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

448 — General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence — [Extract]

page 473

General Freyberg to the Minister of Defence

15 May 1945

1 With regard to future planning, I see no reason to alter the opinions I have already expressed. I still feel that Burma and Singapore will be taken before New Zealand forces can be redeployed towards the end of 1945, and that by that time jungle fighting should be over and the approaches to better fighting country will be cleared. In that case our present organisation and training would be suitable. I realise that national prestige as a Pacific power will weigh in making your difficult decision. Here again national prestige and all it means to us is one side which is outside my province. In forming my opinions I have only considered the military side of the problem. In tendering my advice to War Cabinet I am guided by our experience over the whole period of the war against Germany. It shows the wisdom of sending and maintaining a formation such as you have done—one which has been really a small but complete National Army. In my telegram of 13 May,2 which was for publication, I explained the importance of adequate rearward services.

Further, as your Commander I know what a wise decision it was to give me wide powers in the event of a crisis. Your Commander has always been in a very strong position and, since equipment has been available, he has had a strong force capable of defending itself, with adequate powers to influence not only tactics but often policy. These powers helped me in Greece, Crete, Tobruk 1941, and Mersa Matruh 1942, and many other times in those early days. It was for these reasons that I hesitate to advise using a smaller and less powerful force, which might give the initial prestige but in the event of hard fighting would lack the means to maintain it.

I still feel that defeating the main Japanese army will not be as difficult as it was to defeat the Germans. That being so, it is justifiable to embark upon the campaign in the Far East with a smaller margin of reserve. You will notice in the suggested reorganisation that I have cut the Division by 2000 and reduced Line of Communication. I am sure that the force I suggest would be a superb fighting machine. It would not have the endurance of the New Zealand Division as at present organised. If there was prolonged heavy fighting with a large number of casualties or a sickness epidemic, the Division would have to be rested more than at present.

page 474

If it is War Cabinet's decision in the light of these circumstances to keep a division overseas, we should if possible keep to our traditional role of a mobile, hard-hitting force, with all possible heavy equipment and artillery but with a smaller tank component. If you decide on these lines, our present Division would require very little reorganisation and we could be ready to take the field three months after the 16th Reinforcements arrive, say in November or December 1945. But this will be dependent upon shipping.

The numbers in the Middle East after the 16th Reinforcements arrive and the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th Reinforcements have been returned to New Zealand will be approximately 23,000, and this would just be sufficient to start the campaign. We could regroup as follows:

Strength of the present Division 19,000
Less Brigade Headquarters and two tank regiments 1,600
Less Anti-Tank Regiment 400
New division up to strength 17,000
Add Line of Communication 3,500
Sick in hospital 1,150
Total 21,650

One thousand three hundred and fifty all ranks would therefore be immediately available for reinforcements for 1945. We would require 5000 additional reinforcements for 1946, 2000 to be in our training depots before we go to the new theatre.

Although the New Zealand War Cabinet would be safe in deciding the new policy on these figures, if you decide in favour of keeping a division overseas I would like to get an expression of opinion from South-East Asia Command or other theatre upon the proposed reorganisation before the final decision as to reorganisation is made.

Lastly, I want to make it quite clear that I am not putting forward any opinion as to whether New Zealand should or should not send a force. I do not know the facts and I realise it is not within my province to do so. All I have done is, in the light of my experience as your Commander, to give a military appreciation of the situation as a basis for your consideration.

1 For text omitted see Vol. II, No. 464.

2 See Vol. II, End of Campaign in Italy, No. 443.