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

Operations in the South-East Asia Theatre

Operations in the South-East Asia Theatre

‘3. The present directive to the South-East Asia Command prescribed as a first task the protection of the air link to China and, so far as is possible, the support of the further construction of the Burma Road (which cannot be completely opened until 1946) and of the pipelines to Yunnan (which are also progressing slowly). In addition we have, of course, to defend the frontier of India. We are thus committed to a long-drawn-out struggle in jungles and swamps against an enemy who has superior lines of communication to those which we possess. The wastage from sickness and disease amounted during the campaign of 1944, up to 30 June alone, to 282,000, in addition to a loss in killed, wounded and missing of approximately 40,000. Clearly, therefore, we should make every effort to liquidate this highly undesirable commitment if it can, by any means, be done.

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‘4. Admiral Mountbatten has put forward two plans. The first plan (CHAMPION) is to continue to engage the Japanese in North Burma. This, in our opinion, will merely lead to a continuation of the present unsatisfactory state of affairs, and we feel bound to reject it.

‘5. The second plan (VANGUARD) put forward by Admiral Mount-batten is to capture Rangoon by an airborne operation, to be followed by the opening of the port of Rangoon and the maintenance of the expedition by sea. This plan is now rendered practicable by the large measure of air superiority which we enjoy in this theatre and by Japanese inability any longer to dispute our sea lines of communication to Rangoon.

‘6. The capture of Rangoon and Pegu (20 miles distant) will, at a stroke, sever the enemy's main lines of communication to the interior of Burma by road, river and rail. This will give us the opportunity of liquidating once and for all under the most favourable military conditions our commitments in Burma by the destruction of the Japanese forces.

‘7. Until such time as the Rangoon operation can be launched, it will be essential to contain the Japanese by offensive action south of Myitkyina.

‘8. The bulk of the necessary resources for Rangoon are already available, and we now ask the Combined Chiefs of Staff to agree to the above plan in principle, and that every effort should be made to provide from our combined resources the balance of the forces required. We propose that General Wedemeyer1 should proceed to Washington as soon as possible to expound the outline of the plan to the United State Chiefs of Staff and to provide them with any local information they may require.

‘9. We are now building up a strong fleet in the Bay of Bengal, the bulk of which, including our newest battleships, will not be required for the operations outlined above in the South-East Asia theatre. It is our desire, in accordance with His Majesty's Government's policy, that this fleet should play its full part at the earliest possible moment in the main operations against Japan wherever the greatest naval strength is required, and it is necessary that its strength should be built up as rapidly as possible. This fleet by mid-1945 could probably comprise 4 battleships of the King George V class, 6 fleet carriers, 4 light fleet carriers, 15 escort carriers, 20 cruisers, 40-50 fleet destroyers, 100 escorts and a considerable fleet train, the whole constituting a force which could make a valuable contribution in the crucial operations leading to the assault on Japan. This fleet, built up as fast as possible, would operate under United States command.

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‘10. If for any reason the United States Chiefs of Staff are unable to accept the support of a British fleet in the main operations (which is our distinct preference) we should be willing to discuss an alternative. The suggestion we would make in this event is the formation of a British Empire task force under a British commander, consisting of British, Australian and New Zealand land, sea and air forces, to operate in the South-West Pacific theatre under General MacArthur's supreme command. This alternative, if decided upon, would still enable the British Fleet to be well placed to reinforce the United States Pacific Fleet if this should later be desired.

‘11. We ask for an early expression of the views of the United States Chiefs of Staff on all the above proposals. The urgency is dictated by the need to work out as soon as possible the logistic problems involved, including the development of the necessary base facilities.’

The reactions of the United States Chiefs of Staff have not yet been received. This will let you see how matters stand at present.

1 Gen A. C. Wedemeyer, US Army; Deputy Chief of Staff to Admiral Mountbatten, South-East Asia Command, Oct 1943–Oct 1944; Commander US Forces in China and Chief of Staff to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, 1944–46.