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

190 — General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

page 156

General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

3 December 1942

The situation on the Mediterranean front seems favourable to the Allies. The German General Staff appears to have been thrown off balance by recent coups and to have reacted violently to our landing in Morocco and Tunisia. Our forces there are pushing steadily on, while the enemy are bringing in reinforcements by sea and air to Bizerta and Tunis from any source available. It is difficult to say without precise information how long it will be before our forces there can clear up the situation. It may be possible to get a quick decision, failing which they will build up a firm base from reserves to attack in force, which would take about a month.

In appreciating the situation on our front I have purposely discounted the effect of the Tunisian operations on the campaign in Tripolitania. The local situation here is much in our favour. Our air superiority seems complete whilst the weight of our artillery and the number of new American tanks have placed us in a winning position. Our aim is to maintain the momentum of the attack and give the enemy no respite until he is ejected from Africa. Undoubtedly the Germans and Italians have suffered a major defeat and have, in fact, been routed. Since the battle ended at Alamein on 4 November, however, there has been no contact with the main enemy forces, and it must be remembered that the enemy has on two occasions staged a counter-attack from Agheila with dramatic results.1 Administrative difficulties prevent an immediate attack on Agheila, but we must resume the offensive as soon as maintenance problems allow. We have the men and material in Egypt, and I believe we can capture Tripoli without direct intervention by the forces in Tunisia. I feel that speed is essential and that it justifies sacrifices now which will prevent heavier losses later.

The Division has been in the Bardia-Tobruk area for three weeks. The 4th Brigade is still at Maadi training.

1 The first German counter-offensive, which began on 2 Apr 1941, resulted in the capture of Benghazi, Bardia, and Sollum and the long siege of Tobruk. In the second offensive, begun on 21 Jan 1942, the Germans captured Tobruk, crossed the frontier into Egypt, and reached El Alamein before their advance was checked.

page 157

For the information of the Government, the Eighth Army is resuming the offensive westwards in the near future with the 30th Corps, comprising British infantry divisions, two British armoured divisions, and the New Zealand Division. We have been warned that we are to move west about 10 December. The 30th Corps is to carry out the attack on Agheila. The New Zealand Division, with armoured support, is to go through after the capture of Agheila to exploit and advance on Tripoli. It is difficult to forecast the degree of resistance likely to be encountered, but we must be prepared for a series of hard-fought, advance-guard battles. Should the battle in Tunisia go well, however, the resistance will not be so formidable.

Your Division is in excellent condition, well trained and equipped. The men are rested, and many lightly wounded and jaundice cases are coming back. We are, however, greatly below War Establishments in infantry and artillery and will remain so until reinforcements arrive.1 These will bring us to War Establishment and leave approximately 2000 over. It is impossible to forecast the length of the African campaign, but the main difficulties are administrative and I feel that the reinforcements now on the way will enable the Division to complete the campaign. If the policy is for the Division to continue fighting in the Middle East, then further reinforcements will, of course, be necessary.

1 The 8th Reinforcements left New Zealand on 12 Dec 1942.