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

88 — The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs1 to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

page 70

The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs1 to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

1 September 1940

The despatch of reinforcements in personnel and equipment to the various theatres outside the United Kingdom has been given active consideration here. During the first eight months of the war, the greater part of the Army's effort was devoted to building up the British Expeditionary Force in France, and since the evacuation from Dunkirk it has been necessary to allot most of the current armaments production to home defence. In consequence, the forces overseas have received very little reinforcing of men or of material since the outbreak of the war. The present position is that the French collapse has greatly increased the scale of the attack in the Middle East, and our interests in the Far East are also threatened by Japanese hostility. If the British Empire is to retain its position in these areas, substantial reinforcements of men and equipment must be despatched. The bulk of the equipment must be obtained from the United Kingdom.

We have still much to do before all requirements for the defence of the United Kingdom have been met, but the equipment of our forces here and the strength and organisation of our defences have already made considerable progress. Furthermore, as winter approaches, the practicability of an invasion will decrease because of weather conditions. It has therefore been decided to allocate from now onwards a considerably larger proportion of United Kingdom resources in men, and approximately 50 per cent of future production of equipment, to reinforcements for other theatres and to the provision of equipment for their garrisons and reserves. The corresponding slowing up in the completion of the defence arrangements of the United Kingdom will be accepted.

The Middle East is the theatre in which reinforcements are most urgently required, since there are indications that a large-scale offensive by the Italians will be launched when the weather is favourable for campaigning in this area (September to April). The urgent requirement is for additional armoured fighting vehicles and artillery (including anti-aircraft artillery). One army tank battalion, one cruiser tank regiment, and one light tank regiment have already been despatched by fast convoy, and a further convoy carrying artillery reinforcements will sail shortly. One division is being sent from India. The despatch of the balance of the 6th Australian

1 Rt. Hon. Viscount Caldecote.

page 71 and New Zealand Divisions from the United Kingdom to the Middle East will be arranged as soon as practicable.

Urgent steps are also being taken to provide the equipment required (including the equipment for the reinforcement of the Special Service units) in all items essential to enable them to fight, and to provide the necessary reserves of weapons and equipment. Although equipment will not be issued exclusively to each theatre in turn, military priority will be given to the Middle East. To meet the most urgent requirements in this theatre, 48 anti-tank guns, 20 Bofors anti-aircraft guns, 48 25-pounder guns, 500 Bren guns, 250 antitank rifles, with ammunition for all the above, 1,000,000 rounds of tracer small-arms ammunition, and 50,000 anti-tank mines have been recently despatched and a further large consignment will leave shortly. In addition, a separate allotment of weapons and equipment is being sent shortly to East Africa.

It has been proposed that the forces in Malaya should shortly be reinforced by one Australian division, and the defence of Fiji increased by a brigade group from New Zealand.1 Consideration is also being given to the provision from other sources of anti-aircraft artillery reinforcements. It is intended that the forces in the Far East should be equipped in all items essential to enable them to fight and to provide 180 days' reserve of all essential weapons and equipment as soon as possible.

Additional African infantry brigade groups are being raised in East Africa and West Africa for employment in these theatres. The detailed composition of the garrisons which will eventually be required is under consideration. Certain additional anti-aircraft batteries are required to reinforce the (Aden?) land garrison, and will be provided, together with thirty days' reserves, as soon as possible. In India the British garrison has been depleted by eight battalions since the outbreak of war. Replacements for these battalions will have to be sent from the United Kingdom as soon as they can be spared.

As far as the Air Force is concerned, the immediate essential requirement is not to despatch squadrons from the United Kingdom but to re-equip the existing squadrons overseas with first-class aircraft. This re-equipment will later be supplemented by the reinforcement of first-line strength squadrons. In the Middle East the first objective is to provide bomber aircraft capable of attacking Benghazi, the only effective base for operations against Egypt, and modern fighters to defend the Fleet base at Alexandria. Eighty-four Blenheim aircraft, which will re-equip five existing squadrons in the Middle East by the end of September, are being despatched.

1 8th New Zealand Brigade Group.

page 72 Wellington aircraft to equip one squadron and Hurricane aircraft to re-equip three squadrons will be sent out during the same period. In addition, commencing at the end of September, thirty-six long-range Blenheims and eighteen Hurricanes per month will be provided to replace wastage overseas generally. It is hoped also to provide two fighter squadrons and two general reconnaissance squadrons for Malaya by the end of 1940, but this must depend on the development of the situation in the United Kingdom and in the Middle East.

The above proposals also involve heavy shipping and naval escort problems, and these are receiving urgent consideration.