Problems of 2 NZEF
CHAPTER 9 — Non-divisional, Base and Line-of-Communication Units
Non-divisional, Base and Line-of-Communication Units
IN this chapter it is proposed to discuss all the non-divisional, line-of-communication and base units and services, the majority of which were intended to make a self-contained force of 2 NZEF. For most of them there will be a few words of comment, but it is not intended to enter into detailed explanations of their work. As was said at the beginning of this volume, this is not a treatise on military administration. Most of the units worked, and the services carried out their functions, in accordance with normal military custom and with the instructions in the various manuals. We did like to think, however, that we were a bit better at our work than most.
This chapter is concerned with units not forming part of the Division; but it must be recorded that the constitution of the Division itself changed from time to time, each change making added activities at Headquarters – adjustment of reinforcement drafts, publication of war establishments and so on. The greatest change was the turnover of 4 Infantry Brigade to an armoured brigade. There was a tendency to add to service units, especially those which would make the Division more mobile. In the last stages of the war, the strength of the infantry in the Division was increased at the expense of some supporting arms, and at the same time the striking power of the divisional engineers was strengthened. There were good tactical reasons for all the changes, the theme running through them all being to make the Division a self-contained, hard-hitting and mobile formation. At its peak in the middle of 1944 the Division was one-third as large again as in March 1941. It started the war something under 15,000 strong. Its peak was over 20,000.
To return to units outside the Division – it would be too complicated a task to analyse all the changes during the war. Many units lasted unchanged, others were added at later stages, many were disbanded or were reorganised or amalgamated with others, or had their functions changed. If one looks now at a series of orders of battle, published latterly almost every month and sometimes twice a month, the changes are readily apparent. Attention has already been drawn to Appendices I and II, where there appear the orders of battle of 2 NZEF as in April 1941 and May 1945. Partly on account of location – we were in two countries in 1945 – and partly page 133 for administrative reasons, the arrangement of these two papers is not identical, leaving on one side the variation in units between the two dates.
In Appendix III is an attempt to group all the units that were outside the Division. Not all these existed at any one time. Some disappeared at comparatively early dates, others did not come into being until late in the war; but all had some existence, short or long, and all had their trials and troubles.
The first group of units – Group A in the appendix – are those which were formed in New Zealand at the request of the United Kingdom Government. The units came out from New Zealand already formed, to work under the control of GHQ. One of the units, 36 Survey Battery, later joined the Division; another, 19 Army Troops Company, went to Greece with the Division in place of 8 Field Company, which had not at that time arrived; otherwise all the units remained non-divisional until disbanded. All units served in the field. Their operational control was exercised by General Headquarters, Middle East Forces, and was not the concern of HQ 2 NZEF. On the other hand it was not possible for Headquarters to wash its hands of the units, the members of which were New Zealanders and were the responsibility of New Zealand for pay, promotion, welfare, and general care. We found it difficult to keep in touch, for the units were moved under GHQ arrangements, and despite all sorts of understandings with GHQ it was rare for us to be given notice of any move. The difficulty was increased by the way in which the units were split up into small packets distributed all over the Middle East. This point is referred to again in Chapter 11.
Headquarters had to take special steps to maintain the morale of the units and make them feel that they were not forgotten. It was natural that the Division should receive all the fame and publicity, and that the existence of this group of units should almost be lost sight of, despite that in their several ways they did honour to the name of New Zealand. It is much to be regretted that the GOC's role as commander of the Division did in this instance definitely conflict with his role as commander of the whole force, in that he was never able to spare the time to pay adequate visits to the units.
Welfare caused some troubles on account of the fragmentation of units, and sometimes it was not easy to ensure that all members shared equally with the rest of the force in any little extra. A second mobile dental unit was formed for the explicit purpose of serving non-divisional units; for, as mentioned previously, dental treatment was one thing in which 2 NZEF standards were higher than British.page 134
In some ways the units were like Solomon's baby in that they did not know to whom they belonged, GHQ or HQ 2 NZEF. At first they carried vehicle signs and unit serial numbers as laid down by GHQ for engineer and transportation units; but then HQ 2 NZEF stepped in and, after discussions with GHQ, arranged for the units to carry New Zealand signs and numbers – with the approval, it must be said, of the units themselves. After a short spell with a reversed fernleaf (black on white) they carried the same Southern Cross as did other NZEF units, including Headquarters.
There were a few occasions in the beginning where units showed signs of acting on British authority for promotions and alterations to establishments. We had to be firm and say that the GOC was the only person who could give promotion to officers, temporary or substantive, that Second Echelon was the approving authority for NCO promotions, and even then only within the establishment, and that HQ 2 NZEF was the approving authority for changes in establishment. We came to an arrangement with GHQ under which the GOC would approve temporary promotion for those officers and other ranks who were on occasion performing duties with United Kingdom units which carried higher rank. It was only fair that they should get the pay if the new task was one normally carried out by personnel of senior rank.
