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Clive Gower-Collins Articles
Long Range Desert Group North Africa

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Raids, Road Watches, and Reconnaissance: New Zealand's involvement in the Long Range Desert Group in North Africa, 1940-1943
Raids, Road Watches, and Reconnaissance: New Zealand's involvement in the Long Range Desert Group in North Africa, 1940-1943
by Clive Gower-Collins


This analysis has presented a range of evidence to demonstrate that the New Zealand involvement with the Long Range Desert Group in North Africa, 1940-1943, was substantial in terms of both quantity and quality. Taken as a whole, LRDG helped dissipate the enemy's forces, and assisted the rise of Allied fighting formations such as the Free French and the Special Air Service – both of which went on to make considerable contributions of their own.[1] LRDG activities offered extensive high-quality support to numerous service organisations, ranging from the Royal Air Force to clandestine operations.[2] In the provision of secure and reliable tactical intelligence, the LRDG was without peer,[3] and in matters of direct reconnaissance, the LRDG frequently provided the requisite degree of corroboration for material gained by other intelligence avenues.[4] The topographical information supplied by the Group was indispensable to the plans and operations of the Eighth Army.[5] In fact, one of Field-Marshal Alexander's intelligence staff offered this observation on the LRDG

This magnificent organisation had all the virtues and none of the faults of the [so-called] private armies. It had a useful job to do, it knew how to do it perfectly, and did it quietly.[6]

With ample evidence attesting to the significant contribution the LRDG made to operations in the North African theatre, it remains to identify the part played by New Zealanders in achieving this.

In quantitative terms the New Zealand commitment was vital. At the time the first patrols were formed, the shortage of trained manpower in the Middle East was chronic. Later, when British forces in the region had increased considerably, German successes saw British troops pass into prisoner-of-war cages in their thousands, causing a shortage once again. When the Long Range Patrols were raised, of the original strength of approximately ninety – only three personnel (all officers) were not Kiwis.[7] By early 1942, the (reorganised) Long Range Desert Group had grown to a full strength of twenty-five officers, and 324 other ranks – over half of which were Kiwis, a commitment maintained until the close of the campaign.[8] Had the original request for a detachment of New Zealanders to form a nucleus of this unit been declined in 1940, it seems almost certain that the patrol would not have been raised and trained in time to provide desperately needed intelligence for Britain's summer offensive against the Italians. Given that the LRDG owed its existence to General "Wavell's personal patronage,"[9] and Wavell was relieved of his command by Churchill twelve months later,[10] and considering the 'turbulence' provoked by General Freyberg's strenuous efforts to reconstitute his dismembered New Zealand Division, it seems that there was a distinct 'window of opportunity' for the formation of the LRDG. If it had not been raised in June 1940, it might very well not have been raised at all.

To determine the significance of the New Zealand contribution to the LRDG from a qualitative point of view, requires assessing the suitability of New Zealanders for this type of operation. All nations seem to wish to believe that some special quality resides in its soldiers, a quality which makes its own fighting men a touch superior to any other, friend and foe alike. However, testimony to the belief in the existence of just such a special quality in the New Zealanders involved has two important characteristics. Firstly, those who offer comment are inevitably 'outsiders', predominantly British in origin. Secondly, commentators are unanimous in their opinion. For example, former LRDG Intelligence Officer, Bill Kennedy Shaw, suggests:

There can be no doubt whatever that much of the early and continued success of the L.R.D.G. was due to the speed and thoroughness with which the New Zealanders learned desert work and life . . . most of the first New Zealanders were from the Divisional Cavalry –the "Div. Cav."- farmers or the like in civil life, and with a maturity and independence not found in Britishers of a similar age . . . I had never met New Zealanders before; all the knowledge I had of them were my father's words of the last war – that they were the finest of the troops from the Dominions. Closer acquaintance showed that one should always believe one's father.[11]

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Copyright © 2006 Clive Gower-Collins.

Written by Clive Gower-Collins. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Clive Gower-Collins at:

Clive Gower-Collins
PO Box 2526
Wellington 6011
New Zealand

About the author:
Clive Gower-Collins lives in Wellington, New Zealand and has served in the New Zealand Army in both Infantry and Engineer roles. Currently a manager with Biosecurity New Zealand, He has worked for a number of years across the public service specialising in leadership and organisational performance. He has written articles, presented conference papers and given radio interviews on coalition warfare and the LRDG.  His research interests tend to focus on aspects of intelligence in warfare (the general focus of his MA in History) and German aircraft design and production in the inter-war years and throughout WWII (the focus of his Honours research).

Published online: 07/23/2006.

* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MHO.
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