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The Relief of Tobruk


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A play with a cast of 250,000, a setting the size of Italy, and a plot like a pot of eels, twisting and turning in all directions, would be hard to stage. Yet this is what this book tries to present. Of necessity some characters appear briefly, often unannounced, and then slip away; others keep coming and going; a few have larger roles. Their importance is not to be measured by their time on the stage. Some heroes appear but once. Except for Hitler and Goering in the prologue, there are no villains—only men perhaps misguided or mistaken at some junctures. All do their best and most do it under conditions of danger and urgency, merely suggested in the play, which are fully understood only by those who knew the real thing.

The reader must find things hard to follow at times, as I did myself in the more than ten years, on and off, that I worked on this campaign; but the glossary and index have been made as useful as possible as guides to the maze and the people in it. Fuller explanations and introductions in the text of the work would have made it intolerably long.

Many readers will doubtless think it is too long already; but this campaign deserves close attention. It was in my view the greatest campaign of the New Zealand Division. I have examined it from all angles and at all levels and some of the deeds and some of the doers sparkle with interest.

I began my studies with a brief but rewarding collaboration with Mr V. B. Gray and have had much other help. The narratives and enemy appreciations from the Historical Section of the United Kingdom Cabinet Office have been invaluable and Brigadier H. B. Latham has sent me copies of original documents, answered questions, and wisely commented on proofs, drawing not only on his knowledge of the records but on his experience of the battle itself as artillery commander of the corps in which the New Zealand Division served. Sir James Butler, Mr G. M. A. Gwyer, and Major-General I. S. O. Playfair (with Captain F. C. Flynn, RN, Brigadier C. J. C. Molony, and Air Vice-Marshal S. E. Toomer) have carried out parallel researches from which I have profited.

The German Military Documents Section of the Department of the Army, Washington, has helped through four channels: by supplying source material for the United Kingdom appreciations mentioned; by lending me originals or copies of documents; and by allowing Mr W. D. Dawson of this Branch and the late Captain J. E. Betzler of the Union War Histories Section of South Africa to make translations which I could use. I sometimes found as a result that I had better German sources than British.

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Mr J. A. I. Agar-Hamilton, former Editor-in-Chief of the Union War Histories, and Mr L. C. F. Turner, his assistant editor, corresponded with me for years, provided many documents and drafts, and never failed to stimulate me agreeably. They also kindly made Betzler's translations available. Mr Gavin Long and Lieutenant-Colonel D. W. B. Maughan of the Australian Official War History have both been most helpful and Dr Bisheshwar Prasad and his India and Pakistan narratives and history likewise. This expert and willing support gave me a sense of belonging in some small way to a distinguished enterprise with branches in many British Commonwealth countries and in the United States. None of the governments concerned has refused a request or denied use of a document.

The late Sir Howard Kippenberger, as Editor-in-Chief, gave me a free hand, warm encouragement, and every facility at his disposal and his successor, Brigadier M. C. Fairbrother, has done the same. The Prime Minister's files were made readily available by Mr A. D. McIntosh and his staff of the Department of External Affairs. Lord Freyberg let me use all his records, including his personal diary, and Lord Norrie similarly lent me his many files and was in every way friendly and helpful.

Many officers overseas and almost all senior surviving New Zealand officers have contributed in some way and very many junior ones. Interviews of repatriated prisoners of war conducted in England in 1945 by Mr W. G. McClymont and written statements by them about the actions in which they were captured have been valuable. I have interviewed hundreds of men myself, moreover, and corresponded with hundreds of others, particularly survivors of units which suffered such heavy losses that their contemporary records were seriously impaired. Though I have not relied on post-war recollections to establish important facts, I am obliged to all these helpers and impressed by the frankness and accuracy of their contributions.

Members of War History Branch, past and present, have done all they could, willingly and efficiently, so that it was a pleasure to work with them — particularly Judith Hornabrook and Robin Kay with the archives, Elsie Janes with a mountain of typing, and Bill Glue (who also compiled the biographical footnotes) patiently and skilfully in the long and difficult processes of publication.

Professor N. C. Phillips read the final draft and saved the reader from several clumsy sentences and awkward mannerisms and many distracting footnotes. Lands and Survey Department has worked hard and well on the maps and the Government Printer has been prompt and efficient in the many stages of his work.

To all these and to many others unnamed I am deeply grateful.

December, 1960
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