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The Pacific

CHAPTER 6 — The End of a Division

page 195

The End of a Division

SHORTAGE of manpower finally sealed the fate of 3 Division, but the protracted negotiations preceding its disbanding indicated a reluctance to reach any decision at home without first obtaining the guidance and advice of the Allied war leaders. In January 1944, while Barrowclough was planning the seizure of the Green Islands Group, the New Zealand Government, long disturbed by her decreasing industrial manpower, decided to reduce the country's overseas commitments by recalling one of its divisions and employing the men thus released to build up the civilian labour pool in order to maintain the production of essential foodstuffs for both the United Kingdom and the American forces fighting in the Pacific. Before deciding which division to bring home, Fraser sought the views of the Allied leaders. On 12 January he requested Nash in Washington to obtain Roosevelt's opinion. After a fruitless interview, in which Roosevelt hinted that New Zealand should be represented at the fall of Tokyo rather than at the fall of Berlin, Nash discussed the problem with Halsey, repeating what had already been agreed before the division left New Caledonia in 1943, that New Zealand could no longer supply reinforcements to the Pacific division. He then saw General Sir John Dill, British representative on the Combined Chiefs of Staff in Washington, whose expressed personal opinion was that New Zealand should notify both Churchill and Roosevelt that she desired to withdraw 2 Division from Europe by August 1944. This suggestion, however, was disregarded. On 24 January Nash set out in detail in a long letter to Roosevelt all commitments of New Zealand's manpower, the result of which was a suggestion from the American leader to refer to Churchill for a decision. When Nash saw him in London on 9 February, Churchill expressed a wish that 2 Division, then preparing for the Cassino offensive, should be represented at the fall of Rome, but he did not commit himself until Nash saw him again a week later, when he said he desired at least a brigade group, with Freyberg in command, to be retained in Europe until the end of hostilities. Puttick, one of the advocates in the earlier years of the war of meeting the Japanese as far from New Zealand's shores as possible, recommended the withdrawal of page 196 3 Division (see Appendix VIII) and condemned Churchill's suggestion as ‘distasteful’ and ‘dangerous’. Freyberg was equally downright in condemning it, and in a long signal to Fraser pointed out the dangers of leaving a small detached group in an active theatre where it might possibly be employed to its grievous disadvantage. Finally, after a secret session of Parliament, which had been adjourned a week earlier, the opinion of the British Chiefs of Staff reached New Zealand in a cable message from Nash and was made known to the members of the House. This recommended that the Navy and Air Force, both of which were in a more favoured position than the Army,1 should remain undisturbed, and that New Zealand's manpower requirements for the production of meat and dairy produce could be met by the temporary withdrawal of 3 Division from the Pacific, with the reasonable hope that 2 Division could be withdrawn later from the European theatre in time to constitute a full New Zealand division for further operations in the Pacific in 1945. In their conclusions the British Chiefs of Staff were ‘averse to the complete withdrawal of the New Zealand division from Europe’, and intimated their preference that ‘it should be allowed to fall in strength to one brigade’. They considered operations in the Solomons theatre of secondary importance to those in Italy and that the withdrawal of 3 Division would not create the shipping problem such as would be involved in withdrawing the division from Europe.

While advice was being sought from Allied leaders on which division could be withdrawn with the least disruption to the war effort, Jordan advised the Government that the food position in the United Kingdom, so closely linked with production in New Zealand, had become serious. The British Ministry of Food, with extreme reluctance, suggested that as essential supplies had dropped to a critically low level, the possibility of withdrawing the New Zealand forces from the field should be faced, for if production fell away in New Zealand, as it showed signs of doing, the ration of butter and cheese and, to a lesser degree, meat would be seriously affected in the United Kingdom. The choice in New Zealand, therefore, reduced itself to the maintenance of two forces in widely separated theatres of war or the production of food for the people in areas just as widely separated.

Barrowclough's first intimation that his division was being withdrawn reached him in a confidential cable message from the Prime

1 The approximate strengths of the three services and the theatres in which they were serving as at 31 December 1943 were as follows:

  • Navy: 5000 New Zealand and Pacific theatres; 3500 other theatres.

  • Army: 30,500 Mediterranean theatre; 19,600 South Pacific theatre.

