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

182 — The New Zealand Minister (Washington)1 to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

page 149

The New Zealand Minister (Washington)1 to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

5 December 1942

The following is for the Chief of the General Staff from Brigadier Williams:2

At a meeting on 4 December which I attended, the Combined Chiefs of Staff considered the question of the return of the Australian and New Zealand divisions from the Middle East.

The following is the decision reached:


Every military argument is against the move, which will involve a definite reduction of impact upon the enemy in 1943 and a major diversion of shipping resources urgently required.


The ships required for the move would not be available for urgent troop movements for three months at least. This would seriously dislocate United Kingdom and United States movements now in train.

Both the Australian and New Zealand representatives strongly represented the manpower situation, as well as the demands being made for Australian and New Zealand troops in the South-West and South Pacific and the likelihood of them increasing.

The United States Chiefs of Staff spoke bluntly against the move. Marshall3 stated that he was fully convinced that the defence of Australia and New Zealand would be weakened by the return of these divisions at this stage. The Combined Staffs were now hard put to find ships for movements already approved. Lack of ships was preventing the reinforcement of Burma and the Far East, where operations under consideration would put troops in contact with the enemy. This would have important repercussions on the defence of Australia and New Zealand. He appreciated the points advanced but expressed grave concern regarding military implications which impeded the war effort as a whole.

It was stated by the Combined Planners that if movement was decided for reasons other than military: (a) shipping could be found for personnel only at the expense of United Kingdom and United States troop movements, but not for the return of divisional

1 Hon. W. Nash.

2 Brigadier A. B. Williams, DSO; Commander Royal New Zealand Artillery, Army HQ, Dec 1939–Feb 1942; New Zealand Army representative on British Joint Staff Mission, Washington, Feb 1942–Oct 1943; Commandant, Central Military District, Oct 1943–Dec 1944; Commandant, Northern Military District, Mar 1945–Apr 1947.

3 General of the Army the Hon. George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff, United States Army, 1939–45; Special Representative of the President to China (as Ambassador), 1945–47; Secretary of State, 1947–49; Secretary of Defence, 1950–51.

page 150 equipment; (b) the ship now en route to New Zealand1 for reinforcements would have to be stopped and returned to South Africa empty.

During the discussion Marshall stated that another United States; division was now en route to Australia; he also suggested that if it was not possible to reinforce the divisions in the Middle East it would be better in the circumstances to reduce establishments. Dill pointed out that maintaining troops with dwindling numbers was bad for morale, but he appreciated that shipping considerations were of enormous importance.

It was also pointed out that the move would weaken the forces, in the Middle East while operations are in progress, and that the reduction of forces for subsequent operations envisaged would have a bad effect on the British and Indian troops who have been in the Middle East for a longer period.

The decision of the Combined Chiefs of Staff is being submitted to Mr. Churchill and the President.

1 Aquitania, 44,786 tons, Cunard White Star.