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Political and External Affairs

CHAPTER 18 — The Scarcity of New Zealanders

page 243

The Scarcity of New Zealanders

IN July 1942, apart from considerable numbers serving under British command, there were 154,550 New Zealanders in the Dominion's armed forces1-nearly 10 per cent of the population-and the Army was clamouring for more. The demand for food and services was increasing sharply as American troops poured into the Pacific area. These simple facts set a conundrum for the New Zealand Government. Moreover, further calls were to come. Reinforcements would be needed in the Middle East, and it was no one's wish that New Zealand should confine her activities in the Pacific to food production and the defence of her own home territory. In the American organisation of the Pacific war, New Zealand fell into Admiral Nimitz's Pacific Ocean area, and within that, into the South Pacific Command under Admiral Ghormley. For practical purposes she was in fact the only South Pacific ally whose resources were to be combined with those of the American navy. The teaming together of the very small with the very great was a problem for both, especially since the pick of New Zealand's army was in North Africa. The Dominion, however, had no desire to be a passive or merely civilian partner, and her claim for political and military responsibility was conceded-maybe with some irritation at times-by the Americans. Yet the making good of the claim, existing commitments being what they were, set a task which became, in the end, impossibly difficult.

Admiral Ghormley set up his headquarters in Auckland in May 1942, the same month that the first substantial batch of American marines reached the country. As in the Middle East, awkward problems of command and personal relationship had to be worked out. The general principles were clear. The use of each country's forces was, ultimately, a political decision, and each had an admitted right to ‘refuse the use of its forces for any project which it considered inadvisable2.’ In general, however, the American commanders were in charge; and the New Zealand armed forces were told that all orders from the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific area, were to be accepted as emanating from the New Zealand Govern-

1 Parliamentary paper H-19B, 1948.

2 King to Nash, 14 Apr 1942.

page 244 ment
.1 The New Zealand view was accordingly that Ghormley ‘should take full advantage of, and assume full responsibility for, the development and equipment of all New Zealand forces to meet the requirements both of defence and future offensive operations2.’ When Ghormley arrived, however, he explained that he was not in command of the local defence of New Zealand, and that he was not responsible for finding the necessary equipment. This last ruling was a grave threat to New Zealand's co-operation in the Pacific area. With limited manpower, she could still supply well-trained specialists, especially for navy and air force. In particular, the Royal New Zealand Air Force, if adequately equipped, could be a really effective fighting unit; but it could only be used against Japan if supplied from America. Accordingly, an important though rather obscure war was fought, with warm support from Fraser on political grounds, to have the Air Force brought fully under the command of Ghormley and his successor, Halsey. Only thus, it was widely felt, could New Zealand be sure of being able to pull her weight in the fight. On this point, the machinery of diplomacy and military liaison worked well, if painfully; and in September the American command accepted New Zealand's viewpoint.
Difficulties connected with the Army were of a different character. Its equipment was in any case British, not American, and in May a potentially awkward situation was entirely cleared up. The defence of Tonga and Fiji was a New Zealand responsibility which was taken seriously. Fiji, in particular, was regarded as vital for the defence of New Zealand, and it was feared, apparently correctly, that the Japanese were preparing an attack.3 In spite of New Zealand's efforts, the defences clearly could not deal with a major attack,4 and in April the Americans were pressed to send reinforcements. Their first reaction was that Fiji was only one among a number of problems to be considered. On 6 May, however, they suddenly announced that they proposed to take full responsibility for the defence of Fiji and Tonga.5 American troops already on the way to New Zealand would be diverted to Fiji and the New Zealand garrison would be returned to its own country. New Zealand naturally welcomed this relief, but suggested that her own troops should remain in Fiji alongside the Americans; the Chiefs of Staff had always insisted on the importance of Fiji to New Zealand, and her troops there had been strongly reinforced

1 PM to Chiefs of Staff, 9 May 1942.

2 PM to Nash, 19 Jun 1942.

3 Gillespie, p. 53.

4 Cf. report to Washington by Lt-Gen D. C. Emmons.-Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, p. 43.

5 Nash to PM, 6 May 1942.

page 245 in the first half of 1942. The American decision, however, was to take full charge, and they delivered home the bulk of the New Zealand forces, expressing the hope that these men might be ‘made available for amphibious training with our 1st Marine Division in anticipation of joint offensive action to the north-west1.’ The suggestion that New Zealand troops should train with the marines for active operations had been made by Nash to King on 7 May, primarily it would seem as an inducement to the Americans to send more marine divisions to New Zealand.2 However, the destruction of Japanese carrier strength at the Midway battle on 4 June changed the aspect of the Pacific war. The immediate objective became un-mistakeably not to check the Japanese advance but to begin the counter-attack. Accordingly, the men withdrawn from Fiji became the nucleus of another expeditionary force, which was to uphold New Zealand's Pacific character and precipitate a first-class crisis in policy-making.
The force commonly, though not officially, known as the 3rd Division was technically born on 14 May 1942,3 when its main elements were in Fiji, though it was not until 6 August that War Cabinet formally decided that ‘a Division be established and trained in New Zealand for offensive purposes-the basis of the Division to be the Fijian Force and the 7th Brigade Group.’ This decision was in response to an American request; but there were delays and confusion. On the American side, the Chiefs of Staff in Washington envisaged New Zealand troops taking part in amphibious operations alongside their own forces. Admiral Ghormley, as theatre commander, was short of equipment for amphibious troops, and asked rather for garrison forces to take over areas which had been captured by the marines. It was his request in July for such forces-to be ready by 25 August-that led the New Zealand Government formally to create a division for service in the Pacific. Even then, it remained somewhat doubtful as to what kind of a force the Americans wanted and by what date. New Zealand, for her part, insisted on her right of prior consultation. Before any troops went overseas, her government insisted on being ‘fully informed of the nature of the operations, and convinced that the plan offers a reasonable prospect of success4.’ This condition may have been somewhat embarrassing to the American commanders, and was perhaps a factor in their delays. Yet New Zealand's standards of proof were not exacting; and New Zealand, for her part, was very willing to provide, if she could, whatever it might be that the

