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

164 — 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

23 March 1942

The following, which is of the highest degree of secrecy, is from Prime Minister for Prime Minister:

The following digest of telegrams recently exchanged between the President and myself is for your personal information:

(a) Prime Minister to President, 5 March:

‘1. British affairs have deteriorated gravely since 7 December. All can be retrieved in 1943 or 1944. Meanwhile there are hard forfeits to pay. The [group mutilated–Levant]–Caspian front depends entirely on Russia, who will be formidably attacked in the spring. The danger to Malta grows. Rommel is receiving large reinforcements.

‘2. I hope by May your naval superiority in the Pacific will be restored and will preoccupy the enemy. By the end of March we should be solidly established, though by no means entirely secure, in Ceylon. [Group mutilated–We should have?] a fleet there which will prevent overseas invasion of India unless the greater part of the Japanese fleet comes across from your side. This, I hope, the action and growing strength of the United States Navy will prevent.

‘3. With the Tirpitz and Scheer1 at Trondheim our Northern Force has not only to watch the northern passages, but also to guard the Russian convoys. (Note: [Group mutilated–The Prinz] Eugen2 got there with her stern blown off but the Hipper3 has now arrived.)

‘4. We hope your bombers based in North-East India may operate in force against enemy bases in Siam and Indo-China.

1 Admiral Scheer, German pocket-battleship, 14,000 tons, six 11-inch guns, 24 knots; raider in Atlantic, 1940–41; sunk by RAF April 1945.

2 Prinz Eugen, cruiser, 15,600 tons, eight 8-inch guns, 30 knots. With Bismarck in Atlantic; surrendered at Copenhagen, 7 May 1945.

3 Admiral Hipper, cruiser, 15,600 tons, eight 8-inch guns, 30 knots; bombed and sunk at Kiel, 10 Apr 1944.

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‘5. We are very thin on the Levant–Caspian front. It would greatly help if you could offer Australia and New Zealand one division each as the alternative to their recalling their own divisions now in the Middle East.1

‘6. Everything turns upon shipping, particularly troop-carrying tonnage. Our total man-lift is 280,000 men, which we cannot increase. I am told your man-lift is 90,000 and that even by the summer of 1943 it will be increased only by another 90,000. Could you not double or treble this?

‘7. We send 40/50,000 men a month to the Middle East, but owing to the needs of maintenance, etc., we cannot include more than three divisions in the March, April and May convoys.

‘8. Japan is becoming ever more widely spread. Nothing can be done on a large scale except by long preparation of the technical and tactical apparatus. If you could prepare commando forces on a large scale on the Californian shore all Japanese-held islands will become hostages to fortune.

‘9. If plans were prepared now for [group mutilated–the preparation?] of ships, landing craft, aircraft, expeditionary divisions, etc., for a serious attack on the Japanese in 1943, this would be the solid policy to follow.’

(b) President to Prime Minister, 8 March:

‘1. The United States have assumed a heavy responsibility in the Pacific for the defence of Australia, New Zealand, and sea approaches. Success in holding this region depends upon adequate shipping.

‘2. A large part of the United States Pacific Fleet is now operating in the Anzac region. Provided that bases are kept secure in the west of Australia, submarines will continue to operate against Japanese supply lines and naval forces.

‘3. Japan is extending herself but the energy of her attack is still very powerful. She must be halted before she attains a dominating position. Concerted and vigorous action by the United States, Australia and New Zealand is necessary in the Pacific. [Two groups mutilated–Landing craft and?] transports not urgently needed for training will be required for troop movements. The loan to the British of transports seriously reduces the chance of offensive action in other regions.

‘4. We agree on the importance of the India and Middle East areas. In addition to our 41st Division leaving on 18 March, we are prepared to despatch one more to Australia and one to New Zealand, provided the Australian and New Zealand divisions remain in the Middle East to economise shipping.

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‘5. The United States can supply shipping to move two divisions from the United Kingdom to the Middle East and India on the understanding that during this period:


United States troops to the British Isles will be only those taken [group mutilated–in these?] ships. The ships must be returned to us on completion of the movement of two British divisions.


Direct movements to Iceland cannot be made.


Cargo ships required in transportation of Lend-Lease material to China and the Middle East must be withdrawn during April and May.


In 1942 the American contribution to the air offensive against Germany be curtailed and the contribution to land operations in Europe reduced.

‘6. After the arrival of the 41st Division, the line from Samoa to New Zealand is not considered in danger of serious attack.

‘7. [Group mutilated–At the utmost?] the shipping now available under the United States flag will lift a total of some 130,000 men with increases during 1942–35,000; by June 1943–40,000; December 1943–100,000; by [June] 1944–95,000; total carrying capacity by June 1944–400,000.

‘8. This may be a critical period, but remember always it is not as bad as some you have so well survived before.’

(c) President to Prime Minister, 10 March:

‘Following are my purely personal views on organisation:

‘1. The whole operational responsibility for the Pacific area will rest on the United States. Decisions for this area would be made in Washington by the United States Chiefs of Staff and the Advisory Council including Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands East Indies and China. The Pacific Council might well be moved to Washington. The Supreme [group mutilated–Command] in this area will be American, with local operating command in Australia under an Australian; in New Zealand under a New Zealander; in China under the Generalissimo; in the Dutch East Indies under a Dutchman, in due course.

‘2. The middle area from Singapore to Libya and the Mediterranean would be a direct British responsibility and all operating matters would be decided by you, always with the understanding that as much assistance as possible would be given to India or [group mutilated–the Near East] by Australia and New Zealand, while we continue to help with all possible munitions and vessels.

‘3. The third area would be the North and South Atlantic, and definite plans for establishing a front in Europe would be the joint responsibility of the British and United States. I am interested in this page 182 new front this summer, certainly for air and for raiders. It is easier from the shipping point of view and will compel the Germans to divert large forces from the Russian front.

‘4. It is intended, of course, to continue all possible aid to Russia.

‘5. The second area, including India, would not be occupied by American troops or planes, but we would want the use of India as an air highway for planes going to China.

‘6. Grand strategy would remain the subject of study and decisions by the Combined Staffs both here and in London.’

(d) My reply to the President on 17 March has already been repeated to you in telegram [No. 161].