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

Formation of New Zealand Armoured Brigade

page 49

Formation of New Zealand Armoured Brigade

General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

4 October 1940

In the light of the fighting in Poland and France, a committee under General Bartholomew1 was set up to consider reorganisation of the Army, and the following recommendations concerning the organisation of a division have been agreed to by the War Office:


The formation of a reconnaissance unit of headquarters and three companies, each consisting of motor-cycles, scout cars, Bren carriers, and infantry in trucks.


Field Artillery regiments to be three batteries, each of eight guns.


Divisional anti-tank artillery to be 76 2-pounder guns, twelve on self-propelled mounting with a reconnaissance unit, the remainder in four batteries each of sixteen guns; infantry anti-tank companies to be abolished.


The addition of one light anti-aircraft artillery regiment of 48 Bofors guns to the division.


The addition of one 6-inch howitzer regiment to the division.


One platoon of infantry for the protection of each division and brigade headquarters.


Battalion mortar platoons to be increased from two to six 3-inch mortars.


Two-inch mortars in battalions to be increased by one per section of carriers, that is, an extra four.


Infantry carrier platoons to be increased to fourteen carriers and some motor-cyclists.

My opinion is that the New Zealand Government should agree to these changes in principle, leaving the question of implementation to be decided by the availability of equipment.

1 General Sir William Henry Bartholomew, GCB, CMG, DSO; GOC-in-C, Northern Command, York, 1937–40; North Eastern Regional Commissioner for Civil Defence, 1940–45.

page 50

Details would require consideration but, generally speaking, (1) can be effected when equipment is available and I intend using infantry anti-tank personnel, (2) and (6) can be carried out immediately by me, (3), (7), (8), and (9) can be effected when equipment and personnel are available. While agreeing that the inclusion of (4) and (5) would increase the fighting power of the Division, I consider their provision at the moment, apart from additional expense, is not so important. They could be provided, starting with a battery of each. In any case, the weapons themselves will not be ready for many months.

While agreeing that New Zealand should adhere to the British organisation wherever possible, I feel that the above proposals do not go far enough in one respect as the Division would still lack mobile hitting and holding power. I suggest that a cruiser tank unit is wanted. The Chief of the Imperial General Staff1 originally suggested that although this would be an advantage it would be better to wait until a general change could be made. Later in the discussion he agreed that there was no reason why the New Zealand Expeditionary Force should not depart from the normal by adding a unit to the divisional organisation under the nomenclature of Corps troops, as already done by us in the case of the Machine Gun Battalion and Reserve Mechanical Transport Company, and by the Canadians who have already added brigade reconnaissance groups, &c. I strongly recommend therefore that, in addition to the nine agreed changes, the addition of a battalion of cruiser tanks be made enabling me to regroup the 2nd NZEF by making an armoured brigade consisting of:


Divisional Cavalry Regiment—already in existence but to be re-equipped with scout cars and carriers.


Cruiser tank battalion—additional.


27th Machine Gun Battalion—already in existence.


Battalion of infantry in the section existing for Reserve Mechanical Transport Company—this will not need any increase as there are already ten battalions in the Division.


To this group can be attached a regiment from the Divisional Artillery.

1 Chiefs of the Imperial General Staff during the war were:

7 Sep 1939 – 26 May 1940Field-Marshal Lord Ironside, GCB, CMG, DSO (then General Sir William Edmund Ironside).
27 May 1940 – 24 Dec 1941Field-Marshal Sir John Greer Dill, GCB, CMG, DSO (then General Sir John Dill). Head of British Joint Staff Mission, Washington, 1942–death, 4 Nov 1944.
25 Dec 1941 – 25 Jun 1946Field-Marshal Viscount Alanbrooke, KG, GCB, OM, DSO (in 1941, General Sir Alan Francis Brooke).
page 51

General Wavell, with whom I have talked over the above recommendations, is in complete agreement with the proposals as outlined by me. With such a brigade the Division would be a most formidable fighting formation, well fitted to undertake any operation in the Western Desert with an undoubted reduction in casualties. Doubtless you will receive through the Liaison Officer further advice from the War Office.1

1 Subsequent telegrams from the New Zealand Liaison Officer in London to Army Headquarters (Wellington) contained details of the reorganisation and have not been reproduced in this volume.

