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

190 — General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

4 July 1940

Further to my cable of 27 June (No. 187). I have now had time to get in touch with the situation here. Government opinion, shared by all the Services, is that immunity from invasion cannot be guaranteed with the present naval and air forces at our disposal. Once the enemy has committed himself, naval and air forces will seriously interrupt all lines of communication.

It is felt that a seaborne expedition could be transported in motor boats, submarines, warships, transports, and flat-bottomed motor barges, the latter facilitating rapid unloading of armoured fighting page 134 vehicles. At or near each point of attack the enemy is likely to make use of parachute troops both to capture landing grounds for troop-carriers and to disorganise communications. The possible scale of airborne invasion is estimated at ten to fifteen thousand men in one day. The enemy is likely to use the shortest sea and air route for his main effort against this country, but is sure to attempt diversionary operations in the Shetlands, Ireland, or in North Scotland.

Undoubtedly, the enemy's object is to defeat the United Kingdom, thereby destroying the British Empire. His military objectives will be the centre of Government in London and the centres of production and supply, together with under-water and air attacks on our overseas supply system.

The fact that the enemy has the initiative imposes upon us the strategic defensive, the first object of which is to protect [our shores?] and limit any enemy landing by sea or air and prevent the capture of any port or area which will facilitate the development of the invasion. The second object is to deal swiftly and adequately with the enemy's widely scattered forces by means of mobile columns before these enemy elements have established themselves, and also to prevent the arrival of reinforcements. The third object is to prevent the enemy destroying this country's vital resources.

The Second Echelon have now settled down. Although in common with other troops here they are short of equipment—they have been given a much better allotment than was at first visualised—they are working night and day, Sundays included, to fit themselves for an active role. They are in excellent heart, and the chance of meeting the enemy at a near date has enormously raised their morale. I have reorganised the force into three groups: a mobile force, consisting of a cavalry squadron, an improvised machine gun company, and an improvised infantry battalion from Royal Artillery personnel, under Brigadier Miles; the 5th Infantry Brigade under Brigadier Hargest; and an improvised brigade, consisting of the Maori Battalion and an improvised infantry battalion from reinforcements, under Brigadier Barrowclough.

The New Zealand force in buses will be completely mobile. Operationally we are to work in the closest touch with the 1st Canadian Division, who are fully equipped, and their GOC1 has agreed to support us with artillery.

My opinion that any attempt at landing in England is doomed to failure is unaltered. The military powers, however, are insistent

1 General Andrew George Latta McNaughton, PC, CH, CB, CMG, DSO; till 18 Jul 1940 commanding 1st Canadian Division as Major-General; from that date until 25 Dec 1940 commanded 7th Corps, which included the New Zealand troops in the United Kingdom; later commanded Canadian Corps until 1942; commanded First Canadian Army 1942–43; Minister of National Defence, Canada, 1944–45.

page 135 that the Germans will make the attempt and the date indicated is early in July. We must hope that they do and that they do not make any move against Egypt, which would be more difficult to counter now that France has made a separate peace.

Since the receipt of your message of 29 June (No. 189) expressing general agreement with my opinions, I have gone on with all preparations, and with the emergency powers which the New Zealand Government saw fit to give me I shall be able to use our men in an emergency in any active role that may be assigned to us. However, as time may still allow, I feel that the Government may wish through normal channels to offer the New Zealand force in the United Kingdom to His Majesty's Government for active operations in the event of invasion.1

1 The above text, taken from the GOC's files, differs in a number of respects from the telegram on file in the Prime Minister's Department.