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War Economy

Manpower for the Armed Forces1

page 81

Manpower for the Armed Forces1

MONTH by month over the first three years of war, industry had to yield up ever-increasing numbers of men for the armed forces. Beginning with what was, by comparison, a mere trickle, this transfer of men accelerated after each major crisis in the progress of the war.

Initially men were recruited voluntarily, in moderate numbers, to be trained in New Zealand for fighting overseas, but the disasters culminating in the fall of France, in June 1940, led to changes in recruiting methods designed to speed up the intake into the armed forces. Conscription of men for the forces began in October 1940 under powers taken in June.2 By November 1941 over 81,000 men were serving, more than half of them overseas, and over 1000 women had been recruited. With the entry of Japan into the war, in December 1941, recruitment for the armed forces was again accelerated, and the emphasis shifted to strengthening the forces in New Zealand to meet the possibility of invasion. Within a month another 25,000 men were mobilised and, by February 1942, armed forces strengths exceeded 125,000, of whom nearly 77,000 were in New Zealand. By September 1942, numbers in the forces had reached 157,000, which was to be the peak strength, and of these the home strength, also at its peak, was 107,000.

In terms of economic impact, leaving aside at this stage the question of financial costs, this meant that about one-tenth of all men normally working in industry had entered the armed services

1 See p. 70, note 1.

2 See also pp. 5860, where the Labour Government's attitude to conscription is discussed.

page 82 by the end of 1940. A year later the proportion had increased to about a fifth and, at peak mobilisation in September 1942, industry had lost nearly one-third of its usual male labour force to the armed services.1

This direct transfer of resources to military purposes inevitably required major industrial readjustments, which had to be made at a time when industry had an extra load to bear in maintaining supplies to New Zealand's allies and in feeding, clothing, and even to some extent munitioning New Zealand forces.

The increase in armed services strengths and the impact on the civilian labour force is summarised in the following table:

Men and Women for the Armed Services
Changes in Armed Forces Strengths from the Outbreak of War until Peak Mobilisation2
Date Men Women Total Men as a Percentage of the Male Labour Force
War with Germany, 3 September 1939 Per cent
September 1939 2,600 2,600 ½
November 1939 4,100 4,100 1
February 1940 12,300 12,300 2
May 1940 13,500 13,500 3
Fall of France, June 1940
August 1940 43,300 43,300 8
November 1940 60,500 60,500 12
February 1941 70,700 70,700 14
May 1941 71,000 100 71,100 14
August 1941 75,200 600 75,800 15
November 1941 81,200 1,100 82,300 16
War with Japan, 7 December 1941
February 1942 123,900 1,500 125,400 24
May 1942 141,100 2,100 143,200 27
Peak Mobilisation
September 1942 153,600 3,400 157,000 30

1 3400 women were also in the forces by this time.

2 Adapted from Table 4 in Report of the National Service Department, 1946, Parliamentary Paper H-11a. See also Table 12 and footnote on p. 70. The numbers given for November 1939 may be too low. The Special Force (First Echelon) was in mobilisation camps by November. It sailed at strength 6500 in January 1940.