The Prime Minister to General Freyberg

18 October 1940

Your telegrams of 4 and 8 October.2

We have as yet received no communication from the War Office but, assuming it concurs, the Government approve all changes in principle, the changes to be made as and when equipment becomes available. We presume that you will form the new units and find the increases from personnel already overseas. Should this course be followed, will the reinforcement programme already arranged cover requirements, that is, 6500 4th Reinforcements and 6500 5th Reinforcements?3

2 General Freyberg's telegram of 8 Oct is not published. In it he estimated the numbers of officers and other ranks required to meet the nine recommendations of the Bartholomew report and his own supplementary recommendations.

Headquarters 2nd NZEF to the Prime Minister

21 October 1940

Your telegram of 18 October.

The reinforcement programme already arranged is adequate. We would form the units from personnel overseas.

page 52

New Zealand Military Liaison Officer (London) to the Minister of Defence

4 December 1940

The views of the War Office on General Freyberg's proposals to form an armoured brigade are as follows:

The War Office strongly approve of the desire of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force to have its own armoured formation. It is considered preferable in the existing circumstances to send to the Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, fully trained reinforcements from the United Kingdom, instead of relying on training from the beginning troops in the Middle East to make up armoured formations. It would be wrong policy to equip a New Zealand armoured brigade by drawing upon equipment scheduled for trained troops from the United Kingdom, who can effectively man tanks soon after they have been issued.

New sources of tank supply must be tapped to equip a New Zealand armoured brigade, or else the issue of equipment to the brigade must take its place in the present production programme when the state of training of the New Zealand troops justifies its introduction. It is possible that General Freyberg has underestimated the time it takes to train a tank soldier from the beginning. Events in the Middle East in the near future also seem likely to render reorganisation and training there a difficult matter.

Therefore, the formation of a New Zealand armoured brigade must be considered a comparatively long-term project. The source from which equipment could be supplied would be a matter for discussion after the New Zealand Government have expressed their views generally on the scheme. In the meantime, the following suggestions on the organisation which could be adopted for a New Zealand armoured brigade are put forward. The brigade should include an armoured car regiment, two armoured regiments, and a machine gun battalion, with the necessary workshop repair organisations, &c.

These views have been communicated direct to General Freyberg by the War Office.

page 53

The Rt. Hon. P. Fraser (Cairo) to the acting Prime Minister of New Zealand1

23 May 1941

General Williams's movements have now been altered,2 and he expects to leave Cairo on Friday 23 May, staying two days at Basra, a week at Singapore, and arriving at Darwin on 7 June and Sydney on 9 June. He will then stay a week in Australia, arriving in New Zealand on 15 June. I have had a preliminary discussion with him on general questions and in particular on manpower. He strongly recommends the immediate institution in New Zealand of a school of instruction for armoured fighting vehicles, which would give us the additional advantage of obtaining some forty tanks for training purposes in New Zealand, and which could be used in operations if the necessity arose. This would [mean] our agreeing to raise a tank brigade, for which about half the men required are already allowed for and are in Egypt. If the proposal to reform the Anzac Corps is adhered to we would be required to produce our proportion of Corps troops, and the additional commitment of manpower for these troops and for the complete tank brigade would amount to 7000 men to be allowed for this year. On the other hand, the return to active service of sick and wounded, which has not been provided for in our manpower calculations, will reduce the total number of 16,000 per annum formerly adopted to 10,000 per annum, and as the reinforcement required for Corps troops and the tank brigade would normally amount to 3000 per annum, this would make a total estimated annual reinforcement from 1942 onwards of 13,000, as against our previous estimate of 16,000.3

