Freyberg, General Sir Bernard, 1889-1963

Freyberg was the extremely competent Commander of New Zealand troops in World War II. After delaying the German invasion of Greece, Freyberg and his troops withdrew to Crete in May 1941 and there inflicted heavy casualties on General STUDENT’s crack parachutists. The New Zealanders nearly reversed an inevitable victory for the Germans but in the end conceded defeat and withdrew to Egypt. Freyberg’s forces then fought heroically in many operations in the Desert War—they were renowned for their ferociousness. Freyberg had to insist that his troops remain as a New Zealand Division and as the 2nd NZ Division they fought in the Crusader Operation, November 1940, where they were nearly overrun by ROMMEL’s forces who resealed Tobruk. In fighting round Minqar Qaim in June 1942, Freyberg was wounded in the neck by a shell splinter but he recovered in time to fight in the Second Battle of El Alamein, where he led the ‘Supercharge’ break out. His forces pursued the Axis troops into Tunisia and fought on the Mareth Line. In November 1943 the New Zealanders moved to Italy, and were transferred from the British 8th Army to the US 5th Army of General CLARK. Freyberg was the Corps Commander leading the attacks on Monte Cassino and it was he who urged the Allies to bomb the monastery with the words ‘any higher commander who refuses to authorize the bombing will have to be prepared to take the responsibility for the failure of the attack.’ The bombing of Monte Cassino protracted the offensive as the Germans were able to use the rubble as defensive positions. However in May 1945 Freyberg led his troops in triumph into Trieste. After the war he was made Governor-General of New Zealand in recognition of his services to his country. CHURCHILL likened him to a salamander and he was awarded a VC for his courageous leadership.

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