1 Nash to PM, 24 Jun 1942; Gillespie, p. 70.

2 Nash to PM, 8 May 1942.

3 Gillespie, p. 72.

4 DCGS to Maj-Gen Mead, 18 Aug 1942.

page 246 Americans wanted: so willing, indeed, that on 10 August the Government made Ghormley a promise, which could not have been fulfilled, that a division would be available for embarkation on 25 August.1 In this month Fraser visited Washington, and he was briefed to urge upon the President that the Pacific was the most promising area for an offensive.2 The Solomons offensive, then being launched, was likely to be particularly acceptable to New Zealand as being the result of a decision of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff to ‘mount a limited offensive to halt the Japanese advance toward the line of communications from the United States to Australia and New Zealand3.’ It was axiomatic, therefore, that nothing except quite insuperable obstacles should prevent any New Zealand participation which the Americans might desire.

Never theless, there were great obstacles to meeting the American request for ground troops. Manpower was running short in New Zealand as a whole. In July, for example, there was felt to be a desperate shortage of farm labour to cope with the approaching primary production season, and with the slight relief in tension given by the American naval victory at Midway, 6000 farm workers were released from camp. Moreover, although enough men were available to form a division, they were by no means adequately trained for the work in hand, even those who had been in Fiji. For New Zealand's good name it perhaps was well that Ghormley did not call for the division which was to have been ready in August. The marines, in fact, met unsuspected difficulties in Guadalcanal; while fierce fighting continued, there could be no question of replacing them by garrison troops. General Barrowclough accordingly had two months more to form and train a new expeditionary force.

It was a difficult task. Neither the New Zealand nor the United States Government was very clear as to what was wanted, and in particular the Americans could still not indicate the size of the force they would need nor at what time. Partly for this reason, though the new force was in principle a division, training kept in view the possibility that a smaller formation might be asked for. Accordingly, priority was given to the completion of training one, followed by a second, brigade group within 3 Division. In fact a battalion was detached from it on 7 October for the defence of Norfolk Island, and shortly afterwards another was allocated to Tonga. Finally, on 16 October, with the issue on Guadalcanal still undecided, Admiral Ghormley requested that two brigades be sent to New Caledonia. War Cabinet gave its consent immediately and

1 Gillespie, p. 74.

2 Actg PM to PM, 27 Aug 1942.

3 US Army in World War II, Guadalcanal: The First Offensive, p. 1.

page 247 over the next three months the main body of 3 Division was moved to New Caledonia. New Zealand was committed to a major effort, under American command, in the Pacific theatre.

However, men were needed for the Mediterranean as well as the Pacific. The 2nd New Zealand Division had not received reinforcements since October 1941. It suffered nearly 5000 casualties in the Libyan battles at the end of that year, and in June 1942 was flung into the defence of Egypt, with 7000 further casualties. If reinforcements were much longer delayed, a reduction in the size of the Division would be inevitable. On 25 July Churchill raised the matter, and appealed to New Zealand to keep ‘this splendid unit on its present basis.’ The Government agreed. On 5 August both Churchill and Freyberg were told that reinforcements would be sent, though with a warning that future policy was uncertain. On 29 August War Cabinet approved the despatch of 5500 men, including a tank battalion. This draft, the 8th Reinforcements, sailed on 12 December 1942.

To overseas commitments the Government's advisers had to add those arising from the need to maintain local defences against possible attack on New Zealand itself. In September War Cabinet reported that a ‘very critical position still obtains in the Pacific’,1 and in mid-October the Army put its ‘very minimum’ needs for this purpose as 72,850. Reporting this calculation to a secret session of Parliament, the National Service Department estimated that if this force were to be maintained locally, the Pacific division built up and naval and air force requirements met, some 191,000 persons would have to be withdrawn from industry. This was an increase of about 30,000 over the peak mobilisation figure of the middle of the year, which had fallen since then owing to releases for primary industry. And this figure did not include any further reinforcements that might have to be sent to the Middle East. The dangers of such a degree of mobilisation had been pointed out a month before by a departmental committee on war planning and manpower. Without a ‘properly planned and coordinated programme of adjustment… any attempt to achieve these releases to the armed services … will manifestly end in widespread disorganisation to essential production and entirely disordered national economy.’ Such a planned programme, as sketched out by the committee, would have involved a drastic modification of the pattern of peacetime life, much more drastic than in fact ever took place. A minimum working week was proposed of 48 hours for manual work and 44 hours for shops and clerical work, for instance, and non-essential services and commodities were to be eliminated. The plan was tentative, an indica-