  • Air: 30,000 New Zealand and Pacific; 4000 European theatre; 4000 Canada and India.

page 197 Minister on 7 March. Three days later Halsey was informed. Barrowclough, in acknowledging the message, expressed his disappointment that a division so well trained and familiar with amphibious operations that it could pack its thousands of tons of equipment and supplies and move at short notice from island to island was to be made inactive. The only ray of encouragement, for the earlier intention was to retain the force on a reduced basis in New Caledonia, lay in the suggestion that a division would probably be assembled to continue the attack on Japan at some unspecified date. However, no further active role was possible after receipt of the message. When the Government was informed that Barrowclough had been warned to hold his division in readiness for use in a proposed amphibious attack on Kavieng, using 8 Brigade as part of the assaulting force, he was immediately instructed that any such operations were not to interfere with the release of soldiers to industry, but any embarrassment of the commanding officer as a result of this instruction was avoided when Halsey cancelled the operation on 13 March.

After discussing the relief of his division with Harmon, who visited him at his headquarters on Nissan on 17 March, Barrowclough returned to New Zealand for more precise instructions, travelling by air via Guadalcanal, the New Hebrides, and New Caledonia. He reached Wellington on 24 March, attended a meeting of War Cabinet on the 25th and a meeting of the full Cabinet the following day, discussing with Ministers all details and categories of the men to be withdrawn. The scheme provided for the return to New Zealand by October 1944 of 11,000 men from the Pacific force, 7000 of them to be in the country by 1 July, the remainder to be absorbed into industry at the rate of 2000 a month. These men were required for employment in farming, and in dairy factories and freezing works. Another 4900 were also required for essential industries such as housing, railways, coal-mining, sawmilling, and hydroelectrical development. Men were allowed to volunteer for return, at the same time stipulating the branch of industry in which they desired employment. The remainder of the division was to be returned to New Caledonia after being relieved by American forces of the Pacific command. These figures and conditions were also supplied to the American Chiefs of Staff who, in agreeing with their opposite numbers in the United Kingdom to the withdrawal of the division, asked New Zealand to set out in detail her full manpower requirements.

Although the Government resolved early in 1944 to reduce the division and withdraw it from active operations, a decision page 198 to disband it was not made until nine months later. Barrowclough, when informed of the demands on his force, saw no difficulty in providing the men required by the Government, but he suggested that instead of retaining a brigade group, the original idea, he would prefer to retain all units on a reducing scale to enable the division, or a division, to be more speedily built up later, if and when it was required. This suggestion was accepted. Barrowclough returned to his headquarters in the Green Islands on 1 April after discussions in New Caledonia with heads of services—his own and the Pacific Command—on the impending moves. The Americans were reluctant to lose the division, which was now as experienced as any combat unit in the Pacific. Harmon, particularly, did not wish to lose the New Zealanders off the order of battle, because of their familiarity with jungle and amphibious warfare. The American command also considered that the complete withdrawal of 3 Division would mean the loss of New Zealand-American co-operation and method which, with the seizure of Green Islands, revealed that such involved operations could be executed with complete understanding devoid of all friction among either services or individuals. Salmon, writing from Noumea, advised caution in making a decision. He stressed the necessity of maintaining goodwill with the American forces and hinted at the danger of future accusations of leaving the Americans ‘to do our fighting’. However, the necessity for maintaining the country's food commitments to the United Kingdom, where preparations were well advanced for the landing in Normandy, and also to the Pacific forces, undoubtedly overruled these considerations.

On 7 April Barrowclough released the news of withdrawal and the conditions governing the return to New Zealand of men for essential industries. In this special message to the force, he indicated the reasons for the manpower demands on the division:

No modern war can be won by the fighting services alone. The production of warlike equipment and stores and primary products (including food) is as essential to the war effort as is the work of the soldier in the front line. By virtue of her geographical position on Allied lines of communication and because of her natural resources, New Zealand has been requested by the highest Allied authorities and as part of the general war strategy, to undertake a greatly increased programme for the supply of food and other primary products. This she cannot do without some reduction in the numbers of her armed forces. It has been agreed that she ought to recall from active service certain categories of men whose work in primary and essential industries at home is likely to be of greater assistance to the war effort than is their continued service with the colours.

page 199

Barrowclough had been given no policy directive regarding the future of his force, with the result that his position during succeeding months was an unhappy one, governed by almost the same degree of uncertainty which marked the building up of the force two years earlier. What was vaguely described as an interim policy provided for a skeleton force to remain in New Caledonia, on the assumption that it would be the basis for a reconstructed division. There was a general understanding, without recorded report, that nothing definite would be decided about 2 Division until after the fall of Rome, when it would be withdrawn from the line for rest and reorganisation. Throughout the negotiations concerning 3 Division's withdrawal, Barrowclough criticised the continued indecision of the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff in not assigning a definite role to 2 Division when its task in the battle of Rome was ended, which he considered was the appropriate time to decide its future. Some of his difficulties at this time are suggested by an extract from his letter written to Army Headquarters: ‘Unless some clear indication is given shortly it will not be possible for us to deal with our situation here in an intelligent and economical manner. It is unfair to us to base everything on the certainty of the fall of Rome.’

