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War Economy

The Vital Story of Supply

The Vital Story of Supply

Supply in time of war is absolutely vital, and this chapter should rank as one of the most important in the book. It is a pity it could not have been one of the more satisfying chapters, but in fact it contains many gaps which no amount of research at this late stage can fill.

Much of the information contained here is built up from incomplete basic information. Adequate statistics were not kept, and many supply files, which should have been available, have been destroyed.

The short-run nuisance of having to keep statistical records of administrative action is obvious to all. The long-run hopelessness of continuing to make administrative decisions without the benefit of such records should be equally obvious. It is for this latter reason that most departments have systematic up-to-date summaries of decisions made and of the resulting action, however strong the pressure of administrative work on staff may be. It would have been nothing short of miraculous had the Ministry of Supply been able to function efficiently without proper statistical records. The loss of page 146 relevant files makes it impossible now to discern whether or not a miracle did occur. In any event this writer strongly recommends against expecting one on any future occasion.

Outstanding in the wartime supply story were the bad start given by shortages of overseas funds in the immediate pre-war years, the inability of a private enterprise subject to import and exchange controls to create adequate reserves before the war, and the apparent neglect by the Government to set aside adequate funds for the purpose until too late. There were some conspicuous exceptions where reserves were built up.

Then came the first three difficult war years, with overseas supplies hard to get and New Zealand manufacturing playing a brave part in filling some of the shortages. Munitions were still quite inadequate, in spite of New Zealand's expanding production of a range of small arms. Relief came in 1943 with the full flow of Lend-Lease goods and with improved supplies from other sources. Munitions and other war supplies were now making up nearly half of all imports. Other supplies, particularly of consumer goods, would have to wait till later for their relief.

In the supply story, luck played no small part. When New Zealand failed to prepare for a complete disruption of shipping, none occurred; when she was without sufficient munitions to repel an invader, no enemy reached her shores. For these things we should be extremely grateful, but they give us no real cause for pride.