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

225 — The Hon. F. Jones to the Prime Minister

The Hon. F. Jones to the Prime Minister

6 May 1943

En route from England I met at their respective headquarters General Eisenhower, Admiral Cunningham,2 Air Chief Marshal Tedder, General Alexander, Air Vice-Marshal Coningham,3 and General Montgomery and had interesting and valuable talks with them and some of their senior staff officers.

Cunningham and Tedder asked specially to be remembered to you and recalled the strenuous days during your visit. With the exception of a few members of the Artillery still in the front line, I had highly satisfactory talks with nearly all of the officers and men of every unit in the forward area, notwithstanding that they were widely dispersed. I was very pleased with my reception, and it was made quite evident by the men that they greatly appreciated the action of the Government in sending a representative to visit them. Many questions were asked, including that of the return of the Division to New Zealand, the possibility of getting leave to visit their homes, and other points on minor matters. I think there is a general desire on the part of the Division to return to New Zealand, as they raised this question and also the question of whether a period of leave could be granted them to visit their homes. I informed them that proposals regarding leave were receiving consideration and that I was hopeful it would be possible for a proportion of the troops with long service to proceed on leave, provided shipping could be arranged. While I made it perfectly clear that I was making no promise, still they seemed satisfied with my remarks. I formed the impression that there was no desire on the part of the men here to fight in the Solomons.

page 194

My discussions with Freyberg were most helpful, and while I was with him he received advice of his appointment to Corps Commander,1 which position he accepted temporarily pending the decision of our Government, to which he is responsible. In the meantime he has selected Brigadier Kippenberger to relieve him. This officer has given yeoman service and is held in exceptionally high esteem. I assured Freyberg that it was the wish of the Government that the Division should be part of his Corps, and that if this could be arranged I felt certain that War Cabinet would desire him to continue to be attached to the New Zealand Expeditionary Force as General Officer Commanding. My opinion is that the superseding of Freyberg by junior officers has not been fair to him, and even now that his opportunity of filling a higher position appears to have come, he is reluctant to divorce himself from the Division to which he has become so firmly attached. If War Cabinet agree that his acceptance of the position of Corps Commander will make for the more successful prosecution of the war, then he will accept, in which case we should press for the Division being part of his Corps, except in the event of emergency, and also for his being GOC 2nd NZEF.

I concur with Freyberg's view that after the Tunisian campaign the Division should be rested, reorganised, and trained, and that the 4th Armoured Brigade be properly equipped as part of the Division. The delay in equipping the Brigade has been most unsatisfactory. When I met Montgomery he expressed the wish that the Division should not be taken back to New Zealand. If Freyberg is appointed permanently as Corps Commander, Montgomery is agreeable to the Division being part of his Corps, unless of course in an emergency, and is of the opinion that Freyberg should maintain his connection with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force and his relationship with our Government as the senior officer of the same. Montgomery agreed that the 4th Armoured Brigade should be fully equipped and form part of the Division, but was of the opinion that he should have the right to use this brigade independently of the Division, in accordance with his grouping policy. Although he would, whereever possible, keep the Division in any specified Corps that our Government desired, Montgomery could not agree to it as a firm policy. Freyberg is of the opinion that while the placing of the 4th Brigade in the British armoured pool when Montgomery groups for battle may suit the latter, it would be contrary to the principle laid down by our Government. In expressing his views, Montgomery overlooks that, after all, our forces are not part of the British Army but are forces of a sovereign state.

page 195

Being unable to see Freyberg when I was here in March, and appreciating that he had experienced strenuous campaigning without a let-up, I wrote to him suggesting inter alia that he consider visiting New Zealand after the Tunisian campaign. I discussed the matter with him last week, and if the request were made for his release and necessary leave he would be favourable to undertaking the journey by air. In reply to my inquiry, he was of the opinion that in the event of his appointment as Corps Commander being permanent, General Barrowclough was the most suitable and acceptable officer to take charge of the Division, and, if he was not available, then Brigadier Kippenberger, who is also most acceptable and has given splendid service. I agree with this opinion. This question could be further discussed in the event of Freyberg making the journey, and in the meantime Kippenberger could continue to act as at present. Personally I think such a visit would be beneficial and helpful from many aspects.

2 Admiral of the Fleet Viscount Cunningham, KT, GCB, OM, DSO; Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean, 1939–42; Naval C-in-C, Expeditionary Force, North Africa, 1942; C-in-C Allied Naval Forces, Mediterranean, 1943; First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff, 1943–46.

3 Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham, KCB, KBE, DSO, MC, DFC, AFC; AOC Western Desert, 1941–43; commanded Allied Air Forces, Tunisia, 1943; AOC 1st Tactical Air Force, French North Africa, 1943; AOC-in-C 2nd Tactical Air Force, North-West Europe, 1944–45; killed in aircraft accident, 30 Jan 1948.

1 See No. 224.