All these units except one (the Survey Battery) were engineers, although there was not much similarity between the railway operating personnel or the forestry personnel and the rest. The variety of unit gives support to the contention made in Chapter 8 that there was no justification for a ‘chief engineer’ to be in charge of them all. A staff officer for engineer duties might have been warranted, and in effect the Military Secretary filled this role.
The Survey Battery, after a period of over a year under GHQ, during which time it carried out ordinary surveying duties (i.e., not artillery survey), joined the Division, where it was amalgamated with the existing survey troop and thereafter was a divisional unit. It was disbanded late in 1944 and replaced by a second survey troop, a much smaller unit.
The rest of the units were all disbanded during the latter half of 1943, and the personnel not due for furlough were used to reinforce the Division. There was sufficient justification for this action; but it was carried out somewhat roughly, without paying enough attention to the feelings of officers and men who by that time had acquired a pride in their units and their work. Again it must be said that page 135 the prior claims of the Division overrode everything else, even consideration for unit feelings. The action left a touch of resentment in the remaining personnel for some time afterwards.
Reviewing the whole position, it is clear that New Zealand had overreached itself in sending overseas so many specialist units, and that the warning given to the Government by the GOC in late 19401 was justified. It was a tribute to the desire of the Government that the country should do its utmost; but it should have held the balance better between forming new units and maintaining old ones.
To turn now to the next group in Appendix III – those units formed overseas by 2 NZEF for service under GHQ, either in the Middle East or in Italy, or both. As we had formed them ourselves, we were able to keep closer control over them, even to the point that we could if we wished withdraw them and disband them.
The Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) started in 1940 as one patrol of a unit, the men being lent from the Divisional Cavalry, 7 Anti-Tank Regiment and 27 (Machine Gun) Battalion with the idea – or so we thought – that they would be returned to us after a spell of training; but it then transpired that GHQ wished to make the unit a permanency. As the Divisional Cavalry was clamouring to get its men back, we had to take the step – for the first time, incidentally – of forming a new operational unit of 2 NZEF and divorcing it from the Divisional Cavalry. The latter could then draw on reinforcements and make itself up to establishment again.
The numbers involved were never great. For a while our contribution consisted of two ‘patrols’; but later this was expanded to a complete squadron of four patrols numbering 7 officers and 86 other ranks. The unit was disbanded in the end as a result of the Leros operation in 1943, already mentioned in Chapter 5. After having had so much honour and glory during its career, it was a pity, even a tragedy, that its end should occur amidst failure and recrimination.
The two graves units were New Zealand's contribution to a Commonwealth or, indeed, an inter-Allied task, that of first recording locations of graves, and then later lifting bodies and concentrating them into approved military cemeteries, which after the war would be handed over to the Imperial War Graves Commission. The units worked under GHQ control over an area of country, first in North Africa and then in Italy, and dealt with all graves in the area, not simply those of New Zealanders. Both units carried on for a period after the war with personnel who had volunteered for the duty.
The prisoner-of-war repatriation and interrogation units also worked within the GHQ framework but did concentrate on New Zealanders. Both were formed after we went to Italy.
The work of the censor sections has already been dealt with in Chapter 8.
The group of units shown under C in Appendix III had what may be called a spasmodic existence, in that some of them were formed, then disbanded, and later re-formed. The bulk of the group, in fact all except the prisoner-of-war camp, were first formed just before the Libyan campaign of November 1941 onwards, and lasted until the German advance in the middle of 1942. Some were re-formed after Alamein, and one or two in Italy for short periods.
We first supplied the staff for prisoner-of-war camps at the end of 1940, in order to help GHQ with the unexpected flood of Italian prisoners from the first Libyan campaign. The camps lasted until the prisoners were evacuated to various parts of the world. We helped again, in a rather informal fashion, when we first went to Italy.
We now come to Groups D, E, and F in Appendix III – units which were formed with the object of benefiting 2 NZEF, and which on the whole worked for 2 NZEF alone. No unit, however, certainly not those in Groups D and E, was exclusively for 2 NZEF. All played their part in the common cause, and on occasion deemed it an honour to serve other troops, the hospitals being notable examples. Many of the units – the first four in Group D for example – were formed in accordance with a scale that laid down that one or more should be found for each division in the field, their control normally being under the Corps; but the understanding was that primarily they should serve our own Division.
It was mentioned earlier in this chapter that there were many additions to the Division from time to time. Those units shown in Group D were in principle no different from some others, equally designed to help the Division on its way. Examples were the mule page 137 company organised both in Tunisia and Italy, and the jeep platoon used in Italy; but these units (and others) had only a short life, were often organised out of existing units, and sometimes never figured in the NZEF order of battle. The units in Group D were ones that were formally constituted and lasted for some months at least, extending to some years in a few cases.
