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Italy Volume I: The Sangro to Cassino

II: Rebuilding the Division

II: Rebuilding the Division


While Parliament debated its future, the Division was making the long eastward journey back from Tunisia to the Delta. The arrival at Maadi Camp, near Cairo, early in June opened a four months' period of re-equipment, reorganisation and training. The reliefs resulting from the furlough scheme, the return of 4 Brigade as an armoured formation, new equipment and a new mission were the four cornerstones on which the Division was rebuilt.


The Nieuw Amsterdam, sailing from Egypt on 15 June with the first furlough draft (ruapehu), removed about three-quarters of the veteran troops of the first three echelons – 200 officers and 5800 men.1 Though few officers above the substantive rank of major accompanied the draft and a high proportion of junior officers, NCOs and technicians had to be retained, an immediate weakening of the Division was inescapable. Fighting units were particularly depleted, since among unmarried other ranks only those with field service were entered in the leave ballot.

By the time the replacements had joined their units at Maadi, the Division, considered as a group of men, had been substantially transformed, gaining in freshness but losing in experience. In a typical infantry battalion, few but the commands and technical posts were filled by original members; most of the older reinforcements

1 The principles on which the first draft was selected were laid down by the War Cabinet, which, after an exchange of views, approved the detailed procedure worked out in the Division. The essence of the problem was that those officers and men whose length of service gave them the strongest title to relief were, as a group, the key members of the Division, and a compromise had to be found between the claims of equity and efficiency. War Cabinet readily recognised that to deplete the Division of its most experienced and highly trained troops and its technical experts would be to imperil the lives of later reinforcements; and the recognition of this fact made it easier to find a solution that met with gratifyingly little criticism either at home or in the Division. The Ruapehu draft comprised men from the first three echelons in the following categories: all married other ranks (including NCOs); two-thirds of unmarried other ranks (excluding NCOs) with field service and a smaller proportion of unmarried NCOs and technicians, chosen by ballot by arms of the service; all married officers below the substantive rank of major and not in special technical employment; half the technical officers below the substantive rank of major and about fifty unmarried officers of the same rank, chosen by ballot. A small number of senior officers were personally selected for short leave in New Zealand. Return to New Zealand was compulsory for those selected in the ballot. After three months' leave on full pay at home, all ranks medically fit were eligible for return to the Division. The case of only sons was left to be dealt with by the machinery for compassionate leave. The number of doctors and nurses eligible for furlough depended on replacements from New Zealand.

page 32 had found their way to administrative duties, leaving the rifle companies with a sprinkling of men of the 4th to 7th Reinforcements, with three years' to eighteen months' experience, and, for the rest, with the 8th Reinforcements, who had fought in Tunisia, and the 9th and 10th, who had only recently arrived from New Zealand. Among the gunners and engineers, who had suffered fewer casualties than the infantry, experienced men were still a majority and, for the same reason, they were even more preponderant in New Zealand Army Service Corps and other second-line units.
Continuity of command was well maintained between the Division's return to Maadi and its departure for Europe. The loss of Freyberg from command of the Division, if not of the Expeditionary Force, was indeed at one time a possibility. As early as April 1943 the New Zealand Government, in its anxiety not to allow his association with the Division to prejudice his well-earned prospects of promotion, had raised the question of his future with the British Government, and in the last stages of the fighting in Tunisia General Montgomery appointed him to temporary command of 10 Corps. Freyberg's own attitude was straightforward: he was ‘wholly content’ with his existing status, and his personal ambition was to see the war through to its end with the Division he led, though if the wider war effort required him to serve elsewhere he would reconsider the matter in consultation with his Government. An opportunity for personal discussions arose shortly afterwards. In June Freyberg, leaving Brigadier Inglis1 to command in his absence, returned to New Zealand by air, arriving on the 20th and departing again on 10 July. In these three weeks he travelled the country, making many public speeches, as well as conferring with the Government. The result of his consultations was to confirm the status quo. Nor, with two exceptions, was it seriously disturbed elsewhere in the hierarchy of command. Brigadier Parkinson2 took over 6 Infantry Brigade from Brigadier Gentry,3 who returned to

1 Maj-Gen L. M. Inglis, CB, CBE, DSO and bar, MC, m.i.d., MC (Greek); Hamilton; born Mosgiel, 16 May 1894; barrister and solicitor; NZ Rifle Bde and MG Bn, 1915–19; CO 27 (MG) Bn, Jan–Aug 1940; comd 4 Inf Bde, 1941–42, and 4 Armd Bde, 1942–44; GOC 2 NZ Div, 27 Jun–16 Aug 1942, 6 Jun–31 Jul 1943; Chief Judge of the Control Commission Supreme Court in British Zone of Occupation, Germany, 1947–50; Stipendiary Magistrate.

