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

124 — The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

9 February 1942

Your telegram of 7 February.

Although not their fully trained divisions, the American troops brought to Britain have set free a larger number of mature British divisions for service in the Middle East and the Far East The mere sending of a few American divisions to Suez, Basra, or the Dutch East Indies would hardly justify the opening of a new front with a new power, different weapons, and independent rearward services. This may come, but not yet.

page 94

In the meantime only one thing keeps British divisions in this island, namely the shortage of troop-carrying tonnage. The use of shipping on the short haul from the United States to Britain is not comparable with the round-the-Cape voyage to the East. Are you aware that every month for more than a year past we have sent the equivalent of one New Zealand division from here to the Middle East? The great bulk of this is for upkeep. I was so hard pressed for tonnage to send some new divisional formations to the Middle East that six months ago I begged from President Roosevelt the use of some of his fast transports. Today, but for this, the 18th Division would not be at Singapore, and much may turn on that.1 Every effort is being made to find the additional shipping over and above the monthly upkeep to send divisions out of this country. The limiting factor is not, and has not for many months been, the safety of the United Kingdom, but rather the difficulty of moving by sea at the speeds necessary for troop convoys, and with the proper escorts, the monthly quotas which have frequently exceeded 35,000 men. Do not allow anyone therefore to reproach the Mother Country with an undue regard for her own security.

The necessity to use the New Zealand Division again so soon grieves me, and the fact proves the emergency. I am, of course, disappointed with what has happened on the Desert front, but I have confidence in Auchinleck. I believe he has not yet shot his bolt and the enemy's position seems highly delicate. We must abide the issue of the event with fortitude.

Now that war with Japan has broken out upon us I am most anxious to work all New Zealand and Australian troops back into the Japanese theatre, but this again depends entirely upon shipping. Night and day we work to find more tonnage: all is continually filled. January's losses in American waters and in the Far East have exceeded the three preceding months combined. The big tide of American shipbuilding has only just begun to flow.

Your consent to the renewed engagement of your Division is keenly appreciated. I wish there were time to exchange them with the 5th Indian Division in Cyprus or with the remaining bulk of the British 50th Division in Syria and Iraq, but evidently the crisis is coming too quickly for that. Hard times are the test and New Zealand has never failed.

Every good wish.

1 Singapore fell on 15 Feb 1942.