Groups D and E shade off one into the other, probably the only distinction being the closeness in space of their support to the Division in the field. Any dividing line can only be a convenience for purposes of reference. In the order of battle for May 1945 (Appendix II), for instance, the following units from the groups figure as divisional units – from Group D the Field Surgical and Field Transfusion Units, and from Group E the Casualty Clearing Station, one VD Treatment unit, and the Optician Unit. The reason was that at that date the Division was so far away from the rest of the force that its supporting line-of-communication units had perforce followed it up, and for the time being had become part of it.
The Field Bakery Section could really be looked on as a divisional unit from its inception, as it was always close behind the Division. This was the famous ‘last straw’ unit of December 1942, i.e., the unit whose formation impelled OICA to point out to the GOC the shortage of manpower that would arise if more units of the sort were formed. It was intended – and in this it was successful – to bake bread near the fighting troops. Supplies sent forward from rear areas under the existing arrangements often reached the troops in a semi-stale condition.
The first three units in Group D were ancillaries of the Armoured Brigade. The Section Motor Ambulance Convoy was only a part of the unit as it appeared in British war establishments – a part large enough to serve one division. All these four units were intended to make us more self-contained.
The three medical units are dealt with in the medical history volumes. The Mobile Dental Unit was one of two, this one being for the divisional area. Its existence used to become known to British troops in the area, and sometimes it was almost swamped out by non-New Zealanders. It was almost a divisional unit.
The Advanced Ordnance Depot was inserted for a period into the lines of communication to improve the supply of ordnance stores to the Division. It was later merged in a normal divisional unit.
In Group E the medical units, the first seven in the list, call for few comments here for their work is being covered in other volumes. Strictly speaking, the Anti-Malaria Control Unit was not necessarily a medical one, but it was always so regarded in 2 NZEF.page 138
The location of our hospitals was such that they often functioned unofficially as transit units for officers, and to a less degree for other ranks, on their way between the Division and Maadi Camp or Advanced Base. Hospitality was freely given by the staff of the hospitals; but, all the same, Headquarters on one or two occasions had gently to tell units that it was possible to have too much of a good thing, and that while an occasional visitor was all right, a flood of visitors, all wanting food and accommodation, was sometimes a bit too much, and might even interfere with the smooth running of the hospital. Visiting officers were expected to pay their mess bills in the normal way. It was a delicate situation, for the hospitals wanted to play their part, and certainly did not want to appear grasping.
The Convalescent Depot was a difficult unit to run, because when New Zealanders had reached this stage in their progress towards complete fitness they were inclined to think they were already fit and should be on their way back to their units. The depot is a medical one with a strong non-medical element to supervise such gentle training as is supposed to be done there. In the opinion of the staff of HQ 2 NZEF – the non-medical staff, it must be said – the position would have been better if reversed, i.e., that the unit should be a non-medical one with a strong medical element to watch convalescence. The point is that men want firmer control than when in hospital; but whether this is best achieved by looking on them as invalids carrying out limited exercise, or as normally fit men with temporary disabilities, is open to argument.
The rest homes were really leave hostels of a high standard and were great successes. Other ranks particularly had a real spell under as good conditions as are possible within a military framework. While medical units, they were often commanded by non-medical officers.
The mobile dental unit included here is the one formed for the service of the non-divisional units.
The rest camps, leave camps, or change-of-air camps were temporary units formed at various times when the Division came out of the line. They had nothing to do with the Medical Corps.
Our ordnance depots numbered two at their maximum, one being in Maadi and one in Italy, the latter having an advanced section also. They were formed for the same purpose as so many other units – to improve the service given to our troops by looking after ourselves.
To help in the despatch to the Division of both reinforcements and stores, we established port detachments of our own at every port in the line of communications. The detachment at Suez was the longest-lived, the first to be formed and the last to be disbanded. page 139 At intervals in the war we had detachments at Port Said, Alexandria, Benghazi, Tripoli, and then later at Taranto, Bari, Ancona, and Naples. The units were small, ranging from 18 to 30, and in effect were New Zealand ‘missions’ to the British movement authorities at each port. They supplied just that extra little bit of punch in the movement of our troops and stores. To operate efficiently, these detachments required a separate launch of their own. For Suez we had a special launch sent out from New Zealand – one that in peacetime had journeyed between Auckland City and Rangitoto. In other places we either hired launches or ‘acquired’ them by appropriate army methods.
The Reinforcement Transit Unit was established in Italy as an additional link between Advanced Base and the Division. When in the later months men moved from Bari to Ancona by sea, the unit met them at the latter port.
The last group in Appendix III (Group F) comprises Base Units – those units which were stationed in Maadi Camp or in Advanced Base, or sometimes in both. An Advanced Base had to be interposed between the Division and Maadi on three occasions – in Syria in early 1942, in Tripolitania in early 1943, and in Italy from the end of 1943 to the end of the war. Basically the Advanced Base was merely intended to hold reinforcements nearer the Division than Maadi, and in Syria and Tripolitania this is all it did. It Italy, however, Advanced Base became a Maadi Camp in miniature.