General Williams will also have proposals for an armoured division amounting to some 25,000 men to be supplied from New Zealand, probably from the Territorial forces, if and when the Far Eastern situation warrants sending these troops abroad. However, he has temporarily abandoned this proposal, which will, no doubt, be raised with me in London, and to which it seems to me there are insuperable objections. My own feeling is that we would be expected to provide our proportion of Corps troops, and I am favourably disposed towards the tank brigade proposals which have already been approved and partially provided for; further, training in New Zealand has clear defence advantages. But I think that these matters would be entirely page 54 for consideration in Wellington, and I am advising you of the facts in order that you may give the matter preliminary consideration before General Williams arrives. Meanwhile, as a tank brigade of some kind obviously will be required by the New Zealand Division, I have approved the training here of the necessary instructors, some 100 men, who, if the proposal to train the brigade in New Zealand is not proceeded with, will be utilised here. I have not yet discussed these proposals with Freyberg, who may perhaps object to the training of the tank brigade in New Zealand, but the advantages of this course are so great that I hope to obtain his approval when I meet him.

1 Hon. W. Nash.

2 A telegram from Mr. Fraser (in Cairo) on 19 May advised the New Zealand Government of the probable dates of General Williams's departure from the Middle East and arrival in Australia.

The acting Prime Minister to the Rt. Hon. P. Fraser (Cairo)

6 June 1941

Even allowing for the return of sick and wounded, we cannot reconcile our calculations with the figure of 10,000 given in your telegram of 23 May as the annual wastage of the present New Zealand Expeditionary Force.

Colonel Conway is expected back shortly and we propose to defer consideration of this question until his arrival. It is felt that he will have participated in the discussions and will be able to elaborate your calculations.

The Rt. Hon. P. Fraser (Cairo) to the acting Prime Minister of New Zealand

9 June 1941

During my talks with General Williams we discussed a quite impracticable scheme from Dill1 providing for the formation by New Zealand of an armoured division, which would number 28,000, for service overseas after the threat of danger to the Dominion has passed….2

1 General Sir John Dill, Chief of the Imperial General Staff.

2 A personal reference has been omitted.

page 55

After discussion with Conway and myself, General Williams abandoned the idea of the armoured division as being beyond our capacity, although he said I would be confronted with the suggestion in London.

The question of the Tank Brigade and Corps troops was also discussed with Williams and Conway. I want War Cabinet to discuss both questions on their merits, having due regard to the manpower and industrial position.

The formation of an Anzac Corps composed of one New Zealand and one Australian division has been agreed to in principle, although the matter has not yet been decided between the New Zealand and Australian Governments….1

With regard to the Tank Brigade, Williams said that if the training of men for overseas were done in New Zealand then up to forty tanks could be provided from the United Kingdom. If this is not over-optimistic and is agreed to by Dill and the War Office when I reach London, the tanks will be a great contribution to the defence of New Zealand and the scheme is good. The effect on manpower of both Corps troops and Army Tank Brigade will be explained in detail by Conway, but it would appear that with Corps troops and the Army Tank Brigade the manpower limit will have been reached by the end of 1943.

Freyberg subsequently agreed that the training of the Tank Brigade can be carried out in New Zealand with advantage if tanks are made available there. The necessary instructors must be sent to New Zealand from the school in the Middle East after training. Although not sure whether this can be done, he will, if possible, get New Zealand instructors trained in time.

1 A reference to New Zealand's contribution of Corps troops has been omitted. See also Proposed Formation of Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.

Headquarters 2nd NZEF to Army Headquarters (Wellington)

25 June 1941

Your telegram of 20 June.2

The formation of the Tank Brigade was agreed to in principle by the Prime Minister, but he stated that the final decision would not page 56 be made until the New Zealand authorities had investigated the implications and had consulted him by cable.

The Prime Minister also agreed that New Zealand should find its quota of Corps troops but on the same understanding as above….1

The acting Prime Minister to the Rt. Hon. P. Fraser (London)

9 July 1941

This morning War Cabinet had a discussion with General Williams, who impressed us as being very sound and most helpful. However, his proposals raise real difficulties in regard to manpower. To give effect either to the proposals to provide Corps or Line of Communication troops for overseas or to his proposals for the Territorial Force would involve calling up married men by September this year. We feel there are sound reasons, both practical and political, why this step should not be taken for the present.