2 Maj-Gen G. B. Parkinson, CBE, DSO and bar, m.i.d., Legion of Merit (US); Christchurch; born Wellington, 5 Nov 1896; Regular soldier; NZ Fd Arty 1917–19; CO 4 Fd Regt Jan 1940–Aug 1941; comd 1 NZ Army Tank Bde and 7 Inf Bde Gp (in NZ) 1941–42; 6 Bde Apr 1943–Jun 1944; GOC 2 NZ Div (Cassino) 3–27 Mar 1944; CRA 2 NZ Div Jun–Aug 1944; comd 6 Bde Aug 1944–Jun 1945; Quartermaster-General, Army HQ, Jan–Sep 1946; NZ Military Liaison Officer, London, 1946–49; Commandant, Southern Military District, 1949–51.

3 Maj-Gen W. G. Gentry, CB, CBE, DSO and bar, m.i.d., MC (Greek), Bronze Star (US); Lower Hutt; born London, 20 Feb 1899; Regular soldier; served North-West Frontier 1920–22; GSO II NZ Div 1939–40, AA & QMG Oct 1940–41; GSO I May 1941, Oct 1941–Sep 1942; comd 6 Bde Sep 1942–Apr 1943; Deputy Chief of General Staff (in NZ), 1943–44; comd NZ Troops in Egypt, 6 NZ Div, and NZ Maadi Camp, Aug 1944–Feb 1945; 9 Bde (Italy) 1945; Deputy Chief of General Staff, Jul 1946–Nov 1947; Adjutant-General, Apr 1949–Mar 1952; Chief of General Staff Apr 1952–Aug 1955.

page 33 New Zealand to become Deputy Chief of the General Staff, relieving Brigadier Stewart;1 and Brigadier Kippenberger,2 who returned to New Zealand in command of the furlough draft, temporarily relinquished to Brigadier Stewart his command of 5 Infantry Brigade.


The conversion of 4 Infantry Brigade (Brigadier Inglis) to an armoured role and its reunion with the Division, however, had effects far beyond its own ranks. After suffering severe casualities in the Ruweisat Ridge action in July 1942, the brigade had been withdrawn for tank training at Maadi. Equipped with 150 Sherman tanks, it was preparing to provide New Zealand infantry for the first time with New Zealand armoured support. The tactical doctrine of the whole Division had to be reviewed in the light of its new mobility and fire-power; infantry and tanks had to be practised in mutual support and to grow together into a reciprocal fidelity; the field artillery had to be attuned to the tempo of armoured advance with its opportunities for prompt observed fire on fleeting targets; the engineers could foresee heavier wear-and-tear upon roads and more frequent summonses to build bridges; signallers would have to lay their telephone lines more securely beyond the callous reach of steel tracks and be prepared to operate a vastly improved and enlarged wireless network; and to the rearward units tanks which had to be transported, recovered, repaired, refuelled and munitioned were more exacting masters than the marching infantry they had supplanted.

Re-equipment was not confined to 4 Brigade. The Honey tanks and Bren carriers of the Divisional Cavalry Regiment were exchanged for Staghounds, armoured cars mounting a 37-millimetre gun, tough and sturdy but of a somewhat conspicuous silhouette. The infantry were given more striking power by the Piat (projector infantry anti-tank) and the 42-inch mortar, and better means of control by the No. 38 wireless set. The Piat, a one-man weapon firing a rocket projectile of great penetration, soon showed its superiority over the Boys anti-tank rifle. The 38 was a portable wireless set of short range designed primarily for communication between

1 Maj-Gen K. L. Stewart, CB, CBE, DSO, m.i.d., MC (Greek), Legion of Merit (US); Kerikeri; born Timaru, 30 Dec 1896; Regular soldier, 1 NZEF 1917–19; GSO I NZ Div, 1940–41; Deputy Chief of General Staff, Dec 1941–Jul 1943; comd 5 Bde, Aug–Nov 1943; 4 Armd Bde, Nov 1943–Mar 1944; 5 Bde, Mar–Aug 1944; p.w. 1 Aug 1944–Apr 1945; comd 9 Bde (2 NZEF, Japan) Nov 1945–Jul 1946; Adjutant-General, Aug 1946– Mar 1949; Chief of General Staff Apr 1949–Mar 1952.