Our experience shows that there is a limit to the permissible distance between a fighting formation and its base facilities. If that distance becomes too great, it is necessary to interpose another link, which in effect becomes the base as far as the fighting formation is concerned. When in the middle of 1942 the Division was on the Alamein line and only some 100 miles from Maadi, it was possible to send men forward direct to the Division, and even direct to brigades and regiments. By the time the Division had reached Tunisia, and even more markedly, when it moved to Italy, men had to be sent forward in bulk, so to speak, sorted out at Advanced Base, and there held until the moment was propitious for sending them farther forward. Moreover, the comparative nearness of Advanced Base to the Division made it possible to fulfil demands for men more quickly than if the supply had been drawn from Maadi.
It is not proposed to examine the organisation of Advanced Base in Italy in detail, as it varied from month to month and, in any case, was largely a miniature edition of Maadi, with holding depots, reception depot, training depots at later stages, service units nearly page 140 identical in number with Maadi, and a varied collection of welfare units. To dismiss it so lightly, however, is really not fair to the staff which controlled it, for in its own way it had all the troubles that beset Maadi in its early years, and which always will arise when something is being created from the ground up.
One thing must be said, however. We made a mistake in Italy by siting Advanced Base so far back. Initially, when we were short of MT, the proximity to Taranto was an attraction; but when later we had more MT, and could send men forward in our own vehicles, it would have been better if the base had been well to the northwest of Bari instead of to the south-east. It has already been said in Chapter 7 that local circumstances led us to accept a location for HQ 2 NZEF that was too far back; and similarly there were local factors that influenced the siting of Advanced Base. Later on we considered moving; but by then the site was being steadily improved, and so we stayed until the end.
Headquarters Maadi Camp, formed in April 1940 under the title of HQ Base, was the first new unit officially formed in 2 NZEF overseas, a headquarters to command the miscellaneous lot of units that constitute a base being even by that time an obvious necessity. In June 1941 its title was changed to HQ Maadi Camp, and in August 1941 to HQ NZ Maadi Camp, this last change being the result of the instruction from GHQ that all Dominion units should carry letters indicating their country as part of their titles. As it happened, at a later stage GHQ took over portion of the camp, so that there was a ‘Maadi Camp’ separate from ‘NZ Maadi Camp’. In June 1942 the title was changed to ‘HQ 6 NZ Division’, that being one of the results of scheme cascade – for which see page 55. This scheme continued until late in 1944, when the title again became ‘HQ NZ Maadi Camp’.
The training depots were the real reason for having Maadi Camp at all, and remained the hard core of the camp throughout. They showed a bewildering series of changes during the war, impossible of detailed analysis. They were formed, amalgamated, re-formed, disbanded, re-formed again, re-amalgamated, separated, expanded, reduced, and finally disbanded. When Advanced Base in Italy was formed it was at first intended not to have any training depots there, but to limit the organisation to ‘holding’ depots; but three or four advanced training depots were formed, then were expanded to become the main depots, which were closed down at Maadi, and then later on the depots were closed at Advanced Base and reopened at Maadi.page 141
Some corps never had separate training depots at any stage, but trained their personnel, where training was called for, in the ‘service’ units in the area – the Postal Corps in the Chief Post Office, the Dental Corps in the Camp Dental Hospital, and the Pay Corps in the Chief Pay Office. ERS, which was a corps in the later years, never had any need for a training establishment.
Cavalry – later to become Armoured Corps – artillery, engineers, infantry, machine-gunners, and Maoris had depots of their own, or shares in a depot, for as long as training was called for, i.e., they never made use of base units to provide training facilities. Signals, ASC, ordnance, EME, and medical, after having had some form of depot for years, finally carried out their training in base units. The Provost Corps had a combined ‘Base Company and Training Depot’ throughout.
Armoured corps, artillery, and infantry were the only corps which had depots entirely their own from first to last, i.e., they never were part of composite depots. Other corps shared in composite or combined depots on many occasions. One of the first depots ever to be formed was ‘the Composite Depot’, so called, which served cavalry, engineers and signals, corps which were then considered to be too small to have depots of their own. This particular composite depot was later disbanded; but there were examples of combination at later dates – engineer and ordnance, machine-gun and Maori, and so on. There was a saving in overhead in having a common depot staff for these combined depots, but it is doubtful if the idea was a success.
Infantry for most of the war had separate depots for Northern, Central, and Southern groups, and also for most of the war had a superior headquarters over the three. Towards the end of the war there was one ‘Infantry Training Depot’ only.
