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

115 — General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

13 December 1941

I have to report that the 4th and 6th Infantry Brigades are refitting at Baggush. They are nearly up to strength from the well-trained reinforcements we had at Maadi. Morale is exceedingly high. The men feel that the fighting of the Division was the turning point in the battle, which in my opinion is now over. I doubt whether either the 155th German Motorised Regiment or the German Afrika Korps, routed by the 4th and 6th Brigade Groups respectively, will be able to fight for a long time to come. I consider that Benghazi may be recaptured soon without heavy resistance.

The 5th Brigade Group are in the forefront at the moment, where the enemy is surrendering without much fighting. The enemy may fight on the Derna-Mechili line.1 Our fighters, based well forward at Sidi Rezegh and Tobruk, dominate the enemy.

For the personal information of my Minister and the Chief of the General Staff, the Division is now to refit and train for future operations on the Syrian front. I consider it will take two months' hard training to get units and formations up to the requisite pitch. We have lost all commanding officers2 and almost all company commanders in the 20th, 21st, 24th, 25th, and 26th Battalions. Some will return in

1 Rommel did not attempt to hold this line. From Gazala he moved back to Agedabia, south of Benghazi, and early in January retired to the El Agheila line.

2 Lieutenant-Colonel H. K. Kippenberger, CO 20th Battalion, was wounded on 26 Nov; Lieutenant-Colonel J. M. Allen, 21st Battalion, killed in action, 28 Nov; Lieutenant-Colonel C. Shuttleworth, 24th Battalion, prisoner of war, 30 Nov; Lieutenant-Colonel G. J. McNaught, 25th Battalion, wounded 23 Nov; and Lieutenant-Colonel J. R. Page, 26th Battalion, wounded 27 Nov.

page 87 time. There are good young men coming on to fill the gaps. Until the battle in the west is finished we shall be on a low priority for equipment.

Would Cabinet like a short appreciation with particular reference to the position on the Syrian front next spring? I could collect material and do this after visiting there later in the month.1

1 See Syria.