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

116 — General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

10 January 1942

I have to report that the Division concentrated at Baggush and is now moving by rail to the Canal area to train for possible spring battles. The question of its future employment is now under consideration. I would greatly appreciate the guidance of the New Zealand Government in the matter.

There can be no doubt that 1942 will be a difficult year. General Auchinleck is now making outline plans. These must be contingent on the action of the enemy. He has now approached me regarding the future role of the New Zealand Division. I asked the Chief of the General Staff, Middle East,2 to put his proposals on paper. They are as follows:

The Commander-in-Chief has now decided that the New Zealand Division shall move to Kabrit to reorganise and train. He feels that he must have a really good division as General Headquarters Reserve and it will undoubtedly be wanted, but who can say whether it will be wanted on the Northern front or the Western front, or possibly for an overseas expedition. He feels that it will be of the greatest value to him to have the New Zealand Division in General Headquarters Reserve, and of course he wants to keep it together and well knows that spirit and esprit de corps will soon make it as hard a fighting machine as ever before. There is just one point he has asked me to consult you about. Do you think there will be any adverse reaction on the part of the New Zealand Government if, when the time comes, your Division is used as a landing force in an overseas expedition?

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I have discussed with the Commander-in-Chief the problems which must arise in an overseas expedition. The importance of air cover is completely understood, and no operation could be contemplated without having this assured. I am also sure that any operation embarked upon would be one that has been thoroughly worked out with all three Services. There is no doubt, however, that a landing operation on an open beach in the face of opposition is difficult. But there is also no doubt that there is no division in the Middle East better fitted to carry out the difficult role of securing such a landing.

I consider, however, that in view of the whole world position no major overseas operation will be attempted unless the German military situation deteriorates considerably. It would seem, therefore, that the latter part of the Commander-in-Chief's proposal would be less likely than the former.

There may, of course, be smaller operations that have to be undertaken from time to time as part of bigger schemes. I suggest with all respect that in employing troops in these smaller operations you allow me to exercise my discretion. With your present preoccupation in Pacific affairs it is hardly fair to ask you to devote time to what, after all, will be comparatively minor operations. In any project for employing troops in a major operation, such as the overseas expedition referred to in the previous paragraph, I will of course obtain the Government's prior concurrence as hitherto.

I should be very glad to have the Government's views on the matters mentioned above. The troops here are in the very highest form and I am confident that within a month we will have the Division in its best condition once again.

2 Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Francis Smith, KCB, KBE, DSO, MC; Deputy Chief of General Staff, Middle East, 1939–40; Chief of the General Staff, Middle East, 1941–42; GOC London District, 1942–44; GOC-in-C, Persia and Iraq Command, 1944–45; GOC-in-C, Eastern Command, India, 1945–46; Chief of the General Staff, India, 1946; GOC British Forces in India and Pakistan, 1947–48.