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

222 — The Prime Minister of New Zealand to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

The Prime Minister of New Zealand to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

29 April 1943

As has already been made clear in my earlier messages, the future role of the 2nd NZEF is a matter for decision by Parliament, before whom I now propose to place the whole position.

Although normally Parliament would meet on 19 May, in view of your latest message it may be necessary for me to bring the date forward, but in any event, before discussing it in the House, I must present the whole matter first of all to my own Cabinet and then to the Labour Party.

While I will place before members any request, based on strategic grounds, for the retention of the Division put forward by the British page 189 and United States military authorities, I can assure you that no views would carry greater weight in this Dominion than those of yourself and Mr. Roosevelt.

I have referred already to my own difficulties, but I should like to stress the following considerations. According to the present estimates of the manpower situation, the essential facts of which are contained in a separate note,1 it will not be possible for New Zealand to maintain divisions both in the Mediterranean and in the Pacific beyond the end of the present year. Even if the 2nd Division is retained in the Mediterranean, the question must then arise whether the men in the Mediterranean division are to be used to reinforce the Pacific division or vice versa. The Grade A men to provide reinforcements for two divisions are simply not available here. Despite every effort to comb out industry, sufficient key men must be retained to maintain essential production, and especially primary production, at a time when the target programme is being set at increasingly higher levels and when there is, moreover, every prospect that we will be supplying our own men actively engaged in the Pacific area, while demands for foodstuffs and services of all kinds under reciprocal aid are continually increasing.

Because of this acute manpower stringency, Parliament will feel that with the close of the Tunisian campaign the time has come to make the decision between the European and Pacific theatres.

In my view it is of the greatest political importance that the British elements in the United Nations' forces in the Pacific should be as strong as possible when the time comes to start offensive operations against Japan. I assure you that there is a full appreciation in New Zealand of the desirability of being in the strongest political position when the future of the Pacific is being considered after the war.

Another factor in the situation is the political one. There is a strong section, particularly among Government supporters, who desire the early return of the Division at the conclusion of the Tunisian campaign. On the other hand, there is in Parliament and throughout the country a large measure of feeling in favour of the retention of our Division in the Mediterranean theatre. I am most anxious to prevent any general split on this question and I attach the highest importance, from the point of view of the unity of the country and the furtherance of the war effort, to obtaining as unanimous a vote as possible on whatever decision is arrived at. A message from you, which I could read to Parliament in secret session, appealing for the retention of the Division ‘on symbolic and historical as well as military grounds’ would, I feel, have very great influence, especially if you could associate President Roosevelt with yourself in the message. page 190 It is my earnest hope that this may be possible, both because President Roosevelt's name, alongside your own, would powerfully reinforce the appeal, and because, as the United States is responsible for the conduct of military operations both in North Africa and in the Pacific, I feel that the New Zealand Parliament should be apprised of the United States' view. Therefore, I should be most grateful if a message such as I have indicated could be sent.


The fourth year of war has brought New Zealand's manpower problem to an acute stage. To maintain overseas demands, and at the same time meet heavy industrial commitments, it has been necessary to reduce the Home Defence forces by some 25,000 men to a cadre and care and maintenance basis, and to reallocate the personnel to essential industry and for overseas units.

The Government's manpower policy for the year ending March 1944, recently approved by Parliament, involves an intake for the Armed Services of nearly 31,600 men (namely—Air 10,000, Navy 2300, and Army 19,300). The Government have further decided to replace 20 per cent of the longest service personnel of the 2nd Division in the Middle East. While this will place a heavy and immediate strain upon the remaining available men for overseas service, it should, on the other hand, assist the immediate decision as to the retention of the 2nd Division.

On account of the heavily increased commitments on industrial manpower to meet the requirements of the Allied forces in the Pacific, and also the expansion of the Air Force, only 12,000 Grade I men aged 21 to 40 will be available for the Army overseas for the twelve months ending March 1944. Apart altogether from the relief scheme for the 2nd Division, drastic readjustments will be required in order to provide the remainder of overseas manpower requirements already planned.

While every effort will be made to meet the overseas demands up to the end of the present year, beyond that date the maintenance of two divisions, in addition to Air Force and Naval requirements, will not be possible. Indeed, the question must then arise in the most acute form as to which division is to provide further reinforcements for the other.

28 April 1943

1 Appended to this telegram.