Findings ways to survive : 24 (Auckland) Battalion and the experiential learning curve : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Philosophy in Defence and Strategic Studies at Massey University
For many years New Zealand's military historiography has been dogged by the myth New Zealanders were natural soldiers. James Belich believes that this myth had its origins in the Boer War, where Social Darwinism, attempts in New Zealand to forge a national identity, as well the British moral panic about the declining physical attributes of their fighting men, all collided and placed the New Zealand soldier up on a pedestal as an example of the moral fitness of New Zealand, and a validation of the notion that New Zealand was a 'Better Britain'.1 (James Belich, Paradise Reforged: A History of the New Zealanders from the 1880s to the
Year 2000, Auckland, Allen Lane Penguin Books, 2001, pp.97-98, 104-105. )
Despite the trauma experienced by thousands of New Zealanders who witnessed combat during the First and Second World Wars, the public refutation of this myth by high profile soldiers such as Major-General Howard Kippenberger, and attempts by historians to try and dispel this myth, it continues to be repeated and as recent as 2004 the television documentary programme, The Khaki All Blacks, was expounding this argument, whilst John Thomson's 2004 book Warrior Nation, promotes such a myth in a subtle form.2 (David Crerar and Steven Orsbourn, Khaki All Blacks, Auckland, Oxygen Television, 2004: John Thomson,
Warrior Nation: New Zealanders at the Front 1900-2000, Christchurch, Hazard Press, 2000.)
This thesis will address this myth by examining 24 (Auckland) Battalion's experiential learning curve: That is, how did 24 Battalion acquire military experience and knowledge, both from internal Battalion sources, as well as from external agencies and then disseminate that knowledge and experience to prepare for military operations? While it is difficult to quantify an intangible value such as 'experience', enough information can be derived from a number of sources that can give an overall picture of the patterns of experience and the changes of experience levels during three periods of 24 Battalion's life. These three case studies are the lead up to the Greek Campaign (February 1940 to February 1941), the Second Battle of El Alamein (September and October 1942) and finally, the Third Battle of Cassino (January and February 1944). These three periods assess how prepared the personnel of 24 Battalion were for upcoming operations and what preparations, both through formal process such as training, and informal processes like a buddy system, were utilised to overcome perceived deficiencies. Finally 24 Battalion's actions in the three subsequent periods of operations are then studied in detail so the question can be asked, what impact did experience and the acquisition of military knowledge have on 24 Battalion's primary infantry role?