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

390 — 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

9 September 1944

I wish to thank you for making available to us a copy of your message to Mr. Curtin, the implications of which are of immediate concern to New Zealand.1

1 See Volume III, Proposals for Participation in Operations against Japan. In this telegram, dated 23 Aug, Mr. Churchill repeated for the information of the two Dominion Prime Ministers a telegram sent by the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff to the United States Chiefs of Staff explaining the conclusions reached by the Defence Committee on the strategy for the war against Japan.

page 356

You are well aware of the problem we face in regard to our two divisions. I appreciate the ready acceptance given by yourself and the Chiefs of Staff to the general understanding that our 2nd Division should return from Italy, when it could be spared, in order to enable us to build up a new division for service in the war against Japan.

Since I saw you there has been a further change in the disposition of our forces in the Pacific. You will recall that it was decided, on the advice of the Combined Chiefs of Staff, to withdraw the 3rd Division from active operations in the Pacific and to concentrate cadres in New Caledonia, which were to be used for rebuilding a new division for service against the Japanese in 1945. However, at the instance of the Americans, these cadres have now been moved from New Caledonia back to New Zealand.

We have delayed making a final decision on the disposition of our land forces overseas, firstly, because we were reluctant to take our 2nd Division out of action in the European theatre unless we had some firm indication that New Zealand troops would be required in the Pacific and would be given a definite role in the war against Japan, and secondly, because we did not want to ask for the withdrawal of our Division in Italy at a time when the forces there were actively engaged in what may well be the final victorious stage of the war against Germany, and in operations in which, as you yourself advised me only a few days ago, the Division is sorely needed.1

It was assumed from the tentative plans being discussed while I was in London that a New Zealand division would take its place with United Kingdom and Australian divisions in a British Commonwealth force, but from your telegram to Mr. Curtin it would appear that the British Commonwealth task force—land, sea, and air—is now rated only as a second alternative to a British naval force, which it is desired should serve with the Americans.

Any final decision has been made impracticable by this continued lack of certainty about the probable future use of our men and the rapidly changing circumstances in Europe. At this stage, however, we have come to the conclusion we should decide that our Division in Europe should continue to be maintained and that its future should be reviewed at the close of the Italian campaign, and, further, that cadres of the 3rd (Pacific) Division should therefore be disbanded and the men used as replacements and reinforcements for the 2nd

1 In a telegram to Mr. Fraser on 25 Aug Mr. Churchill reported briefly on his visit to the Division in Italy. The telegram read:

I saw with great pleasure about 15,000 men of your really magnificent Division in the best of spirits and had lunch with General Freyberg and his officers yesterday. I told them a good many things they had not heard and would not hear in the ordinary course. Freyberg sends his respects and good wishes and so do I.

The Division is sorely needed in the forthcoming operations.

page 357 Division. It will be appreciated that this course will necessarily delay the building up of another Pacific division should such a force be required.

In view of its bearing on the future participation of New Zealand troops in the war, I would be glad to have at the earliest possible opportunity the decision of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom as to their present plans for the participation of British Commonwealth forces in the war in the Pacific.1

1 See Volume III, Proposals for Participation in Operations against Japan.