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War Economy

Public Criticism of the Size of the Home Forces

Public Criticism of the Size of the Home Forces

While 3 Division was being reduced, there had been growing agitation in New Zealand about the strength of the armed forces held in New Zealand when the Japanese were on the defensive. A committee of civilians, the Defence Forces Personnel Committee, was set up in May 1944 to investigate the manpower situation in the armed forces. Over the next year the committee visited and reported on military establishments in New Zealand and the Pacific.

Action was too slow for some critics, and, on 15 July 1944, the New Zealand Herald launched a full-scale attack on the RNZAF. The first of thirty paragraphs read:1

‘The time has come for New Zealand to be satisfied whether its present Air Force establishment is necessary. It should be told why the colossus which was justified in 1942–43 should retain its stature in 1944 when so much of the excuse for its size has apparently disappeared as rapidly as the war in the South Pacific has receded from this area.’

It has to be remembered that, as 3 Division was reduced, the Air Force and the Navy became New Zealand's only sizable representation in the Pacific theatre, and that a considerable organisation was necessary in New Zealand to keep the RNZAF in the Pacific. Moreover, the RNZAF reached its peak wartime strength over a year later than did the Army. However, there seems justification for the contention that some New Zealand stations kept too many men for too long.

The strengths of the forces in New Zealand were, compared with a peak strength of 107,000 in September 1942, 72,500 in August 1943, 56,900 in February 1944, 54,900 in August 1944 and 41,500 in February 1945. The RNZAF had, in New Zealand, 29,700 in August 1943, 28,500 in February 1944, 27,000 in August 1944 and 21,500 in February 1945. Its peak strength in New Zealand had been 30,600 in September 1943, but it did not reach its peak strength in the Pacific theatre until March 1945, when just under 8000 were there.

1 The full article and a discussion of it is in War History narrative, ‘The Manpower Situation in the RNZAF, 1944–45’.

page 496

Squadron Leader Ross writes:1

‘On some stations and in some trades, manpower was not used to the best advantage and there was room for improvement; but in general the position was not nearly as bad as the public was led to believe.

‘A certain discrepancy between available manpower and immediate needs at the time was inevitable. The RNZAF had been expanding its Pacific strength as rapidly as possible to meet its commitments, and was in the process of levelling off. There was necessarily a slight time-lag between the achievement of full strength and a review of that strength to see if it was too great or too small for the job in hand.’

1 Squadron Leader J. M. S. Ross, Royal New Zealand Air Force, p. 290.