Problems of 2 NZEF
Reinforcements were sent from New Zealand to keep the Division up to establishment, and this remained throughout our primary task. It has already been mentioned that the GOC affirmed this early in the war, when it was seen that there were going to be other demands on our manpower. The Division at that time had an establishment of about 15,000 and was organised exactly the same as a British division. At its maximum in late 1944 it numbered over 20,000 and had gone through many fluctuations in the intervening years, mainly directed towards increasing its mobility and striking power. Some of the fluctuations were of the first order and had repercussions right back to New Zealand, the most marked example being the change of one infantry brigade to an armoured brigade in 1942–43. Others were not so marked, and we managed to make the adjustments ourselves – adding extra units to give mobility, disbanding unnecessary units in late 1944 and so on. The point is page 189 that each change meant some alteration to the relative proportions of our reinforcements, possibly some alteration to training depots, adjustments among the pool of reinforcements or in the next draft to come from New Zealand. In fact any change in the Division, however small, had its effect in our base administration, and was not ended by the change in the unit within the Division. Headquarters 2 NZEF had always to be prepared for these changes, and had to ensure that within its powers the change was effected smoothly.
It was not the province of HQ 2 NZEF to dispute any alterations to the Division, which after all had been approved by the GOC before being promulgated. From our distant viewpoint it appeared to us once or twice that the immediate advantage had outweighed longer-term disadvantages; but with one exception we kept our opinions to ourselves. The exception was the formation of the Field Bakery Section at the end of 1942, with the intention of baking bread nearer to the fighting troops and so supplying it to them much fresher than was possible under the existing British arrangements. It was a small unit numbering only 37 all ranks; but at that time our reinforcement pool was empty, and although another draft was arriving in two months it would all be absorbed into existing deficiencies. The unit happened to be the last of a series of small additions to the Division, and from the point of view of the staff at Headquarters who were trying to keep a balance in the manpower struggle, it was the last straw. Like last straws, the unit, looked on only as a unit, was of no importance, and indeed was a source of amusement, but in principle it meant a lot. For once OICA was impelled to point out to the GOC exactly what the position was: that if we went on this way there would, in the end, be no one left to do any fighting. The unit quite properly was retained; and in the years that followed the head of the service concerned used to take great pleasure in conducting OICA to the unit and giving him a nice, fresh, crisp roll.
From time to time the reinforcement position used to be discussed at length with the GOC and with all heads of corps with a view to making the position clear. Maintenance of the Division was not the only claim on our manpower even within 2 NZEF, for base and line-of-communication units had to be maintained, and the balance had to be held throughout the force. To hold this balance correctly requires the wisdom and foresight of a Solomon. It is so easy to add on some new unit which will improve the fighting powers of the Division or add to the amenities of the force; but with each addition to capital there comes a consequential requirement for income to maintain it; or to drop the metaphor, for each additional unit there would in due course be a demand for rein- page 190 forcements to keep it up to establishment. Somewhere or other the balance has to be held, and very difficult it is. When the manpower supply is limited, it requires something approaching a philosophical inquiry to determine what in the long run will be the most profitable way of using it. Another assault unit or a leave camp, another engineer unit or another club, another workshop or a transit unit – the choice and the alternatives are infinite. The decision ought to be made after calmly weighing all the pros and cons, figuring out the likely wastage in the future (and thus trying to guess the enemy's moves), and taking into account the likely future supply from the homeland; but more often than not the decision is made in the excitement of the moment, for reasons which look compelling at the time; for, after all, there is no time to hesitate in war, and speed in decision is inevitable. To hold the balance requires patience, some thought, and the strength of will to say no.
The Division showed steady increases throughout the war, while at the same time the rate of reinforcements from New Zealand was showing a slow and steady decline; until the time came in late 1944 when the strength of the Division had to be much reduced so that the balance between establishment and reinforcements could be restored. Up to that time the supply from New Zealand had always been sufficient to meet the needs of the moment, with the exception of a few months in 1942, for which no one except the Japanese could be held to blame. Otherwise our pool had been large enough to compensate even for the losses in Greece, Crete, and Second Libya, and to supply a ‘cushioning’ effect to cover the irregular intervals in which the drafts arrived.
The words ‘holding the balance’ have been used as referring to the force as a whole. In a more limited application, HQ 2 NZEF had to hold the balance in the formation of base and line-of-communication units. Many of these were forced on us by the obvious need to have our own training depots and their ancillaries, our own reinforcement machinery, our own hospitals and welfare units and so on. Geographical factors, as it happened, led to a steady increase in the length of the lines of communication, with a corresponding increase in personnel employed thereon; but within this framework there was room for choice, and for difference of opinion about the action to be taken – whether or not we should put another link in the chain, what changes were to be made in the depots, to what extent should Advanced Base be developed, should the whole base move to Italy, and so on.
