • Type D.

In addition to the shelters, two designs of capes were manufactured from the same batch of material and labelled as

  • A1 and A2
  • B1 and B2

The A1 and B1 capes were fitted with Velcro fastenings, while the A2 and B2 capes had dome fittings. There is no record of the trials for the cape, and it is assumed that the concept did not progress past the prototype phase.

1RNZIR  were then tasked to determine the best camouflage pattern for use in Southeast, with the brief to test the shelters under varying conditions of terrain, light and climate with the report to indicate,

  • Acceptance of one or other patterns
  • Any alterations required to the shade or shape

By August 1965, 1RNZIR had completed their initial trials on the A, B, C and D types. All four samples were field tested in the primary jungle, secondary growth, padi, rubber and low scrub under a variety of light conditions in Malaya and Sarawak. Sufficient variations in climate, vegetation and light were experienced to allow a thorough test of all the camouflage patterns to be completed. The same two pers trialled all patterns to allow comparisons to be made on the spot.

The most notable point about all patterns was that the primary colour was too dark. This darkness caused the actual pattern to become almost invisible from about 40 yds distance wherever any overhead cover existed, this distance increasing to about 60 yds in open country. This made the whole shelter appear much darker than the surroundings by day, even in the primary jungle, and consequently, the value of any pattern was lost. Viewed from distances less than those stated, the shelters looked like a piece of waterproof material that someone had tried in vain to camouflage instead of blending in with the background. This fault applied equally to all patterns.

  • Type A. Apart from the dark primary colour, this pattern was found to be overly intense. The shapes should be slightly larger, and more spread out. Shadows, which these patterns are doubtless intended to represent, are not found as close as is depicted in this pattern.
  • Type B. As with Type A, allowing for the dark primary colour, the pattern was a little too intense, although not to the same extent as Type A. If this design were more distinct, it would blend in with the surroundings better than any of the other trial designs.
  • Type C. This design failed to blend in well under very few conditions for the reasons mentioned with Type A, and B. Shadows do not form this close together. It must be appreciated that it was not easy to make a fair comparison with a small square of material as opposed to a full-sized shelter, but the comments apply as near as possible.
  • Type D.  Same as Type C, but more suited than Type C as the intensity is modified.

It was summarised that all the patterns were printed on a background that was too dark and did not make for good camouflaging by day. All patterns were too intense, and any attempt to merge the shelters into shadows or leaves on the ground was lost from relatively short distances. The whole shelter merely became a dark shape which, while more challenging to identify than the Australian equivalent, did not achieve the aim.

The recommendations were to adopt Pattern B with reduced intensity (not so much mosaic per sq. yd) and to make the basic colouring lighter.

Type E, F and G Trials

Taking on board 1RNZIR trial feedback, in October 1965, three other camouflage cloth samples were received from the manufacturer for 1 RNZIR to conduct further trials on. Labelled as E, F and G, insufficient material was available to manufacture shelters suitable for trial. It was considered that local ‘ad hoc’ arrangements could reasonably assess that camouflage effect by 1 RNZIR

Despite the limitations placed on 1RNZIR by the small samples of the material provided, a trial report was submitted in December 1965, with testing carried out for one month in the areas adjacent to Terendak Camp at Malacca.

  • Type E. This pattern failed to achieve a sufficient contrast within itself and consequently contrasted too much with the surrounding foliage. Although the colours were natural, there was insufficient variety. The proportion of camouflage colour to primary colour was good, however.
  • Type F. A good pattern incorporating a suitable balance of light and dark natural colours blended into jungle surroundings well and broke up its outline. The uneven and irregular patches of colour assisted in this, and the proportion of coverage was satisfactory.
  • Type G. This pattern was too vivid and tended to attract attention rather than remain inconspicuous. The shapes and proportions of colours were suitable, but the choice of colours prevented acceptance.

Sample F was recommended as the most satisfactory pattern produced so far, and it was felt that if adopted, it could be suitable for ponchos and shelters and clothing and equipment.

The issue of Camouflaged Combat Clothing was discussed in 1965. However, the general feeling in Army Headquarters was that the Army could not produce camouflaged combat clothing of pattern satisfactory as a walking-out dress. Until then, Jungle Greens and Battle Dress were to remain the standard uniforms. However, any items designed for use in the field, such as parkas, bedrolls and shelters, should be camouflaged with principal development focused on developing suitable camouflage patterns and colours.