1 Actg PM to SSDA, 9 Sep 1942.

page 248 tion
of the kind of things that would have to be done; and even if it had been theoretically adequate, the conclusion by no means follows that an additional thirty or forty thousand men could have been mobilised without the most serious consequences. Administrative difficulties would have been immense, and unless the community had been confronted with an immediate threat of invasion or defeat, discontent at such drastic measures might well have been keen enough to cause that economic dislocation which they had been designed to avoid

Short of desperate measures, then, there were not enough New Zealanders to maintain major expeditionary forces in two areas, and at the same time to keep up the flow of goods and services on which the Allied war effort in the Pacific increasingly depended. When, therefore, the situation in the Middle East improved spectacularly with the victory at Alamein and the Allied landing in French North Africa, the New Zealand Government raised the question of returning its Middle East division. On 19 November Fraser put the case personally to Churchill.1 He told him that the request would have been made earlier but for the dangerous situation in the Middle East and Russia.

Now, however, with the launching of the most promising Anglo-American offensive, the immediate security of the Middle East, which we have always regarded as of such vital importance, appears for all practical purposes to have been achieved, and with the accession of large new forces from the United States and Britain the presence of one New Zealand division in this theatre becomes a matter of diminishing importance. Here in the Pacific, on the other hand, we are faced not only with the possibility that Japan may launch further offensive action, both to retrieve the situation resulting from her recent setbacks and to take advantage of the preoccupations of the United Nations in Europe and Africa, but also with what we regard as the necessity that the United Nations should launch a counter-offensive at the earliest possible date. It is felt that the place of the 2nd New Zealand Division in either case is here in the South Pacific.

There was, he wrote, a ‘general feeling in the country that our men have a strong claim to return, particularly in view of the extremely heavy casualties which our Division has suffered-some 18,500 so far out of a total of 43,500 sent to the Middle East’. He referred to Curtin's request for the withdrawal of the last Australian division in the Middle East, and added, ‘It will be appreciated that it would be absolutely impossible for the New Zealand Government to resist the strong feeling to which I have referred should it become known that all three Australian divisions have returned.’ The plain fact, he told Churchill, was that ‘the limit of our manpower resources in New Zealand has been reached’, but his conclusion was to emphasise that the men would not be stationed

1 Documents, II, p. 142.

page 249 permanently in New Zealand. The return of the Division was asked for as a necessary step towards full participation in the long drive against Japan.1

Faced with this request, and the parallel request from Australia, Churchill vigorously stated the case against withdrawing the two divisions concerned, and urged that the views of the Americans, who were sending such substantial aid to the South Pacific, must be carefully weighed. ‘It would cause me much regret to see the New Zealand Division quit the scene of its glories,’ he cabled to Fraser on 24 November, ‘but I quite understand your feelings and am aware how embarrassing the withdrawal of the 9th Australian Division would be to you.’ He quoted, from a cable just sent to Curtin, the remark that ‘The matter is one on which the Combined Chiefs of Staff at Washington, who alone have the central point of view, should advise in the first instance’, and he added in the message to Fraser, ‘I am sure that, having regard to the great contribution the United States are now making to the defence of the Southern Pacific and the still greater efforts we must expect from them, it would be a mistake for Australia and New Zealand to ignore the opinion of the United States military authorities.’ The Australians, however, insisted on their rights. On 2 December Churchill cabled that the last Australian division was accordingly being withdrawn, which ‘makes the retention of the New Zealand Division in the Middle East more necessary to us, though your difficulties are understood.’ He gave details of the grave shipping difficulties arising from the Australian action, and of the still greater difficulties that would be caused by the return of the New Zealand Division.

At this stage the problem was referred to a secret session of Parliament held on 3 December. No record of the discussion has survived, except the fact that ‘some members, including the Leader of the Opposition’, thought that War Cabinet should not have suggested the withdrawal of the Division from the Middle East without consulting Parliament.2 In the upshot the decision of the House was unanimously that the Division should remain where it was for the time being; though J. A. Lee apparently said that it should return as soon as the campaign in North Africa was finished. ‘We cannot take the responsibility in the circumstances that you outline,’ Fraser told Churchill, ‘of pressing for the return of the New Zealand Division at this juncture.’ In the same cable, however, Churchill was told that the Government still thought that, from the Dominion viewpoint, the reasons given for the return of the