Early in 1940 we realised at what was then Divisional Headquarters that we had had no discussions with Army Headquarters about the size of reinforcement drafts, and had no idea what we could expect to receive. Armed with certain data given us by the page 191 Military Liaison Officer in London, we started to calculate the size of draft that would be necessary to keep us up to establishment. Probably this was not our business, for we soon found out that Army Headquarters, helped by similar figures obtained from the War Office, was engaged in the same calculations. However, two heads were better than one at this stage in the war, and there followed an amicable exchange of cables ending in agreement. The basis of the calculations were the official ‘Wastage Tables’ held in the War Office, i.e., tables showing the estimated losses per month for each arm of the service under conditions of no activity, normal activity, and intense activity, the last-named implying full-scale attack or defence. As an example, the percentage of losses to be expected during one month of intense activity was:
Infantry: Officers 25 per cent, other ranks 20 per cent.
Artillery: Officers 10 per cent, other ranks 5 per cent.
ASC: All ranks 3 per cent.
The tables were compiled in this form for all arms and all stages of activity, and were revised several times during the war as the result of experience. We found them a bit confusing at first, and called in a trained actuary to help. The tables included the assumption that 50 per cent of total casualties would return to duty within six months, having been cured of their wounds.
Our own experience in 2 NZEF was enough in itself to cause us to make some changes in the tables. The unexpectedly large numbers of men who were taken prisoner threw all pre-war calculations into confusion, previous experience (in the First World War) having tended to minimise this feature. Then it was found that the swaying fortunes of war in the desert, combined with some changes in function, tended to equalise casualties among the arms, so that while infantry still had the heaviest casualties, their excess over the other arms had lessened, while the rates for other arms rose markedly. Engineers, ASC, provost, and medical were quite likely to find themselves in the forefront of the battle. On the other hand, it was found that the percentages of casualties that returned to duty was greater than had been expected, partly owing to the changed nature of wounds, but mainly to improvements in medical treatment. We found that 80 per cent of those wounded returned to duty, a figure different in basis from ‘50 per cent of total casualties’, which was proved inaccurate for losses which included masses of prisoners.
As a starting point for calculations of drafts, the tables were of use; but our own experience often caused us to depart from them – when, for instance, we knew of proposed changes in the Division, or when we could make adjustments ourselves by transferring per- page 192 sonnel from one corps to another. We had to give Army Headquarters the suggested composition for a draft many months before it would be arriving, so leaving many loopholes for errors to creep in, as the picture in some months' time might be a little or even a lot different from what we had expected. Even in the early years we had to ask Army Headquarters at short notice to vary the proportions of the different arms, or else had to give notice that we would be transferring men between corps later on. In increasing measure we had to shuffle drafts round after they had arrived, moving men into new corps and training them again. Sometimes many hundreds of men were moved in this way.
Occasionally the reasons for this would be a change in plan since the draft had been ordered from New Zealand. It was difficult to make heads of corps appreciate that notice of a draft had to be given months before; so that if they suddenly decided to change the organisation of units, or if a fresh unit in some corps was suddenly authorised, it was unlikely that the men in the depots would fit requirements. If it was impossible to wait for a while, or if no other patchwork arrangement was possible, then men had to be taken for some other corps.
In principle, reinforcement drafts should move from the homeland in a regular stream, so many thousand every three months, or something of that nature. In practice it never worked out that way, the overriding factor being the supply of shipping. There were several cases where a draft was ready to leave New Zealand but no shipping was available to move it. In any case, the supply of reinforcements can never keep exact step with casualties, which far from occurring in a steady stream, occur at irregular intervals. In 1941, for instance, the bulk of our casualties occurred in April, May, and November, only three months out of twelve. Unless the pool of reinforcements is large enough, it might quite well happen that all the casualties for a year occur in so brief a period as to empty depots at a stroke and still leave heavy deficiencies. It is impossible to reconcile ‘crisis’ losses with long-term planning, so that we owed a debt to New Zealand for piling up reinforcements fast enough in the first two years for us to be able to meet the crises when they occurred.
One way and another, sometimes guessing, sometimes being lucky, but all the time having loyal support from New Zealand, we managed to compete with demands reasonably well, and the reinforcement system – if it was a ‘system’ – stood up to strains most manfully.
Incidentally, we tried in a rather half-hearted manner to obtain the adoption of the term ‘replacements’ instead of reinforcements, because we thought it more truly descriptive of men who are in- page 193 tended to take the places of those lost in action. ‘Reinforcements’, strictly speaking, should be those who make the force stronger than it was before, and would more properly apply to new units sent out from the homeland. On occasion the term ‘replacements’ would be used by both Army Headquarters and HQ 2 NZEF when discussing the composition of a contingent that included both new units and unformed drafts, the latter being the true ‘replacements’ and the former ‘reinforcements’; but the term never came into common currency. As with our attempt to use ‘contingent’ instead of ‘echelon’, we had to admit defeat, and ‘reinforcements’ they remained.
As an item of interest, and not out of place at this point, there is included as Appendix V a table showing casualties in all campaigns from 1940 to 1945, the figures being as we knew them in June 1945.