NZ Army Territorial Force 5/7 Bn Amalgamation Ceremonial Parade

Twenty Lashes in 45 Years

Part 4 of a multi-part post on New Zealand’s Reserve Force. In the first three articles, I have looked at Reserve Force numbers over recent years, the need to overhaul employment protection legislation and the sorry state of the Defence Employer Support Council. Many might be asking the question “How did things get to this point?”

The situation is not new but finds its roots in a succession of decisions made by politicians and Defence commanders – particularly since the termination of balloted National Service by Kirk’s Third Labour Government in 1972/73. I thought it worthwhile to summarise these for the readers unfamiliar with the history of the Reserves. In doing so, I would add that much of this organisational turbulence has been to do with the Army and its Territorials rather than the Navy and Air Force equivalents. However, those services have similar challenges to sort out with their Reserves.

Here’s what the NZ Army numbers look like from the end of National Service. Hat Tip to Peter Cooke and John Crawford for the excellent work in their 2011 book “The Territorials.” Numbers since 2010 are shown in Part 1.

NZ Army Numbers in the Modern Era - 1973-2010 Cook and Crawford 2011
NZ Army Numbers in the Modern Era – 1973-2010 Cooke and Crawford 2011

1 April 1973 – the day that National Service formally ended and on which the Territorial Force Volunteer (TFV) scheme started. Numbers dropped from 11,400 to 3155. Numbers might have collapsed completely had the Government not announced the introduction of military leave for the public sector on 22 December 1972. Despite this, the Defence chiefs were determined to save the TF as it had been the major part of the Army. They introduced a range of allowances and other innovations to entice people to stay and others to join including relaxed hair regulations and training with units without having to attend basic and corps training first. Numbers slowly rose.

1977 – The TF establishment had remained at its Divisional setting of 11,000 although the actual strength was only around 6,000. Here we see the first example of ‘cutting your cloth to fit’ thinking. The TF manpower ceiling was reduced to 7,000.

1978 – The Defence Review gave the TF a wider societal role and an infantry focus. Task Force Regions replaced Brigades and TF Brigadiers handed over command to RF Colonels.

1981 – Pressure on the defence budget saw a reduction in the amount of elective training for TF and a 10% reduction in fuel.

1983 – The end of TF units or sub units being deployable came with the introduction of the concept of a Ready Reaction Force (RRF) based on the RF infantry battalions (1 RNZIR and 2/1 RNZIR) and an Integrated Expansion Force (IEF) based on the TF who would produce a follow-on composite Battalion 3/1 RNZIR. (As an aside, I was one of only a handful of officers who deployed on exercises as CO 3/1 – to a CPX in Singapore in 1998).

1987 – Another Defence Review. More importantly, this triggered the Strategos (Quigley) Report released in March 1989 which called into question the value of the TF.

1991 – Recruitment suspended for 2 years (This caused a ‘bubble’ through the ranks for a decade or more). 86th recruit intake cancelled. Annual Camps shortened from 14 days to 10. TF numbers capped at 4,800.

1996 – The late Maj Gen Piers Reid, then Chief of the General Staff (CGS), introduced the Army ‘Rebalance’. This saw a 10% cut in funding and activities across the board for the TF. All recruiting was centralised and limits were placed on critical items like ammunition.

1997/98 – Another Defence White Paper led to CGS Maj Gen Maurice Dodson introducing TF Regionalisation. This meant that all non-infantry TF elements were subsumed into the nearest TF infantry battalion where they lived. TF Battalion Groups, as they were called, were allocated specialist roles such as engineers or artillery. RF units were to provide Centres of Excellence for these specialisations. My unit, 5 (Wellington West Coast and Taranaki) Bn Gp was assigned engineering as a specialist role. There were over 100 TF sappers in 2nd Engineer Regiment at Linton and 6 Independent Field Squadron at Petone. Despite best efforts, only about 30 stayed on. The standard response? “I didn’t join to be infantry”.

1999 – East Timor crisis unfolded and the TF stepped up. Hundreds deployed as part of the six battalions that operated in East Timor. Subsequent deployments included Bougainville and Solomon Islands as well as UN and other observer roles that the RF couldn’t fulfill due to the Afghanistan commitment. Many filled roles in NZ to allow RF to deploy. They came back to find they were expected to go back to basic skills training. Turnover surged to around 30%.

2002 – The full effects, particularly of TF regionalisation, had now been felt and TF numbers had dropped to 2015.

2005 – Defence Sustainability Initiative. This was, in theory, a ten-year ‘pause’ to rebuild after an extended period of operations. It didn’t work.

2006-2010 – Defence Transformation Programme including the release of Defence Force Order (DFO) 24/2007 setting out a strategic direction for the Reserves. A good idea but much of it failed in its implementation.

2008 – First formal discussions about non-infantry TF elements de-regionalised and placed back under command of their RF colleagues with TF infantry units reverting to battalion status.

2009 – Reserves Transformation Plan – started in 2007 – mooted the merging of the six battalions into three.

2010 – Defence White paper and a Treasury initiated “Value for Money” Review. The latter completed the destruction of the value of the Reserves started by the cost accounting mentality of the Quigley Report.

2012 – Six TF Bns merged into three.

2013 – Three new merged TF Bns given non-operational status under Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC).

2016 – Director General Reserves (TF Brigadier) post disestablished and the duties handed to a RF Colonel.

2018/9 – TF Bns to be placed under command of 1 (NZ) Brigade

The net result? About 1,067 Army Reservists still actively training and 263 Navy and Air Force equivalents. This is a result of poor governance from the top of the political pyramid over decades and should be a source of national shame. Be patient. I’m coming to the solutions in subsequent posts.

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