As an example of the kind of adjustment that went on, the following were the steps taken in July 1944, at a time when the number of reinforcements was showing a decline. All available infantry and engineers were sent to Italy, to be held in Advanced Base until required. Two hundred artillery personnel were transferred to the Armoured Corps Training Depot for two months' training – this arising from reductions in artillery units in the field, combined with low casualties compared with those of the Armoured Corps. The artillery training depot was disbanded and all remaining fit men sent to Advanced Base. Engineer, infantry, and Maori training depots were to remain, but the machine-gun training depot was disbanded – this foreshadowing the changeover of 27 (Machine Gun) Battalion to infantry. The signal school was disbanded, and future training was to be done by Base Signals. The ASC training depot was disbanded and all 11th Reinforcement ASC personnel page 142 were transferred to infantry, this arising from a reduction in the number of ASC units with the Division. Future ASC reinforcements were to be trained by ASC base units. Similar steps were taken by the Medical Corps.
Adjustments like these, though not so general, took place at intervals throughout the war. The depot situation in Maadi was always sensitive to the reinforcement position in the force.
In a small army the practice of having separate depots for each arm cannot but be wasteful of personnel; but short of sharing in the facilities of British depots, which is undesirable, or sharing in combined depots, which is of doubtful advantage, or concentrating training common to all arms in one depot, which has promise, there is little that can be done to improve the position.
The School of Instruction and the Driving and Maintenance School did cater for all arms. The scope of the latter school will be obvious from its title; but the former was badly named, as its title conveyed nothing. It was in fact a small-arms school, with a curriculum of wide scope. The Signal School ran courses for regimental signallers in addition to the more technical work of its own corps. The Camouflage Training Unit, which had only a short life, also catered for all arms.
It has already been mentioned that we were late in having our own Officer Cadet Training Unit. In Chapter 13 it will be suggested that this was a mistake. Our own unit was not formed until the end of 1944, and had time to run only two or three courses before closing down. It was later briefly reopened to train officers for Jayforce.
The Reception Depot was designed to relieve training depots of as much administrative work as was possible. Men entering camp from hospital or from convalescent depot went first to the Reception Depot, where they were reclothed and re-equipped, tested for dental fitness and so on, and only then handed over to the appropriate training depot ready to go straight on with training. In theory the depot was a good one, and in the early stages it was warranted; but it was an impersonal unit with difficulties all its own in the maintenance of discipline, men did their best to dodge it, and with the best will in the world administration is never static, and the nice tidy position that existed when men joined their training depots soon became untidy again. The depot in Maadi was finally disbanded in late 1944. It is probable that we could always have done without it. Depots bearing a similar title were later formed both in Advanced Base and in Maadi, but their functions were those of an ordinary transit depot.page 143
The Discharge Depot, on the other hand, was a necessity from first to last. It took over men when they were placed on the New Zealand roll (i.e., were awaiting return to New Zealand), on account of compassionate leave or unfitness not severe enough to take them to hospital. It saw to all the administrative detail preparatory to embarkation, and ensured that all those to be embarked were in one place instead of being scattered all over the camp. There were times when transportation was a long time coming, and special measures had to be taken to keep the men occupied – a good example being the long delay in the embarkation of some of the smaller furlough drafts. The depot could have been better equipped for this purpose, and deserved more attention than it received. Its name was not a good one, as men in the depot were awaiting not discharge but repatriation. The name was hurriedly applied in 1940 from recollections of the First World War. Repatriation Depot would have been a better title.
The Base Kit Section (or Store) looked after the superfluous gear that officers were not supposed to take into the field. To this extent it had official justification, and indeed figured as a necessary unit in pre-war manuals. Gradually, however, it became a general dump of extra and unwanted gear, official or otherwise. Other ranks are not supposed to have anything extra but, like the snail, to carry all their limited belongings with them. However, the men accumulated clothing, officially or privately, and in addition had a collection of souvenirs, trophies, musical instruments, sports gear and so on. Stringent orders would have been useless, so we bowed to the inevitable and took it all into store. When units went into the field in 1941, and at intervals thereafter, every unit dumped there its superfluous mess gear, including pianos. Towards the end of the war it was a fascinating experience to visit the store and see what it had in stock. We had to persuade a reluctant British construction authority to build us an outsize in stores to hold the contents. Periodically we tried to have a spring cleaning and to persuade units and individuals to get rid of the accumulation; but, on the whole, the position at the end of the war showed no improvement. Thereafter there was a clean-out. We considered the possibility once of moving the store to Italy, but this would have seemed like encouraging depositors in their bad ways.
The Base Bakery, later called Catering Depot, is referred to in Chapter 16, Welfare. It should be mentioned also that the Cookery School, also discussed in Chapter 16, was part of the ASC Training Depot until the depot was disbanded, when the school became independent.
Both the Medical Corps and the Red Cross felt the need of store depots outside the scope of the normal ordnance and other supply page 144 depots. The Red Cross store remained at Maadi throughout. The Medical store moved to Italy in 1944.
To administer all these depots – and sometimes the training depots alone held many thousands of men – required the help of a large number of ‘service’ units similar to those that existed in the field. Their duties are obvious from their titles.
