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

375 — The Hon. W. Nash (London) to the Prime Minister

page 341

The Hon. W. Nash (London) to the Prime Minister

29 February 1944

The following is the text of the Chiefs of Staff memorandum dated 23 February 1944:

We have considered Mr. Nash's memorandum on New Zealand manpower1 and the supplementary statement made by him at our meeting on Saturday morning. As we see it, broadly the position is that to maintain and, if possible, slightly increase the output of meat and dairy produce which is required to meet the urgent needs of the United Kingdom and American forces in the South Pacific Area, New Zealand requires additional manpower for farms, dairy factories, and freezing plants. We do not know the exact quantity of additional manpower required but we assume it to be somewhere in the neighbourhood of ten thousand men. The armed forces of New Zealand constitute the only source from which the manpower can be found. Our advice has been asked as to how this withdrawal of manpower from the armed forces can be arranged so as to cause the least harm to operations against the enemy.

An authoritative answer to the question can only be given on consultation with the United States Chiefs of Staff. We are telegraphing to Washington and are telling the United States Chiefs of Staff of the questions which have been put and of the reply which we consider should be given. We are telling them that in the meantime our views, which can only be regarded as an interim reply in no way committing the United States Chiefs of Staff, are being communicated to the New Zealand Government in view of the speed enjoined upon us by Mr. Nash. Before expressing our views we would like to draw attention to the security aspect of any public discussion in New Zealand of manpower facts and their effect upon the distribution of the New Zealand war effort, and, except in very guarded terms, we trust that no statement will be made which reveals the intentions of the New Zealand Government with regard to their armed forces. We give below our comments and suggestions on the various possibilities

NAVY On 31 December 1943 New Zealand had a little over 8000 men serving in the Royal Navy and the Royal New Zealand Navy, of which about 5000 were in New Zealand and the Pacific and about 3500 elsewhere. The total number is small and largely consists of highly trained men of excellent quality. We do not recommend any reduction in the number.

AIR FORCE The various commitments under this heading are as follows:

In the Pacific New Zealand has undertaken to man twenty squadrons which the United States have undertaken to equip. At present New Zealand sends 25002 men a year to train in Canada under the Empire

1 Not published. This memorandum was substantially the same as that submitted by Mr. Nash to President Roosevelt on 24 Jan (No. 362).

2 A note on this telegram in the Prime Minister's Department file reads: ‘The figure 2500 is incorrect and should have been 2054….’

page 342 Air Training Scheme. New Zealand sends 500 men a year to the United Kingdom to join the Royal Air Force as air crews. The total strength to which these commitments gave rise on 31 December 1943 was 37,000 men, of which somewhat over 30,000 were in New Zealand and the Pacific, 4000 in the European zone, and 2000 in Canada, India, &c. The Secretary of State for Air has agreed that the number of men to be sent to Canada under the Empire Air Training Scheme should be reduced from 2500 a year to 1200 a year, and this will give some small measure of relief. We do not advise any reduction in the small number now sent to the United Kingdom each year. It remains to consider whether there could be any reduction in the size of the air commitment in New Zealand and the Pacific. We think it would be unwise to retract from the commitment of twenty squadrons. A force of smaller dimensions would not be commensurate with the part New Zealand naturally desires to play in the Pacific war, in which air operations are of such importance. Therefore, we do not recommend any appreciable reduction in the size of the air force to be maintained by New Zealand.

ARMY New Zealand has two principal overseas commitments under this heading—the maintenance of one division in the Mediterranean theatre and the maintenance of a force now comprising two brigade groups in the South Pacific theatre. One or other of these commitments must be affected by any substantial withdrawal of manpower from the Army. On 31 December 1943 there were 30,500 in the Mediterranean theatre and 19,600 in the South Pacific theatre. We attach great importance to the continued presence in Italy of New Zealand forces. From every point of view we derive great advantage from the participation of these forces in the war against Germany. Thus, even if it were possible at the present time, we would be very much averse to the complete withdrawal of the New Zealand Division; rather than see this happen we would prefer that it should be allowed to fall in strength to one brigade. At the present juncture, however, it is not possible to contemplate any withdrawal. The Division is engaged in the great battle for Rome and, until that city has been captured, no change in the Division's constitution is possible. No exact date can be set for the event and thus there seems no possibility of the provision of the men required on the farms in August by withdrawals from the European theatre. However, we would not exclude the possibility of a reduction in the strength of the Division at a later date if such a course were still necessary, but we would hope that at least one brigade would continue in the European theatre until the defeat of Germany.

