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Middle East 1930 - 1947:

New Zealand Formations

Prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, the New Zealand Army consisted of a small cadre of Regular Army personnel, supplemented by the New Zealand Territorial Force.


On the 6 September 1939, the decision was taken to mobilise a special force of three battalions, one from each of the three Military Districts. The 1 (Rifle) Battalion was raised by the Northern District, the 2 (Rifle) Battalion by the Central District, and the 3 (Rifle) Battalion from the Southern District. By the 3 October 1939, the Special Force became known as the New Zealand Division, and the three Rifle battalions became the 18, 19 and 20 Infantry Battalions respectively in the new 4 New Zealand Infantry Brigade. The whole force was called the 2 New Zealand Expeditionary Force. The First Echelon left New Zealand on the 6 January 1940, arriving in Egypt on the 15 February 1940. The Second Echelon was sent overseas on the 2 May 1940 bound for the Middle East; however, it was diverted to the United Kingdom arriving on the 16 June 1940. The Second Echelon eventually arrived in Egypt between the 5 and 8 March 1941. The Third Echelon left New Zealand on 27 August 1940, and arrived in Egypt on the 29 September 1940. The division concentrated in Egypt in March 1941, and was immediately sent to Greece, arriving in late March or early April 1941.

On arrival in Greece, the division appeared to reorganise from brigade groups to the standard divisional establishment. It was deployed on the Aliakmon Line. The German Army invaded Greece on the 6 April 1941, and the Allies were soon forced to retreat. The New Zealand Division was evacuated from Greece by the 28 April 1941 and most units were taken to Crete. The majority of the division’s artillery, transport and other equipment had to be abandoned in Greece. The division suffered some 890 casualties in Greece, of which 291 were killed. In addition, 1,614 New Zealand troops were left in Greece and became prisoners of war.

After Crete, the division returned to Egypt. On the 23 February, the division moved to Syria and came under command of 9 Army. The division remained in Syria until June 1942, when it moved back to Egypt in response to the Axis advance to El Alamein. The division travelled by road to Mersa Matruh in four days and fifteen hours, a total distance of 1,450 kilometres. The division was in position by the 22 June 1942, and overnight the 27/28 June, it was surrounded by Axis forces and had to execute a fighting withdrawal. On the 29 June 1942, the division was formally redesignated as the 2 New Zealand Division. On the 14 and 15 July 1942, the division attacked Ruweisat Ridge in a night assault. The New Zealanders captured the ridge, but in the absence of tanks and artillery, they were forced back on the evening of the 15 July. The division sustained 1,405 casualties, the vast majority of whom were killed or captured. On the 21 and 22 July, the 6 Brigade attacked the El Mrier Depression, but two battalions were effectively destroyed suffering about 900 casualties. During the battle of El Alamein on 23 October 1942. In lieu of the 4 N.Z. Brigade, the division was allocated a British armoured brigade, making this division the first mixed division.

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