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

293 — General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

14 September 1943

Since my telegram of 28 August I have been warned that the New Zealand Division may be asked to leave for Italy earlier than the first week in November.

At present the situation in Italy is confused, but we do know Rommel is in command with large forces, including two, and probably four, armoured divisions.2 Realising that time is on our side, Rommel can be depended on to attack and take advantage of the situation while we have insufficient troops on the mainland. It is certain there will be heavy fighting during the late summer and winter, and all available British troops will be wanted in Italy. page 267 Undoubtedly the New Zealand Division, organised and equipped as it is, would be of the greatest assistance at the present stage.

In my telegram of 28 August I stressed the need for training. The proposed acceleration of the move would shorten the training period by a month, and we should not be able to complete combined operations training. All divisional training, however, will be completed by the end of the first week of October, and we shall be fit to carry out any role as a mobile division. I do not consider combined training essential at the present juncture since the Division would be landed at a port and not on an open beach.

Our individual and unit training is complete, and at the moment the Brigadiers are carrying out brigade training schemes. During the next fortnight the whole force is being hardened. We are carrying out a 100-mile route march to Burg el Arab. A full-scale divisional exercise will then be held with our own Armoured Brigade and using live ammunition. It is early in the day yet to say how the younger commanders are measuring up to their added responsibilities, but I am confident that the Division will take the field fully trained and will live up to its past reputation.

The equipment situation is generally good. By the end of September the Division will be better equipped than ever before. The 4th Armoured Brigade will be armed exclusively with Sherman tanks, thus increasing its striking power by at least 50 per cent. There is, however, one deficiency which presents a problem. There is a shortage in the Middle East of load-carrying vehicles and the Division is short of 405 3-ton lorries. I consider these should be provided before the Division can accept a mobile operational role.

Subject to vehicle deficiencies being made good, I consider that the Division will be equipped, trained, and fit to embark for an operational role by the end of the first week in October. Would you please acknowledge this cable and let me have the instructions of War Cabinet on the proposal to send the Division to Italy in October?

2 At this date Rommel commanded Army Group B, Northern Italy. Field-Marshal A. Kesselring, Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean, 1942–43, was at this time Commander-in-Chief Southern Italy.