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Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume II

290 — General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

28 December 1943

Further to my telegram of 14 December (No. 288).

I know that you realise that the delay in the return of Ruapehu and the small percentage of battle-worthy personnel included in the draft will raise problems here, and I shall endeavour to set out below the complete picture as I see it to help War Cabinet in their decisions.

You need have no misgivings about the battle-worthiness of your Division at present. Ten thousand new men who fought for the first time in Italy, and our Armoured Brigade, have now been in action. The Division as now organised is as fine a fighting formation as ever before. Looking ahead, however, there are certain aspects of the reinforcement situation which are causing me concern.

The figures in my memorandum of 4 July (No. 274) submitted to War Cabinet show the number of reinforcements that were considered adequate for the campaigning season of 1944. Our aim was to have back in the Middle East by mid-April 1944 both the Ruapehu and Wakatipu drafts with as large a proportion of battle-worthy personnel as possible. This expectation will not be fulfilled, and I am concerned by the slow build-up of our reinforcement pool and, in particular, by the shortage of trained, battle-experienced personnel. Our estimated available reinforcements on 14 December were adequate only because of the return of the Ruapehu draft. Our estimate for 14 April contemplated the return of the Wakatipu draft. Each draft was to include a considerable number of trained personnel. In point of fact both the Ruapehu and Wakatipu drafts are out of active operations at present and only the Ruapehu draft will be back before April 1944.

Referring to the position as at 14 April 1944, set out in my memorandum, 9000 estimated total in depots, hospitals, &c., will page 262 be considerably reduced. Two thousand seven hundred Wakatipu draft will be in New Zealand, and 200 balance of the Ruapehu and Wakatipu drafts will have left. In addition the losses in the present operations (follow-on to HUSKY) must be deducted as well as the current number in hospitals, convalescent depots, &c. Further, should it be decided to send married men of the 4th Reinforcements on leave in April, another 800 must be deducted.

There is no doubt that from April until the Wakatipu personnel return in July our reinforcement position has been greatly weakened. As a result, the Division may have to fight during the summer of 1944 with units below War Establishment. Although a handicap, we could do it as we have done before, but what I want to avoid is sending into battle partly trained men. This might occur if casualties are heavy during the early summer campaigning months. To guard against this situation I make the following suggestions:

The return of 800 married 4th Reinforcements could be faced with less anxiety if an additional 800 men were sent in March with the balance of the 11th Reinforcements.1 Further, if 1000 of the 12th Reinforcements could be sent with the balance of Ruapehu, or at the earliest date thereafter, we could build up a trained reserve which would be available in July. Lastly, it would greatly assist if the main draft of the 12th Reinforcements could be made up of infantry who have been specially trained in New Zealand before leaving, so that they would be fit to take the field without further training after the usual hardening process in the theatre of war.

From the situation as given above, it will be clear to you that single men of the 4th Reinforcements could not be sent back without having 3000 fully trained men actually available to take their place in the fighting line.

There is one more factor I want War Cabinet to realise, viz., the psychological effect upon the men as the leave period approaches. In dealing with this factor we have to face the fact that once a man knows his turn is coming he ceases to be such a good soldier. For this reason 2700 Wakatipu men could not be used on operational duty. An incident in Italy during the battle of Salerno confirms this. There was grave trouble with a draft of 1500 men who had been warned for duty in England for the Second Front but were at the last minute sent as reinforcements for British divisions on the Naples front. I am certain that once the men are detailed for leave they must be taken out of the area of active operations. For this reason, it is for your consideration whether the 4th Reinforcements should not be dealt with as a whole late in 1944.2

1 War Cabinet agreed to supply an additional 1000 men for the draft (2nd section, 11th Reinforcements).