Men for return to New Zealand were selected with commendable speed and all details of the withdrawal plan completed by the division's staff in a week. When Mr. H. L. Bockett, the Director of National Service, reached Barrowclough's headquarters, he was a little embarrassed to find that the first 7000 men had already been selected and were ready for departure. To deal with any possible recurrence or outbreak of malaria when the men discontinued taking atebrin tablets, the withdrawal scheme provided for a medical observation period of four to five weeks in New Caledonia before going on to New Zealand. This period also enabled medical examinations and preliminary details of discharge to be completed.

The slow and melancholy process of the division's disintegration began on 24 April when the first releases, numbering 1850, left the Green Islands in USS Wharton. On Anzac Day 1944, 8 Brigade was reduced when another 1700 departed from the Treasuries in USS President Monroe. Two more ships left Nissan on 27 April. By 15 May the last troops had left the Treasuries in USS Tryon, and two days later command passed from Goss to 198 US Coast Artillery Group, an element of 93 US Division, then on Bougainville, which became responsible for the two island commands of the division. In addition to an exchange of farewell ceremonies, one of Barrowclough's last acts before he handed over command of the Green Islands Group on the night of 29–30 May was the page 200 presentation of a distinguished American honour to Whyte, the ‘CB’ commander, for his work with the airfield construction programme. A fitting gesture to mark the end of 3 Division's tour of duty in the Solomons was the capture of one last Japanese in the jungle on Nissan on 30 May. When command passed to the Americans there were between 1400 and 1500 New Zealand troops left on Nissan, a small rear party in the Treasury Group, and 600, principally from Ordnance, on Guadalcanal. By 12 July these were all back in New Caledonia.

Barrowclough left Nissan on 5 June and reopened his headquarters at the old site among the niaoulis at Moindah, with the two brigades and most of the remaining units of the division congregated in camps in Tene Valley, where their accommodation and reception had been prepared by Dove and his staff. In addition to the returning drafts for industry, considerable numbers also went on leave to New Zealand. Those who remained in and around Bourail found themselves entertained as they had never been entertained before by concert parties, lecturers, and educational diversions sent from New Zealand at the General's request to relieve the inevitable period of boredom following the transition from an active to a passive role.

But no sooner was the division congregated in New Caledonia than repeated requests arrived from Army Headquarters to supply officers and men for 12th Reinforcements for 2 Division, and engineers for service with South East Asia Command in India and Burma. Because of the absence of any defined policy regarding the future of the division, this made the work of administration extremely difficult and discouraging, as withdrawals over and above manpower demands tended to diminish the force too drastically. By July some of the units were no larger than football teams, but they still retained all their stores and equipment for which they were responsible. Barrowclough wrote to Army Headquarters suggesting that all withdrawals from his dwindling force, with the exception of those returning to specified industries, should be held up until the return of the Prime Minister from London, where he had gone in May to attend the Premiers' Conference and where the fate of 2 Division was to be discussed and its future decided. The commander anticipated that after Fraser's return a definite policy statement would be issued. At that time he was even unaware whether his skeleton force would remain in New Caledonia or return to New Zealand, but a decision was forced on this point when Admiral Newton asked that the force be returned to the Dominion as he required the vacated areas for the accommodation page 201 of expected American troops. As so often happened these troops never arrived.

‘I cannot over-emphasise the difficulties we are meeting in the absence of any fixed policy direction‘, Barrowclough wrote again before flying to New Zealand on 20 July for nine days, during which he endeavoured to obtain a Cabinet decision on the future employment of the force. Beyond deciding to withdraw it to New Zealand, as Newton wished, the New Zealand Government made no decision, as they were still waiting for some indication from the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff on the future employment of 2 Division. In asking that some public announcement be made about 3 Division's future, Barrowclough stressed the necessity of retaining the interest of his remaining officers and men while holding them together through the period of indecision and inactivity. While in New Zealand he also discussed the situation with Puttick, who favoured leaving 2 Division in Europe until the end of hostilities. He returned to New Caledonia on 29 July, disappointed with the results of his visit and discussions. Beginning immediately after the General's return, drafts of men were shipped back to New Zealand, moving temporarily into Papakura Camp, where the brigades opened their headquarters. Divisional Headquarters opened in Civic Chambers, Auckland, on 18 August with Barrowclough's return, later moving out to Orford's House at Manurewa. A rear party of 1000 all ranks under Davis,1 of 29 Battalion, remained in New Caledonia to check and supervise the return to New Zealand of a vast quantity of the division's equipment, including 2805 vehicles, guns and trailers, and 10,000 tons of ammunition and stores, the last members of the party returning on 11 October when their task was completed.