It has been mentioned that Advanced Base in Italy became a Maadi Camp in miniature. This brings us to the question whether it might not have been better to have closed down in Maadi when the Division went to Italy, and when it became clear that the Division would be continuing on a line of advance through Italy and would not, for instance, be going to take part in the invasion of France. There was a brief period when there was a faint possibility of this latter move; but it does not appear that the idea was ever taken up by either the United Kingdom or the New Zealand Governments. The proposal was at least never officially made.
Our initial inclination was to move everything to Italy with the exception of a minimum of transit units and port detachments. The move was warranted if for no other reason than that there would be a saving in manpower in having as much of the force as possible in one place, not to mention that the work of Headquarters would be eased if most of the force was in Italy. These points at first sight seemed conclusive.
It then appeared that the sea transport authorities were not prepared to carry the troops beyond Egypt in the same vessels in which they had travelled from New Zealand, so that transhipment in Egypt was inevitable, followed by a rearrangement of the drafts to fit the smaller vessels which would carry them to Italy. The stay in Egypt might be one of weeks and our ‘minimum of transit units’ began to grow. It looked as if our transit facilities in Egypt would be much the same size as the proposed Advanced Base in Italy; and the alternative became either main base in Egypt and smaller one in Italy, or the reverse. By moving the main base to Italy we did not avoid having a smaller base in Egypt.
Then the more we looked at Maadi Camp the more we liked it. By this time it was as near perfect as any camp could be in the circumstances, for it had become a permanent camp with all the amenities that one could wish for. Within any reasonable period of time we could never organise a similar camp in Italy, putting aside the question whether at that stage of the war we were justified in asking the British authorities to embark on a mass of new construction. Moreover, training grounds in Egypt were unrivalled in the amount of room they offered and the weather was always good, though we realised that training in the desert was not entirely page 145 suitable for fighting in hilly and closely-settled country such as would be found in Italy. The real truth is that we were well dug in in Maadi and were reluctant to give it up.
The decision we had to take was a major one. As is known, it was to leave Maadi much as it was at the time and establish a glorified transit depot – Advanced Base – in southern Italy. Owing to the departure of HQ 2 NZEF and its associated NZEF authorities, the total number in Maadi Camp showed a reduction. There was also some reduction in training facilities and in the ‘service’ units maintaining the camp.
It is not possible on reflection to say categorically that we took the correct, or the incorrect, decision. Had we decided otherwise we would doubtless have settled down in Italy after the initial upheaval; and there would have been a saving in manpower, together with an easing of administration, if we had moved. Probably the balance was in favour of moving to Italy but not by much.
There has never been an army, either full size or, as with us, a miniature one, that has not been criticised for having too large a tail. At one point in the North African campaigns the United Kingdom Government sent out to the Middle East a specially appointed politician with a staff to investigate the size of the tail behind the Eighth Army, as there had been criticism in England about the number of personnel employed in rear areas. As far as we could see, nothing ever happened as a result of the investigations; but the accusation is a common one and merits a sober answer, so that a little time may be spent in debating whether or not the 2 NZEF tail was too big.
It is possible to imagine the Expeditionary Force consisting of a division and nothing else – or perhaps it would be better to say consisting of field troops and nothing else. Every service behind the field troops would have to be done by someone other than New Zealanders. Our reinforcements on arrival would go to (presumably) British camps, our mail would be delivered by British units, our sick and wounded go to British hospitals, our pay come from British pay offices and so on. It is not necessary to labour this point, as it was never disputed that we should have some sort of rear organisation. The point to be determined is how much rear organisation there was to be. Men have to be clothed and fed, given medical and dental attention, paid, promoted (or reduced in rank!), guarded spiritually, supplied with welfare both on and off duty; their letters have to be collected, censored, and delivered, their domestic woes cured if possible, their return to civil life made smooth, until we find every ill the flesh is heir to being handled by military authorities – for after all the army is only 100 per cent state socialism of a rigid type.page 146
It is a challenge to go through the list of NZEF authorities given on page 114 and see which ones we might have dispensed with, remembering firmly that someone else might have to perform the duties itemised if New Zealanders did not. Which of them was unnecessary or a luxury? One or two of them were thinking about the future – the ERS and the archivist, for instance – and we might have done without them at the time. Our Public Relations Service was more for the benefit of the people of New Zealand than for the Expeditionary Force. Our welfare might have been carried out by one authority instead of four, although the saving would have been small. Perhaps the auditor was a luxury! – but again he was primarily working for the Government in New Zealand and not for us. The censor sections were a contribution to the common pool, apart from the fact that New Zealanders preferred that this invidious duty should be done by other New Zealanders, who would understand the mentality of the writers and references whose meaning would be obscure to British censors.
