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

109 — The Governor-General of New Zealand to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs

page 87

The Governor-General of New Zealand to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs

1 April 1940

For the consideration of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, my Ministers desire me to represent their views on the question of the ocean escort which the Admiralty propose for the convoy conveying the Second Echelon of New Zealand troops.

They have read the message of 28 March (No. 108) from the Admiralty to the New Zealand Naval Board in reply to the latter's message of 20 March (No. 106), the first paragraph of which was sent by their direction. They learn from this that the Admiralty consider an escort of two 8-inch cruisers is sufficient in the existing circumstances, and that the escort arrangements would be modified if there should be any reason for doing so.

The Admiralty refer to your telegram of 15 February (No. 102) which mentioned that Their Lordships are responsible for the adequacy of ocean escorts. My Ministers appreciate this fact and they do not, of course, dispute Their Lordships' judgment in such matters, but they feel bound to point out that it is also their own responsibility to ensure that over 7000 New Zealand troops do not depart from this country unless and until they are fully satisfied that the voyage will be made in conditions providing a reasonable maximum of safety.

Having regard to the information conveyed to the Naval Board by the Admiralty in messages 1550 of 22 March, 1333 of 24 March, and 1131 of 28 March,1 which indicates at least a strong suspicion that a pocket battleship is at large, they cannot disguise their uneasiness at the prospect of the convoy being protected by only two warships, both of which are practically unarmoured. The Chief of the Naval Staff has explained to the Government the technical and strategical factors involved, including the safety which the speed of the convoy affords.

Nevertheless, the Government feel that there is an element of risk because an attack might well be made in circumstances highly unfavourable to the defence of the convoy, and they cannot dismiss from their minds the attraction which they imagine this particular convoy, so valuable in both men and ships, would have for the enemy. It may well be, they argue, that a pocket battleship has been sent out for this very purpose.

1 These naval telegrams are not published. They were to the effect that reports had been received that a pocket battleship accompanied by a tanker had left Germany in the first week of March for commercial raiding.

page 88

Having regard to these considerations, to which my Ministers attach much weight, His Majesty's Government in New Zealand propose that HMS Leander shall proceed the whole way with the convoy, thereafter being at the Admiralty's disposition as already arranged. (The Chief of the Naval Staff concurs.1) Their Lordships are aware that it was not considered desirable here for HMS Leander to leave the vicinity of New Zealand until HMS Achilles completes her refit, but the Naval Board report that the latter vessel can be at forty-eight hours' notice for sea by the middle of May, and HMS Hector2 will be available. They are of the opinion that a successful attack on the convoy would be more damaging to Imperial and New Zealand interests than one on New Zealand ports or shipping in New Zealand waters at that time, and they will feel more reassured if the convoy is escorted by two 8-inch cruisers and one 6-inch cruiser.

1 Commodore H. E. Horan, DSC, RN, First Naval Member of the New Zealand Naval Board and Chief of the Naval Staff. On 1 Jan 1940 Commodore Horan had relieved Captain J. W. Rivett-Carnac, DSC, RN, as Commodore Commanding New Zealand Squadron and Commanding Officer of HMS Leander. As from 1 May 1940 Captain Horan relinquished the rank of Commodore, Second Class, but remained in command of the Leander, and Captain W. E. Parry, CB, RN, assumed the rank of Commodore, Second Class, and took over from Captain Horan the duties of First Naval Member of the New Zealand Naval Board, Chief of the Naval Staff, and Commodore Commanding New Zealand Squadron, continuing in command of HMS Achilles.

2 HMS Hector, armed merchant cruiser, 11,198 tons, Ocean Steam Ship Company (A. Holt and Company); badly damaged by Japanese aircraft, Colombo, Mar 1942.