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

236 — The High Commissioner for New Zealand (Canberra) to the Prime Minister

The High Commissioner for New Zealand (Canberra) to the Prime Minister

17 May 1943

Your telegrams of 15 May.2 I saw the Prime Minister at noon today, and the following is an aide-mémoire of the views he expressed, which he wrote himself, and which he has now transmitted to me for your, and my, personal knowledge only:

Basic strategy imposes upon Australia holding the Pacific until Hitler has been defeated. A holding war in the Pacific imposes prolonged attrition on Australia and New Zealand whose manpower resources, already strained, may well be exhausted before Hitler is defeated. Should this happen, the failure would be disastrous in that the strategy would collapse, and its collapse would be due to our failure to provide the role assigned to us.

Japan is building up and on sea, land, and air is wearying us daily. More recently the combined effects of Japanese air and submarine attacks have been greatly to weaken our mountings for limited offensives, which are integral to our holding role.

The Kenney-Sutherland mission3 was basically for greater air allocations. It is, however, clear that military and economic strength, plus transportation capacity, are integral to the effective use of air power. Therefore, the combined manpower of Australia and New Zealand is now deficient for all requirements in a lengthy holding of our Pacific bases.

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On the higher diplomatic plane the fact that New Zealand would use up its Pacific division to (maintain ?) its Middle East division at strength would always prejudice the joint submissions of Halsey and MacArthur1 for Pacific requirements, apart from the repercussion upon the Australian Government.

Finally, New Zealand was a party to the set-up in the Pacific and therefore, with Australia, obliged to agree to directives given MacArthur and Halsey. These directives require the use of our combined total resources as things are, and the total we have will be deficient if the strain is prolonged.

Malaria and tropical diseases in New Guinea and the Solomons cause heavy wastage in our forces. It could happen that a time would come when fighting and disease combined would compel Australia to ask for land forces to keep positions vital to holding.

This raises the question of whose forces should be sought. It is, in fact, desirable that the Union Jack should fly here as the standard of British interest in the Pacific. This presents serious physical problems, probably not surmountable, and makes all the more desirable joint Dominion forces as preferable to those of a foreign ally.

The Prime Minister obviously felt strongly on this matter as indicated by incidental remarks during the discussion, for example: ‘that is precisely the line that Churchill and Roosevelt took with me, and if I had listened to them we would have lost New Guinea,’ and ‘it is tough that we should be asked to supply munitions to New Zealand while New Zealand troops are still in the Middle East.’ While he reiterated that the decision must be entirely that of the New Zealand Government, and while he fully understood our perplexities, his opinion was unquestionably clear that all New Zealand troops should be available for the Pacific, a conclusion with which, on the balance narrowly, but definitely, I myself agree.

3 General George C. Kenney, Commander Allied Air Forces in South-West Pacific, and Lieutenant-General Richard K. Sutherland, Chief of Staff to General MacArthur, 1939–45.

1 General of the Army Douglas MacArthur; Commander-in-Chief United States Forces in the Philippines, 1941–42; Supreme Commander Allied Forces, South-West Pacific Area, 1942–45; C-in-C Far East and Supreme Commander for Allied Powers in Japan, 1945–51; Commander-in-Chief, United Nations Forces in Korea, 1950–51.