It is hoped that elsewhere in this volume the case has been made out for having a HQ 2 NZEF at all. It has been admitted that a saving could have been made by combining HQ 2 NZEF with HQ Maadi Camp for such time as the whole force was in North Africa; but that does not affect the contention that the divisional staff, plus the service heads in the Division, could not have administered the Expeditionary Force as a whole.
To return to the list of NZEF authorities – no answer is given here to the question how many could have been dispensed with; but readers, and especially critical readers, are asked to be honest with themselves when expressing an opinion. Probably the cock-shy has been set up only to be knocked down again, and too much has been made of the point; but criticism comes easily to troops, especially to New Zealanders. Let us accept in the meantime that all the authorities were justified. There now remains the more delicate point whether or not they were staffed too generously; but before deciding this let us turn back to the units that have been discussed on pages 137–44 and are listed in Appendix III, Groups E and F.
It would be dangerous to make any comment about the necessity for any of the medical units, and the dental units too, except to say that our standards were high, and we gave a service much better than the normal. Units like the port detachments, the clubs, the entertainment unit – these were not essentials and we could have got on without them, but our troops would not have been treated so well. And if the standard of service is to be high, then the number of men employed thereon will be high also.
We tried to keep the depot position in Maadi under control, and page 147 records have shown that depots were reduced or disbanded from time to time when the number of reinforcements or the state of the war did not justify their continuance. The reception depot probably went on too long; the other odd schools and stores performed necessary duties. The ‘service’ units were similar to those that worked in the field. Maadi Camp was nearly self-contained, and we drew on British facilities as little as possible.
The crux of the matter in this aspect of the possible excess of units at the base or on the lines of communication lies in the word ‘self-contained’. It is a fact that the smaller the truly self-contained force, the higher proportionately to the total will it be in overheads and maintenance units. It would have been more economical, for instance, if we had been content to have our depots as small sections of British ones, to send our students to British schools (even if we had supplied some of the staff too), to attach ‘service’ personnel to British units instead of running our own, and altogether if we had been content to have our base camp merely a section of the gigantic organisation that had been built up in the area from Tel el Kebir to the Suez Canal.
New Zealanders are happiest among their own kith and kin, not only while in training at a base camp but at every stage between the port of disembarkation and the Division; and if this feeling is accepted – and who would controvert it – then the price must be paid in units and manpower. It is doubtful if the service given to the troops was ever appreciated, except in a negative form – that men would have been horrified if they had been asked to go to British depots, or to be content with British YMCAs – although there were times when men were demonstrative enough to show their delight, as when for instance they came upon an unexpected New Zealand representative at a port.
Taking it all in all, it is maintained that so far we are on safe ground; but we now come to the point, which has been postponed once already, whether or not NZEF authorities and all the base and line-of-communication units had establishments that were too generous. In other words, were they overstaffed? For field units we used British war establishments on which to base our own; but in 99 per cent of the cases that came before HQ 2 NZEF there was a request for the establishment to be increased, albeit by only one man or so. The requests came from the commanders of corps, often with the benediction of the divisional staff, and could not be refused. A request that the establishment should be reduced was of such extreme rarity as to be a phenomenon. There was a steady ‘creep’ of increases in all field units. However, it is not proposed to criticise this action, for the units after all were fighting ones; but it will be clear that page 148 the desire for an increase was not just a peculiarity of officers commanding base units, but was universal throughout the force.
Our NZEF, base, and line-of-communication units were our own creation, based on establishments that we evolved ourselves, and could easily be increased or altered. We tried to make them comparable with any similar establishment for field units, and there was a standing direction to the compiler that in no case were base figures to be more generous than field ones; but often there was no comparable field unit, and we had a free hand. To examine some of these establishments today, both for NZEF authorities and for base units, serves to impress one with the extraordinary number of men that had to be employed to keep the machine moving, and at first one is inclined to think that they could be drastically cut down. Closer analysis would lead one to delete the adverb ‘drastically’, for the reason that just as a small force led to an over-proportion of ‘service’ units, so do small units lead to an over-proportion of men employed on administrative duties. Each of the depots, for instance, was self-contained with its OC, Second-in-Command, Sergeant-Major, Quartermaster-Sergeant, office staff, cooks, medical orderlies, postman, regimental police, sanitary personnel, storemen, instructors and so on; and if one has seven or eight individual depots, the overheads will be more than in one depot the equivalent in size of the seven or eight together. Similar remarks may be applied to all the units that serviced Maadi Camp – see Appendix III, Group F, at end. Each had its own function and could not be amalgamated with the next one, and the result was a large number of small units, each with its own overheads. Such a state of affairs cannot help but be wasteful of manpower; but again it is the price we paid for being self-contained and looking after ourselves.
