Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume II
Proposed Formation of Australian and New Zealand Army Corps
Proposed Formation of Australian and New Zealand Army Corps
The increase of the 2nd Australian Imperial Force to an Army Corps comprising two divisions with the necessary Corps troops is at present being considered by my Government. They desire to know whether your Government would be willing to combine the New Zealand Forces in an Australian and New Zealand Army Corps under the command of the General Officer Commanding, Australian Imperial Force.3
|Apr 1939 – Aug 1941||Rt. Hon. Robert Gordon Menzies, PC, KC.|
|Aug 1941 – Oct 1941||Rt. Hon. Arthur William Fadden, PC.|
|Oct 1941 – death, Jul 1945||Rt. Hon. John Curtin, PC.|
|Jul 1945 – Dec 1949||Rt. Hon. Joseph Benedict Chifley, PC. (Died 13 Jun 1951.)|
2 Prime Ministers of New Zealand during the war were:
|28 Nov 1935 – death, 26 Mar 1940||Rt. Hon. Michael Joseph Savage, PC.|
|1 Apr 1940 – 13 Dec 1949||Rt. Hon. Peter Fraser, PC, CH. (Died 12 Dec 1950.)|
3 Field-Marshal Sir Thomas Albert Blamey, GBE, KCB, CMG, DSO; GOC 6th Division, AIF, 1939–40; GOC 1st Australian Corps, 1940–41; title altered in 1941 to GOC AIF in Middle East; commanded Anzac Corps in Greece, Apr 1941; Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, 1941; Commander-in-Chief, Allied Land Forces, South-West Pacific Area, 1942–45; died 27 May 1951.
The interests of your forces and your Government would be fully safeguarded in the organisation advocated for the administration of the Corps and by your senior officer's1 right of direct communication with the New Zealand Government.2
We would appreciate early advice of your views. If the proposal meets with your concurrence it is suggested that a staff representative be sent to Australia early to discuss the working out of details.
It is requested that this message be treated with the utmost secrecy, particularly the reference to the possible expansion of our forces, which will not be announced here before Wednesday evening.
1 Lieutenant-General Lord Freyberg, VC, GCMG, KCB, KBE, DSO, LL.D; GOC 2nd NZEF, 21 Nov 1939–22 Nov 1945; Governor-General of New Zealand 17 Jun 1946–; at time of reference Major-General B. C. Freyberg.
2 See Volume I, Appointment of Commander, 2nd NZEF (No. 39). The appropriate paragraph of the GOC's charter reads:
(b) To communicate directly with the New Zealand Government and with the Army Department concerning any matter connected with the training and administration of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force.
The Prime Minister of New Zealand to the Prime Minister of Australia
I will bring before the Government the subject referred to in your telegram of 4 March and will then cable you again.
In a telegram dated 4 March the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia asks whether the New Zealand Government would be willing to combine the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force with the 2nd Australian Imperial Force to form an Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. My Ministers would be glad to receive an early expression of the views of the War Office on this proposal.3 The telegram reads as follows:
[Text of telegram No. 1]
1 Governors-General of New Zealand during the war were:
|1935–41||Rt. Hon. George Vere Arundell Monckton-Arundell, 8th Viscount Galway, PC, GCMG, DSO, OBE; died Mar 1943.|
|1941–46||Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Cyril Louis Norton Newall, GCB, OM, GCMG, CBE, AM. (Created Baron, 18 Jul 1946.)|
2 Secretaries of State for Dominion Affairs in the United Kingdom Government during the war were:
|28 Jan 1939–3 Sep 1939||Rt. Hon. Viscount Caldecote, PC, CBE, KC (then Sir Thomas Inskip).|
|3 Sep 1939–12 May 1940||Rt. Hon. Robert Anthony Eden, PC, MC.|
|12 May 1940–5 Oct 1940||Viscount Caldecote.|
|5 Oct 1940–21 Feb 1942||Rt. Hon. Viscount Cranborne, PC.|
|21 Feb 1942–28 Sep 1943||Rt. Hon. Clement Richard Attlee, PC, CH.|
|28 Sep 1943–3 Aug 1945||Viscount Cranborne.|
|3 Aug 1945–7 Oct 1947||Rt. Hon. Viscount Addison, KG, PC.|
On 2 Jul 1947 the title of this office was changed to Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations.
General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence4
Sentimental and practical issues, with personal and military as well as constitutional ramifications, are raised by your cable. No doubt Australian sentiment is reflected in the Australian Prime Minister's cable. I am unable to estimate if the revival of Anzac and linking with the Australian war effort would have much appeal to New Zealand, but you are better able to estimate the effect of this.