2 Maj-Gen Sir Howard Kippenberger, KBE, CB, DSO and bar, ED, m.i.d., Legion of Merit (US); Wellington; born Ladbrooks, 28 Jan 1897; barrister and solicitor; 1 NZEF 1916–17; CO 20 Bn Sep 1939–Apr 1941, Jun–Dec 1941; comd 10 Bde, Crete, May 1941; 5 Bde Jan 1942–Jun 1943, Nov 1943–Feb 1944; GOC 2 NZ Div 30 Apr–14 May 1943, 9 Feb–2 Mar 1944; Prisoner-of-War Reception Group (UK) 1944–45; twice wounded; Editor-in-Chief, NZ War Histories.

page 34 infantry companies and their platoons, and between infantry and supporting arms; despite its limitations where the infantry were dispersed in hilly and wooded country and among buildings, it was a useful aid in the difficult task of keeping touch between and controlling small bodies of infantry, and it gave the platoon a handy means of calling for the help of armour and artillery and of relaying information back to commanders. The 20-pound bomb which the 42-inch mortar fired accurately up to 4200 yards was especially effective against enemy posts in buildings, and was able, with its fast rate of high-angle fire, to reach reverse slopes with heavy concentrations. These weapons were placed at the disposal of the two infantry brigade headquarters. The engineers received additional heavy roadmaking equipment – six bulldozers (where they had previously had two), mechanical shovels, dump trucks and a grader, besides more 3-ton trucks. This material was transferred from 21 Mechanical Equipment Company, which was now disbanded along with the non-divisional railway construction and operating companies.
The bare anatomy of the Division thus reinforced, reorganised and re-equipped may be summarily described. Reconnaissance was the prime function of the Divisional Cavalry Regiment with its armoured cars. There were three brigades, two of infantry and one of armour. Each of the infantry brigades was made up of three battalions and the armoured brigade of three armoured regiments, one motorised infantry battalion, and its own workshops. The divisional Commander Royal Artillery (Brigadier Weir)1 had under his command the seventy-two 25-pounders of the three regiments of field artillery, an anti-tank regiment armed with 17-pounders and 6-pounders, a light anti-aircraft regiment of Bofors guns, and a survey battery. Further direct support for the infantry was given by the Vickers machine-gun battalion. The engineers, under the command of the Commander Royal Engineers (Colonel Hanson),2 were organised into three field companies and a field park company with heavy equipment. The units of the New Zealand Army Service Corps (Brigadier Crump)3 comprised two ammunition companies,

1 Maj-Gen C. E. Weir, CB, CBE, DSO and bar, m.i.d.; Wellington; born NZ 5 Oct 1905; Regular soldier; CO 6 Fd Regt Sep 1939–Dec 1941; CRA 2 NZ Div Dec 1941–Jun 1944; GOC 2 NZ Div 4 Sep–17 Oct 1944; 46 (Brit) Div Nov 1944–Sep 1946; Commandant, Southern Military District, 1948–49; QMG, Army HQ, Nov 1951–Aug 1955; Chief of General Staff Aug 1955-.

2 Brig F. M. H. Hanson, CBE, DSO and bar, MM, m.i.d.; Wellington; born Levin, 1896; resident engineer, Main Highways Board; Wellington Regt in First World War; comd 7 Fd Coy, NZE, Jan 1940–Aug 1941; CRE 2 NZ Div May 1941, Oct 1941–Apr 1944, Nov 1944–Jan 1946; Chief Engineer, 2 NZEF, 1943–46; three times wounded; Commissioner of Works.

