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Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume I

389 — General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

1 May 1941

I have now had time to take stock of the position in Crete where we have 8000 New Zealanders, including the 4th and 5th Brigades1 and parts of other Divisional units. After an evacuation such as the one we have been through, where units are taken from beaches in several ships, there is an inevitable splitting up of organisation, and we are now so split up that we must go as soon as possible to Egypt, where the balance of our force is situated, to sort out and fill up our casualties and re-equip. In the meantime we are being held for the defence of Crete, and until we are relieved by other troops of that responsibility we must stay here.

For the information of the Prime Minister, I saw General Wavell here yesterday, and he informed me that General Blamey had expressed the desire to keep the Anzac Corps in being for possible war in Palestine. I told the Commander-in-Chief that I had no power to make such a decision, and that my Government would have to be consulted. I think that General Wavell will approach you on this matter.2

Next, General Wavell asked me to take over command of all troops in Crete. I said that I did not want to but wanted to get the Division back to Egypt to reorganise and fit for further action. Further, I said that my Government would not agree to the splitting up of the Division and to its being kept apart.

General Wavell said that he realised this, but until he had troops from Home to replace us the New Zealand troops would have to remain. He also made a personal point of my taking over the job of Commander-in-Chief in Crete, commanding all the New Zealand, Australian, and British forces here until after the possible attack had been delivered. I have therefore done so as a temporary measure only, and in the meantime have placed Brigadier Puttick in command page 288 of the two New Zealand brigades. I am now reorganising the defences of Crete, and will communicate to the New Zealand Government regarding the position in which the New Zealand forces are placed here. I hope these measures I have taken will meet with the Government's approval. I am most anxious to get all our men back to Base and again re-constitute the Division.

1 The 6th Infantry Brigade was evacuated from Greece to Egypt.

2 See Volume II, Proposed Formation of Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.