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

162 — General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

3 October 1942

The Division was withdrawn from the line on 10 September and spent seven days by the seaside. Four clear days' Cairo leave was given to 40 per cent of the Division. The amenities of the special leave camp at Maadi and the Club2 were fully enjoyed. Much Christmas shopping for New Zealand was done, as the post offices showed. We are now back training, refreshed by the short break.

2 New Zealand Forces Club, Cairo.

page 126

The 4th Brigade remains at Maadi preparing for an armoured role.1 It will be five or six months before they are ready to take the field.

The complete change in Middle East management has cleared the air. One good result is that they now insist that divisions must be kept intact. The result of this simple decision will be manifest in our future battles. It makes the position here much easier, as for two and a half years I have striven to prevent the New Zealand Division being divided into brigade groups, being convinced that by fighting as a division the maximum power is developed. They have gone further and adopted the German model of a permanent Desert Corps kept intact to train and fight as such. The New Zealand Division has been selected as the infantry division for the Desert Corps, otherwise comprising armoured divisions. As reported earlier, until our Armoured Brigade is ready the Army Commander has placed under our command the 9th British Armoured Brigade, comprising one Regular and two Yeomanry tank battalions and a motor battalion—excellent material, well equipped, but as yet lacking necessary training. We are thus the first division with the new British organisation to take the field in the war and we are now training hard to get full fighting efficiency. We are more powerfully armed than either a panzer division or a British armoured division, and the days of infantry being overrun by enemy armour, as on 1 December 1941 and 15 and 22 July 1942,2 which brought long lists of prisoners, are I hope past.

Last week we held a full-scale Divisional exercise with full artillery support, firing live ammunition and employing the most modern tanks. I was greatly impressed by the result.

As you know, I have been concerned by the losses of senior officers. It is too early to say how the new commanding officers are shaping, but I feel certain that after the present training period they will do well. The offer of help received from Army Headquarters is much appreciated and I have communicated direct with General Puttick.3

On 30 September at ceremonial parades General Montgomery4 presented immediate awards, including the Victoria Cross to Sergeant

3 These telegrams have not been reproduced.

4 Field-Marshal Viscount Montgomery, KG, GCB, DSO; GOC 3rd Division, 1939–40; commanded 5th Corps, 1940; GOC 8th Army, Aug 1942–Jan 1944; GOC-in-C, British Group of Armies and Allied Armies, Northern France, 1944; commanded 21st Army Group, 1944–45; commanded British Army of the Rhine, 1945–46; Chief of the Imperial General Staff, 1946–48; Permanent Military Chairman of Commanders-in-Chief Committee, Permanent Defence Organisation, 1948–; Deputy Supreme Commander, Allied Powers in Europe, 1951–.

page 127 Elliott.1 The troops looked fine and the marching was of a high order. General Montgomery said afterwards that he was greatly inspired by the appearance of the New Zealand Division, and in addressing a parade of the 9th Armoured Brigade later in the afternoon he said: ‘It is a great honour to have been placed with the 2nd New Zealand Division. They are a veteran division, and I know you will strive to live up to the record they have established here in the Middle East.’

The weather is now cooler and flies are fewer. As you know, the Division has been through a difficult period, but the men are very fit and in excellent heart. Better equipped than ever before, your Division, after the present training period, will be ready as part of the Desert Corps for any future operations in the Battle of Egypt.

1 Sergeant K. Elliott was awarded the Victoria Cross for most conspicuous gallantry at Ruweisat Ridge on 15 Jul 1942. He was commissioned in May 1943.