The original establishments as thought out at HQ 2 NZEF, and then compiled and promulgated, were based on reasonably good principles of true economy in manpower; but thereafter Headquarters spent a lot of its time resisting appeals for small increases to offices and units, the reasons always being that the unit would thereby be able to render better service. It is amusing to be able to record that the worst offenders were officers from the Division, many of them senior officers, who were seconded for a while to Maadi or Advanced Base. They found themselves free of the restrictions applicable to establishments for field units, and were most eloquent in advocating some sort of increase. Very often depot commanders merely took men out of the reinforcement pool in the depot and ‘attached’ them to the administrative staff, so avoiding an application for an official increase. Periodically an inquisition into the staffing position would disclose these illegal additions, the offenders would express contrition and repentance, the men would page 149 go back to the reinforcement pool, and the situation would be correct again – but only for a while, for temptation was always too great.
The slow but steady ‘creep’ of additions applied to NZEF authorities (see page 114) equally with base and line-of-communication units; but all these offices were small. The office of the DMS at its maximum was 15 all told, including consultant surgeon and physician and the members of a standing medical board. The Military Secretary's office numbered 4, the ADDS office 5, and so on. It can with justice be claimed for all these authorities that their work showed a slow but steady increase from first to last.
Most suspect of all were the additions to units in Maadi Camp – and before going further it must be pointed out that it is only human nature to want to improve one's surroundings. Any unit fresh out of the line will want some form of amenity as soon as it settles down in a rest area; and the longer the unit stays there, the greater will be the desire for more amenities, and for more men to staff the amenities. When we are considering Maadi Camp, we must remember that it was a standing camp and lasted for six years; and every CO of every unit in the camp at some time wanted some improvement. It would be small wonder if there were applications for more men.
And somehow or other the increases crept in. One is left with the impression that Headquarters might have been firmer than it was, and that at any one time the figures of men employed on base and line-of-communication duties could have been reduced to some degree – some small degree only, arising from reductions of twos and threes from each unit, and perhaps totalling one or two hundred at a maximum. Not all the saving would come from fit men, for it must be remembered that a large part of those employed at Maadi were unfit for the field. The only defence that can be put forward on behalf of Headquarters is that every officer commanding a unit in the base or on the lines of communication at some time asked for an increase, giving weighty reasons why it should be granted, and that it is sometimes difficult to go on resisting ‘constant dripping’. Let anyone who in the future is in a similar position of authority bear these words in mind, and armour himself with armour of proof.
The part of the issue to which special attention is drawn is that included in Serials 151 to 205. Serials 190 to 194, the hospitals and the convalescent depot, had been sent out from New Zealand. All the others had been formed by us overseas in the course of our first year in Egypt. The need for all these units had been found in that period of time; but no special draft of men had been sent out from New Zealand to staff them, and we had either to draw men from reinforcement drafts, which had been sent to us for a different purpose, or from units of the force, which was even less defensible. The number of men unfit for field service was at this time small. It was wrong at this early stage to have to use men wanted for other purposes to form these necessary units. Men for these duties should have been available from the first – men who need not have been fit for full field service.
It is not intended to blame anyone for this failure. Neither Army Headquarters nor the headquarters of the force had fully appreciated the position at the beginning; and there was never a point when Force Headquarters saw the future as a whole and could say that so many men would be wanted for the complete base. Headquarters, like everyone else, was still learning, and so the base grew unit by unit.
If a division goes overseas it will want a tail from the outset, in addition to the nucleus of an Expeditionary Force headquarters. Some base units will be wanted with the first wave to go overseas. The ideal would be that the whole of the base organisation went overseas first, so that when the fighting formation arrives there is already an organisation in existence to maintain it in the broadest meaning of the word. The strategical situation may not permit this, in which case the base units should accompany the first wave of fighting troops. One cannot be dogmatic about which units should go first; but it will be granted that units for medical and dental treatment – sedentary units such as hospitals – for postal duties, for pay, records, ciphers, welfare, port duties, works, ordnance – all these will be wanted for base duty almost at once. Training depots could either be formed in New Zealand and come overseas complete, or could be formed overseas out of drafts provided for the purpose. The principle to be adopted should be that those units which are wanted at once should be formed in New Zealand from men of low medical category; for others either alternative will suffice.
It is worth mentioning at this point that Cairo, while in general a source of great trouble, was of advantage in the early stages, as page 151 we found there all the resources of a large city. Facilities like this may not be available again, and we may be thrown back on our own resources even more than in 1940.
Finally, here are some words from the GOC. In April 1945 the New Zealand Government was considering what size of force it could supply for the war against Japan. A cable was sent to the GOC outlining the proposals, and making it clear that the total force could not be as large as was 2 NZEF. In fact, a figure was given him as the maximum, and he was asked for his comments. Part of his reply reads as follows:
No allowance appears to be made for base and line of communication troops. The standard of our base services at present is high and if there is the need could be reduced, but it will then be appreciated that we would have to accept a lower standard of overseas training and of medical, ordnance, dental, and welfare services than hitherto…. The high standard of efficiency and contentment of the NZEF has been the result of New Zealanders fighting together with a force big enough to look after itself and with base and line of communication services that looked after our health and welfare.