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

292 — General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

28 August 1943

There is no doubt that the pendulum is swinging violently against the Axis. One of the decisive battles of the war is being fought in the Ukraine, where the Russians are making headway, while in the Mediterranean the Axis position may deteriorate more quickly than was contemplated when I saw Generals Alexander and Montgomery four weeks ago. In the circumstances it is premature to forecast the Division's future role at present. We have, however, been given the first week in November as the new provisional date to be ready for an operational role, and I wish to report on the equipment situation, training, and fitness for battle of your Division.

I may say that I welcome the postponement of the possible date of employment because the malarial season will be over, nothing will now interfere with the elections,1 and it will give valuable extra time for training.

When I discussed training in Sicily it was felt by the Army Commanders that the Division should be used in the traditional role as a mobile, hard-hitting force. I agreed. There are now many divisions trained to carry out the initial landings, but we are the only British division equipped, trained, and experienced for outflanking operations.

We are now drawing equipment and training for a mobile role. Although the use of the Division in the initial landings of the follow-on operations is not envisaged, I feel that in the Mediterranean, or any theatre where there is a sea flank, any force organised like ours must also be prepared to carry out left or right hooks by sea-borne outflanking movements. Our training programme, therefore, for September and October is to prepare the Division for:


Any operation that may be demanded of a mobile division, and,


An outflanking movement by sea.

1 The New Zealand General Election was held on 25 Sep 1943.

page 266

Details of the training policy are as follows: Individual and unit training ends in the second week of September. The Division, complete with the 4th Armoured Brigade, will move from Maadi on 17 September to Burg el Arab, west of Alexandria, to carry out full-scale divisional exercises. This period of training will end in the second week of October. During the remainder of October the brigade groups will move to the Combined Training Centre to train with landing craft for an outflanking movement by sea.

I have now had time to inspect the Division and to judge the effect on battle-worthiness of sending leave personnel to New Zealand.1 Upon the whole all goes well, but there are obvious weaknesses at present. There are many officers and NCOs and some thousands of men from the last reinforcement drafts who have not, of course, seen action, and the infantry are undoubtedly short of experienced company commanders. Experience has shown that unbattleworthy troops suffer a much higher percentage of casualties than experienced units. In the present state of the Division training is of the greatest importance, and we have been forced to go back to the most elementary stages before we can tackle full-scale divisional exercises.

I am well pleased with the last reinforcements, who are a good lot of men. With experience they will come up to the usual high standard set by your Division.