It is felt, however, that we should form the Army Tank Brigade to be trained in New Zealand, and we are now awaiting a reply from Freyberg to the telegram which I repeated to you today.2 It may of course be necessary to talk further about reinforcements, but this should not affect the main decision, which is well within our commitment under the old scale. It is suggested that you discuss immediately with the War Office the question of releasing the equipment for training the Army Tank Brigade. I understand that a list of this equipment was given to you in Egypt by General Williams.

The acting Prime Minister to General Freyberg

31 July 1941

Formal approval has now been given by War Cabinet to the formation of the Army Tank Brigade as proposed in FFC 36.3 Instructions have been given that preparations should be put in hand forthwith to call up the 3200 men required.4

4 This telegram was repeated to Mr. Fraser in London.

page 57

General Freyberg to the acting Prime Minister

1 August 1941

I am pleased that approval has been given to the formation of the Army Tank Brigade. Are Signals, Army Service Corps, Medical, and Ordnance units for the Brigade included in the figures of the men called up, as we make the total required 3532, including officers?

Seven officers and 66 other ranks sail for New Zealand today as instructors for the Armoured Fighting Vehicle School.

Army Headquarters (Wellington) to Headquarters 2nd NZEF

4 August 1941

Your telegram of 1 August to the acting Prime Minister.

Steps to select officers for the Army Tank Brigade are now being taken and it is desired to have your recommendations for any appointments, especially those of Brigade Commander and battalion commanders. Regular and Territorial officers in New Zealand will be considered along with those recommended by you.1

The Brigade will be trained in New Zealand2 and will proceed overseas about the end of March next year.

The disparity in our respective totals is due apparently to the non-inclusion here of the Tank Transporter Company which is included in Corps troops.

The formation of Corps troops is still being considered.

1 A number of telegrams on the appointment of officers for the Army Tank Brigade were exchanged at this stage but have not been reproduced. The Brigade Commander was Brigadier G. B. Parkinson, who commanded the 4th NZ Field Regiment at the time of his appointment. He returned to New Zealand in Nov 1941.

2 At Waiouru.

The acting Prime Minister of New Zealand to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs3

4 September 1941

After full consultation with their Military Adviser, General Sir Guy Williams, His Majesty's Government in New Zealand have page 58 now given careful consideration to FFC 36. Arising from these proposals and the recommendations of General Williams, it has been decided to make provision, in addition to this Dominion's existing manpower commitments, for an additional 3500 men for an Army Tank Brigade, plus an additional 2000 men for Corps and Line of Communication troops….1 The provision of the rest of the proposals of FFC 36 is still under consideration.

The Home Defence forces here are being reorganised and brought up to the standard of overseas troops, with a view to providing one force from which reinforcements for overseas can be obtained and, at the same time, a more adequately trained and organised body for the defence of the Dominion. In view of the heavy manpower commitments, which are proving and will increasingly prove a very heavy strain on the resources of the Dominion, and the complete inadequacy of the present fighting and training equipment in this country, His Majesty's Government in New Zealand lay particular emphasis on the defence equipment required. It is desired to stress also that, unlike the other Dominions, New Zealand is unable to manufacture essential arms for its own use and therefore is dependent almost entirely on overseas sources for these defence needs. Furthermore, in order that the troops proceeding overseas will be trained with the same type of fighting equipment as will be made available to them on arrival overseas, New Zealand's immediate training programme requires modern equipment. For these reasons, and most particularly because of the existing great scarcity of fighting equipment in the country, His Majesty's Government in New Zealand press strongly for the earliest priority in the undermentioned items of equipment already on order. The figures quoted are inclusive of all equipment already approved for release.

Rifles and bayonets 38,000
Anti-tank rifles 582
Bren guns 2500
Two-pounder or six-pounder anti-tank guns, latter preferred 48
Bofors guns 64
3.7-inch anti-aircraft guns 16
Light tanks, for preference US Pattern M.3- 12½ ton 170
6-inch guns for fixed defences (with agreed scale of ammunition for artillery weapons) 10

3 Viscount Cranborne.

1 The text omitted contained details of these proposals in terms of FFC 36, giving the serial numbers of each unit and the dates at which they would be ready to go overseas.

page 59

The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the Prime Minister of New Zealand1

18 September 1941

Your telegram of 4 September.