1 Nash was instructed to make this point clear to the Americans.-Fraser to Nash, 7 Dec 1942, Documents, II, p. 151.

2 NZPD, Vol. 262, p. 493.

page 250 Division were valid and might be raised again. Moreover, an important additional argument was for the first time put on record: ‘it would be neither wise nor proper to allow the offensive against Japan in the South Pacific to be conducted entirely by the Americans without substantial British collaboration1.’
When the House met in open session on 4 December, therefore, the major decision had been made. If any doubt remained it would have been dispelled by the decision made by the Combined Chiefs of Staff in Washington on that same day, at a meeting where New Zealand was represented. ‘Every military argument,’ reported this high authority, was against the transfer of the Australian and New Zealand divisions, which would actually weaken the defence of the two dominions.2 New Zealand's decision to leave her division in the Middle East was, however, professedly a temporary one, and left intact the reasons which were making the disposition of New Zealand's armed forces a political issue. Already in October, during the debate which followed his resignation from the War Administration, the Leader of the Opposition had said, ‘The time is overripe for a full discussion on the man-power question. I feel that we are trying to do far too much3.’ A few days later J. A. Lee, then a Labour rebel, made the first serious attack on the Government's manpower policy to be delivered in open session. ‘An overwhelming majority of the members of this House are conscious that our manpower targets are too vast,’ he declared. ‘We do not know what is proposed for 1943; for 1944; for 1945. We are already calling up married men-and at an age at which I do not believe many of them will be able to withstand the circumstances of hazardous soldiering…. We all know that if we go ahead at the present rate we will be out of the war very rapidly.’ The House should be told how many men were to be put in the field over the next three years ‘and what New Zealand will be like when they are in the field4.’ Now in December the theme was taken up again by Holland. He argued that New Zealand could not maintain a large force mobilised at home in addition to its overseas commitments, and complained that ‘from a man-power point of view the armed forces take no cognizance whatever of civilian requirements.’ He emphasised that ‘whatever commitments the War Cabinet has made, whether we concur with them or not, we must stand by them’- presumably a reference to the decision to send the force to New Caledonia-but he hoped that ‘in future, before we are committed to anything further, we will have an opportunity of expressing our

1 PM NZ to PM UK, 4 Dec 1942, Documents, II, p. 148.

2 Nash to PM, 5 Dec 1942, Documents, II, p. 149.

3 NZPD, Vol 261, p. 637.

4 Ibid., pp. 759-60.

page 251 opinions on the matters in hand1.’ Fraser made it quite clear that no such opportunity could be guaranteed: ‘provided there is plenty of time to consult Parliament, that will be done, but if there is not time to do that and immediate action is called for, then the War Cabinet must take the full responsibility…. If there are no Ministers available, the Prime Minister must and ought to take responsibility for making the decision.’ If members disapproved of any action taken they would be given the fullest opportunity of discussing it regardless of Standing Orders.2

In his remarks in open session Fraser had agreed that the time had come when the size of the force necessary in New Zealand could be reconsidered. It was indeed only in this direction that even a temporary respite from the manpower dilemma seemed possible. Actually, the day before the secret session the Chiefs of Staff had reported that ‘an attempt by the Japanese to invade this country in the near future is hardly even a remote possibility…3.’ If this were so then the force of some 52,000 men remaining in New Zealand after the despatch of the Pacific force and the reinforcements to the Middle East could obviously be cut considerably, and steps to reduce it by 20,000 men were taken in February 1943. However, reduction in home defences provided only a temporary and partial solution to the problem. The great need was for men fit for overseas service-not only for the overseas divisions but also for the Air Force, which planned an increase to 17 or 18 squadrons during 1943-but 35,000 of those in the Army in New Zealand were ineligible for overseas service because of age or medical grading. To some extent they could be used to replace the fit men held on appeal, of whom there were about 40,000, including 25,000 in farming. Yet such replacement was difficult to achieve, especially since the requirements of the American forces in the Pacific made necessary not a mere maintenance but a positive increase in primary production.

The facts seemed to show increasingly that it would be impossible for New Zealand to maintain two major overseas forces: if this were so, the obvious course of action in late 1942 was to refrain from sending 3 Division into the Pacific unless 2 Division could be brought home. Yet there were political arguments in favour of taking an active part in the Pacific campaign. In the debate on 4 December, indeed, the Prime Minister challenged the whole Anglo-American strategy which subordinated the Pacific theatre to Europe: ‘I do not believe in the theory of a holding war in the Pacific while the fullest efforts are concentrated on one second front

1 NZPD, Vol. 261, pp. 956-9.

2 Ibid., p. 974.

3 COS Paper

page 252 in Europe.’ He rejoiced that ‘we have taken up forward positions in the Pacific as we always intended. It is only right that we should take part in the Pacific offensive which will keep the Japanese as far as possible from our shores1.’ He concluded that, however important the more distant battlefields, ‘we must still concentrate our most immediate attention upon the Pacific, where we live…. If we have our eyes on the ends of the earth, and the campaigns waged there, and not at our own doors, then we are heading for disaster2.’ This emphasis on the Pacific was not challenged by an Opposition that was in full cry. They were quite sure that the Government had promised too much, but under pressure resolutely refused to say that a force should not have been sent to the Pacific, or to offer any more practicable suggestion than the reduction of home forces. The party was said to be entirely in favour of the maintenance of both forces-of forces in the Middle East with reinforcements, and forces in the Pacific, with reinforcements.3 Both parties, in short, agreed on the need to take a major part in the Pacific; but neither had quite faced the consequences of doing this while 2 Division remained in the Middle East.

