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

Long Range Desert Group

Long Range Desert Group

Headquarters 2nd NZEF (Cairo) to the High Commissioner for New Zealand (London)

1 July 1940

The following is for General Freyberg from Brigadier Puttick:

A detachment of two subalterns and eighty-five other ranks for special patrols of strategic importance in the Western Desert has been asked for by British Troops in Egypt. This detachment includes page 232 eighteen administrative and technical personnel. All vehicles and equipment other than personal arms are to be provided by British Troops in Egypt. The force operates under the command of a Major, MI (R),1 Middle East, with special topographical knowledge, and undergoes three weeks' training, ending 1 August. The greater part can be provided from the Divisional Cavalry, and the remainder from various units without impairing efficiency, using personnel for whom equipment is not available. The Divisional Cavalry welcome the opportunity of higher training and experience and relief from monotony. I recommend that you approve. I am proceeding with organisation and training and request authority.

1 Military Intelligence (Reconnaissance). The Long Range Desert Group (original title, Long Range Patrol) was raised and first commanded in Egypt by Brigadier (then Major) R. A. Bagnold, OBE.

The High Commissioner for New Zealand to Headquarters 2nd NZEF

2 July 1940

The following is for Brigadier Puttick from General Freyberg: Your telegram of 1 July approved.

Memorandum from General Freyberg to General Headquarters, Middle East

10 October 1940


Confirming the verbal request made to your BGS by my GSO 1,2 I would be grateful if you would arrange for the New Zealand personnel lent to the Long Distance Patrol to be returned to their units at the earliest possible moment so that the units concerned may re-commence collective training.

If, in the interests of the service, it is not practicable to return these men at once, will you please give me a firm date on which you will be able to release them.

B. C. Freyberg,

Commanding New Zealand Division

2 Lieutenant-Colonel K. L. Stewart. See Page 45, note 2, for biographical details.

page 233

Letter from General Headquarters, Middle East, to General Freyberg

11 October 1940

The Commander-in-Chief has heard with some concern that you are anxious to withdraw the New Zealand personnel from the Long Range Patrol. He very much hopes that you will see your way not to press this request in view of the excellent work this patrol is doing and the long time it takes to train a patrol. The patrol is definitely carrying out a very important role in our war effort in that it watches the Western Desert towards the Kufra Oasis.

If you still feel that the New Zealand personnel should be returned to their units, the Commander-in-Chief will be glad of an opportunity of discussing the matter with you.

1Christian names and, in some cases, nicknames were used throughout this correspondence; for this reason, addresses and signatures have been omitted.

Yours, &c.,1

Letter from General Freyberg to Major-General Arthur Smith,2 General Headquarters, Middle East

13 October 1940

The history of this patrol is a bad one. In the first place they immobilised our Divisional Cavalry Regiment by taking all or nearly all of its best officers, NCOs, and men from it against the CO's wishes. This was under the distinct understanding that they were to be returned to him at the end of one journey. They then came back and I was informed that they had been lent for a year, which is quite incorrect.

As a matter of fact, I have written to Middle East saying I will not raise any more difficulties. My sympathies are, however, entirely with Pierce,3 my Divisional Cavalry commander, who has had his training gravely interfered with.

Perhaps you do not realise that my force has been dispersed and used in a way that makes it impossible to train as a Division. When I approached … [General Wilson] and tried to get them, he said not until after December, which of course I cannot agree to, and I have reported the whole matter of detachments to my page 234 Government who hold very strong views on the NZEF being kept intact.1 We started by doing everything that we were asked to do at great personal inconvenience. We lent our Divisional Signals complete with instruments, all our mechanical transport, &c. We were told at first for three weeks; now, after nearly five months, when we want to train, we are looked upon as unreasonable.

The position that distresses me most is that I am rapidly forced into a position where even my old friends subject me to a form of suspicion and reproach. Anyway I will not place any more obstacles in the way of the patrol. Stewart will see Pierce and arrange to minimise the damage done by substitution, and when they come back you must either take men from depot units or give the Long Range Patrol to somebody else.

PS.—This is a very funny war. I feel that what is really wanted is a little more fighting and less patrols.

Yours, &c.,

2 Deputy Chief of the General Staff, General Headquarters, Middle East. See page 205, note 1, for biographical details.

3 Lieutenant-Colonel C. J. Pierice, MC, ED, commanded 2 nd New Zealand Divisional Cavalry, Oct 1939-Mar 1941; invalided back to New Zealand throgh ill-health, Mar 1941; died Aug 1941.

