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

89 — The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the High Commissioner for the United Kingdom (Wellington)

The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the High Commissioner for the United Kingdom (Wellington)

7 September 1940

With reference to the telegrams of 3 and 12 August from the Governor-General of New Zealand.1 His Majesty's Government in New Zealand will now have been informed of the general policy regarding reinforcements in personnel and equipment to the Middle East as indicated in my telegram (No. 88). The following are the comments of the United Kingdom authorities regarding the outstanding points raised in the telegrams under reference, namely: (1) the prospects of a large-scale attack in the Middle East, possibly from more than one direction and possibly with German assistance; and (2) the position, in detail, of the scale of equipment for the New Zealand forces in the Middle East.

During the autumn, an Italian attack on Egypt from Libya is likely, and we are taking all possible steps to deal with such a contingency. Certain information as to these steps was contained in my telegram (No. 88), and further information will shortly be sent. Although there is a possibility that German forces might co-operate from Libya or initiate an attack from Syria, it is unlikely that either of these threats could materialise without considerable preparation by the Germans, and of this no definite indication has yet been received. In particular, an advance from Syria would take a considerable time to prepare and long warning of such preparation should be available.

page 73

As the New Zealand Government have no doubt been informed by the Officer Commanding the New Zealand troops in the Middle East, arrangements have been made by the Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East for a brigade group to be moved from Cairo to an operational theatre in the Western Desert in the near future.1 As for the equipment of this brigade group, it is not possible to say exactly what are the deficiencies, since it has been found necessary to pool all equipment and vehicles in the Middle East, but this brigade group and one of the Australian brigade groups, which is also moving into an operational theatre, are being equipped to the highest scale possible from existing sources in the Middle East. After this has been done the combined deficiencies of the two brigade groups in the principal items of equipment will, as far as can be ascertained at present, be as follows:

  • 37 2-inch mortars

  • 144 anti-tank rifles

  • 65 light machine guns

  • 32 machine guns

  • 44 light tanks

  • 18 Bren carriers

  • 48 25-pounder guns

While, therefore, the equipment of this New Zealand brigade group is not complete, it is on as generous a scale as is possible at the moment, and it is thought that it should be adequate for the role which it is intended these troops should undertake.

As regards the remaining New Zealand forces now in the Middle East, the available training equipment will include the following among the principal items:

  • 1730 rifles

  • 9 2-pounder anti-tank guns

  • 8 18-pounder guns

  • 4 4.7-inch howitzers

As regards the third New Zealand echelon, which has sailed in US 4, the New Zealand Government were informed in my telegram to the Governor-General of 30 July,2 of the major items of equipment which are being made available to this contingent. This equipment has already been shipped and should arrive in the Middle East about the middle of September. It is on an equivalent scale to that provided for many Regular units in the United Kingdom.

As indicated in my telegram to the Governor-General of 26 July,3 it is the intention in the autumn to move the second New

1 No. 87.

page 74 Zealand echelon, now in the United Kingdom, to the Middle East. The New Zealand Government will be fully informed as soon as definite proposals for the movement of this contingent can be communicated to them, but they may wish to know at once that it is hoped that this contingent will be fully equipped here before it sails.

Further, as indicated in the third paragraph of my telegram of 1 September (No. 88), the Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East will be allocated a very large proportion of the new equipment from the United Kingdom to make up the deficiencies among the forces under his command.