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

73 — The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

30 November 1941

Circular telegram. My telegram of 29 November [No. 72].

1. There are important indications that Japan is about to attack Thailand and that this attack will include a seaborne expedition to seize strategical points in the Kra Isthmus.

2. The Royal Air Force are reconnoitring on an arc 180 miles from Kota Bharu for three days commencing 29 November, and the Commander-in-Chief Far East has requested the Commander-in-Chief United States Asiatic Fleet1 at Manila to undertake air reconnaissance on the line Manila - Camranh [group mutilated – if possible?] on the same days. The Commander-in-Chief Far East has asked for permission to move into the Kra Isthmus if reconnaissance establishes the fact that escorted Japanese ships are approaching the isthmus, and he is pressing for an immediate decision on this point. Time is the essence of this plan, particularly at this season of the year when the Kra Isthmus is waterlogged. Consequently great tactical advantage lies with the side which gets there first.

3. Our military advisers fear the operation might lead to a clash which might involve us in war, and they have always emphasised that, unless our vital interests were immediately threatened, this should be avoided so long as we have no certainty of United States support. In view [group mutilated – however?] of the United States Government's constitutional difficulties, any prior guarantee of such support is most unlikely.

4. In these circumstances His Majesty's Ambassador at Washington has been instructed to explain the position at once to the United States Government and to take the following line. To allow the Japanese to establish themselves so near the Malay frontier would be an [group mutilated – obvious?] threat to Singapore, even though at the present season it might not develop at once. We have also to bear in mind the page 82 encouragement which the Japanese success would give their extremists. The Japanese appetite would inevitably grow, and other Far Eastern peoples would be correspondingly depressed. It looks therefore as though, to ensure the defence of Singapore and for wider reasons, we might have to take the proposed action to forestall the Japanese.

5. Lord Halifax is to ask for an urgent expression of the United States Government's views and has been reminded of the importance of ensuring ourselves of United States support in the event of hostilities.

6. We should be grateful for your views by most immediate telegram.

1 Admiral T. C. Hart, USN; Commander-in-Chief Asiatic Fleet, Jul 1939 – Jun 1942; commanded Allied Naval Forces, ABDA Area, Jan – Feb 1942