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

197 — 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

4 February 1942

Following for Prime Minister from Prime Minister:

Referring to my telegram dated 30 January [No. 195] in which we requested your urgent consideration towards the allocation of four fighter squadrons to New Zealand, I wish to inform you that an intimation was received from the Air Ministry the following day that it was hoped to allot thirty-six fighters to New Zealand. This allocation was not, of course, in response to my telegram of 30 January but refers to the request which I addressed to you in my telegram No. 260 of 27 December when you were at Washington.1 In that telegram I represented the need for thirty-six fighters for the purpose of training fighter pilots for reinforcing the Far East and, incidentally, to provide fighter support in the event of invasion of this country. This was a modest request based on the assumption that the maximum number of fighters which could be sent to the South-West Pacific and the Far East should go to areas of operation which, unfortunately, are no longer in British and American possession. The situation has now changed a great deal.

While my colleagues and I greatly appreciate the expressed intention to allocate a number of fighters, we feel we must represent that the number mentioned, namely 18, cannot be regarded as in any way adequate for the scale of attack against which we must now urgently prepare.

In Air Ministry signal NZLO 301 dated 29 January,2 it is stated that the Air Ministry have offered 142 fighters to be divided between Australia and New Zealand, out of which Australia is to receive 124 and New Zealand 18, the further intention being that the United States should be requested to supply an equal number. My colleagues and I feel very strongly that the disparity in numbers between those allotted to Australia and those to New Zealand is quite unsatisfactory and does not take sufficient account of the relative needs of the two page 221 Dominions, especially in view of the fact that substantial American fighter reinforcements are already located in Australia. It appears that the allocations may have been made solely on the basis of the demands made by the respective Dominion Governments but at different times, and that these allocations may not have received consideration on the strategic merits of the position. In this connection I would remind you of the fact that if Fiji or New Caledonia fall into enemy hands, not only will this Dominion be seriously threatened with invasion, but also there would appear to be no alternative but to use aerodromes in New Zealand as the final link in the chain for American bomber reinforcements flying across the Pacific to Australia for the ABDA area. In the circumstances, it is in my opinion essential to provide substantial fighter defences in New Zealand.

We still require the thirty-six fighter aircraft asked for in December, primarily for the purpose of training fighter pilots. But in addition thereto we require at least four fighter squadrons as soon as possible, complete with personnel and all ancillary equipment, together with a Group Headquarters staff and the requisite anti-aircraft defences to enable the whole formation to operate satisfactorily, particularly in the North Island.

When my original request for thirty-six fighters is satisfied, the Royal New Zealand Air Force should be in some position to meet the requirements for maintaining the pilot strength in these four fighter squadrons. At present, as you are aware, we have neither the aircraft nor the training facilities to provide any fighter defence whatever, except by employing training aircraft which have neither the equipment nor the performance adequate to deal with modern enemy aircraft.

As I have said already, my Government and I are appreciative of the recognition so far given to my request for training fighters but we feel we must press, with all urgency, the need for a substantial contribution in the form of a complete fighter force to be allocated in this Dominion. Such a force would be available to provide reinforcements elsewhere when the situation warrants it, but we fear there is a grave risk in attempting, at the present time, to send all available forces close in to the battle zone without retaining in the base areas, of which New Zealand is now a principal part, a sufficient strength to secure those base areas if operations in the active zone should continue to go against us.

You will appreciate that this request for a fully organised and supported fighter force represents only a part of our requirements for defence. I have been hoping to hear that the whole question of the defence of New Zealand has received consideration by the Joint Allied Staffs and that a plan has been formulated to provide reinforcements of all kinds which, although finally destined for the ABDA area page 222 when circumstances warrant it, would be based initially in New Zealand. I will not do more now than indicate to you that the capacity of this country for defence, despite every endeavour here, cannot be proportioned to the menace. It must depend upon the ability of Great Britain and the United States jointly to provide both equipment and units of all kinds. Of these I would mention specifically anti-aircraft guns, armoured fighting vehicles, earthmoving and concreting machinery for the construction of aerodromes, telephone cable for all defence purposes, weapons to arm not only the Army and the Home Guard but also the men of the Air Force upon whom the defence of aerodromes must largely depend. If it is your wish, I will formulate fully the requirements of the three Services as we now see them, but my colleagues and I would prefer to be informed first as to whether any plans are being formulated by the Joint Staffs for the defence of New Zealand and, if so, what these plans are in general terms.

1 Not published. Listed naval and air requirements for the defence of New Zealand and Fiji.

2 Not published.