It was a striking illustration of the importance attached to the political arguments for activity in the Pacific that, in spite of manpower problems, War Cabinet now agreed to increase the strength of 3 Division, and so fit it for combat in place of garrison duty. A full division had, of course, been originally contemplated, and the Americans said in December 1942 that it would be of great assistance if it could be completed.4 General Barrowclough stressed that, as at present constituted, his force could not take over from an American division and urged its completion to divisional strength.5 This was approved in principle in February.6 Later in the month Admiral Halsey, who had succeeded Ghormley in command of the South Pacific area, approved of the proposed reductions in the army in New Zealand and asked that ‘the third division be completed to war establishment of a full division, as planned, as soon as this can be done7.’ The necessary increase, together with minor adjustments in the Pacific forces, was approved by War Cabinet on 6 March; 5500 men in all were involved.8

Parliament had been in session since 24 February, so it seems clear that War Cabinet preferred to make its decision before the

1 NZPD, Vol. 261, pp. 952-3.

2 Ibid., p. 974.

3 Ibid., pp. 956-9.

4 Puttick to Park, 5 Dec 1942.

5 Barrowclough to Puttick, 17 Jan 1943.

6 War Cabinet Minute, 4 Feb 1943.

7 Coates to PM, 27 Feb 1943. Halsey had taken over the South Pacific Command from Ghormley in October 1942.

8 Expansion was approved from 14,400 all ranks to 17,637.

page 253 matter was thrown open to discussion by the House. This happened on 17 March, when the House was invited to approve a report providing for the absorption by the forces in the following year of 27,000 men-including 10,000 for the Air Force. A home defence force of 28,800 was to be supplemented by a reserve of 50,000 who would receive annual training.1 A furious debate followed. Holland said that the critical decision to convert the Pacific force from a garrison to a combat unit had been taken in defiance of the House. He claimed that during a recent parliamentary discussion (apparently the secret session of 3 December) 80 per cent of the members including the Prime Minister had agreed with his statement that it was impossible to maintain two forces on active service overseas. It would be quite impossible, he said, to provide the necessary reinforcements, since ballotting had been completed and, apart from youths coming of age, the only source of manpower was from fit men still held in industry. The same line of argument was developed forcefully by J. A. Lee. Discussing the decision taken in the previous year to send reinforcements to the Middle East, he said ‘we were given to understand that the maximum commitments of New Zealand for reinforcements was two thousand. When we met again it had grown to five thousand and there was a ship in the harbour. Where is parliamentary control?… We make commitments, and somebody comes along and says, “Now boys, you cannot let us down,” and we add overnight to the commitments2.’ Several Labour members suggested that the Middle East division would soon have to be brought back; and, on the other hand, there seemed to be general uneasiness among Nationalist members at the build-up of the Pacific division.
The Prime Minister agreed with the comment of a Nationalist member that ‘it is all one battle’, but he none the less implied that this line of thought could be carried too far. ‘It is important,’ he said, ‘that our voice will carry weight both now and in the future, as far as the Pacific is concerned, and that we should win the right to be heard with respect. We cannot do that if we scuttle out of our responsibilities in the Pacific3.’ When General Williams visited New Zealand three years earlier he had urged the Government ‘that our contribution must be given as quickly as possible, and that we must give the full strength of what we could do within four years. After that had been done we would have to consolidate on what our position was then.’ That four years would be up at the end of the time covered by the new proposals and ‘We can

1 Cyclostyled memorandum by Minister of National Service, 11 Mar 1943.

2 NZPD, Vol. 262, p. 443.

3 Ibid., p. 496.

page 254 then see what we can continue to do1.’ He indicated that the future of the Middle East division could be reconsidered when Tunisia had been cleared of the enemy,2 and the general drift of his speech seemed to indicate that it would be that division which would eventually be recalled-‘When they come back and rest, they could assist in the Pacific3.’ In any case, everything possible must be done to release some of the long-service men with that division.4

This last remark was a reference to the so-called ‘furlough’ scheme, which later caused great difficulty. The basic idea was that of giving some relief to men who had served overseas since 1940, since a considerable further period of service in the Middle East was in prospect. In February General Freyberg was told that ‘The Government has been considering the practicability of bringing back to New Zealand personnel who have been absent from New Zealand for three years and increasing the reinforcement draft to compensate.’ General Freyberg was not unfavourable, and reported that it should be possible to arrange a satisfactory scheme;5 but General Puttick advised against any general return6 of long-service men to New Zealand. Consideration of the matter continued pending the end of the Tunisian campaign and was a factor in discussions on the future of the Division.

In the end the Government's proposals were approved without a vote. Indeed, when it came to the point, the Opposition did not suggest an alternative policy. Even under pressure, the Leader of the Opposition still refused to say what, in his view, New Zealand's policy in the Pacific should be.7 His chief followers stressed that home defence forces should be cut down and production maintained. They protested vehemently against the Pacific division being made a combat force without parliamentary approval; but, except for one obscure suggestion, did not advocate that the decision should be reversed, or maintain that they would have opposed it if Parliament had been consulted.8 Their demand for the transfer of men from the army in New Zealand to industry was relevant to the country's economic situation but did not bear directly on the problem of overseas reinforcements.

