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Problems of 2 NZEF


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THE intention of this volume is to discuss the administration of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force while overseas in sufficient detail to set out our problems and record our lessons, and in the hope that the lessons may be of some value for the future.

There is no glory in this volume, nothing to stir the blood. It deals with administration only and not with battles in the field. There are no references to operations, except in so far as these influenced the layout of the Expeditionary Force, or modified the activities of the administrative headquarters and of the base and line-of-communication units. The volume is not a history of the force, nor yet a treatise on military administration. It is an attempt to record the many non-operational problems that arose in a small national army, to show the way in which these problems were handled, and in some cases to suggest that the solutions we found were either right or wrong. In many cases, however, the pros and cons are set out as we saw them at the time, and the solution is left for the reader to find.

In discussing our problems it is inevitable that there should be mention of our mistakes, for it would be impossible to maintain that everything we did was correct.

Although the distinction should become clear early in the volume, it is perhaps advisable to say at this stage that the text deals with the activities of the Expeditionary Force as a whole, and not with those of 2 New Zealand Division alone. The Division was of course part of the force, indeed the greater part; but there was a part outside the Division, and the problems discussed herein affected both parts equally. Moreover there were many problems, such as some of those arising from our relations with British General Headquarters, or with the Government in New Zealand, that were independent of the activities of the Division alone. The Division had many problems of its own; but in the main these were the result of operations and are not touched on here. The custom grew up, especially in New Zealand, of alluding to the force in the Mediterranean as ‘the Second Division’; but strictly speaking this was not correct. Its title was 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force, or 2 NZEF for short.

It has been mentioned above that this is not a treatise on military administration. Neither is it an analysis of the soundness or otherwise of Field Service Regulations as they were from 1939 to 1945. On the whole the manuals stood the test of war, with such modifica- page 2 tions as were made as the result of campaign lessons. The New Zealand Expeditionary Force was only one small part of the armies of the Commonwealth, and we accepted the basic principles of administration as decided in the War Office in London. We often made suggestions for improvement, sometimes were critical, and even frank in our criticism; but it was not within our powers to make changes in regulations that applied to all the armies that accepted British guidance.

The matters discussed here are those that came within the powers of New Zealand authorities to change or abolish at their will. Some came within the powers of the General Officer Commanding; others had to be referred to Army Headquarters or to the Government. All were New Zealand's business alone, and it rested with New Zealand to make such changes as were thought advisable.

The problems arose from the activities of a small national force – and here it should be remembered that the Expeditionary Force was only a temporary army, assembled for a special purpose. During the war it was hard to realise that militarily we had only an ephemeral existence, which would end with the end of the war. The force was a short-lived one, and its problems and their solutions must be considered in that light.

The problems and difficulties mentioned in this volume are those which in one way or another came to be dealt with by the headquarters of the Expeditionary Force. All units, all services, all controlling authorities in the force – medical, pay, chaplains, public relations and so on – had troubles of their own in abundance; but the majority of these were smoothed out on their own level, so to speak, and never became true ‘NZEF’ problems. To take one example out of many – it will be found that there is little reference here to rations. Once it had been agreed that New Zealand forces would accept the normal British ration – a decision that had to be taken on Governmental level – future troubles were on the level of the service concerned, in this case the Army Service Corps. The ration never became a problem for the headquarters of the force and so hardly figures in the volume.

We tried to settle our problems overseas and not refer them to New Zealand. Sometimes the New Zealand authorities were a little, or more than a little, aghast at what we had done on our own authority; but on the whole they accepted our action without cavilling at it. Naturally our judgment improved as time went on. If one is so inclined, it is possible to obtain some cynical amusement from the serious way with which in 1940 we handled ‘problems’ that by 1945 we would have considered trivialities.

Most of the problems discussed herein were long-term ones. They emerged gradually, fluctuated in intensity, and persisted for long page 3 periods, even for the whole of the war. The decisions we took were not ‘snap’ ones – in fact it often took us a long time, including a period of trial and error, before we arrived at an answer, which in the end would be only the best answer we could find and not necessarily the perfect one. In these circumstances exact dates are of little importance, which will serve to explain the frequent use of such expressions as ‘in early 1941’ or ‘towards the end of 1944’.

The word ‘problem’ will occur with monotonous frequency in this volume, leading readers to think that all our lives at the headquarters of the Expeditionary Force were spent in competing with such things, or wrestling with an unending series of difficulties. It is perhaps unfortunate after all that the volume is not a detailed history of the force; for if that were so it would be seen that most of our time was spent on day-to-day administration with no special difficulties, that everyone was carrying on steadily with normal work, and that there was from first to last between all concerned, whether in the force or outside it, what General Mark Clark calls ‘the routine of friendly collaboration’.1 Perhaps the greatest lesson to be learnt from our experience is one that does not appear specifically elsewhere in the volume – that given a sense of unity and devotion to a common cause, there is no problem arising within a small national force that cannot be solved in amity.

