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

135 — General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

10 April 1942

I am now back in Syria after a visit to General Headquarters and Base, during which I inspected the 5th Brigade at Maadi. The brigade is fully equipped up to strength, with all its transport, and has never been in better shape. There has been no sickness, and the men are fit and have enjoyed a week's well-earned refitting leave at Maadi. While in the Western Desert they dug a defensive position in solid rock at El Adem.

On 8 April they entrained for Aleppo to take over from the 6th Brigade on the Turkish frontier guarding demolitions on roads, railways, and bridges. The 6th Brigade on relief will move about 20 April to the Bekaa Valley fortress area to prepare the western flank on the Lebanon Mountains. The 4th Brigade is still working on the eastern flank in the Anti-Lebanon Mountains while the Artillery, Engineers, and Cavalry work in the valley between. All work proceeds at maximum speed.

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General Auchinleck inspected the defences here recently with General Wilson and expressed satisfaction with what he saw. Later I accompanied them by air on a reconnaissance from Aleppo to Mosul. With the arrival of the 5th Brigade the Division will again be concentrated, though Aleppo is 180 miles from the defensive position in the Bekaa Valley. Conditions here are good though a shortage of potatoes, which has removed them from the ration for six months, has upset the balance of the ration. Mosquitoes have appeared in the north but no cases of malaria are yet reported. The general health is excellent.

I have discussed the position with Australian senior officers. They state that all ranks of the AIF now in the Middle East would be much happier if their situation of uncertainty were settled one way or the other. I informed them that the 2nd NZEF would be remaining in the Middle East. The Australians now have approximately the same number of troops in the Middle East as are in the 2nd NZEF, that is, the equivalent in numbers of two British divisions. Our figures, including non-divisional units, are about 2000 officers and 30,000 men. General Morshead,1 commanding the 9th Australian Division, has gone to Cairo to take over the AIF Headquarters following the departure of General Blamey,2 leaving the senior Brigadier to command in the field. As soon as the Australians are announced to be staying I shall issue a clear statement of policy to the men. There is no discontent among the men.

Public Relations have produced a New Zealand film of the Crete and Libyan campaigns entitled ‘Return to the Attack’. It is to be sent to New Zealand and England. I consider it a good film.

I am at present working on a Middle East appreciation which I shall forward as soon as possible.

1 Lieutenant-General Sir Leslie James Morshead, KCB, KBE, CMG, DSO; commanded 18th Infantry Brigade, AIF, 1940–41; GOC 9th Division, 1941–42; commanded Australian Corps in Middle East, 1942–43; GOC 2nd Australian Army, 1944.

2 General Blamey was appointed Commander-in-Chief, Allied Land Forces in the South-West Pacific Area in March.