By the end of August the strength of 3 Division had fallen to 6000 officers and men whose services, until some indication from the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff on the future employment of a Commonwealth force to continue the war against Japan moved the Government to a decision, were lost to both Army and industry. This point was stressed by the Director of National Service in his warning of any possible public criticism of wasted manpower, which would have been quite justified. He suggested also that in any replacement scheme of the long-service men from 2 Division, those returning from the Mediterranean theatre could be directed into industry to permit the release of fit men held there on appeal. Army, until this time silent on a subject bound up with political

1 Lt-Col F. L. H. Davis, m.i.d.; Wellington; born Feilding, 23 Jan 1909; Regular soldier; served 2 NZEF, Egypt, 1940–41, 1945; CO 29 Bn, 1943–44; commanded 3 Div rear party; wounded, Italy, 15 Apr 1945.

page 202 implications, took a hand in September when a report to the Minister of Defence signed by Barrowclough, Conway, and Bockett recommended that 2 Division remain in Europe until the end of the war in that theatre, after which New Zealand should maintain one division to continue the conflict with Japan. This recommendation, combined with the indecision of the British Chiefs of Staff in issuing a policy statement, finally decided the Government's action. ‘As we are still awaiting some indication from the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff regarding our future military role in the Pacific, we are still unable to make a final decision as to the future of the two divisions’, Fraser cabled Freyberg as late as 25 August.

Finally the fate of the division was declared on 21 September when Fraser announced in Parliament that it would be disbanded. Negotiations, however, had been in progress for some time before that. Although nothing was made public, Fraser cabled confidentially to Churchill on 9 September indicating that the Government proposed to disband the division and maintain the strength of 2 Division with men from the Pacific force. War Cabinet met on 11 September, two days after Churchill had been advised, and approved the policy of disbanding 3 Division, leaving 2 Division in Europe until the end of hostilities and using the remaining men from the Pacific force, then in various camps in New Zealand, to build up the division in Italy. Involved with this policy and to some extent bearing on the fate of the Pacific force, was a scheme to replace long-service men from 2 Division. After the unhappy experience with an earlier furlough scheme, when many men refused point-blank to return to 2 Division and others were graded down medically and released from service obligations, the Government realised that such schemes were impossible of fulfilment and that any men brought back to New Zealand would have to be replaced permanently. Freyberg, who was fully acquainted with all negotiations concerning 3 Division, had reported to the Prime Minister in June that ‘the keen fighting edge of the force was blunted’, and that unless a quick victory in Europe was assured, and this he considered possible, he was inclined to advise the withdrawal of his division. He wished, however, to have officers and men up to the 4th Reinforcements replaced. This involved 3200 men of the division, and it was this replacement scheme to which the Government agreed, filling the majority of the gaps with men from the Pacific.

A total of 17,134 all ranks returned from the Pacific, and by the beginning of September were scattered far and wide. Of these, industry absorbed 12,069; another 3229 had embarked to join 2 Division; 38 were on their way to the United Kingdom; page 203 830 were in camp with 16th Reinforcements, and 968 were held on home service.1 A skeleton base headquarters established at Mangere Crossing Camp, where the division's stores and equipment were assembled, completed the tedious work of finally checking them before return to Ordnance. When Barrowclough issued his final order on 19 October disbanding the division ‘as from 1700 hours on 20 October’, there were only a few Headquarters and Base staff to read it.

One of the problems arising out of the policy of sending 3 Division men to build up 2 Division was the status of officers, warrant officers, and non-commissioned officers when they reached the Mediterranean theatre. Barrowclough, in discussing their future prospects with War Cabinet, urged that no officer should be asked to take lower rank or resign his commission merely because he belonged to 3 Division, even if there was a surplus of rank. However, any decision attended future discussions with Freyberg, to whose headquarters Barrowclough departed immediately his force was disbanded. Most of the problems solved themselves. There was no surplus of officers, as anticipated. Some of the senior officers automatically reduced one grade; all were absorbed and acquitted themselves with credit. Several who had survived the jungle actions were killed; others won honours during the final stages of the advance in Italy.

1 The response by the farming community was the most disappointing. By 10 May only about 1000 men of an estimated 7000 had been asked for by the farmers, whose allotment from the labour pool was later reduced.