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

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

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

20 January 1942

From Prime Minister for your Prime Minister:

I am most grateful to you for your telegram in reply to mine of 12 January [No. 117]. I fully realise how impossible it is for you to traverse at once and in detail the points that we have thought it desirable in complete frankness to raise, but there are, we feel, matters of substance in our comments which we trust will be considered in London and will in due course form the subject of a further consultation whether by telegram or otherwise.

I should like at once to remove what appears to be a misconception as to our reaction to the military appreciations we have received from time to time as to probable developments in this part of the world. The fact is that we have never been ‘misled’ by these appreciations which have, generally speaking, seemed to us to be more optimistic than the situation as we saw it warranted.

We are fully appreciative of the measures that are now being taken to provide us from both United Kingdom and American sources with the equipment that is necessary for the defence of New Zealand and of Fiji, but our needs are still great and urgent.1

I shall not in this telegram touch upon the division of this theatre of war into separate areas under separate commands or upon the vital necessity, as we see it, of concentrating our forces at the earliest possible moment to regain naval supremacy in the Pacific. I have no doubt that a further opportunity will arise for the discussion of these and the other points referred to in my telegram, and I propose now to set out our tentative views on your proposal for a consultative body in London.

We warmly welcome the object which the proposal is intended to serve, and particularly what we earnestly ask you to believe we regard page 136 as the inestimable advantage of your presence and chairmanship, and we will willingly pursue with you and the other Governments interested the possibilities involved in your proposal. Probably no perfect solution can be found of this most intricate and perplexing problem. But I am bound to say at once that we do not regard this proposal as meeting fully the point of view expressed in Part 2 of my telegram of 12 January. As it seems to us, such a consultative body should include not only, as you suggest, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, and the Netherlands, but all the powers at present actively associated in the conduct of the war against Japan, and particularly the United States of America. In this connection you will, of course, readily recognise the fact that the United States are now charged with the sole responsibility for the naval defence of the Pacific and Anzac areas, including, of course, this Dominion, and in view of this fact it seems to us to be quite essential—and I cannot too strongly impress upon you the firmness of our conviction in this sense—that some means must be found by which New Zealand can be brought at a conference table into direct touch with representatives of the United States and the other associated powers in the Pacific.

We assume (and would be glad of confirmation) that, as contemplated by you, the proposed body would have authority to deal not only with all major Pacific problems and with those questions raised by General Wavell in accordance with his directive, but also with any points that might arise from time to time in connection with the co-operation between the ABDA area and the Pacific area, or between the ABDA area and the Anzac area, or between the Anzac area and the Pacific area.

I should make it clear that, even after the establishment of the proposed body, we could not feel that we would be sufficiently in touch with affairs in the ABDA area unless, as we have already suggested, we can be afforded some means of permanent liaison with General Wavell's headquarters.

Let me say finally how fully we realise the necessity for quick decisions and of avoiding any unnecessary restrictions on the powers and authorities of General Wavell and the Commanders of the other areas.

In view of the similarities of circumstances between this Dominion and the Commonwealth of Australia, I should really be very much obliged if you would give me permission to forward your telegram and my reply for the personal and confidential information of Mr Curtin.