The further units of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force which His Majesty's Government in New Zealand have decided to offer for service overseas, are warmly welcomed by His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, who deeply appreciate the spirit which has prompted the offer. We shall await with interest the result of the further consideration being given to the remainder of the proposals in FFC 36.

The proposals regarding the Home Defence forces are also noted with interest. As regards equipment, considerable quantities of some of the items required have already been released and the possibilities of supplying the remainder are now being considered….2

1 Mr. Fraser had returned to New Zealand from the United Kingdom on 14 Sep.

2 The text omitted contained references to other telegrams concerning New Zealand's fixed defences and naval ammunition requirements.

The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs3 to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

3 March 1942

With reference to your telegram of 12 October.4 It was contemplated that the New Zealand Army Tank Brigade would be ready to go overseas this month. In the present circumstances it is suggested that the Brigade remain in New Zealand until July, when the matter should be reconsidered.

3 The Rt. Hon. C. R. Attlee had succeeded Viscount Cranborne as Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs in Feb 1942.

4 Not published. This telegram contained amendments to FFC 36 details given in that section of the text of No. 78 which is not published here. The changes were made as a result of representations from Headquarters 2nd NZEF on the order in which units were required in the Middle East.

page 60

The Prime Minister of New Zealand to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs

9 March 1942

Your telegram of 3 March. We agree that in the present circumstances the New Zealand Army Tank Brigade be held in the Dominion until July, when its despatch overseas can be reviewed in the light of the strategic situation in the Pacific at that time.

General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

8 August 1942

In your telegram of 11 March1 you said that the decision to retain the Armoured Brigade in New Zealand would be reviewed in July 1942. In Libya last November and in the recent fighting our infantry brigades have been overrun by tanks on three occasions, with heavy casualties, especially prisoners.2 We have felt keenly the lack of our own armoured component. I am endeavouring to obtain some Grant tanks for the Divisional Cavalry which would be a help, but the Armoured Brigade would of course strengthen us immensely in attack and defence. I would therefore be very grateful to have an indication from you as to the possibility of the Armoured Brigade being despatched to us. The New Zealand Government may consider that the tanks should be retained, but would they then agree to send trained personnel, in which case I am certain equipment could be made available for them from the Middle East pool.

1 On 11 Mar General Puttick had advised Headquarters 2nd NZEF of the postponed despatch of the Army Tank Brigade, in similar terms to No. 81.

2 The three occasions were Belhamed (Nov–Dec 1941), Ruweisat Ridge (15 Jul 1942), and El Mreir Depression (22 Jul 1942).

The Prime Minister of New Zealand to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

14 August 1942

Your telegram of 25 July.3

General Freyberg has now asked whether the Army Tank Brigade could be sent to Egypt. He suggests that if the Valentine tanks (of which we have 120) cannot be spared, the Brigade could probably be equipped there. To assist us in considering the question we page 61 would like advice on this point. We understand the power and value of this brigade whether in New Zealand or in the Middle East, but we are not in a position to appreciate fully the relative claims of the Middle East and of the defence of New Zealand.

With the reservation that he has insufficient information, the Chief of the General Staff here suggests that in all the circumstances the Brigade should be sent to the Middle East with all the tanks available at the date of despatch, less 40 to 60 to be retained in New Zealand, and with the proviso that the despatch to New Zealand of General Stuart tanks (of which we have 24) should be hastened as far as possible; also, that the strain on our manpower could be reduced by not sending reinforcements to the Brigade and by requiring the Division to adopt the organisation of one tank brigade and two infantry brigades in due course. A broad survey of the situation as it affects the problem would greatly help us in reaching a decision.

The Minister of Defence to General Freyberg

14 August 1942

Your telegram of 8 August (No. 82) is being considered by War Cabinet. We have informed London of your proposal and have asked for a broad survey of the situation as it affects the problem and for information whether tanks would be available in Egypt. The Chief of the General Staff suggests that if the Brigade is to be sent it should be on the understanding that reinforcements for it will not be despatched subsequently, and that ultimately you could adopt the British organisation of one tank brigade and two infantry brigades to meet the position that would arise. He also suggests that all the tanks available at the date of despatch should accompany the brigade, less 40 to 60 to be retained here. We would like your comments and also any definite information as to whether tanks would be available in Egypt.

