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

452 — General Freyberg to the acting Prime Minister of New Zealand

General Freyberg to the acting Prime Minister of New Zealand

4 July 1941

Reference your telegram of 28 June (No. 451). The matter is being investigated here by my Brigadiers but I send the following at once to enable you to reply to possible criticism.

page 329

In Crete, gunners, engineers, Army Service Corps, and other technical personnel, having lost their specialist equipment in the evacuation from Greece, were formed into rifle companies, and fighting as such they were undoubtedly at a disadvantage. They had fired only a modified musketry course in their previous training, while certain specialist categories were issued with only 60 per cent rifles. Therefore, it is true to say that such units had not reached the infantry standard of proficiency with the rifle.

The statements are without foundation as far as the Greek campaign or infantry units in Crete are concerned. Infantry, cavalry, and machine gunners, who form the largest part of the Division, had fired three complete musketry courses during the year and had reached a very high standard. This was made possible through the supply of ammunition from New Zealand. A very high standard was reported by unit commanders in Greece and Crete, and this was confirmed by enemy prisoners who said that the musketry of the New Zealanders was higher than anything they had previously experienced. I am convinced that our weapon training compares favourably with any troops, British or enemy. Instances of marksmanship can be quoted. On Crete on 20 May, when 136 parachute troops landed against one company of the 18th Battalion, 134 were shot in a minute, mostly through the head, and two wounded prisoners asked if all New Zealand troops were picked snipers. A similar story is told of the 19th Battalion at Servia Pass in Greece and of the 22nd Battalion at Katerine. The marksmanship of the New Zealand infantry, machine gunners, and cavalry was superb and stopped the enemy whenever they met in Greece and Crete.

Since the parachute experience of Crete we have recommended that all technical personnel, instead of only a proportion, should be fully armed, and that all should fire the full musketry course and be trained and well grounded in infantry minor tactics.