Type F Pattern Trials

With the sample pattern Type F accepted by 1 RNZIR, it was proposed to manufacture 12 shelters in the pattern and material for further trials in Malaysia, Borneo, Vietnam and possibly Thailand and 80 yards of material ordered from the manufacturer. By May 1966, the order of 80 yards had been received. However, it was in two parts, 15.5 yards, that had been Auto printed (labelled as A from a material using a cheaper automatic printing process, resulting in a slight difference in the depth of colour but no difference in the pattern. A Proto-type process was utilised to manufacture the remainder of the consignment (labelled as B). For the trial, the current green Lightweight Shelters manufacturer, the National Mortgage & Agency Limited, Jute and Bag Section in Dunedin, manufactured two ‘A’ shelters and six ‘B’ shelters. These were dispatched by the Director of Ordnance Services (DOS) by ait to the following units overseas for trials.

  • 1RNZIR
    • 1 Shelter Lightweight Camouflaged ( Labelled A)
    • 3 Shelter Lightweight Camouflaged ( Labelled B)
    • 4 Shelter lightweight (NZ Current Issue)
  • 161 Battery
    • 1 Shelter Lightweight Camouflaged ( Labelled A)
    • 3 Shelter Lightweight Camouflaged ( Labelled B)
    • 4 Shelter lightweight (NZ Current Issue)

All shelters were dispatched complete with end pieces but did not include poles and pins.

The trial by 1RNZIR and 161 Battery were to address the following questions

  • were the individual colours suitable under all light and background conditions?
  • Was the size and shape of the pattern satisfactory?
  • Did the camouflaged shelter shine under certain weather conditions?
  • Did the camouflage pattern marry up along the join in the material of each shelter?
  • Did the camouflage pattern marry along the join when constructing a two-person shelter?
  • Was there any loss in efficiency due to the ‘Auto-printing’ on the shelter labelled ‘ A’?
  • How did the camouflaged shelter compare to the Australian and current New Zealand green shelters?

The conclusion of the report was to include one of the two following statements,

  • A camouflaged shelter is required for SE Asian combat conditions, and the proto-type camouflaged shelter fully meets this requirement.
  • A camouflaged shelter is required for SE Asian combat conditions, and the proto-type camouflaged pattern and colours need to change in the following ways, stating the required changes.
  • A camouflaged shelter is NOT required for SE Asian combat conditions, as the current New Zealand green shelter fully meets the requirements.
  • A camouflaged shelter is NOT required for SE Asian combat conditions, as the current Australian shelter fully meets the requirements.

1RNZIR and 161 Battery conducted their trials and submitted their trial reports by the end of 1966, with both units stating that a camouflaged shelter was required. 1RNZIR recommended that the yellow base colour was too light and that ends were not required. 161 Battey proposed a dark green colour to replace the yellow base and wanted to retain the ends but of a different design.

Type F (B) Trial pattern

Type H and J Trials

As both 1 RNZIR and 161 Battery considered the background colour of both the Type F pattern shelters inadequate, two new patterns were produced using a darker background colour. In June 1967, two shelters, Type H and J, were issued to 1 RNZIR and 161 Battery for further evaluation. This trial aimed to determine which colour combinations were the most acceptable under operational conditions in SE Asia and whether further minor changes were necessary. The trial conducted was to test the camouflage colours only and not the shelter design, as some non-standard fittings had been included .in the new shelters to ensure the shelters could be produced in the shortest possible time. The reverse side of the material was not as matt as were the previous shelters, but this was to be corrected in the final production of the accepted material.

Trials of the H and J-type shelters were completed by February 1968, with reports from both units inconclusive. However, both units agreed that despite the time limitations of the trial, Type H was the most suitable. In March 1968, satisfied that no further trials were required, Army HQ directed that all trial shelters from 1 RNZIR and V Force be returned to New Zealand.

On 21 March 1968, camouflage material in the type H Pattern was catalogued in the supply systems as 8305-98-102-3124 Cloth, Polyester Coated 2-3oz sq yd, 36in, Camouflage Pattern

In 1971, an initial order was placed for 132,000 yards of new camouflaged material, which was intended to be used to manufacture 10,000 shelters for the New Zealand Forces in Southeast Asia. This order also allowed for the establishment of maintenance and manufacturing reserves, reducing reliance on the Australian supply chain.

The 6,700 green shelters purchased by the New Zealand Forces since 1963 had an annual wastage rate of 270, meaning that they were gradually being depleted. The large-scale distribution of the new camouflage shelters did not occur until 1979 due to a reduction in operational and training commitments after the Vietnam War ended and National Service ceased in 1972.

With the introduction of combat uniforms in British DPM in December 1975, the shelter camouflage material was only extended to two-person tents, bedrolls and mittens. With more modern materials in DPM progressively introduced for field equipment, the New Zealand camouflage material and pattern were wasted out of service from the mid-1990s.

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