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

85 — The Chief of the General Staff (Wellington) to General Freyberg

The Chief of the General Staff (Wellington) to General Freyberg

16 August 1942

Your telegram of 8 August (No. 82) raises a question of great difficulty both of policy and of manpower. War Cabinet consider that the situation in the Pacific might well be critical and that they page 62 must be prepared for an attack on Fiji and New Caledonia, and on New Zealand itself. They are of the opinion that the maintenance of your Division, plus the Army Tank Brigade, and the necessity for maintaining strong forces here, both for local defence and possibly for operations in the Pacific directly affecting the security of New Zealand, would place an intolerable burden on our already greatly attenuated manpower. They cannot provide all these requirements to the full and are considering what is the utmost they can do so far as the Middle East is concerned. In these circumstances I have suggested that in order to have your own armour you might prefer to modify the present Divisional organisation. Cabinet have agreed to my obtaining your opinion on the following alternatives, or any others you may suggest, to assist them in deciding what they can send you, but without committing them in any way:

Firstly: 4700 reinforcements and one tank battalion, plus details.

Secondly: 2500 reinforcements and the Tank Brigade, on the understanding that the Division is reduced to the new British organisation of one armoured brigade and two infantry brigades, plus of course the usual divisional troops. I have pointed out that the second alternative would give you:


Reinforcements to meet wastage up to the date of arrival.


Approximately 2400 reinforcements in hand from the surplus infantry brigade.


Probably a considerable reduction in future casualties through having your own armour.

I have also stated that, while I think the modified division better suited for country where tanks can operate fully, the three infantry brigades would be preferable in enclosed or mountain country. I could, of course, offer no opinion as to the prospects of your operating in the latter type of country. As regards the question of tanks accompanying the battalion or brigade, War Cabinet would like definite information whether or not tanks, together with associated equipment, would be available in Egypt immediately on the arrival of the Brigade. We have, as you know, 120 Valentines, plus 20 on the water and more released from production. I have 24 General Stuart tanks, with 24 on the water and large numbers released, and consider that if the Valentines go to you I should hold 40 to 60 Valentines to support my General Stuart tanks. I would also prefer to send the minimum of ancillary services and their equipment because of shortages for the armour remaining here. I suggest you forward your observations urgently, reserving if necessary the question of the tanks themselves until you are able to get definite information.

Any serious deterioration in the Pacific situation in the meantime would, of course, affect the whole question.