Two points emerged from the whole episode, however. The first was evidence that Parliament was much less inclined than War Cabinet to accept an ‘all out’ manpower policy. The second was a

1 NZPD, Vol. 262, p. 503.

2 Ibid., p. 495.

3 Ibid., p. 504.

4 Ibid., p. 479.

5 Documents, II, p. 224 (24 Feb 1943).

6 CGS to Minister of Defence, 31 Mar 1943.

7 NZPD, Vol. 262, p. 426.

8 Ibid. Speeches by Holland, Broadfoot, Polson, Goosman, Gordon.

page 255 firm promise that Parliament would be consulted next time, a promise with immediate practical consequences.

The manpower debate had been preceded by a meeting in the social hall of Parliament Buildings, where members were addressed by the Chiefs of Staff. It may have been here that Fraser, as he later told Churchill, ‘gave an undertaking that [the Division's] retention in North Africa, its participation in a European campaign, or its return to New Zealand would be considered at the end of the Tunisian campaign, and that there would be no question of our men being used in any other theatre without the prior knowledge and approval of the House.’ Nothing quite so explicit was recorded in open session. Nevertheless, by reason of his pledge, Fraser was unable to comply with Churchill's request of 14 April that the Division should be immediately withdrawn from Tunisia to undergo amphibious training for the invasion of Sicily. Fraser felt it to be undesirable to call Parliament before 5 May-both because ‘a sudden summons of Parliament for next week might give rise to undue alarm and speculation in the country’ and endanger the secrecy of the Sicilian operation, also because of ‘the effect of any secret session thus summoned on the annual Labour Party conference at Easter1.’ It was, of course, from Labour supporters that most of the pressure for the return of the Division was coming, and Fraser said that he could not predict Parliament's decision with certainty. Accordingly, as there was time and equipment to train only one more division in amphibious action, other troops were selected for the invasion of Sicily. It should be added that there were valid military arguments against using the Division in this particular operation, arising from its long continuance in the field (since June 1942) without relief. These were duly taken into account, though not stressed in the cabled discussions.

During the manpower debate in March, the Prime Minister was asked whether, if the war lasted another two or three years, New Zealand's effort could be sustained at the existing level. ‘No,’ he replied, ‘we cannot keep it up. Around that lies the whole question2.’The Government's proposals, accordingly, were for a short term. They provided for the maintenance of both divisions for the current year only; and in any case the promise stood that the future of the Division in the Middle East would be reviewed at the end of the Tunisian campaign. In April Fraser decided that the whole issue must be placed before Parliament. By this time the dilemma was painfully clear. It was still hoped to reinforce both divisions, as planned, till the end of 1943, but there were simply

1 PM NZ to PM UK, 16 Apr 1943; Documents, II, p. 183.

2 NZPD, Vol. 262, p. 495.

page 256 not enough fit men in the country to maintain them thereafter. One division must therefore be withdrawn or allowed to dwindle, and its manpower used to reinforce the other. ‘The time has come to make the decision between the European and Pacific theatres.’ Fraser's personal views on this problem were in the early stages hard to define. ‘We are a Pacific nation of the British Commonwealth,’ he told Parliament in December 1942, ‘and we must survive as a Pacific nation1.’ In March 1943, as we have noted, he hinted broadly that the troops from the Middle East might be withdrawn and later serve in the Pacific.2 Even in April he stressed the great political importance of the Commonwealth being strongly represented in the drive against Japan and earning the right to speak in the post-war settlement,3 and he knew that New Zealand was ‘the only country from which British forces can at present be made available for service in the South Pacific Area4.’ He was still struggling to clear his own mind as to what was the right thing to do, and his personal decision was made in mid-May. Thereafter he was clearly doing his best in the face of considerable division of opinion in War Cabinet and in the Labour Party to have 2 Division retained in the Mediterranean. That this was desirable from the wide strategical viewpoint seemed clear enough. Such at least was the emphatic judgment of the Combined Chiefs of Staff in Washington,5 which was supported by Roosevelt and Churchill.
On 29 April Fraser told Churchill that he was placing the matter before Parliament, and appealed for his help. ‘There is a strong section, particularly among Government supporters,’ he reported, ‘who desire the early return of the Division at the conclusion of the Tunisian campaign. On the other hand, there is in Parliament and throughout the country a large measure of feeling in favour of the retention of our Division in the Mediterranean theatre. I am most anxious to prevent any general split on this question and I attach the highest importance, from the point of view of the unity of the country and the furtherance of the war effort, to obtaining as unanimous a vote as possible on whatever decision is arrived at. A message from you, which I could read to Parliament in secret session, appealing for the retention of the Division “on symbolic and historical as well as military grounds” would, I feel, have very great influence, especially if you could associate President Roosevelt with yourself in the message…6.’ A message on the lines requested

1 NZPD, Vol. 261, p. 974.

2 Ibid., Vol. 262, p. 504.

3 Documents, II, p. 189.

4 Ibid., p. 202.

5 Ibid., p. 149.

6 Documents, II, p. 189.

page 257 duly arrived, though only on behalf of Churchill himself. ‘General Alexander and General Montgomery,’ he cabled, had ‘expressed their ardent wishes’ that the Division might enter Europe with the Allied armies. The military case was strong; yet, said Churchill, his plea rested on other grounds, especially on ‘the sentiments which unite our Commonwealth of Nations…. It is the symbolic and historic value of our continued comradeship in arms that moves me. I feel that the intervention of the New Zealand Division on European soil, at a time when the homeland of New Zealand is already so strongly engaged with Japan, will constitute a deed of fame to which many generations of New Zealanders will look back with pride1.’