3 Brig S. H. Crump, CBE, DSO, m.i.d., Bronze Star (US); Lower Hutt; born Wellington, 25 Jan 1889; Regular soldier; NZASC 1915–19; Commander NZASC, 2 NZ Div 1940–45; comd 2 NZEF (Japan) Jun–Sep 1947; on staff HQ BCOF and NZ representative on Disposals Board in Japan, 1948–49.

page 35 a petrol company, a supply company, two reserve mechanical transport companies, and a tank-transporter company. Three field ambulances, a corps of divisional signals, a divisional workshops, a New Zealand ordnance corps and a divisional provost company completed the establishment.1

Here was potentially a most formidable engine of war, second to no other division in the weight of metal it could throw and the equal in fighting power of any two German divisions then in being. Save in high summer, the sun could rise and set while its four and a half thousand vehicles, carrying more than twenty thousand men, drove past a given point in column of route.2 It was capable of moving fast, of hitting hard while it moved and, as an enemy that forced it to deploy would quickly discover, of hitting harder still when it halted. Its mixed character, neither a purely infantry nor a purely armoured division, fitted it for operations needing adaptability and some measure of independence for, where the terms of battle were at all equal, it possessed within itself the means of breaking into a defensive position, piercing it and exploiting its own success by flooding its armour through the gap. But positional, as distinct from mobile warfare, in which the Division would have to merge its identity into a larger mass, would rob it of these advantages and search out its latent weakness – a shortage of infantry.


Without training, the capacities of the Division were potential rather than actual, and training would have to be controlled by its prospective role. Though the date of readiness was changed more than once and proposals to practise outflanking movements by sea were cancelled, Freyberg received guidance from his discussions with Alexander and Montgomery in Sicily early in August, when the employment of the Division as a mobile striking force was agreed upon. Within a few days of the landings in Calabria and at Salerno, Italy was revealed to the Divisional Commander as the destination, and on 24 September he was able to report to the Prime Minister that the deficiencies in the equipment of the Division were being made good – a condition of its committal – and that it would rejoin the Eighth Army.

By this time training was far advanced. Of necessity it had begun at an elementary level within units, rising by way of brigade exercises to divisional manoeuvres. The close, hilly, wooded country

2 This calculation is based on a road density of 15 vehicles to the mile and a rate of march of 20 miles in the hour.

page 36 which was expected to await the Division in southern Europe was nowhere to be found in Egypt, and the best choice that could be made, the Gindali region mid-way between Cairo and Suez, offered some experience of hills but none of mud, hard going and thick vegetation. The act of battle can never be faithfully rehearsed but the stage properties at hand in Egypt for the Division's purpose were more than usually inadequate.

The last of the divisional exercises was carried out at Burg el Arab on the coast west of Alexandria before embarkation. From Maadi, a distance of 100 miles, the entire Division made the longest march on foot in its history – the most gruelling of a series of exertions planned to harden the troops for the rigours of an Italian winter after the languors of an Egyptian summer. In the manoeuvres at Burg el Arab, which culminated in a night attack with live ammunition on 29–30 September, the Division experimented with a technique of its own for forcing a position protected by wire and mines, passing through the armoured brigade and consolidating defensively. An untoward event in an otherwise successful exercise cost the lives of four members of 28 (Maori) Battalion and wounded seven others. Rounds from one gun taking part in the barrage fell short among the advancing infantry of 5 Brigade for a reason which full inquiry failed to establish.

Finally, the safeguarding of health and of secrecy had their place among preparations for the move. The usual precautions against the malaria of the warm season in Italy were ordered before embarkation; and the risk of pestilence during the Italian winter was countered by the issue of warm clothing (two pairs of boots, New Zealand winter underclothing, battle dress and leather jerkins) and bivouac shelters, by inoculation against typhus, and by the provision of mobile laundries and disinfestors. The removal of signs, titles and badges extinguished the most obvious means of identifying the New Zealanders and enforced in the minds of the men the need for security.

A Special Order of the Day signed by the Divisional Commander on 4 October confirmed what rumour had long predicted: the ships lying at anchor in the harbour of Alexandria as they waited for the Division to embark were bound for Italy. This news the troops were forbidden to convey in their letters; and the Division was put on the security list so that its arrival in Italy would not be published. Between 21 and 27 October the censorship was relaxed to allow troops to mention in their letters that they were in Italy; but policy had slumbered, for on the 27th permission was withdrawn. Publication of a despatch written by Freyberg on the same day to the Minister of Defence was delayed for some weeks at the request of page 37 Alexander, and it was not until 23 November that an announcement of the Division's whereabouts was made in the New Zealand newspapers.