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

196 — General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

26 January 1943

I have just returned from Tripoli along the Division's marked axis of advance. When we broke through at Alamein we marked our route with diamond signs on iron pickets. Since the first picket was driven in there on 2 November, these signs have been set up at 700-yard intervals along the desert thrust line for over 1400 miles. For the present the last picket stands in the main square of Tripoli.

During the last operation we have covered 450 miles since leaving Sirte. As before, we travelled self-contained in ammunition, petrol, page 162 water, and food, and fully equipped for a desert move. The Division formed the fast-moving, left flank of Eighth Army ready to envelop the enemy should they stand and fight, but they showed no inclination to do so after the Buerat position was turned on 15 January. Nevertheless the enemy manóuvred with skill behind a series of rearguards, and several brisk engagements took place between tanks and artillery on both sides. The enemy always withdrew, however, when we deployed. German bombers made several attacks on the advancing columns, but the Allied Air Force maintained air superiority, harrying the enemy withdrawal by day and night.

The chief obstacle to progress was the broken nature of the country, including precipitous wadis, soft, hummocky desert, and narrow defiles through the Jebel ranges.1 The enemy impeded our advance by demolitions and minefields. The Engineers, however, cleared the minefields, by-passed demolitions, and improved the mountain roads, and despite these and natural obstacles the advance was rapid. On 23 January, eight days after the first engagement with the enemy, the Divisional Cavalry and troops of the 5th Infantry Brigade entered Tripoli. The speed of the advance undoubtedly upset the enemy's schedule. Demolitions and minefields became fewer as we advanced and important aerodromes were captured only partially obstructed, thus enabling our fighters and bombers to follow up the enemy retreat without interruption.

The capture of Tripoli completes a phase of successful fighting which started just three months ago. The enemy has been driven from Egypt, Cyrenaica, and Tripolitania. It is an important step giving the Allies a naval base and airfields, and completes the relief of the hard-pressed garrison of Malta. It also advances our aim of clearing the enemy from Africa and opening the Mediterranean, but before this is finally achieved decisive battles in Tunisia have yet to be fought.

The Division is now resting in pleasant surroundings and taking advantage of an unlimited water supply to clean up after three months' campaigning in the desert, with a short allowance of brackish water and hard battle rations. Fresh food and bread is now becoming available. The health of the force is excellent and spirits are high. It has been a considerable source of satisfaction to all ranks to have played a part in capturing Tripoli, for so long a goal of the Army in the Middle East.

For your information a short appreciation of the situation follows later.2

2 No. 199.