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.

page 63

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

20 August 1942

Your telegram of 16 August.

I realise your difficulties and appreciate the Government's efforts to help in submitting alternative schemes.

I prefer your first suggestion of 4700 reinforcements and one tank battalion.

One infantry brigade, probably the 4th, would be reorganised as a tank brigade, each battalion becoming a tank battalion.

The tank battalion sent from New Zealand would, I am afraid, have to be split up to form a nucleus for the three battalions to be formed here, but care will be taken to see that all ranks, up to and including the commanding officer, are employed in positions worthy of their rank and experience.

In the change-over of the present Division, I would propose to retain the Maori and Machine Gun Battalions and to turn the Divisional Cavalry into a reconnaissance regiment.

The training of technical personnel will have to be set in hand at an early date. In this respect I realise the position that must exist in New Zealand regarding technicians and can only leave it to you to help as much as you can.

The question of the availability of equipment here is being taken up with General Headquarters, Middle East, but I consider it essential that concurrently the New Zealand Government should approach the United Kingdom Government in the matter.

Details will be worked out by Stevens once the Government has agreed in principle. An early decision would be of great help.

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.

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

23 August 1942

Reference your telegram of 22 August.

In replying to your telegram of 16 August (No. 85) I assumed that both your suggestions were considered practicable from the New Zealand point of view and recommended the first as it seemed to cause less dislocation for you and would have avoided breaking up the Brigade here. Having read your latest telegram (No. 87), however, I appreciate your reasons for preferring to send the whole brigade and agree also with the advantages mentioned from our point of view.

In the circumstances, do not press the objection to breaking up the 6th Brigade1 as the sentimental aspect is, of course, outweighed by the advantage of having an armoured brigade in the Division as soon as possible. Regarding the question of sending tanks with personnel, I am informed by Stevens who saw the new Chief of the General Staff2 that tanks would be available here.

You will appreciate the present difficulties of communication with Divisional Headquarters separated from Headquarters 2nd NZEF.

We have just commenced a period of special vigilance as we expect a German offensive in the next few days. The weather is very hot and there are innumerable flies. The situation has improved here. The troops, although tired, are very cheerful and can be relied upon to do well.

The 4th Brigade is still at Maadi.

1 The 6th Brigade had been provisionally selected for disbandment had the complete Army Tank Brigade been despatched to the Middle East.

2 Major-General R. L. (later General Sir Richard) McCreery, KCB, KBE, DSO, MC, succeeded Lieutenant-General T. W. Corbett, CB, MC, as Chief of the General Staff, Middle East, in Aug 1942.

page 66

Army Headquarters (Wellington) to Headquarters 2nd NZEF

31 August 1942

The despatch of 5500 men, inclusive of a tank battalion and a proportion of technical personnel, has been approved by War Cabinet, who are also prepared to consider the despatch of tanks for the battalion if equal or better tanks are not available in the Middle East. The question of sending any additional tank battalions or technical reinforcements in future must remain in abeyance in view of the present Pacific situation.

The possible date of departure will be telegraphed later. We would like an early reply whether tanks or technical vehicles are actually required.

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

2 September 1942

Your telegram of 31 August.

You will have realised that the decision to have an armoured component in the 2nd New Zealand Division amends the figures of requirements as given in my telegrams of 8 August1 and 15 August2. For instance, one third of the infantry now becomes Armoured Corps and there is a big increase in ASC….3

I am under the impression that with the exception of the tank battalion you will not be able to send any large number of trained New Zealand Armoured Corps personnel, including technicians, but that we will have to train infantry drafts for this purpose. Would you please confirm this.

The question of tanks is now under discussion with GHQ and a firm reply should be available in a few days. Present indications are that no tanks will be required from New Zealand.

