Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume III
389 — Letter from the Prime Minister to Admiral Halsey
Letter from the Prime Minister to Admiral Halsey
Dear Admiral Halsey,
I have received your letter dated 21 August, in which you comment on my message concerning the position of the 3rd Division which was, I gather, conveyed to your Deputy Commander by Colonel Salmon.
The questions raised in the communication from me and in yours are of fundamental importance and it is most essential that your exact requirements and the extent of our commitments and resources should be mutually understood.
As you are no doubt aware, and as I explained to your former Deputy Commander, Admiral Wilkinson, the decision to retain our battle-trained Division in the Mediterranean theatre was made by Parliament upon the advice of Mr Churchill and Mr Roosevelt after we had pointed out to them and their Military Advisers that it was not possible, at this stage of the war, with its other commitments for New Zealand to continue to maintain two Divisions overseas. Unless there is a change of policy which would cause Parliament to vary its page 405 decision, the Division in the Mediterranean will, when the reinforcement pool in New Zealand has been exhausted, require to be maintained by drawing eventually upon New Zealand troops serving in the Pacific.
In so far as our Pacific commitments are concerned, we have continued to work on the lines laid down and accepted by Admiral Wilkinson and War Cabinet in June last, namely that Air came first, Navy second, production third and Army fourth. We are making every effort to fulfil these military commitments and to increase to the maximum the production of foodstuffs, etc., for which there is a continually increasing demand from your forces. I must point out, however, that it is not possible for a small country like New Zealand, after four years of war, to do more than we are now doing; especially having regard to the fact that at the present time we have more than 68,000 men overseas, that our casualties in dead, wounded and missing have been extremely heavy and that our reserves of Grade A manpower are practically exhausted.
We have for some months been particularly concerned that there should be no collapse of our war effort in any of its several directions, and that is why I have taken steps to inform you that there must come a time when one particular activity or another must be tapered off.
It is and has always been our intention to maintain the two Brigades of the 3rd Division as long as circumstances permit and in this connection I would like to observe that, in addition to the first reinforcements of 10 per cent which it is our practice to send forward with a capital force, we have also made available a reinforcement pool of over 2000 men. It is considered that on the basis of these replacements the two Brigades can be maintained for some time to come.
At the end of any period of intense activity we would, of course, re-examine the position in the light of our remaining resources of manpower and of our several commitments, especially those relating to the production of foodstuffs.
We fully realise your desire that the Division should have been of normal establishment—three Brigades—but from the foregoing you will understand that this is not practicable. In this connection I would like to refer to the proposal which was advanced when we were faced with the situation of having to reduce the force from three to two Brigades, namely, the possibility of employing with our Division the other British force in your area—the Fijian Brigade—with the training and command of which the New Zealand military authorities have been and are intimately concerned.
It was our understanding that Sir Philip Mitchell was willing, and indeed anxious, that this force should be so employed under Major-General Barrowclough and it was a matter of some disappointment both page 406 to the Fijian Government and to ourselves that this was not at the time thought practicable. I would be glad if, in the light of the changed circumstances in the strategic situation in the South Pacific, you would give this question favourable consideration.
(Sgd) P. Fraser