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

24 — The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the High Commissioner for the United Kingdom (Wellington)1

The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the High Commissioner for the United Kingdom (Wellington)1

8 September 1939

Your telegram of 4 September.2

The views of Defence authorities here on the forms of cooperation3 which would be most helpful are as follows:

NAVY: The following suggestions are based on the assumption that Japan will be neutral.

By placing HMS Achilles4 and two escort vessels under the orders of the Admiralty, His Majesty's Government in New Zealand have made the maximum possible strategic contribution at sea under the present circumstances, since HMS Leander5 requires to be retained on the station to guard against the threat of attack on shipping by armed raiders. Previous suggestion of maintenance of a third cruiser cannot be considered as an immediate requirement.

As regards naval personnel, we should like to avail ourselves of the following:


Trained naval reserves surplus to New Zealand requirements to be made available for the Royal Navy.


Officers recruited from civil life, either trained civil pilots for service in the Fleet Air Arm or yachtsmen or former Mercantile Marine officers suitable for Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Commissions.

1 Sir Harry Fagg Batterbee, GCMG, KCVO, High Commissioner for the United Kingdom in New Zealand, 1939–45.

2 Not published. In this telegram the High Commissioner stated that the New Zealand Government would be glad to receive as soon as possible the United Kingdom Government's suggestions on the form of New Zealand's co-operation; he also transmitted the views of the acting Prime Minister on the channel of communication.

3 See telegram from Governor-General of New Zealand to Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs of 4 Sep (No. 9) and reply (No. 10).

4 HMS Achilles, 6-inch cruiser, 7030 tons, subsequently to play an important part in the action against the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee off the River Plate, 13 Dec 1939. The Achilles had left New Zealand to join the West Indies Force on 29 Aug 1939.

5 HMS Leander, 6-inch cruiser, 7270 tons, badly damaged by a torpedo in night action off Kolombangara, 12–13 Jul 1943; she went to the United States for repairs and rearming and afterwards reverted to the Royal Navy.

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Telegraphists and signalmen, artificers, scientists (electrical and wireless telegraphy), and skilled electrical workmen recruited from civil life.

It would be appreciated if the New Zealand Government could furnish the approximate numbers of personnel likely to be available under the above categories and could indicate capacity for increasing numbers of trained personnel which will become available as the war progresses.

New Zealand to accept responsibility for fitting out and manning one armed merchant cruiser, the provision of a second ship being left for subsequent consideration.

New Zealand to undertake the equipping of the most suitable ships available as fast liners and defensively equipped merchant ships. There are equipments for four fast liners and forty-two defensively equipped merchant ships at Auckland.

New Zealand to consider the provision of gun-layers (defensively equipped merchant ships) as these cannot be provided from United Kingdom resources. Defensively equipped merchant ships' instructional staffs to be provided if possible from local sources at Auckland and at any other New Zealand port which His Majesty's Government in New Zealand consider desirable.

Consideration to be given to the building of whale-catchers and trawlers for local defence in private yards. (Requirements of trawlers are large but the extent cannot be estimated.)

ARMY: The measures already taken by New Zealand to guard the cable station at Fanning Island1 are much appreciated. As regards other measures, it is thought desirable to consider the position under alternative hypotheses:


that Japan is neutral and is adopting a friendly attitude towards the democratic countries;


that Japan is neutral and is adopting an attitude of reserve towards the democratic countries.

As regards (a), while we hope that the war will be of short duration, we must prepare for a long war which will call for the employment of all our resources. We therefore hope that New Zealand will be able to exert her full national effort, including the preparation of her forces with a view to the despatch of an expeditionary force.

We are committed to sending a military force to France, and its reinforcement by a New Zealand contingent would be very welcome

1 See Volume III. A force of two officers and 30 other ranks had embarked for Fanning Island in HMS Leander on 30 Aug 1939. This force was the first platoon of A Company, specially formed to garrison the island, the importance of which lay in its value as a cable station. Each of the company's three platoons served for six months on the island before being relieved by the next platoon for duty. In Apr 1942 the garrison was relieved by United States troops.

page 19 both to us and to the French. We might, however, become engaged in other theatres, and it is therefore not possible at present to suggest to New Zealand the destination and composition of any expeditionary force which she might think fit to provide. His Majesty's Government in New Zealand will no doubt consider whether they would prefer to relieve United Kingdom units in, for example, Singapore, Burma, and India, as and when brigades become available, or to delay the despatch of a smaller formation until a complete division could be made available for a main theatre of war.

Should individuals from New Zealand wish to come here to enlist in United Kingdom units it should be pointed out that our policy is to avoid a rush of volunteers, such as occurred in the early days of the last war, and to expand by means of a controlled intake. At present we cannot therefore accept volunteers for the infantry and artillery, but we should welcome at once technical personnel and particularly electricians, instrument mechanics, fitters, mechanics, and motor transport drivers. Officers with similar qualifications and medical officers would also be of great value.

Under hypothesis (b) we feel that it would be unwise for New Zealand to despatch an expeditionary force overseas, but New Zealand could assist by holding formations ready at short notice for the reinforcement of Singapore and Fiji or of British and French islands in the South-West Pacific.

AIR FORCE: The generous offer made by New Zealand in placing at our disposal personnel and aircraft in the United Kingdom,1 and the action already being taken by New Zealand under the agreed training scheme,2 which we much appreciate, meets our own requirements, and we would only suggest that these be pressed on with all possible speed. We will supply aircraft as soon as possible.

In order to speed up and expand the agreed organisation, we assume that the fullest possible use will be made of civil aviation resources.

1 On 26 Aug 1939 His Majesty's Government in New Zealand had offered to place at the disposal of the Royal Air Force the New Zealand Squadron personnel and aircraft at Marham and New Zealand Air Force personnel in the United Kingdom on interchange or attachment.

2 In a telegram on 4 Sep 1939 to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, the New Zealand Government had announced its intention of modifying the existing Air Force training scheme for war training purposes. The organisation would utilise to the full the aircraft in or expected in the Dominion within the next three months, but emphasis was placed on the necessity for the supply at the earliest possible date of obsolete aircraft from the Royal Air Force to enable the increased output of trained aircrews to be maintained.