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

415 — The Prime Minister to General Freyberg

The Prime Minister to General Freyberg

3 February 1945

After full consideration of the manpower situation, War Cabinet have approved the despatch of two further replacement drafts for the 2nd Division, the 15th Reinforcements to leave in April and the 16th in mid-June.

In order to provide the necessary men and such additional numbers as may be required before the end of 1945, a further comb-out of category A men held on appeal is being instituted. Appeal Boards are being instructed to dismiss without qualification 20 per cent of the appeals reviewed between now and May of this year, except in the sawmilling and coal-mining industries.

As you fully appreciate, we have exhausted Grade A men except for the 32,000 still held on appeal and, for Army purposes, some page 386 3500 who come of age each year. On the other hand, we are very anxious that the Division should be maintained as long as possible, and that fit men who have never seen overseas service should be replaced by those returning to enable this to be done. While, however, our immediate manpower problems may be surmounted, it is difficult to foresee what can be done for the remainder of the period of hostilities, assuming that the Japanese war will not conclude for another two years after the defeat of Germany.

I have now received a personal message from Mr. Churchill regarding the future role of the 2nd New Zealand Division.1 On the assumption that New Zealand would wish to be represented in active operations against the Japanese after Germany's defeat, Mr. Churchill suggests that the following broad alternatives for the employment of the 2nd Division are open:


to operate in South-East Asia Command under Admiral Mountbatten;


to return to New Zealand and thereafter, possibly, to be reformed for operations in the Pacific under United States command, either in conjunction with the Australian divisions or as a unit in a United States force.

The message goes on to refer to the fact that the development of operations for the reconquest of the Japanese-occupied territories in the South-East Asia Command depends upon the quantity and quality of the forces which the British Commonwealth can build up against the enemy.

It is considered that the presence of the New Zealanders would bring at once a contribution of the first order. On the other hand, it is not known what tasks the United States Chiefs of Staff would allot to the Australian forces after the completion of the Philippine campaign, nor of the role which they would assign to a New Zealand Division if it were placed under American command.

Before we can express any views on this matter it is necessary to ascertain the facts and to prepare an appreciation of the various problems involved.

Manpower is obviously the key, and it will be necessary to know whether or not a reconstituted Division could be sustained for at least a further twelve months after the end of 1945.

There is also the question of whether or not the Division should, from the point of view of morale, first return to New Zealand before proceeding to any other theatre. The obvious danger is that it might be impracticable to reassemble any such force after it had returned home.

page 387

I would be very glad to have your appreciation and particularly your views as to the practicability of the Division proceeding direct to a new theatre of war, such as the South-East Asia Command, without returning to New Zealand.

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