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

150 — The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

12 July 1942

Already fresh fame has been brought to New Zealand's arms at this vital keypoint of the war by the Division which you consented to leave in the Middle East.3 It is doing splendid work in the Western Desert.

The unforeseeable tide of disaster which drove us from Gazala to Alamein with the loss of Tobruk and 50,000 men has now been stemmed for the time being. Strong reinforcements have been received by General Auchinleck, raising his Army to 100,000 men, with another 20,000 well forward in the Delta behind them. Thus he is able to double Rommel in men. He has a fair equality in artillery but is still somewhat weaker in armour than the enemy. This imposes prudence upon him for two reasons: firstly, a retire- page 116 ment is much worse for him than for Rommel, who has nothing but deserts behind him, and, secondly, far more strength is coming to General Auchinleck than to the enemy. For instance, the 8th Armoured Division with 350 Valentine tanks has landed and will soon be in action. About 400 tanks of all types, which were despatched before the battle began, will reach General Auchinleck in July and early August as replacements. By the end of July the 44th British Infantry Division, 15,000 strong with 72 guns, and fully equipped, should have arrived, followed a month later by the 51st British Infantry Division.

Four months ago I obtained from President Roosevelt the shipping to carry an additional 40,000 men to the East without deciding on their destination till they rounded the Cape. This was very fortunate as without these the reinforcements now proved so needful by the hazards of war could not have been at hand.

When in Washington I obtained from the President 300 Shermans, the latest and finest tanks in the American Army. They were taken from the very hands of the American troops who eagerly awaited them, and were sent by special convoy direct to Suez. One hundred 105-millimetre self-propelled guns, which definitely outmatch the 88-millimetre, went with them, the whole being accompanied by a large number of American key men. These should arrive early in September.

Apart from the 8th Armoured Division, and in addition to the two armoured and one army tank brigades now in action forward, we have in the Delta the personnel of four armoured brigades awaiting re-equipment. About half these men are desert trained in tanks. Therefore, we should be able to bring into action incomparably the most powerful and best-trained armoured division yet seen in the Middle East or indeed anywhere. But I hope the issue will be decided in our favour earlier. This is especially desirable because of the dangers that may develop, though I do not say they will, on the northern approaches to Egypt.

Of scarcely less importance are the air reinforcements given me by the President on the morrow of Tobruk. As you know, we have not hitherto been able for technical as well as military reasons to provide heavy bomber squadrons for the Middle East, though they have often asked for them. Now, however, the President has assigned to the defence of Egypt the Halpro Group1 of twenty Liberators, which was on its way to India after bombing Roumanian oilfields, ten other Liberators which had already reached India, and a group of thirty-five Liberators from the United States. With the addition of

1 The Halverson Project (abbreviated Halpro) was the name given to the first attack on the Ploesti oilfields by United States heavy bombers on 12 Jun 1942. The force was commanded by Colonel H. A. Halverson, United States Air Force.

page 117 our own Liberators, this gives us about eighty-five of these heavy bombers which should all be available this month. Our two Halifax squadrons will come into action at the same time, making 117 heavy bombers in all. It is this force I rely upon to beat up the ports of Tobruk and Benghazi, hampering Rommel's reinforcements, besides of course, playing the part of a battle fleet in preventing a seaborne invasion of Egypt. Great enterprises are in preparation for the revictualling of Malta, but as these deal with future operations I am sure you will not wish me to mention details. Besides the above the President sent across in the carrier Ranger,1 which should soon be reaching West Africa, about seventy of the latest Kittyhawks.

Besides this, every preparation has been made to defend the Delta if the battles in the desert should go against us. Here we have very large numbers of men, all of whom have been ordered to take part in the defence of Egypt exactly as if it was England that was invaded. The cultivation and irrigation of the Delta have made it literally the worst ground in the world for armoured vehicles, and armour as a factor would lose a great deal of its predominance. All ideas of evacuation have been repressed, the intention being to fight to the end for every yard of ground. However, as I have said, I do not think this situation will arise.

We are having a great struggle to carry supplies to Russia. One-fifth of the June convoy was sunk and I fear less than half the July convoy got through. The difficulties and dangers of this route, especially during the season of perpetual daylight, are enormous. This is serious as it is almost the only thing we can do for our valiant ally who is taking such a heavy toll of Hitler's armies and will, I am confident, endure to the end. To show you what a good comrade Premier Stalin is proving himself, the Russians have offered us three divisions of partly equipped Poles for the Levant-Caspian theatre and have transferred to Egypt forty Boston fighter-bombers which were on the way to them through Basra. In this last matter the President was my intermediary.

In these difficult days, as it did in the struggle against Napoleon, the House of Commons has proved a rock, and I have also been greatly encouraged by the goodwill of your Government and people. Even though the struggle will be long and we must not relax for an instant, I have never felt more sure that complete ultimate victory will be ours.

We are looking forward to welcoming Mr. Nash.2

1 USS Ranger, light aircraft carrier, 14,500 tons, eight 5-inch guns.

2 The Hon. W. Nash, New Zealand Minister in Washington, went to London in the third week of July for discussions on financial and marketing problems. He also attended meetings of the United Kingdom War Cabinet, returning to Washington on 18 Aug.