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

267 — The Prime Minister to General Freyberg

The Prime Minister to General Freyberg

24 May 1943

Your telegram of 22 May (No. 264). Thank you for your information regarding non-divisional Engineers. It was the intention of the Government and Parliament that the full measure of relief and approval for their operational use should be applicable to non-divisional units. One of the subjects the Government particularly desired to discuss with you was the whole question of future reinforcements for the 2nd Division, and I am prompted in replying to this telegram to refer, as I had intended to do in a separate message today, both to the general aspect and to the particular points you raise.

page 242

I informed Mr. Churchill in Washington on 14 May1 that manpower would, in the immediate future, be insufficient for the maintenance of all the Dominion's overseas commitments, including both the 2nd and 3rd Divisions, and I asked him to discuss the matter with the President and, if possible, with the Combined Chiefs of Staff, and to advise me, for the guidance of the Government and Parliament, as to where in their opinion New Zealand's troops could be most usefully employed.

Mr. Churchill replied that they hoped means would ‘be found to sustain both divisions in their present strength and station,’ and added, ‘If this cannot be done, it would be better when the time comes to accept a lower establishment.’2

The proposals submitted by the Government to Parliament, and approved, were:


That the 2nd NZEF should remain in the Middle East and that it should be available for operations in Europe.


That both forces—Mediterranean and Pacific—should be maintained for as long as possible with increasingly smaller establishments in accordance with the availability of manpower.


That the relief scheme for Middle East men discussed by Mr. Jones with Mr. Churchill and General Freyberg should be put into operation in the first instance on the basis of the plan put forward by the War Office, namely, for the relief of some 6000 of the men of the first three echelons, on condition that they be replaced by men from New Zealand.


That no further replacements for the Middle East division be provided for until those returned to New Zealand under the leave scheme should again become available for service.


That further reinforcements for the Middle East and Pacific divisions be suspended during 1943. (Note: I informed the House that it seemed possible that the Middle East division might be sustained for a considerable period by drawing upon its ancillary units.)


That the Pacific division be reorganised on the reduced scale, such reorganisation to include adjustments between this division and its capital troops at present concentrated in New Zealand.

It is realised that the implementation of these decisions calls for thorough examination and early discussion, not only with yourself but also with the United States authorities in the Pacific. It is my intention during your visit to arrange if possible for a joint meeting

2 Ibid (No. 237).

page 243 with Australian, United States, and our own representatives to exchange views and decide upon a programme of using the remaining manpower resources of the Dominion in the best interests of the war effort.

The maintenance of both the Mediterranean and Pacific forces for as long as possible precipitates the reinforcement difficulty in an acute and urgent form. In accordance with the third proposal above, it is considered that the 2nd Division should begin to draw upon its ancillary units.

It may not of course be possible to apply this rule to all the Railway units, but your ‘possibility (iii)’1 corresponds with what has been discussed and approved in Parliament. I am under the impression, however, that some of the Railway units were composed of volunteers recruited for their special task, in which case there may be difficulties in using them for divisional units. Actually their return to New Zealand might be advisable owing to the present very serious manpower difficulties which the Railways are experiencing at a time when petrol and rubber restrictions have thrown large additional burdens upon them.

1 See No. 264, ‘To break them up here and use them as reinforcements for the 2nd New Zealand Division.’