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

300 — General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

page 271

General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

6 October 1943

I have to report that we have concluded our training and the Division is now moving to a transit camp prior to embarking for Italy. The training has been thorough and, I feel, satisfactory. When I came back from New Zealand I felt that a hot summer in Cairo was not a fitting preparation for a winter campaign on the Continent. I therefore made the training progressively severe to fit them for the obvious battles which will be the common lot of all troops that are in position to fight the Germans during the winter. We followed up the three months' intensive training with a 100-mile march from Cairo to Burg el Arab and a divisional exercise, complete with the newly-joined Armoured Brigade. I consider that the Division is now as fit as we can make it to take the field.

Our Armoured Brigade have yet to encounter enemy armour in battle and until they have, of necessity, will be a weak spot in the Division. I am, however, quite certain that they will do well. The final stage of our divisional training was the lifting of a minefield and breaking through an enemy gunline to enable us to pass through our Armoured Brigade. We were employing a technique which we ourselves developed. It involves a surprise attack at night with unregistered artillery working upon survey data. It is admittedly a difficult form of attack but has been the basis of all our past successes. To ensure that the Division is capable of carrying out this form of attack, it is essential that it should be carried out under active service conditions, which involves close support with live ammunition. This we did on the night of 29–30 September. While I am satisfied with the result, I have to report that during this attack we had eight casualties in the Maori Battalion—three killed and five wounded. This was due to a gun shooting short during one part of the barrage. We had a similar case during training in September 1941, prior to the advance to Tobruk. The case has been investigated in full.

For the next two days I am at Maadi on New Zealand Expeditionary Force business trying to forsee the changes that may be necessary here during the ensuing year as a result of the move of the Division so far from our Base. I feel that when we leave for Italy we shall not return. The question of what organisation is necessary behind us here in Egypt has to be considered. I am of the opinion that we should start to cut down our commitments in Egypt to a minimum, retaining only that which is necessary for the Base. We shall have page 272 to have an Advanced Base, possibly at Taranto, and this will be stepped up behind us as we move towards France. We may also have Advanced Headquarters 2nd NZEF there, as all questions of administrative policy become difficult when so far from our Base. It will be necessary now to cut down all our commitments in Egypt. I have talked this over with my staff in the last few days and am having the problem examined in detail.

With regard to general future policy, we appear destined to fight with the Eighth Army in the immediate future. We must expect heavy fighting and be prepared to face the resulting casualties. At a later date a second front may be started, but it is uncertain whether or not they will want the New Zealand Division to take part in it. I will, as in the past, keep you in touch.

I leave here by air for Foggia on the 7th with part of my Divisional staff, the remainder following on the 8th. We shall be staying there with General Montgomery, and I shall take the first opportunity I have to send you more detailed information after my talk with him.

The health of the men is good; they are fit and in excellent spirits. As you can realise, a move into a new theatre of war is an anxious moment. I feel that all that could be done has been done.