Practical advantages would be gained by fighting in a Corps with Australian divisions, as their great value on the flank and General Blamey's experience give confidence. If the Corps is agreed to, the page 4 organisation and administration of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force must be safeguarded and everything regarding hospitals, welfare of the men, promotion, and supervision of the corps of officers must be kept completely free from the possibility of Australian control or even supervision.
Further, the Australian approach to defence problems requires Cabinet's consideration as it is not entirely similar to the New Zealand Government's. New Zealand desires to assist in the manner best conforming to the British war effort and may not wish to be associated automatically with a possible aggressive Australian attitude regarding strategy….1 I would suggest, therefore, that Cabinet reserve to themselves all the powers reserved with the British Government and possibly strengthen them if you link at this stage. If we agree to combine for active operations, the question arises whether to form the Army Corps before or after our theatre of war is decided. I would suggest that the committing of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force to a theatre of war should still be decided by the Government of New Zealand, with my emergency powers fully retained,2 and not by the Australian Corps commander as the agent of the Australian Cabinet. When we have entered a theatre of war the normal channels of command, as defined in the prearranged diagram, must be observed.
To sum up, my opinion is that we should link up for operational control only; that the time to link has not yet arrived; that we should continue training under the GOC British Troops in Egypt3 until active operations are anticipated; that then we should enter the Corps on terms of equality.
General Blamey's experience may entitle him to be the first commander but care should be taken not to create a vested interest for Australia, and succession to the command when a vacancy occurs should be available to New Zealand.
1 A personal reference has been omitted.
2 See Volume I, Appointment of Commander, 2nd NZEF (No. 39).
3 Field-Marshal Lord Wilson, GCB, GBE, DSO (then Lieutenant-General Henry Maitland Wilson); GOC-in-C, British Troops in Egypt, 1939–40; Military Governor and GOC-in-C, Cyrenaica, 1941; GOC-in-C, British Troops in Greece, 1941; GOC British Forces in Palestine and Trans-Jordan, 1941; C-in-C Allied Forces in Syria, 1941 (GOC 9th Army); C-in-C Persia-Iraq Command, 1942–43; C-in C Middle East, 1943; Supreme Allied Commander, Mediterranean Theatre, 1944; Head of British Joint Staff Mission in Washington, 1945–47.
The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the Governor-General of New Zealand
With reference to your telegram of 23 March (No. 3). The formation of an Anzac Corps would be welcomed by the Army Council, particularly in view of the magnificent traditions connected with the name. At the same time, they desire to make the following comments:
Since the complete Corps would not be ready for active service until some distant date, it is not possible for the Council to be certain at this stage that a three-division Corps of Australian and New Zealand troops would be required to take the field as a complete Corps. Therefore, they suggest that if such a Corps is formed, the New Zealand and Commonwealth Governments should both be prepared to agree to the New Zealand Division being detached from the Australian Forces, either for operations in another theatre of war or for its combination with a United Kingdom division, in order to form a two-division Corps should operational necessities at the time make either of these courses desirable.
The Army Council has been asked by the Commonwealth Government what Corps troops the Commonwealth should provide for a two-division Corps. A list of the Corps troops considered necessary is being forwarded to Australia, together with a list of the additional Corps troops needed for a three-division Corps. Copies of these two lists are also being despatched by air mail to Army Headquarters, Wellington. As the Commonwealth Government may ask for the balance of Corps troops not raised in Australia to be provided by New Zealand, the New Zealand Government, before coming to any agreement with the Commonwealth Government, may wish to consider the extent of this commitment.1
1 After considering a report on the proposal by the Chief of the General Staff, Major-General J. E. Duigan (in general, he concurred with General Freyberg's views), the New Zealand Cabinet Defence Committee on 17 May 1940 decided that the matter should be discussed with the Australian authorities by the Hon. W. Nash during a forthcoming visit to the Commonwealth. However, the projected visit by Mr. Nash did not take place.
Letter from the Minister of Defence to General Freyberg
My Dear General,
…. Relative to the question of linking up with the AIF, this matter was before War Cabinet when I took the opportunity of placing your views before my colleagues. The opinion expressed was that you had set out exceedingly well the arguments for and against and that your conclusions were sound. It had been provisionally arranged for the Hon. Mr. Nash1 to proceed to Australia this week when he might have had an opportunity of discussing this matter with the authorities. His proposed visit, however, has had to be deferred. If there is any linking up, I feel sure it will be for only operational purposes….