As stated in my telegram of 20 August (No. 86) it seems inevitable that the tank battalion will have to be broken up to provide (a) instructors, and (b) a nucleus of trained and skilled personnel for the page 67 new regiments here. Would it help you if instead of a completely organised battalion you were to send an equal total of officers, NCOs, tradesmen, and other ranks but merely as drafts that could be drawn from the whole of the Army Tank Brigade. Please advise if this appeals to you, and final confirmation will then be cabled from here.

The 4th Infantry Brigade is the one selected for the change to the Armoured Brigade.

2 Not published. Contained details of the composition of the 8th Reinforcement draft, subsequently amended.

3 Text omitted refers to the preparation and despatch of later telegrams giving details of reinforcement requirements.

Headquarters 2nd NZEF to Army Headquarters (Wellington)

2 September 1942

Reference telegram of 2 September.

General Headquarters state that after consideration they would be very glad to have the tanks, together with any technical vehicles you can spare.

The acting Prime Minister of New Zealand1 to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs

9 September 1942

It has now been decided to despatch a total of 5500 reinforcements to the Middle East, including one battalion of the Army Tank Brigade which has been formed in this Dominion. General Freyberg has been advised to this effect, and he informs us that he will use this battalion as a nucleus for the formation of an armoured brigade, the 4th New Zealand Infantry Brigade being used for the purpose. Having regard to the very critical position which still obtains in the Pacific, it will be appreciated that it was with some reluctance that we decided to despatch the tank battalion, but we are doing this because we wish to increase the measure of protection for the Division in action and at the same time enhance its value as a striking force. We are of course quite willing to send with the tank battalion its complement of Valentines, should this be considered essential, and page 68 we understand that General Headquarters, Middle East, would be very glad to have them, but we desire to point out that they are in no way a match for the tanks now being used by the enemy in the Middle East theatre. We are very concerned, therefore, to ensure that the battalion, and ultimately the Armoured Brigade when formed, are equipped with the most modern tanks available so that in action they may be in all respects equal, if not superior, in their striking power to the forces against which they will be engaged. If our armoured force can be equipped with the best tanks available, as we hope may be the case, then we would not propose to send the Valentine tanks from New Zealand unless you consider it essential.

1 Hon. D. G. Sullivan, Minister of Industries and Commerce, was acting Prime Minister during the absence of Mr. Fraser in the United States and Canada. The Prime Minister left New Zealand on 21 Aug and arrived back on 16 Sep. During the visit, which was made at the invitation of President Roosevelt, Mr. Fraser had discussions with the President and attended meetings of the Pacific War Council. He also visited the Prime Minister of Canada, the Rt. Hon. W. L. Mackenzie King.

The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the acting Prime Minister of New Zealand

11 September 1942

Your telegram of 9 September.

The recent decision of His Majesty's Government in New Zealand to send substantial reinforcements to the Middle East, including a battalion of the Army Tank Brigade, has been noted with great interest and appreciation. It is a source of great encouragement to His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom to be able thus to rely on New Zealand's splendid co-operation in this field. The provision of equipment for the New Zealand armoured troops will be the subject of a further reply as early as possible.

The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

2 October 1942

Further to my telegram of 11 September, the War Office agree that the Valentines should not accompany the tank battalion personnel to the Middle East. It is proposed ultimately to equip the Armoured Brigade in the same way as the other armoured brigades in the Middle page 69 East on Crusader Mark III and Grant and Sherman basis. The Brigade's training equipment is expected to be available in January 1943.1

The Chief of the General Staff (Wellington) has been informed direct.

1 The 3rd Battalion, 1st NZ Army Tank Brigade, left New Zealand with the 8th Reinforcements on 12 Dec 1942. The battalion was disbanded on its arrival in the Middle East. The 1st Battalion was retained in New Zealand on home defence until Jun 1943, when it was disbanded, most of its personnel being posted to the 9th and 10th Reinforcements. The 2nd Battalion, originally intended to form part of the 3rd Division, was also disbanded in Jul 1943. About 270 officers and men from the 2nd Battalion formed the 3rd Division Tank Squadron and served in the Pacific, while most of the remainder were posted to the 10th Reinforcements and served in the Middle East.