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

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

page 113

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

29 December 1941

My immediately preceding telegram. Text of agreement:


That unity of command shall be established in the South-West Pacific. Boundaries are not yet finally settled, but presume they would include the Malay Peninsula, including Burma, to the Philippine Islands, and southwards to necessary supply bases, principally Port Darwin, and supply line in Northern Australia.


That General Wavell should be appointed Commander-in-Chief, or if preferred, Supreme Commander, of all United States, British, Empire and Dutch forces of land, sea, and air who may be assigned by the Governments concerned to that theatre.


General Wavell, whose headquarters should in the first instance be established at Sourabaya, would have an American officer as Deputy Commander-in-Chief. It seems probable that General Brett1 would be chosen.


That American, British, Australian and Dutch naval forces in the ‘theatre’ should be placed under the command of an American Admiral, in accordance with the general principle set forth in paragraphs (a) and (b).


It is intended that General Wavell should have a staff in the South Pacific portion, as Foch's2 High Control Staff was to the great [group mutilated–General?] Staffs of the British and French armies in France.3 He would receive his orders from an appropriate joint body, who will be responsible to me as Minister of Defence and to the President of the United States, who is also Commander-in-Chief of all United States forces.


Principal commanders comprised in General Wavell's sphere will be Commander-in-Chief Burma, Commander-in-Chief Singapore and Malaya, Commander-in-Chief Netherlands East Indies, Commander-in-Chief Philippines, and Commander-in-Chief of Southern Communications, via South Pacific and North Australia.

1 Lt-Gen George H. Brett; appointed Deputy Supreme Commander, South-West Pacific Area, Jan 1942; appointed Commander of all United States troops in Australia, Mar 1942; Commander-in-Chief Allied Air Forces in Australia, 1942.

2 Marshal Foch was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Armies in France in April 1918.

3 In the draft manuscript of the British official history, Grand Strategy, Vol. III, Chap. 16, this sentence reads: ‘It is intended that General Wavell should have a staff in the same sort of proportion as Foch's High Control Staff was to the great Staffs of the British and French armies in France.’

page 114

India, for which an acting Commander-in-Chief will have to be appointed, and Australia, who will have their own Commander-in-Chief, will be outside General Wavell's sphere, except as above mentioned, and are the two great bases through which men and material from Great Britain and the Middle East on the one hand and the United States on the other can be moved into the fighting zone.


The United States Navy will remain responsible for the whole Pacific Ocean east of the Philippine Islands and Australasia, including United States approaches to Australasia.1


A letter of instruction is being drafted for the Supreme Commander safeguarding the necessary residuary interests of the various Governments involved and prescribing in major outline his tasks.

1 Rapid changes in the Far Eastern situation during the next fortnight resulted in modifications in this proposed organisation. Headquarters of the Supreme Commander ABDA area were set up near Bandoeng on 10 Jan 1942, on the arrival of General Wavell from Singapore, and he took over the command (with the exception of the Philippine Islands) on 15 January. Major-General Brett was appointed Deputy Supreme Commander. On 22 February (six days before the Japanese invaded Java) General Wavell discussed with the Governor-General of the Netherlands East Indies a proposal that Headquarters of the ABDA area should be dissolved. The Chiefs of Staff concurred and the headquarters accordingly closed down on 25 February, when command was handed over to the Dutch.