A member of the British Commonwealth and an active participant in the Pacific Theater during the Second World War, New Zealand did produce a camouflaged jungle uniform for issue to members of its 3rd Division during the war. The uniforms were hand-produced in limited numbers, and few have survived to the present era, but their fabrication marked the first use of camouflage by New Zealand military forces.
In the 1960s, members of the New Zealand Special Air Service (NZSAS) deployed to the Republic of Vietnam in support of the government and its allies in SEATO (Southeast Atlantic Treaty Organization). Although olive green was the standard work and combat uniform of the New Zealand Army at the time, the SAS rapidly came to appreciate the effectiveness of the American and South Vietnamese combat uniforms, many of which were printed in camouflage designs. New Zealanders coveted whatever numbers they could lay their hands on of the American ERDL jungle uniforms as well as the South Vietnamese tiger stripe pattern fatigues.
Beginning in the 1980s, and following the British example, New Zealand adopted DPM camouflage for its combat clothing. Initial production runs of the clothing were made using imported British fabric, but subsequently New Zealand sourced its own fabric from a variety of sources. For the next sixteen years or so, the Ministry of Defense would issue several types of DPM camouflage uniform, each with a different coloration from the previous. Around 1996 the NZ DPM camouflage pattern became essentially standardized, and this remains the universal combat pattern of the New Zealand Armed Forces today.
New Zealand Camouflage Patterns
As the standard combat uniform of the New Zealand Army was khaki drill during the Second World War, largely ineffective as camouflage in a jungle environment, the need for a better suited uniform was addressed in 1942. The standard khaki uniform was modified by applying a camouflage pattern using spray equipment to apply dark green, dark brown and light green paint. The resulting pattern was a mottled scheme with little recognizable design, but functioned more effectively than the plain khaki drill. Several thousand of these uniforms were produced before the war ended, but very few uniforms survived and they were never issued again to New Zealand forces.
Circa 1979-80, a waterproofed nylon A-shaped pup tent and shelter half (aka "hootchie" or basha) was issued to New Zealand Defence Force personnel, painted in a unique blotch/brushstroke combination pattern. Having large blots of dark green and olive green plus russet brushstrokes on a lime green background, the pattern also appeared on nylon gloves. These gradually fell into disuse and were replaced by DPM versions.
The first DPM camouflage uniforms were issued to New Zealand military personnel from 1980 to 1983. Often called the 1st Winterweight pattern, the uniform was made from medium weight cotton modal fabric imported from the UK. This was the same fabric used to produce the 1968 Pattern British Army Combat Uniform.
In 1984, a new winterweight uniform based on the British 1968 Pattern was produced, using locally-made fabric. The camouflage pattern retained the same drawings, but the combination of the dyes and fabric used produced an entirely different coloration. This marked the beginning of a tradition of creating truly distinctive New Zealand DPM, one that has been retained to this day. The second series of DPM and the 2nd winterweight uniforms were in production until 1986, when the bulky nature of the uniform was deemed too hot for the tropical climate of New Zealand, and a new style uniform introduced.
The 1st Style Tropical uniform entered service in 1986 and continued in use until 1990. It was fabricated using a 3rd series DPM pattern, incorporating black, reddish-brown & golden-yellow disruptive shapes on a sea green base, and was nicknamed "stonewash" by the Kiwis. Although there are some similarities to the 2nd series NZ DPM, this version is distinctive in having a more "minty" green and a more prominent display of golden-yellow. The uniform was much lighter weight than previous suits, consisting of lightweight shirt, combat trousers, bush hat, and helmet cover.
The New Zealand MOD introduced DPM camouflaged wet weather gear, shelter half, and field equipment in the early to mid 1980s. Made from different types of waterproofed fabrics, the DPM pattern printed on this gear was distinctive and varied with the type of fabric it was printed on. Two versions have been produced (1st & 2nd generation), both of which have continued in service into the present era.
Between 1991 and 1993, a 4th series DPM pattern was printed on the 2nd Style Tropical uniform.
From 1994 to 1995, a 5th series DPM camouflage was printed on the 3rd Style Tropical uniform, which consisted of shirt, trousers and bush hat. Significantly different than any previously issued DPM pattern, this new version featured black, chocolate brown & olive green disruptive shapes on a tan background. It earned the nickname "diesel" pattern, probably due to its dark and faded appearance. The 5th series uniforms were not well made, and faded very quickly; hence, they were not very popular.
Beginning in 1996, a 6th and final series of DPM pattern camouflage was introduced for the New Zealand Defence Force. Often called "golden DPM," the design features black, dark brown & golden-yellow disruptive shapes on a grass green base. The initial production run of uniforms consisted of tropical shirt, combat trousers, bush hat and boonie hat (with wider brim). Some of the uniform details changed in 1999 and a ventile smock was added (below, right) to the ensemble, but essentially the DPMpattern has remained unchanged until today.
In 2003, the New Zealand MOD adopted a desert DPM variation for issue to personnel that deploy to arid regions. This two-color pattern is very similar to the standard British desert DPM pattern, although the style of uniform and the fabric type is different.
Initially released for testing in 2011, a new, pixelated camouflage design was adopted by the NDDF in 2013. This marked a huge departure from the DPM-based designs employed up to that point. This Multi-Terrain Camouflage Uniform pattern (MCU), designed to perform under a variety of geographical conditions, is likely to have been heavily influenced by the use of Multicam by the NZ Special Air Service in various theaters of operation. The original pattern incorporated a fairly dark color scheme that was criticized by operational personnel. Subsequently, the NDDF adjusted the colors to a lighter scheme, as well as an alternative version for the Flame Resistant (FR) smock. This pattern was designed by Hyperstealth Biotechnology Industries.
Other Patterns worn by New Zealand
NZ Special Air Service (NZSAS) units operating in South Vietnam were issued the same lightweight jungle camouflage uniforms worn by reconnaissance units of the US Army. The M1948 ERDL camouflage pattern became the standard uniform of NZSAS units from 1968 onwards, and was worn in lieu of the standard jungle green (JG) uniform issued by the NZ Army at that time.
Members of the NZ SAS operating in Afghanistan (ISAF) have been documented as wearing the commercially available Multicam pattern made in the USA under license by Crye Precision.
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