Though armed with this instrument of persuasion, War Cabinet took advantage of Churchill's presence in Washington to get further advice at the highest possible level. It was quite impossible to maintain both divisions beyond the end of the year, wrote Fraser. ‘It would be entirely unwise, we feel, to let either the Pacific or the Mediterranean division complete its organisation and training and prepare for, and perhaps go into, action in major theatres of war knowing that within a few months from now it was inevitable that one force was to be used for the purpose of reinforcing the other.1 Churchill was asked to discuss the matter with the President and ‘having in mind New Zealand's inability to provide divisions for each theatre, advise as to where you and, if possible, the Combined Chiefs of Staff, consider that New Zealand troops could most usefully be employed2.’ The reply was what Fraser no doubt expected. ‘Both the President and I,’ said Churchill on 17 May, ‘feel very strongly that it would be a great pity to withdraw the New Zealand Division from the Mediterranean theatre where it has given such splendid service. We hope means will be found to sustain both divisions in their present strength and station. If this cannot be done, it would be better when the time comes to accept a lower establishment.’ Churchill also pointed out that ‘the shipping required to repatriate the 2nd New Zealand Division will entail a far greater loss in manpower to the United States build-up in Great Britain for attacking France in 19443.’

The British and American view was, then, plain. The view of New Zealand's neighbour and indispensable partner, Australia, was even plainer, and in a directly contrary sense. The Australian Government had made clear in 1942, and had stated with undiplomatic violence in 1943, its judgment that all Australian and New Zealand forces should be concentrated in the Pacific war, the

1 Documents, II, p. 191.

2 Ibid., p. 202.

3 Ibid., p. 210.

page 258 wishes of the United States and Britain notwithstanding. The last of three Australian divisions was recalled from the Middle East, and the Australians said very bluntly that in their view New Zealand should follow their example and concentrate all her forces in the Pacific. The combined manpower of Australia and New Zealand would be inadequate even for a ‘holding’ war in the Pacific, said Curtin, the forthright Australian Prime Minister. More forces must be called in as tropical diseases took toll in the islands, and as far as possible these should be British. ‘The Union Jack should fly here as the standard of British interest in the Pacific. This … makes all the more desirable joint Dominion forces as preferable to those of a foreign ally.’ Carl Berendsen, formerly head of the Prime Minister's Department and now New Zealand High Commissioner in Canberra, reported these views after an interview with Curtin on 17 May. He added that ‘The Prime Minister obviously felt strongly on this matter as indicated by incidental remarks during the discussion; for example: “that is precisely the line that Churchill and Roosevelt took with me, and if I had listened to them we should have lost New Guinea,” and “it is tough that we should be asked to supply munitions to New Zealand while New Zealand troops are still in the Middle East1.’ Berendsen himself wrote that ‘on the balance narrowly, but definitely’ he agreed with Curtin's contention that ‘all New Zealand troops should be available for the Pacific.’ When the decision had to be made, Curtin's attitude was naturally one of the factors causing the most ‘worried consideration … of the problem and much searching of heart and conscience by Ministers and members alike2.’
Two other major considerations necessarily entered into War Cabinet's calculations: the views of the men serving in the Middle East, and the domestic political situation. The views of servicemen were important both in themselves and as an index to public feeling; the matter was investigated on the spot by the Minister of Defence, and reported to Wellington with exasperating but probably accurate obscurity. ‘There is a general desire on the part of the Division to return to New Zealand.’ It was understood, of course, that a period of leave would be followed by further service, almost certainly in the Islands. No one wanted that, for conditions in the Solomons and New Guinea were well known; therefore, ‘if given the option the majority would prefer this theatre of war’. Nevertheless, if each man were individually consulted ‘the great majority would wish to return3.’ General Freyberg reported more succinctly ‘if your Division can remain in the Middle East, … your

1 Documents, II, p. 209.

2 Ibid., p. 212.

3 Ibid., pp. 193, 198.

page 259 decision will be welcomed on all sides1.’ It is not recorded how Fraser summed up for Parliament the views held in the Expeditionary Force.

As to domestic politics, Fraser's problem had a double aspect. Since the breakdown of the War Administration in September 1942 party politics had resumed a lusty if not much respected life, and it was widely agreed that a general election should be held when the war situation permitted. Such an election was now in prospect, and there is on record an analysis, presented to a Labour Party caucus, of the importance in party politics of the decision about to be made on the Middle East Expeditionary Force. ‘The decision of the Labour Party,’ so ran the notes used by Fraser on this occasion, ‘must be profoundly affected by the use to which the Opposition would put the refusal to agree to Mr Churchill's plan and instead to bring the men back home. This may still be the logical course. It may be the course which best serves New Zealand's interests, but, politically it will be the means of giving the Opposition a political plank upon which they are to base their forthcoming campaign. Mr Lee, on the other hand, will direct his appeal to mothers, wives and families, all under the guise of furthering New Zealand's true Pacific interests. He would have us concentrate our manpower on industrial production and, no doubt, send what we can spare into the Pacific.’ It by no means follows that the considerations outlined in these remarks greatly influenced the Prime Minister's policy. His personal view was by this time clearly enough that the Division should stay where it was; but his own party contained most of those who thought it should be recalled. He was fighting for a parliamentary decision that would be virtually unanimous.

