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

402 — General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

22 October 1944

Since my return to the Division the replacement scheme has been fully examined. In addition, we have gone into all possible ways of cutting down non-effective personnel by reducing our war establishments. We have come to the conclusion that owing to the superior page 372 equipment of the Allies, especially in aircraft and tanks, we can now make reductions in some of our defensive equipment, and a further reduction can be made in some of our administrative units. These reductions will not affect the fighting power of the Division.

The list of units and reductions follows. It will be noted that the Artillery and the Army Service Corps are the main arms affected. We can now reduce our Army Service Corps load-carrying vehicles since there is little chance of a large-scale break-through in Italy.

Units being disbanded Officers Other Ranks
New Zealand Artillery
14th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment 34 590
Two batteries 7th Anti-Tank Regiment 26 318
Two troops 36th Survey Battery 10 222
New Zealand Army Service Corps
6th Reserve MT Company 11 431
18th Tank Transporter Company 12 443
One platoon 1st Ammunition Company 2 104
Detachment 2nd Ammunition Company Nil 17
One platoon 1st Petrol Company 2 102
Detachment 1st Supply Company Nil 14
Detachment 4th Reserve MT Company Nil 17
NZ Water Issue Section 1 5
New Zealand Medical Corps
One company 4th Field Ambulance Nil 35
One company 5th Field Ambulance Nil 35
One company 6th Field Ambulance Nil 35
27th (Machine Gun) Battalion
One company 5 135
New Zealand Electrical and Mechanical Engineers
14th Light Anti-Aircraft Workshops 1 25
Total 104 2528

These considerable reductions in establishments are not the result of hurried decision. In December 1943 I was in favour of reductions, but General Montgomery thought there was still the chance of a break-through and any question of reorganisation was postponed. By making these reductions now we will be able to implement the replacement scheme at an earlier date than would otherwise have been possible, and our requirements for future reinforcements from New Zealand will be lessened.

If the war continues into next year, as I feel it may, further re-organisation of the Division should be considered. As War Cabinet is aware, our organisation was designed for desert conditions, for page 373 which it was ideally suited. It was hoped that the Division would be used in a mobile role in Italy, but as you know this has never been possible. Instead we have been used as an infantry division, and as such all the fighting has been done by two instead of three infantry brigades. At present there is a shortage of infantry both in Italy and in France, while at the same time there seems to be more armour than can be employed. This is certainly so in Italy where we are fighting in close country and mountains.

The question then arises whether our infantry strength should be increased. This could be done at the expense of the Divisional Cavalry and by taking the 22nd Motor Battalion and one armoured regiment from the 4th Armoured Brigade. This would leave the Division with two regiments of Sherman tanks, which is adequate for any role we are likely to have here. A further factor which would support this reorganisation is that it may be difficult, owing to the number of men of the Armoured Brigade returning to New Zealand under the replacement scheme, to maintain three armoured regiments.

There is an alternative method of increasing the infantry component. Each of our existing infantry brigades could be made four-battalion brigades by using the 22nd Motor Battalion and converting the Divisional Cavalry to infantry.

As you know, under the powers granted to me by the New Zealand Government1 I am authorised to make changes in organisation, but as the reorganisation envisaged above depends on questions of future policy, I feel that War Cabinet may wish to obtain the opinion of the Chief of Staff,2 or you might authorise me to get an opinion from the Chief of the Imperial General Staff direct. I have discussed the matter with the Commander-in-Chief and the Army Commander, and from the point of view of the Army here there is no doubt that any reorganisation which will increase our infantry component will be favoured.

I realise, however, that from New Zealand's point of view other questions must be considered. Is the change advisable from the point of view of New Zealand's war effort? Is it in the interests of the New Zealand Forces? Could the change be effected in time to justify it?

I am only investigating the question and am not able at present to make any recommendations. I feel, however, that War Cabinet should be informed of the trend of opinion here. No action will be taken, of course, without referring the full facts to you and obtaining War Cabinet's approval.

1 See Volume I, Appointment of Commander, 2nd NZEF (No. 39).

2 In a memorandum to the Minister of Defence dated 30 Oct, General Puttick stated that he agreed with General Freyberg's proposals. He recommended that General Freyberg be authorised to make any adjustments in organisation which he, in consultation with the Commander-in-Chief and the Army Commander, considered advisable.