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

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

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

22 August 1942

I am referring your telegram of 20 August to War Cabinet who will no doubt require my comments. I think you should know these in case you wish to reply to them. They are as follows:

The Tank Brigade has been well trained for twelve months, especially technically. The latter takes a long time, many trades are involved and [tradesmen] difficult to get even here. Over 50 per cent of the page 64 battalions alone are tradesmen. I anticipate that Freyberg will have extreme difficulty in raising sufficient technicians to expand one tank battalion to a full brigade.

If one tank battalion goes it must have its proportion of repair and maintenance troops. This involves a considerable upset in the present formation. We cannot send more than the due proportion without accentuating the present difficulty concerning tradesmen in all New Zealand formations.

The expanded tank brigade in Egypt will not be effective for months, during perhaps a critical period when the Division would have neither a tank brigade nor a third infantry brigade. It is doubtful if the tank brigade formed in Egypt could approach the efficiency of the existing tank brigade for twelve months, even if it could find sufficient technicians, &c. The splitting up of a fine tank battalion on arrival largely sacrifices the progress achieved and is likely to cause feeling, while the remainder of the Brigade in New Zealand will be disgruntled at being left behind.

From the New Zealand Army point of view, the draw-off of farmers, industry, &c., is so severe that the despatch of the full 4700 reinforcements will have an increased adverse effect on home defence.

These reinforcements will include many married men drawn in an overseas ballot many months later than the Tank Brigade, which consists of single men due for overseas next after the 7th Reinforcements.

I cannot see any advantage in Freyberg's proposal other than:


Men posted from the infantry brigade to form the tank brigade will have had war service as infantry.


It is easier to dispose of the officers and NCOs of the infantry brigade if absorbed by the tank brigade than if used as reinforcements, and disappointment and feeling at loss of identity of units would be reduced.

In my opinion these advantages are negligible compared to the disadvantages involved and the advantages in sending the Tank Brigade from here. Officers and NCOs from the surplus infantry brigade should greatly strengthen the other brigades by providing experienced men to meet casualties and should not take long to absorb in formations, Base, and courses.

My conclusions are that if the Division is to have a tank brigade the best course is:


Send the Tank Brigade complete. The reserve held to meet wastage here provides sufficient personnel to man 40 to 60 tanks which should be retained in New Zealand if tanks accompany the Brigade.

page 65

On the arrival of the Tank Brigade, and after desert training, withdraw the selected infantry brigade from the 2nd NZEF and use as reinforcements.


Send all tanks, less 40 to 60, with the Brigade unless Freyberg reports that suitable tanks are immediately available in Egypt.

If only one tank battalion goes, then the Division should retain its three infantry brigades and not attempt to form a tank brigade.

I suggest you give me your comments urgently.