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

72 — Supplementary Report by the Rt. Hon. P. Fraser on Arrangements for the Escort of the First Echelon

Supplementary Report by the Rt. Hon. P. Fraser on Arrangements for the Escort of the First Echelon

5 October 1948

During my visit to London in 1939 the question of the naval escort for the ships conveying our First Echelon to the Middle East was discussed with the Admiralty. The matter had also been the subject of cable discussion with the Naval Board in Australia.

A Captain came from the Lords of the Admiralty to see me at the Savoy Hotel, London. He expressed the Admiralty's regrets that a more senior officer was not available to convey the message. I replied that I did not attach any importance to the rank of the officer conveying the message but was very much concerned about the nature of the message itself. He stated that a cruiser could not be sent from Australia and that the Leander would be the only naval vessel to escort the First Echelon across the Tasman Sea to Australia, where they would join with the ships carrying the first Australian forces also bound for the Middle East. In Australia a stronger naval escort consisting of several cruisers would be waiting.

In reply I requested the officer to convey my compliments to the Admiralty and to inform the Sea Lords and all concerned that the ships conveying our First Echelon would not sail from New Zealand unless more adequate naval protection was provided.

Some days later, in acceptance of an invitation from Mr. Churchill, who was then First Lord, I waited on him at the Admiralty. I met Mr. Churchill for the first time on this occasion having been unable page 61 for various reasons to accept previous invitations from him to dinner and luncheon. On my being shown into the room by Captain Tennant (later Admiral Tennant)1 Mr Churchill, after shaking hands, immediately informed me that His Majesty's Ship Canberra would go to New Zealand to escort our First Echelon, as well as the Leander. I thanked him very cordially for this decision and then stated that I thought he and the Admiralty could do better still.

I explained that a battleship had never visited New Zealand and that it was a splendid and, indeed, a unique opportunity to strengthen New Zealand's war effort, intensifying the already high morale of the New Zealand people, by sending a battleship to accompany our troops. Mr. Churchill immediately agreed that it was a splendid suggestion and made a note upon an envelope which was lying conveniently near and said it would be done.

As a result, some weeks later the Ramillies, under the command of Captain Baillie-Grohman (now Admiral Baillie-Grohman)2 entered Wellington Harbour with a banner flying on which were the words ‘Well done Achilles’ in honour of the part played by the Achilles, under the command of Captain Parry (now Admiral Parry),3 in the Battle of the River Plate.

1 Admiral Sir William George Tennant, KCB, CBE, MVO. Senior Naval Officer, Dunkirk, during the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force, May–Jun 1940; appointed Commanding Officer HMS Repulse 18 Jun 1940 and served on her till she was sunk in company with HMS Prince of Wales off Malay Peninsula, 10 Dec 1941; as Rear-Admiral, 4th Cruiser Squadron, was in charge of naval operations covering occupation of Madagascar, Sep 1942; appointed Flag Officer, Levant and Eastern Mediterranean, 5 Nov 1944; Commander-in-Chief America and West Indies Station, 1946-49.

2 Vice-Admiral H. T. Baillie-Grohman, CB, DSO, OBE. Commanding Officer HMS Ramillies from 5 Jan 1939 to Jan 1941; during evacuation from Greece, Apr 1941, served as Flag Officer attached Middle East at Army Headquarters; appointed to HMS Nile (Alexandria) for special service on staff of Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean; appointed to HMS Badger (parent ship, Harwich) in command of Base, 1 Mar 1944; Flag Officer in Command, Kiel, 8 May 1945.

3 Vice-Admiral W. E. Parry, CB. Commanding Officer HMS Achilles 27 Jan 1939 to 15 Oct 1940; Chief of the New Zealand Naval Staff, First Naval Member of the New Zealand Naval Board and Commodore Commanding New Zealand Squadron 1 May – 15 Oct 1940; relinquished command of the Achilles and post as Commodore Commanding New Zealand Squadron on 15 Oct 1940, but retained Commodore's rank as Chief of Naval Staff and First Naval Member till 30 Jun 1942, when he returned to England; appointed Commanding Officer HMS Renown 2 Jan 1943; commanded Naval Force ‘L’ (Follow-up) of Eastern Task Force covering British landing operations on Normandy beaches on 6 Jun 1944; Director of Naval Intelligence, Admiralty, Jul 1946 – May 1948; promoted Vice-Admiral, 4 Jan 1948; appointed Commander-in-Chief and Chief of Naval Staff, Royal Indian Navy, Jul 1948.