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

4 January 1942

4 January 1942

My telegram of 29 December [No. 112]. The following is the directive sent to General Wavell:1

‘By agreement among the Governments of Australia, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States, hereinafter referred to as the ABDA Governments—

‘1. Area: A strategic area has been constituted, to comprise initially all land and sea areas including the general regions of BurmaMalayaNetherlands East Indies and the Philippine Islands: more precisely defined in Annex 1. This area will be known as the ABDA area.

page 117

‘2. Forces: You have been designated as Supreme Commander of the ABDA area and of all armed forces, afloat, ashore and in the air, of the ABDA Governments, which are or will be:


stationed in the area;


located in Australian territory when such forces have been allotted by the respective Governments for service in or in support of the ABDA area.

You are not authorised to transfer from the territories of any ABDA Government land forces of that Government without the consent of the local Commander or his Government.

‘3. The Deputy Supreme Commander, and if required a Commander of the combined naval forces and Commander of the combined air forces, will be jointly designated by the ABDA Governments.

‘4. No Government will materially reduce its armed forces assigned to your area [group mutilated – nor] any commitment made by it for reinforcing its forces in your area except after giving to other Governments and to you timely information pertaining thereto.

‘5. Strategic Concept and Policy: The basic strategic concept of the ABDA Governments for the conduct of the war in your area is not only in the immediate future to maintain as many key positions as possible, but to take the offensive at the earliest opportunity and ultimately to conduct an all-out offensive against Japan. The first essential is to gain general air superiority at the earliest moment through the employment of concentrated air power. The piecemeal employment of air forces should be minimised. Your operations should be so conducted as to further preparations for the offensive.

‘6. General Strategic Policy will be therefore:


To hold the Malay barrier, defined as a line of the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Java, North Australia, as the basic defensive position of the ABDA area, and to operate sea, land and air forces in as great a depth as possible forward of the barrier in order to oppose the Japanese southward advance.


To hold Burma and Australia as essential support positions for the area, and Burma as essential to the support of China and to the defence of India.


To re-establish communications through the Dutch East Indies with Luzon, and to support the Philippine Islands garrison.


To maintain essential communications within the area.

‘7. Duties, Responsibilities and Authorities of Supreme Commander: You will co-ordinate in the ABDA area the strategic operations of all armed forces of the ABDA Governments; where desirable, to arrange the formation of task forces, whether national or international, page 118 for executing specific operations; and appointing any officers, irrespective of seniority or nationality, to command such task forces.

‘8. While [group mutilated – you should therefore] have no responsibilities [group mutilated – in respect of the internal] administration of the respective forces under your command, you are authorised to direct and co-ordinate the creation and development of administrative facilities and the broad allocation of war materials.

‘9. You will dispose of reinforcements which from time to time may be despatched to the area by the ABDA Governments.

‘10. You are authorised to require from the Commanders of the armed forces under your command such reports as you deem necessary in discharging your responsibilities as Supreme Commander.

‘11. You are authorised to control the issue of all communiqués concerning the forces under your command.

‘12. Through the channels specified in paragraph 18, you may submit recommendations to the ABDA Governments on any matters pertaining to the furthering of your mission.

‘13. Limitations: Your authority [group mutilated – and control] with respect to the various positions of the ABDA area and to the forces assigned thereto will normally be exercised through the Commanders duly appointed by their respective Governments. Interference is to be avoided in the administrative processes of the armed forces of any of the ABDA Governments, including free communication between them and their respective Governments. No alteration or revision is to be made in the basic tactical organisations of such forces, and each national component of a task force will normally operate under its own Commander and will not be subdivided into small units for [group mutilated – attachment to] other national components of task forces, except in cases of urgent necessity. In general, your instructions and orders will be limited to those necessary for the effective co-ordination of forces in the execution of your mission.

‘14. Relations with ABDA Governments: The ABDA Governments will jointly and severally support you in the execution of duties and responsibilities as herein defined, and in the exercising of authority herein delegated and limited. The Commanders of all sea, land and air forces within your area will be immediately informed by their respective Governments that, from a date to be notified, all orders and instructions issued by you in conformity with the provisions of this directive will be considered by such Commanders as emanating from their respective Governments.

‘15. In the unlikely event that any of your immediate subordinates, after making due representation to you, still considers that obedience to your orders would jeopardise the national interests of his country to an extent unjustified by the general situation in the ABDA area, he has page 119 the right, subject to your being immediately notified of such intention, to appeal direct to his own Government before carrying out the orders. Such appeals will be made by the most expeditious methods, and copies of the appeals will be communicated simultaneously to you.

‘16. Staff and Assumption of Command: Your staff will include officers of each of the ABDA Powers. You are empowered to communicate immediately with national Commanders in the area with a view to obtaining staff officers essential to your earliest possible assumption of command. Your additional staff requirements will be communicated as soon as possible to the ABDA Governments through the channels of communication described in paragraph 18.

‘17. You will report when you are in a position effectively to carry out the essential functions of the Supreme Command, so that your assumption of command may be promulgated to all concerned.

‘18. Superior Authority: As Supreme Commander of the ABDA area you will be directly responsible to the ABDA Governments through the agency defined in Annex 2.