Letter from General Smith to General Freyberg

17 October 1940

Thank you for your letter of 13 October. Since this was written I understand you have discussed the whole matter with … [General] Wilson. The Commander-in-Chief is very grateful to you for allowing the New Zealand Long Range Patrol to carry on. I am quite sure myself that their value cannot be overestimated.

Yours, &c.,

Letter from General Freyberg to General Smith

18 October 1940

The patrol will be done once more and Stewart, my Gl, is seeing Bagnold about changing over key men.

After that Shearer2 and Bagnold will have to arrange for themselves. Later, when our Base is started, we may be able to help, but only on a trip-to-trip basis as my Government will not sanction any longer detachments.

No answer of course.

Yours, &c.,

2 Brigadier E. J. Shearer, CB, CBE, MC, Director of Military Intelligence, Middle East Force, 1940–42.

page 235

Letter from General Smith to General Freyberg

26 January 1941

I understood you to say yesterday during your conversation with General Wavell that you were now prepared to leave your men with the Long Range Desert Group indefinitely. I would be grateful if you would confirm this and, if correct, whether you would maintain that number or whether you would allow them to waste away.

At the moment they form two complete patrols, and Bagnold is very keen to keep them as such, not only because there is plenty of work for them in the near future but because your men are particularly suited to the job. They have been doing splendid work recently.

Yours, &c.,

Conditions Under Which Men Of 2Nd Nzef Are Lent For Service With The Middle East Long Range Desert Patrol [Extract]

4 February 1941

1. The NZEF will provide two patrols at full strength, i.e., a total of four officers and fifty-four other ranks, plus nine spares. Personnel will be supplied by 2 NZEF Base by arrangement between Colonel Bagnold and Brigadier Falla, Officer Commanding NZEF Base…1

3. Colonel Pierce will furnish Headquarters New Zealand Division with a list showing the order in which he wishes his twenty-seven men returned to him, nine of whom are to return at once. The balance will be returned by arrangement between Colonel Bagnold and the G2, NZEF, keeping to the priority list as far as the interests of the Long Range Patrol will allow.

4. Vacancies caused by the return of men to their units and wastage will be filled by volunteers at the Base….

6. The period of service of volunteers in the patrol will be limited to six months, after which, in the interests of the NZEF, they will be replaced by others.

7. The NZEF will maintain two patrols until Tripoli has been captured.

1 The parts of the text omitted refer to administrative arrangements, including the retention and promotion of certain officers and the selection from volunteers of men to replace those returning to their units.

page 236

Letter from General Smith to General Freyberg

6 February 1941

Many thanks for your letter of 4 February.1

The conditions which you have arranged will suit us splendidly and I am very grateful to you for the trouble you have taken to reconcile the difficulties.2

Yours, &c.,

1 Not traced. This was clearly the covering letter which accompanied the conditions of service for the New Zealand personnel of the Long Range Desert Group.

2 The following appreciation of the services of the Long Range Desert Group appeared in General Wavell's official Despatch covering the 7 Feb–15 Jul 1941:

I should like to take this opportunity to bring to notice a small body of men who have for a year past done inconspicuous but invaluable service, the Long Range Desert Group. It was formed under Major (now Colonel) R. A. Bagnold in July 1940, to reconnoitre the great Libyan Desert on the western borders of Egypt and the Sudan. Operating in small independent columns, the group has penetrated into nearly every part of desert Libya, an area comparable in size with that of India. Not only have patrols brought back much information, but they have attacked enemy forts, captured personnel, transport and grounded aircraft as far as 800 miles inside hostile territory. They have protected Egypt and the Sudan from any possibility of raids and have caused the enemy, in a lively apprehension of their activities, to tie up considerable forces in the defence of distant outposts. Their journeys across vast regions of unexplored desert have entailed the crossing of physical obstacles and the endurance of extreme summer temperatures, both of which would a year ago have been deemed impossible. Their exploits have been achieved only by careful organisation, and a very high standard of enterprise, discipline, mechanical maintenance and desert navigation. The personnel of these patrols was originally drawn almost entirely from the New Zealand forces; later officers and men of British units and from Southern Rhodesia joined the Group. A special word of praise must be added for the RAOC fitters whose work contributed so much to the mechanical endurance of the vehicles in such unprecedented conditions.