The words ‘New Zealand’ are often used in the volume in a somewhat loose sense, not as referring to the geographical entity which is New Zealand, but to the authority in the country which at the moment was dealing with the problem under discussion and which might be either the Government or Army Headquarters.

It is realised that some of the points that are mentioned as creating problems have already been noted by the appropriate authorities, and have either been remedied in the years since the end of the war or have been marked down for future action; but this volume is a record of things as they were at the time and is unaffected by what has happened since.

In Appendix I will be found the Order of Battle of the Expeditionary Force as on 17 April 1941. At a later stage this will be analysed in some detail. At the moment attention must be drawn to the date of compilation, which was when the First Echelon had been overseas for a little over a year, and the Third Echelon for a little over six months. It will be seen that in addition to the units of the Division, shown in Serials 21 to 114, there were already a number of 2 NZEF units, shown in Serials 1 to 15, a number of non-divisional units, shown in Serials 123 to 147, and a number of base and training units, shown in Serials 151 to 205. During the page 4 war there were changes in all groups of units, as will be seen by referring to Appendix II, the Order of Battle as on 9 May 1945; but the separation into 2 NZEF, divisional, non-divisional, and base and training units persisted throughout the war.

It will thus be seen that to maintain the Division in the field as the spearhead of the Expeditionary Force required the services of many other units. One of the tendencies that will often be referred to in these pages will be the increasing desire of New Zealanders to be supported by other New Zealanders. As the war went on, so did more and more units spring up, all with the purpose of ‘servicing’ the fighting portion of the force. At the beginning we relied on the facilities provided by the United Kingdom. For a while in 1940, for instance, we did not even have a hospital of our own. At the end of the war we were nearly self-contained, and what is more, liked being self-contained. It has never been appreciated to what extent the fighting troops of the Division were maintained by their own countrymen in North Africa, and even more so in Italy.

There was a period, in late 1941, when there were as many troops outside the Division as inside it, i.e., the Division was only half the total force. For the greater part of the war, however, for every three men in the Division there were two outside it, i.e., the Division was three-fifths of the force. The Expeditionary Force as a whole reached a maximum in late 1941 with some 36,000 all ranks; but for most of the war it was about 32,000. A total of 76,000 all ranks passed through the force in its six years overseas.

To deal properly with the subject of this volume it is necessary to record a certain amount of history. In Part I therefore (Chapters 1 to 6) there will be found a brief narrative of the events from 1939 to 1946, including references to many problems. Part II (Chapters 7 to 17) sets out and discusses our main problems in more detail. There is inevitably some small amount of duplication, in that problems are often mentioned in Part I and later analysed in Part II.

The last chapter (18) attempts to summarise our lessons or conclusions.

As few abbreviations are used as is possible. Some names occur so often that it would be waste of space to spell them out in full every time. Such are ‘Headquarters 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force’ which figures as HQ 2 NZEF, and ‘Headquarters 2nd New Zealand Division’ which figures as HQ 2 NZ Division or Divisional Headquarters. A word of explanation may be given at this early point about the use of ‘GHQ’, meaning ‘General Headquarters’. While we were in North Africa and Syria the supreme command was exercised by General Headquarters, Middle page 5 East Forces. In Italy the supreme command was exercised by General Headquarters, Central Mediterranean Force. The abbreviation ‘GHQ’ is used for whichever headquarters was controlling us at the time. If a differentiation is required, the abbreviations ‘MEF’ or ‘CMF’ are used in addition.

The word ‘British’ is confusing. It is not proposed here to attempt to analyse its exact meaning, which varies with the context. In some ways New Zealanders like to think of themselves as ‘British’ and of the Expeditionary Force as forming part of the ‘British’ forces; but on the other hand the term ‘the British Army’ has a meaning which implies troops from the United Kingdom only, or these troops together with colonial troops which are the financial responsibility of the United Kingdom. In the eyes of most foreigners, including Americans, the term ‘British’ implies someone from the United Kingdom. While in fact the term was seldom used in official parlance, it is employed in this volume partly as a measure of convenience to imply troops from the United Kingdom, or a headquarters staffed in the main with United Kingdom officers. The government of the country, however, is referred to as the United Kingdom Government, and not the British Government.

Throughout the volume the word ‘we’ is used repeatedly. Generally it means HQ 2 NZEF, from the standpoint of which the volume is written. Sometimes, however, it means New Zealanders as a body. It is hoped that the context will make it clear which meaning should be taken.

Lastly, it would be pointless to ignore the fact that the author was associated with HQ 2 NZEF throughout the war. It is hoped, however, that his personal views have been subordinated to the views of the force as a whole or to the realities of the situation.

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