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

125 — General Freyberg to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

page 95

General Freyberg to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

9 February 1942

As requested, I have shown your telegram of 7 February (No. 122) to the Commander-in-Chief. The situation here is as follows:

In the Western Desert General Rommel has been reinforced and for the moment has the initiative. He is stronger in tanks than we are but the balance will soon be put right. The fighting has been heavy and the losses on both sides considerable. Maintenance is the vital factor in this battle. We are in much the stronger position in this respect, operating from the railhead now across the frontier. The present situation is considered satisfactory, adequate reserves of men and material are available and, generally speaking, there is no immediate cause for anxiety. Our proposed move forward was due to the fact that some of the formations which took part in the more recent operations in Western Cyrenaica will have to be replaced and brought back to refit.

I saw the Commander-in-Chief last night and again today. He sympathises with the point of view expressed in your telegram and has now altered his plans by bringing in another division in our place. There will be a short time-lag of between three weeks and one month, and to tide over this period he has asked me to place the 5th Brigade Group at the disposal of Eighth Army. I have agreed to this course.

The present position is that the 5th Brigade Group will move to Reserve Eighth Army on 11 February as originally arranged, but the remainder of the Division will continue to train in the Canal Area in General Headquarters Reserve. The 5th Brigade Group reverts to my command at the end of the period mentioned. At a later date the whole Division is to move to Syria to work on the northern defences under the command of Ninth Army.1 These arrangements will hold good, subject of course to any serious German advance in Libya.

I hope that these fresh arrangements meet with your approval and will lessen the feeling of anxiety on our behalf.

1 See Syria.