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

91 — General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

12 September 1940

Your telegram of 10 September (No. 90). I can appreciate how anxious you must be about the lack of equipment in Egypt. The delay in answering your telegram is due to being near Dover in bivouac waiting hopefully for a German landing. I have not yet page 75 seen the Secretary of State's telegram of 7 September (No. 89); when I do I will communicate with Puttick and will then send you the answers to your three questions, but it will take some days. Meanwhile I am in constant touch with Cairo. For your information, I forward a cable received from Puttick, dated 31 August:

The move of the New Zealand forces to the Western Desert commenced on the 28th and will be completed by the 6th, less the Anti-Tank Battery and the signal class.1 Inglis2 with Headquarters 4th Brigade commands Lines of Communication, which include Cavalry, Artillery, and Machine Gun Battalion, which are employed on the defences. Divisional Headquarters, in reserve near Daba in readiness to assume command of groups concentrating for active operations, will carry out reconnaissance and TEWTs3 and reinforce Lines of Communication headquarters or Maadi as necessary. Stevens with small staff and Base details remains at Maadi to prepare for the Third Contingent. Army Service Corps surplus to field force requirements remains at Maadi but is organised ready to reinforce on Lines of Communication if required. Reserve Mechanical Transport Company, ASC, and 6th Field Company remain detached as at present.

When I received the above cable, and knowing the position when I left, I considered the equipment of the First Echelon sufficient for the role assigned to it. Your cabled figures do not appear correct but Puttick's reply will give me the correct figure. Even so, it should be remembered that normal brigade groups have no cavalry regiment and only a machine-gun company of twelve instead of nineteen Vickers guns. It is true that the force is weak in anti-tank rifles and lacks new 25-pounders, but it has 18-pounders—a good gun—and besides other arms has a large number of Brens. I consider that the First Echelon when kept together as a formation is a formidable fighting force quite adequate for the task allotted it.

As you know, the equipment situation for the past year has been very bad and has been accentuated by French losses. Production here is much improved, but the quantity required to make the defences of the United Kingdom secure has been enormous. Excellent progress has been made but at the expense of the Middle East. The danger of attempted invasion is nearly over. By the end page 76 of October, unless the German bombing of factories interferes seriously with production, we shall be past the danger point. After the end of September all interest will centre in the Middle East. The equipment [position] there is not good but, thanks to most firm representations to the highest authority here, a new policy has been agreed to and in the immediate future the Middle East is to get 50 per cent of the production of our factories. Enormous shipments were made last month; some have now arrived and will continue to arrive for some months. These include aeroplanes, tanks, guns, ammunition, &c. With regard to the New Zealand Expeditionary Force's equipment, the Second Echelon will be complete in every detail before embarkation except for twelve antitank 2-pounders and minor details of Royal Engineers field company equipment. The balance of the equipment for the First Echelon, including its full complement of 25-pounders and all vehicles, is now on the water. Training equipment for the Third Echelon upon a basis of 50 per cent issues has been shipped and should be available upon their arrival. I believe that from now on the Middle East equipment position will continue to improve, and by the end of November the New Zealand Expeditionary Force should be able to take the field as a division.

Undoubtedly this autumn has been most difficult here. We should have been relieved of our operational role tomorrow and completed mobilisation pending embarkation. Three days ago these orders were cancelled and we are to stay out here covering Dover until the end of the month or when the present good weather breaks. Immediately War Office liberates me I fly to Egypt by the quickest route. Meanwhile the position in England is excellent, everybody, especially the women population of London, showing great spirit. I can assure His Majesty's Government in New Zealand that our men are well trained, fit, and in great heart, and that the equipment position is adequate. I am confident that our men will play their part if called upon to defend either Great Britain or Egypt.

1 The Signal School, which had been left at Maadi, rejoined 2nd New Zealand Divisional Signals on 16 Sep.

2 Major-General Lindsay Merritt Inglis, CB, CBE, DSO, MC, VD. At the time of this reference he was temporarily in command of 4th New Zealand Infantry Brigade with the rank of Colonel; commanded 4th Infantry Brigade 1941–42 and 4th Armoured Brigade 1942–44; temporarily in command of 2nd New Zealand Division, Jun–Aug 1942, after General Freyberg had been wounded, and in Jun–Jul 1943; Chief Judge of the Control Commission Supreme Court in the British Zone of Occupation, Germany.

3 Tactical Exercises Without Troops.