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

419 — General Freyberg to the Prime Minister

General Freyberg to the Prime Minister

19 February 1945

Reference your telegram of 3 February (No. 415).

This is a most difficult appreciation, and in giving my opinion from the point of view of the 2nd NZEF I realise that I do not know all the facts which will influence you in making a decision. I also realise that in endeavouring to take the broad view I have dealt with subjects which are outside my sphere of responsibility.

You have asked me to give you a general appreciation with particular reference to one point. Bearing in mind War Cabinet's decision to maintain the Division in the field as long as possible, I have set myself the following three questions to answer:


Should the 2nd NZEF serve in South-East Asia Command or under United States command?


Should the 2nd NZEF be withdrawn to New Zealand to reform, or should it reorganise in Egypt or elsewhere?


Will the requirements for the reorganisation and reinforcement of the 2nd New Zealand Division for the war against Japan be practicable in view of the manpower position in New Zealand?

page 390

Looking at the general situation in Europe, it is thought that the war in Europe will be over between July and November, while in the Far East the Japanese position will be greatly weakened during 1945. Much will of course depend on events in Europe. Should Russia take an active part in the Far East the Japanese position on the mainland may become unbalanced, as her position in the Pacific has become through the capture of the Philippines. It is possible therefore, except for mopping up, that Japan will be defeated by the end of 1946.

Assuming the above forecast is approximately correct and the war in Europe ends (taking the earliest possible date) by July, I consider that the Division could be reorganised ready to take the field by March 1946, but this will also depend on shipping. Detailed proposals for reorganisation will be given later in this cable.

Dealing with the first question, your experience of the Pacific places you in a better position to judge the rival merits of the two alternative theatres suggested by Mr. Churchill.

From intelligence reports available it appears that by far the greater part of the Japanese land forces are grouped in China, Manchuria, and Japan itself. It is in those areas that the main and decisive battles for the defeat of Japan must take place. Now that Guam and Manila can be used as naval and air bases, Burma, Malaya, and Sumatra are by-passed and to a great extent cut off. Operations there become of secondary importance, in the nature of widespread ‘mopping up’ and as moves to open up communications through the Malacca Straits. If employed in China and Japan, the New Zealand Division would be used not only at the point of greatest military importance but in a theatre where our heavy equipment could be used to advantage. One main route towards China and Japan has already been opened up by the American capture of the Philippines, and it is only through this area that any assault against China and Japan can at present be mounted. If Burma is cleared and Malaya captured by the time the New Zealand Division can take the field, which appears just possible, South-East Asia Command might exploit the alternative route thus opened towards the decisive area.

Action in China or Japan by New Zealand troops therefore appears possible, either as part of a drive from the Central Pacific or in the South-East Asia Command theatre later, following the opening of the Malacca Straits. From a purely military point of view I feel that the most effective role for the New Zealand Division would be in conjunction with the AIF under United States command against the main Japanese army in China or Japan. I realise, however, that there are other factors to be considered, including the future role of the AIF. If participation in the Pacific theatre is not practicable, page 391 the New Zealand Division could be used in the South-East Asia Command theatre, for which our basic training and equipment are quite suitable.

Dealing with the second question, the decision whether the New Zealand Division should be withdrawn to New Zealand to reform will be affected by the theatre which is chosen. If the Division is to serve with the AIF in the Pacific under United States command, it would be difficult to justify to the troops reorganisation overseas. I share the opinion of War Cabinet, however, regarding the difficulty of retaining organisation if the Division returns to New Zealand after the defeat of Germany, as this may well be a determining factor. If no suitable employment of New Zealand forces is possible with the AIF under United States command, or you decide against bringing back the Division to New Zealand for other reasons and South-East Asia Command is chosen, there is a great deal to be said from a military point of view for carrying out reorganisation in Egypt, where we already possess a Base organisation and training facilities. If reorganisation took place there it would save both time and shipping.

There is one possible difficulty regarding return to New Zealand which you should know about. It has been suggested that the British Government may decide to grant short leave in England to all troops before sending them to the Far East. Our troops might expect similar treatment.

If the decision is taken to take part in the war against Japan, I feel that an early announcement here should be made. It would be a mistake to leave this until after the finish of the European war, when there will be a reaction and everybody will be thinking of going home. If the announcement is made, including a statement of the replacement policy, the men will know what to expect, and I feel that the decision will be accepted without feelings of great disappointment.

I have left the problem of manpower until the last because it has to be dealt with in detail. Whichever theatre may be chosen the situation would be the same, except that, as you have observed, there would be more difficulty in re-concentrating the Division once they have been on leave in New Zealand, while on the other hand the question of retaining part of the Division in Egypt would require careful arrangement.

Our present replacement plans are well known to you. By the end of the war with Germany the 6th Reinforcements will have gone home and more than half of our long-service officers and NCOs will have been released. New officers and junior leaders will be short-service men, as also will be all our infantry. This is an excellent start, but I feel that the reorganised Division should take the field with none but key officers and men with over two years and six months page 392 service overseas. Planning on the earliest possible date that the war will be over in Europe (by July), and that shipping is available, the Division could be back in Egypt by August. If we were reorganising in Egypt, long-service men could be returned to New Zealand. The 16th Reinforcements would be in Egypt and the replacements for the long-service personnel returning to New Zealand after the end of the war with Germany could leave in two drafts—estimated time of arrival in Egypt, November and January. Assuming that plans along these lines were adopted, the reformed Division should be ready to take the field by March 1946.

The following is a summary of the proposed replacement of long-service personnel (all figures are approximate only and do not allow for wastage between February and the end of the European war):

By September 1945 the 6th and 7th Reinforcements, totalling 4000, will have returned or be on the way to New Zealand, thus completing the present phase of the replacement scheme.

The following should return to New Zealand at the end of the war with Germany:

8th Reinforcements with three years' service overseas on 1 January 1946 4650
9th Reinforcements with two years seven months overseas on 1 January 1946 2880
10th Reinforcements with two years four months overseas on 1 January 1946 4820
Total returning 12,350

To replace the 8th, 9th, and 10th Reinforcements we could accept 11,000 as we could make a saving of about 1000 on Lines of Communication.

The following is a summary of the position at the end of the war with Germany:

Number remaining in Division 18,000
Returning to New Zealand 12,350
Total 30,350

The following is the position after reorganisation of the Division to take the field in the new theatre in 1946:

Division up to strength 18,000
Lines of Communication, hospitals, &c. 5,000
Reinforcement Depot and on the sea 7,000
Total 30,000
page 393

Reinforcements required during 1946 would be 4000 for China. Owing to the climate, South-East Asia Command might require more.

To sum up, I have answered the three questions as fully as I can. On the facts as I know them it would seem that if suitable arrangements can be made to serve with the AIF in China or Japan, New Zealand and Australia together could play a part in a decisive theatre, thus serving national as well as Allied interests. If this theatre is chosen I consider the force would have to be withdrawn to New Zealand to reform. If for any reason the Pacific theatre is not considered advisable and South-East Asia Command is chosen, I feel that Egypt would be the most suitable place for reorganisation. Although it is difficult to forecast mass psychology, this decision would in my opinion be accepted here provided the Government's policy, including the replacement scheme, is announced to the troops before the end of the war in Europe.

I realise that your decision to maintain the Division in the field as long as possible depends on manpower, and my detailed proposals are intended to give you an idea of the reorganisation which I consider would be necessary. I am convinced that the success of this difficult change-over would depend on the generous replacement of all long-service personnel.

I should be glad if you would acknowledge this cable.