With the facts assembled and preparations made, the secret session held on 20 and 21 May passed smoothly. Only seven members spoke, ‘in an atmosphere almost entirely removed from party politics and partisanship…. Although no vote was taken, only six or seven members could be said to favour the return of the 2nd NZEF to New Zealand, and four or five of them would not have voted against the Government if a division had been taken2.’ In substance, the proposals jointly put forward by the Government and War Cabinet were endorsed. It was decided that the 2nd NZEF would be left in the Middle East in the meantime and be available for operations in Europe; that both divisions would ‘be maintained for as long as possible with increasingly smaller establishments in accordance with the availability of manpower’; and that the relief scheme for men with long service in

1 Documents, II, p. 201.

2 Ibid., pp. 212, 215.

page 260 the Middle East would be put into effect. The Pacific division was to be reorganised on a reduced scale and negotiations were to be pushed forward for the incorporation in it of a Fijian mobile brigade.1 This decision was welcomed by Churchill and Roosevelt with eloquence, and by Curtin with sharp anger. The acute difference in judgment between Australia and New Zealand on the issue of withdrawal from the Middle East was, indeed, only less remarkable than the manner in which, after very plain speech, the matter quietly dropped. Disagreement on a major issue was obliterated by an overwhelming community of purpose.

The decision reached-to maintain two divisions as long as possible and allow establishments to decline as manpower ran out-was apparently clear, but in reality equivocal. Everyone knew that two divisions could not be maintained at full strength for any length of time-if at all-and that a division much below full strength could not be an effective combat formation. Moreover, Parliament had approved the retention of the Division in the Middle East on the express condition that the ‘furlough scheme’ should be operated immediately.2 This involved finding about 5000 additional replacements for the Middle East; and the only source for them was the body of troops prepared, according to the March decision, to bring 3 Division up to full strength. On 27 June, accordingly, in spite of the fervent representations of General Barrowclough, War Cabinet made the inevitable decision. The 3rd Division was reduced to two brigades, and the men formerly destined for New Caledonia went to the Middle East.

This decision was necessarily disappointing to the Americans, though their own uncertainty as to policy may have been a contributing factor. In early June, for example, Rear-Admiral S. T. Wilkinson, Halsey's deputy commander, met War Cabinet and it was agreed that so far as New Zealand's commitments in the Pacific were concerned, ‘Air came first, Navy second, production third and Army fourth’;3 and Wilkinson said that the New Zealand Division in the Pacific would not normally be required for active operations during 1943. A week later, however, General Barrowclough was instructed to prepare his division to be moved forward for combat, the movement to begin in August.4 War Cabinet approved, but made it clear at the same time that the Division could not be raised to three brigades by New Zealand troops. In July the position was explained to Halsey in New Caledonia by William Perry. He expressed great disappointment, and wrote to

1 Documents, II, pp. 214, 242.

2 Ibid., p. 241.

3 Fraser to Halsey, 30 Aug 1943.

4 COMSOPAC to Barrowclough, 11 Jun 1943.

page 261 Fraser that he was counting on him to maintain the two brigades at full strength.1 Fraser could only reply that Parliament's decision on the allocation of the country's remaining resources of manpower had been taken on the advice of Churchill and Roosevelt, that it was intended to maintain the two brigades as long as possible, and that the reinforcements already provided would last a considerable time. Nevertheless, he went on, ‘unless there is a change of policy [presumably in the higher direction of the war] which would cause Parliament to vary its decision, the Division in the Mediterranean will, when the reinforcement pool in New Zealand has been exhausted, require to be maintained by drawing eventually upon New Zealand troops serving in the Pacific2.’ It proved impracticable to complete the division with the Fijian mobile brigade, and when the force went into action in the Solomons between September 1943 and February 1944 it did not really function as a division at all. ‘Not once did the brigades co-operate in joint action. Each was employed on an island far from the other and linked only by wireless, aircraft, and landing craft3.’

New Zealand had, as planned, kept two divisions in active service overseas till after the end of 1943, yet by then the situation was most unsatisfactory. The 3rd Division consisted of two brigades only, and could therefore not be used interchangeably with an American division. Moreover, it was very clear, as explained by Fraser in May, that even with this reduced establishment, one of the two divisions must very soon be withdrawn and used as reinforcements for the other. Yet, in spite of his warning to Halsey in August, the situation was allowed to drift on without a final decision as to which it should be; and that decision could no longer be postponed. The negotiations with Roosevelt, Churchill and Curtin which had proved so embarrassing in May 1943 had to be undertaken all over again at the beginning of 1944; and this time the decision had to be for action, not merely for postponement.

1 Halsey to PM, 21 Aug 1943.

2 PM to Halsey, 30 Aug 1943.

3 Gillespie, p. 121.