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

445 — General Freyberg to the acting Prime Minister1

General Freyberg to the acting Prime Minister1

11 April 1945

1. Your cable of 8 April arrived eight hours before our offensive2 started here and, as you will realise, we are working under difficulties. I know that my comments to be of any use must arrive quickly. I am commenting upon your proposals only in so far as numbers and organisation are concerned.

2. In considering this problem I have accepted your figure of 15,000 as a basis upon which to calculate, but feel that owing to the inclusion of the 3rd Division in recent drafts the numbers will be much lower. page 469 Dealing with the possibilities of producing a force more economically, both as regards the Base organisation and the size of the Division, I believe that this can only be done by sacrificing the fighting efficiency and endurance as well as the welfare and eventual morale of the force. Although reductions can be made, I do not think the Line of Communication can be cut much. I am strongly against a small division and strongly in favour of fighting the Japanese with heavy equipment rather than infantry. I feel that if the figures given in your telegram cannot be increased, it will be necessary to dilute with too great a complement of British troops to maintain the character of the force. I feel that before an answer can be given, the full facts, which are not available here, want considering most carefully. It seems, with the best will in the world, doubtful whether New Zealand's resources can produce the necessary men to meet all the demands made upon them.

3. Dealing with your figures, I assume you have made allowance for the fact that the 14th Reinforcements contained some 1000 men ex-3rd Division. Presumably the 15th and 16th Reinforcements will also include at least some hundreds. These men will qualify for replacement before the rest of their draft. While, therefore, 2500 is a generous figure for wastage for normal casualties for the 11th to 14th Reinforcements, 500 seems too low for the 15th and 16th if 3rd Division personnel are to be excluded. Altogether, it appears doubtful if the total of 15,000 will in fact be attained. A safe figure would be nearer 13,000.

4. No allowance appears to be made for Base and Line of Communication troops. The standard of our Base services at present is high and, if the need arose, could be reduced, but it will then be appreciated that we would have to accept a lower standard of overseas training and of medical, ordnance, dental and welfare services than hitherto. We could do with two General Hospitals instead of three, but even with these reductions it is doubtful if the figure for Line of Communication units can be brought much below 3000. The high standard of efficiency and contentment of the NZEF has been the result of New Zealanders fighting together with a force big enough to look after itself, and with Base and Line of Communication services that looked after our health and welfare. This has been necessary in the Middle East, but will be more necessary in a theatre such as South-East Asia Command, where climate and sickness play such a large part.

5. In the foregoing calculations, no allowance has been made for sickness. At the present time we have a steady 5 per cent always in hospital. The chances are that in a tropical theatre the sickness rate would rise. Five per cent for the proposed 15,000 gives a sickness figure of about 750, and this figure may well rise to double.

page 470

6. The result of deducting 3000 Line of Communication, 1000 permanently sick in hospital, and 1000 3rd Division men in the 15th and 16th Reinforcements would appear to reduce at the outset the fighting force in the field to 10,000. These figures are borne out by experience over the last five years, as on the present organisation and standard of service to troops, 30,000 are required to maintain the existing Division of 19,000.

7. If you agree that, after deduction for Line of Communication, etc., the figure would be 10,000 all ranks, then this is no more than enough for Divisional Headquarters, Artillery and ancillary services, and one infantry brigade. Even if one complete brigade group of United Kingdom troops were added, it would still be no more than a division of two brigade groups. I agree wholeheartedly with General Puttick's opinion of two-brigade divisions. I feel that the smallest force that should be committed is a division of three infantry brigades of three battalions, plus artillery and a small quota of tanks. To commit a smaller than normal division might result in our being given a role too great for our force, or else we might be given mopping-up jobs to do. In either case, the high record of New Zealand forces during this war could not be maintained.

8. The problem of the organisation of a full-strength division requires very careful consideration to achieve the correct balance between infantry and supporting arms. The war establishment of a present South-East Asia Command division, 20,130 strong, shows a great preponderance of infantry and a small amount of supporting arms. With this I do not agree. Our policy should be to fight the Japanese with artillery and tanks as far as possible and avoid costly hand-to-hand fighting by infantry. I feel that the ideal organisation is the organisation we now have, with perhaps a smaller tank component. To achieve this we will require to have a division at a fighting strength of 18,000, with 3000 for Base, and allow for 1000 permanently sick, giving a total of 22,000, plus 5000 reinforcements per annum. This number made up from New Zealanders would be the ideal solution. If that is not possible then the next best solution is for you to produce 18,000, to include Line of Communication, instead of 15,000, plus reinforcements at the rate of 5000 per year, which will allow for sick, and get the British to produce the equivalent of a brigade group of 4000. If, however, the figures of 15,000 plus 5000 per year for wastage are the maximum than can be produced, then I am most doubtful and, without fuller information, would advise against sending land forces to be committed in possible jungle warfare in an unspecified theatre of war. It will be appreciated that the above figures can only be taken as approximate.

1 Repeated to Mr Fraser in London.

2 This was the 2nd Division's final offensive in Italy, which commenced on 9 April with an assault crossing of the Senio River.