Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume III
general strategic situation
general strategic situation
4. War Cabinet will wish, amongst other considerations, to assess the risks to New Zealand that may be involved through the despatch of forces overseas. While this is not easy and there can be no certainty in any conclusions that may be reached in the matter, the general appreciation in the following paragraphs may be of some assistance in forming an opinion on the problem.
5. War Cabinet will recall that the New Zealand Chiefs of Staff, on the outbreak of war with Japan, expressed the opinion that until Singapore fell and until the United States naval forces suffered a major defeat, invasion of New Zealand was most improbable, and they stated that in their opinion six months must elapse before there could be any danger of invasion of New Zealand. On 30 December, the unexpectedly rapid progress of the Japanese attack in Malaya caused the Chiefs of Staff to reduce the period to three months from 30 December. They still regarded invasion of New Zealand as improbable and still held that a major defeat of the United States fleet was an essential condition. But as such a defeat could conceivably occur in a matter of hours, it then became a question as to how long it would take Japan to capture Singapore and also to prepare an expedition of the size required for invasion of New Zealand, and the estimate of three months was arrived at.
6. I see no reason to alter the opinion as outlined in paragraph 5. On 30 December last, no useful opinion could be given as to the efficiency of the United States forces nor could it be seen whether United States strategy in the Pacific would be offensive or defensive. This situation has been clarified considerably and both by actions and words the United States have given very definite indications that page 358 their strategy is offensive. This has led to considerable United States land and air forces being concentrated in Australia and the Pacific Islands, to strong naval concentrations in the Pacific, and to operations in the Coral Sea, and at Midway Island and the Aleutians, which have weakened the Japanese forces vis-à-vis the Allies. The Allied concentrations in the Pacific and the improved preparations of Australia and New Zealand have also made it possible for the various forces mutually to support each other in case of attack.
7. In other respects the situation has improved in favour of the Allies. There is no doubt that Japan was thoroughly prepared for the war while the United States, Australia and New Zealand were far from ready. The period of preparation since 7 December has resulted in a vast improvement in the strength of the Allied forces—in training, equipment, and preparation of overseas and home bases including aerodromes, coast and other defences, and naval facilities. It is true that during that period Japan has also strengthened her forces somewhat, while strategically it may be said that by her conquests she has placed herself in favourable positions to imperil China, India, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. This is only true to the extent that Japan is able not only to hold her conquests but also to develop strong offensives from them. The former depends upon her ability to maintain at least parity with Allied naval and air forces, especially, so far as we primarily are concerned, in the southern and eastern limits of her southward advance. The latter—development of strong offensive—also depends upon naval and air strength but for offensives she requires not parity but considerable superiority. Her ability to stage an offensive against New Zealand will also depend, and perhaps primarily, upon her strategical intentions elsewhere—such as operations against Russia, China, India, and/or Australia—and upon her estimate of the danger of attack on Japan itself, and also upon the necessity in her own interests of doing all she can to prevent the defeat of Axis powers, an event which would be catastrophic to her.
8. Japan must consider that while she is in a position to imperil the Allies, the Allies are in a favourable position to imperil much that she has conquered. From morale and economic points of view she cannot view without concern the prospect of losing any of her conquests and she must make every effort to retain them. While she will do this to some extent by strengthening her defences everywhere, her history, temperament, and the inherent disadvantages of defensive strategy all make it highly probable that she will meet the situation by a vigorous offensive at the earliest possible date. Until United States naval power is seriously diminished it is difficult to see how she could attempt operations which would give Allied naval and page 359 air forces a favourable opportunity of dealing what might well be a decisive blow.
9. It therefore seems highly probable that Japan will confine her operations to those areas where she can hope to attain air superiority by the assistance of shore-based aircraft. These operations would be designed to secure the safety of her conquered territories and also to tempt the Allies into naval operations in areas where Japan would have every possible advantage.
10. Areas which fulfil these conditions are New Guinea, and the chain of islands leading east and south-east towards New Caledonia. Operations further afield and beyond the cover of shore-based aircraft are not I think precluded, provided they do not involve large and vulnerable forces nor take so much time as would enable strong Allied forces to interfere before they are completed. Thus if the Japanese were firmly established in the New Hebrides, New Caledonia might well be attempted, but I doubt whether Fiji is now in much danger of invasion. The tip of York Peninsula and Port Darwin are distinct possibilities, the former after Port Moresby is taken and the latter perhaps coinciding with an attack on Port Moresby.
11. I cannot conceive any probability of an invasion of New Zealand at this stage. The major defeat of Allied naval forces and the capture of New Caledonia, and I think Fiji also, are in my opinion necessary before the invasion danger becomes real. In the meantime I would expect submarine attacks on our shipping both off the coast and in our harbours, submarine shelling of our coastal towns, and possible reconnaissance aircraft accompanied by perhaps a little bombing, for the purpose of destroying ships and of causing such alarm as to prevent our forces leaving New Zealand. I am surprised that such enterprises have not already been attempted.
12. Allied interests would appear to be best served by strongly holding New Guinea and clearing the enemy therefrom and developing a powerful and rapid offensive against the enemy occupied islands to the east and south-east. This latter operation is of particular interest to New Zealand as if successful it would considerably increase the security of New Caledonia and Fiji and in consequence the security of New Zealand.
13. I therefore come to the conclusion that the best course to pursue in furthering the security of New Zealand is to participate to the fullest extent in offensive operations against the Japanese, and at the same time leave nothing undone to strengthen the forces for home defence. This latter remains of prime importance because (i) as has already been suggested, our principal protection against invasion—the Allied naval forces—could conceivably be removed in a matter of hours, thus creating a most urgent Home Defence problem and page 360 (ii) the stronger our Home Defence forces the better the position we will be in to go to the support of our forward forces should that prove to be necessary. The strengthening of the New Zealand air forces and the completion of naval defences remain as always of very great importance.
14. Provided therefore that urgent measures be taken to bring our forces up to establishment and that the operations proposed by the United States are deemed reasonable in character and are on a scale and in a direction which it is anticipated will, if successful, reduce the danger to New Zealand (as discussed in paragraph 10) I am of opinion that War Cabinet would be justified in accepting such risks to New Zealand as may be involved in the despatch of Force ‘D’.1
(Sgd) E. Puttick,
commanding new zealand military forces
1 On 6 August War Cabinet 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.’ On 11 August it approved the appointment of Maj-Gen H. E. Barrowclough, DSO, MC, as its commander. In November the designation of the force was changed from 3rd NZ Division to 2nd NZEF in Pacific and General Barrowclough's appointment changed from Commander 3rd NZ Division to GOC 2nd NZEF in Pacific.