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

24 — The acting Prime Minister of New Zealand1 to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs2

page 34

The acting Prime Minister of New Zealand1 to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs2

21 May 1941

His Majesty's Government in New Zealand are in general agreement with the recommendations of the British–United States conversations contained in the report ABC–1.3 They appreciate the reasons which necessitated deferring to United States views regarding the strategical situation in the Far East, and particularly the reinforcement of Singapore by capital ships. At the same time they hope that every possible step would be taken to expedite the arrival of the main fleet at Singapore, and that possibly the move of certain United States capital ships from the Pacific to the Atlantic, which was visualised in telegram No. 190 dated 10 May from the Secretary of State,4 may help to achieve this.

2. His Majesty's Government in New Zealand are also in general agreement with the recommendations of the ADB and BD5 reports, particularly those for the general strategical direction of the naval and air forces in the Eastern theatre. They would, however, point out that paragraph 41 of ADB states that it is essential to maintain the United States Pacific Fleet in strength at least equal to the Japanese Fleet. This is not in accordance with the views of the Admiralty as expressed in your telegram No. 190 of 10 May, which states that the United States Pacific Fleet could achieve its object with a capital ship strength of not less than six vessels. They would be glad of a further expression of the opinion of the United Kingdom Government on this question.

1 Hon. W. Nash. Mr Fraser had left New Zealand on 3 May on a visit to the Middle East, the United Kingdom and the United States. He returned to New Zealand on 13 September.

2 This message was repeated to the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia, the Commander-in-Chief Far East, and the British Ambassador, Cairo, for Mr Fraser.

3 British and American staff talks began in Washington towards the end of January 1941 and concluded on 27 March. As a result a plan was produced known as ABC–1. Its main point was that in the event of Anglo-American involvement in war with Germany and Japan, the concentration of force should be on Germany first. In the Far East the strategy of both powers was to be defensive, but the United States Pacific Fleet was to be used offensively to weaken Japan's economic power and to divert her strength away from the south-west Pacific.

4 Not published. The United States and British view was that the transfer of part of the United States fleet from the Pacific to the Atlantic would be more likely to deter the Japanese from going to war than the maintenance of a ‘very large’ United States fleet at Hawaii. The New Zealand Government on 6 May expressed its doubts as to the wisdom of the proposed transfer of capital ships from the Pacific. In the event, three battleships, four cruisers, one aircraft carrier and nineteen destroyers were transferred to the Atlantic in May and June 1941.

5 Meetings between American, Dutch and British service representatives, and between the British and Dutch, took place at Singapore during April 1941.

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3. With reference to paragraph 421 of ADB, action is being taken by the Chief of the Naval Staff2 through the United States Naval Observer in New Zealand to ascertain the intentions of the Commander-in-Chief United States Pacific Fleet in so far as they affect New Zealand and Australia, with a view to initiating plans for direct co-operation of naval and air forces.

1 Paragraph 42 defined the responsibility of the United States Pacific Fleet.

2 Admiral Sir Edward Parry, KCB, RN (then Commodore Parry); Chief of New Zealand Naval Staff, May 1940–Jun 1942.