General Wavell,2 General Headquarters, Middle East, to General Freyberg3
Your telegram of 4 July.4
To meet a possible attack on Egypt from the Western Desert, it is essential to organise into some battle order the incomplete formations available here. The principal factor affecting this organisation is the shortage of Signals units.
A draft Order of Battle was drawn up for discussion to enable the troops available to be most efficiently organised and commanded page 7 in the event of attack. The shortage of Signals made it most economical to form an Anzac Division of one Australian and one New Zealand brigade.
The Order of Battle was discussed on 5 July and it was decided to have separate Australian and New Zealand brigade groups instead of the Anzac Division. This arrangement is less economical of Signals but is workable. The New Zealand Brigade Group includes all New Zealand troops. Brigadier Puttick1 is quite satisfied with the new proposal. It is not intended to implement the Order of Battle till an attack appears probable.
2 Field-Marshal Earl Wavell, PC, GCB, GCSI, GCIE, CMG, MC (then General Sir Archibald Wavell); GOC-in-C, Middle East, 1939–41; GOC-in-C, India, 1941–43; Supreme Commander, South-West Pacific, Jan–Mar 1942; Viceroy and Governor-General of India, 1943–47; died 24 May 1950.
4 Not published. See Volume I, Concentration of the 2nd NZ Division (No. 245). This telegram read:
Have just received from Puttick your proposals for reorganisation with its repercussions upon the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in Egypt. As no such change can be made without the approval of the New Zealand Government, I hope these proposals will not be proceeded with. I do not wish to have to disclose to the New Zealand Government the proposals as outlined by you to break up the New Zealand Force, as they would make a most unfavourable impression in New Zealand official circles with repercussions you probably have not foreseen. The answer to any such proposals would, I am sure, be an uncompromising refusal.
1 Lieutenant-General Sir Edward Puttick, KCB, DSO; commanded 4th New Zealand Infantry Brigade, 1940–41, and New Zealand troops in Egypt in 1940 during absence of General Freyberg in United Kingdom; commanded 2nd NZ Division (4th and 5th Brigades) in Crete, May 1941; Chief of the General Staff and General Officer Commanding, New Zealand Military Forces, 1941–45.
General Freyberg (Greece) to the Prime Minister of New Zealand
After a difficult journey from Egypt the complete Division has moved forward into Macedonia and is preparing a defensive position. We are now linked with the 6th Australian Division; thus the Anzac Corps is again in being. General Blamey's experience and the Australians' fighting qualities will prove great assets….2
Headquarters 1st Australian Corps to Advanced Headquarters, New Zealand Division (Greece)
From 6 p.m. 12 April 1941 the 1st Australian Corps will be known as Anzac Corps. The GOC Anzac Corps3 in making this announcement desires to say that the reunion of the Australian and New Zealand Divisions gives all ranks the greatest uplift. The task ahead, although difficult, is not nearly so desperate as that which our fathers faced in April twenty-six years ago.4 We go to it together with stout hearts and the certainty of success.
3 Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Blamey.
4 The landing on Gallipoli Peninsula by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps on 25 Apr 1915.
General Freyberg to Headquarters Anzac Corps
The reunion of the Australian and New Zealand Divisions is welcomed with the greatest satisfaction by all ranks of the New Zealand Division. Will you please send this message to our comrades of the 6th Australian Division.
General Freyberg (Crete) to the Minister of Defence
For the information of the Prime Minister, I saw General Wavell here yesterday and he informed me that General Blamey had expressed the desire to keep the Anzac Corps in being for possible war in Palestine. I told the Commander-in-Chief that I had no power to make such a decision, and that my Government would have to be consulted. I think that General Wavell will approach you on this matter…1
The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the Prime Minister of New Zealand2
The Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, has intimated that he would welcome the suggestion which has been made that the 6th Australian Division and the New Zealand Division should again be formed into an Anzac Corps when they have been re-equipped. General Wavell observes that the formation of the Anzac Corps in Greece gave satisfaction and was appreciated by both divisions. He proposes that the Corps should be stationed in Palestine for that country's defence and recommends that General Freyberg should be selected to command it.page 9
Subject to the concurrence of His Majesty's Governments in the Commonwealth of Australia and New Zealand, His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom favour the proposed re-formation of an Anzac Corps and the suggested appointment of Freyberg as Corps Commander. We are, however, anxious that Freyberg should continue as Commander of the Allied forces in Crete for the present.
I should be glad to learn as soon as possible whether the above suggestions commend themselves to the Australian and New Zealand Governments.
