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War Economy

A Change in Manpower Priorities

A Change in Manpower Priorities

Since September 1942, the home forces had been required to give up manpower for return to the civilian labour force or to replenish the overseas divisions. By January 1944 they had released 50,000 men. It was not enough. This month brought the warning of another priority change. Manpower needs for production were now to be ranked higher than those of 3 Division in the Pacific. Reluctantly the decision was made to replace a portion of the manpower lost to food production and other essential industries, by bringing back from the Pacific men who volunteered for some of the most essential civilian work.

Mr Fraser wrote to Mr Churchill:

‘The whole question of our overseas commitments has now to be reviewed, in view of the fact that New Zealand has reached the end of its resources of manpower not engaged in essential industry and fit and available for service in the armed forces.’1

Under extreme difficulty the Government had succeeded in maintaining two divisions overseas until early in 1944. Even now, when forced to acknowledge the impracticability of keeping both at full strength, it would not take the decision to withdraw either. The force in Italy was to be kept up to strength and higher priority was to be given to essential production. The Pacific force would have to be reduced in numbers. If possible, it would be kept strong enough to be an effective fighting formation.

The main Pacific force, 3 Division, in New Caledonia and the Solomons, which had its highest strength of nearly 18,000 in December 1943, was in fact kept above 17,000 until March 1944, but then a more momentous decision had to be made.

1 Documents, Vol. II, No. 360, 19 January 1944.