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

231 — The Prime Minister of New Zealand to the Prime Minister of the Unitea Kingdom (Washington)1

page 202

The Prime Minister of New Zealand to the Prime Minister of the Unitea Kingdom (Washington)1

14 May 1943

Following upon a further review of the manpower situation and in anticipation of a full discussion in Parliament next week, we are forced to the conclusion that there is no possibility beyond the end of the year of New Zealand's maintaining two divisions and detached troops overseas and also the rapidly expanding Air Force, the units of which are being moved up into the offensive area in the Pacific as quickly as equipment comes to hand. There are, of course, in addition our commitments under the Empire Air Training Scheme and those to the Royal Navy. There is just not sufficient suitable manpower available to maintain and reinforce all these forces.

It would be entirely unwise, we feel, to let either the Pacific or the Mediterranean division complete its organisation and training and prepare for, and perhaps go into, action in major theatres of war knowing that within a few months from now it was inevitable that one force was to be used for the purpose of reinforcing the other. We attach full weight to the importance of our Division participating in any invasion of Europe alongside their tried and trusted comrades of the Eighth Army, but we are also fully aware of the necessity for maintaining the British element in the United Nations' forces in the Pacific to the greatest strength possible. Full consideration must be given to the desirability of New Zealand's forces, on land as well as in the air, playing their part in the Pacific war, which so directly affects our own immediate interests and security. This Dominion is, of course, the only country from which British forces can at present be made available for service in the South Pacific Area.

The time to face up to the problem is, we feel, the present, and we would be most grateful if you would take the opportunity while you are in Washington to discuss the matter with the President, and, having in mind New Zealand's inability to provide divisions for each theatre, advise as to where you and, if possible, the Combined Chiefs of Staff, consider that New Zealand troops could most usefully be employed.

We have re-examined very closely the figures relating to the manpower situation and the needs of both the armed forces and industry. There is a continual combing-out for the purpose of substituting

1 Mr Churchill arrived in Washington on 11 May for discussions with President Roosevelt. This telegram was sent to him through the British Ambassador at Washington (Lord Halifax).

page 203 Grade II men for Grade I men in essential industry, and this process will be developed to the fullest possible extent despite all the very real practical difficulties involved in small-scale enterprise such as is common in this country. Indeed we feel that we have already gone too far in certain directions, particularly in the basic primary industries, and this at a time when demands from the United Kingdom and the United States and our own overseas forces are continually increasing. Only a few days ago we were made aware that shipping in the Pacific is likely to be reduced by 25 per cent, with the result that the American forces serving in this area will become even more dependent upon New Zealand resources in foodstuffs, clothing, and services of many kinds. We were also told that the heavy demands of the present year for foodstuffs alone are likely to be increased by at least 50 per cent in the forthcoming twelve months.

It is of course for Parliament to express its will after considering all the factors involved, and members will undoubtedly attach the greatest importance to the views of the President and yourself. Their one objective, I can assure you, and that of the Government and people of New Zealand, is to ensure that this Dominion should, in the future as in the past, make the greatest and most effective contribution which the capacity and resources of the country render possible.1

1 This telegram was repeated on 15 May to the High Commissioner for New Zealand in Australia.