You will have received the telegram of 7 May from the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs stating that the Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, would welcome the suggestion that the Australian and New Zealand Divisions should be reformed into an Anzac Corps after they have been re-equipped, and that General Freyberg should be selected as Corps Commander in succession to General Blamey.3 War Cabinet has discussed the matter, and it is felt that the reconstitution of the Anzac Corps would give the greatest satisfaction to both the divisions and would be most warmly welcomed by the peoples of Australia and this country, to whom the undying traditions of Anzac are an illustrous part of their common heritage. An early expression of your views on the proposals contained in the Secretary of State's telegram would be gladly received by the New Zealand Government.4
4 There is no trace of a reply to this telegram.
The acting Prime Minister of New Zealand to General Freyberg (Crete)
The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs has informed the New Zealand Government that the Commander-in-Chief, Middle page 10 East, would welcome the suggestion that the 6th Australian Division and the New Zealand Division should, after being re-equipped, be reformed into an Anzac Corps. General Wavell has also recommended that you should command the Corps. However, the British Government are anxious that you should continue for the present as Commander of the Allied forces in Crete. The proposals are warmly welcomed by us, and we are at present awaiting the Commonwealth Government's views. We would, of course, be glad to have any advice on these matters you may care to offer.1
General Freyberg (Crete) to the acting Prime Minister
I have to thank you for your message of 9 May. While fully appreciating the honour of commanding the Anzac Corps and while realising that the association of Anzac has much to recommend it from an operational viewpoint, I would personally prefer to stay with the New Zealand Division. However, if the New Zealand and Commonwealth Governments so desire, I am prepared to accept the appointment provided that I can remain a servant of the New Zealand Government by continuing to be GOC 2nd NZEF, and provided the New Zealand Division remains part of the Corps I command. It may be possible for me to fly to Egypt and back in a day so that I could discuss this and other matters with the Prime Minister personally. Meanwhile, in accordance with the British Government's request, I must of course remain here with our two New Zealand brigades until we are relieved or until the danger to Crete is past. Our troops are in good form.
The acting Prime Minister to General Freyberg (Crete)
We have just received your telegram of 11 May. The arrangements proposed by you would be most acceptable to us, and I suggest page 11 you should take the earliest possible opportunity to discuss the matter with the Prime Minister, whom I will advise. I would be glad also if a copy of your message could be shown to the Prime Minister in Cairo.1
The Hon. W. Nash to the Rt. Hon. P. Fraser (Cairo)
The Australian Government has not so far replied to our telegram of 9 May (No. 13) on the formation of the Anzac Corps. I have asked Freyberg to have shown to you a copy of his message to me dated 11 May (No. 15). His desire to remain under the authority of the New Zealand Government and to continue as GOC 2nd NZEF if appointed Corps Commander is favourably regarded by War Cabinet. It is suggested that you have an early discussion with him and advise us of your views as soon as possible….2
The Rt. Hon. P. Fraser (Cairo) to the Hon. W. Nash
With regard to the proposed formation of an Anzac Corps, I have made further inquiries here with Blamey and Wavell but I understand that no further developments have occurred and the matter is still in abeyance. If such a Corps should be formed and Freyberg appointed to command it, then the command of the New Zealand Division would normally fall to either Brigadier Puttick or Brigadier Miles,3 the former of course being senior. Both these officers have received the highest commendation from Freyberg and from everybody in a position to judge, and it is Freyberg's opinion that either of them would be very suitable either as Divisional commanders in page 12 the field or as officers in New Zealand. I agree and feel that with their recent war experience it is not possible to go beyond them. As soon as you have discussed the matter adequately with Sir Guy Williams,1 I would be glad if you would let me have, at the earliest possible opportunity, the views of War Cabinet and the Minister of Defence so that reorganisation in Egypt can be facilitated.
3 Brigadier R. Miles, CBE, DSO, MC, ED; Commander Royal New Zealand Artillery, 1940–41; commanded 2nd NZEF (UK) 1940; wounded and prisoner of war, 1 Dec 1941; escaped to Switzerland with Brigadier J. Hargest from prison camp near Florence, 29 Mar 1943; died in Spain on way to United Kingdom, Oct 1943.
The acting Prime Minister to General Freyberg (Cairo)
The New Zealand Government, in giving further consideration to the formation of an Anzac Corps, would like to have your opinion on the implications involved. War Cabinet are particularly concerned about the additional commitment for Corps troops. It is assumed, of course, that the proposed Corps would consist of two divisions only, thus increasing their own share of the Corps troops. While the Government have information concerning the nature and number involved, any additional comments you feel able to give would be welcomed.
