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Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume III

113 — The Prime Minister of New Zealand to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs2

The Prime Minister of New Zealand to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs2

30 December 1941

Your telegrams of 29 December [Nos. 111 and 112].

Following for your Prime Minister:

His Majesty's Government in New Zealand are in cordial agreement with the proposal to appoint General Wavell, in whose capacity they have every confidence and for whose character and standing they have the highest regard, to the supreme command of that portion of the Pacific to which the proposed arrangement relates.

2. In the opinion of His Majesty's Government in New Zealand the proposals do not go far enough. The defeat of Japan is essentially a question of sea power. Our object must be to regain that command of the Western Pacific Ocean which is now completely in Japanese hands. Once we can cut the Japanese sea communications, we shall regain any possessions which we have lost and can ensure the defeat of Japan by economic pressure as well as by military means. To attain this object the New Zealand Government feel that it is essential that all naval forces in the Pacific Ocean, including the United States page 115 Pacific Fleet and the British Eastern Fleet, should be under one unified command, which might well be exercised by an American Admiral working in the closest possible co-operation with General Wavell.

3. Until the above policy can be implemented, His Majesty's Government in New Zealand are willing to concur with the proposals in general. At the same time, they are not without doubt on certain aspects on which they have made the assumptions set out below. They would be glad to have confirmation of these assumptions or further information.


It is assumed that General Pownall1 now becomes ‘Commander-in-Chief Singapore and Malaya’, and that the Commander-in-Chief Eastern Fleet is to be superseded by the ‘American Admiral’ referred to in paragraph (d), who is to be subordinate to General Wavell.


It is noted that naval command in the area ‘east of the Philippines and Australasia’ is to be American. They presume that the ambiguous term ‘Australasia’ is intended to include New Zealand, and that the line of demarcation is intended to follow the line of the ABC–1 Report.2 If this is so it appears that New Zealand must be dependent upon the joint resources of the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal New Zealand Navy for naval defence within this area, and that the land and air defence of Fiji will remain a New Zealand commitment. His Majesty's Government in New Zealand are particularly concerned that this point should be clarified, and that a definition should also be given of naval responsibility for the protection of the line New HebridesFijiTonga, which is at present apparently protected only by an inadequate air patrol operating from Fiji and such small naval forces as can be made available from Australia and New Zealand.3


It is assumed from paragraph (f) that General Wavell's authority is to include lines of communication from America to the area in question, and the New Zealand Government are not without doubt as to whether this would give him authority over Fiji, which is one of the essential bases for these lines of communication. They would raise no objection page 116 if this is the proposal, but they would call attention to the paramount importance of sea power to the safety of Fiji, which would appear to depend upon the American Fleet at least until Fiji is powerfully reinforced.


No reference is made in paragraph (d) to New Zealand naval forces. It is presumed that they are intended to be included.

4. His Majesty's Government in New Zealand have two further observavations to offer:


While they fully realise the necessity in time of war of making very urgent decisions, they feel that it will be realised in London and in Washington that the short time at their disposal may not have given them adequate opportunity to study the proposals with the care that they require, and that further observations may become necessary after further study.


If General Wavell's proposed command impinges directly or indirectly upon the defence of New Zealand or Fiji they would wish to institute from the outset some form of direct liaison between them and the General, perhaps by representation on the joint staff referred to in paragraph (e), and they would also wish to be represented on the ‘appropriate joint body’ also referred to in paragraph (e), as to the constitution of which they would be glad of further information.

2 Repeated to the Prime Minister of Australia.

1 Lt-Gen Sir Henry Pownall, KCB, KBE, DSO, MC; Commander-in-Chief Far East, Dec 1941 – Jan 1942; Chief of Staff ABDA Command, Jan – Feb 1942; GOC Ceylon, Mar 1942 – Mar 1943; Chief of Staff to Supreme Allied Commander, South-East Asia, 1943–44.