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

161 — The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the Prime Minister of New Zealand1

page 173

The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the Prime Minister of New Zealand1

17 March 1942

My immediately preceding telegram. Following for Prime Minister from Prime Minister:

Following is the text of the telegram which I have sent to President Roosevelt:

‘I have been earnestly considering yours of 10 March.2 Although I sent a paraphrase of the operative parts of your proposals to Australia and New Zealand I have not yet heard from them. It may be that Australia is relying on the discussions you will have with Dr Evatt,3 who should now be with you.

‘2. I have also had the proposals examined by our Chiefs of Staff. In principle we see great merits in the simplification resulting from the American control of the Pacific sphere and the British control of the Indian sphere, and indeed there is no other way. There are, however, certain issues, some fundamental, which I must place before you.

‘3. Nothing must prevent the United States and British Navies from working to a common strategy from Alaska to Capetown. The immense distances and the practical facts require them to act in widely separated theatres, but they must operate with a single purpose, an exact timing, and upon closely co-ordinated plans.

‘4. We are building up and shall presently have a respectable force which will be based in the Central Indian Ocean. This force already consists of five battleships, two of our latest aircraft carriers, four modern cruisers and several older ones, and thirteen destroyers, all under the command of Admiral Somerville,4 who has done well in a great deal of fighting in the Mediterranean. The remnants of the Dutch Navy are re-forming with our assistance and wish to work under our command. In one month the modern aircraft carrier Illustrious,5 in two months the Valiant,6 and in six months, we hope, the Queen Elizabeth7 will reinforce our Eastern Fleet. On completion of refits of Nelson, Rodney, and King George V,8 and should the situation page 174 permit, we should consider sending either Nelson or Rodney, or possibly both, to join the Eastern Fleet.

‘5. The British Eastern Fleet, composed as it is to a great extent of old ships with short-range guns, could only deal with a certain number of the Japanese Fleet. Similarly, a general fleet engagement between the whole Japanese Fleet and the American Pacific Fleet would be a close-run thing.

‘6. Therefore, it seems to us that all our naval forces must be directed from a single standpoint and their problems viewed as a whole. This can only be done by the machinery of the Combined Chiefs of Staff Committee acting directly under you and me in constant contact and agreement. All other arrangements for separate commands in the Pacific and Indian spheres must be effectively subordinated to this Supreme Command. I feel sure I am right in reading your proposals in this sense.

‘7. On this basis we welcome your proposal that an American should be appointed Commander-in-Chief of all Allies and of all three Services in the Pacific area, with local commanders in Australia, New Zealand, etc.

‘8. We also agree that the American Chiefs of Staff under your direction should decide day-to-day operational questions affecting the action of this American Commander-in-Chief in the Pacific area.

‘9. We suggest, however, that Staff officers from Australia, New Zealand, the Dutch and the Chinese should be available in Washington to serve the American Staffs on operational matters as may be necessary. These officers might also be the [group omitted–technical?] advisers of the members of the Pacific Council in Washington to which I refer in paragraph 11 below. We have such an arrangement successfully working in London now.

‘10. So much for the executive conduct of the Pacific war. I now come to the advisory bodies which will have to be consulted on larger issues. Owing to geography they must be duplicated and have the same composition on each side of the Atlantic Ocean. There will in fact be two Pacific Councils. The one in Washington, lying as it will in close touch with the American executive machinery in the Pacific area, will naturally have more practical and more effective influence upon events than its reproduction in London. It is not possible to draw a line between strategic and political matters as these are interwoven at the top.

‘11. As we see it, our Pacific Council in London would discuss the whole state of the war against Japan and we would send our opinions from time to time to the similar body in the United States. The executive conduct of the Pacific war against Japan would remain the integral responsibility of the United States, acting through the page 175 American Chiefs of Staff and the American Commander-in-Chief, subject always to the co-ordination of naval effort, as stated in paragraph 3, and to the decisions on grand strategy, which are the function of the Combined Chiefs of Staff and the heads of Governments. Similarly, the executive conduct of operations in the Indian theatre would remain the integral responsibility of the British War Cabinet acting through the Commander-in-Chief Eastern Fleet and the British Chiefs of Staff, but the Pacific Council in Washington would send us their opinion when they thought fit.

‘12. It follows from the above that the United Kingdom should have a representative on the Pacific Council in Washington and that you should have a representative on the Pacific Council in London. Equally we would keep your representative informed of the course of affairs in the Indian Ocean, which also forms a large part of the sphere of the London Pacific Council. The Dutch, for instance, are full of ideas for counter-attacks on the Japanese-captured places which we will do our best to further before the summer is far advanced. We have agreed on a line dividing the Pacific and Indian spheres, but naturally this line would be elastic, dependent on the movements of the enemy or the tasks we might appoint for our forces. We must not have anything so rigid as to hamper planning or manoeuvre.

‘13. The First Sea Lord is anxious that I should put the following point to you:

“As the naval responsibility for dealing with seaborne raids on the north-west and west coasts of Australia will be British, we assume that under your proposals, in which there are only two areas in the East, the boundary between them will generally follow the line of the Dutch Islands, modified as necessary to give room for your submarine patrols to the south of these islands.”

Perhaps this could be taken care of in the final drawing of the line.

‘14. To sum up, I feel that your proposals, as I have ventured to elaborate and interpret them, will achieve the double purpose, namely (a) integrity of executive and operational action, and (b) opportunity of reasonable consultation for those whose fortunes are involved.’

1 Repeated to the Prime Minister of Australia.

2 See No. 164 of 23 March for summary of telegrams exchanged between Mr Churchill and President Roosevelt.

3 Rt. Hon. Dr H. V. Evatt, PC; Australian representative in United Kingdom War Cabinet, 1942–43, and on Pacific War Council.

4 Admiral of the Fleet Sir James Somerville, GCB, GBE, DSO; C-in-C Eastern Fleet, 1942–44; Head of British Admiralty Delegation, Washington, 1944–45.

5 HMS Illustrious, Fleet aircraft carrier, 23,000 tons, 31 knots.

6 HMS Valiant, 31,520 tons, eight 15-inch guns, 24 knots.

7 HMS Queen Elizabeth, 32,700 tons, eight 15-inch guns, 24 knots.

8 HMS King George V, 35,000 tons, ten 14-inch guns, 27 knots.