5th Infantry Brigade (New Zealand)

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5th Infantry Brigade
Active 1940–45
Country  New Zealand
Branch Crest of the New Zealand Army.jpg New Zealand Military Forces
Type Infantry
Size Brigade
Part of 2nd New Zealand Division
Engagements World War II
James Hargest
Howard Kippenberger
Keith Lindsay Stewart

The 5th Infantry Brigade was an infantry brigade formation of the New Zealand Military Forces, active during World War II as part of the 2nd New Zealand Division. It saw service during the Battle of Greece, the Battle of Crete, the North African Campaign and the Italian Campaign before being disbanded in late 1945.


Shortly after the outbreak of the war, the New Zealand government authorised the formation of a 'Special Force', what would later be designed the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force (2NZEF), of 6,600 men for service overseas.[2] After consultation with the British government, it was decided that New Zealand's primary contribution to the war effort would be in the form of an infantry division.[3] The 5th Infantry Brigade was the second of the three echelons of the 2nd New Zealand Division.[4] Commanded by Brigadier James Hargest, the brigade consisted of three infantry battalions, these being the 21st (with men drawn from the Auckland Military District), the 22nd (Central Military District), and the 23rd (South Island Military District).[5]

The brigade left for the Middle East in May 1940[6] but while en route to Aden, the news of the invasion of Holland and Belgium prompted the diversion of the troop convoy to England by way of Cape Town.[7] It arrived in mid-June and formed part of England's defences against an expected invasion by Germany.[8] The brigade was designated for counterattacks on any enemy forces landing in the Surrey, Kent, Sussex, and Hampshire counties.[9] It also began to receive its heavy equipment, including artillery and transport, while the infantry was nearly fully equipped.[10] It was moved to Dover in September, in the face of increased activity by the Germans on the opposite coast.[11]

However, by November the threat of invasion had receded and the brigade left England for the Middle East the following month.[12] It arrived at the 2NZEF camp at Helwan in Egypt in early March 1941, but was shortly dispatched to Greece.[13]


The start of the Greece campaign marked the division's first offensive operations as a complete formation. Sent to Greece alongside the Australian 6th Division and a British armoured brigade in order to support the Greeks in their defence against an expected invasion by the Germans, the New Zealanders manned the Aliakmon Line,[14] with the 5th Brigade remaining in reserve in Athens until it moved to Olympus Pass, its designated defensive position,[15] on 29 March 1941. For the time being, the 28th (Māori) Battalion was attached to the brigade.[16] The 21st Battalion had been detached for guard duties at Piræus so did not join up with the brigade at first. When released, it moved to the Platamon Tunnel near the coast.[17]

When the German invasion of Greece commenced, their advance was so rapid, that the 4th Brigade was moved to the Servia Pass from its original position on the Aliakmon Line but the 5th Brigade remained put.[18] Its first contact with the Germans was in the evening of 12 April, when the artillery covering the brigade shelled a bridging party. From 14 April, the 21st Battalion then fended off a series of attacks by elements of the 2nd Panzer Division attempting to flank the 2nd New Zealand Division, before withdrawing on 16 April to Pinios Gorge having delayed the advance by 36 hours.[19] Meanwhile the rest of the brigade was also engaged with the German forces until being ordered by Freyberg to withdraw to the Thermopylae Line on 16 April.[20]

At Pinios Gorge, 21st Battalion had linked up with Australian forces and carried out a delaying action; however, the commander, Lieutenant Colonel Neil Macky misjudged the deployment of his defences and did not adequately cover the road through the gorge. On 18 March German tanks forced a passage through the gorge using the road. In the face of the advancing armour, his battalion fragmented and retreated.[21][Note 1] At the Thermopylae Line, the 5th Brigade, together with the 6th Brigade, guarded the Brallos Pass, a key route to Athens. Here they were prepared to hold to the "last man, last round." However, on 22 April, as the German forces approached the pass, the 2nd New Zealand Division was ordered to retreat. While 4th and 6th Brigades provided cover, the 5th Brigade, minus a small number of platoons detached to 6th Brigade, moved to beaches at Porti Rafti over the next two days and was evacuated to Crete in the evening of 24/25 April.[23]


  1. ^ Freyberg later dismissed Macky as a battalion commander in the 2NZEF.[22]
  1. ^ Pugsley 2014, p. 55.
  2. ^ Pugsley 2014, p. 16.
  3. ^ Pugsley 2014, p. 19.
  4. ^ McClymont 1959, p. 43.
  5. ^ Pugsley 2014, p. 22.
  6. ^ McClymont 1959, pp. 29–30.
  7. ^ McClymont 1959, p. 31.
  8. ^ McClymont 1959, pp. 32–33.
  9. ^ McClymont 1959, p. 36.
  10. ^ McClymont 1959, p. 37.
  11. ^ McClymont 1959, pp. 38–39.
  12. ^ McClymont 1959, p. 41.
  13. ^ McClymont 1959, p. 42.
  14. ^ McGibbon 2000, pp. 204–209.
  15. ^ McClymont 1959, pp. 142–143.
  16. ^ Pugsley 2014, p. 73.
  17. ^ McClymont 1959, p. 174.
  18. ^ Pugsley 2014, p. 75.
  19. ^ Pugsley 2014, pp. 85–87.
  20. ^ Pugsley 2014, pp. 87–89.
  21. ^ Pugsley 2014, pp. 94–96.
  22. ^ Pugsley 2014, p. 96.
  23. ^ Pugsley 2014, p. 100.


  • McClymont, W. G. (1959). To Greece. Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–45. Wellington, New Zealand: War History Branch. OCLC 4373298.
  • McGibbon, Ian, ed. (2000). The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History. Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-558376-0.
  • Pugsley, Christopher (2014). A Bloody Road Home: World War Two and New Zealand's Heroic Second Division. Auckland, New Zealand: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-143-57189-6.
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