Appendix 2: The Inter-Services Committee’s Report
AFTER the campaign in Greece, General Wilson wrote a report that came under the scrutiny of an Inter-services Committee established for that purpose. Mr Fraser was then in Cairo and took the opportunity of asking the Committee to consider two questions raised by some officers of the New Zealand Division. The first was whether the New Zealand group involved in the disaster at Kalamata had received embarkation orders. The Committee laboured under the impression that this group, chiefly the Reinforcement Battalion, had been ordered directly from Voula to Kalamata, and its finding concerned rather the disaster at Kalamata than the material issue of the orders, or lack of them. The fate of the Reinforcement Battalion has been related,1 and it is necessary to mention here only that it was directed into a group2 of Force Troops under the command of Headquarters W Force. Responsibility for the movement of the battalion was then assumed by Movement Control, which, in the reorganisation that was necessary after the decision3 to evacuate more troops from the Peloponnese, directed it to move from Navplion to Kalamata.
The second question was directed to the divisional command. The Committee heard evidence from General Freyberg, Brigadiers Puttick and Hargest, and Colonel Stewart. It found that, ‘On the whole, divisional control appears to have worked satisfactorily.’ There was one period, however, when control became difficult. This was during the withdrawal from the Olympus positions to Thermopylae. As 6 Brigade was still in action at Elasson and Allen Force at Pinios, General Freyberg decided to remain forward together with his GSO I, Colonel Stewart, delegating to Brigadier Puttick the task of sorting out the units of the Division as they arrived at Thermopylae. The BGS Anzac Corps was to meet Puttick and was to allot positions.
It is shown in Chapter 134 how the original plan, that New Zealand troops should use the coast road while Australian troops used the main road, broke down. It has also been shown how confusion during the withdrawal was increased by well-intentioned officers diverting troops along roads which were marked on the maps as linking the two divisional routes but which in fact petered out between them. It was in these circumstances that ‘a measure of control was lost’, a situation which the Committee found was due to ‘unavoidable misfortunes’. The Committee agreed with Colonel Stewart that it would have been better had he gone back to operate a co-ordinating headquarters at Thermopylae for Brigadier Puttick, leaving the GSO II to assist General Freyberg in the forward area.
The Committee discussed the ‘usual criticism’ levelled against a divisional commander, that he is too often away from his headquarters, or that he does not leave it enough. It was ‘strongly of the opinion that provided he does not tire himself unduly, the fault of going forward too often is the better of the two.’ In this particular case there was ‘ample evidence to prove ... that General Freyberg, by his presence in the forward area at difficult moments, was personally responsible for putting new heart into commanders and for stemming what might have developed into a rot.’ A divisional commander must, the Committee added, ensure that when he does go forward his GSO I remains behind with a clear knowledge of his general intentions.
Mr Fraser, in the circumstances, was bound to seek the guidance of outside opinion to settle in his own mind doubts concerning Freyberg’s competence. He did not relax his responsibility for ensuring that New Zealand’s one division was suitably commanded until September in the same year, when inquiries made to Sir John Dill, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Generals Auchinleck and Wavell elicited reassuring opinions. Wavell stated that Freyberg had produced one of the best trained and disciplined and fittest divisions he had seen, and must be given the fullest credit for its performance in Greece and Crete. Auchinleck regarded him as a first-class divisional commander. These opinions, as a background to the personal qualities of General Freyberg himself, cemented the successful partnership between statesman and soldier that lasted until the end of the war.