With regard to the New Zealand force of two brigade groups taking part in operations in the Solomon Islands: apart from the fact that operations in this theatre are of secondary importance compared with those in which the New Zealand Division in Italy is engaged, it appears to us that the immediate need for the maintenance of this force may have diminished with the successful conclusion of the Solomon Islands campaign. The Pacific war is one in which the availability of land forces is not likely to be a governing factor. The transfer to New Zealand of these two brigade groups, moreover, would present less of a shipping problem than any large-scale withdrawal from the Mediterranean and could be carried out in the time available.

page 343

Our conclusion, therefore, is that the immediate need for manpower for the production of meat and dairy produce should be met by the temporary withdrawal of the two New Zealand brigade groups engaged in the Solomon Islands. This would enable New Zealand to tide over the period when labour demands are at their highest, namely, from August to December. We may reasonably hope that developments in the European theatre will allow the later withdrawal of part or all of the New Zealand Division in time enough to constitute a complete division for further operations in the Pacific in 1945. The importance which the New Zealand Government attaches to New Zealand forces playing their full part in the Pacific war is realised. We suggest, however, that there will be ample scope for the employment there of a New Zealand division in 1945, and that in the meantime New Zealand can be well represented in that theatre by her Navy and Air Force.

The following is the text of the reply of the United States Chiefs of Staff, Washington, dated 28 February 1944:

Reference British Chiefs of Staff memorandum of 23 February. We have studied CCS 4991 and concur in the recommendation contained therein, subject to the following:


The New Zealand Government should be requested to furnish the Combined Chiefs of Staff definite figures on the number of men required to be withdrawn from the armed forces for the purposes indicated.


Such withdrawals should be made from the New Zealand Army forces in the South-West Pacific considered as a whole rather than limiting consideration solely to the 3rd New Zealand Division. The New Zealand Government and the Commander South Pacific Area and South Pacific Forces2 should confer and jointly determine the units from which these withdrawals will be made.


The withdrawals should not be made before the completion of Forearm and Mercantile3 and the consolidation of those positions.4

Both memoranda were delivered to me this morning. The delay in the delivery of the memorandum dated 23 February was due to Churchill's reluctance to make any recommendation until the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff had had the opportunity of examining it. This seems to clear the points you raise. If you desire further information please advise me.

1 This was a memorandum dated 26 Feb 1944 from the British Chiefs of Staff to the British representatives on the Combined Chiefs of Staff. It contained a summary of the British Chiefs of Staff's recommendations and enclosed as appendices the memorandum presented to them by Mr. Nash and their own draft memorandum.

2 Admiral Halsey.

3 These were the code-names for the operations against Kavieng airfield on New Ireland and against Manus (Admiralty) Island respectively.

4 In a telegram to Mr. Nash on 7 Mar the Prime Minister advised that the total number of men required from the Armed Forces was 17,500, comprised as follows: 10,650 for farms, dairy factories, and freezing works, 1950 for rural housing and ancillary occupations, 4900 for sawmilling, mines, railways, housing, and hydro-electric development. He added that the New Zealand Government was anxious to discuss the whole matter with the Commander South Pacific Area and that it was agreed that the time of withdrawal of any troops in the forward areas must be dependent on strategic considerations.

A copy of this telegram was also sent to Washington with instructions that the British representatives on the Combined Chiefs of Staff be advised of New Zealand's attitude towards the three conditions stipulated by the United States Chiefs of Staff.