Army Headquarters (Wellington) to Headquarters 2nd NZEF (Cairo)
Colonel Conway2 arrived on 16 June. His papers despatched by safe-hand air mail have been received. Please cable immediately, firstly, whether our losses in Crete will require any alteration in the reinforcement figures already agreed upon,3 and secondly, whether General Freyberg and the Prime Minister reached an agreement on the formation of the Army Tank Brigade, as proposed by War Office, and the formation and training of this brigade in New Zealand.4 For your information, Conway had discussions at Army Headquarters, Melbourne, regarding the formation of Anzac Corps, but no definite page 13 conclusions were reached as Australia is investigating the manpower situation in order to decide what formations can be maintained overseas. If this matter was discussed by General Freyberg and the Prime Minister, please advise what decisions were made. A reply to this cable is required in connection with the preparation of a revised report on manpower needs.
General Freyberg to the acting Prime Minister
I talked with the Prime Minister and various matters are at present being considered. As soon as the full facts are available I will telegraph you. The delay is regretted, but I was not in a fit state to give the matter proper consideration on my return from Crete.2
1 Major-General W. G. Stevens, CB, CBE; Assistant Adjutant and Quartermaster-General, 2nd NZ Division, 1940; Officer in charge of Administration, 2nd NZEF, 1940–45; GOC 2nd NZEF, 22 Nov 1945–6 Jul 1946.
General Freyberg to the acting Prime Minister
Please refer to your telegram of 12 June (No. 19). The term ‘Corps troops’ is a misnomer to some extent as many units of the nature indicated in FFC 363 support the Division whether they form part of the Corps or not, e.g., a medium regiment and a heavy antiaircraft regiment are allotted on the scale of one for each division as required, but normally are not under the direct orders of the page 14 Divisional Commander; also all services behind the Division, such as Signal units, Reserve Mechanical Transport Company, &c., working in the gap between Divisional and Corps headquarters. Up to the present the British Army has found this quota of units for us behind the actual Division. It has always been a source of criticism, and it is most desirable as equipment becomes available and manpower in the United Kingdom becomes the bottleneck, that we should take over our share. Without any doubt it is an imperative essential to have our Corps troops if we are in the Anzac Corps. A Corps of three divisions is certainly referred to in FFC 36, but I gather that our quota would not be increased if the Corps is of two divisions only. Most Corps troops units are allotted to a Corps on the basis of so many for each division in such Corps. I strongly recommend that you accept responsibility if the manpower situation permits, and as the rearrangement will require a great deal of planning here, especially as regards new commanders and staff officers, I would be grateful to learn whether the Government agree in principle to the proposals. As men can be made available, details can be altered to suit the New Zealand Government.
3 Field Force Committee, War Office, Organisation Plan 36 (Part 12–2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force) contained proposals for the organisation of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. The organisation was on the basis of one New Zealand Division forming part of an Anzac Corps of three divisions (the other two divisions being Australian), one New Zealand Army Tank Brigade, and one independent brigade (B Force) in Fiji. The plan gave details of the composition and strength of the force and of new units to be formed, and the estimated numbers of reinforcements required to maintain it at various periods of activity.
Headquarters 2nd NZEF to Army Headquarters (Wellington)
Your telegram of 20 June (No. 20).
As indicated in my telegram of 21 June1 I will cable the amended 7th Reinforcement figures today.
The formation of the Tank Brigade was agreed to in principle by the Prime Minister, but he stated that the final decision would not be made until the New Zealand authorities had investigated the implications and had consulted him by cable.2
The Prime Minister also agreed that New Zealand should find its quota of Corps troops, but on the same understanding as above.
With regard to the formation of the Anzac Corps, the Prime Minister consulted Generals Wavell and Blamey and afterwards talked over the proposal with me. All were agreed in wanting it, and if the New Zealand Government favour the proposal, it only requires the Commonwealth Government's agreement to bring it into existence.
General Freyberg to the Prime Minister of New Zealand1
Your telegram of 17 September.2
….3 I have explained to General Auchinleck4 the New Zealand Government's view on the formation of the Anzac Corps. The Commonwealth Government have not yet expressed their view. However, it is not possible to form the Anzac Corps yet as the 6th Australian Division is not yet equipped and trained after Greece and Crete, and the 9th Australian Division is in Tobruk. If still desired, it might be possible to do so after some months, depending on the result of the operations now contemplated.5
1 Mr. Fraser had returned to New Zealand on 14 Sep.
5 No further telegrams between the two Governments on this subject can be traced.