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

147 — General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

1 July 1942

Further to my telegram of 24 June (No. 144), I have to report on the operations of the New Zealand Division up to 30 June.

As you know, on my return from the reconnaissance in Persia the Division was ordered from Syria to the Western Desert, originally to a position west of Matruh. The early fall of Tobruk altered the situation and we were ordered to garrison Matruh as a temporary measure. I was very glad when we were ordered south 12,000 yards to the escarpment, where in co-operation with armoured forces our great mobility could be used to the best advantage. We were in position on the evening of the 26th, twenty-four hours earlier than the time given, and the battle started on the morning of the 27th. The enemy were reported by-passing Matruh and advancing east along the main escarpment overlooking the main road. A small mobile column from the New Zealand Division was sent out which shelled the enemy and forced them to deploy south and attack us as expected. We were in a strong position and had covered our flanks with minefields, while the armoured division1 operated to our south. Our role was to gain time and inflict as much damage as possible on the enemy, but to remain intact ready to fall back on receipt of the code-word. We were attacked on the north, south, and east by the 21st Panzer Division and elements of an infantry division and were shelled throughout the day. Supported by our armoured division we repulsed the enemy tank attack, and the enemy infantry attacks were also repulsed. The enemy suffered heavy casualties. By evening, however, when the code-word was received to retire to the Alamein position, there were enemy concentrations all round. During the last phase of the attack I was forward to see what was happening and was hit by a shell. I handed over to Brigadier Inglis, who arranged details of the withdrawal. A most successful night attack was carried out by the 4th Brigade, who broke through the page 114 encircling forces at the point of the bayonet. Bright moonlight made the move of the large body of transport hazardous and the column had to run the gauntlet of enemy tanks, causing disorganisation and casualties. An estimate of the casualties for the fighting to date is 150 killed and 450 wounded. The withdrawal was successfully executed and the Division is now reorganised, the 4th and 5th Brigades as a mobile battle group pivoting on the 6th Brigade, who hold the main southern fortress position in the Alamein Line. The Division is ready and Colonel Gentry has sent me a message saying ‘troops' tails right up.’ The situation generally is serious but not alarming and is developing as expected.

I write this in hospital at Helwan. My neck has been operated on and they are well satisfied. I will be back as soon as possible.

1 1st Armoured Division.